Do certain types of fish appeal to a particular sort of person, asks Jeremy Gay...
I've been writing for a pet magazine this week, so my focus has ever so briefly been away from fish and on other pets like dogs and cats instead.
There has been a lot on Staffordshire bull terriers in the news of late, and how young men use them as status symbols, or even to threaten others.
If you're of a certain age, own a Staffie and have a certain dress sense, then like it or not you're probably going to fit a perceived stereotype and get judged.
Staffies are synonymous with being a chav breed of dog, so I want to know if there is such a thing as a chav fish...
It seems to me that certain types of fish attract certain types of owner. I've had three threats of violence in my fishy career, and all three of them came from piranha owners. Coincidence? Maybe.
Cichlasoma sp. "burberry"
And certain species seem synonymous with certain decor. You won't find many tanks decorated with sunken galleons, containing wild Discus, but plenty with Convicts or Parrot cichlids, and any one of the tropical freshwater "sharks".
Cichlids often attract those who feel they can make money from their hobby. Convicts again are often bought with the sole purpose of being bred. Jewel cichlids often go the same way, as do Malawi cichlids, which I've heard more than once called "skanks" by a marine keeper who saw a Malawi cichlid tank as somehow inferior to his own salty creation.
Or are these fish just victims of circumstance? Most ornaments reside in tanks owned by new or inexperienced fishkeepers, and after the tank has gone through all its trials and tribulations it is often only the hardiest fish which are left, like Convicts, Silver dollars, Common plecs and Synodontis eupterus.
Is there such a thing as a pretentious fishkeeper? Are there those who keep fish merely to show off and impress others, or to somehow reflect other aspects of their lifestyle? It seems that many large predatory fish are shown off in bare tanks like trophies in a glass cabinet, or is it simply because of practical reasons and the fact that fishkeeping should be just that, with no other visual distractions?
It used to be that a reefkeeper was a certain type of person – earning a decent wage and clever enough to steer themselves through all the problems that early reef tanks brought with them. Maybe they could afford exotic holidays and the reef tank was like bringing a chunk of their holiday photos home? Now that a marine tank set up is much cheaper, it can be created and made a success by anyone, even those on a limited budget.
Are Oscar keepers a certain type of person? You won't find many gracing the homes of the socially aspirational, but plenty in the homes of the financially disadvantaged.
Many of the planted tank aquascapers I've met could be described as a newer breed, and in the media world that I work in, fit a certain demographic.
Introduced to aquatics via the Internet and as much into photography and artistic expression as actually keeping the fish themselves, these people are image conscious individuals with good jobs.
Good cameras cost money, as do optiwhite tanks. They want their tanks immaculate at all times and can think of nothing worse than a damp fish house with racks of noisy air filtered tanks or coloured gravel. These guys (and they are mostly guys,) aren't short on technological gadgets or disposable income and outside of fishkeeping, brands like Apple and Canon are on display in abundance.
copyright © Dave Pemberton, Creative Commons
So where does that put me? I like Convicts, Oscars and Malawi cichlids, and have been known to wear tracksuit bottoms at the weekend – they're comfy for lazing around the house – right?
Many people expect my own aquariums to be immaculate at all times but you need spare time for that, and time and money are two things I don't have.
I flit from one style to the other as I'm influenced daily by so many readers and contributors all selling their particular specialisations to me, and I buy it 100%, loving rare Victorian cichlids and Hemianthus one day and danios and Acropora the next.
An air-operated diver has its place if you're eight years old, or simply if you don't take life too seriously. Fishkeeping should be a fun and relaxing hobby after all. You can never know everything about fishkeeping as it is constantly growing and evolving, so take it too seriously and you'll just end up arguing and being unhappy, ultimately losing the spark that made you take up fishkeeping in the first place.
So I want to know your thoughts on this. Can you guess someone's fishkeeping inclination by their house, job and dress sense or vice versa? Do you care what others think of the fish or decor you have or are you a stingray breeding grandma, breaking all the usual stereotypes? If Convicts had a Burberry pattern, do you know anyone who would be head over heels about buying some?
The God complex is something that most fishkeepers are affected by and have in common, knowingly or not. It's the whole thing about creating another miniature world in our living rooms that is 100% created and controlled by us.
What fish will live there, how it will look and when they'll be fed, illuminated and cleaned out is 100% controlled by the owner, so maybe to someone with zero inclination to keep fish or aquariums, all fishkeepers could be described as having similar personalities or attributes regardless of demographic?
Let me know your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.