Our latest foray into pet keeping has, maybe inevitably, turned into a disaster.
Our youngest daughter’s birthday gift of a fish tank and promises of brightly coloured scaly be-finned creatures had been received so well.
The weeks of preparing the water to allow the right bacterial soup to fester in order to keep the toxicity of the water down once the fish were in there passed; the trip to the aquatic centre became a family outing of great celebration; and the two mollies that were brought home to their new abode were named, somewhat randomly, after my daughter’s favourite fruit.
Things had started positively with the fish taking so well to their new home that within two days we spotted 14 baby fish gaily larking around the tank! As complete novices to the art of fish keeping this was quite a surprise. We had bought two fish, now we had 16.
We subsequently found out that mollies are renowned for dropping babies willy-nilly. They can mate then decide to give birth at their own whim. And there is every likelihood that they could have a load more in a month or two.
Obviously, the children were delighted, but I felt overwhelmed with the additional responsibility. Good grief, I already have a house, garden, job and three kids to look after. What am I going to do with 14 more babies? And what on earth are we going to call them all? Do I know that many fruits?
But thanks to the stark realism of the natural world, the inevitable happened and one by one, these baby fish ‘disappeared’. Sad, but a good lesson in Darwinism and survival of the fittest.
The children took it well, but mainly, I think, because no one saw the bigger fish cannibalising the smaller ones (if indeed that is what happened), which would have been an unfortunate contribution to our daily tea times together, the tank sitting within full view of our dining table.
But the lost babies were soon forgotten and the daily habits of the fish were happily noted and enjoyed.
They have been fed regularly before school and watched intently for any further signs of gestation and baby-bearing.
And for my own pet-reviling nature, I have enjoyed watching the fish go about their business and listening to the constant sound of trickling water from the pump.
We have been dutifully cleaning the tank as per the instructions, regulating the water quality and talking regularly to the fish to keep them engaged (you do have to do that, don’t you?).
But a couple of days ago one of them started acting oddly. And a day after that, the other was swimming bizarrely too.
A discrete screen was put up to shield the disturbing behaviour from the children whilst we frantically googled ‘fish behaving weirdly’.
Sadly, before we could perform mouth-to-mouth, or whatever was required, one of the fish had died. The other, as I write, seems to have perked up a bit, but I am not holding out much hope.
But fish keeping is, I am sure, a skill to be developed, and I hope to re-stock the tank. Just as long as it continues to prevent the children asking for a cat.