Constipated goldfish and suidical shrimp

Up until a couple of months ago, I had no idea that keeping fish was such an emotionally draining experience – or that it would involve such a large chunk of every weekend.

Gone are the days when goldfish were given out in sandwich bags at the local fair. Now it’s all swanky tanks with fitted pumps, fancy (a.k.a pricey) breeds and a bigger assortment of cleaning paraphernalia than currently resides under my kitchen sink. And don’t get me started on the paperwork. I do believe there’s more legal documentation to fill in when purchasing a fish than there is to bring a human child into the world.

When buying one itty-bitty little fish, I was quizzed on the size of the tank, how many other fish resided in it, how many plants were in situ and how well-established and stable the living environment would be for the new arrival. When I left the hospital with my new-born babies, I don’t recall needing proof of anything other than a car seat. No one asked me whether I had a safe, secure and child-friendly environment to return to, or how many other mouths there were to feed and whether could I afford to maintain another.

It says much about society today I think when you need to prove you’re a responsible adult to purchase a fish, but any half-baked, under-age moron can pop out a child. Anyway, back to the drama of keeping fish.

My first experience back in the 80’s was a relatively stress-free affair. It consisted of a plastic fish tank, a few bit of coral and Dempsey and Makepeace (Versions 1, 2 and 3). The only drama that I can recall is the day Dempsey 2 leapt out of the tank and landed between the pages of a nearby book. Which promptly slammed shut. After much searching, many tears and shrieking accusations of theft (aimed at my sister), Dempsey 2 was later found – ever so slightly flattened – and returned to the tank.

He struggled on for a few more hours, swimming in ever decreasing circles before finally gasping his last breath. A few tears later and he was given the customary sendoff. He was flushed and then quickly replaced. Yes, it’s a brutal life being a fish.

A coupe of years ago it was decided my daughter was ready to have her own fishy friend, and so, amidst great excitement, she was taken along to choose two new members of the family. If I’m honest I didn’t hold out much hope for the long-term survival of Hermione (that’s her on the right) and Ron.

On some days they were starved and on others massively overfed; often they could barely see through the glass (I swear I once saw Ron trying to wipe it with his fin) and often the filter was turned off at night as it proved too noisy for a goodnight sleep.

But what do you know, despite being moved from house to house in 2 inches of water and continually having their tank covered with dustsheets while we renovated and painted around them, they held in there and are still going strong.

With them now taking up residence in the kitchen,  it was decided that the ‘Nemo’ themed tank (complete with glass pebbles and a garish grinning plastic fish) was quite frankly hideous – and now resembling something akin to a limescale encrusted swamp –  and it was definitely time to move Hermione and Ron up the property ladder and into a bigger home. Preferably one with a classier line of décor and uninterrupted views of kitchen life.

An open-topped Fluval Chi tank was duly bought and installed. With its neutral colour scheme and bubbling waterfall feature it was certainly an improvement. I think the design is meant to improve the Feng Shui of our home, though from my limited knowledge of the subject I’m fairly certain that having a large collection of razor-sharp knives stuck to the opposite wall might just have cancelled out any benefits gained.

As Hermione and Ron were more than happy with their new abode, it seemed only fair that my son should have his own fish too. So back we went to Pets at Home and, using his Easter money from Grandma, he selected Voldemort. Now he had seemed like quite a perky little fish in the shop, but sadly it was just not meant to be. Just one week later and we came home to find him floating upside down.

I did try to keep my son from spotting him, but I wasn’t quite quick enough. And so followed the inevitable tears, explanation of death and reassurance that he must have already been sick – as opposed to my sons deeply held belief that the other two had ganged up on him and cruelly starved him to death.

So back to the shop we went (dead fish and receipt in hand) and Voldemort 2 was promptly chosen. We also decided to throw caution to the wind and purchase a couple of shrimps to join the crew, in the hope they could make themselves useful and  keep on top of the additional poo.



Another week went past and we noticed that Voldemort 2 was now spending the majority of his days bobbing around at the surface. As try as he might he simply couldn’t swim down, and every time he did he immediately shot up again and then lolled against the side of the tank. So once again – given that we obviously had nothing better to do with our weekends – we loaded the fish into a plastic yogurt pot, prepared his owner for a second consecutive loss and headed back to Pets at Home. Feeling rather embarrassed to be working our way through their stock so fast, we handed over the now motionless fish for a diagnosis.

