On [self-inflicted] frustration

(Another one from the drafts folder)

“I hate satnags

And traffic

And running out of fuel

And hotel receptionists who have to show you how the lights work in your room

And not finding anywhere to park

And people who don’t put signs up to let you know where you’re going

And the lack of house numbers

And people who hold fish meetings in poodle club houses”

***

That’s what I wrote to my brother the other evening. Can you tell that I was stressed?

If I unravel the strings a bit, it’s obvious that I can’t honestly even blame any of the things on the list for my stress either. I am just really really bad at planning things. Or possibly passable at making plans and rubbish at carrying them out.

***

I wanted to listen to a talk about catfish.

It was being given by an expert/fanatic in Hamburg, at least 3 hours away from where I work. It was on a Thursday evening and I try not to drive when tired, meaning I needed to take holiday for the Friday, and pay for accommodation for Thursday night. I don’t have holiday or money to spare, and I should probably have stayed at home because my brother was coming to visit and I wanted/needed to prepare for him.

I decided to go anyway.

It was a spontaneous decision, one I didn’t really have time for, but one I made and stuck to regardless. My pre-birthday present to myself. There’s time to be vernünftig when I’m old, and luckily my brother isn’t fussy about things like unwashed floors or unmade beds.

***

On the evening before the day of the talk I came home late from work (still catching up with my hours of school-induced undertime) and tried to sort my house out. I could have started that earlier in the week but I didn’t, I made a mess in my kitchen and on the balcony instead. I could have ignored the hours I need to catch up with and gone home earlier but I didn’t. I could have tidied more quickly and distracted myself with the shrimp babies less often. But I didn’t and did, respectively.

By the time the place was starting to look presentable it was midnight and I was tired. I went directly to bed instead of going via the shower.

I didn’t shower the next morning either, because it was almost freezing outside and I’d had to park million miles away so the workmen could build a new road outside my house, and also because I’d woken up later than I’d planned.

I didn’t fill my water bottles for work because I hadn’t left time for the filter to do its thing and my tap water tastes horrible. I didn’t stop to buy anything to drink on the way because I was already late. Despite not showering and not filling my bottles.

Once at work, nothing I tried making turned out the way I wanted it to**. My hand cramped which only made things worse. The kind of cramp which makes you cry. I was aiming to set off at 2pm, but I didn’t want to leave before I’d had some kind of success, even if only minimal, so I didn’t get on the road until nearly 3. Google had said it would take 3 hours so I was still within my time budget. (Or so I thought.)

It took me over an hour to get across Berlin in nose-to-tail traffic. If I’d known, I could have taken a different route, but I didn’t know. I checked Google for distance and driving time a couple of days in advance, but I didn’t check for congestion before setting out and my satnav doesn’t communicate with traffic information.

The rest of the journey was long but uninteresting, except for having to stop for fuel on the way. The bloke at the petrol station laughed at me because I forgot to look at the number of my pump before I went in to pay… 🙄

***

When I reached the last junction I had to choose where to go first – hall or hotel.

I’d chosen a hotel approximately 10-15 minutes drive away from the hall the talk was going to be held in. It was already gone half past 6 and the talk was due to start at 7pm, with an open-ended question and answer session afterwards. I figured I was unlikely to make it to the talk on time if I checked into the hotel first, but just as unlikely to make it back to the hotel before the reception closed at 10pm. Sleeping in my car sounded like a bad idea in November. I looked at the clock, sighed and headed towards the hotel instead of straight to the hall.

***

I almost drove straight past the hotel but saw the sign at the last moment and parked on the pavement a couple of hundred metres away. It took me a while to find the front door (curiously situated at the  back of the house) and even longer to check in.

The receptionist was in the middle of printing and folding a million pages of menus. She couldn’t check me in until she could print my paperwork, and she couldn’t do that until the printer had finished printing the menus….

At some point I was shown the key. I couldn’t have it, though, until I’d been shown the box to put it in upon departure, as well as the carpark, the rest of the grounds, the breakfast hall, the toilets and my room, including a demonstration of each light and every cupboard.

Since when is that normal?!

To give the receptionist her due, she was very lovely (and possibly very bored), and on any other day, I would have probably been more grateful for the tour. In this case I could only just about remember to say thank you when she was finished.

