Flopping a raw dismembered fish head onto a restaurant table is generally considered bad table manners but so is lying on the restaurant floor and you let a lot go when you have a fussy eater. This delightful sprat head, which BUB.1 acquired near a fish market after a day foraging for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, eventually took pride of place in his ‘special things’ box alongside some rotten bird eggs, a mouse head and an empty bird skull. We thought we could exploit this new interest in fish – he gags on fish fingers, so the only way was up – and a few days later took him to the fish counter to pick one out “for lunch.” A seabass, we thought. It was the start of something
That afternoon, fish guts were strewn across our kitchen island and all up my splash backs. BUB.1 sawed through the spine and garotted the poor thing. We had fins drying on paper towels and silver slithers of flesh on all the cupboard door handles. “Can I float its head in water Mummy?” he asked, as we started to clean up.”Pardon?” “Can you get me a bowl so I can see how it moves in the water?”
I filled a long vase and we dropped the head in, watching it slowly sink to the bottom, spinning. It was like that scene in Jaws when they find Ben Gardner’s boat. The meagre remnants of fish flesh that remained were duly baked in foil and picked out with a fork, in 1mm x 1mm sections, while BUB.1 dry retched. When WW got back from work that Saturday, the surfaces had been hosed down and we gushed about how we had filleted our own fish, like something from The Waltons. I felt like a parenting ninja.
A week later, it was WW’s turn, and this time we had a mackerel and a trout. I have never seen WW get so angry, as he produced a box of thin protective white gloves for everyone to wear. I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss, it’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix,” “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” and “He’s no Bear Grylls is he kids?” as he shouted things like “Don’t TOUCH the shiny knobs! NOT the knobs!”, “Stop dangling that all over the floor” and “It’s dripping on my leg!”
However, being a truly remarkable Dad, he overcame his fury and while staying at the in-laws a few weeks later he promised to take them to Bolton fish market (“the fish mecca of the north west” – his words). We decided to make it a family outing, as we like to do with all bad ideas, and it coincided with bobbing into Clarks for some new shoes.
The view in the fish market was truly breathtaking. I held my scarf over my mouth and tried not to breathe. Mound upon mound of sea creatures. I looked at the floor to kick away a rogue tentacle and I noticed that the ‘Light Up!’ lights on BUB.2’s shiny new trainers weren’t lighting up. “We’ll have to take them back! Let’s go BACK!” I cried.” “I need a wee!” said BUB.3, her timing, as always, perfect. For once, I was keen to visit a public toilet, in the belief that the horrors within were better than the horrors without. We skated on an ice rink of frozen rancid brine past gaping mouths, bulging eyes, bloodied cavities, fetid fins, purple sinews, black seepage and tiny, tiny killer bones.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw WW looking at me. “You’re turning green. Your face is actually GREEN. Look kids! Mummy is GREEN!” “Can we get a squid beak, Mummy, please?” begged BUB.1. For the love of God, I didn’t even know squids had beaks. I used to spend Saturday afternoons smoothing myself with shimmering body lotions and spritzing myself with wine rather than standing in a swill of sea sludge, coated in a glistening varnish of fish glue. I moved quickly towards the toilets.
One fish I could handle. One normal, sea bass, on MY kitchen counter, under MY terms, I thought as I hoisted BUB.3’s trousers back up. But this was just short of a joke. He’d taken it too far. We made our way back to the market. Where the bloody hell were the kids? I looked around and saw them at quite some distance, heading behind the salmon counter to get a better look. Behind the counter where the fish guts were knee-high. “NEW SHOES” I screeched, sloshing through the rippling tide of fish intestines. Too late. New sparkly silver and blue non-light-up trainers, coated in a veneer of fish gravy. “Can we just take a salmon head please?” WW said to the guy. “20p, what a bargain!” WW beamed as we left the market, head in hands.
Back at Grandma’s, BUB.1 began his precise work, nipping bits off here, peering at teeth, showing us with pride how the jaws worked. When he wanted to inspect the bones more closely, he asked Grandma to boil it up on her stove which she kindly spent her Saturday afternoon doing, without asking the question I’m sure was on her lips: “Does he not enjoy football?”
As the fish heads were boiling to the bone, WW returned with a refund on the fishy, non-flashing trainers. What a Dad. Oh and BUB.1 wants pet fish now. He’s made a list. We’ve managed to persuade him that a gecko is a better choice. For the fish.