ETCETERA / Home Thoughts

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The Independent Culture
THE TRICKY subject of pets has surfaced again in our house, as it does from time to time. My son wants a puppy or, failing that, a rabbit. I point out that he does, in fact, already have a pet: a goldfish, given to him by his childminder for his first birthday. The fish, however, will not do.

I'm not surprised. This fish is unremarkable in most respects - small, transparent, often motionless, really rather boring - except for one thing. He is a killer fish. Jamie was given two fish, but the killer fish ate his companion one dark night. Foolishly, I thought it might have been an accident, so I bought another fish. Bad mistake. The same terrible fate overtook it. So our pet - who is nameless, though I think of him as the Hannibal Lecter of the fish world - now lives in solitary confinement, in a large tank complete with oxygen filtration, weed, gravel, shells and a small ceramic lighthouse.

This is not the first time I've had dealings with a delinquent pet. There was

Simon, a grumpy Jack Russell who shared my family's brief rural existence when I was four; he was eventually banished to live with an elderly couple in Liverpool after persistent offences against the local squire's pheasants. Then there was Harry the hamster, a cunning and resourceful rodent who escaped from his cage and built a nest under the bedroom floorboards, using fabric that he'd chewed from my mother's lovingly constructed patchwork quilt. And there is still Henry the cat, now 15 years old, bad-tempered as ever, fat, foul- breathed, incontinent and consistently vicious to children and small defenceless creatures. We once had a lodger, a dedicated behavioural psychologist, who devoted an entire summer to modifying Henry's appalling habits. The cat remained recalcitrant. He also seems unlikely to die, ever, so my mother is trying to persuade her neighbours to adopt him.

All of these animals - some of whom I have had a part in choosing (shamefully, I bear full responsibility for foisting Henry on to my parents) - make me sure that I have no judgement or luck when it comes to pets. This is why I told my son that he'd have to make do with the killer fish. His face fell.

''What about a guinea pig?' he asked, lowering the stakes. 'My Aunt Kirsty said I could have their old guinea pig. Why can't I have him?' I've never really seen the point of guinea pigs: but I tried to be tactful and explained that delightful as he is, the garden is really too small for the guinea pig and his extensive cage.

'Anyway, you've got a new baby brother,' I added hopefully. 'Don't you think he's a bit like a pet?'

Jamie looked unimpressed. 'Well, he's not a very interesting one,' he said, and left the room.

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