Wednesday 10 August 2016

Is life too short to eat a surprise trout? A fishy meditation on adult responsibilities.

“Are you sure this is cod?” I asked, already doubtful of its true nature. It was Easter weekend and we’d eaten all the lamb and chocolate we could, and should, feasibly digest so we made the mature decision to have something lighter for tea. Which is how a so-called ‘cod’of mysterious origins came to be defrosting by the sink.

Its origins were open to debate as neither James nor I had bought it. James had brought it home but he couldn’t even remember if it was something someone had caught themselves then passed on to (or off on) him or if it was one of the random fish he occasionally returns home with after visiting his parents. Although quite what it is about him that makes any number of people feel they need to offer him donations of fish I’m not too sure; perhaps he was a performing seal in a past life?

Either way this creature had been wrapped in a carrier bag and buried in the bottom of our freezer for months, during which it had developed a rigor-mortis curl as if one day, while minding its own business, it had been frozen on the spot while curving its dappled body around an eddy.

But was it a cod? I’d hoped so, it’s white flesh offering a cleansing freshness after all that rich Easter fayre. And yet as it finally began to soften, after many hours defrosting on the draining board, I began to have my doubts.

“It can’t be cod” I said, prodding it with the back of a spoon not wanting to transfer the metallic, penny-like, tang of fish skin on to my own. “It can’t be cod because look, its flesh is pink. It must be salmon.”

Which was fine. Salmon’s fine. More than fine. Everything’s fine. So it’s not cod; it’s salmon. Swings and roundabouts. I like them both.

And yet ... once the not-cod had warmed up enough to become pliant to the blade, allowing James to decapitate it ready for roasting, I then began to lose faith in its salmonliness.

“Is it even salmon though?” I asked. “I don’t know if it is you know. Cut a bit off, microwave it and taste it”.

Which is when it turned out that the cod that was a salmon wasn’t even a salmon.

It was a trout.

And, frankly, neither of us much like trout.

So now what? As an adult what is the right thing to do in this situation? What would you do? Do you eat it because ‘waste not want not’? Or do you abandon it because ‘YOLO’?

That disappointing trout-confirming mouthful had suddenly presented a raw, oozing, fishy, conundrum: is life too short to eat a trout you weren’t expecting? (We’ve all asked that at some point in our lives haven’t we? Haven’t we?).

As an adult it's a tricky decision but when you’re younger everything is a bit more cut and dried. For a start you rarely have to decapitate your own food, in fact it’s positively discouraged.

As a child when you’re faced with a decision over whether or not you’re going to have to eat something you really don’t fancy - your thinking isn’t so woolly. Back then the situation would tend to resolve itself in one of two ways.

Unwanted 'trout' handling method 1: Refuse point blank to eat it.
  • With a Dietrich-esque turn of the head and a dictatorially defiant confidence you’d dig in your heels while writhing and wriggling to avoid the offending plate, fork, parental control. You’d boldly declare “I’m not eating that!”; which is a feat in itself through watertight sealed lips.
Or else …

Unwanted 'trout' handling method 2: You’d have to eat it. No arguments.
  • You’d begrudgingly eat it because your parents were the kind of people who’d simply insist that you did. "There are children in Africa who'd be grateful for that". End of story. And while you may have ended up hating the pair of them more than the food you were refusing to eat you’d at least get a story for your memoir out of it.
Either way, back then, the ultimate responsibility for that food, that decision, was above your pay grade:
  • If you had followed your parents’ instructions and ate it, it was gone, problem solved.
  • And if you didn’t then it got left on a plate where it became their problem. (Let’s face it, feeling guilty about the waste they probably ate it themselves on the way back to the kitchen and then felt like a human dustbin for the rest of the day. But at least they got a story for their memoir out if it.)
So what do I take from all this?

Adult life has a way of defrosting unwanted fish on your draining board leaving you to deal with it for yourself. 

And once a surprise fish is your problem, it’s always your problem.

Because what can you do?

If you don’t eat it - if you decide that ‘you know what? I’m just not forcing that down’ - you’re still left with a body to dispose of.
  • Of course, you could just throw it in the bin, done with, out of sight. Problem solved.
  • But who’s going to be the one reeling from the smell of rotten fish broadcasting from the wheelie bin at 7.30am on a cold wet Tuesday morning? Yep. You are.
Or maybe you could give it away?
  • But who do you know that would really welcome you handing off your problem fish on to them?
  • Unlike some other problems a friend can help out with, a surprise fish shared is not really a surprise fish halved.
Or you could simply ignore it.
  • Yeah. Try that. See how it goes. (Tip: You might get away with that better in January than July.)
  • Turn your back on it by all means, push it to the back of the fridge for a week if it gives you momentary respite but, as much as you’d like to, you are not going to be able to ignore it for long.
  • The more you ignore it, the more it will rot, its scent, the stench of indecision, a pungent reminder that is still exists.
Because in adult life you do end up having to swallow your fair share of surprise fish.

Handling, getting rid of, the unexpected trout, in whatever form that might take in your life, is now your responsibility. That trout isn’t really a trout (except when it isn’t a cod, or a salmon, because, in that case it most definitely, and disappointingly is a trout) – that trout is now all the things life throws at you.

People die and you have to deal with it.

Things break - ornaments, washing machines, relationships, hearts - and you have to deal with it.

Tyres burst, shelves fall, hopes fade and you have to deal with it.

That decision you’ve been putting off for years suddenly becomes unavoidable, and you have to deal with it.

That confession, that suppressed dream, that unspoken disappointment, that overdue credit card payment, that overdue conversation … that lump ..., life won’t let you go on ignoring them forever. They’re all going to stink out your fridge eventually.

