A Small Tragedy

Steven Berkoff

There was an email from the Scottish NaNoWriMo ML in my inbox this morning. I get them sporadically throughout the year, but they tend to increase in the lead up to November’s writing marathon. This particular email reminded me there were only 82 days to go until this year’s gets underway.

Why do I mention it? Because if you remember from my August GDR plan, one of my items was to plan out what final research required for Lennox novel in November, and while going back and forward on the bus to the EBF, the novel I am planning to write is maturing very well within my imagination.

I’m within three chapters of completing my reworking of Hunting Jack, and have to think and tread extra carefully from now on. I still have to go back and close a couple of continuity errors and there’s a gaping whole with regards to copyright that will need fixing, but it’s really about the ending now.

I’m going to write a new section to tie up the loose end with his step mother, Sadie, but I’m unsure whether to leave everything else as it is. Something tells me it needs changed to make it more satisfactory for the reader.

When I got home from work today I found Smashie the goldfish, lying at the bottom of his tank. I assumed he was dead, and since he still had all his colour about him, I thought it must have happened within the last hour. Smashie was the first family pet we ever had. I bought him (along with another called Nicey, who died) for Laura back in 2000 when she was only 3 years old.

At first he lived in Laura’s room, but he was “too noisy” and wasn’t really getting fed, so I moved his tank into the kitchen of our old flat. There he stayed for 4 years, when 8 months after getting married, Gail and I bought a new house. We moved and Smashie came with us; I can still see the tank swaying back and forward in the car as we drove to our new place.

Again, he found a place in the kitchen but the tank began to get in the way after a while. When I got my tropical fish tank for Christmas 2006, I took the opportunity to move him into my newly refurbished office. Last year he got a tank upgrade, from a standard bowl to a filtered, aerated tank with decorations and plants. He was very happy.

When I left yesterday I fed all the animals, as normal, and they were all fine. When I returned, Smashie was dead.

Or so I thought.

As I held him in my hand contemplating a burial – flushing him down the loo just didn’t seem right after being through so much together – he flinched. I put it down to nerves, but when it happened again I looked more closely; he was fighting to breathe. I set up a new bowl with freshly treated water and placed him in it along with some goldfish medicine that has been used and worked on him before.

Nothing. Then a flicker. I nudged him and stroked him and even tried to resuscitate him by massaging his gills, end eventually there was movement. One of his pectoral fins started to move as though he was trying to balance upright. If I held him out the water, after a few seconds he began to gasp, so I put him back in and he started to try to breathe. He was fighting for his life.

I went for dinner – lovely plate of salmon fishcakes, ironically enough – then returned and there were definite signs of improvement. He was breathing more regularly and his fins were moving.

Delighted, I left for tonight’s event at the EBF in the hope that if I left him he might recover further.

In the RBS Main Tent this evening was a man of considerable acting pedigree, Steven Berkoff. Not sure exactly what to expect, Steven had come to talk about his book, My Life In Food, an account of some of the most memorable meals of his life. It sounds dull, but it isn’t. Berkoff’s tales range from all areas of his life and each meal reflects not just a love of food, but of wonderful moments in his life he never wants to forget, and of his love for, and life, in theatre.

He began by comparing a good meal to a good play, where the starter was act 1, the entrée act 2, and the dessert act 3. “Food has always been associated with the theatre, because people come and enjoy it, then go for a meal afterwards to discuss it.” He expanded this theory by explaining how Americans have taken it one step further and made the actual meal the main performance.

He then read from his book, perhaps the most amazing description of a tomato I have ever heard. It wasn’t so much read but performed, and it was a joy to witness.

The subject of food in his family and his Russian Jewish roots came up, and he explained how Jewish food derived from pain and hardship, as opposed to any form of culinary desire. He went into a huge monologue that began several hundred years before, and talked us through the history of where and why rye, pletzel, and bagels came into being. One didn’t know at some points just how serious he was being and just when he had drifted subtly into full creative mode, which only made it funnier. “What kind of people invents a bread loaf out of hardship,” he asked referring to the bagel, “and then sticks a hole in it?”

This hardship also meant an adoption of the Jews, in his opinion, to revere almost god-like, the chicken, because they lived with them for hundreds of years under Kosher law. And it is because of this he has developed a theory, that races which have a bond with a certain kind of animal, tend to adopt that animal’s traits.

Using the Jews and chickens as an example, he did an impression of a stereotypical Jew and yes, one could see the similarities; the bobbing head, the clucking noises and mannerisms of Jackie Mason. The French and the pig; when speaking nasal French the sound of a pig could clearly be heard. The English aristocrats and their fascination with dogs has left them barking and yapping at each other like small Terriers. The audience by this point was roaring.

I found Berkoff a very interesting man. There’s quite clearly a seam of madness in him, but despite that, his love of food, the theatre, and the world is clearly obvious.

When I got home at about 10pm, Smashie had given up the fight. We’ll bury him tomorrow.

Tomorrow at the EBF: Crime Writing Workshop.

Greener is the Grass (Writing)
Greener is the Grass (Writing)

Hunting Jack (Editing)
Hunting Jack (Editing)

PLEASE DONATE – For full details of my Abseil off the Forth Rail Bridge in October for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, please go here:

Hex Breaker by Devon Ellington – click to purchase

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About Colin Galbraith

Keen runner, thriller author, Madness fan, Mets fan, St Mirren fan/owner, rabbit tamer, outstanding fake faller. Loves cannolis & espressos. #LFGM
This entry was posted in Edinburgh, Family, Food, Drink and Bevvy, Publishing and Marketing, Theatre, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Small Tragedy

  1. Diane says:

    Poor Smashie. And poor Laura. What a little fighter though.

    Enjoy the crime workshop.

  2. Brenda says:


    I’m so sorry about Smashie. It’s hard to lose a pet, no matter how small.

  3. adam says:

    Poor wee fish, off to the big pond in the sky. We live in the country down here in Australia and I miss the chance to get to soirees like the one you write of, but we are going down to Sydney next week for a evening sponsored by the Islamic Council of Australia, we are expecting beautiful music (do you know sufi music? http://www.sufimusic.org/) and afterwards some Syrian/Lebanese food. Should be good. They are going to have a … don’t know if performance is the right word .. by whirling dervishes, channelling Allah to us so we should be just fine.

  4. adam says:

    A better link for sufi music is http://www.khamush.com/music/index.htm

  5. My condolences regarding Smashie. It’s always difficult.

    I’m so jealous you got to see and hear Berkoff. He’s brilliant.

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