The pet sagas- Et finalement- A very fishy affair (ii)

A week or so after the mysterious disappearance of Lotus, I decided that the tank needed a clean. Being a complete novice, I watched a few youtube videos. They seemed unnecessarily complicated, with funnels and pipes, and what-have-you’s and whatachamacallits going in and out of the tank. Some good old fashioned scrubbing would do the trick I reckoned.

The two remaining fish were deposited in a bowl with some of the aquarium water, and I enlisted my husband to pick up and carry the half filled aquarium to the kitchen sink. As he placed it down, I heard a small clink. “Did you knock it?”, I asked him, concerned. “No, no. Not at all”, he replied airily. So, I pulled out all the ornaments, and gave them a right old scouring. The pebbles were dashed with water time and again to clear all the muck off them. When all my OCD tendencies were suitably satisfied, I replaced the fish in their sparkling new home. Job done.

Then I noticed the drip.

It was only one corner, and ever so slight. But a leak there was, in the supposedly not knocked edge. I glared at my husband, who decided to examine the floor. At 8pm, we were hardly likely to find a replacement tank. If left overnight, I was concerned I’d come downstairs to a puddle on the floor and two very dead fish in the tank.

“I promise I’ll buy a tank tomorrow!”

“But what do I do now?”

We hit upon the ingenious solution of putting them back in the large bowl overnight, with the heater, and the the filter for company. Now, a filter in a 14 litre tank, does its job suitably well. Put it in a bowl, and what have you got? A whirlpool is what.

The poor confused fish went whirling around the water, chasing their own tails literally. If not of fright, they would surely die of exhaustion.

“Turn off the ruddy filter!!”, I shrieked.

The girls hurried to the task. We watched the fish settle into a more placid swim, and crossed all crossable parts that they would survive the night.

What they didn’t survive was the months ahead.

Having established that the tank was toxic, I bought anti-ammonia solutions and biological supplements to re calibrate the tank’s habitable environment. Finally it seemed that we were on the road to recovery. The few remaining fish started to thrive. With great trepidation we added a few more. Those seemed to be doing fine too. At long last, I felt I could breathe.

Even as I mourned the loss of our initial guppies and rasboras, my friend reassured me. “It’s not like you’re making a huge dent in the guppy population. They are not exactly an endangered species.” Quite the contrary. Guppies were the the rabbits of the sea world, prone to rapid population expansion, given half a chance. Which is why, I only housed males, trying to redress the female heavy ratio of our household.

At this point, with all the dramas and upheavals of our fishy friends, the girls had effectively left me to manage the tank and its inhabitants. I wasn’t complaining. I found the weekly ritual of cleaning (had finally mastered that less is more in the tank cleaning department), quite relaxing. We had around six happy fish that swum around in amiable congeniality.

***

As neighbours go, we had better than the best. They were more like family. They had been there in our times of sorrow and need. They had also been there in our times of drink, and mis deeds. So, it was but natural that the kids traipsed in and out of each others houses. When we were on vacations, they fed our pets, and vice versa.

This one particular day, our friendly neighbourhood ginger haired four year old ninja deduced that the fish were looking decidedly undernourished. He took the container of fish food, and proceeded to empty the contents into the tank. In place of their usual two or three flakes, they were only given a few thousand more. When it rains it pours. The fish were in fish heaven, theoretically then, and literally after. I was caught in an Edvard Munch Scream, and the poor mother couldn’t stop apologising.

A few more flushes after, there were new fish in the tank, bought with the gift certificates said neighbour insisted we have as compensation. I tried pointing out that at least they died happy this time. Gluttony over disease any day. She was having none of it. So off we trooped to the Fisheries again, and bought another batch.

***

Practice makes perfect, they say. In all the months of cleaning, I had realised that as long as one changed a third of the water regularly, cleaned the filter sponge in the same discarded water, to keep the biological balance intact, and fed the fish intermittently, one could potentially have a hazard free aquarium and fish to enjoy.

Then one day the filter began to cough and splutter. Nine months in, I thought I was getting pretty good at this cleaning malarkey. So I took the filter out to use my investigative skills on it. The bottom bit came off easily. That’s where the sponge lived. The top bit took a bit of grunting and pulling till it came apart. And therein lay the problem. The problem called Lotus.

I was sad, but also relieved to discover the fishy remains of our missing Rasbora, who had obviously been sucked into the filter in our absence. This also explained why most of our dead fish seemed to be near the filter, partially in, partially out. It’s powerful suction must have pulled their weak bodies towards it. I sent up a silent apology to its similarly deceased mates. Having cleaned all the parts, I reassembled the filter, and replaced it in the tank. It purred softly like a newly serviced BMW.

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

On a work trip, I suffered an injury. In my absence, all but one of the fish died. Why are the two related? They are not. Except for the sense of gloom that enveloped us. I had thought we were doing fine. I had even planned to take the resident level of the tank to the max of twelve that it could house. A dead filter put paid to those plans. Even as I lay in ER, the girls described how the poor fish kept coming to the surface of the water, gasping for breath. An emergency visit to the Fisheries, with the filter, confirmed the diagnosis. A new filter was purchased immediately, but the damage had been done.

