While Steve's away, the cat will play - with his dinner | Steve Canavan

One of my overriding memories of growing up is fish.

By Steve Canavan
Friday, 12th March 2021, 5:30 pm
A cat eyes up the fried fish on the table. Picture by Shutterstock
A cat eyes up the fried fish on the table. Picture by Shutterstock

Actually that makes it sound as if I were the son of a fisherman and spent my youth aboard trawler boats off the coast of Hull at 4am catching shrimps.

Alas, that’s not the case, which I’m grateful for really, because I’ve never been a morning person and waterproof trousers have just never suited me.

So let me explain.

My dad was a big fan of fish – kippers, sardines, mackerel, cod, shark (I made one of those up) – and his chosen method of cooking was to fry them in, well, the frying pan.

A simple harmless act you’d think.

But no.

This act was – in the eyes of my mother – a crime on a par with first degree murder.

My mum, you see – who is, I feel it’s important to add here, a little dramatic (if things had gone differently – ie, she hadn’t been born on a council estate in Greater Manchester and was pretty instead of a bit plain with a slightly-too-large nose – could have been a famous Hollywood actress), detests the smell of frying fish.

Her lifelong mission, it seemed to me as a child, was to make sure the smell of frying fish did not permeate the house.

In any way. Ever.

She became an expert at detecting when my father was about to cook it and, if she so much as heard the fridge door open an inch, would shout – in the style of a police officer dealing with a dangerous crazed criminal: ‘Michael, if you’re cooking fish, close every door in the house and open the windows.’

As a result, one of my most enduring memories is my dad – in the midst of winter, with freezing temperatures and snow on the ground – frying a trout fillet while wearing a scarf and bobble hat because my mum insisted he have the kitchen door and windows open.

If he forgot these rules – as he often did (probably just to annoy her) – and cooked a piece of fish with the kitchen door open, when my mum returned home she would pause outside the front door, cock her head upwards and sniff the wind, like a fox checking for the scent of a predator on the wind.

Then she’d shriek ‘FISHHHH!’, burst in the house and fling open every door while simultaneously screaming at my father for creating ‘this disgusting smell’.

I mention all this because I had my own fish incident the other night.

I bought some sea bass for tea – I planned to have it with a jacket potato and broccoli since you didn’t ask – and had just finished cooking it when I heard the word that every parent dreads after 7.30pm: ‘Dadddddd’.

I sighed and inwardly questioned once again why I’d decided children were a good thing to have, before putting my meal on the kitchen counter and dutifully trooping upstairs.

‘It’s too dark,’ whined my four-year-old Mary, which is a ridiculous statement given she currently has four sets of night lights in her room, including a gigantic pink unicorn thing that wouldn’t look out of place in Blackpool Illuminations.

In fact some of the neighbours recently complained that the light emitting from Mary’s room is keeping them awake at night.

‘Mary,’ I said, ‘you’ve got lots of lights here.

‘Look, daddy is just about to have his tea and because he’s spent the last two hours bathing you and putting you to bed he is really tired and hungry.

‘In fact if I don’t eat soon I might collapse and die. So can I go and eat?’

‘No,’ replied Mary, ‘can you lie with me for a bit?’

That’s the worst thing about kids – they’re so bloody self-centred.

But, because I’m soft and am yet to say no or to discipline my children in any way (which is bad really given last week she held up a bank with a sawn-off shotgun... though on the upside we’re using the £35,000 to have an extension off the back of the house), I sat with her for 10 minutes or so before finally sliding out of the room.

The lovely smell of seabass filled my nostrils as I wandered down the stairs with the happy anticipation of tucking into my lovingly prepared meal.

Then, as I entered the kitchen, I saw, to my absolute horror, our cat – Bobbie – sat next to my plate with her face in my fish.

I stopped in horror, she glanced up at me, then – as if completely unconcerned at being caught in the act – turned her attention back to her feast and carried on eating.

In fact she was so relaxed I half expected her to dab her whiskers with a napkin and crack open a bottle of Prosecco.

I did what any grown man would do at this point and went bonkers, covering the distance from one end of the kitchen to the other faster than a combination of Usain Bolt and a fully-grown cheetah and grabbing my plate, while the terrified cat leapt around seven foot in the air and shot into the boiler cupboard (it’s still in there trembling five days on).

Without a word of exaggeration, the seabass was almost entirely gone – the only thing remaining a small scraggly chunk of white fish with cat drool hanging off it.

Because I didn’t know what else she’d slobbered on I chucked everything away, made beans on toast, and was in an absolutely foul mood for the rest of the evening.

The moral is don’t keep animals, don’t have kids.

And always – always – cover your food with cling film.