A Brief History of My Life : Part 2 - A Womans View

by 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’ little girl.

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.

War Zone
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 and tonic.

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 soul destroying.

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.

Daphne Layley
November 2005



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