She's gone off to polish a fish eye

DEPARTMENT of fishy dinner-

table conversations: 'I hope she's found it.'

'What?'

'The eye.'

'Well, as long as she finds it before it rots.'

'I don't mind finding rotting things. It's the ones that grow I don't like.'

The eye in question belonged to the red snapper we had just eaten. Not to be outdone in the matter of conversations to test the squeamish, I felt compelled at this point to recall - for my wife and my daughter - the lady I knew who lived in Washington DC many years ago. She was called away from her baking by a death in the family. This death, which occurred in high summer (and Washington's summers can be very high indeed), took up two weeks of her time. On her return, she found her little frame house upended by the expansion of yeast she had been growing in her cellar.

At which point my wife did not exactly retch, but she did look at me peculiarly. However, she and my daughter had been having a conversation equally unpleasant - for most people, I suspect. They had been discussing the eye of the red snapper, which my granddaughter had mislaid in her bedroom - after spending some time during the meal polishing it. It was a prized trophy.

These grandchildren have been brought up by a man (my son-in-law) who, though he works in what some regard as a sober profession (he is an economist and banker), is a remake of Poseidon. His idea of leisure is to wrestle with nasty cuttle-fish and octopuses in Mediterranean waters. He has been known to say that unless he has conquered the fish in armed single combat (he swims with a knife in his teeth) he is not really satisfied.

As a result, his children do not swim very gracefully but are exceedingly good at standing upside down in the water, bottoms wriggling, and turning up all sorts of marine creatures. They have been brainwashed by their father into believing that nothing tastes better than bits of gill, the chaps on the head, fish-eggs and - well, what you and I would feed to the cat.

I bring this matter up because our attitudes towards fish are almost certainly governed, as are so many things, by our early experiences. Those of us who had apprehensive mothers - the kind who pored over a fillet of sole for minutes to make absolutely certain their little darlings would not choke on a bone - probably grew up to dislike fish just because they did have bones. Those who, like my wife, fed fish to their infants from six months onwards have children who really like fish.

But no one yields in sheer adoration of fish to these grandchildren. They are positively fixated; they beg for and squabble over heads and gills; and they are dab hands at gutting, cleaning and so on, which I consider a rather unpleasant task best performed by a fishmonger.

Most children are somewhat suspicious of fish, except in fish and chips. There are sound reasons for this. So far as I can see, the cardinal principle of childhood scoffing is that the food should be totally accessible for instant consumption.

This, too, is an area in which these particular grandchildren are expert. Their parents, who live in Rome, can consume a plate of pasta in under 90 seconds, and the record is dropping rapidly. The speed of their eating is due, I think, on the one hand to my daughter having spent years in a boarding school where the food supply never seemed adequate and speed was the only weapon against starvation (first crack at seconds, if any), and on the other hand to my son-in- law's belief that satisfaction of the appetite is best proven by immediate and destructive consumption.

As a result, my grandchildren, faced with heaped plates, simply lower their heads and go at it. They are like drills at a coalface.

Fish slows them up. Rather than consuming, they become fascinated surgeons, vying with each other to resection bits of fish brain, studying the rather viscous veins and other bodily connectors of fish as a surgeon might note a particularly interesting medulla oblongata.

Not so my Number Five son, who is their uncle and their age. He likes fish, but is dispassionate about them. They have to be handsomely cooked; the court bouillon must be just so; a bone on his plate is an insult; a fin something too gross to be touched.

I sympathise. But then I had an anxious mother; he has a Cartesian one. I had to work at liking fish, and I remain selective about them; he has had nothing but the best since birth.

I conclude that children divide into two essential types when it comes to food: aesthetes and savages. I know kids who will wrestle a bloody steak to the ground and gnaw at bones like cavemen; I know others who contemplate the clarification of a mirepoix with awe.

These grandchildren who hide polished fish eyes (the eye has not yet been found) were taught the primitive contact-with-nature mode; I was taught to be finicky, and have had to work hard to manage to become even a semi-savage.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Travel
Fair trade: the idea of honesty boxes relies on people paying their way
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary