You know what really grinds my gears?


Editor's Picks

Us fishkeepers love a good grumble, so with a nod of the hat to Family Guy's Peter Griffin, PFK staff get a few things off their chests and invite you to do the same.

Jeremy Gay on…

RO drums

One of the luxuries of living in the UK is that clean water is actually piped to my house, and I can access it just by the turn of a tap. Useful for drinking, washing and fishkeeping, so why is it that over the last few years I’ve reverted to travelling somewhere, paying for water and then transporting it back?

My frame isn’t built for hanging 25 kilos of water from one side of my body, or at knee height, and as for balancing it out with another full 25 litre RO drum, my days of dragging two drums across a car park are long gone.

So I sit here in 2013 typing away on the information super high-way surrounded by high tech gadgets and importantly, labour saving gadgets, yet when I have to lift and shift water, I’m no more advanced than my ancestors.

Coloured nets

So I’m catching some fish the other day, with two nets as always, only the fish seemed a bit harder to catch? Why? Because the nets were bright blue. See-through netting I get, even green makes sense in a planted tank, but blue? The fish saw me coming from a mile away.


Abstracts are the lengthy introductions to academic papers and here at PFK we get a lot of them from the scientific community, and concerning fish. An abstract may make perfect sense to a scientist but to the rest of us those things just aren’t written in plain English, instead having incredibly long jargon filled sentences which seem to do their best to hide the facts deep within the text. So many words in each sentence too. So many. You run out of breath.

Don’t get me wrong, science is very important and an integral part of our hobby. I spent several years working with a fish taxonomist so I can talk dorsal fin-ray counts with the best of them, but as a writer and journalist, I also need to get the facts and quickly bring them to the start of any article along with the all important who, what, when, where, why and how.

With limited time on our hands and being a time sensitive publication, I’m not best pleased when I find the most important fact in the pages and pages of scientific paper, like a new fish species for example, has actually been buried half way down page three.

Seriously, find some scientific papers, read the abstracts and you’ll see what I mean.


I’m known for my love of retro fishkeeping equipment and part of that love is because kit seemed cheaper, and more widely available back then, but especially for me – easy to use. In that battle to control our entire lives by keypad or iphone, including those of our fish, computer technology has inevitably merged with fishkeeping equipment like lights and filters.

This I’m not against per se but get into modern computing and you come up against forced obsolecence by software manufacturers, meaning you run the risk of your all singing all dancing shiny new equipment struggling to even display basic functions, let alone work at full function capacity as it should.

I’ve been caught out so many times of late with incompatible control software, my software version being out of date, my operating system being incompatible or when I finally hook it up to the equivalent of CERN just to get the thing working it turns out to be so difficult to even programme, I reckon Professor Brian Cox would even lose his cool and resort to beating it with a big stick. Filters – on and off. Lights - on, fade up, fade down, off. I don’t want or need rocket science.

Weetabix aquarium cabinets

This I find puzzling, and I guess we’re all guilty of just letting it happen. Why oh why do we still buy, use and put up with aquarium furniture like hoods and cabinets that so easily suffer water damage? Firstly we need cabinets built to take the weight – tick. Easily done to take the weight of a fish tank and more. Easy.

Next we want a variety of finishes, colours and designs. Again tick. Whether it's walnut or mahogany you want to match an antique dresser, or an Amano-esque minimal grey box you can have it, but why then do we put up with many models being made from man made "woods" which soak up water spills, expand and distort?

I’ve spent thousands over the years on tanks and cabinets and the moment I open the cabinet door, and it rubs slightly when it never used to, I know its game over, and down the tip it goes. Sealed panels, non-chipboard like materials, plastics, metal frame, all easily done and all now very high on my list when shopping for a new model.    

Nathan Hill on…

Keeping fish in the wrong conditions

This one really sticks in my craw. If anyone’s supposed to know how to look after a fish, it’s the person keeping them.

So when I stumble across someone keeping, say, sub-tropical loaches alongside hot-house tetras, I start feeling a little put out. When I then see those same, rheophilic fish in slow moving, borderline stagnant water, and being offered flake and bloodworm for breakfast, I get the urge to come back in a balaclava at midnight, stove the door in, and take the whole lot off to a better life.

Modern fishkeepers are in a privileged position of looking after other animals that our ancestors could only dream of, so start acting like you care.

Rubbish plants

Where are we now? 2013? From the selection of greenery I see, I feel that sometimes I’m closer to 1953.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places that have embraced the whole 'benefits of aquascaping' thing, and have a handsome selection of plants on show, well kept, algae free, and enticing. So very many have improved over the years.

But by the same token, there are still stores that seem to think it’s okay to shove a handful of potted Fittonia in their tanks, drizzled with cyanobacteria, and flushed through with icy cold, chlorine filled tapwater.

If you’re not going to have a real stab at plants, then just don’t bother. All you’re doing is making hard work for the hobbyist who can’t fathom why his or her plants won’t grow, as well as not being able to work out where all the gluts of algae keep coming from.


Not the variety born by the minute, I refer to the crude rubber discs sold with filters and heaters under the shady premise that they’ll keep said hardware in place.

Two weeks later, and that futile fastening is either sliding down the back of the tank, or has just given up altogether and opted to make your canister filter face-plant itself into the substrate. A quick wipe, and you stick it back. Twelve seconds later it’s off again. And so on.

I want my suckers to cling on to glass the same way an Alien Facehugger (pictured at the top of a page) would cling to a donkey. Once I’ve put the thing in place, I never, ever want it to let go without me having to savage it with a razor or powerdrill. Now go invent me one.

Salt itch

The tears of the Devil himself. I’m starting to loathe working in some marine tanks, to the point where I think I’m now phobic of saltwater. A kind of sea-rabies, if you will.

It’s that sensation, the way it creeps up over flesh, making you feel gacky. The way it has a crafty nose around for any cuts or scratches you never knew you had until you put your hand into the tank. The way that within seconds of pulling your arm out of the water, you can feel the itching that makes you think you’re crawling with parasites. No sir, I don’t like it. I can still feel it there, six hours after I’ve rinsed off.

And it doesn’t even stay in the tank where it’s supposed to. Give it a short while and it goes on a mission, sending out feelers from the water’s surface while it wanders off to probe the live ends of all of your electrical fittings.

'Elaborate' test kits

Oh, just why? When the rest of the world is all about simplicity, it’s like the water testing side of the hobby has employed the code breakers of Bletchley Park to make the most intricate, baffling and long-winded testing methods possible.

As I get older, I want to get lazier. I want a test kit that I just point roughly in the direction of my tank, and it gives me an instant reading. I don’t want to have to add 38.333 drops of reagent nine, balanced on my head, while counting out crumbs of amethyst and humming the Star Spangled Banner, just to get a nitrite reading seven hours later.

If you happen to make an 'awkward' test kit, please stick some kind of pictorial warning on the package so I’ll know. Nothing complex, just a picture of a Rubik’s cube, or a maze or something, so I understand what I’ll be getting in to.

Some people love the extra accuracy gained from spending their entire weekend performing one test. I’m not one of them.

Now your turn, let us know your pet hates by leaving your comments below. Keep it legal though and don’t name any names!  

Why not take out a subscription to Practical Fishkeeping magazine? See our latest subscription offer.

Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad.