Fish puns? I’m a dab hand

Thursday, January 17, 2013
1:59 AM

Spraying an adoring crowd with Champagne simply isn’t impressive enough these days – if you want to celebrate properly, you need to be carrying a very large fish.

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During Japan’s general election last month, re-elected politician Shinjiro Koizumi appeared in front of his cheering supporters holding aloft a tai or sea bream to demonstrate his joy.

Dr Ulrich Heinze of the University of East Anglia explained that the fish might be a somewhat laboured pun – and if you understand the joke without first reading the explanation, do let minnow (I have an endless supply of fish puns. Really).

“Holding the fish hints at a pun, the fish ‘tai’ stands for ‘o-medetai’,” he said. Ha ha ha! Ha! Those Japanese guys crack me up! No, actually, I don’t get it.

Dr Heinze explained that the word ‘tai’ is similar to the Japanese word for ‘joyous’, which is ‘o-medetai’. Either the Japanese are extremely easily amused or will use any excuse to bring a dead fish to a party.

I have always had a bit of a problem with fish, which is why I have been doing my bit to protect dwindling fish stocks for decades by virtue of the fact that I’d rather lick pollution-flecked nettles on a motorway verge than eat a fish.

Although it seems impossible to believe now, there was once a time when I ate meat with incredible, carnivorous enthusiasm.

As a young flesh eater I devoured the meatiest of meat: really well-hung pheasant (I refer to the technique of preserving game, not a pheasant’s bedroom boast), rabbit, veal and oxtail. The meatier it was, the more I liked it.

Even at my bloodiest, however, I couldn’t be persuaded to willingly eat a fish unless it was heavily coated in orange breadcrumbs and endorsed by a kindly sea captain.

This was, in part, due to my mother’s habit of serving some fish whole, their heads intact and their opaque, baked eyes staring accusingly up at me from my plate.

And the bones, dear God the bones: it was like eating a box of haunted matches.

Giving up meat was a small price to pay for knowing I’d never have to eat a fish again (I then developed a problem watching and, more importantly, smelling other people eating fish, but this is a whole different story. One that involves the horror of having to steel myself to kiss someone after they’d eaten whitebait in front of me without first handing them some dental floss).

My family has no such qualms about delving into the ocean for dinner, even though – up until recently – we owned fish as pets.

I never understood the logic: we have cats, too, but if I’d tried to serve them a roasted one of those for dinner, I feel confident there would have been protests. Hypocrites.

I just hope this Japanese tradition doesn’t travel to Britain like Wagamamas did – I haven’t avoided dead fish for more than 30 years just for the halibut and don’t ever want to find myself stuck between a rock and a hard plaice at any parties (I have more. But I’ll stop carping on. Don’t want to make anemone of you. Please make me stop).

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