***

I should probably have left as soon as she finished telling me about how to close the bedroom door properly, but someone had unfortunately put a mirror up in my room and I hadn’t managed to avoid it.

I looked a complete mess. It appeared that a shower was more a necessity than a luxury… (Especially the part where I had to be content with using the hotel’s shower gel instead of shampoo because I’d left my washkit in my car).

***

I was tired and I hadn’t eaten and I’d already missed the beginning of the talk when I finally set off towards the hall, but I had at least found a stray bottle of water in the boot of my car (from a previous shopping trip) so I was less at risk of dehydration thirsty than when I’d set off.

***

The 10 minute trip from the hotel to the hall took me over half an hour and involved swearing in multiple languages. My satnag and I rarely agree on timing and only very occasionally on directions. After driving backwards and forwards and round in circles I parked at random and got out of the car. My phone would have to take over.

It was dark and raining as I walked back the way I’d come. I was already nearly ¾ of an hour late for a talk I’d driven 300km to hear. I was not a particularly happy bunny and the weather wasn’t helping to cheer me up.

A few minutes later I was amazed to find a miniature carpark, accessible only via an unmarked turning, hidden from the road by a thick hedge. Opposite the carpark was a narrow wooden gate, mostly hidden behind some trees.

Further inspection revealed a small sign which informed me that the field behind the gate belonged to the poodle taming club. At the far end of the field was a low hut with row of yellow window-shaped lights.

The poodle tamers’ clubhouse address at the bottom of the sign was the same as the address of the fishlovers association I was looking for. I was expecting lots of catfish enthusiasts but no one had told me about the poodle tamers.

I opened the gate and made my way across the wet field in the half-dark, typing that message to my brother and hoping there weren’t any wild poodles waiting for intruders.

***

The talk was fantastic (at least the parts I was there for), the speaker unexpectedly laid back. The talk and Q&A session were followed by a book signing. He had brought a box of back issues of his magazines*** to hand out and a box of his books for sale. I, obviously (is it obvious to everyone else?), hadn’t got enough money with me to buy a book, but I did pick up a magazine as they came round.

I knew nobody and would have usually slunk away at this point, but I was accosted as soon as the projector was turned off and the lights came on. Who are you, where do you come from, why are you here, how did you hear about it, where do you come from, did you really drive all the way here from Berlin?! what kind of fish do you have..? Do you know the speaker, do you want to get his signature…etcetcetc… Some of the usuals in the aquarium club knew him already, presumably from previous speeches, and insisted on introducing us.

I still, despite working with famous artists and professors, expect experts to be serious, too aloof to talk to normal mortals, but the speaker, like the artists and professors, was just as human as the rest of us as he sat and chatted about fish and travelling and struggling to find time to write books between all his other commitments.

He pushed the pile of magazines in my direction and gave me the names of other people to get in touch with, people who know about the same sort of fish, people who are part of a small group of experts, people with many years of fish-breeding experience, people who would be interested in passing on their knowledge if I wanted to hear it.

***

I left the poodle club starving but in a much better mood than before…

…until I found out that none of the restaurants in a 10km radius were willing to serve me food after 10pm.

Ho-hum.

Good thing garages sell breadbuns late at night.

***

All things considered, it was a very good evening.

Can’t shake the feeling that I probably need to work on my organisation skills tho.

* Wet hair in cold weather is probably ok if you’re healthy. I used to not care what the weather was doing. Thing is, I’ve been running on empty for a long time and my immune system is more or less screwed.. I’ve been fighting a cold since early September and had far more eczema than usual.

** Not a new phenomenon…

*** He’s not only a discoverer and breeder of various fish, he also writes books and catalogues and is the editor of a well-read magazine.

On lacking trust

This morning I bought 10 chocolate catfish. They are small and dark brown and incredibly cute.

The saleslady at the fish market said they’d grow to approximately 4-5cm long – perfect for my tank. I had no signal in the salesroom, so I couldn’t check anything online. I bought the fish, based purely on sight and the assurance of the saleslady.

