In the deeds of my apartment block there is a strictly no pets clause. Although I was secretly pleased to find myself moving into a dog-free environment, it did rather scupper my fantasy of sitting on my riverside balcony teaching a brightly coloured macaw to hurl abuse at passing boats.
Two years later and loneliness has finally got the better of me and I’ve smuggled in a goldfish. He’s called Eric Gill and is quite a character. He seemed completely unfazed by his journey from the aquatic centre, dangling from the handlebars of my bike in his plastic bag. In fact, I think he enjoyed it, especially the detour I took around the Royal Crescent on the way. Well, I wanted him to know that he would be living in a nice World Heritage neighbourhood.
The last goldfish I had was when I was ten and it was the classic case of winning one at the fair and sticking it in a round bowl and cleaning it out in the kitchen sink once in a blue moon when one’s mum pointed out the green slime and zero visibility. And of course, after a couple of months there was the inevitable ceremonial burial in a distant corner of the garden.
These days there’s much more to it. First of all there’s all the gear one has to buy, like filters, charcoal granules, sterilised grit and water test strips. This is before one can even think about adding an underwater castle ruin or a miniature sunken pirate ship.
As for plain old tap water, that’s an anathema. It’s a right palaver getting the temperature right (no cold shocks for Eric) and precisely measuring out the anti-ammonia drops and the nitrogen eradicator. As for feeding, the modern obsession with consumer choice has even reached the fishy world. There are fish flakes (cannibalism, surely), vitamin enriched pellets, pond sticks, floating treats and sinking snacks for bottom feeders. I suspect there are gluten free and vegan versions, and I even saw an aquatic laxative advertised, in case Eric starts gets bloated!
How much and how often to feed another minefield. Rule of thumb seems to be no more that your fish can eat in five minutes. I reckon greedy Eric could devour a whole month’s supply of Fishy Delights in that time. They say fish have no memory, but Eric goes bonkers every time I walk in the room. He certainly remembers where his dinner comes from.
There are other worries. Immobile lurking behind the plastic foliage is apparently a bad sign, as is manic zigzagging. As I write this, Eric is slowly circling his watery home…backwards. Is something up?
Owning fish is meant to be relaxing. Little did I realise the responsibility and stress involved. And on top of that there’s the constant fear that the property management anti-pet police could come knocking.