The Truth About Vasectomy. Or My Truth Anyway.

 

When I first thought about a vasectomy I pictured myself wheeled before a physician. The physician is wearing a bloodied butcher’s apron, his lips are moist with sadism and he is waving a rusty pair of garden shears. At that point, I hadn’t discussed it with anyone who’d had the operation so my only means of comparison was a beloved childhood cat who’d been spayed. If she was anything to go by, then I’d be quivering under the coffee table before skittering off upstairs to lie low for a week in the airing cupboard.

None of this happened. There was no hacking or lolloping or scything. Even snipping is slightly overstating the matter. If anything it was more of a mild welding. I had the op around twelve hours ago and I don’t feel any less of a man, although admittedly there were only trace levels of virility to begin with. Nothing has changed at all, save the procreating power of my output (yes, there is still output).

When my wife sold the undertaking to me she explained that the results were easily reversible. This is not true. Things can be disentangled down there but it is a very complex and unreliable process and it is only available privately, so the plumbing will cost you.

I didn’t take me long to weigh it up. I have enough children.

I had a stroke of fortune and was ushered towards the urology clinic of the nearest private hospital, despite remaining at the pleasure of the NHS. This perhaps explains why I was offered a general anaesthetic as opposed to a local one.

I spoke to a few men who had undergone a vasectomy and every one expressed surprise that I was being knocked out for the duration. For them, it was something more like ‘bish-bash-bosh and home for Weetabix”. I got the notion that a few of them thought that I’d requested a GA out of cowardice, but as far as I’m aware you cannot have some kind of elective bollock-caesarean.

It did seem like a waste of anaesthetic gas or serum or juice or whatever it is they sluice around your veins, but in truth I didn’t protest. Fundamentally I was relishing what would be the deepest sleep I’d had in years, however brief. It also avoided all sorts of potentially awkward scenarios. I find having my hair cut a vaguely squirmy experience, so the thought of having the make conversation with someone plugging away at the coalface of my genitals was not a pleasing one. “Going anywhere nice this year?” “How much would you like off the back?”

I was also terrified that the surgeon would take a look at the job in hand and let his assistant know that he’d need a smaller scalpel. Or he’d simply shrug his shoulders and inform me that the microsurgery hadn’t been developed yet to tackle something so minuscule.

Looked at it a different way I also liked the thought of being fussed over, having a team of concerned doctors and nurse gather round my bed and tend to me. I pitched it to myself as a spa day. But in anti-embolism stockings. Which is sort of how it happened. When I came round from the anaesthetic I felt content and relaxed, like I’d fallen asleep during a massage.

Except that my dick was in a sling. The proper name for this is a scrotal support, which sounds like the backing band for an aggressively vulgar punk-rocker. I won’t go into too much detail but it sort of looks like a poorly installed jockstrap. Together with the cricket trousers I’d decided to wear for airiness I flounced out of the hospital looking like Freddie Flintoff. I’m sure there’s a ‘new ball’ joke to be made here but I can’t think of one. Cut me some slack, I was in the operating theatre this morning.

I am not sore now. And I being allowed to do the things that I enjoy the most: sit down, watch old football and write bollocks. Literally in this case. So what began as a selfless venture had turned into a peculiarly selfish one.

The only negative aspect was a few seconds of agony in my wrist as the anaesthetic coursed up it. It was like my sperm were attempting one last act of revenge against my wrist for all the times it had abused them. Having removed their one reason for existing I did feel a slight wistfulness for the little swimmers.

After all, we’d collaborated to great effect. We helped produce the two things that I am most proud of.

For actually non-silly information about vasectomies try here at the NHS

The First Page of the Book I’ll Probably Never Write

 

Someone recently told me about a little girl who likes to recite the nursery rhyme ‘Round and Round the Garden’, performing all the actions with her parents. For the first two lines, she circles her fingers around their palm. Then she walks them playfully up their arm during the next. But when you think she’s going to finish off with the traditional ‘tickly under there’ finale…

…she punches you in the throat.

BLAM. Welcome to the surprising, confusing, sometimes violent world of parenting.

This is not a guide. I cannot tell you how to parent your children. It’s probably more of a companion. A dishevelled companion wandering aimlessly about, smelling of musty old piss. The sort of companion that you keep just so you can feel better about yourself.

