The Sea Monkeys of Doom

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Well, How to Write The Perfect Novel is now live everywhere. What’s more, it’s already into its second edition. This, of course, is because I did indeed find a half dozen mistakes I’d somehow missed, plus a positive forest of commas and colons I absolutely had to add. Ah, that old anti-fan surely started something with her pedantry. I hope on her death she’ll at least be credited with creating an excess of commas in the prose of Chancery Stone. A fitting epitaph.

Anyway, second edition is all shiny and error-free. My apologies to whoever it was in the States who rushed out and bought one before they were officially launched. If you want a replacement contact Max at Poison Pixie and we’ll be glad to swap it for the ‘new’, revised edition. On the other hand, you own one of the only two printed of the ‘first edition’. I’ve got the other one, which we’ll be selling on Amazon shortly, complete with my yellow marker pen error corrections and some of me scribbles.

Anyone sad enough to want to own the copy that Chancery Stone corrected? Ah, you know you do. Don’t worry, I’ll tell you when it’s on. It’ll be dirt cheap – I’m not Sotheby worthy yet. (Maybe never will be. I reckon I’m too rude for ’em.)

Max has submitted the last, last (allegedly) draft of his Orkney book and, all being well, he should get the second of his advance cheques. A respectable sum, but only enough for one yacht or car – not both. Ah well, suppose you can’t have everything.

What’s more, despite my Skin Two ad doing quite well after all, he sold 75 copies of Illustration 101 last month. 75 of the motherfuckers. I find it hard to believe everyone was buying their granny How to Be an Illustrator books. We reckon he has to have been written about somewhere. Trouble is, sometimes it’s not on the web or, even if it is, it’s in some obscure personal site that never surfaces on Google.

This blog has also been having outrageously high ratings (for me) since Christmas (I think) and I’ve no idea where they’ve come from. Nothing on Google. Who knows? Who cares? The come, they go.

So, been writing Perfect Novel publicity, and we’ve already got four people waiting to review the book and we haven’t even promoted it yet. Nada. I wish I could get them as keen for DANNY.

We’ve even sold two copies – one in the US and one in the UK – without any notification anywhere – not even on this blog. Of course, could be this will be the only two I’ll ever sell.

Of course, DANNY’s been completely sidelined by this mother. I’m contemplating employing Gillian the typist to proofread DANNY V1 for the US edition so that I can just get onto V3/1. Oh yes, DANNY Volume 3, I remember that. That was that book I was supposed to be doing before writing non-fiction (not a biography, Jill) completely took over my life.

That and the rearing of Sea Monkeys, of course. Got them for my Christmas. And what a fucking nightmare they turned out to be, I can tell you.

Never, ever give your children Sea Monkeys. It will destroy their hearts and shrivel their souls.

I’d wanted Sea Monkeys since I first saw them, aged ten, on the back of a Classics Illustrated that my cousin Isobel had. What wondrous creatures. What lucky Americans.

I positively pestered Max to buy me some for my Christmas (I got an ant farm for my birthday). And after a thirty foot banner erected in the living room he got the hint.

I was disappointed when I got the small plastic kitchen canister which constituted their “Ocean Bubble Tank”. Yeah, right. But hell, these were Sea Monkeys.

I read the instructions, keen to start, and felt my first faint stirrings of unease. Monkeys liked the sun, but not direct sun. Well, not a problem; they’d be lucky to see any fucking sun at all here. It’s getting dark by 3:30. This is Aberdeen. In Scotland. Know what I mean?

Then I noticed the feeding instructions were different in the ‘manual’ (a four page tiny booklet) from those on the packets – and different yet again in the other instructions on the third leaflet. Damn, this wasn’t looking good.

Still, set it up, I did. I boiled my water, I let it sit, I did it all by the book/s. Finally, I get to stir in my egg mix. I watched the tank eagerly, waiting for my “Instant LIFE!!!”

An hour went by, two, three, a whole evening. No monkeys, no life. I went back to the booklet. What was I doing wrong?

SHIT! I hadn’t rinsed out the tank with hot water. Oh no. Heart sinks. Still, how dirty could it be? It had been wrapped in cellophane, nothing had touched it. Open tank, fill with water. In nature they had to cope with much worse than some packing dust.

