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26 June 2007

Aquarist Update

Right, the fish (parental) are out of the tank (20 degrees C) and transferred to the pond (16 degrees C). The other fish (eggs) are still resolutely stuck to whatever they first touched. Having never done this before, I am both excited and utterly all-at-sea. I'm doing what I think I'm supposed to do.

The tank is being kept warm - the thermostatic heater kicks in at 18 degrees C. The water has not been touched, save for the volume removed to transport Mum and Dad to the pond. It was then topped up with fresh water (tap), and the water then treated, and anti-fungal and anti-bacterial added.

The uber-power filter I bought only weeks ago has been decommissioned, replaced with the old one I had, which was really a bit poor. Minimal suction power is what is needed right now. Along the same lines, aeration has been reduced to lowest power. So: water should be great, temperature should be great, there should be just enough water-flow to keep it uniformly warm in the coming days.

And then it's a case of wait-and-see. My observations regarding the eggs are as follows: good eggs are part clear, part cloudy. Bad eggs are fully-clouded and darker. My eggs - well, you know what I mean - are definitely in the first group. And today, I rather fancy I can see dark spots and lines moving within these microscopic globes.

What happens next goes like this: within the week, I should be able to clearly identify the developing fry. I should be able to see a pair of black dots (eyes) and a black line (spine). Just before hatching, the yolk sac should become clearly visible, and at this point our little chap bursts from his bubble to take his first gulp of fresh water.

He's not a fish, yet. He's a hatchling, he's fry - he's a mobile nervous system and digestive tract. He's see-through - you get to see all his workings like some posh Swiss watch.

His yolk sac will hang beneath him making it tricky for him to move about; rather like a big, dozy bee with its legs smothered in pollen and nectar. For the next week, this yolk sac will gradually reduce, until it finally disappears. At this point, I need to start feeding them, as their portable, always-on larder is no more. And once I start feeding them, it's about another week until I have a very recognisable small goldfish.

I am so excited.

Turning back to the newly-released parents, they are still very much getting used to their new habitat. I think, rather like taking a high-rise city person to the countryside, the space has done their heads in. They have done very little moving about of any great note since I transferred them. They seem vaguely interested, but are generally lying around on the bottom, doing nothing. I'm sure they'll quickly learn the new security standards - there are herons, pigeons and frogs about. They should look sharp.

I'm not worried, despite the fact they are immobile and off their food. It's a big change for them, and they are probably shitting themselves, though I can't imagine how given their lack of eating. I've treated the water with Shirley Aquatics own Para-Pure to clear excess protozoans and fungus. Some Tetra Pond MediFin to generally chill them buggers out, and some King British Professional Safe Water - not because the water's loaded with bad, processed chemicals, but because it aids degradation of ammonia and nitrite and helps digest sludge. As I do not have any form of electric filter in the pond, these will substitute until such time as I do.

I've also schlopped in some bio-claire Gold Plus Montmorillonite Clay, which generally heals, tonics and contains aloe vera, which helps with the fishes' slime coats. This can break down under stress, so this will help any reduction in slime quality. So, basically - they are being very well looked-after, parents and children alike. It's like having two exciting new projects simultaneously.

There is some news of some concern. I had noticed that Edgy - the yellow, female comet - was starting to bulge a bit. I've seen this before, on an exactly similar fish, strangely: it's dropsy, it's incurable, and it's fatal. At first, I had thought it might be because she's in spawn, but today her shape is worse.

Dropsy is easy to identify. It occurs when the fish stops being able to expel all of the water from it's body, and essentially it starts to inflate. Now, fishes scales lie flat against each other, so well meshed that you think it is a whole. When the animal has dropsy, the internal musculature and organs begin to swell (not a very nice thought), and the creature expands. Each individual scale can no longer lie flush against its neighbours, given the expansion, and starts to stick out, anchored at its one cartilage root to the fishes body. The fish starts to look like a pinecone. And that's what my fish looks like.