There are guides. Some are vague and holistic. And some favour more direct advice, advocating oddly specific routines like waking your baby at 3.49am while eating a lightly-seared crumpet and doing the Highland Fling. Whatever the content, people swear by these books. You will not swear by this book. You might swear at it.

Some books presume to know what is going on inside on your child’s head. I do not know what is inside your child’s head. I don’t know what’s inside my children’s heads, although if I had to guess, possibly a million overtired tigers hopped up on Fruit Shoots.

But there is one thing that I do know. And this is it:

We brought our children into the world and immediately I took them in my arms, held them close and delivered soft, sweet kisses onto their cherubic noses. I treasured them and protected them like they were an actual part of me, a beloved foot maybe.

And in return, they have quickly revealed squalid levels of personal hygiene, a robust indifference to our regular timetables and an insistence on all-night milk raves.

At first, we did everything for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. Which was everything. We set up cheerleading squads to encourage them on at each developmental increment.  We gave them a standing ovation when they belched tiny creamy burps.

Spurred on they got up and began to walk, roaming around the house defacing walls with their crayons and their jammy hands. Parenting became an exhausting game of pursuit. We installed an around-the-clock security detail to guard the boys against the dangers that they couldn’t see for themselves. They clambered, they scrambled, they used our kidneys as trampolines.

Soon my older son spied my weakest point: the pathetic need for his love and approval. And obviously, he has withheld this for long periods. Now he has mastered speech he is more forthright: “Get out of this room and get out of my life, Daddy”. I remember that one. My younger one preferred a more physical approach. A baseball bat directed to the crotch. The bat is inflatable, but the intention is clear.

We filled our home with their stuff, lined the corridors with tote-boxes of toys and hills of laundry. The bits of floor that were still visible were pelted with unwanted bits of lunch so it looked like a mosaic of squashed peas and Play-doh shards. They turned our home into a Victorian slum.

Our bank accounts now resemble vast empty caverns. The weekly shop at Sainsbury’s has become as decadent as a splurge at Fortnum and Mason. Funds are now directed to the seemingly weekly requirement for new shoes.

But there is one thing that sustains us through the unending drain on resources, one source of joy to offset the destruction of our social lives, one ray of sunlight to compensate the death of ‘a good night’s sleep’ as a viable concept.

And that is our children.

I told you it was confusing.

Making ‘Hide and Seek’ Work For You

 

I am increasingly convinced that the inventor of Hide and Seek was an enterprising parent of small children. It is a game that is played in near silence, requires no mess to be created and most of all offers unique opportunities for respite from the habitual grind of childcare.

To maximise me-time the traditional wisdom states the parent should nominate themselves as the seeker and send their children out to source suitable hiding-places. This should allow them a short time at leisure, which in my case would involve just sitting and scratching.

But I have found that my sons don’t have the necessary patience. They deem it unnatural to remain in one place for any longer than a few seconds. Either that or they haven’t grasped the basics of the game because inevitably they’ve reported back to me before I’ve counted to ten.

Even if I go through the motions of looking for them, both boys are awful at hiding. Normally I’m presented with a pair of feet extending from under the coffee table or a sniggering bulge in the living room curtains.

I did hear of one child whose commitment to the game was so absolute he managed to stay hidden for an hour. He ignored his parents’ frantic pleas to turn himself in, presumably believing they were just a ruse to flush him out. Eventually, the couple came to the conclusion that he’d somehow escaped the house and was roaming the world at large. It was only once they’d called the police that he stepped out from a tiny space behind the television.

I believe that the best strategy is to hide. My hiding-place of choice is between the folded back halves of the duvet on our bed: making myself the filling in a sort of duvet calzone. The structure forms a cloud in which it is possible to secrete myself without any revealing dad-shaped lumps. It also provides a snuggly almost-foetal comfort, ample chances for scratching and perhaps even a snooze.

The position of our bedroom means that it’s possible to remove myself from the calzone and slip downstairs back to the spot where the boys set off from. There I can brew a pot of coffee, read the paper and pretend that my children’s frantic pleas are just a ruse to flush me out.

Zak and the Vet: When Phonics Books Go Dark

 

I should first warn you that this book review may contain spoilers. I’ve actually photographed the book in its entirety and published each page below so it definitely contains spoilers. If you want to know what happens at the end of Zak and the Vet I suggest you stop reading now.

