Fishing Lines: Fair record for Yorkshire's golden oldie

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AN ODD thought struck me after reading about Tish, the Yorkshire goldfish that died aged 43. They say goldfish have an attention span of about one second. Does this mean that every time Tish finned round its bowl (roughly 226,008,000 revolutions, by my calculations), it swam past the little plastic skeleton and said to itself: "Ooh, look! A plastic skeleton! You don't often see one of those..." "Ooh, look! A plastic skeleton! You don't often see one of those..." "Ooh, look! A plastic skeleton! You don't often see one of those..."

Not a great life, perhaps, but in many ways a lot better than ours. Imagine being constantly amazed by everything you see. All you did, every experience, would come at you fresh and unique. Old Tish may have had ants' eggs every day for those 43 years, yet he would have rushed to the surface each time thinking: "Wow! Ants' eggs! My favourite!"

Tish was a roll-a-penny prize from a Doncaster fairground in 1956. Peter Hand put him in a bowl with Tosh, who died in 1975 after suffering salmon delusions, and a net was fitted over the bowl to stop Tish suffering the same fate. When Peter left home, he passed responsibility to his parents. When they moved to a retirement home, Tish got a new residence too: an aquarium.

The Guinness Book of Records investigated Tish's longevity three years ago and, though unable to confirm his age by counting growth rings on the scales, it accepted sworn affidavits from family friends. Fred, a 41-year-old goldfish owned by Alan Wilson of Worthing, Sussex, had held the record since 1980 but last year Tish surpassed this mark.

But even goldfish grow old. Recently Tish seemed off-colour and bloated. The next day, he was lying dead on the bottom of the tank. In true goldfish tradition, he was laid to rest in a yoghurt carton and buried in the garden.

By all accounts Tish led a charmed life. Steve Windsor, managing editor of Practical Fishkeeping, says that low nitrates levels, ammonia, stress and cats are the most common killers. Goldfish generally make a ripe old age by living in ponds rather than in a tank. They also suffer badly from constipation caused by dried foods, so if your goldfish is living indoors, give him live foods occasionally such as daphnia.

Like Tish, most goldfish enter households as prizes from travelling fairs. I'm convinced that all those stallholders giving away goldfish for knocking over a pyramid of cans, or scoring under 21 with three darts, are in cahoots with the local pet shops. When your child comes home clutching a plastic bag holding a small fish, you think: "Well, that was cheap. The goldfish only cost me 50p." Except you now need somewhere for it to live. Those glass spaceman-helmet bowls are out. It has to be an aquarium. Then you need some gravel, a pump to oxygenate the water, food, a bit of weed, oh, and a sunken ship or plastic skeleton. Suddenly, that 50p goldfish has cost you pounds 15 or more.

It can end up being even more expensive. Children are much more environmentally aware these days, and soon complain about the cruelty of keeping the fish on its own. (They don't grasp the plastic skeleton concept.) So you buy more goldfish, which means a larger tank and more equipment. Before long, the tank is overcrowded. Deaths occur. You hold tearful ceremonies beneath the apple tree, with lolly-stick crosses to mark their sad little graves.

There is only one answer. You need a pond. That's when things really start to become costly. It's no good digging out a few shovelfuls of earth and filling the hole with water. These days you need a pond liner to stop the water disappearing. You need pumps, filters, ultra-violet clarifiers, bottom drains and underwater lights. Suddenly, that 50p goldfish has a pounds 500 home.

You may think it's easier just to dig out that plastic bag again, and transport your pet to the nearest pond or lake. However, this is not only illegal but probably a death sentence for Goldie. Goldfish don't know about predators like perch, chub and pike. And they will only say "What a lot of teeth that fish has in its mouth" once.