04 January 2006

Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar And The Schmuck

Once upon a time my husband was a single man, living in what the estate agents termed a bijou penthouse flat in trendy Hammersmith. OK there was an entry system and a concierge, but his 'flat' was more of a bedsit come broom cupboard.

Still, being a softie, he had what pets were allowed - two goldfish named Sodom and Gomorrah.

By the time we moved in together, Gomorrah had shuffled off this mortal coil and Sodom was left alone. It is to my eternal annoyance that when we bought him a new companion, Husband refused to allow me to name it Stuffit.

I thought Sodom and Stuffit went well, but no, we took on Gomorrah #2.

When, in a flat ourselves, we upgraded to a six foot tank, even with a new all-singin'-and-a-dancin' filtration system, we discovered it was too large to face very regular cleaning. Theoretically you only ever change two thirds of the water, to allow the natural bacteria to re-grow and stop the fish going into tap-water shock, but every so often the base goes green and yicky, at which point the water you have to save is the top or middle third - the whole tank needs emptying and washing out, even the gravel needs a wash or to be replaced.

The problem was exacerbated when we bought a third fish - we fell in love with him - a Black Moor whom we called Zoar. It's another Old Testament city, and it rhymed. Good enough. From the top he looked like a cross between a fantail and a hammerhead shark, but from the front he looked like Biggles, or Marty Feldman.

Anyway, shopping for supplies in a new aquatics shop in Greenford we saw a tank full of tiny catfish. These were the type, the owner said, that only grew to about six inches in the confines of a tank. Completely safe with other fish and bottom feeders, bought by many just to keep the algae down.

We bought one and named him Schmuck (hey it's still Jewish) because he sucked muck.

The pet shop owner was misled, that or an evil liar out for a fast buck - someone in the chain certainly was.

Schmuck got to be about 3 inches long in no time. No problem, Zoar and the others varied from 4 to 6 inches long, given the spaciousness of the tank. However we woke up one morning and found poor darling Zoar fumbling his way in his usual circles round the tank, with one fin patting its way blindly across the glass. He didn't actually seem remotely phased by his new disability - no signs of blood or a struggle, but he was now a one-eyed Moor.

A few phone calls and a check inside the filter (just in case he'd been vacuum attacked by the mechanism) pointed us to the possibility that Schmuck was not all that he seemed. Apparently, if a catfish has longer barbs on the bottom lip than the top, then it is an East European catfish - designed to grow to six feet irrespective of the tank, carnivorous and territorial. He had to be removed from the tank, and that instant.

Neither of us wanted to see him euthenased for being of a predatory breed, which was hardly his fault, and we began a frantic search for someone, anyone who might want him, but we soon found we couldn't offload him for two more days.

Temporarily short of a bucket for some forgotten reason, I sacrificed a large, heavy enamelled casserole / crockpot, deep and about 18" by 6". I say sacrificed, because there was no way I was going to reclaim it once the water was all fish widdle. We settled Schmuck in on the windowledge, but he was none too happy and we soon decided to keep the lid on the pot to stop him attacking nosy passing children. Apparently his kind quite like the dark, so that was something. For a while at least, he settled down.

WriterMom inspired this story with her post about evil, murderous catfish, and now that I've given all the background, I have to say that she's got them pretty well bang to rights. This thing was three inches long. In the dark. On its own. Yet it would attack loud noises, not run from them - the killer instinct had awoken and was running on overdrive.

How do I know? It was Christmas. Roger Rabbit was on the TV. Every time there was a loud bang, crash or whizz in the movie, the whole ton-weight casserole dish shunted along the windowledge, towards the noise. The nearer it got, presumably the louder the noises sounded (from both under a lid and under water....) because the shunting became more enthusiastic. I know catfish aren't Jewish, but I wonder if there's a little known clan of Scots in whichever part of Eastern Europe the East European variety come from. I swear to God I heard the little 3" shit mumbling things like "Stitch that Jimmae" and "I'll effin kill ya!"

I know he must have headbutted the pot along the ledge but I imagine him having shoulders, like a heavy sent to break doors down.

We did eventually re-home him, but it took six extra strong freezer bags to make his transport airtight, because of his barbs. Like hell were we starting again when the first one sprung a leak, neither of us was willing to touch the aggressive, spiky little beastie, we just kept dropping bag into bag into bag. But that's another story.


doris said...

What a cool fish! Pretty dangerous and scary - the sort nightmares are made from.

I had some Black Moors once upon a time and even wrote about my beloved fish .... I stayed up almost all night watching the little darlings and falling in love with them. I'm sure I called one Guiness. They were all dead by the morning. I was gutted.

Milt Bogs said...

Cheryl - We had a series of Black Moors. I thought they were fascinating. The last one was named Othello and he lasted about two years. The guy in the shop said he should have lasted ten to fifteen years and I was obviously doing something wrong, probably overfeeding him.

A friend at work told me that cold water fish are much harder to look after than tropical fish, so I put all the cold water fish in a pond in the garden and the local heron ate the bloody lot.

Writer Mom said...

I love herons, btw. They have a terrible squawk when they're pissed, but I really like them.

Someone needs to look into this catfish issue. Clearly. I love all living creatures, and all that, but I'd have been REALLY tempted to just put that pot on the stove and light her up!
Too cruel?
My cat would have gotten to the fish first, more likely.

You people have great names for fish!

Badaunt said...

Great story!

One of my friends recently got a catfish to go in his goldfish bowl, for much the same reasons. I wonder if he's going to have the same problem?

fineartist said...

Fish freak me out, sort of. I liked your story though.