Big Ben And The London Mermaids



Not so long ago, in the streets of London, there lived a man and his wife. They kept themselves busy with managing their popular tea-house. Making lots of money from selling tea and cakes. They smiled so much that their ears ached.

One autumn, as the leaves fell from the trees and the River Thames froze to ice, their smiles faded as they realised that they didn’t have a child; so they visited the local witch, who gave them a special tea and told them to chant a rhyme each time they drank it. So, they got up early and chanted according to her instructions:

‘Please bring us a baby from the windmills of our minds, however small, weak, or frail, we really don’t mind.”

A week later, woman’s nose grew as long as a sausage. A week after that she sneezed and out popped a baby, just one-inch tall. They were delighted!

‘We’ll call her Fingerling!’ exclaimed her delighted mother clapping her hands with delight.

Fingerling proved to be obedient, charming, and useful; for she was able to jump down the plug-holes to unblock them, and to fix the very small parts that broke in the kitchen.

Many years passed, and the Big Bens hands ticked forwards to Fingerling’s eighteenth-birthday. But on that same day, Big Ben broke and the cake-mixer in the kitchen broke. Fingerling climbed through the grate of the cake mixer and crawled inside.

‘This was wedged in the gears; it’ll work fine now!’ she said proudly, holding up a squashed cherry.

A look of sadness crossed her mother’s face.

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Fingerling.

‘Your job shouldn’t be climbing through the guts of broken appliances. Because you’re small doesn’t mean that you’re second rate. There must be something better for you to do . . . ‘

Fingerling didn’t understand; her parents needed her help! She dropped the cherry.

Her father overheard what was going on, and put down his tray. ‘Just because you’re small doesn’t mean to say you can’t be mighty!’ he said.


That night her father’s words rang in Fingerling’s ears: “Just because you’re small doesn’t mean to say you can’t be mighty.” All night she racked her brains for a special job to do. The same night the local mermaids waited and waited for Big Ben to chime, so they could come out of the river and play on the bank, but there was not a sound.


In the morning, Fingerling ran into the kitchen put a thimble on her head and posed like a warrior with a darning-needle raised high in her hand like a sword. ‘I’m going to control the whole world!’ she said.

Her father scratched his head. ‘That would be impossible for anyone, even for someone mighty,’ he said.

‘Well, if I can’t rule the whole world, I’m going to find a way to rule this city!’ she said.

Her mother overheard the conversation. ‘You’ve proved yourself more than capable here with us,’ she said, ‘but you’ve never even ventured outside. You must leave here, have an adventure; find your calling.’


Three days later the tea-house was closed. Fingerling, wearing the thimble hat and holding the darning-needle, quivered in anticipation.

Her father held out a mustard-pot. ‘This is your ship to carry you to your adventure,’ he said, hiding his tears.

Her mother gave her a mustard-spoon. ‘Your oar for guiding the ship,’ she said, her voice gruff with emotion.

Her father gently lifted Fingerling from the table, put her in the pot and then laid his hand over the top.

‘Well, can I go, and then come back?’ shouted Fingerling, scared that she would never see her parents again.

‘The tide is strong,’ said her father. ‘Who knows?’

‘But I can be stronger than the tide! I’ll be back, and when I return, I’m going to rule this City.’

Her father shook his head sadly,’ You have never even had an adventure you must leave us and find one,’ he said, he wept as he carried her to the river. No-one suspected a thing as he waded in to let her go.

It was hard work for Fingerling to push against the tide, but the spoon helped steer her a little way down the river, but she was soon washed up again.

Climbing out of her mustard-pot boat, she balanced on a smooth pebble. Her attention was attracted by a length of rope tied close to the ground which stretched out into the water. ‘It must be a trap,’ she thought, frowning. She hated traps. Once, straying into her parents’ tea-room, a little girl had tried to catch her in a net just like this.  Storming over, she with her tiny teeth she nibbled all the way through the rope.

Splotch – two huge eyes from the dark sea-moved toward her.

Trying to still the hammering in her chest, she waited, darning-needle at the ready.

Two bulbous eyes emerged from the water.

‘Go away!’ shouted Fingerling.

One of the eyes blinked. ‘Have you no request in return for the favour, little-one?’ asked the pike.

Fingerling lowered her weapon.

