Address: Drinking Fountain, Desborough Park, Maidenhead
Words & image: Caroline Hopper
Walker 1: Oh that’s good, look at this –
Walker 2: What?
W1: This bit on this sign. It says ‘As part of your outdoor fitness programme, a walk around the perimeter of this park will contribute 1700 steps to the advised 10,000 steps per day that an average person should take.’
W1: Well, shall we go around?
W2: I suppose so.
W1: This park hasn’t changed a bit, has it?
W2: That skate park’s new.
W1: Well, got to keep up with the youngsters.
W1: There’s that mermaid.
W1: That drinking fountain, over there. Shaped like a mermaid. Been there for ages. Remember?
W1: Right by that bench, the one we always said was just the right spot round the park. Remember those Saturdays when Jane from across the road would ask us to walk her little girl here?
W2: Of course – what was her name again?
W1: We’d perch on that bench, remember? Just the right spot. Far enough away from the play area, so we wouldn’t have to talk to any of the other kids’ parents–
W2: Terrible small talk–
W1: But still right next to the fountain for when little Rosie ran over for a drink.
W2: You’re right. Blimey that must’ve been, what, fifteen–
W1: Twenty years ago.
W2: Good memory. Is that why you wanted to walk here?
W1: She loved that mermaid.
W2: She hasn’t aged well, has she?
W2: The mermaid. She’s got a bit missing.
W1: Yes I suppose she has.
W2: Her nose has come off completely.
W1: Plenty of flowers in her hair still. And that zigzag where the water flows down.
W2: But blimey, that nose. If this is the face that launched a thousand ships, it must’ve had a nose.
W1: What are you talking about?
W2: You know, the mermaid with the face that launched a thousand ships? That’s why ships have mermaids on the front?
W1: What? No, no – that’s about – Helen of Troy wasn’t a mermaid. She was a Trojan. No, a Greek. She wasn’t a mermaid.
W2: Then why do ships have mermaids on the front?
W1: I don’t know actually. You should ask that online search on your phone.
W2: Alright I’m asking Google… ‘Why – do – ships – have – mermaids –’ oh, someone’s asked this before.
Okay, so, for starters, they’re called figureheads. [Pause] My hands are too cold to get the screen to move down. [Pause] Oh here we go. ‘Traditionally, sailors thought of mermaids as sirens whose song could lure them to shipwreck on rocky coastlines.’ Something about ‘a bare breasted woman would calm turbulent seas.’ Gosh. No, hang on, ‘it seems sailors adopted the mermaid figurehead as a talisman to fair weather.’ Right, got it – it’s about good weather.
W1: Or good luck. [Pause] Where are you getting this from?
W1: So it brings good luck.
W1: If only it had done.
W2: It’s just a water fountain.
W1: Or maybe there’s something in that figurehead idea. She’s on the front of a boat, she’s about to sail away, or move forward, and maybe it’s a bit like Rosie’s still–
W2: Have you hit your steps yet?
W1: Except here she’s cemented to the ground. Literally.
W2: It’s just a water fountain. Shaped like a mermaid. You’re reading a bit too much into it.
0 steps. Sit.
W1: The kids at Rosie’s school made it.
W1: Look, the sign. In 1999, it says. ‘Developed in partnership with the Millennium Commission, local people and pupils from Beachwood and Larch Heath Schools.’ There.
W2: That’s a lot of people to make a mermaid drinking fountain.
W1: Can you ask your phone what this fountain means?
W2: Why? It says so on the sign.
W1: No, I need something to tell me what to think of it. It must have some significance. You don’t make a mermaid drinking fountain for no reason.
W2: No, you make one because people in the park are thirsty. People are thirsty, so the park needs a drinking fountain. And kids like mermaids. [Pause] This never bothered you before, on all those Saturdays, sitting right here. You never even glanced at this sign.
W1: I didn’t notice the sign. It didn’t mean anything then. It didn’t really need to.
W2: Is it because of Jane’s little girl?
W1: Rosie. Jane’s little girl, Rosie. Why don’t you say her name?
W2: It could just be a drinking fountain.
W1: Just a drinking fountain?
W2: Yup, just a drinking fountain shaped like a mermaid.
W1: With no nose?
W2: With no nose.
W1: Let’s go. It’s bloody freezing.
W2: But your steps?
W1: I hit the 10,000 way back at the first goalpost.
W2: But you brought us all the way over here?
W1: I wanted to see the mermaid.
W1: Do you know what I’ve just thought?
W1: I think we should look for a little mermaid. You know, buy a little mermaid to sit on the grave?
W1: I just think it’d be a nice gesture.