Well it turns out Voldemort 2 wasn’t at death’s door after all, he was merely constipated. Who knew? There was us about to flush the little bugger down the toilet and all he needed was to relieve the load.  It certainly explained the bobbing to the surface and all that rolling around with a pained look on his face – he was basically puffed up with wind.

The solution to a gassy goldfish – should you be interested – is all in the diet. Too many flakes will do this to a fish apparently. So we returned to the car and happily informed our waiting son that his fishy friend had indeed returned from the dead. He declared that Voldemort 2 had obviously used his superior magic powers to survive a vicious and attack from Hermione and Ron.

I’m pleased to say that one block of blood worms later and Voldemort 2 was several ounces lighter and capable of swimming down; he’s never looked back since.

Sadly the same can not be said for the shrimp. The very same week we realised that both had vanished without trace. It was confirmed in the pet shop (a place I was by now quite clearly spending far too much of my time) that shrimp like to leap, and had therefore quite possibly ended up on the kitchen floor – and as a doggy hors d’oeuvre. It goes without saying their cost was refunded. Well, they were pricey little things to start with and the sales girl (so we were told) should have never have released them to such a certain death.

Low and behold, when cleaning the tank a few weeks later both shrimp were spotted alive and kicking. They’d simply been hiding away in the fake plant and obviously so consumed with their designated job as toilet attendants, they hadn’t even had a chance to come up for a breath. I’d like to say that brings the whole story to a nice happy end. But alas, in this death trap of a house it wasn’t to be.

While I getting ready for work just one week later, my daughter brought up the empty pot that sat on the floor beside the tank. And there, curled up in the bottom was one crispy kamikaze shrimp. The whereabouts of the other one remained something of a mystery right up until the day I decided to wash the sofa covers.

Upon pulling the 4-seater away from the wall, what should I see on the floor but the missing scuttling critter. Quite how he had summoned up the energy to leap from the tank in the kitchen, make it into the living room, across a deep pile rug and behind all that heavy sofa fabric I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps the dog was in hot pursuit at the time.

I’m pleased to report that to date,  all 3 surviving members of the fish tank are still alive, happy and completely intact.

The blood worms (given on alternate days with flakes and pellets) are keeping them regular and none are showing any suicidal tendencies or even attempting an escape.

Now if only the same could be said of the other tank of tropical fish…


After 10 long years I’m finally in heat

I know some people simply don’t have the time for the likes of Heat magazine. In fact, they’ll make a great show of haughtily flapping their broadsheets right in your face and declaring that your IQ is bound to have dropped several points just by picking it off the shelf.

I’m not one of those people, I love Heat. Don’t know why, I just do.

Admittedly it may not have the editorial content of The Independent, or offer an in-depth analysis of world events – much beyond weight gain, wardrobe malfunctions and celebrities who can’t make up their mind who to date. But that’s the whole point of a magazine like this.

It isn’t meant to replace ‘The News at 10’ or ‘Question Time’ and it never claims to help improve your exam results or boost your earning power. Rather, it’s half an hour of total escapism every week – and, if we’re all honest, an opportunity to reassure ourselves that those celebrities who ‘have it all’ often don’t.

Because, whilst the average reader may not have the fame, fortune or enviable shoe collection of most of the people featured week after week, at least us unknown, relatively broke, Louboutin-less readers are safe in the knowledge that we won’t be photographed nipping out to Tesco in our ill-fitting tracksuits, with hair that looks like an unwashed birds nest and eye bags down to our cheekbones. And we won’t make the headlines when we meet, marry and divorce in the time it takes a normal person to draw breath. And we won’t cause a national panic because we lost a bit of weight, or god forbid, ate too much for lunch.

So I reckon that magazines such as these actually work as a rather handy and incredibly cheap form of therapy for Joe Public. They give you a glimpse into the sort of lifestyles most could never hope to afford – unless your mum was a Rolling Stone groupie and you’ve just found out you can move like Jagger – and then show you that the grass isn’t always greener in La La land.