‘You have rescued me from the net; it is only fitting that I should return the favour,’ said the pike.

‘Oh!’ said Fingerling, scratching her chin. ‘Can you please help me by guiding me and my boat to a place where I can find work and a place to sleep?’

‘Yes!’ said the pike.

Fingerling climbed back into her little boat as the sky filled with clouds. The pike opened his mouth swallowing Fingerling and the mustard pot.

The pike dived under, just as a thunderstorm was starting up. The flashes were blinding and so he swam right to the bottom of the river, where Fingerling peeped out, and before her in the dappled light, she saw the most delightful mermaid.

But she looked sad and told Fingerling,’ Big Ben isn’t working so we don’t know when it ‘s safe to come ashore without being seen’.

‘I will help in any way that I can,’ said Fingerling, enamored by her fantastic dread-locks which piled on top of her head.

‘Tonight, we leave for a secret star, so far away that if you stretched out the whole of the length of Earth, that would be how far.

‘ When I have finished my adventure, I will mend the Big Ben?’ said Fingerling.

The mermaid still looked sad. ‘How will you let us know when you are going to return?’

‘I promise that I will do this, if you help me return to my parents just as soon as my adventure is over.’

There was a crash of thunder then a flash of lightning from above.

‘I will send a sea gull to take you when the day comes,’ said the mermaid before she swam away.


When the pike surfaced, the sky was as blue as a bird’s egg and Fingerling wondered if she had imagined all the thunderstorm and the mermaid.

‘Here you will find work and a place to stay,’ said the pike.

Fingerling thanked him for his help, and jumped excitedly from the mustard pot boat onto the beach; she leapt right onto the hem of a pair of bright white trousers. They were worn by a boy of normal size, and of about her age. He had a gallant appearance, bare chest, long hair, angel tattoos.

She had never seen such a boy!

She climbed onto his knee as he lay down, striking up a warrior pose with her darning-needle held high.

The boy was totally beguiled. She looked wonderful. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.

‘I’m Fingerling!’

‘I’m Raphael,’ he said, smiling.

‘I need to find some work, and a place to stay for the night,’ she said.

‘There’s my stepfather’s laundry … It’s a place where people pay to wash their clothes. It’s very hard work; all the machines are run by clock-work.’

‘Just because I’m small doesn’t mean to say that I’m not mighty. I can fix things. Take me to this place.’ said Fingerling.

‘But he’s so mean to me when I work there. Who knows what he’d be like to such a tiny person as you?’

Fingerling insisted, so Raphael put her in his pocket and off they went.


When they arrived at the launderette, the pungent odor of soap-suds mixed with the deafening sound of “tick-tock,” made Fingerling feel sick. Raphael’s stepfather looked up. ‘Where do you think you’ve been? He said. “That was way past your half-hour lunch break! It’s now thirty-five minutes past the hour! You’re five-minutes late!’ he said angrily, pointing to the clock on the wall.

Fingerling was shocked to hear how even five-minutes mattered.

            ‘I’m so sorry, I lost track of time,’ replied Raphael, ‘But I’ve got good news. I’ve found someone to fix your washing machines. Look!’ he said, carefully taking Fingerling out of his pocket.

Fingerling bowed and struck up a pose.

Raphael’s stepfather peered into her tiny face. ‘Fascinating. I expect all the machines to be in working order by tomorrow, or I’ll put you in the rat trap. Understand?’

Fingering nodded, trembling. And that was how she got her first job.

She worked at the launderette for a whole year. But, Raphael’s stepfather, couldn’t afford to pay for the electricity bill so he made Raphael wind the washing machines all day without a break. She did all she could to cheer him up, and he dearly loved her in return.

They worked well together, but it was harder playing, due to the difference in size. One-time Raphael put Fingerling in the soap-powder dispenser, and sent her zipping through it’s pneumatic tubes, Fingerling nearly drowned. Their fun and adventures became tamer after that.

One evening, just before closing time, as the nights shortened into winter, a tired-looking student entered the laundry. As Raphael bent forward to wind the machine, the stepfather, who was in a horrible mood, suddenly pushed, hurtling Raphael into the open mouth of the machine. The student saw nothing, but Fingerling did. The door closed with Raphael still inside!

