Doreen Tipton: Fish, working folk and billionaires

By Doreen Tipton | Weekend | Published:

I have a garden pond at home. It’s not very big – in fact it’s about the size of a fish, but it hosts a fascinating, self-sustaining mini eco-system.

Pond life – big fish, little fish

There’s plants, insects, those waterboatman things, the odd newt (or is it a tadpole, I never know the difference) a couple of frogs, and a bloated toad who I named George (after my favourite billionaire George Soros), all living happily together. And of course, a fish. In fact, several small fish.

It all started when I won two goldfish at a fairground many years ago (well, I say won, you just had to give the bloke a quid and miss with a hoop and you got a fish, so I had two goes and missed twice). Anyway, not happy with the idea of them living in a plastic bag, I popped the fish in the pond and left them to it. Now, many years and several generations later, they seem to have made a nice home for themselves.

There’s about 12 of them these days – orange, black, and some in-between. They’ve somehow become multicultural. Pretty impressive, because I’ve never even fed them. They’ve obviously learnt to live off the land, so to speak, and adapt to their surroundings naturally. In fact, they’ve been in there so long, it wouldn’t surprise me if one or two of them have ventured out and evolved into monkeys.

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, bear with me. There’s a theme going to emerge here eventually, together with a philosophical point slightly deeper than my pond, and probably just as murky.

I like to think that my writing fulfils a basic social function. For a start, it keeps a couple of local trolls in gainful employment, as they regularly debate which particular world atrocity or life-threatening illness is funnier than my column.

After all, if I wasn’t around, they might find someone more important to focus on, and possibly even cause genuine upset, so I act as a kind of troll decoy.

But the positive side of being in the public eye is the often very touching messages I receive from real folk out there, and I thought I’d share one with you today. ‘What’s this to do with fish?’ Hold tight. Be patient. I’ll come to that.

I had a private Facebook message this week from a lady across the pond (not my garden pond, the big one between us and America) who signed herself Gloria. I did check, incidentally, and she’s happy – in fact ‘honored’ – for it to be shared, in case the data protection authorities are licking their lips and preparing the handcuffs.


Here’s what she said:

“Miss Doreen, I’m sorry to hear that you’re not going to do the big shows. I hope you’re well, and wish you the best. A few months ago was my first trip to England. When my friends asked where I wanted to go, I said the Black Country. Your insight made me want to see more, and I thank you. The folks from the Black Country are like the people I grew up with in Pittsburgh PA, but I don’t think that humble, hardworking people exist here anymore. Everybody’s too busy hating. So, I always wear the BC emblem on me when I play out, just to remember who we were. Thank you.’’

Interesting, I thought, that all the way from Tennessee, where she now lives, she can sense a spiritual connection with the Black Country, founded on the idea of ‘humble, hardworking people’ and proudly wears the BC emblem. But it’s also quite a sad message, as she admits that she no longer feels affinity with her home city in the same way.

It made me think, more than ever, how important it is to remember your local roots. And not just remember them – but cherish them, and nourish them. Societies are organic and always evolving.


But while most were built slowly and carefully over many centuries, they can be destroyed much more quickly. However, we live in strange times, and some highly politicised folk, funded by a liberal smattering of billionaires (including my bloated toad’s doppelganger) now seem to resent the very idea of pride in local communities and nation states.


It’s a dangerous obsession. When there’s no emotional investment in a society, when you and your family over many generations have not helped to build it – there’s often no pride. And when there’s no pride, there’s usually no respect, no care taken, no damns given, no shared values, no cohesion. And then, everything collapses very rapidly.

And that’s why I think it’s always better to be a big fish in a small pond. And it’s even more vital if you’re a small fish. It’s your pond.

You own a piece of it. You care about it. You can influence it. You can help protect it and improve it, and you’re more likely to want to. But most importantly of all, in your pond, YOU matter. You, your opinions, your ideas and your dreams won’t get swallowed up by the bigger fish.

The trolls will now be dusting off their ‘Little Englander’ label. They’ll toss it out as an insult, and I’ll accept it gratefully as a compliment.

I’ve never fed my fish. They quickly learnt to stand on their own two fins. As far as I’m aware they’ve never even had any EU funding. They feed themselves.

As the old saying goes: ‘Give a fish some food, and it eats for a day. But teach a fish how to. . . fish. . .’ – no, sorry this isn’t working.

Tarra a bit x

Doreen Tipton

By Doreen Tipton
Columnist - @DoreenTipton

The Queen of the Black Country shares her take on the week's hot topics.


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