‘Now, can everyone see okay? Gather in a bit closer.’

The Local Art and History tour group shuffled around into a curve in front of the large block of stone.

‘This is a shrine to one of our local legends: Old Pete. I expect none of you have heard of Old Pete before, his story is not well known outside of the county.’

A few head shakes from the group.

‘Well, the story goes that Old Pete was out walking round his land one day, a couple of hundred years ago. He wandered down to the pond at the bottom of his field where the sheep had been grazing. In the pond where three swans.’

He pointed to the carvings on the stone pillar. Some of the tourists stared round them, feet were scuffed on the gravel, there were sighs of distraction and whispered conversations.

‘As he neared the swans he saw them transform into naked water nymphs.’

The group refocused their attention on the guide.

‘Old Pete couldn’t believe his eyes. At first he thought some of the local girls must have been playing around in the water. It was a warm summer’s day after all. But he didn’t recognise any of them. He was taken aback by their beauty. They were young, their skin smooth and pale. They laughed and splashed and enticed him to join them in the water.

‘Uncertain of what he had just witnessed, Old Pete hesitated. They encouraged him some more, beckoning him to join them in their games, promising the delights of youth that Old Pete had long since forgotten.

‘He could resist no more. He removed his clothes and joined them in the pond. Their smooth hands explored his body. He dared not reach out and touch them. Then suddenly their smiles turned to sneers, their laughter to cackles. Their hands now held him, grabbed him and tried to pull him under the water. Old Pete struggled to break free. He swallowed water as he was plunged under the surface. The pressure forced him down each time he tried to emerge.

‘Then it stopped. They vanished. A familiar voice was shouting. ‘Pete, you daft old bugger. What are you doing skinny-dipping in that manky pond?’ It was Pete’s wife, come down from the farmhouse to fetch him for dinner.

‘Pete, recovering his breath looked at the three swans that glided serenely across the pond. Did one of them wink at him?

‘He never regained his wits from that day. A week later, Old Pete erected this stone with a candle behind this grate as a shrine to the nymphs. He would wander down to the pond each morning and sit on the banks, waiting for their return. A fortnight later, Old Pete’s wife came looking for him and found his naked body floating on the pond’s surface. Three swans looked on as she pulled him from the water.

‘Only then did she see the marks all over him, particularly concentrated around his groin area. They looked as though sharp beaks had been pecking at him. Most morbidly his male appendage had been gouged off completely.’

A few of members of the group tutted and shook their heads. Some walked away. A few ‘disgusting,’ ‘smut,’ and ‘filth’ comments were whispered his way.

‘His wife had Old Pete buried in the shadow of the shrine to the three swans and kept the candle lit until she died many years later.’

Only a couple of the original group were still listening to him. The rest had drifted away to wander round the rest of the gardens.

‘So, back to the bus everyone. Next stop is the Manchester Art Gallery, which has a special display of John William Waterhouse paintings that I’m sure you will appreciate.’

Copyright Sue Vincent

This is a response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Shrine curated over at Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo. Click on the link to read other stories inspired by the image.

It was inspired this article from The Guardian today, about a pre-Raphaelite painting ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ by John William Waterhouse, which has been removed from display by Manchester Art Gallery in a discussion about whether it is offensive or indecent. It makes me wonder what sort of a strange, politically-correct, prudish world and culture we seem to be creating at the moment.

Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse
Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse


    • It certainly is. Unfortunately the context at the moment seems to be lost under political correctness and ensuring absolutely no one is even slightly offended.


