Start at the bottom: While hosting a goldfish gala, Neil Start struggles not to carp

Monday: It's the GAG open day tomorrow - the once-a-year chance for all the Goldfish Action Group's branch members from around the country to see what we're doing at head office. We've booked the London Aquarium for the day, and I'm quite looking forward to it - the chance to meet real people as opposed to fish. But I've learnt not to say so out loud; the rest of the staff, veterans of previous get-togethers, treat my enthusiasm like fin-rot.

"The problem with a membership organisation," Clare, our head of policy, grumped as she completed an intricate goldfish design on her lower arms with henna, "is that you have to listen to the members. And they know f*** all." It clearly wasn't the moment to argue, but I can only hope that she won't be saying that from the podium tomorrow.

Tuesday: The big day. I'd hired an orange suit just to look the part, and the aquarium was buzzing, with stalls selling everything you could ever want for your goldfish and more - such as a model of London or New York to put in the tank of the more cosmopolitan fish, or a waterproof mini-DVD player to keep them occupied. I joked to the salesman that they might show Whale Rider or Free Willy, but he didn't even smile.

Anka, our Latvian receptionist, was manning the neighbouring stall, selling mini-wetsuits for goldfish that feel the cold. She was listening in and raised an amused and rather gorgeous eyebrow.

My morning task was to organise the GAG Gala, our equivalent of Crufts.

My flatmate Vorderman had made a goldfish run that looked like a scale model of the Diana Memorial Fountain in Kensington Gardens. All entrants had to negotiate various obstacles as they swam round, and the judges - GAG stalwarts - awarded each fish marks for athleticism, style and intelligence.

As compere, I was torn between admiration for the judges' concentration and bemusement at how hatchet- faced Daphne MacClements' Barington Baluchre III could get straight 10s in all categories while sweet old Rodney Plomer's Regal Ambassador IX scored zeros. They looked virtually the same to me.

Margaret Beckett was on hand to present the prizes, which this year were sponsored by Ferrero Rocher. A box of chocs might thrill ambassadors, but it did nothing for Daphne to soften the blow of coming second. Kay Skip wept copiously when her Miss Zaza took top prize by a fraction of a mark.

Daphne's revenge was swift. When we moved into the AGM sessions, she led a revolt from the floor against a proposal by David, our chairman, to explore closer links with other animal protection charities. She feared, she said with great passion, that any merger would lead to goldfish being swamped. I was about to point out that might not be a bad thing - but thought better of it.

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