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I’d had an epiphany; some time between purchasing my fifth Betta Splendens—a.k.a Siamese fighting fish, this one a Crowntail in royal blue with minty, turquoise fronds—and the end of the world.
I have named him Larry. He has a dark spot on his forehead, a pronounced underbite and a mean look about him that I’m hoping signifies a certain durability—a manly hardiness that will allow him to outlive his predecessors.
Larry is spectacularly insecure. If I hold a mirror to his twenty-litre tank he, whether recognising himself, or more likely mistaking his reflection for a competitor, will hustle to the glass and flex, jutting out his gills to form a chunky frill and spreading his tail into a brilliant near semi-circle of royal blue, deep purple, mint and small striations of gold. If I place my finger in the water, Larry will immediately and ferociously attack me, headbutting and working his tiny, toothless maw over my giant brown digit till I remove it, wet and a little smelly. If I hold a pinch of Tetra Betta three or so inches above the surface of his smelly fish water, Larry will strike like a snake, first coiling, hard and still, and then projecting himself up and clear of the water, again headbutting my fingers, and wresting chunks of Tetra Betta from my grip, which he swallows whole as soon as he’s hit the water. If he has sucked off more than he can swallow—an adapted idiom, since Larry has no faculties with which to bite and chew, and I do like to be literal wherever possible—he will spit the food back out into his fish water for a second or so to allow it to disperse and soften, then hunt down each piece of his regurgitation and suck and swallow till his tiny stomach is swollen.
Larry will continue to eat long after it is wise or safe to do so; it is not his fault, it is his nature. Betta Splendens that do not attempt to eat anything that moves in the steamy, soupy marshlands and rice paddies of the Thailand they call home do not live long enough to corner a mate and reproduce—it is called evolution. But Larry is in London, East London to be more precise, Pitfield Street, Hoxton to be most, and far from the rigours and rations of Southeast Asia, and we have too much here, but never enough, so the challenge is not to die of gluttony, a challenge Larry is ill-prepared for, as without a neocortex he lacks the requisite facilities for higher reasoning and I must do the rationing and rationalising for him, and when the sides of his stomach are swollen and shiny like the muscular, genetically-superlative jaw of an all-American sports hero or president, that’s when I call time and say, ‘Larry—enough is enough’.
 He will remain like this, shimmering, posturing and staring into the mirror—either admiring or menacing depending on your bent—for as long as I hold it there. It is, as I said, spectacular, however it does also present some serious food for thought, namely that if Larry does indeed believe his own reflection to be the striking and imposing body of a competitor, does he also understand that he has, in the very truest sense, met his match? Every fin, scale, flipper and frond he can see can be found in exact equal measure of splendour on his own person, and the more aggressive he grows so too does his enemy, affronted and swelling with equal umbrage just inches away. And so it goes, the second my dear Larry succumbs to fear, turning tail and dashing for his cave, the hot slap of cowardice still flushing his cheeks, he will see, from the corner of a baleful eye, the yellow-bellied imposter do the same; but when he returns then, smug and relieved at this unexpected twist, keen to press home the advantage and see off the intruder for good, Larry will soon discover—with sinking heart and swim bladder—his nemesis recharged, uncowed and every millimetre the man he is, smirking in the dark before him.a
a You may question my ethics; indeed my actions may seem deplorable, deeply exploitative and perhaps even cruel, until you consider George Gallup Jr.’s Mirror Self Recognition (MSR) test, developed in 1970 and still widely regarded to be the gold-standard for measuring self-awareness, which, if applied to Larry’s predicament, would hold that the Betta Splendens is not at all self aware—i.e. having a sense of being a distinct entity, separate from its environment—as in all likelihood Larry does not recognise himself in the mirror that I hold up to him, but rather sees a competitor; and so the matter is moot, as without self-awareness can any being be truly said to feel shame, status anxiety, or the psychic agony of defeat? Larry is an automaton, a watermaton if you will, a stunning wet robot—and his buttons are mine for the pushing.
 If you do not believe in evolution that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, it just means that your survival, and by extension that of the species, does not depend on you believing in evolution in the same way that say, believing that drinking water will keep you alive, or that sharks shouldn’t be trifled with, does. Simplier put, widespread syst- and pand-emic belief in evolution cannot be brought about through evolution.b
b unless you believe that belief in evolution is an innate phenotype arising from a single or cluster of genes that can be selected for—if this were the case, then in order for this belief to become mainstream, the straight women of Earth would have to decide, either gradually over aeons or more cinematically, en masse, to exclusively fuck academics; a scenario even the most febrile mental machinations of Richard Dawkins and his acolytes could surely never credit.