  1. Hard to believe we’re living in a repressive culture given what you can see on TV and in the movies these days. Poor Old Pete, though. Temptation did him in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad that I’m not alone in thinking I must have missed something in the painting that was so offensive. I love that film – although of course it should now be banned 😉


  2. PC is hypocritical and its own worst enemy. There’s no notion of scale or effect to it. Values change, thank goodness, but it isn’t a reason to try and airbrush out everything we consider to be morally questionable. Meanwhile, in the real world are the things we do find acceptable, like the bombing in Syria, the burning of Rohingya villages, the homeless on the streets of every European city, the misery of the invisible women in Afghanistan…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha ha ha ha, lovely story. As for the painting, I’m amazed that a group of people (not just one individual) found it offensive enough to take it down. It’s such a pretty painting, the world is indeed going to the dogs, when it should be going to the nymphs instead 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Poor Old Pete ! His wife’s call saved him the first time but he couldn’t resist the nymphs/swans. Enjoyed your storytelling Iain. 🙂
    That painting is so beautiful. Art and freedom of expression is being redefined in the present day, I think. What we say is not what we believe and what we believe is not what we show. And what we show is still hidden and layered.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting tale. Old Pete’s adventure reminds me of the sirens (being the swans). Also, if you’ve seen the movie. “Oh brother, where art thou” with George Clooney which is a 1920 or 1930’s retelling of ,The Odessy’ your story reminds me of the scene with the three women bathing in the lake. The entice Clooney’s characters, two fellow prison escapees and turn them into the police for a reward. I feel sorry for this guy, the details of his death are gruesome. Perhaps what he received was his just deserts, intending to cheat on his poor wife?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mandi, even then a bit of a harsh way to be lured to his death! I love that film, only afterwards did someone else point out the similarities to that scene. But would that be seen as inappropriate in the new culture we seem to be creating?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Who knows, it’s hard these days. Political correctness and many other things. I may have given this example before but, in the fifth pirates of the Caribbean movie when they are trying to catch a mermaid for her tears, the mermaids are all essentially sirens too. Thy sing to the sailors who go out in the water. They sing, ‘Jolly Sailor boy’ then, pull these sailors into the water to their death. One of my fav pirates movies scenes 🙂 They have sharp pointy teeth and can leap like sharks to catch their pray and to defend themselves and their mermaid sisters. On the other hand, they can walk on land like humans and the girl (mermaid) they do catch to for her tears, is sweet and saves the young man who comes back to save her. She has nice qualities too. So perhaps that’s a different angle where woman (mermaid sirens) can be portrayed as both good and bad (or to have both good or bad qualities) as men are.
        , as is
        As for all the Hollywood stuff with so many actresses being abused, it’s both warranted to raise awareness, but in some cases, ignoring the fact that some women are lying and ruining it it for every other women who truly did experience a ‘me too’ moment or more.

        Frankly, though it makes it hard for both men & woman to know how to behave in life. There are obvious situations where woman are abused, mistreated, and are historically portrayed in a certain way, but shouldn’t be. On the other, I think we all want equality in the world is both jobs and true portrayals of women (and acting roles or literary characters) that are negative and positive as men too can be portrayed as nasty pirates, or Ogers and evil men w/i Mythology etc. In the media, some men are rightly, revealed as sexual predators. However, the whole situation does leave that unknown place now for women and men where neither knows how to quite behave as coworkers, friends, and even in romantic relationships, or as characters we write or were written in stories. If u were to ask me, outside of gender, the sirens are more than just women as are the three fates as old crones etc. they are symbolic for temptation and men’s weaknesses of character and the crones life/death and destiny obviously. I

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with most of that Mandi. All decent people know how to behave and treat people correctly, but at the same time there have to certain freedoms of expression and I don’t see old paintings or mythological characters as harming anyone, especially when taken in their historical context. The uncertainty is making villains of basically decent people, when we should all be focusing on the real monsters out there, like Weinstein.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you on this. You said it better than I could Ian. You are right historical context is vital. And you’re right about the villains. When I say that some women lie, that’s what I mean. Many of them don’t such as with Weinstein, but some are ruining reputations and making decent people look bad. It probably goes both ways though with men and women to some degree.
        Cheers Ian. Enjoy the rest of your week.

        Liked by 1 person

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