And it’s for that reason – and the handy TV guide – that I have been buying Heat since Issue 1. Now, 12 or so years on, having produced 2 children, lived in 3 continents and survived one life crisis after another, I’ve carried on buying it every week. And yes, I still have a go at my husband if he dares flick through it before I’ve read it cover to cover.

Granted, I often feel like I’m on the wrong side of 30 for the fashion spread and technically I guess I’m also old enough to have given birth to some of the Torsos of the Week, but what the hell. All those years of trivia and escapism haven’t done me any noticeable harm and I’m pretty sure my IQ hasn’t diminished over the last decade – and if it has, I’ll put that down to having children.

So all of that said, it would be something of an understatement to say I was a tad excited to open Heat this week and see I’d finally won Letter of the Week – I think I might actually have let out a squeal. So overcome was I with shock that I immediately had to call my husband (who totally understood my joy) and my sister, who initially thought I’d won the lottery.



It’s a funny thing that after all these years of writing, having published a book, kept countless clients happy with copy and received fairly respectable hits on my blog, it’s having a letter printed in Heat that really makes my day. And winning the prize of course…

Now not that my 25.5 seconds of fame have gone to my head, but just in case a member of the paparazzi has driven down the A11 by mistake and is currently ambling around rural Norfolk looking for a way back to civilisation, I think perhaps I’ll make the effort to brush my hair before doing the school run later today.


Help! Police! I’ve been told to tidy my room.

It’s all happening with 11-year-old kids this week isn’t it. Over here in the UK we’ve got a girl being prosecuted for rioting and looting and in Germany, a boy calling a police emergency line and complaining he was being subjected to “forced labour” at home.

So what of this poor little lamb? Did his mother have him scrubbing floors at midnight? Force him to wash dishes from dusk to dawn? Shoe-horn him up a chimney with a brush between his teeth? No. She asked him to pick up paper from the floor. God forbid, imagine if she’d also asked him to pick up his toys.

As the boy stood there phone in hand, bleating to the officer that he had to “work all day long” and didn’t have any “free time”,  you can only imagine his mother’s reaction when she realised he’d actually carried out his childish threat to call up and complain. I can just picture her face – total disbelief, quickly followed by shock, fury at the stupidity of her son and finally horror at how it might all end.

In fact, instead of being made to just stand there and listen, her face the colour of an over ripe plum and steam pouring from her ears, I’m sure she could quite easily of grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him off to sit on a naughty step for 24 hours. Or, heaven forbid, clipped him around the head and read him the riot act for being so dumb. Obviously she’d have quickly realised that either of those tactics wouldn’t have helped matters much, as then he’d only have added child abuse to the complaint.

Thank god common sense for once prevailed. The officer in question asked the boy if he even knew what ‘forced labour’ meant – apparently the boy claimed he did – and then requested to speak to his mother. Her explanation would make parents all round the world roll their eyes in empathy.

“He plays all day long and when told to tidy up what he’s done, he calls it forced labour.”

It does make me wonder how this scenario might have ended in this country though, at a time when some children obviously need far more discipline than they’re getting, but many parents are too scared to lay down the law – for fear of getting on the wrong side of it themselves.

Chances are it may well have played out like this: the police would have taken the complaint seriously, social workers would have been called in, the child would be taken into care and the mother who dared to try to teach her child the importance of keeping the floor paper free? She’d have received a criminal record, lost her job, her home and the rights to her son.


London riots – why, oh why?

This isn’t a great week to be British and watching the news for the last few days has been something of a depressing affair. Following the shooting of Mark Duggan last Thursday by armed officers in north London, there have been 3 nights of mindless violence with buildings being burnt and shops being looted all across the county.

Mark Duggan - with his pretend gun.

The protest was meant to be in retaliation to the shooting of Duggan, but really it’s just an excuse for thousands of moronic, feral thugs to come out in protest about how incredibly tough their pitiful little life is.

There was no real justification for that sort of protest in the first place. Mark Duggan was a self-styled ‘gangster’ who was being chased by police at the time he was shot. He was also, let’s not forget, brandishing a gun. The fact that he didn’t fire the gun at the police first is neither here nor there. Nice people who haven’t done anything wrong don’t tend to roam the streets with a firearm. And quite frankly, if you don’t want to get shot then don’t carry something you shouldn’t have or give the police a reason to think you’re dangerous.