I suppose that basic-level phonic books operate within the confines of the genre. Single-syllable words and brief sentences don’t lend themselves to complex storytelling. But the writer of Zak and the Vet has created a convention-busting rollercoaster ride that delights, disgusts and surprises – all within the pages of a slim pamphlet.

We meet Zak on the first page. Zak is a dog. He has a strange head deformity. I don’t think this isn’t integral to the plot, but perhaps sets the tone for more sinister events to come. His owner is trying to make him sit down.

Her failure to do this is possibly the reason she performs a Mobot on the doorstep, the incongruity of which has confused Zak who makes a dash for it.

As he pelts down the pavement on page three, he causes a man to pour his can of pre-made Smirnoff and cola down himself. And in the distance, a red van lurks.

And then BLAM! The van hits the dog. This is where the writer does her greatest work. Turning the constraints of phonics education to her advantage, the stark punchy prose smashes the reader in the face harder than van does the weird-headed dog.

Zak goes to the vet surgery which is where the illustrator comes to the party, creating a genuinely distressing image of a bloody rag. Perhaps the illustrator is a specialist in bloody rags because the next page is mostly bloody rag.

Suspicions are aroused about the vet when it is revealed he requires a poster on his wall to help him identify which animals. In a panic about the vet’s competence, Zak’s owner asks for the prognosis.

At this point, the vet points his syringe in the air, in a slightly gleeful but evil way like a Nazi doctor about to administer some slow-working poison. His monosyllabic manner leaves a little to be desired, although it’s probably not easy being a veterinary physician in an early-stage phonics book.

And then, just as the tension becomes unbearable and the reader wonders if Zak is going to bleed out onto his rag, the book ends and Zak is fine. Although I’m not sure about his owner, who appears to be imitating her pet.

The real twist came when I discovered the identity of the author. And it was a twist because I didn’t think of looking until I’d finished the book. It’s only Julia bleedin’ Donaldson! Creator of proper children’s classics like the Gruffalo and Stick Man and Room on the Broom. Perhaps she was giving something back. Perhaps her own dog Zak was hit and this was her coping mechanism, to commit the incident to the page. In words of only three letters or less.

A Good Way to Dress Yourself And Beat the Flamingo Fade

 

Flamingo chicks are born grey. Their feathers only turn pink when their parents start to feed them. And as the parents begin to care for their young, their own lurid plumage fades.

I think I know how this feels.

I’ve never boasted a lurid plumage but since fatherhood my hair has thinned to the point that a small wispy island has appeared at the front. Behind it, a bay of baldness is spreading backwards. Dispiritingly it seems to be growing off-centre so it looks like my remaining hair has been put on wonky. Of course while my own hair scarpers, my sons’ locks have thickened from their fine baby curls to luxuriant barnets, sarcastic and mocking.

The flamingo-fade has happened to me on an even less literal level. My wardrobe has splintered into two distinct sections. There are smart clothes for work. And there are filth-ridden rags for looking after my children. Most of which carry the historical stains of spewed breakfasts, snot-trails, and puddle splash. These days I may as well dress myself in tarpaulin.

I have a coat which exists only to be caked in mud. It’s my mud coat. When I bought it the coat was spruce and stylish. I had a relatively robust social life back then and I used to swish the coat about as I hit the town. Now it is just worn to operate children outdoors. So it serves both as a grime-shield and as a metaphor for my life.

I think about clothes less these days. Partly through a lack of time and energy. Partly through a lack of available funds. I used to regard clothes as a means of achieving marginally more success with women, a shit peacock with a Top Man tail. But since I’ve snuggled myself into a safe loving marriage I have become complacent. Which is probably why my wife wants me to make more of an effort. My current look can probably be described as ‘distressed’.

I like clothes. But I don’t like buying clothes. I get paranoid in clothes shops. I imagine that the salespeople are watching me and quietly judging me. Every time I hold a button-down chambray shirt in front of me. Or meaningfully stroke a slim-fit jean. They’re judging me. The worst panic was in a specialist trainer shop in Los Angeles, where I suffered what can only be thought of as a funny turn and had to go for some air on the sidewalk outside.

