Recently, after much deliberation and hesitation I entered into negotiations with my boy child on the subject of, or concerning the fact, that he doesn’t have a brother or a sister. Well I did not make the same mistake I made earlier by reporting to his mother that, theoretically there might well be a sibling out there somewhere and ‘was I not a legendary swordsman of yore’? No, this was not the tactic I employed with the son and heir; instead I skilfully bemoaned the merits of siblings and their draw on resources and at the same time, effortlessly praised the many virtues of goldfish. The Goldfish won fins down and I promised to furnish him with one on the condition that we never utter such nonsense again. Now I have to say the boy kept his end of the deal, he put the notion, a grave and sinister one at that, to the back of his mind. I in the spirit of the gesture allowed him that goldfish and it’s to that goldfish I dedicate this ramble.
When I was a lad I too had a goldfish, I won him at the fair on the ‘hook a duck’ and brought him home in a freezer bag half filled with water. I honestly believed that they kept a freezer full of gold fish and defrosted them as and when. I remember gingerly carrying the little bag back from the fair; aware of the fragility of his environment I took each step with care. With my face no doubt covered in candyfloss and my pockets bulging with toffee apples I knew that one misstep could spell disaster for us both.
I got him home safely and mother rigged up some temporary living quarters for, hmmm, for whom? Yes of course the naming, what a responsibility that is, what would I call him, my second pet? I watched as he investigated the smooth inner walls of mother’s old teapot, he disappeared briefly into the spout before re-emerging, dashing to the surface then plunging to the bottom of the pot with aquatic agility. I thought to name him after my boyhood heroes but Tarzan the fish didn’t sound right, nor did Kipling ,Huckleberry, the Fonze or Willy Wonka so after – not so much – deliberation I christened him Goldie.
A slight detour, the scenic route if you will, has been made below for the sake of pet ‘s’ number one.
My first pet or technically pets were a bushel of stick insects! My brother and I spotted that they were for sale in the local Herold. We pooled our pocket money and bought them from an arthritic wizened sorceress with a cantankerous toothless smile and a face like a mole rat’s bottom! She seemed relieved to be shot of them; we on the other hand were over the rainbow with glee. We placed the little insects carefully into a pre emptied 3lb sherbet lemon jar along with some foliage and some sticks. Wind forward a few months and the stick insects have outgrown their ‘generous’ accommodation and are now skilfully camouflaged to resemble the late Victorian walnut compactum in the corner of my room. From the top of the wardrobe, barely visible to the human eye, they plot the imminent demise of the human race. The only rational action I felt one could consider was one of reintroduction. So it was that, with considerable stealth and military planning, we dumped the retched beasts round the back of Woolworths on a sweltering Sunday afternoon. Terrified that the stick insects would continue to grow and in the process eat the entire planet we watched the news with a keener eye than usual.
Back on track
These days it’s not possible to win a goldfish at the fair, it’s frowned upon, it’s forcing yet another chore onto the parents, so instead you have to go to a pet shop and buy one. You have to be over sixteen to buy a goldfish by law and can receive a hefty fine and even a prison sentence for selling one to a minor! You can however, ‘as long as you have a license’ catch a fish through the mouth with a barbed hook, yank it out of the river and kill it with a swift blow to the head at any age!
My sons chosen fish came home in a bowl about the size and shape of a crash helmet complete with gravel and a fake plant. By the time I returned home that evening the naming of the fish was done and dusted, I was, rightfully, kept out of the loop on that one. Nobody wanted another knee jerk naming from me, I don’t, I’d admit, have a good track record. ‘Panaché’ took to his new home like a fish to water and all seemed well in the world, until that is, he started to communicate with me! Ha! You weren’t expecting that were you dear reader?
