It is always dangerous leaving a resourceful thirteen year old to their own devices, especially when the fun fair is in town. I drop my younger son off at our local cricket club to watch the first team play but when I return, two hours later, it is evident that the lure of the fun fair has won out over the match. He is clutching a small container with a goldfish inside and looking shifty.

“Before you say anything,’ he begins quickly, ‘My friend won it. Only his mum wouldn’t let him take it home so he offered it to me.’

‘That was nice of him,’ I say, giving my son a suspicious look. He has been after a gold fish for years.

‘So can we bring him home?”

No is my gut instinct. We’ve had a lamentable track record with Guinea pigs, none of them lasting more than a few weeks and we already have two dogs (well, the little one belongs to my mother but we have her to stay so often she might as well be ours). We don’t need any more pets. But then my son looks at me with those big, brown, beguiling eyes of his and my resolve weakens.

‘What are you going to call him?’ I find myself asking.

He thinks for a moment. ‘Freddie.’

I glance dubiously at the container Freddie’s in. It’s the size of a chocolate Maltesers box.

‘Is he going to be all right in that?’

‘He’ll be fine, Mum. Look, I bought some food.’ My son shows me a tiny cylindrical cardboard pot with what looks like fine sawdust inside. ‘Only cost a pound. The man said it will last a year.’ Mmmm.

Freddie’s new home is on my son’s bedside table. For two days I am traumatized by this little fish banging against the sides of his minuscule container. It’s like me trying to do lengths in the kitchen sink. He’s no sooner turned round than he’s hitting the opposite side ready to turn again.

On day three I can’t take the Maltesers box any more and drive to a nearby pet shop. I discover it does a roaring trade in all things relating to cats, dogs and birds but almost nothing on marine life. After some searching the shop assistant finds, half hidden on a top shelf, a five litre plastic tank. No gismos, just a plastic box which I buy even though the cost of it would get me enough Freddies to fill the London Aquarium.

Transported to his new home, Freddie now looks like he’s attempting the Atlantic crossing and I no longer pass him weighed down with guilt. But for a little fish he produces a lot of waste so the water gets murky very quickly and has to be cleaned every other day. And there’s another issue. Big it may be but the tank does look pretty boring. There’s nothing for Freddie to do or interact with.

Egged on by my son, I go in search of a proper aquatics centre to stock up on accessories. I’m not sure what to expect but as I enter the place I am transformed. Huge tanks lit with a dreamy blue light fill the walls displaying a circus of fish. Wow, I think, delighted by the spectacle. The last time I got this excited about fish, I was snorkeling in Sharm el Sheik. It’s like being at a fashion show, each creature showing off dazzling colours and exotic shapes. My son would love this, I think, wishing he were with me. Trying not to get distracted, I show the assistant a picture of Freddie and explain how we got him. Then comes the sobering news. Freddie is a fresh water fish and will grow to several times his size. Left in his current home (and without filtration), the water will run out of oxygen and he will die.

I think back to the goldfish I had as a child and don’t recall any of them growing particularly big or having a fancy home. Mine would have been your standard fairground bowl, like the one depicted in The Cat in The Hat. But then if I’m honest, I don’t think any of my fish lasted very long. I could just bite the bullet and buy a filtered tank but it turns out I’d also need lighting, a heater, shingle for the floor, thermometer, accessories, plant cover to prevent stress, not to mention the chemicals needed to keep the water healthy. All this for one little goldfish. I can’t help feeling that Freddie who’s only trick is to swim in circles, is beginning to look like a poor investment.

In the end I return home empty handed and convey the news to my son. He takes it better than I’d feared. Thirteen year old boys are stoic like that. Neither of us know how long it will be before the end comes but one morning I wake to find Freddie’s tank very cloudy and Freddie looking subdued. Usually he darts about eagerly looking for food. Now he hovers like an inert submarine. The time has come.

Conscious that Freddie might only have a bit of oxygen left, I wake my son who launches into action. Together we fill a freezer bag with fresh water and scoop Freddie into it. Then, my son sets off at speed towards the pond at the end of our road. Freddie doesn’t know it yet but his tank’s about to get a whole lot bigger.

I know he’s only a fish but as I watch my son disappear, I feel a pang of guilt. After all what fate am I sending him to? Will he manage to adapt to pond life? The man in the shop told me that pond fish (for that is certainly where he came from) can grow up to ten inches, but first there’s the shock of the temperature change to cope with and the threat of larger predators waiting to pounce.