But my wife found something to protect me from these situations. The Chapar is an online service that selects clothes for you, sends them in a big box and then takes away anything you don’t want. I was attracted to the fact that there was no subscription fee or no requirement to sign up and cancel membership later. I got to put on my own fashion show and strut around like a peacock with a higher-end tail for free.

The Chapar service picks out options based on details you provide online and information gained from a phone conversation with a stylist: items you are looking for, prices you’re willing to pay, places you shop in. Discussing my look with a personal stylist felt a bit awkward at first, but also oddly glamorous. But the stylist sensed my discomfort and put me at my ease. And if there was any judgement I didn’t sense it. Even when I said I bought all my clothes from Uniqlo.

When the box arrived I opened it with same childish excitement as my sons at Christmas. It was stuffed full of jeans, shirts, jumpers, shoes, socks, a belt and even a bottle of fragrance. Also included were some suggestions of how certain items could be worn together to create an outfit. Suddenly shopping for clothes was fun and not frightening. Everything was done in the safety of my own kitchen, away from the harsh eyes of a thousand fashionable salespeople, neck tattoos pulsating with judgement.

In the end, I plumped for two very smart pairs of turn up jeans and a stripy top from Whistles (a shop I’ve never thought of looking in before). The rest was collected a few days later. Even if I’d sent the whole bundle back it would have been worth it – it was free after all – just for giving this faded flamingo the vague vain thrill of having my own personal stylist. Which is why I’m giving them this minuscule piece of free advertising.

Stepping Inside the Nativity Actor’s Studio

 

I never got the opportunity to appear in a nativity play. When I was at the appropriate age my school decided instead to put on a series of dramatized nursery rhymes. In what may have been a satirical commentary on my chronic bed-wetting at the time, I was cast as Wee Willie Winkie. This required me to flounce about in a flannelette nightie banging on imaginary doors like a rudimentary Marcel Marceau.

The next year I was at a different school, but still no nativity. That Christmas we staged a chaotic production of the ’12 Days of Christmas’. My memories are little misty, but I do remember that the collected troupe of French hens and calling birds had been decimated by a sick bug. Which in retrospect it may have been an early strain of bird flu.

I was hopelessly miscast as the romantic lead, the ‘true love’, although in truth there wasn’t a lot of romanticising to be done. My job was to introduce the various cast members by walking on stage holding a sign with the number of the day on it, like a bimbo in a boxing ring.

On about the fifth day I accidentally waved the sign upside down and it got a massive laugh out in the stalls. So I did it again and then again and again. And each time the laughter rang out a little more pallid than before, until eventually the merriment fell away to universal tedium among the audience.

The director added a final twist during which the exasperated recipient of all the gifts chased me off stage with a broom. For all the milking maids, gold rings, leaping lords and, as far as the punters were concerned, for all the feeble comedy stylings.

My son’s school has opted for the more traditional nativity which hopefully limits the chance of him following in my cringeworthy footsteps. About a month ago he came home and let us know that he had been selected to play a donkey. It seemed quite early to start the process, but perhaps they wanted to rehearse the shit out of it. To get it right. If they were taking it so seriously, then maybe we should too. We could go full method and send him to a local farm and spend time with the donkeys there. Learn something of their ways, what makes them tick and so on.

But it turned out that the donkey role was just part of the audition. We should have realised when we discovered one of his chums said he was down to play a vampire. I am proud that my son overcame his natural timidity and volunteered himself for a part. He was rewarded with the plum role of the shepherd.

For the sake of authenticity it is important to get the costume right. I have begun sketching some potential designs and created a Pinterest board. I’m thinking some thick pelts, a longish beard and possibly a live sheep slung across the shoulders like my Grandma’s fur stole.

He only has the one line: “tonight it is calm and still”. He has a challenge on his hands to fill this with enough pathos to make an impression. He can start with the accent, but pulling off ancient Judean is probably quite problematic for a five-year-old. My tip would be to pause on each word, making it sound a bit broken and emotional, perhaps repeating it a few times. Without throwing his colleagues off their cue hopefully.

Tonight….it is calm…..and still.

Tonight….it is calm….and still.

TONIGHT…it is calm…and STILL.

Tonight it is calm and still.

How We Accidentally Conceived After Half a Year of Trying

 

On the morning of New Year’s Day 2012 I was deeply and irrevocably hungover. My wife wasn’t. Not even a bit. In fact she was chipper. She shouldn’t be chipper on the morning of New Year’s Day. It was wrong.