The advice has been: make her as comfortable as possible; don't separate her from her mate (dropsy is not contagious); keep her well-fed; make sure you've got clean, medicated water. And then cross your fingers. Unfortunately, the recovery rate for dropsy is nil. The survival rate is nil.

And so, nature's great cycle continues. In the tank, hundreds of potential fish. In the pond, one very probably dead fish.

Prince Bandar & The Forty Thieves

Oh, dearie, dearie me. It doesn't look good, whichever way you tilt it. This BAE Systems/Prince Bandar/backhanders/Serious Fraud Office malarkey has now been exported to the Good Ol' US of A where the Department Of Justice wants a word.

Our own Government has already put the kibosh on the SFO's UK enquiry - citing national security grounds - into the alleged hundreds of millions that the Saudi prince - son of the Saudi defence minister and, at that time, serving in the family government as US ambassador, received as a deal-sweetener. He's now the top boy at the Saudi national security council. He denies the charges as vehemently as BAE.

First off: why is everyone so surprised? We are talking about weapons of war. Technologies - especially ones that you have no home-grown capability of designing, building, testing and implementing - are an expensive business, and when those technologies specifically deal with long-range defence capabilities, the bottom line just grows and grows.

Now, say you worked in a car showroom. Your basic pay is £12K per annum. On top of that, you get a small percentage of each deal that you make. Now, work hard each quarter, and you could find your commission exceeding your basic. That is called incentivising.

Sorry about teaching you and your gran to suck eggs. But why oh why would any right-thinking person think that the same did not apply - frankly - among any and all levels and domains of international business? Considering the size of the al-Yamamah deal - a very cool £43 billion - a couple of hundred million on top/incorporated/squeezed in is, sorry to say, quite a low percentage of the deal as a whole. It's a lot of money per se; but it's a tiny cut.

Secondly, America's action today will actually see them hoisted by their own petard. In a vainglorius bid to look like good guys, the Yanks' Department Of Justice has invoked the hilariously-named Foreign Corrupt Practices Act - which sounds to me more like a policy document than a safeguard - in order to investigate al-Yamamah, as some of these alleged funds went through Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.

I'm wondering what the FCPA would turn up, regarding the US's own international scammery, were the power of this act turned upon its creators?

I'm actually on the side of the UK and Saudi Arabia, to be honest. The SFO has no business investigating arms deals made by the government, as I'm not sure even they have the capacity to comprehend what goes on between nations behind closed doors. Stick to money-laundering and drug-running, it's what you're best at. Low-scale, small-fry. Not intra-national governments.

To quote Sir Humphrey: "Ah, yes, 'open government'. The problem is quite simple: you can either be open...or you can have government."

Welcome to Prime Minister, Gordon.

Vive La Difference

Just caught this on BBC2's The Daily Politics, from an American pollster on the points-differential between Gordon Brown and David Cameron:

"In America, when you're down, we kick you and you don't get up. In Britain, you're different: when someone's down, you let them get up and dust themselves off, before knocking them down again."

I weep for the future.

23 June 2007

Wonderful Nature

Since the baby news, I've noticed more natural phenomena - birds nesting, flowers blossoming, duckings, goslings, cygnets. I notice pregnant women more, and wonder how big our bump is going to get. And there's been a nice personal project at home that has now yielded wonderful results, that is in keeping with this line of propagation and flowering.

The pond was here when we moved in, so don't go thinking I've got a spade out, or have been vaguely physical. Not so. It was a case of habeas corpus - and indeed, the pond was, to all intents and purposes, dead. The water was a soupy green colour, consistently, throughout. The colour was in suspension and there was no getting rid of it.

Once this summer of sorts came knocking, I became of a mind to do something about the filth. The rest of the garden, while at best haphazard and lacksadaisical, possesses a certain countryside-in-the-city charm; the pond was ruining the ensemble. A quick trip to Shirley Aquatics yielded my first set of good results.

The helpful, friendly staff there are known region-wide among those of a fishkeeping/koi/pond persuasion, and that day's experience was no different. First, it was clear I needed to condition the pond, and that meant several things.