A few days later I drive past the pond. My son is with me chatting away about something he’s seen on T.V. He seems, thankfully, to have escaped the whole fish episode without any emotional scarring. All the same, I keep him distracted as I notice out of the corner of my eye, a newly installed heron taking centre stage on the pond. Uh oh, I think. Let’s just hope Freddie’s keeping a very low profile.


The Saga of the Packed Lunch

Lunch TupperwareMonday: Mozzarella and chicken on brown bread. Home made flapjack, fruit bar, orange slices, greek yoghurt with honey, plum jam sandwich, banana packed into Tupperware container.

Home. 7.30pm

“Where’s your lunchbox?’

‘In my sports bag.’

‘Can you get it so I can wash it up.”

No response.

‘Ideally before I go to bed.’

‘Yup, okay.’

Later, about to go to bed. ‘Any joy with that lunch box?’

‘Think I might have left it at school.’


‘Don’t stress. I know where it is.’

‘Not stressing, just relying on you to bring it back tomorrow.’


Tuesday: Ham and watercress on brown bread, apple slices, flapjack, peach and apricot yoghurt, 2 blueberry muffins, banana, liquorish bar tucked into spare Tupperware container.

Home. 9.30pm.

‘Any joy in finding your lunch box?’

‘Sorry. Didn’t get a chance to go to lost property. Really busy day.’

‘Can I have the one from today then?’

‘It’s in my bag. I’ll get it later.’

‘We tried that one before. Now is later.’

‘Okay. Okay.’ Breaks from I.Phone. Looks up. Focuses. ‘Mum, I’m a bit busy right now. I’ll bring it through in a bit.’

‘You don’t have it, do you?

‘I may have left it in my classroom.’

‘With the other one?’



‘Don’t worry, Mum. Honestly, I’ll sort it.’

Wednesday: Pasta with chicken, sweetcorn and butter beans. Apple slices, 2 fruit bars, buttered malt loaf, fruit salad, strawberry yoghurt stuffed into plastic carrier bag and tied at neck so contents don’t fall out.

Son’s bedroom. 9.15pm

‘I’ve come for your lunch stuff.’ Room resembles a jumble sale mid flow, the floor hidden by mountain of clothes. Son, texting invisible friends with spectacular speed, appears unaware that someone else is in the room rummaging through bags.

‘What? Oh, Mum can you leave my stuff.’

Ignore instruction and dig out foreign objects.

‘Whose are these?’ Hold up two blue containers and a packet of antibiotics.

Noncommittal shrug. ‘Must have picked my friend’s bag up by mistake. What’s inside the containers?’

Two slices of gleaming chocolate cake. ‘These looks homemade.’

‘Shame to let it go to waste then.’

Leave off-spring in state of chocolate bliss but with list of missing items gathering momentum. Text friend’s mother about the antibiotics and eaten cake.

Thursday: Chicken and rice salad, black grapes, apricot yoghurt, carrot, orange slices, buttered malt loaf, chunky honey sandwich, chocolate bar packed into spare Tupperware found in garage.

Driving to train station. 7.25am.

‘Do you have everything?’


‘Sure? You’re not wearing a tie.’

‘In my bag.’



‘Money for bus home?’

‘Sorted. Honestly, Mum. Don’t fuss.’

Back home, find packed lunch on hall table. The words neck and wring spring to mind.

Friday: Sod it. Yesterday’s lunch in yesterday’s container.

Home. Late.

Hall floor, jutting out of school bag, spot what appears to be the remains of this morning’s Tupperware container.

‘What happened to this?’ Incredulous. ‘It looks like it’s been put through a crusher.’

‘Ah.’ A pause.

‘Not my fault. I got it out of my bag to eat my lunch while I was waiting for the school bus to arrive and a car reversed over it.’

‘That’s a joke, right?’

Earnest shaking of head. ‘No, it really did. Some idiot in a BMW drove right over it. I didn’t even get to finish my sandwich which was really annoying.’

For once am completely lost for words.

Evening Chorus

9pm. Arrive home after many hours of driving Older Cherub to various sporting commitments and help carry plethora of bags into house. Older Cherub disappears hastily into bedroom to be reunited with I Pad and takes up horizontal position on bed. Am tempted to do the same. Contemplate, instead, sea of school/kit bags in hall and experience moment of admiration for older Cherub who has to lug them round all day; there are enough to accommodate a family of four on a two week stint to Marbella.

