It's a Mann's World: Forget-Me-Not

Olly Mann 7 October 2021

Olly Mann reflects on the imminent passing of a beloved family goldfish

My goldfish is dying. This may not strike you as the most urgent issue in the world—the one that should most compel me to put pen to paper—but, crucially, he is dying next to me right now, as I write this. Which makes it rather hard to be objective about the situation.

He was initially relocated from the kitchen as a temporary measure, when my wife decreed that the persistent low buzz emanating from his air-pump was too much of a distraction while we were eating (I suspect she also felt uneasy consuming sushi in front of him).

Ever since, the fish and I have become closer; metaphorically but also literally, him being actually, proximally adjacent to me, in my home office, throughout the working day. The companionship of an aquarium cannot, perhaps, reasonably be compared to a cat or dog, but, honestly, he has kept me company. Some days—when the kids were back at school, but we were still technically in lockdown—he was the only creature I talked to.

I found myself caring for him a little more attentively: feeding him when he "asks" (there’s a nudgy-bobby thing he does); cleaning his tank with greater consideration for his stimulation (moving the miniature castle is a big day), and even listening to less vibration-causing pop music (it turns out he’s a folkie).

Then, last week, without warning, he stopped swimming as spiritedly as usual, and sank to the bottom of the bowl. He did that tell-tale thing almost-dead goldfish often do, sort of bending in half, in suspended animation. Then he started sleeping upside down. That—even my two year-old son knew—was really not a good sign. 

"Then, last week, without warning, he stopped swimming as spiritedly as usual, and sank to the bottom of the bowl"

An illustration of a tombstone in a goldfish bowl

But then, the next morning—after a partial water change and a bit of fish-whispering—he bolted back into life! Maybe… he was just experimenting at sleeping upside down? Ah, no: the next evening, he reverted back to the Concerning Behaviour again. But look! Right now, he is once again swimming along happily! You don’t take a goldfish to the vet, do you? I mean, the signs are all there. He is, surely, about to pop his fins.

He’s had a reasonable innings, Mr Fish (yes, that’s his name, although quite possibly not "his" gender—it’s tricky to tell with goldfish).

He’s been in the family since… well, it’s hard to be sure, because we didn’t exactly receive a birth certificate, but he definitely moved out of London with us in 2013 (memorably spending three months living on my parents’ washing machine), and lived with us for at least a couple of years before that, so he must be around ten. 

According to the RSPCA, goldfish (which are categorised as "Companion Animals"—See! I’m not the only one!) can live “for an average of ten-15 years, with some varieties living up to 30 years when provided with proper care”). Ouch, that "proper care" stings a bit. 

I mean, I’ve honestly tried my best. Washing machine aside.

Other goldfish, anyway, have surely fared worse. Those that only survive a matter of days after being won at a funfair, or gifted as an ironic leaving present, or thrust into an unsuspecting toddler’s Christmas haul. But how would the RSPCA be able to track those? I reckon the true average is about two years. 

In any case, a decade-ish lifespan makes Mr Fish the longest-lived of my goldfish, so I’m taking it as a win. His predecessors only made it to two or three—and let’s gloss over the tankful of 30 (yes, 30) miniature tropical fish (tetras, frogs, baby sharks) that I once managed to massacre in one fell swoop, by taking a long weekend away and forgetting to feed them (truly scarring scenes on my return. I’ve never visited Weymouth again.)

"In any case, a decade-ish lifespan makes Mr Fish the longest-lived of my goldfish, so I’m taking it as a win"

Mr Fish won’t be mourned like my cat Coco, who died last year after a 16-year stretch. I have fewer concerns, for example, about how to tell the children—I’m sure they can be easily distracted from their grief with some ice cream.

But I can’t imagine myself just flushing him down the loo like I did our previous goldfish. At the very least, he deserves a garden burial (deep down enough that the current cat, Alvin, doesn’t dig him up). 

I’ll miss him. It’s true that you can’t stroke a goldfish, or teach them tricks. Since they’re under water, you can’t even really hear them. You can’t even really get a true sight of them, in the magnified curve of the goldfish bowl.  

They are, primarily, ornamental pets. But, look: we surround ourselves with all kinds of aesthetically pleasing things—lamps, posters, cushions—and these trinkets are not derided, but celebrated, by our consumer culture, which wants to sell us ever more of them. 

A living, breathing creature that brings beauty to our homes, and asks for nothing in return, apart from sustenance: what could be more wonderful than that?

So, goodbye, Mr Fish. Unless you bounce back again. In which case, sorry for the premature eulogy, and apologies for already choosing your replacement.

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