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.
Just a quick one about the joys of recycling, upcycling, reupholstering.
The hound had spied and coveted a beautiful footstool from the genius that is House of Hackney, but unfortunately the hound’s budget could not stretch to such a purchase. Not to be thwarted, I set out on a quest to find my perfect Victorian stool that I could cover myself in the gorgeous, vivid, velvet pink of House of Hackney’s signature print Hackney Empire. Rather conveniently they sell this by the metre on their website or in their shop. www.houseofhackney.com
I found the perfect stool, a Victorian, extended, dark wood number on ebay and hey presto, a stool was born, or reborn. I find some of the best places to hunt for furniture projects are ebay, auction houses, charity shops and boot fairs.
Andrew Martin Sokoto fabric
Andrew Martin Kano Fabric
Just for inspirational here are some other fabrics that I have my eye on for future projects. These are produced by the very talented British design house Andrew Martin, of trompe d’oeil wallpaper fame. Andrew Martin, like all my favourite designers, manages to combine traditional, modern, quirky and opulent. The designs are both elegant and eclectic, much like the hound! www.andrewmartin.co.uk
Andrew Martin Virginia Fabric
Andrew Martin Giza fabric
Lighting is such an important way to express yourself in your home. Sort of like the punctuation marks in a great novel it can provide emphasis and subtly and sort of guides your visitor through the home.
I could wax lyrical and at length about the dizzying array of lighting exotica but given I have to start somewhere I am going to start with floor lamps.
Lamps that can draw you to a chair, tell you to pour a glass of wine and pick up the book at the exciting point that you reluctantly put it down. A light to draw out the depths and details of a picture or a mirror. A light that entices someone to travel to a far corner of the room.
For me it was love at first glimpse when I i-spied the vintage 60’s Maison Jansen Bronze palm tree floor light, while stuck at traffic lights on a frantic school run dash down the Essex road. After some negotiation and a deposit exchanged on Islington’s canals- the palm tree made its way home to Muswell Hill. From the depths of the Ghanian embassy in Belgium to the hallway of the Intrepid Hound’s den in North London, this is a lamp with history. It is a beautiful, sculptural object in its own right, but when the light is switched on magic happens. The palm fronds cast beautiful shapes all over the Hallway. As befits such a beauty it is set against the best paper money can buy. House of Hackney’s beautiful Palmeral print in midnight/green. www.houseofhackney.com
I have put it in the hallway because it is just soo beautiful I want to look at it a lot, every day. I also think it sets the tone for the rest of the house and hopefully intrigues and draws visitors into the rest of the house.
I started to investigate the source of my palm beauty and discovered that Maison Jansen was the brainchild of a Dutchman Jean-Henri Jansen. Founded in 1880 in Paris it was considered the first real global design firm.
Maison Jansen liked to incorporate cutting edge trends including the Arts and Crafts movement and Anglo-Japanese style alongside rich opulent traditional designs. It’s clients included royalty, film stars and the glitterati of the day. I feel very lucky to own a bit of its history.
The other main standard lamps in my life hang out in the living room.
The base of one I bought from an auction house. It is an old gas light fitting converted for modern use. I wanted a sort of Downton Abbey/ Opium den feel so I chose an ornate design for the shade, albeit with a simple black/ gold colour combination to keep it modern.
The other floor light is an up-cycled number from a house we bought some ten years ago. It was one of the very few things left/worth keeping from the previous owners but the base was a pretty ugly yellow wood with lots of bangs and scrapes. I sanded it down and spray painted it electric pink. I topped it off with a very traditional, burgundy shade to sort of bring it down from ‘look how crazy and clever I am’ territory.
More on lighting to come. Love the stuff.