“Siren Security” burglar alarm, Tower Hamlets • Yesterday I featured a mermaid from Fairfield Shipping Offices, Glasgow, and today – ushering in the theme of mythological burglar alarms – I give you a mermaid from Fairfield Road, London. Siren Security is a play on words, obviously, between the blaring sirens of the law and the sweet-voiced temptresses said to serenade sailors to their doom, but sirens and mermaids are not strictly synonymous. Though the word is Latin, sirens come to the modern world from Greek mythology: as described in Homer’s Odyssey, written around 800 BC, they were winged, sharp-clawed bird-women who lived amidst the rotting corpses of their victims (which would certainly be a deterrent to burglars). The fish-woman comes from even older Assyrian tales of the popular sea goddess Atargatis (called Derketo by the Greeks), disseminated to seaports far and wide by Syrian merchants. Pagan Europeans got these ideas all muddled up with their own folkloric tales, not quelled by a dose of Christianity, so that today in many languages the word for mermaid is “sirena”, or similar. In Haitian voodoo there is even a spirit or lwa called La Sirene, a European mermaid mixed up with West African beliefs, often pictured with a siren-like trumpet (see below for examples of all these ladies). Whatever her origin, Siren Security’s logo is a charmingly modest mermaid, shown clutching an unidentified tablet – maybe the same one the bizarre wasp-man is holding on Wilton Alarms. And while there are plenty of of male images on burglar alarms, this is one of only two depictions of women I have found, the other being Liberty. • Spotted: Fairfield Road, Tower Hamlets, London, E3, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Labour constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow
Top left: “The Siren of Canosa“, a Greek-style siren (note bird-feet) circa 300 BC from the National Archaeological Museum of Spain. Top right: John William Waterhouse’s foxy “A Mermaid” (1900), from the Royal Academy, London. Below: a Haitian sequinned voodoo banner depicting horn-blowing water spirit La Sirene.