When I reached civilization (;)) I googled them. Apparently there’s no such thing. I tried various other searches and decided they must be a dark brown version of Corydoras Aeneus. They grow to 8cm long. That’s almost double what I was expecting. I’m awful at playing catch (to get them out of an aquarium), especially when there’s lots of plants to hide in, so I aim not to have to try. That means I have to decide where they’re going in advance and that is dangerously close to planning.

I don’t plan.

After a long time of faffing about, googling and trying to make a decision, I took the fish to xDB’s, and put them into his tank with my other babies. He’s doing a great job of looking after them for me.

After I got home, fishless, I found a website selling a breed of dark brown catfish which supposedly reach an adult length of 5-6cm. 

Maybe the saleslady is right after all. Maybe I can pick my fish up in a couple of months and know they’ll be ok to live with my other fish.

But what if they really will get that big, what if she just wanted to sell them? I guess it worked – I bought them…
I’m not sure whether I lack trust or have too much.

On happy fish

Last weekend I went back to the fish market. I didn’t get there until about half an hour before the end, thanks to yoga, but there were still fish on offer.

Some of the sellers remembered me from last time, and some I spoke to for the first time.

One, when I asked him what his fish needed in order to be happy, shook with laughter and said he’d never heard of happy fish before. Apparently I am the first person he’s spoken to who wants their fish to be happy, as opposed to healthy, or the right colour, or good at producing young.

I think happy is a good criteria.

I came home with 21 new fish…

I’m going to need a fourth aquarium soon, at this rate ;).

On catfish and other sites

DB says we can’t have a cat.

He didn’t say anything about catfish.

I now have 18 – and counting 🙂

***

On the grounds that I am liable to become boring for most readers who don’t like fish, I’m going to put future posts about fish onto their own site.

Here are some pictures so you can see whether you want to follow me there..

My newly planted little 250L aquarium:

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Did you see the pandas?

 

***

Edit 31.3.16:

There are 10 Corydoras Pandas in this Tank

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in DB’s tank there are 5 Corydoras Arcuatus (“Skunk”)

IMG-20160321-WA0032

as well as 3 I-have-no-idea-what’s

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I hope it’s obvious that I don’t keep them in plastic bags. It’s just difficult to take photos when they’re hidden in the undergrowth….

On not-catching 22

There are a few things I’m really good at.

Catching fish isn’t one of them.

In fact, it’s one of the things I’m worst at.

***

With most of the other things I’m worst at (or just bad at), I’m generally so bad because I don’t practice enough (or ever) or because I don’t much care about being good at it and don’t try.

In most cases (unfortunately not all ;)), I will improve with increased practice and effort.

By ‘improve’, I mean ‘be less dreadful by a miniscule amount’. For example, I might be one minute less late than usual, or iron something so that it has one less wrinkle, or leave one less gardening ‘tool’ (=anything gardening related) on the lawn for DB to trip over or complain about. I can even, when pushed, run further, or faster, or for longer than the previous run. It might only be a couple of metres, or seconds, but it’s improvement, and it’s measureable improvement.

I’m not, and will probably never be, good at most things, but I can become gradually less bad if I want to.

Fish-Catching, as opposed to fishing, is something I want to be able to do, but can’t.

Not for want of trying, or of effort, or determination. I just can’t.

***

We have 2 aquariums; a huge big one with 750L (200x60x70, and a smaller one with only 250L (that’s the size most people think of as having a big aquarium).

Until the end of last month it held the slowest growing of our many discus babies. They’ve finally moved into the big aquarium to join their siblings.

I’ve planted it, and DB has sanded and repainted the lid, and now it’s full (of gravel and water and plants and snails), and pretty, and empty (of fish).

image
Not actually empty in this photo – stolen from the next post 😉

There are people who keep empty aquariums as a kind of underwater garden, but I don’t think I’m one of them. I like wildlife in my real garden too, as long as it’s not destroying anything.

DB and I had talked about buying small fish and growing them in the small aquarium until they get big enough not to be eaten, and then transfer them into the big aquarium, but once we discovered the baby black tetras, it seemed more sensible to put them in there, instead of feeding them to the discus and buying new babies.

The babies themselves had other ideas.