I’m an unlikely candidate for a fish whisperer, I’ve not had much luck in the past with pet fish, or pets for that matter; it’s been akin to a curse really. The stray cat that came to my door dishevelled and pitiful embezzled millions from my off shore account, then declared war upon my herbaceous boarders. A budgie left in my care – the fools – became the victim of passive smoking, tripped out, fell off its perch and broke its neck on the cage floor! Then there was Toby, a neighbour’s Jack Russell, an enigmatic hound if there ever was, renowned for his habitual jaunts to the butcher where more often than not he scored a tasty treat. One evening, very late, I fancied I saw him in a notoriously nefarious part of town where pimps and cutthroats are cheaper by the pound. I had wondered into the district purely by accident as I often did and l was glad to see a familiar face. Worried for his safety I cut short my transaction and tried to convince him to follow me; but Toby didn’t want to leave. Eventually I had no choice but to drag him for two miles by the scruff of his scrawny neck. During that long trip home he bit me, scratched me, barked and snarled, dug his heels in and behaved like an utter shit! Eventually as the night gave way to the green hue of the suburban dawn I reached our destination. Battered, bruised and infected with a new stain of tetanus I rang the doorbell of Toby’s house only to hear Toby bark from the other side of the door ahhhh!
Then there’s the legacy of goldfish that have died on my watch; it’s beyond coincidence, it’s ludicrous! I should for the sake of fish-kind have a restraining order placed upon my person, not that I wish them any harm, I like fish, they’re nice to look at. I’m no piscatologist and know nothing of piscatorial matters it has to be said, but then who does? I buy a fish or two; I place them in a tank of water at room temperature, throw in a plant, a sunken skull and a treasure chest bursting with fake pearls. I remember to feed them once a day and for all this effort they roll over and sort of, well, die really. Or almost die, in which case I’m obliged to pop them in a carrier bag and smite them tentatively with a cosh in an attempt to release them from their mortal woes, but actually end up bludgeoning them to fish paste.
On one occasion, deep in thought, thinking no doubt of grand ideas on a celestial scale, I absently speared a carp with a bamboo cane from the ornate pond of one chairman Mao. I was on the very brink of preventing the Cultural Revolution and implementing a free election too; but alas old Mao saw red! Then there was the time, while diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I accidentally dropped my electric toothbrush over board, we had barracuda on the menu for weeks after that!
So as you see from the few examples I’ve exhibited I’m not exactly Dr Doolittle, well travelled, informative and influential I may be but PETA would scramble my liver as soon as look at me! Therefore you can imagine my surprise when I began to notice that Panaché was trying to tell me something. I could instinctively tell from his aroused state and the erratic swish of his anal fin that something was up. He never behaved this way with others; he only became agitated when left in the room alone with me! I know, I know you think that somehow evolution had equipped him with a sense of danger but believe me when I say he seemed happy to see me. He would come right up to the glass and his mouth would open and close as if he was talking, amazing isn’t it? It took me little time to master his dialect and found he had a surprisingly broad vocabulary for a gold fish.
Since we discovered I could understand him he has demanded a new state of the art tank with luxury panoramic views, a Jacuzzi, a water slide and gold plated skull. He wants his own bank account and a holiday home in the Maldives. If he’s not careful he’ll end up wrapped in seaweed and dipped in wasabi. I jest, really I do, I love the little chap, he’s a great listener, which is an often over looked quality in a fish as is his ability to rhyme in mandarin. What’s more I don’t have to change nappies or scrub baby vomit off my shirt. No waking up at 3am to wind him, no vaccines or parent baby groups or post natal blues or ‘why isn’t he walking yet’ anxiety. I don’t have to discreetly ask a puppy faced adolescent in mothercare for nipple shields and then feel the need to qualify the question with ‘there’re not for me’. I don’t have to spend 20 hours a day kneeling on the floor or prevent him from drowning in the bath while attempting to wash him with what’s obviously a deficient amount of hands!!! None of these things are applicable to the care and comfort of a fish nor, you will find, is the need to walk it, air it, play with it, find it a good school, dress it, teach it to ride a bike, kick a ball and make audible well rounded armpit farts. Fish, even demanding megalomaniacs like Panaché, are a walk in the park compared to children, I think making that deal with the boy child was the best thing I ever did.