Little Mitch - A Fish Tribute

I stand before you today the representative of a family in grief, in a country in mourning before a world in shock.

We are all united not only in our desire to pay our respects to Little Mitch but rather in our need to do so.

For such was his extraordinary appeal that the tens of handfuls of people taking part in this service all over the west London area (and our friends in Bristol) via no television and no radio who never actually met him, feel that they, too, lost someone close to them in the early hours of Friday morning. It is a more remarkable tribute to Little Mitch than I can ever hope to offer him today.

Little Mitch was the very essence of compassion, of duty, of style, of beauty. All over the fishtank he was a symbol of selfless fishness, a standard-bearer for the rights of the truly downtrodden, a truly British fish who transcended nationality, someone with a natural nobility who was classless, who proved in the last year that he needed no extravagant guppy like features to continue to generate his particular brand of fishy magic. Today is our chance to say "thank you" for the way you brightened our lives, even though God granted you but half a life. We will all feel cheated that you were taken from us so young and yet we must learn to be grateful that you came along at all.

Only now you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without and we want you to know that life without you is very, very difficult-ish. We have all despaired at our loss and only the strength of the message you gave us through your months of open gilled freeness has afforded us the strength to move forward.

There is a temptation to rush to canonize your memory. There is no need to do so. You stand tall enough as a fish of unique qualities not to need to be seen as a saint. Indeed to sanctify your memory would be to miss out on the very core of your being, your wonderfully mischievous sense of humor with the backstroke that bent you double, your joy for fishfood transmitted wherever you took your smile, and the sparkle in those unforgettable bulbous eyes, your boundless energy which you could barely contain.

But your greatest gift was your ability to swim through the little bridge thing, and it was a gift you used wisely. This is what underpinned all your wonderful attributes. And if we look to analyze what it was about you that had such a wide appeal, we find it in your instinctive feel for what was really important in all our lives.

Without your God-given denizen of the deep sensitivity, we would be immersed in greater ignorance at the anguish of cod and haddock lovers, the plight of the tank-less, the isolation of lonely goldfish, the random destruction of bubbly divers helmets. Little Mitch explained to me once that it was his innermost feelings of suffering that made it possible for him to connect with his constituency of Copper Gavin, Ritchie and the one with no name. And here we come to another truth about him. For all the status, the glamour, the applause, Little Mitch remained throughout a very insecure fish at heart, almost troutlike in his desire to do good for others so he could release himself from deep feelings of unworthiness of which his eating disorders were merely a symptom.

The world inside the fateful kitchen of Warwick Lodge sensed this part of his character and cherished him for his vulnerability, whilst admiring him for his honesty and ability to splash the water with his tiny dorsel fin. The last time I saw Little Mitch was on Thursday before the footie, when typically he was not taking time to celebrate the regular feeding his newly returned keeper brought back with him but was guest of honor at a charity fund-raising evening.

He sparkled of course, but I would rather cherish the days I spent with him in March when he came to visit me and my children in our home in South Africa. I am proud of the fact that apart from when he was on public display meeting President Mandela, we managed to contrive to stop the ever-present paparazzi from getting a single picture of him.

That meant a lot to him.

These are days I will always treasure. It was as if we'd been transported back to our childhood, when we spent such an enormous amount of time together, the two youngest in the family.

Fundamentally he hadn't changed at all from the little brother who could stay under water longer then me as a baby, laughed at me when I had to go to school and endured those long train journeys between our parents' homes with me at weekends. It is a tribute to his level-headedness and strength that despite the most bizarre life imaginable, he remained intact, true to himself.

There is no doubt that he was looking for a new direction in his life at this time. He talked endlessly of getting away from the kitchen, mainly because of the treatment he received at the hands of Copper Gavin. Alas, I couldn't understand him for he was a fish with no ability to form proper words.

I don't think he ever understood why his genuinely good intentions were sneered at by Copper Gavin, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on his behalf to bring him down. It is baffling. My own, and only, explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the fishlike spectrum.

It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Little Mitch, perhaps the greatest is this; that a fish given the name of the ancient god of Harlesden was, in the end, the most fucking normal everyday, guppeyed domestic fish of the modern age.

He would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting his beloved bridge thing and the skull. And I do this here, Little Mitch, on your behalf. We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair. No one believed me when I told them you were crying but I could tell the difference between tank water and your minature fishy tears.

Beyond that, on behalf of Ritchie and the other one, I pledge that we, your non-blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional fish, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can swim openly as you planned.

We fully respect the heritage into which they exist, and will always respect and encourage them in their fish role. But we, like you, recognize the need for them to experience as many different aspects of life as possible, to arm them spiritually and emotionally for the years ahead. I know you would have expected nothing less from us.

We are all chewed up with sadness at the loss of a fish who wasn't even our mother. How great the suffering is we cannot even imagine.

I would like to end by thanking God for the small mercies he has shown us at this dreadful time; for taking Little Mitch at his most beautiful and radiant and when he had so much joy in his private life.

Above all, we give thanks for the life of a fish I am so proud to be able to call my namesake: the unique the complex, the extraordinary and irreplaceable Little Mitch, whose beauty, both internal and external, will never be extinguished from our minds.

Please send no flowers. Donations can be forwarded to The Campaign For The Abolition Of Angling