Of course Scotland Yard have apologised to Duggan’s family for the “distress” caused to them in the wake of his death. But it’s hard to imagine Duggan, his family or ‘crew’ apologising to a police officer’s family had the boot been on the other foot. Far from it, if he’d been the one left still standing on Thursday then he’d have probably high-fived his little friends and gone off to boast about how ‘he’s the man’.

So, injustice at this death aside, what the hell have these riots been about? From what I’ve seen it’s all about smashing windows, grabbing what they can and running away with their loot tucked up a hoodie. Wow, what a hard-hitting social and political statement they’re making. Why on earth aren’t the British public nodding with agreement and sympathising with their grievances?

Having seen footage of the rioters hurling anything they can at police, burning cars and robbing people as they lay injured on the ground, I’m not sure what’s scarier. That mob mentality can cause such wide-scale destruction in such a short space of time, or that people of a certain age in this country can be so incredibly thick.



You only have to hear the comments they come out with when asked for their reasons for doing this. Apparently – and don’t quote me on this as none of them can actually speak anything resembling English – it seems their main gripe is that life’s not fair, they don’t have enough money to buy some sweets and they don’t get enough respect. Oh, where do you even start with that lot?

First off, you little low-life runts, life isn’t fair. Grow up and get over it. Secondly, perhaps if you’d shut your mouth a bit more, turned your mobile off and actually engaged your ears whilst in school, you might have educated your one lonely brain cell. Not to mention realise you need to take some responsibility for your own future and that Don’t Care + Won’t Try = Waste of Bloody Space.

If nothing more, they might at least have learnt how to speak properly when being interviewed on TV. And, come to think of it, realised that if you’re admitting to being a looting little thief, then perhaps it’s not wise to announce it to the nation.

These hard-done by kids complain that there is terrible unemployment where they live (which of course there is), that benefits are being taken away from them (which hopefully they will be) and that ‘the rich’ – that’s those of us who work to bring in an income – have too much. Oh yes, they also whinge that they ‘don’t get no respect’ from the police so they’re not going to give them any in return.

Quite why these weapon-welding delinquents think the world owes them anything is beyond me. And quite why they believe  the police should be respecting their ‘freedom of expression’ is probably passed anyone in my generation and beyond. If it wasn’t so deeply depressing to hear some snivelling little layout bleating to the camera about how ‘we’re going to get the Prime Minister and the government and the rich people’, it would be laughable.

Now Teresa May – that’s our Home Secretary who’s meant to stop the crime – may want to continue to use ‘traditional’ police methods to stop the riots, but perhaps she needs to face up to the reality that the sort of person involved in the riots need something a little more intimidating coming towards them than a policeman in a helmet. They need water cannons, stun guns and bloody tanks with spikes on the front if necessary.

Or, they could drop a large net on them from above, fly them off to the North Atlantic and drop the lot of them in. I’d like to imagine none of them ever listened long enough to learn how to swim. I don’t believe for a second that 99.99% of the British public would actually have an issue with this. In fact I think they’d happily chip in to pay to have it done.

The Survior’s Guide to (Take That) Concert Going

It’s safe to say I’ve never been a big concert-goer. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just a small matter of never being in the right city, country or continent at the exact time with enough cash to afford it and the necessary means to get there. Add to that the years spent pregnant, lactating or sleep deprived from small children and the window of opportunity shut even further.

I think the last concert I actually went to was – and here I hang my head in shame and embarrassment – Vanilla Ice at the BIC in Bournemouth about 20 years ago. What can I say? A friend was a fan, we were buoyed up on ‘end of term madness’ and, to our still developing 16-year old brains, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So anyway, roll forward 2 decades and some musical taste later and Take That announced their ‘Progress Tour’. I vowed that for once, regardless of cost or logistics, I would finally find a way to go. So on the day the tickets were released I spent 12 hours on the phone and Internet simultaneously, desperately trying to find a way to get me inside any venue south of Glasgow. Needless to say that, along with much of the country, I failed miserably and ended up with nothing more to show for my efforts than a crick in the neck and a rather sweaty handset. After 20 years of not making an effort to get any tickets it was a rather deflating moment I can tell you.

