A Brief History of My Life : Part 2 - A Womans
|Daphne C. Layley
emale fishkeepers used to be an oddity
and, five decades ago I remember being considered strange
and misguided because of my passion for anything that swam
or squirmed, instead of playing with dolls, like any ‘normal’
I thought I was normal, and I enjoyed my tomboy years looking
after fascinating creatures - large snails (all individually
named), Sticklebacks, Minnows, Miller’s Thumbs, Stone
Loaches, Bullhead Catfish, Grass Snakes, Slow Worms and
assorted frogs, toads and newts. My dear mother, normally
a strict disciplinarian, (whose nemesis was snakes), would
display abject terror and apoplectic hysteria when ever
her small daughter appeared in the kitchen doorway, wearing
a large grass snake as a scarf. Of course I’m desperately
sorry now; if Mum was still here I’d beg her forgiveness
– children can be so thoughtlessly cruel…
I never grew out of it, and I am
probably even more obsessed now. Getting old doesn’t
have many compensations, but now it is easier to indulge
my hobby, as I don’t have to precede all aquatic
purchases with the phrase “please Mum, can I have
some extra pocket money” especially as Mum wasn’t
all that keen on what I spent it on.
Only there to make the tea!
When I first got a job in an aquarium
shop, 25 years ago, I had already been a keen aquarist for
more than twenty years, but many customers would only address
their fishkeeping queries and problems to my male colleagues
– it was as though I was just the tea lady or, worse
still, invisible – after all, I was just a female,
so I couldn’t possibly know anything about fish. Funnily
enough, customers were often re-routed to me eventually,
especially if their queries involved catfish. It took me
a while to establish any ‘street- cred’ with
the shop’s clientele. Thank goodness times are changing
– and us ‘ladies’ are slowly becoming
accepted as equals in what was, for so many years, a male
dominated hobby. However, I still sometimes get talked-down-to
in a condescending manner by the odd chauvinistic know-it-all
behind the counter, who acts as though he is God’s
gift to fishkeeping.
I also found it annoying if I went into an aquarium shop,
with my husband, and I asked a question. The reply was always
directed to my other half, over the top of my head, as though,
because I was a woman, I couldn’t possibly understand
the answer! I still think us female fishkeepers are in the
minority, but we are not outnumbered by the menfolk as much
as we used to be.
If you are partnered with someone
who shares your passion for fishkeeping, life must truly
be a bed of roses – or else a war zone – depending
on how much tank space you’ve each got! Sadly, some
aquarists have other halves who think that the only decent
fish is served in batter, and life can get a tad tedious.
A colleague recently told me that his wife had “withdrawn
the planning permission” for the aquarium, and banished
it to the garden shed!
My family only had to accept a few minor irritations,
like a dish of tubifex wriggling quietly under a dripping
tap in the bathroom - buckets of daphnia and mosquito
larvae in the garden every summer - the bottom drawer
of the freezer full of frozen bloodworm, lancefish and
cockles - flower beds full of mole hills, due to excavations
for earthworms, and whiteworm cultures under the bath
(the temperature is just right). Not too bad really, considering
some peoples’ hobbies – at least I never had
a train set, drum kit or a half-dismantled Harley Davidson
in the middle of the lounge floor!
My husband even built me a fish-room incorporated into
the extension, where I can while away an hour or so every
day, sat at my desk noting any new fishy developments,
or else sitting on the stool late in the evening, feeding
the catfish by torchlight and chilling out with a gin
Household chores – Not really rocket science!!!
Recently, whilst washing-up, I thought
- where do I spend most of my time? The answer wasn’t
in the fish room - it was standing at the kitchen sink,
doing one of the boringly repetitive and humdrum everyday
jobs that us women have to do before we can get on with
what we really want to do.
When you think about it, most of the kitchen chores are
performed at or near the sink - doing the dishes, preparing
food, even making a cuppa - the list is endless. While
we are doing this, what do we have to look at? Obviously,
if you are wielding a sharp knife, you have to concentrate,
but the rest of it isn’t really rocket science.
