Goldfish would not be my pet of choice – all they do is swim around in circles and emit bubbles of air. Come to think of it, that describes most of our MPs. But according to experts, goldfish are a lot smarter than their reputation. They can recognise humans and particular sounds, and even learn tricks, if you're prepared to spend enough time teaching them. And goldfish aren't dumb – they can remember things for up to three months. Best of all, they are able to slow down their metabolism as the temperature of their water gets colder. All of the above shows just why goldfish are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Which is why, presumably, a diligent animal lover at Trafford Council decided to prosecute a pet-shop owner, 66, for selling a goldfish to a 15-year-old boy – an offence under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act.
The shop in question had also sold a gerbil to a 14-year-old girl with learning difficulties, who later killed the animal by putting it in a cup of coffee. And inspectors found that a cockatiel which was on sale had a broken leg and had to be put down. The owner of the shop, Joan Higgins, pleaded guilty and was fined £1,000 – fair enough. But because she was not fit enough to do community service as part of her punishment, she was fitted with an electronic tag and ordered to remain at home between 6pm and 7am for seven weeks. Of course, cruelty to animals is repugnant and unnecessary – but in this particular case, does the punishment fit the crime?
Trafford council says it had already warned the shop about not supplying adequate care information to customers. Isn't it extraordinary that a cash-strapped local authority is willing to spend hours policing a pet shop? They claim that the fines imposed (Mrs Higgins's son Mark Higgins, the shop manager, had to pay £750) will cover their costs, but legal experts reckon that these will amount to nearer £20,000. As for setting an example to other potential goldfish and cockatiel abusers, I hardly think we will suddenly see a shift in social attitudes in the Greater Manchester area. The fact is, some people in this country treat their pets far better than they treat their babies. Time after time, tribunals investigating child abuse hear that the offences took place in squalid homes with no furniture except for computers and televisions, where babies, gerbils, the odd python and a fighting dog all competed for attention.
If we want pet shops to have higher standards, then we should issue expensive licences and inspect them regularly. If animal rights charities are so concerned about the rights of goldfish, let's ban their sale. It can't be a lot of laughs being confined to a 10in diameter bowl all your life. But don't equate what goes on in a pet shop with antisocial behaviour.
One of Gordon Brown's election promises, unveiled last week, is a proposal that people whose lives are blighted by yobs should be able to take out injunctions funded by the local authority in cases where the police have not dealt with the problem within a set period of time. Louise Casey, Tony Blair's former "Respect" tsar who was charged with tackling antisocial behaviour, has been given a new job at the inflated salary of £100,000, to champion the rights of victims. I wonder if this includes badly treated goldfish?
Big deal A burger and chips in the sky is not art
Why does big always have to mean better for over-rated artist Anish Kapoor? Over the years, the scale of his work has grown like Topsy – it's morphed from quiet contemplative zen-like intimacy to screaming, look-at-me vacuousness. I loathed the giant red trumpet Kapoor created to fill Tate Modern's Turbine Hall back in 2002. His one-man show at the Royal Academy last year was thought by some critics to be overblown and lacking in substance. Now he's teamed up with Cecil Balmond, the engineer who helped him create the trumpet, to devise a real stinker to commemorate the 2012 Olympics. Doesn't this jumbled mass of steel, with its horrible name (the ArcelorMittal Orbit – which sounds like a gadget on a programme presented by James May) have an unfortunate resemblance to a cluster of mobile phone masts erected by builders on crack? All this structural effort, and £16m, is going towards sticking a restaurant in the sky. So typical of our "accessible" approach to art – give the punters burgers and a viewing platform at 377ft.
Remember the graceful Skylon that dominated London's South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, and weep that public art has come to this – noisy nothingness. A local councillor says the Olympic Park needs a monument to show the centre of London has moved east. Why not copy Basildon, down the road, which has erected letters 5ft high, like the Hollywood sign? It says you've arrived. I like the tongue-in-cheek humour. With Mark Wallinger's gigantic £50m white horse planned for the windswept land near Ebbsfleet station, the east will have some very large pieces of art. Whether they end up as cultural pilgrimage sites or rusting objects of derision remains to be seen, but I fear the latter.
Tiger bounces back into the news
Tomorrow, Tiger Woods comes out of his self-imposed purdah to face a press conference, before returning to professional golf in the US Masters, and he'll be mightily embarrassed by the latest issue of Vanity Fair, which features saucy shots of four of his ex-girlfriends wearing very little, in a feature entitled "The Temptation of Tiger Woods".
The magazine hits the newsstands just as Tiger is scheduled to tee off, and is bound to mean he'll have to do even more explaining back home. According to the girls, Tiger's agent and his best friend helped organise and cover up his serial womanising – all of which contradicts the official line from the golf star's management team.
Selling us the new, contrite Tiger is clearly a work in progress.
Walkers of the world, download
Over the years, I have collected cupboards of them. My favourites are well worn, and slightly scuffed around the edges. And this weekend I'll spend some quiet time refolding and carefully putting them in order. Maps, not frocks. They're my passion – and never lose their appeal. Reproducing Ordnance Survey Maps was always a costly business, but from this month you can do so free of charge. Overall, the OS expects to lose about £20m in sales, but the Treasury has agreed to fund the shortfall. My gratitude to the government for making this concession (which seems sensible given that Labour championed the Right to Roam and the new plans for a coastal path) is tempered with annoyance that the most popular formats, the Explorer and the Land- ranger,will not be made available online. It's a shame there are not more walkers in government.Reuse content