I am very worried about Ben, our pet goldfish. We’ve had him a month, and he’s spent at least three and a half weeks of that time lying motionless on the bottom of the tank, hiding behind various ferns. Or he goes into the little Spongebob Squarepants pineapple house that I bought for him and sits there for hours with his back to everyone, listening to The Cure on his iPod. (Am I anthropomorphising overmuch, do you think?) And all this despite the fact that I’ve hoovered his gravel, treated his water with special drops, checked twice with the pet shop that I’m not over- or under-feeding him, left his filter unchanged to build up the good bacteria, etc, etc. I suppose at the very least, he is teaching the kids valuable life lessons, about expectation (‘A pet will be fun!’) and anticlimax (‘Why doesn’t Ben do anything, Mummy?’).
I’m sure my own mother wasn’t remotely traumatised by the decline of my goldfish, which developed horrible white spots on its body before it finally gave up the ghost. But then she also couldn’t be arsed to take me to the dentist when a bit of my filling fell out, until I got an abcess that caused my whole jaw to swell up like a balloon. They were tougher times, the 1970s. I had a friend who forgot to feed her hamster for weeks (the cage was in her bedroom) and it starved to death. And another who forgot to put her tortoise into hibernation, and found its frozen body in the garden. She then tried to revive it by pouring boiling water over it and its head fell off. You hear that, Benny Boy? Pets today, they don’t know they’re born.