Make a start on swimming bag and discover that metal drinks bottle, club hat and new (expensive) goggles, which replaced the goggles lost the week before, are missing. Find Aga has switched to sleep mode and so casserole meant for supper is only half cooked. Older Cherub, who is always hungry, sweeps into kitchen and removes half the contents of fridge. Hastily switch to plan b and unearth sausages and pasta.

9.20pm Husband and Younger Cherub return from cricket match an hour late. Neither sunscreen or hat have featured despite earlier soar in temperature and so husband, who umpired, now resembles a red Indian. Make mental note to buy factor 50 as this is not a look to repeat. Older Cherub, having eaten most of the fridge, now proceeds to demolish family size yoghourt pot, half a packet of Alpen and four crumpets. Am no longer impressed by capacity of Older Cherub’s non-existent stomach but am resigned to doing yet another food shop in the morning.

9.35pm. Younger Cherub and husband alternate trying to lob a T.bag into a mug from a distance of four feet. This is a regular pastime and provides husband much entertainment. However, am not inclined to join in as am juggling three saucepans and rack of sausages that remain stubbornly underdone.

9.40pm. Feed neglected dog, throw on wash and call swimming pool about the lost kit which, unsurprisingly, hasn’t materialised. Attempts to get Older Cherub to help unpack remaining bags are received with distinct lack of enthusiasm but Older Cherub does concede to carrying one bag into bedroom where it will remain, untouched, for the rest of the week.

Serve supper and eye kitchen clock warily. Older Cherub starts taunting Younger Cherub about his lack of revision and how he’s bound to fail impending exams. Recall plenty of sleep and doing well in exams go hand in hand and decide to forgo crumble which will take too long to heat up and instead offer fruit for pudding which is met with indignation.

10.15pm. Husband reports of cricket selection meeting he is expected at which started an hour and a half ago. Feel this is an opportunity to avoid washing up and general chaos in kitchen. Husband offers to clear up later as he leaves house but am not reassured by this as previous promises have not been followed through.

Cajole Younger Cherub upstairs to brush teeth and, given late hour, to apply some urgency to the task. Investigate progress ten minutes later and find that Younger Cherub has taken apart the innards of a cricket ball and used half a tube of hair gel to create Elvis Presley quiff.

‘Have you done your teeth?’

‘Yes.’ His response is instant and empathic.

Regard Younger Cherub with skepticism. Suspicions further heightened on entering bedroom which exudes strong smell of sweets. Discover large lump of chewed bubblegum under pillow and duly dispatch red-faced cherub back to bathroom.

10.30pm Attempt to tackle emails are foiled as Younger Cherub reappears despite strict instructions not to. Sudden request to keep light on longer to revise for exam is rejected and Younger Cherub dispatched unceremoniously back to bed with threat of punishment. Threats make no impression as said child returns with complaints of growing pains; thirst; feeling cold, request for hot water bottle. The threat of Harry Potter Audio CD being removed from room, however, does the trick and all goes quiet.

10.50. Older Cherub, last complaining of chronic fatigue, has taken on the demeanor of an aerobics instructor and transformed bedroom into a gym. Music pulsates. Remind older Cherub that Younger Cherub is now in bed asleep and to turn the music down. Receive snort of derision at the mention of Younger Cherub’s name which gives rise to new suspicion. Peer upstairs and notice faint, eery light coming from corner of Younger Cherub’s otherwise darkened bedroom. Confiscate computer and remind younger Cherub that Facebook does not count as revision.

10.50pm. Clean kitchen, make packed lunches and put out bins for morning collection along with dog for evening’s constitutional. Dog reappears after long delay looking suspiciously sheepish. Suspect foul play at hand but cannot give this due attention as still have Older Cherub to contend with.  Return to recently cleaned kitchen to find milk, butter smears, crusts, cereal, spilt yoghurt, empty chocolate wrapper and debris of crumbs adorning the surfaces.

11.20pm Try not to dwell on there now only being six and a half hours until the morning’s alarm and make mental note to get to bed earlier tomorrow. Switch off all lights, lock back door and leave phone charging. Meet older Cherub on landing who has sudden urgent need to print out work for school. Leave him with solemn promise to turn lights off, close door to dog’s room and not to eat any more food.

6am – next day. Descend stairs to find the ground floor unusually bright. Quickly realise this does not mean the promise of a lovely sun-filled day but that the older Cherub has left enough lights on to power half the national grid and the dog’s been sick on the floor.