And yet … and yet …

… maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle. Maybe I’ve overlooked the fact there are other things in life that you probably can get away with ignoring, or refusing, or turning away from. And maybe we don’t need to see everything through to the end.

We’ve heard the phrase “Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom” but what about to eat an unwanted trout?
  • What about to touch up your roots every 6 weeks? Or keep up with the fashion for whatever shaped eyebrows are on trend this month?
  • Isn’t life too short to turn down cake at a party, or to miss capturing the moment in a photo because you were embarrassed to whip out your camera?
  • And it’s definitely too short to bother pulling out the fridge to clean behind it, or to always try to win an argument, or to turn down the opportunity of a day trip just because it’s cold and rainy (apart from anything else, here in the UK if we always did that we’d hardly ever leave the house).
Maybe there are occasions when we can just paddle out and drop our dead fish out to sea without repercussions.

Maybe we can (should?) decide to stop wasting time eating a fish we don’t like, watching a film we can’t stand, or wading through another 467 pages of a book we should have just cut loose at page 10.

There's definitely something to be said for letting certain parts of life just swim away from us. 

And I guess one more responsibility of being an adult is in deciding what’s right for us; working out which trout we can put an early end to and those which we really need to see through to the fishy end.

Ultimately I wonder if it’s all a balancing act, that throughout life we’re all simply fluctuating between supporting Team: Just Eat the Damn Fish and Team: Life’s Too Short?

But as for the cod that wasn’t a salmon but was a trout; reader, I ate it.
  • Whipped out merely momentarily from beneath its smothering blanket of camouflaging parsley sauce; but I ate it.
  • Through gritted teeth; but I ate it.
  • And quickly. One of the best ways to deal with any life’s unwanted and unwarranted difficulties.
In this instance, to misquote Winston Churchill, it was a case of: ‘When you’re going through surprise trout ... keep going’.

Julie x


So ... tell me ... have you lately found yourself in Team: Just Eat the Damn Fish OR Team: Life’s Too Short?

  • Have you had to face up to something and swallow it down?
  • Or have you cut something loose without regret? (A book, a TV show, a diet, a pattern of thinking?)

(Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences but without having to include all the personal details.)


If you liked these philosophical meanderings you might also like:


  1. Dear Julie
    I have given up on a book because I felt life was too short - I didn't like any of the characters and the story just hadn't grabbed me, so I really didn't feel like plodding on with it. I may go back to it one day, but then again, maybe I won't. What was this book? Yes, a classic... 'Brideshead Revisited'.
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Ellie. I know - there are simply so many other books out there to enjoy! I'm currently battling my way through a classic of non-fiction Henry David Thoreau's 'Walden' - which I'm enjoying, but it's no rattle-along story. And I have tried Don Quixote a few times, and Tristram Shandy, both of which had me beat .... but it's been a few years now, at least. Maybe I'll try again one day!

  2. I will give up on a film or book if it doesn't grab me. But I learnt this week that I shouldn't give up too quick. A film we were watching caused me to pick up my mobile and start browsing, my husband suggested I'd not given it enough time so we carried on watching. It turned out to be quite good - watchable - so I was glad for the encouragement.
    As for 'Just east the damn fish!' oh yes - I was there yesterday! I have spent months, and I mean months, trying to complete a 100 page PhotoBox book. Just when I thought I had finished (after 2 days solid sitting at the computer) I discovered 20 pages were blank. Confusion, because there, in another browser, I could clearly see I had completed every page. A phone call to the technical help line established that there must have been a glitch in the downloading and that my computer had said no! What to do? I certainly am not giving up after so many hours and hopes of finishing. So tomorrow I will be back on the computer, head down, and determined once again to get this done!

  3. I am nearing my 70th birthday and I joined the Team Life's too Short about 50 years ago, probably because my Dad was a founder member. As for the not-a-Cod, We would call it the offering to the Freezer Gods and throw it in the food recycling box without a second thought. Anything that lurks in the freezer wrapped in foil or carrier bags and unidentifiable until thawed is an offering to whatever gods keep the freezer freezing and when there are two or more we unwrap and throw away one of them. I rarely struggle to read a book, I walk away from TV shows that fascinate Mr M and find something else to do. I am definitely a stalwart of Team-Life's-Too-Short.

  4. My first thought was, what is it about James that makes people offer him free fish? Does it happen at the chippy? - 'I went for cod and chips but they only charged me for chips'. My second thought was, if only I lived next door, I like trout and with a nice sauce around it and some rice and veg I'd have been very happy. I guess that means that one person's trash/trout is another person's treasure/cod.
    I feel a failure if I don't finish a book, but have, on occasion, been pleasantly surprised as I've ploughed on and things have improved.
    As for putting things off, well, at a recent CPD day we had a coaching session on procrastination and nowadays talk about licking frogs when you have a job you don't want to do (eating trout) but know that you've got to do it (it's not going to magically turn into cod)

  5. You write so well - this had me chuckling to the end.
    After finishing an Eng Lit degree I decided I would NOT finish books I am clearly not enjoying. I also would not eat food I don't like - ever. (I decided the latter when I was a child I didn't have to wait to graduate). My partner does book fairs and one of his regulars would bring him veggies from his allotment. Usually edible, occasionally a bit odd looking; hello bin. The worst was a giant bag of broad beans, neither of us like broad beans but we kept the offending bag of beans for ages because it seemed a shame to throw his carefully grown broad beans out. Eventually they found their way into next door's compost bin! Life really is too short to eat trout, stuff a mushroom or read a book just because someone else loved it. Happy weekend to you.

  6. Another great read :). I'm in a 'deal with it swiftly and decisively' mood so I would have either put it in the bin or in the fire. If I'm not sure what it is, I'm not going to eat it! But then I'd never have as good a story as yours ...


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