Thursday, 9 June 2011

A fishy tale

When I was young I had neighbours whose household was a deep, and delightful contrast to mine. We were a three "woman" house of quietness and calm, no raised voices, no mess, very careful and serene, three females, three generations in a three storey Victorian terrace that had been in the family since the early 1900's. Mum and Ganna played the piano, I practiced the piano when nagged to by Mum, who taught me; drew, dreamed and  read ... a.lot. Our neighbours were a rumbustious, overflowing, full of life family, at least seven, often more as the mother of the household took in waifs and strays, fostering several children over the years, hosting numerous language students every summer and having a pair of "live in ladies" who were slightly simple, and helped with the housework in return for bed and board. One of them crocheted a yellow blanket for my daughter, known as "Bla Bla" which she still tucks under her pillow at night in her student digs in York.

This family had pets. I mean they had PETS! Not for them the over protected, single female cat who had to be got in at night, and for whom all other trespassers to the garden had to be banished with the "cat extinguisher" - a washing up liquid bottle full of water, wielded with a  fierceness that was quite startling, by my blue eyed, fragile looking Mum. No, this family had dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, the odd grass snake and a tank of tropical fish! I would go next door, always careful to ring the bell, always told, generously, to "just come in Kath, you know you're welcome". I would cuddle the dogs and take them for walks, peer in awe at the cages in the back yard full of sawdust and mysterious rustlings, and watch mesmerised as these wonderful scraps of neon brights and floaty fins moved effortlessly round the tank, while a "thing" made bubbles in the corner. I longed for a tank of my own, complete with angel fish, tetras, guppies and all the other strange aquatic creatures that swam "Next Door". But, NO came the reply. They would cause mess - an unforgivable sin, and use up power with that bubbling "thing" in the corner, and supposing there was a power cut, candles would do them no good at all, and of course we couldn't possibly go on holiday because who would look after them then? The logic of Mum's arguments was always unarguable.

Eventually I managed to persuade Mum that a small bowl with goldfish would be allowable, but ONLY if I looked after them properly and cleaned the tank out regularly and made sure I fed them and all those other things that - I have to confess - I was slightly lackadaisical about! So, I got my goldfish, and eventually a small tank to keep them in. and water weed, and pond snails and funny coloured gravel at the bottom. But, true to Mum's expectations, I was a dreadful fish keeper, the tank grew green and slimy, the gravel turned a nasty black and Mum ended up cleaning it when I "didn't get round to it". The poor fish got sick and died, little soggy bodies floating to the surface to be taken out and ceremonially buried "up the back" in the rough ground behind the house - my neighbour officiating as chief mourner. I learnt that fish were probably not my forte. However, while fantasising about the wonderful fish I might have, if only Mum would let me, some of that long quiet time was spent with felt pens and a piece of paper. I fund the result in one of the many suitcases that came from Mum's, tucked away with a little bit of her love.

Here it is!

complete with careful taxonomic and entirely imaginary labelling! A gift to the future from a twelve year old me!  


  1. A delightful fishy tale! How lovely to find something like this. My friend and I used to draw imaginery pictures of the houses we thought we'd live in and the families we thought we'd have - all labelled like yours, but they were never kept.

  2. aaah the vain fantasies of youth!!