Fish: the perfect solution to that pet cat problem

No crib for a... sausage roll

ZELLA COMPTON: A 21st century curse – how does a family manage the TV recorder?

Having a pet is something that most children declare an interest in at some point in their lives.

When I was turning nine, I had dropped so many hints about wanting a hamster that I had convinced myself that my parents – the least likely people to allow any form of furry animal into their house – had not only got me one, but most probably hidden it under their bed or in a cupboard somewhere.

There were a few days of frantic snooping in all the places that a hamster may be hidden, even though if such a creature was lurking there it would probably be overheated or overcome by dust.

No surprises, though, that on the day of my birthday, convinced that little hammy would be revealed to me, I was fiercely disappointed and was instead presented with a set of shelves for my bedroom.

Curiously, though, at various times in my childhood I was allowed a succession of goldfish and a rather fertile stick insect.

Still, I think that maybe this early experience has led me to have a similar view to pet ownership as my parents.

For me it is the additional responsibility and endless cleaning that puts me off, along with the accompanying smell (and please don't write in to tell me that animals don't smell – they do, especially to people without pets).

My children have recently resurrected their plea for a cat.

'Can we have a cat?' they whine incessantly.

'No,' I reply again and again.

I have never been more certain of anything in my life. We had a cat before and despite its large and unwieldy size (she was on a strict diet but I think that she was getting her food kicks elsewhere) she sometimes brought in mice and, on one famous occasion, a budgerigar.

The chickens in the garden are not really pets since I consider them as working creatures, laying eggs for our consumption.

But the persistence of the call for a cat is beginning to feel like Chinese water torture.

A large plea has been written on the whiteboard in our kitchen: 'Can we have a cat?' Accompanied with a lovely drawing of a sweet kitten with large playful eyes.

'No,' I wrote beneath it. This was hastily wiped off by a small person and replaced with the words 'Yes defently', the idiosyncratic spelling giving away the identity of the seven-year-old author.

Never mind student protests against tuition fees, the cat debate is the hottest topic in this house. And I intend to halt it before it progresses into full scale war, before fire extinguishers are thrown from bedroom windows and before I need to deploy kettling techniques.

My tactic? To give my daughter a goldfish for her birthday.

This may seem like an odd decision given my lack of enthusiasm for pets, but with the offer of a free tank and some curious-looking equipment it seems like the ideal solution.

Easily contained, fun to watch and no daily walkies, a fish could plug the gap between cat ownership and a pet-free home.

So we are off to purchase a fish or three. And now there is no chance of a cat because what if it tried to eat the fish? You see what I've done there?

PROBLEMS THREE WAYS TO...

Cope with a credit crunch Christmas

Lay down the boundaries early. Explain to the kids that there won't be as many presents this year now – don't leave it until Christmas morning.

Get the children to write a list of presents they'd like to receive and rank them in order of preference. That way you'll know what their heart is set on and what they can do without.

Don't fall into the trap of going mad on presents. Saddling yourself with long-term debt for the sake of one happy Christmas Day isn't going to do the kids any favours. So stay sensible.