I needed to empty the pond - no system would restore water in its current condition. I needed to scrub the pond liner (it is a Blagdon Dragonfly) very thoroughly, preferably with something akin to a Karcher pressure-washer. I was told to expect long tendrils of algae attached to the entire submerged surface area, which would need blasting off under Karcher conditions.

Finally, once the cleaning was achieved, I would be able to refill the pond, allow a week for it to condition, then start adding plants and livestock.

The emptying was easy, if foul. The kindly fellow at Shirley Aquatics was halfway to selling me a combination water filter/aerator, before I asked him how big a pond this item was for. It turns out, I could have kept the Trevi Fountain clean for several months with the unit, and so I began to explain the size of my pond, and steer advice accordingly.

And so, the emptying actually took place utilising me, a bucket, and several walks to the bottom of the garden to tip the unwanted water into the canal. I estimated fifteen trips of approximately 15 litres each time. I thought I'd have about 225 litres in the pond. Turns out the manufacturer bills it as 250, so happy days.

Once the water was out, the stench began. Years of collected waste: leaf litter, dead stuff, bacteria; shlucking its way around the deeper recesses of the pool, keeping out of eye's view, and beyond the actions of sunlight. Rotting, stinking, gelatinous foulness. I donned Marigolds and removed every last piece. Thankfully, the pond had turned out to be lacking the algae tendrils completely - and here was a happy replacement.

Refilling was a pleasure, as it allowed me to lock the hose open, make a brew and light a fag. I sat, patiently, watching as the water level rose ever so slightly each minute. Being able to see the bottom of the pond, even as the water approached, was a wonder and a joy. Soon, the job was complete, and here was the emptied, cleaned and refilled pond, sparkling, dancing and shimmering before me.

Having failed to sell me a £100 pumping and filtering unit, the chap at Shirley Aquatics wasn't going to let me get away just like that. I would need to condition my pond, I was told, and that meant buying this: Bio-Claire Pond Conditioner. I duly weighed out my 15 grams of monthly dosage, and sprinkled it evenly around the bottom of the pond. And I sat. And I watched.

And five days later, we both headed back to Shirley Aquatics for some plants. We came away with irises, water lilies, pickerel plants, variegated reeds and water hyancinths. Returning excitedly, I set various heights of submerged platforming, to allow for the new additions. All found their spots, and we settled back to watch the pond come into equilibrium.

Only it didn't. It got muddier and muddier. I'd put the plants in a day or two before we disappeared to Portugal for a week - and, of course, I spent much time thinking about their progress while I was away. By the time we got back - me half frantic with excitement to find a clear pond - the muddiness had reached almost Glastonbury-style proportions.

Before acting, I headed back to Shirley Aquatics. I was advised to use the monthly dose of Bio-Claire, only weekly, until the pond was clear. "Sometimes they just need a bit of a kick," said the nice lady, "and it won't harm the water or plants. You can't overdose with Bio Claire, it's fully organic." Liking the sound of this, and taking the opportunity to collect a few sundry fishkeeping items, I returned home with a spring in my step.

Only, those of you who do know me will know I can, ahem, procrastinate a little. And so, the extra Bio Claire didn't find it's way into the pond. And, would you believe - just three day after seeking the advice, the pond came into its own clean, clear, natural balance. The rocks I'd placed at the bottom are now fully visible. I have noticed some larvae attached to the sides, and waterboatmen sculling their jerky motion through the medium. The plants have settled in nicely, all showing good signs of taking root.

There is no filtration in there, so no fish just yet, but I do have a nice little cascade which keeps the water circulating. It is the Hozelock Cyprio Cascade 700, if you fancy a gander. Does the job very nicely, too. It did have a standard spray-everywhere shower head on the top - it now has what is called a mushroom diffuser, which keeps a nice little globe of water bubbling on the surface. No splashing.

Of course, you can follow the link at top right in My Links to my GonzoVision YouTube channel, where you can see the dirty pond in Sparrey Safari, the clean pond in...erm...Clean Pond, and the planted pond in...ahem...Planted Pond. Enjoy - I have, and I hope you do too.