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Botia Boyz London Tour.....The Report......Glittering Prizes!

Posted By: Martin Thoene <martin.thoene@lakenheath.af.mil>
Date: Monday, 22 November 1999, at 8:42 p.m.

Finally back at work after a 4 day break which included myself, Steve Burton and Dave Guest meeting in London and hitting one fish shop and The London Aquarium together.

We had agreed to meet at about 11:30 ish at London's Euston Station. Dave was coming from the middle of England (Birmingham) and Steve from the South-East (the County of Kent), both by train. I elected to travel down by car and act as chauffeur because I used to drive in London as a job, so know my way around. I live in the East of England and I can hit the outskirts of London in about an hour in average traffic, but travelling down in the morning rush would take longer and be full of grief, so I elected to get up really early and travel down, missing the worst of the rush. There was method in my madness! I know a place where there are 3 good fish shops and one not so good one within a few miles of one another! I arrived in that area at 07:00 and found somewhere quiet to park and have a snooze before the first one opened at 09:00.

By 09:40 I had visited all 4 shops! Eat your heart out those who have to travel miles to get to just one. Lots of interesting fish.........a few Loaches, notably Moose-Head Loaches (Somiloptes gongota) at one venue and a Hillstream Loaches at another that I've not seen before and may have been Hemimyzon formosanum. Too early in the day to buy, though I'll check out those Hillstreams the next time I'm that way.

I then battled my way down into Central London and made it to Euston at 10:40 and found a parking space seconds from the Station entrance. I met Dave about 15 minuites later, and Steve arrived at about 11:40 which was good timing as I'd put an hour on the parking meter ticket! Dave and Steve hadn't met before, so there was a bit of handshaking before we went to my car.

We travelled the relatively short distance to "Wholesale Tropicals in the East-End of London. I warned Steve and Dave not to be put off by first impressions of this place. You remember the rough Hotel used by "The Blues Brothers"? This place is in a similar classy neighbourhood and the building looks as though if Carrie Fisher came along with a bazooka and zapped it like in the film, she'd be doing it a favour! They approached the front door with somewhat bemused expressions on their faces and seemed to be thinking, "Where the heck has he brought us?"

We walked in and within a couple of minuites all their fears were blown away. This shop IS mind-blowing! It's an old, cramped, Ma and Pa (well I think Family) run business with a cellar fishroom that's bigger than the ground-floor one. They have some bread-and-butter fish to keep things ticking over, but virtually every tank has something in it to make you go Ooh! and Ah!

It doesn't matter what fish family turns your crank, you'll find something here to (probably) over-rev it. They have rare (as in you've only seen pics or NEVER seen them) Livebearers, Corydoras by the bucket-load, Gobies, Cichlids, Anabantids,Loricarids, Tetras, etc..........and Loaches!!!!!!!!!

They had Moose-head again,B. hymenophysa, Clowns, 2 different species of Gastromyzon types, and Botia sidthimunki!!!! Actually, that's what they were labelled at, but we all agreed that they were in fact B. nigrolineatus. Much as we were tempted to blow the LOL trumpet and let them know what they had, we are sensible enough to know when to keep our mouths shut, because Dave was in Love with them and had already decided that their true home was in the Midlands. I wanted the Psuedogastromyzon fasciatus, plus two fish labelled up as Homaloptera stephensoni, which were cheap! The Gastros weren't priced, so I said I'd nip upstairs and find out how much they were. I'd already explained to the owner that we were Internet buddies from 3 different parts of the country and I think that they figured that 3 guys who'd just spent about three quarters of an hour in their basement were serious customers. They said would we like a cup of Tea or Coffee? Is this service or what? They say East-enders are hospitable, but this is definitely a first in a fish-shop for any of us! The owner's wife duly delivers us our refreshments in the fish room on a tray, and we continue ogling wonderful fish whilst supping our drinks. The owner still hasn't come down to serve us. Think they figured we were in no hurry. We figured we'd died and gone to Heaven!

Eventually we return the cups and he comes back downstairs with us and catches our fish. A while back Dave and I posted some moans about the way some shop assistants, catch and bag fish. This gent takes the fish upstairs in single bags, one species to a bag. He inflates the bag with Oxygen,ties it off with a rubber-band, then slips each into another bag and ties off again. He stands the bags on the counter and proceeds to cut off 6 lengths of plactic packing tape about 3" long. I said to Dave how nice it was to watch an Artist at work. We had both realised he was going to tape the bag corners up to avoid sharp corners where fish might get trapped. Beautiful work........how I wish most other shops could do it like this.

Whilst he's packing the fish I commented on the dubious nature of the establishment's Bar-snacks. On the counter there was a shallow bowl like you might put Peanuts in, full of live Tubifex Worms. The owner offered me some, saying they were lovely and fresh, but I declined! This is a serious, old-fashioned type of shop that in many ways reminds me of the shop I used to work in in the late 60's. Service to the customer matters. It was 2 years since I'd last been there and I said I would come more often if it was closer. They said Suffolk was basically spitting distance because they have a customer who comes from Malta twice a year!!!!

Dave and Steve both want to go back and if anyone is visiting London, GO THERE! I virtually guarantee you'll not regret it. The fish are fabulous, the prices are very reasonable and they make a good cuppa!

I had brought a cool-box with me to insulate our new fishes from the rather cold elements that day, so we placed them into that and drove off to the London Aquarium. This is right beside the Millenium Wheel or whatever they've called it, a massive 150 foot (or something like that) Ferris wheel with passenger pods that take 10 people. Not operational yet, but another great waste of public funds!

We were pretty impressed with the Aquarium. Not much in the way of Tropical Freshwater to excite, but we discovered where most of London's overgrown Pacus and Red-Tailed Cats end up! Monster tanks full of monster fish.........even had some Clowns, but we'd seen bigger in the shop! One tank had masses of Tilapia and you could see pairs defending territories and obviously ready to breed.

The Saltwater tanks were truly impressive, with great visual depth to them, as well as being about 20 feet deep! All this water takes some looking after and in one area large windows allow a glimpse of the water treatment plant. Totally mega stuff! If you've seen the sort of gate and ball valves that a lot of Koi keepers use in their Filtration plumbing, often dark-grey with an orange actuating lever, you'd have been amazed at the ones here. The orange actuating levers were 2 feet long!

We enjoyed the great displays and only when we'd finished the tour did the realisation hit that we were all starving hungry. As we exited via the obligatory tacky gift shop, we found a McDonalds next door and hunger got the better of our BK preference, so we dived in to what was without doubt the worst service Golden Arches I've ever been in. After eating, we walked back to the car, and decide that we'd part there as Steve and Dave could walk across the River Thames via a footbridge to a Tube Station that would get them to their respective surface train stations. I opened up the cooler to find that it hadn't kept the fish that warm at all, so Dave stuffed his nigs into his jacket and looked somewhat pregnant!

They had good train journeys home, and I spent an hour and fourty minuites battling through ridiculous London traffic to get to my friend's house, which just happens to be a few miles from the 4 shops I visited in the morning. Due to stupid British opening hours I couldn't go back and get the other Gastros I'd seen. I was invited for an evening meal, and stayed and chatted with them for a while before blasting off up the Motorway to home.

I got in and floated the fish which seemed quite happy after their 7 or so hours in the bag, which was somewhat cooler than the tank temperature. They've settled in really well, with no ill effects from the temperature fluctuations. My "Ornamental Aquarium Fish of