BIG mistake. My Sea Monkeys were obviously the Weak Monkeys of Utah (where they come from). No life. No life the next day. Or the day after. Many times I went to the ‘book’. Each time I came out more confused than the time before. Was my window North or South facing? Did it make any difference anyway as my frames are higher than the height of the tank so, supposing they were in full belting sun for twenty hours a day, it still wouldn’t touch them. I tried them with lamps above the tank, terrified all the time that I’d fry them: “Sea Monkeys prefer cold” – yeah, but California cold. I mean, what the fuck is cold? In California?

Four days went by, five, I haunted the internet, finding in the process the Sea Monkey lady, a barking hypochondriac who sees people mocking her Sea Monkeys as “flaming”. Oh, if she only knew. I could lend her some of my “flamers”, show her what the real thing looks like; I’ve got plenty to spare.

I also found Netyfish, and Uncle Sea Monkey, and a million and one bloggers who had either failed entirely to raise Sea Monkeys (common) or had partial success (also common). Not so common were the people who had tanks of happy Sea Monkeys living long and glorious lives. And I think every one who did probably lived in California, or Mexico, or Florida. Anywhere where there was sun and heat. Not cold. And not Aberdeen cold. Or dark.

Eventually, when it was too late, I discovered that the Sea Monkey Corps’ idea of “cold” was around 70/80 degrees Fahrenheit – so far from cold it’s like calling Greece Alaska.

My Sea Monkeys were doomed. At around the fifth or sixth day I got a new problem. No monkeys, but lovely wispy clouds of white stuff like smoke in water. This did not look good. But was it supposed to be there? Nothing in book. Back to the internet.

No, no, NO, said the Monkey Lady – it will kill your tank. You must remove it immediately. It’s fine, said Yellowpencil of Birmingham: My Monkeys had the “white cotton” and they’re fine.

Liar. Sea Monkey Lady was right. But, unfortunately, I found this out the hard way.

On day nine, at 2:30 am (I keep late hours, okay?) I was standing in the kitchen peering at the tank without my glasses on (I have weird magnification eyesight when I’m not wearing optical devices. It’s my special power. Unfortunately I can’t see further than six inches from my face otherwise. However, if I ever want to be Super Mole I’m sorted.) when I spotted movement. I’ve got Sea Monkeys, I shrieked. I was so excited I almost cried. I thought I’d seen two, but I wasn’t sure.

I’d been aerating the tank with a turkey baster (don’t ask) for a couple of days – again, not sure if I was supposed to be aerating or not if the damn things hadn’t hatched – and all the cotton had broken up. So now it was little wisps and balls on the bottom of the tank. Couldn’t do any harm, I figured. Sea Monkey was swimming away, doing somersaults and body flips just like I’d heard. I was overjoyed.

Next day my joy doubled. I did indeed have two Sea Monkeys. God damn.

Didn’t last. After day five I had to feed them. Again, different instructions on the packet from in the book. Jesus Christ, they’ve been selling these things for fifty-one years – couldn’t they fucking agree on the ‘How tos’ on any two pieces of their merchandise? I decided to play it safe since I was told overfeeding was the worst thing you could do – they got half a tiny scoop of food.

Now what I’m not telling you about these trials and tribulations is my state of mind. I’m an anxious, depressive, compulsive person, okay? I have a terrible, terrible weakness for small vulnerable creatures. It’s almost a debilitating affliction. I don’t much like people and I am in no way soppy or sentimental about animals, detesting animal clothing (would you like to eat out a bowl on the floor, or shit in the park? – don’t answer that), cutie animal pictures, dog lovers in Labrador sweat shirts and people who breed animals for their interesting genetic flaws – like no fucking fur, or a pushed-up face that makes it difficult to eat. But, I simply cannot take anything smacking of animal cruelty. Or even distress. Just can’t handle it.

When I was a kid I would literally cry for hours, sometimes cry myself to sleep, over anything involving animal distress (children are a close second for me – you don’t hurt the kid, okay?) My father attempted to bully me out of it, by sneering, mocking and outright contempt. My mother used to just look at me with mystification, but agreed I needed to be ‘toughened up’. So toughen up, I did. I learned to hate people and kept my empathy for animals secret. This is how they make men, by the way. They take whatever sensitivity they show – aka ‘weakness’ or ‘being a poof’ – and stomp on it until the men are so flinty inside they are completely unable to empathise with anyone. They call this ‘being a man’. They then criticise them for having no empathic skills and being unable to “talk about their feelings”. The words ‘Make your fucking mind up’ come to mind.