As luck would have it my husband, who having never been to a concert of any sort was equally keen to go, eventually managed to lay his hands on those prized golden tickets. I’m pretty sure he didn’t have to kill anyone, donate an organ he still requires or sell our souls to a loan shark to get them, but to be honest, I was so happy to know we were going I thought it better not to ask.

Roll forward to last week and we were finally driving off with a spring in our ‘out of the house without offspring’ step. We made it from rural Norfolk to the scary streets of London in great time; unfortunately it took us ever so slightly longer and one argument later to find a car park. It seems that even the most intelligent sat nav (and it’s user) can confuse a ‘car park’ with a brick wall at the end of a deserted street.

Forward some more and we were racing through multiple tube stations and heading for Wembley, along with, or so it seemed, the entire membership base of the ‘That Take Fan Club’. A fairly female fan club as my husband pointed out, suddenly panicking that he was going to be the only member of a 85,000 audience sporting stubble.

I don’t think the enormity of the event hit me until we emerged into the sun and saw the sheer size of the crowd making their way towards the arena. It was intimidating and exhilarating in one hit and not really the ideal venue for those who don’t do big crowds. After queuing for a life time to get into the men’s toilets (the queue for the ladies was considerably longer) and parting with far too much money for the obligatory T-shirt, we walked in to secure our spot near the stage.

Had I been more prepared and considered how long we’d be waiting, I might have brought a picnic, a rug and some comfy cushions. Other more experienced concert-goers unpacked their cheese, crackers and sandwiches around us and settled back in relative comfort. Having spent most of the spare cash on the said obligatory T-shirt, we sat on the plastic matting with the remaining 2 packets of rice cakes and a bottle of water.

As for the concert itself, well what can I say. Once we’d got the Pet Shop Boys over with (could they really not have got anyone better?) and the music started, it was an amazing 2 1/2 hours of jumping, screaming, singing and shrieking. We weren’t that far back from the stage but some inconsiderate large people decided to stand in front of me, so thank god for the large screens and my newly laser eyes. I spent much of the time on my tip toes with my arms flapping above my head. Bizarrely enough on this occasion high heels would have actually been more comfortable than Converse. Who knew.

The set was great, the theatrics were incredible and Take That themselves…well what can I say. They were everything you imagine them to be in concert and more. Robbie in particular looking wired (although I’m sure he wasn’t) and particularly manic throughout and was obviously put on this planet purely to entertain.

Determined not to get caught up in the crowds, miss the last train and get left with an enormous taxi bill we couldn’t afford (down to that obligatory T-shirt again), my husband dragged me back through the crowds the moment they stopped singing. He did let me listen to some of the encore from the top of the steps, but with the 5 of them still warbling on stage we ran, sprinted and weaved our way out of the stadium, down all the steps, along the very long street and through the countless mounted police there to control the 85, 291 buzzing concert-goers about to leave.

Witnessing the sea of people coming up behind us, all heading for the same rather narrow walkways of the tube station, I have to say I’m rather glad my sensible husband didn’t let me stay any longer than we did. For once he was absolutely right – though don’t tell I said that.

Obviously I didn’t want to forget the night, so I spent much of the time waving my camera above the crowd and alternating between taking photos (below) and video clips. These are for me to look back at in years to come so I can remember that night I dragged myself off the sofa and up to Wembley – and for anyone out there who wanted to go, tried to get tickets and didn’t.

And finally, here are the lessons learned from my experience:

1. Make sure your husband knows just how much you want those tickets.
2. Wear shoes suitable for walking, running, sprinting, jumping & excessive standing.
3. Take as many supplies as you can fit into a back pack – and a husband to hold it.
4. Buy a souvenir T-shirt beforehand. Preferably somewhere cheaper. Like Tescos.
5. Hide your water before going in, being searched and losing it.
6. Be prepared to wait – for quite a long time.
7. Be prepared to queue for a loo – or sip fluids sparingly and cross your legs.
8. Don’t stand next to shrieking, tone-deaf girls who sing louder than the main act do.
9. Edge to the back of the stadium and start running before the music stops.
10. Don’t waste money on pricey seats; pay less & stand, there’s far more atmosphere.