Cries of despair were soon lost among the grinding sounds of the clock-work gears as the washing-machine started. With her darning-needle in her hand, Fingerling jumped down the soap-dispenser and was immediately flushed into the mechanical throat of a rotating cog. She was spat, totally disoriented, into the washing drum. Her eyes, adjusting to the light, she saw for a moment Raphael’s angel tattoos flapping around; looking as big as trapped birds to her. This must be the afterlife she thought.

Hot foamy water entered the drum. Its roaring sound deafening. Long ago, a single cherry, she remembered, had broken an entire cake-mixer. She drove her darning-needle into the machine’s intersecting teeth. A horrible screech sounded as the mechanics halted. The wet socks, trousers and sheets falling all around.

Had she only imagined that Raphael was in there with her? Maybe he’s turned into a angel too and flown away. All the clothes inside the washing-machine fell into a heap. She saw only a pile of shrunken wet sheets, a few socks and then, a pair of brilliant-white trousers. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, and a sob escaped her.

‘Fingerling!’ A bump in the fabric shifted.

‘Raphael!’ she cried, charging across the trousers to the voice.

A tiny head appeared, and then the tops of his bare shoulders popped out of the trouser fly. ‘What’s happened?’ Raphael squeaked.

Fingerling had worked long enough in the laundry to know. ‘You’ve shrunk!’ she said.

Raphael slowly smiled as he looked down at his body. ‘I’m your size now!’ he said.

‘A bit taller,’ she said, shocked but not displeased with the change.

Beaming wildly, Raphael ripped up the hem of his giant trouser-legs and made a makeshift skirt. ‘Now we can have so much fun. We can work and play together. Maybe go somewhere better than here!’

There was a sound of big feet.

She remembered the promise that the Mermaid had made. She hollered at the top of her voice, ‘I want that seagull! I want to go home!’

Through the window of the misted laundry she could see outside. A beautiful white seagull had arrived.

‘Come with me! Meet my parents,’ said Fingerling, taking Raphael’s hand.

They sneaked out of the door, climbed up onto the seagull’s back, and with the great force of its wings, it flew them back to Westminster.

Flying up high over the City, Fingerling pointed down as she saw the Big Ben’s tower. ‘Surely that’s the ruler of this place,’ she said. ‘But look! It’s got the time wrong! Its stopped. I will forfill my promise to my parents. Tomorrow, I’m going to fix that clock.’




When they met her parents, her mother loved Raphael’s fine angel tattoos and gave him a handkerchief skirt to wear, with which he was delighted.

But the promise that Fingerling had made to rule the city and help the mermaids were still on her mind. ‘Please take us to Big Ben-tower, and can I have a small flash light? she begged her confused father.

Outside the Big Ben-tower, Fingerling told her father proudly before she and Raphael vanished, ‘I’m going to help the mermaids, I’m going to rule this city, you wait and see’

Her father rubbed his eyes, with disbelief; when he saw the minute, hand move backwards in time.


Fingerling and Raph waited up that night until the Big Ben got close to three in the morning. Then Fingerling told Raph to hold the flashlight so that it could shine out to space. Fingerling knew that light travelled much faster than sound, and even if the mermaids were far away in space her signal would get to them easily before the Big Ben chimed.

Raphael held his breath as he pressed the light three times. But there was no chime no bell inside the clock.

Fingerling gulped with disbelief she would have to signal every night to the mermaids to tell them the time from the enchanted clock, and since that day they have lived; behind the numbered face, inside the rotating cogs. Keeping track of the hours, the minutes, the seconds, the days, the weeks and the years; and every night when the nigh time reaches three o’clock, they flash three times and the mermaids come out of the Thames and play on the river bank..THE END



Jo Wonder

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3 Responses to Big Ben And The London Mermaids

    1. Hi the name of the artist is Jowonder is all one word. The copyright of this story is with Joanna Woodward AKA Jowonder

      Comment by Joanna Woodward on 13 September, 2017 at 3:27 pm
    2. Such a wonderful story.filled with complex relationships,fantastical images and hopes and dreams fulfilled.A never ending open ended piece.
      Thank you Jo

      Comment by Bond Cobby on 10 October, 2017 at 10:07 pm
    3. Thank you Bond Cobby

      Comment by Joanna Woodward on 19 October, 2017 at 8:04 pm

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