I didn’t manage to catch a single one

To be fair to their genetics, if you’re a small fish, it’s probably never a good idea to be oblivious of anything large coming towards you. Swimming fast and/or hiding is a much safer bet.

Usually.

They couldn’t know that I wasn’t (and am indeed still not) a hungry fish, and was instead trying to save their lives (and restock the second aquarium).

***

Later, I tried to catch the next pregnant fish. I figured if I put her and a suitable mate in the other aquarium, then their babies would have a chance of survival, even if I’ve failed these babies.

I couldn’t catch her either. Or any of the rest.

🙁

Not achieving something I want to achieve feels pretty bad at the best of times, knowing that lives depend on my achievement and still sucking at it, is a whole lot worse.

Still, I suppose nature knows what it’s doing….

***

After spending most of the day* with my arm in the aquarium not-catching fish, I know several new things:
– I am worse than rubbish at catching fish
– I am spectacularly good at not catching fish
– the next net I buy will not be bright blue…

* several hours spread over the day… I stopped occasionally to give the fish some rebate time – the plan was to catch them not kill them, and the discus get scared pretty easily. Also, the aquarium is high enough not to be too comfortable to reach into.

On some of the dangers involved in being a baby Trauermantelsalmler

We have babies!

Fish babies! 😉

(Can you tell I’m excited yet?)

At least 3 of them! (From approximately 500 eggs, according to the fish website I consulted)

Totally unexpected too…

***

On Tuesday I came back from England. I was there for a week and had been travelling in Germany for a few days before that.

It’s amazing what changes in a couple of weeks. My baby catfish are almost double the size they were when I left (:)) and the discus we quarantined died just before I got back (:(). The plants are threatening to turn into triffids (:/) and the duckweed layer was thick enough to block out most of the light.

This evening I finally got my act in gear and skimmed the duckweed off the top of the water in the big aquarium. I was planning to change the water and suck up all the algae from the bottom of the aquarium too, until DB said he’d prefer it if I cropped some pictures ready for printing on a T-shirt for a friend of his. I was almost finished with the duckweed anyway, so I stopped and decided to carry on with the algae tomorrow – one day more or less is no big deal… This algae grows faster than I can get it out, and collects in dust-bunny-like clumps. I don’t even know what kind of algae it is, but it’s how I imagine underwater tumbleweed..

Before I headed upstairs to the computer, I sat back to admire the light reaching all the way down to the pebbles for the first time in ages – and something tiny moved… We don’t have anything tiny living in there so I looked more closely – and there swam a very (VERY) small, VERY cute, perfectly formed, baby Trauermantelsalmler fish :). Not much longer than 4mm and a whole lot thinner. Then it was gone, hidden in a mess of long wavey ‘grass’ and tumbleweed. Then there was another one, smaller than the first, but still identifiable as a TMS, followed by a third. What a good thing I didn’t change the water!

I don’t know how long they’ll last since ALL the other fish (including the parents) are hungry savages when it comes to tiny baby fish (cuteness doesn’t get them anywhere; they’re better off swimming fast and hiding well) but I’m pretty sure there’s at least 3 which have made it this far (something like 8 days judging by the size) so we’ll see. Wish them luck 🙂

***

WHOOO!!!

On bathing twice in one day

I am most definitely not a morning person.

DB most definitely is.

During the week I have to be dressed, breakfasted and out of the house by 7am (7:10 at the very latest), and DB demands that I eat breakfast with him at least once per weekend which involves being up by just gone 8. Over the last couple of years I have managed to gradually move breakfast time from 7:30 to almost 8:45, but that is still too early for my idea of a leisurely weekend breakfast… (Remember how I said DB is a morning person? 8:45 is practically lunchtime in his mind ;))

That leaves me ONE day per week when I can sleep until I wake up, instead of when I’m woken up. I look forward to those days*.

***

Yesterday was our ‘common breakfast day’ (with fresh breadrolls from the bakery down the road, courtesy of DB who is glad to be up and doing something, anything, even queuing for breadrolls at early o’clock in the morning, as soon as he wakes up. Plus, it gives me 15 extra minutes to humanise enough to be able to make breakfast table conversation, so we all win ;)).

Today should have been my sleep in day. Instead, I was out of bed and in the bathroom before 8:30. Voluntarily. On a Sunday. I must be mad.