In fact, it was very right. She was pregnant. It seems that her unusual sprightliness was her body’s way of getting her attention. To say it had something important to tell her.

When she showed me the line on the stick the first thing I felt was a searing sensation in my face. My brain at that moment must have resembled a ginormous home computer from the 1980s. It didn’t have the processing power to deal with the information just fed into it. And it overheated under the strain.

That the news came as a shock was a shock in itself. We had been trying for six months after all. But we had reached the stage of introspection and self-doubt. I had looked deep into my own crotch and wondered if the issues were to be found there.

It was troubling to think that my own genitalia could be so obstructive to the thing we wanted most. Like they had declared independence and were acting directly against the rest of me. So one of the first things I experienced that morning was a warming sense of pride that me and my bits had collaborated to such productive effect. And I gave them a high-five (virtual obviously). We were impregnators.

The truth is that we had become a little more precise in our process. Nothing too taxing, just a simple case of knowing when ovulation was happening and acting on it. Egg-timing, I suppose.

We are confident in pinpointing the moment of conception to a night just before Christmas. I am fairly sure that I had inadvertently prepped my swim team by going ice-skating. When I say ice-skating, I mean ice-mincing. I mean clinging onto the side of the rink and at one point briefly yet violently interrupting a young smooching couple.

I am convinced that the ice had brought down the temperature of the lads downstairs. Apparently cool sperm are healthy sperm, and I’d just subjected mine to the equivalent of a fortifying Boxing Day swim in the Serpentine. They were just jiggling about for warmth.

It took a few weeks for me to properly get my chops around impending fatherhood. In this time I often sought sanctuary in John Lewis. There I would roam around the baby paraphernalia section trying to ascertain exactly what emotional and financial toll that my unborn child would bring. More often than not however I would simply ride up and down the escalators in a stupor. I still do that now. I regard it as a mindfulness technique.

The only thing I was certain of in this ocean of unknown was that again all of me would need to work together as a team. Hot face, cold balls, we were all in this together.

I Think My Sons Only Love Me When They’re Asleep

 

I’ve wanged on at length in the past about my eldest son’s very obvious preference for his mother over me. I have made my peace with this. It makes sense after all. His mum rented out her insides to him as a bedsit for nine months. Then she provided free milk from a pop-up dairy in her breasts. And even now after these bodily offerings have long since been phased out, his inclination is strongly towards her.

What is curious is that when his younger brother popped out, he decided to plump for me. Perhaps he thought that his mum had already been allocated, that his brother had already planted his flag on her. I was what was left, a Hobson’s choice of a parent, the last miniature Bounty in the Celebrations tin. So when he was at his neediest age it was normally me that was summoned for.

But now he is older, his affections have also swung over to his mum. It’s no surprise really, she offers a more premium service than me in all areas: catering, entertainment, making robots out of leftover bog roll. It’s created logistical difficulties at bedtime, when her presence is insisted on in two bedrooms at the same time.

To make his message clear my youngest has begun a campaign of brutality directed almost exclusively at me. Most of it is the sort of sporty argy-bargy you might get on a football field and some of it is probably worthy of a red card. From time to time he also bites me, maybe he actually thinks I’m the last miniature Bounty.

My wife has advised that I seek comfort in a book called Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. Normally I avoid parenting guides because they assume to know what is happening in my children’s heads. I don’t know what’s happening inside my children’s heads. Probably a million tigers, jacked up on Fruit Shoots jumping on a bouncy castle.

The reason she ushered me in the book’s direction was that it contains a section that explains that a father does not come to fore in the eyes of his son until the child is six years old. So next year when my oldest wakes up on his sixth birthday, I am expecting to be bathed in a heavenly light and the truth of how amazing I am will be revealed to him. And we’ll go do a jigsaw or have a beer or something.

The other source of encouragement for me is that whenever my sons wake in the night and hop into our bed they both like to cuddle into me. This may be because they can’t actually see who I am, but I like to think that it’s also because somewhere deep down in their dormant subconscious is some affection for me. My youngest will manoeuvre himself up onto my frame and nestle his head down on the pointiest part of my collar bone. Perhaps he does love me. Or just thinks I’m a really shit pillow.