Most kitchen sinks are under a window and windows have
a windowsill, don’t they? (I think you can see where
I’m going with this, now!) Looking at the irrelevant
bric-a-brac and junk that littered my windowsill, I imagined
instead looking into an eye-level aquarium, tastefully
planted and housing some attractive fish. It would be
much more interesting than staring blankly out of the
window, and it would certainly make the washing-up less
And so, Project Kitchen Windowsill was born. A long, narrow
tank was made, 32 inches (80 cms) long, 14 inches (35
cms) high and 8 inches (20 cms) wide, with a sliding cover
glass. It fitted perfectly on my windowsill with six inches
to spare either end, enough space for a small CO2 canister,
the sugar and yeast fermenter type), some tins of fish
food and dip-strips etc. The CO2 was important because
I really wanted a planted tank for a change.
My other tanks contain minimum substrate, and large drainpipes
which, due to my passion for catfish, have long whiskers
sticking out of one end and equally large tails sticking
out of the other – not very plant friendly…!
I wanted this tank to look attractive, natural, and GREEN.
I installed an 8 watt heated substrate cable covered by
1½ inches (4 cms) of Deponit pre-mixed mineral
substrate, topped off with 1½ inches (4 cms) of
black BD sand. The filter was an old internal 3 compartment
Hagen Trio 2000, because although it has a large capacity
pro rata to the tank size, I could reduce the flow rate
so the CO2 wasn’t driven off by a fast current.
The advantage of 3 chambers was that I could pack one
with a media bag full of aquarium peat, to help acidify
the water, which I wanted to go slightly brown as in a
Rio Negro-style set-up. The other chambers contained open-cell
foam and sintered glass bio-media. A 25-watt heater was
added, but it is rarely on, as the heated cable (surprisingly)
keeps the water temperature at a constant 77°F, (25
°C). Lighting was by 2 x 24 watt compact T5 bulbs
in a 36 inch long (90 cms) luminaire, whose brackets just
fitted on each end of the tank, Décor was 3 pieces
of bogwood, each with a different plant species attached
with fishing line - Java Moss – Vesicularia dubyana,
Java Fern – Microsorium pteropus. and African Water
Fern – Bolbitis heudelotii. The rooted plant species
were unidentified Nymphaea bulbs. Floating plants were
Limnobium laevigatum – Amazon Frogbit, Riccia and
some Phyllanthus fluitans. Were I were a purist, all the
plant species would have been bio-typically correct, but
as I like the ferns on the bogwood, I decided to stretch
a point, and my plant varieties became intercontinental.
I used re-mineralised R.O. water and after 36 hours, a
test with a dip strip (cut lengthways to make two strips
out of one as Peter Bradley advised), registered a GH
of less than 6 degrees, KH of 3 degrees and pH. of 6.8.
I decided that was good enough to grow real plants instead
of the stalagmites that normally thrive in my tap water.
I added some drops of plant fertiliser and trace elements
and plugged the light into a timer, giving 12 hours of
light per day.
After a week I added a few tetras - Glowlights and X Rays
and, three weeks later, the plants have gone mad, the
lily bulbs have sprouted, the Amazon Frogbit has grown
long roots, the Phyllanthus fluitans has turned bright
red, and I’m going to have to do some thinning-out.
The contrast between the bright green plants and the black
sand is stunning. I’m quarantining some small Corydoras
to add soon (I always isolate new livestock for 21 days).
25 per cent of the water is replaced every 10 days and
it is the easiest tank to service because the water is
siphoned out straight down the sink, which gets sterilised
with boiling water after each operation.
I spend a fair amount of time looking in my little tank,
and my husband says that I take much longer over the washing-up
than I used to! It’s the best thing to happen to
my kitchen since the invention of the microwave - I’m
thrilled to bits with it and I would thoroughly recommend
it to the ever growing number of female fishkeepers out
there who, having just read this, might perhaps have been
inspired to try something similar.
This article first appeared in
an abridged form under the name “A Woman’s
View” in Practical Fishkeeping magazine.