***

We got new fish and a couple of new aquatic plants last weekend. We still need some (=lots) more plants, and maybe some more fish. That’s quite an expensive game in ‘normal’ shops, so when we found out that the local fish club has a sale on the first Sunday of the month we decided to try our luck there. Being a very morning-orientated country, the sale opened at 10am. Being a very morning-orientated person, DB said we should be there when they open the doors. We were taking DB’s dad with us, so we needed to plan in another few minutes to pick him up. ETD 9:40.

***

Being busy in the evening has disadvantages. I’d fallen into bed, passing neither ‘Go’ nor the bath, despite knowing that we had a very important fish sale to get to relatively early and that I had to wash my hair before going anywhere near other people. Not sensible.

Plus, I wanted to cut another few centimetres off while it was still wet.

Hey ho. There went my lie in.. The things you do for love (and fish) and all that.

***

The fish sale was held in a cellar. Close to 40 mini-aquariums were lined up In the middle of the room; the current owners on one side, the prospective owners on the other. There were more people than I’d expected, and most of them had sharpened their elbows specially. There were obviously no ‘reserve fish’ so once they’d been sold they were gone.

We were approximately 10 minutes ‘late’ (if you can even be late to a sale), courtesy of my breakfast** and already there were seriously depleted aquariums.

DB looked for plants while I fell in love with some white catfish. I asked for two, so they could keep each other company. The first was out of the water and into the bag before I’d finished asking. The second got a fin caught up in the net so he gave me a different one and hung the net in the water so the fish could “free itself”. I paid and went to find DB. After looking round the rest of the sale room with a bad feeling, I went back and said I wanted the one in the net too. It was still hanging and didn’t look like it was capable of anything more than struggling. It took a while, and a lot of under-breath-cursing, but eventually my baby catfish was free to join the other 2 in the bag. In retrospect, I should have demanded it be freed immediately, but anyway. I think 3 is better for them anyway. Probably 6 would have been even better than that, but I don’t know enough about them yet.

In other news, DB’s dad bought 20 assorted small fish and I won a bottle of aquarium-plant-food in the raffle.

***

Once home, it was time to get the fish and plants into the aquarium. I let the bag float on the surface and concentrated on the plants, since the fish have to acclimatise to the temperature and new water before you can let them out.

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Excuse the awful photo – it’s what’s to be expected when I use my phone to take pictures through 8mm glass, water and a not-quite-clear bag… 😉

Our biggest aquarium is 2m long and about 65cm deep. To plant anything in the 2inch gravel layer, you have to remove the outer lid, climb up a stepladder, slide the glass lid to one side, and lean over – one hand in the water, one on the edge for balance. Usually DB does Aquarium-related things, this time I wanted to be involved, especially since I had my first very own fish.

What I didn’t realise was just how short my arms are, and just how sensible it would have been to get undressed first!

There were something like 20 plants to go in. The first went in ok, the second was just far enough away to get the edge of my [short] sleeve wet.

The third was enough to submerge the rest of my sleeve.

By the time I got to the last one, I might as well have got into the tank.

***

The fish were happy to be released, and darted round the tank like mad things until they realised they had so many hiding places to try out, whereupon they vanished, seldom to be seen again.

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***

I left them to it and went off to have my second (/third) bath of the day 🙂

 

 

* I realise that there will most likely come a time when I can’t sleep as long as I want on any day, but in the meantime I intend to treasure all the chances I can get 🙂

** I would’ve been happy to eat in the car, but DB isn’t a fan of crumbs….

On trying, and failing, to count to 20

“I think that’s 12” he said, from the top step of a wobbly stepladder. “Although they won’t stay still long enough for me to count them properly. I haven’t counted the rest, but there’s no way there’s another 20 in there”.

“That’s ok, we’ll take them all, even if there aren’t going to be as many as we wanted”.

***

Last Sunday (written last week, so really the Sunday before last), we decided to buy more fish. It’s an idea we’d played with for a while and because we’ve finally finished the light box and changed the water it seemed like a good day to act on it.

We have discus fish. They are generally pretty friendly, but they are liable to eat anything small enough to bite and slow enough to get bitten. On the other hand, they don’t eat all the food they’re given on any given day. The uneaten fish food makes the water ‘bad’ (I have no idea how. I think it has something to do with the pH value, but I don’t actually know), and encourages the wrong sort of plants to grow.

We need something to eat the leftover food, without getting eaten. We don’t want to spend loads of money on them, but we also don’t want something that won’t work in our aquarium.

To make things more complicated, discus fish are originally from South America and DB doesn’t want to mix continents. The choice of South American fish bred to survive in limescale-y German tap water isn’t huge.

The number of fish that fulfill all the criteria AND can be found in fish shops which open on Sundays is even smaller.

We chose Trauermantelsalmler*. They need a herd (or a school) to be happy**. 50 would be ideal, but even the cheaper, not-yet-fully-grown fish are expensive en mass, so we agreed 30 would be ok.

***

I think it is less than ideal that no one had told the trainee fish salesman that the fish scoops have extra long handles so that they can be hung on the side of the aquarium to save several journeys up and down the wobbly ladder. Especially when it was obvious that he was not a natural ladder climber, wobbly or otherwise.

Considering that we were in the fish department of a D.I.Y. shop, I think it is bad marketing for the trainee fish salesman to have a wobbly ladder at all

It would’ve been nice if he’d left a bit more water in the fish-transport-bag too, but I think he’s at the beginning of his training and will learn the rest soon. He might learn it more quickly if the dragon-like lady-at-the-till tells him she couldn’t lie the bag down because she’d have stranded them in the shallows.

***

As we left the till ready to crunch our way accross the frozen carpark to the van, I tucked the fishbag inside my jacket. I pulled my T-shirt up, and allowed the warmth to travel from my stomach to the water. The fish need at least 26 degrees (Centigrade, this is Germany ;)), 28 is preferable and 30 is about the upper limit. I am always cold in comparison to DB, so I figured I was unlikely to cook them on the 15 minute journey home. I kept the heated seat turned right up to avoid freezing myself :).

***

DB opened first the aquarium lid, then the fish bag, as soon as we got in, before we could get waylaid with timewasting activities like taking our shoes off. (I love traipsing snow into the house 🙂 (Really. I just don’t get the chance all that often – DB is such a spoilsport!)).

The process of transferring fish is pretty much the same whatever fish you buy: a bit of aquarium water is added to the bag, which is then resealed and left to swim in the aquarium. This lets the fish get used to the new water, without getting cold.***

Half an hour or so later DB tipped out most of the water in the bag (so we didn’t end up with the shop water in our tank****) and replaced it with ‘our water’. Another few minutes acclimatisation and they were ready to explore.

***

Theoretically, all new fish should go into a quarantine aquarium to make sure they’re healthy but we don’t have a quarantine aquarium, or even space for a part time quarantine aquarium, so we decided to risk it. Actually, it wasn’t really a decision. It was already clear that if we were going to buy new fish we were going to risk the health of the existing fish. Sometimes you just have to accept the risk and carry on.

***

As soon as they left the bag, the new fish raced to the end of the tank, and around the perimeter, and back and forth along the front,  presumably to find the best means of escape…

Black Tetra in Aquarium
Finally free! (the rest are already out of the picture)

There is none. Poor things. (Although I’m pretty sure they’d favour life in a substandard aquarium over life on the carpet if they ever did escape).

Took them a while to realise though – even longer than it took me to count them and be happy with the result.

There are 22.

The trainee had counted them and reached 20. He’d written 20 on the bag, and we’d paid for 20. I’m not going to complain, but,

“What do they teach them in these schools!”*****

😉

 

* Black Tetras. Also known as black skirt tetra, petticoat tetra, high-fin black skirt tetra, and black widow tetra. The German literally means “mourning mantel Tetra”

** not many people I know who need a school to be happy 😉

*** If you’re just moving them between aquariums, you can use a bucket. There’s usually enough water in a bucket, that it won’t get cold, so it doesn’t need to be floated in the aquarium..

**** helps to reduce risk of disease transfer

***** The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S.Lewis

☆☆☆

[Edit, 11. Feb: I thought someone would make a clever comment involving catch 22, but no one has…]