Scissors, Glue Guns and Sexy Underwear: That’s Crafting

 

There is a notice currently outside my son’s classroom inviting families to make their own robots for display at the school. The most appealing word on this notice is ‘family’. This says to me that this project is not aimed solely at the child but also at the parent. That the parent shouldn’t be just hovering in the background like a butler, just to help with scissors. Perhaps it’s the child who just helps with scissors.

Or perhaps the child should just entertain themselves for a bit while daddy gets on with the important business: developing moodboards, creating concept art, procuring materials. Truly, it’s this type of endeavour that excites me these days.

Crafting is like D.I.Y. in safety mode. The potential for causing lasting structural damage is minimal. And that is comforting for someone like me who can’t plug in a power drill without inadvertently smashing down a supporting wall. It’s also a chance for me to prove my value to my children; Christ knows I won’t be building any climbing frames for them.

I should clarify that I only properly enjoy craft time without my children. With them, it’s like being slathered with glue and left out in a sandstorm of googly eyes. Today my son celebrated his fifth birthday with a jungle-themed party. Which was an excuse for my wife and me to get round the table and bang out a selection of suitable animals. This is special ‘mummy-and-daddy’ time now. My wife will produce some of her sexiest hosiery. And we’ll stuff them with newspaper to make reticulated pythons.

The most exciting innovation of our craft-time is the glue gun. What a way to feel alive. The greatest appeal of the gun is that the glue is so strong. I don’t mean in the way the scent curls up your nostrils and distorts the mind, although that’s probably why I like to take my top off, daub my face in water-based paints, point the gun in the air and yell “it’s craft time, bitches!”

What I mean that its adhesive power is so impressive. I can fire off a couple of rounds into the back of a pom-pom and it will stick to a papier-mâché tarantula for eternity. A glue stick is frail and ineffective in comparison and leads to a chaos of gummy pom-poms and naked spiders.

The other essential tool for the discerning crafter is some high-end scissors. There is nothing like the feeling of a paper gliding gracefully through paper without a single snip. I hope that soon my son will experience this. We’ve had a note from his teacher that he hasn’t quite mastered handling scissors and that he needs to practise. Perhaps he should step forward from the background and take the lead on the robot project. It’s craft time, bitches.

Things To Know About Buying A Fish For Your Kids

 

We decided to get my son a pet for his birthday. My wife despises animals and I have a lot of quite specific criteria. Nothing with a visible bumhole for instance. Or anything that might look at me with a sad, neglected face. Or anything that needs washing or combing. Which doesn’t leave much. But my son loves animals, so we plumped for a fish. We figured it would create a big impression, but at little cost.

I did no research before we purchased the fish. I had no real experience of fish-keeping. The only goldfish I’ve ever owned was won at a funfair, throwing a ping-pong ball into a jam jar. It lived for a few probably quite unhappy weeks in a glorified bucket, before leaning over and floating to the top. I did not want that existence for my son’s fish.

So today we went to the local garden centre which contains a concession selling tropical fish. I took my son along so he could choose for himself. But we were soon advised that we’d have to prepare the aquarium for at least week before we could move the fish in. The water needs to be treated and filtered first. My son’s birthday is on Monday and essentially we’re getting him an empty fish tank.

The man in the shop really liked fish. I felt like if I’d proceeded with anything other than the welfare of the fish as a priority, cost for instance, he would have thought less of me. I figured the same from my son. There was silent judgement from all sides. So when I was told the fish would need a little heater I bought one. Special healthy water powder? Yes please. Nu-rave pink gravel? Go on then. I’d promised my son a little ornament to entertain his new friends in their home. He opted for a pagoda. Because it reminded him of the local Chinese supermarket. Which will obviously make them feel comfortable.

Suddenly this cost-effective gift wasn’t very effective any more. And my regret swelled when I got it home and began to assemble it. The instructions were testing. A bit like that middle bit in the Bake-Off when the contestants are asked to construct a croquembouche with a recipe that just says “put together some bits of something or other and then bake it”. Once I’d finally assembled the filter, the heater and the aquarium light I connected them all to the mains and lobbed them into the water. I feel as if I should have been fatally electrocuted there and then. It may still happen.

And now it’s in the corner of my son’s bedroom. He fell asleep looking at it. But the light is bouncing off the lumo-pink gravel giving the room a weird seedy glow like a brothel. I’m still regretting it and we haven’t bought the fish yet.