Tennis balls. Air mattresses. Plastic bottles. And, a cow.
Our Feral Friend Lindsey Cole has been on many adventures all over the world – running, swimming... rollerskating. One of these adventures started with a mermaid tail and turned into a children's book: The Mermaid and the Cow.
“Tennis balls. Dinghies. Air mattresses. Plastic bottles and bags. And, a cow.” I said to a journalist in Oxford, when he asked me what I had found in the Thames so far.
“A cow?” He asked.
“Yes, a cow.” I smiled, whilst sat on the riverbank, wrapped in my dryrobe, as my mermaid tail dangled in the river.
Two years beforehand, I was learning to free dive in the much balmier waters of Indonesia. I felt a sudden sharp sting to my hand and saw what looked like a little jellyfish blobbing away. Except sadly, it wasn’t. It was a piece of clear plastic. I was surrounded by hundreds of tiny pieces of it miles from shore. I was there to take one breath and dive down to be at one with nature, yet the nature I’d come to see was outnumbered by an infestation of man-made indestructible plastic. It was a devastating realisation.
I wanted to do something about it. Having recently finished walking Western Australia’s Rabbit Proof Fence I was hungry for another adventure. I had started following new freediving accounts and my Instagram feed was full of mermaid photos. So – naturally – I decided to swim the length of the River Thames as a mermaid to raise awareness about plastic pollution.
My artist friend volunteered to be my support boat and towed a 6ft mermaid sculpture that she had made from recycled plastic bottles. Whatever rubbish we found in the river we stuffed inside the sculpture to highlight how we are choking our planet’s creatures.
One day, we came across what we thought was a humungous white sheet of plastic tangled in a tree. However, as we got closer we realised it wasn’t plastic at all. It was a cow. In fact, it was an entirely white cow which had somehow fallen into the river over the course of the night. She was right up to her neck in water with her chin resting on a branch so she could breathe.
We called the RSPCA and they sent six firefighters down to haul her out. Where we found the cow was found on the Oxfordshire side of the river, and she was actually from a farm in Gloucestershire. The firefighters wrapped their hose around her belly and helped her swim to where she belonged, where she was met by a vet and then reunited with her calf the following day.
After the Oxford journalist shared our story in his local paper, ‘Mermaid saves Drowning Cow’, found its way onto page three of a national tabloid. I had no idea until the end of the day, I was too busy mermaid-ing from Oxford to Abingdon through hail showers and rainbows.
It was November and six degrees in the water. To survive swimming six hours a day for three weeks I wore two wetsuits, two pairs of gloves, two sets of boots and a hood. They definitely helped keep the cold at bay – but I was also warmed by the incredible outdoor swimming community who joined me along the way. “You rescued a cow?” Diane asked when she joined me in Abingdon and proceeded to tell me how it had made national news. I’d never met Diane before. Her and good friend Katia joined me for a swim and then put us up for the night. They both joined us on our final day as I mermaid-ed into Teddington Lock.
Six months later, I received a message from Diane asking for my permission to turn my story into their school’s summer play.
“It has all the ingredients for a great kid’s story,” she said. I went along to watch their performance, which was truly heartwarming to see how they used my experience and drama to talk about the environment. It inspired me to turn the story into the children’s book – The Mermaid and the Cow.
I never realised just how much children love mermaids. Swimming as one has been a brilliant tool to talk to kids about serious topics. I’m now working on a series of environmental adventure swims and children’s books. The Mermaid and the Polar Bear will be the next in the series, where I’ll mermaid 1km in Artic Norway in an area of retreating ice to highlight how climate change is affecting polar bears’ habitats.
But to be honest… as much as I’d love to see a polar bear, I’ll hire local professionals to make sure I don’t have quite the same interaction as I had with the cow.
Read more about Lindsey's adventures here: lindseycole.co.uk
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