There was an air of solemn contemplation as we all stared down at it. A formless, transparent, spineless, once sentient being lodged unceremoniously on the beach by a merciless sea.
“Is it dead?” Al ventured.
He prodded it with his trusty sword. It was the size of a car wheel. Yes, it did appear to be departed from this mortal coil.
He was not sure about jellyfish.
All week, there at the gorgeous sandy surfing mecca of Polzeath, North Cornwall, Al loved jumping waves in the shallows. He got cold in the Atlantic waters and so his mother bought him a long-legged wetsuit, and as you walked down to the beach each morning it was possible to see, among the flurry of bellyboarders and stand-up surfers and lifeguards and flags and buckets and spades, a small kamikaze figure in a black wetsuit, kung-fu fighting each wave with ninja intensity.
The wetsuit meant Al spent longer in the water. He became daring, and on one occasion requested a belly board and lounged on it like a Roman emperor, a deeply superior smile on his face, interrupted only by the occasional facefull of frothy surf.
Every now and then, any one of us could step upon something unsettlingly elastic. It had no sting, just the sensation of being anti-sand, something so unlike the rest of the beach that one would shudder and fling oneself upon a wave just to be carried off and away from that thing lurking on the sea bed.
Al did not clock these shallow-dwellers. But on the third day of my stay they refused to be cast aside, and rose to float at the surface for maximum exposure.
They really were very beautiful: jellyfish about the size of fairy cakes. Some were simply transparent lenses whilst others were shot through with the most stunning violet.
The moment Al saw the hoards from the deep he left the sea.
Now, hours later and in a frenzy of rock pooling, the small erstwhile emperor of the seas stood looking at the very big dead jellyfish in a neighbouring cove with skepticism written large over his small visage.
“Auntie Kate,” he began slowly, (Al considers his lines of questioning extremely carefully,) “do jellyfish like this come onto our beach?”
What to do? If I replied in the affirmative we would never get him in the sea again.
Reader, I lied.
“No, no,” I bluffed with what I trusted was breezy self-assurance. “Jellyfish like this prefer quiet coves like this one. They don’t want a big noisy beach full of surfers.”
Jellyish (named as such by the British around 1796) have been roaming our seas for at least 500 million years. Gelatinous umbrellas with tentacles, they have no digestive, central nervous, respiratory or circulatory systems, just a large digestive tract and an anus/mouth which I understand to be the same thing. Arriving with the ebb and flow of the tide,surfer detection is probably not one of their strong points.
In my defence, jellyfish have up to 24 eyes and can definitely tell up from down using light-sensitive organs. Though they could not actually, er, see the surfers in question.
I swear I could hear, in the silence following my colossal bluff, Al making up his own mind.
The next day he spent playing in the sand.