April 3, 2019

Our Operations Manager, Charlotte, shares her story of how a stranger helped her overcome her fears and get back to nature in her column ‘Social Media and the Kindness of Mermaids.’ Yes this tail does include a real life mermaid! 

Social media. It sometimes feels like we can’t move these days for hearing about it. Yet whilst it’s giving us new platforms for connecting with people, for growing businesses, and for having a voice, a quick search for news items relating to social media throws back thousands of results, with many focusing on the negative side of our social networking sites. The bullying. The dreaded trolls. The keyboard warriors, safe behind their online personas. But what about the positive experiences that can stem from these online lives that we share? And can social media be a platform for sharing kindness?

I had one such positive experience recently. An encounter driven by connecting with a stranger on social media, that has become a truly treasured memory.

St Ives in Cornwall has long been one of my favourite places to visit. It’s the happy place I go to in my mind when I can’t sleep, and where I know I will relax and breathe more freely as soon as I catch the first glimpse of The Island from the little single-track train as it rounds the corner en route from St Erth.

I first read about Laura Evans (who calls herself The St Ives Mermaid) in a 2017 Guardian article. I was interested because she was talking about being a mermaid in St Ives, which just sounded like the coolest way to live. But she also talked about her experience of living in London, and what it felt like to move back to the coast. As a born and bred Londoner who is now fanatical about living by the sea (in Folkestone, which also brings me great joy) I could completely relate.

After reading her article I started following Laura on Twitter and Instagram, occasionally commenting on her posts and just enjoying her positive and honest outlook, as well as her glimpses of life in St Ives and beautiful photos to feed my cravings for the wonderful Cornish town. Over time we found things in common through our mutual love of St Ives and crochet, interacted a bit, and built up a sort-of twitter friendship. So last year when I booked a week’s holiday in St Ives, I had half an idea that it would be fun to actually meet Laura in person, although I didn’t want to come across as a strange internet fan. When we arrived I saw her a couple of times where she works in town, but wasn’t brave enough to say hi. Surely she wouldn’t know who I was in real life? Then one evening, when she posted a few pics from a night-time swim online I commented saying how she was my hero for going in the sea at night when I’d found the water so cold that morning… and then she invited me to join her the next evening!

I was excited, and a bit terrified. Despite living by the sea I hadn’t been swimming properly in years. I’d already decided this holiday was the time to get back into it, but swimming at night in the fairly cold (some would say freezing) September sea with a self-proclaimed mermaid was suddenly quite daunting.

The next day I tried not to be nervous or think about it too much. My partner and I popped in to see Laura at work to make a plan for later. She was lovely and totally relaxed about the whole thing. I would meet her after work, we’d stash our stuff and just go for a little swim right there in St Ives Harbour. So that’s what we did! It makes me smile still just thinking about it. My partner came along but didn’t come in the water (he’s more of a wimp about the cold than I am), but he did bring his camera in case we wanted a couple of photos of our adventure.

We chatted as we stripped off our clothes to our swimwear, while being greeted with various outraged questions from people nearby huddled up in winter coats eating fish ‘n’ chips. “You’re not going in there are you? Now? Isn’t it freezing?”. Suddenly feeling brave and totally at ease, we just wandered into the water. We chatted and swam around in the harbour for about 10 minutes, until I said I was starting to feel warm which Laura said was the signal to get out as it’s an early sign of hypothermia! We had a couple of quick pics of the two of us feeling awesome, body-positive, and fearless. Had hugs goodbye and a promise to meet again. And that was that.

To this day I’m still ridiculously proud of myself for being brave enough to meet Laura, basically a stranger/sort-of friend from Twitter, and also for going in the sea at night. And it reminds me of the power that social media can have for good. For creating communities. For finding kindred spirits in this huge busy world of ours. For sharing a bit of kindness and bringing people together. People that is… and mermaids.

You can read more about Laura’s sea swimming adventures on her blog here.

Or follow her on social media. Just search for St Ives Mermaid.


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