But I digress, the sum total of The Worst Christmas Present I Ever Got, as I have christened it, was I couldn’t sleep. I mean worse than normal. I’m a poor sleeper at the best of times, often lying awake for up to an hour after I go to bed. But this was closer to two hours, and, worse, when I did sleep I could do nothing but have what I call counting dreams.

When I’m particularly disturbed or stressed I don’t dream proper dreams, only something that’s closest to a coded message, where I have to solve a puzzle, or say a word over and over, or get to a place and do a thing to make something ‘work’. Generally, these dreams will be haunted by words. It’s like they have a soundtrack where I’ll hear – in this case – the words ‘Sea Monkey’ over and over. (You’re right, that does just sound like a comedy sketch.)

They may not sound it, but they are deeply distressing and they make me wake up tired, with frayed nerves and very sore teeth (clamping them during the night). Think sensory torture – repeating sounds or lights over and over – and you’ve got the picture.

Well, that was me and the invisible Sea Monkeys. All day on the internet trying to find how to make things right, and all night dreaming about them in the most useless, repetitious and totally unhelpful way. By the time the first Sea Monkey disappeared – assumed dead – I was ready to kill myself.

Eventually, determined to save the life of my last remaining Sea Monkey, I took drastic action. He got his tiny self (about the size of a big pinhead) caught in some of the gunk, aka “white cotton”, and couldn’t get it off. He was lying down the bottom of the tank, listless. I leapt into desperate action, setting up a Sea Monkey surgery. I drained his tank, keeping him in a glass candle holder, and sieved his water through a tea strainer, ruining the possibility for any more Monkeys in the process – but this was life or death. Then, with the aid of a toothpick, I nerve-wrackingly cleaned the gunk anchored to his tail.

Result: one happy and liberated Sea Monkey, back to cartwheeling. I, of course, had to recriminate myself for not acting sooner (I hadn’t wanted to lose my remaining eggs). Guilt’s my next big thing. Just love that guilt. It’s what makes me the special person I am.

Next day – disaster. Sea Monkey (now named Gloria ‘I will survive’ Sea Monkey) has a small ball of gunk stuck to his stomach, unable to move it. He’s back to the bottom of the tank. I’m racking my brains. Obviously this lethal “white cotton” is really, really sticky – probably its means of survival – even in tiny fragments that can get through a tea-strainer. I set up the surgery again. No good. Unlike the first time, this is much too small and close to the tiny beast’s body. No way the plank-sized – relatively speaking – toothpick can get in there without impaling him.

I try everything: needles, nylon thread, bristle from a bottle brush. Everything is far too dangerous to him. I give up, but I clean his tank out again, this time siphoning through paper towel in the tea strainer so nothing can get back in there. The tank is scrubbed in boiling water with a toothbrush and a tiny bottle brush from my e-bay antiquing days. I put him back in his tank and go out to town, hoping he might work it loose himself.

And he did. God bless him. I strain his water yet again. It is now like crystal and I reward him with a quarter spoonful of food all to himself – fretting all the while that now I’m overfeeding him, of course. Now you see why I couldn’t ever be a mother. It’s overkill.

So, as at today, the Sea Monkey is still alive, all by himself in a tank now devoid of eggs and the possibility of anything else hatching. If he’s male, when he dies, the tank dies with him. Always supposing some other mystery ailment doesn’t get him first.

I wrote to the firm Max had bought the Sea Monkeys from and demanded my money back on the grounds of an absolutely miserable Christmas – not to mention Trades Description breaches. They’ve said okay, bless them. I will probably foolishly blow the money on replacement eggs to try again, and breed some mates for him so he doesn’t die of loneliness. All this for glorified fish food, too small to be seen with the naked eye. Some people never learn.

All I would say is, unless you live in California or your child has no heart, do not ever buy your child Sea Monkeys. The only thing they bring “instantly to life” is neurosis.

On the other hand, I am now something of an unintentional expert on Sea Monkeys. Feel free to send me any questions. And if Gloria makes it to adulthood I’ll be sure to post a picture.

P.S. Shit, I always forget this. The Perfect Novel is available as a freebie on Goodreads, but Max says there’s already almost a hundred folk up for it. Like I said before though, it’s a random selection, so you stand as good a chance as anybody. Here’s the link: I’m afraid Chancery Stone has mocked me, as well as Nora Roberts, in her new book, but I’m damned if I’m buying it. Thank God, I can get one free here. Jesus Christ, just went to get this link and see there’s now 339 people. Well, fuck me.

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