We have not so much introduced the children to the joy of fish as we have introduced them to the cycle of death. It seems there is more to this aquarium malarky than you might first think.
With hairy things off limits, due to my husband’s nasal challenges, it was to fish that we turned to fulfil our dreams of owning a family pet.
Of the first batch of four fish only one survived beyond three months. Two died in under a week. One never made it out of the plastic bag we brought her home in. Looking after fish was beginning to make childcare look like a piece of piss.
We had opted for a tropical tank on the grounds that it allows you to buy some slightly more exotic and interesting fish than your bog standard goldfish. Although as a friend recently remarked it is a curious thing that we then went on to buy a bunch of fish that bear an uncanny resemblance to goldfish.
It is one of these goldfish doppelgängers that is our survivor, our veritable Beyonce of the fish world. She is a heart-shaped brilliant red platy called Ruby and has become an important fish in the family. In moments when I have doubted my ability to keep a biologically viable tank I have oft thought of Ruby, and her will to live, and it has given me the confidence to carry on.
It has been a learning curve. On my first visit to the pet shop I decided I wanted a small tank and a very beautiful angelfish. What an amateur I was. Angelfish require a minimum of about 90 litres of water. The tank I was looking at was 9 litres. “They need room to swim and turn around,’ pointed out the shop assistant, eyes rolling.
It really is worth getting a decent sized tank. That way you can get an interesting number of fish and be confident that they are enjoying a decent quality of life. I think a minimum of 50 litres, a heater and a filter and you have what you need.
Unfortunately the design and style of fish tanks has not really evolved since the seventies. Being an interior snob (see other posts) I was determined to find a solution. I found a wooden cased tank that I was able to paint in the same Abigail Ahern Mercer Green as my kitchen and then used House of Hackney’s house print as the backdrop to the aquarium.
For decoration I added lots of lumps of lava stone that have interesting nooks and crannies for the fish to hide in. I do feel a bit bad about not putting in my kids’ choices of accessories that included a replica of the Eiffel tower, the Roman Colisseum, a shipwreck and a bubbling bum air filter. Actually I don’t feel that bad.
We chose from a rainbow coloured cornucopia of fish, including five-banded barbs, Strawberry and Blue Neon Dwarf Rasboras, disc shaped Gourami and beautiful, vividly coloured scarlet and neon tetras. We are the proud owners of two lamp eye fish, tiny, grey and with bright blue eyes. Ours are called Honda and Fiat.
In an imaginative use of alliteration we decided to call our red fish by names beginning with R. We have Ruby Ray and, and chosen, rather brilliantly by the phonically focused five-year old, a fish called Arse. Curiously the other name that he is wedded to is Isabella. Give that our mortality rates mirror that of sixteenth century royals, we are currently housing Isabella III.
I am really trying hard to embrace life as an aquarist, but there are limits. Pleasantly surprised by my enthusiasm, the shop assistant asked if I had considered purchasing a bottom-dwelling, snail-eating loachfish. I reminded him that he was dealing with a woman only recently robbed of her dreams of owning a big brown-eyed, fluffy cockerpoo. One step at a time.