Banana was the only fish that survived. Named so because of his colour, he had also exhibited signs of being completely bananas. Reassuringly, his madcap tendencies went hand in hand with a strong will to survive.

He is the oldest resident in the tank now. He has San Diego, Plum and Big Boy for company. Big Boy has been looking rather under the weather lately. I’m guessing he doesn’t have long to go.

So the circle of life and death carries on in our aquarium, like it does in the world at large. The only lesson to take away from it all is an old one : Detachment is not that you should own nothing. But that nothing should own you.

Amen to that.

The pet sagas- Et finalement- A very fishy affair (i)

The idea of getting fish had been bounced around for a while. Daddy had put a spanner in the works by tactlessly announcing that a fish can’t be taken for a walk. At this the the younger one had petulantly declared that she still wanted a cat, thank you very much! Much cajoling, and surfing the net for aquariums had finally convinced her otherwise.

With the best of intentions we set out to buy our first small aquarium.It was decided that this would house tropical fish. We set about educating ourselves on setting up aquariums, and introducing fish to their new home. It didn’t seem too challenging at first. The tank had to be installed with the ornaments, plants, a filter and a heater, and allowed to mature before any fish were put in there.I am as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to assembling things. Fortunately, a friend happened to be passing by even as I was racking my brain over the instruction leaflet. In return for a nice glass of wine, he agreed to help erect the structure.

For an entire month, the uninhabited tank sat like a feature in our living room. It was the prettiest thing, and at one point the husband remarked, “Maybe we should just leave it like this?”, setting off another flood of tears. I couldn’t be bothered to argue with that flawed logic, and instead said to daughter, “Shall we go buy the fish this weekend?”, with nary a clue as to what fish we were going to purchase. Hastily I messaged a friend in India who is rather an expert in fish. He suggested Rasboras. They were easy to manage and hardy little fish. Upon first sight I wasn’t particularly impressed by these nondescript fish that paled next to their prettier neon neighbours. But when the Fisheries man seconded my friend’s opinion, we agreed that perhaps this was the way forward.

We were the proud owners of three Rasboras that jiggled along in a plastic bag full of water, even as I drove the two miles home extremely cautiously. Introducing them to their new home was a task in itself. First, you had to ensure that the aquarium light was switched off. Then the bag had to be lowered into the water slowly, and left to float there for a bit, with the knot on top loosened. Little by little, you had to introduce the aquarium water into the bag. The entire process took about an hour. Finally, after an interminable wait, you could scoop the fish into the aquarium. Leave the light off another hour, and voila! There they were. The three little fish that were named Sky, Ocean and Lotus. As I couldn’t tell one apart from the other, I kept getting the names mixed up, much to my girls’ annoyance.

The three fish seemed to settle in well, although two seemed to be bonding a lot better. Why did we buy three, the elder asked? Surely an even number would have been better. I could see she had a point, but I had been looking at the deal (buy 3 for £10) rather than odds and evens. At any rate, the plan was to introduce another three in a few weeks time, and that would sort things out.

We left on holiday on the Sunday for three days. The fish were fed on the day we left, and we intended to feed them the evening we returned, which meant that the Monday and Tuesday they would not be fed. I had been assured by my fish expert friend that this was perfectly alright. Over feeding the fish was more of a crime than under feeding them.

On the Wednesday that we returned, I looked and looked in the tank, but I could only spot two fish! Had the other two gotten so hungry they had eaten the third? That never happens, chat forums claimed. Rasboras were simply not those kind of fish. Well then, the third fish was certainly missing in action and while the other two weren’t smacking their lips or waving their fins jubilantly, in my eyes they looked very suspicious indeed. The next morning I examined the tank from all angles, but Lotus had certainly disappeared for good. It wasn’t till many months later that his absence was explained, but more on that later.

My opinion on these cannibalistic Rasboras was forever altered, and regardless of all the cooing my little one indulged in, I refused to alter my stance. Let’s just say, I was not very fond of them.

The time came to buy some more fish, and we decided on some pretty guppies this time, after taking into account all compatibility issues. Now these were fish to relax by. I would sit with my morning cuppa and watch them swim around the tank. In and out of the little square cave, around the plants, near to the glass, and then back again. There was a sort of hypnotic, melt your worries away charm to them.

That is, till one of them started swimming low, then not much at all, till it took to hanging behind the filter. I couldn’t understand why. I tried enticing it out by throwing a fish flake close to it. But in its semi vegetative state, it let it float away to its compatriots that gobbled it up quickly. The next morning it was dead.

Like dominoes they fell. Like flies they dropped. Each one that died broke my heart. I lost sleepless nights wondering what I was doing wrong. The girls were inconsolable to begin with, then stoic, and finally blasé. The first ones were flushed down the toilet with a respectful, tearful adieu. Later, it was more of a hasty bye.

Thunder, Lightening, Bubble, Squeak, Magma, Meringue, all went down the sewers of Berkshire in the most ignominious of fashions.

I had had enough. Armed with a Chemistry kit to detect Ammonia,Nitrite, Nitrate and Ph levels, I began my investigation. With strips that reminded me of failed school time experiments, it was finally determined that the toxicity levels in the tank were too high. It was no wonder that the fish were perishing.

To be continued…..