My clownfish is clinically obese and agoraphobic. He has been refusing to come out of his bamboo log for three years now, except occasionally to poke his whiskered nose out of the end to snaffle food. I hadn’t seen the whole of him in all this time until it occurred to me the other day that perhaps he couldn’t come out because he was stuck.
This has happened to me before. I had an angelfish who took to his bed and eventually had to be mechanically extracted like the subject of an ITV documentary on fat people. I had to go to Travis Perkins and hire a saw. ‘Will this cut through a polyresin bamboo-effect aquarium log under water,’ I asked the youth in overalls. ‘It will, yeah,’ he said, far too quickly. It took three of us two hours to perform the rescue operation and the saw was remarkable only in that it actually bounced off the rock hard polyresin. We did our best but the angelfish went on to become an angelfish in the sky, or rather down the loo.
So I was relieved to find that this time when I reached into the tank and shook the log the clownfish shot straight out. Though housebound, he was not entirely stuck, but he did have a deep graze on his head where he had grown too big for his hidey-hole. His partner, a much smaller and more well adjusted clownfish was delighted to see him out and about. But the fat fish looked panic-stricken.
I stared into the tank and pondered the ethical question of what my responsibilities were to a fish. It was going to be an enormous faff to find a larger log than the one I had just taken out of the tank. I had things to do. On the other hand, did I not have a duty of care to all living creatures in my jurisdiction, especially ones with eating disorders? It’s only a fish, entered my mind. Then I looked at ‘only a fish’ darting around, his little nose twitching nervously like Nemo and before I knew what was happening I was ringing round aquarium suppliers asking, ‘Do you have a large bamboo log suitable for a very overweight clownfish?’
The manager of a shop on Vauxhall Bridge Road was sure that he had. ‘He’s very, very big,’ I insisted. ‘Are you sure this log is tall enough?’ He assured me that it was. But when I got to the shop he pulled out a log identical to the one I had just confiscated. ‘No, no!’ I panicked. ‘You’re not listening to me! I need something huge. This fish is enormous. And I need it now because I’m on a meter.’
There are moments in life when you suddenly find yourself on the ceiling looking down. To see a woman hectoring an aquarium-supply shop-owner to give her a large log before she gets a parking fine is to realise that you are not the person you had once hoped to be. It seemed to me in that moment that it was a sad sort of character who raged like a whirlwind through the lives of others to accommodate a fish.
The nice man ran around his shop muttering, ‘No, no I don’t have anything…oh, except…’ and came back with a quite revolting specimen of a fish-tank accessory. It was the kind of thing a child might find enchanting, a brown plastic lump called a pirate’s house, with blobs stuck all over it representing gold coins and little worms and sea shells. But it had a huge entrance hole. I took it home and positioned it where the log used to be in the aquarium, which, by the way, was never my idea but that of an ex-fiancé who forcibly bequeathed it to me when we broke up.
The fat fish looked at the pirate’s house with horror. He hid in a corner as far away from it as he could get. He moped all day. He refused to eat. He lay flat on the pebbles pretending to be dead. When I looked in on him before bed, he was floating aimlessly as if life had lost all meaning. His partner was swimming in and out of the house as if to assure him it was all right. But to no avail.
Then, next morning, the miracle happened. I went into the study to read my emails, peered into the tank and a picture of aquatic domestic bliss greeted me: the two clownfish were lying sides down in the pirate’s house, one on top of the other, tails swishing, snoozing happily. A warm glow flooded my heart. Being a sad person who makes a fuss about a fish does have its rewards.
Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.