I think the book of Proverbs has a few things to say to us humans who inhabit faceless online identities on social media, forums or “below the line”. Thanks to King Solomon for these ancient posting (and reading) guidelines. And feel free to slap me with them when necessary. Which one strikes a chord for you?
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Those who guard their lips preserve their lives,
but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.
Fools show their annoyance at once,
but the prudent overlook an insult.
An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends
and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.
Whoever derides their neighbour has no sense,
but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.
The simple believe anything,
but the prudent give thought to their steps.
A heart at peace gives life to the body,
but envy rots the bones.
Where there is strife, there is pride,
but wisdom is found in those who take advice.
When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.
I spend a ridiculous amount of my time talking about Dog Bounderby nowadays, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that we don’t have any other pets.
You’d be wrong.
I don’t know if you recall my ongoing struggle to own some goldfish, several years ago? It became, rather, an ongoing struggle to keep any goldfish alive for any length of time whatsoever.
I’m sorry to report that not long after I’d saved Belle and Sebastian’s lives, they died anyway. In fact, Belle died, leading me to heartlessly purchase a replacement (Belle 2). Belle 2 proceeded to slightly bully Sebastian, and to give him some kind of horrible disease from the horrible pet shop. Even though I separated them, keeping Belle 2 in a bottle for a while, he still died. And so did she. In maybe a couple of weeks.
I realised that although the pet shop I’d got them from had given me such a comprehensive interrogation before allowing me to adopt any of their precious fish, their fish were rubbish.
My relaxing goldfish project had left me stressed and heartbroken. Everyone told me to give up on the goldfish. Everyone except Tom. Tom had once kept a goldfish alive in a vase for a whole year and cherished it as his closest confidante – until he went on a trip and someone killed and replaced it and insisted for months that it was the same fish. (Uncool.)
So I went to a better pet shop and bought Cagney and Lacey.
Cagney and Lacey were much hardier fish. They were a plucky duo who doubtless solved plenty of crimes together, and once got a shout-out on national radio.
I left all my friends in Oxford, apart from Cagney and Lacey. They came with me on a lengthy and awkward road trip back to Bristol, slopping water all over my car in the process. There they lived in my (reluctant) parents’ kitchen while they were trying to pack up to move house.
But while I was away on holiday… Cagney died.
I think I’ve forgiven my mother for this. I mean, she didn’t replace her and insist it was the same fish or anything. I don’t think she was purposely trying to get my fish out of the damned way.
I mourned. And watched Lacey uneasily.
Then I had to move house again. I guess I can see how a person less attached to their goldfish might think that moving house with them isn’t really worth it…
The tank is too heavy to lift. So you have to empty most of the water out of the tank and store it in a bucket with a lid (because it’s so much better than regular tap water). You probably don’t have a bucket big enough so you have to use loads of slightly leaky ice cream tubs.
You can’t let the filter dry out, so that has to go in another tub of water from the tank – with the plug hanging out.
Then you put the fish in another container of water, and strap all these leaky vessels into your car with insufficient towels. You carry heavy buckets up and down stairs; you get soaked; your sole surviving goldfish isn’t grateful.
Well, maybe Lacey was grateful – it was hard to tell. What was more obvious was that after all of these house moves she was looking sort of sickly.
I went on holiday again. Lacey died.
Around that time, Tom asked me to marry him, so that cheered me up. I put the fish tank away for a while. Waiting until our lives were more stable.
A few months after we got married, we thought it was time. Time to get our own fish. Enter: Karl and Susan.
Karl was a fancy goldfish with silly little frilly fins, not really suited for any kind of serious swimming; the last of his kind left at the shop. Susan was a comet goldfish, sleek, streamlined; the fastest of her brethren. I asked the guy whether they’d get along okay. “Sure,” he said, “they’ll be fine.”
Within about three days, Susan had bullied Karl to death. She took all his food, she bodyslammed him into the gravel, she chased him for no reason. We separated them to no avail.
You see, Susan is a monster.
We moved house with Susan. Susan survived.
We went on several holidays without Susan. Susan survived.
We bought a dog and forgot to clean out the tank for months on end. Susan survived.
Susan developed a huge tumour on the side of her face. Susan survived.
The truth is, Susan’s still with us after two and a half years, but we don’t really talk about her. Do we love Susan? Probably? Are we scared of Susan? A little bit… When Susan sees us, she races to the glass and throws herself at us angrily, mouthing soundless underwater obscenities, cursing us: “Let me out! I’ll take you all on! ALL OF YOU!!”
I wanted a goldfish that would survive for a decent length of time. I just didn’t realise that in the brutal, fish-eat-fish world of nature, what I was asking for was an angry, bullying, psychopath.
Be careful what you wish for. Susan is waiting.