SHORT STORY: Subaquatic Welcome Committee

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Tessa Ditner is a writer and the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub Coordinator. This short performance piece was written for the Subaquatic Steampunk Festival at the Gosport Submarine Museum.

Welcome! Welcome aboard, my dear sea adventurers. Your subaquatic holiday begins with a tour of the submarine.

My name is Pearl, I’ll be showing you around today. I know what you’re thinking. Why have they employed a mermaid on a submarine? And why does this mermaid have legs. They’re brand new, actually, Boxfresh, it’s a painful procedure, and the whole walking thing, it takes some getting used to. But I’ll tell you the truth, down on the sea bed unemployment is rife.

There’s always work for rubbish collection. My whole family work in recycling, but well ... I guess I wanted something a little more customer facing.

Right, so first. This entrance hall.You’ll note the paintings, the works of Anchovy Warhol, our resident artist. He lost his soul during a card game and now everything he paints is owned by the captain. See him over there, painting in his glass studio. It’s a bit like a prison but he does have a good view.

Eternity’s a long time to be painting seascapes. Thankfully he loves what he does, he really does. By the way, you can buy an original canvas by Anchovy Warhol in the gift shop. That’s over there. I recommend the paintings done in squid ink, very durable, gift wrap is available too.

There’s also a free postal service on board to send gifts home. We find that’s very popular with the guests, especially those who have been on board a while, and it’s not true that they can’t leave, of course you can leave. We do have the odd guest who finds they have sea-legs on land or land-legs on sea; they get so used to the good life, it’s not surprising. The restaurant alone is worth staying put for. Last night we had mahi-mahi and blobfish sashimi.

The coffee shop serves snacks throughout the day, go for garlic sea snails or, if you want something with a bit more spice, the seahorse dumplings. For those of you who like afternoon tea, I recommend the eel scones with octopus tea. Just watch out for tentacles in your teeth.It’s worse than caramel, the suction!

If you’re more of a coffee person you’ll be glad to know we’ve just picked up a fresh batch of coffee in Papua New Guinea. Here, the pudding kitchen, opens 24/7. A popular one with the kids. You’ll find every flavour of ice cream. If you don’t find your flavour you can ask the chef to make it. My favourite is English Gentleman flavour. Tastes of earl grey, tweed, rained-on-umbrella and brogues. The big favourite with the kids is two scoops of vanilla goldfish, the gold of the goldfish is only visible if you cook the fish at low temperatures.

Over here you have the viewing station, spectacular! You can see all the Pacific. Tomorrow morning, if you’re up early you may catch the iridescent sharks.

Talking of sharks, over here is the nursery; you can leave your children with us. I know what you’re thinking – why does the nursery lead straight in to the shark feeding area? Isn’t that dangerous?

I can assure you in all the time I have been working here, we’ve never had any incidents. The reason the nursery is beside the shark tank is to help your little ones develop a healthy respect for the ocean.

Nicknaming the sharks is encouraged, all the nursery staff are trained professionals but please sign the forms that allow us to administer Calpol in case of any accidents.

Moving on to the stingrays, we like to keep our environment enriching for all. The gym, thirty treadmills, again well positioned with a lovely view on the electric eel tank to your left and the stingrays to your right. You wouldn’t want to fall off, though! Deadliest fish in the sea, stingrays.

The ballroom – notice the chandeliers, made with 73 crystal balls. A guest favourite, where loves are found and loves are lost. Trust me, if there’s one thing a mermaid is useless at, it’s love. Have you ever read a story about a mermaid where we aren’t either throwing ourselves at sailors, singing like lunatics or trying to marry blokes we’ve never even spoken to? No. And I can tell you why, because all those stories are true. Give us a Vivaldi score and we’ll have it down within the hour, but when it comes to love our brains go out the window. I blame it on the education system. We have love stories, advanced love stories and love stats pretty much from infancy. By the time we’ve reached school we can sing every musical from Grease to South Pacific by heart. It’s not healthy.

Over here we have the spa. You might think it counter-intuitive to sit, lobster-like in a hot tub, but I can personally recommend the coral exfoliation, very thorough on tough skin. Off you go to your rooms now. That’s the tour complete, your suitcases will be there already. It will get dark for a short time while we dive to cruising depth. If you are feeling nervous I recommend you switch on your televisions, there are 72 channels. Compression sickness? Did someone ask about compression sickness? Not in here, I assure you we’re a perfectly pressurised vessel. Not that compression sickness doesn’t have a certain appeal. If you get a fine vintage. It does make you hear voices but it tastes delicious. Then again you don’t know how it will react on everyone. My advice is to stick to gin.

There is a tour of the engine room in half an hour for those who wish to explore. If not, we shall see you at dinner in black tie. The menu tonight is right here. Ehm, let’s see. Oh! There must be some error. Mermaid and chips? Mermaid and chips? I, ehm. I just have to…