‘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.’
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.