Diary of a Pom in Western Australia

I got forwarded this a while back and thought it was too funny (and close to the truth) not to post.

August 31

Just got transferred with work from Leeds UK to our new home in Karratha, Western Australia. Now this is a town that knows how to live! Beautiful, sunny days and warm, balmy evenings. I watched the sunset from a deckchair by our pool yesterday. It was beautiful. I’ve finally found my new home. I love it here.

September 13

Really heating up now. It got to 31 today. No problem though. Living in air-conditioned home, driving air-conditioned car. What a pleasure to see the sun every day like this. I’m turning into a sun-worshipper – no blasted rain like back in Leeds!!

September 30

Had the back yard landscaped with tropical plants today. Lots of palms and rocks. No more mowing lawns for me! Another scorcher today, but I love it here. It’s Paradise!

October 10

The temperature hasn’t been below 35 all week. How do people get used to this kind of heat? At least today it’s windy though. Keeps the flies off a bit. Acclimatizing is taking longer than we expected.


October 15
Fell asleep by the pool yesterday. Got third degree burns over 60% of my body. Missed three days off work. What a dumb thing to do. Got to respect the old sun in a climate like this!


October 20
Didn’t notice Kitty (our cat) sneaking into the car before I left for work this morning. By the time I got back to the car after work, Kitty had died and swollen up to the size of a shopping bag and stuck to the upholstery. The car now smells like Whiskettes and cat shit. I’ve learned my lesson though: no more pets in this heat.

October 25

This wind is a bastard. It feels like a giant fucking blow dryer. And it’s hot as hell! The home air conditioner is on the blink and the repair man charged $200 just to drive over and tell me he needs to order parts from fucking Perth ….The wife & the kids are complaining.

October 30

The temperature’s up around 40 and the parts still haven’t arrived for the fucking air conditioner. House is an oven so we’ve all been sleeping outside by the pool for 3 nights now. Bloody $600,000 house and we can’t even go inside. Why the hell did I ever come here?

November 4

Finally got the fucking air-conditioner fixed. It cost $1,500 and gets the temperature down to around 25 degrees, but the humidity makes it feel about 35. Stupid repairman. Fucking thief.

November 8

If one more smart bastard says ‘Hot enough for you today?’ I’m going to fucking throttle him. Fucking heat! By the time I get to work, the car radiator is boiling over, my fucking clothes are soaking fucking wet and I smell like baked cat. Fucking place is the end of the Earth.

November 9

Tried to run some errands after work, wore shorts, and sat on the black leather upholstery in my car. I thought my fucking arse was on fire. I lost 2 layers of flesh, all the hair on the backs of my legs and off my fucking arse. Now the car smells like burnt hair, fried arse and baked cat. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

November 10

The Weather report might as well be a fucking recording. Hot and sunny. Hot and sunny, Hot and fucking sunny. It never fucking changes! It’s been too hot to do anything for 2 fucking months and the weatherman says it might really warm up next week. Fuck!

November 15

Doesn’t it ever rain in this damn fucking place? Water restrictions will be next, so my $5,000 worth of palms might just dry up and blow into the fucking pool. The only things that thrive in this fucking hell-hole are the fucking flies. You don’t dare open your mouth for fear of swallowing half a dozen of the little bastards!

November 20

Welcome to HELL! It got to 45 fuckin’ degrees today. Now the air conditioner’s gone in my car. The repair man came to fix it and said, ‘Hot enough for you today?’ I wanted to shove the fucking car up his fucking arse. Anyway, had to spend the $2,500 mortgage payment to bail me out of jail for assaulting the stupid prick. Fucking Karratha! What kind of sick, demented fucking idiot would want to live here!

December 1

WHAT!!!! The FIRST day of Summer!!!! You are fucking kidding me!


What every teacher would love to say

Now for all those parents, pupils (past and present) and frustrated teachers out there, here’s a school answering machine message to really make you laugh.

This Internet hoax gets across exactly what most schools would probably love to say to the parents of their useless pupils –  if of course they weren’t then instantly slapped with every type of lawsuit known to man.

And yes, of course it’s a hoax. For starters, as far as the part about moving to another country, if that applied to Australian schools, many of them would be empty!