Do you remember ‘This Life?’ It was a drama aired in ’96 about five twenty-something law graduates who lived together. Amongst them, Egg and Milly were a couple and later in the series, he leaves the profession. His partner, portrayed as being really anal, grows increasingly frustrated by him. If my memory serves me right, he relays this to his dad exclaiming “You can’t plan life!!” as if justifying his unconventional decision in contrast to his partner’s.
I don’t know why, but this struck a chord with me. I thought it really profound as an 18 year old (although I would have sworn I was much, much younger), not really thinking about how it might translate really in life – to real life.
My life was going to remain just how I’d planned. The other day, I was rooting around for something in one of the drawers at home and sifting through, came face-to-face with my past; my staff lanyard was uncovered. I breathed deeply, holding it and staring at the girl in the picture; younger, fewer lines but with fewer stories. I expected her to wrestle me to the floor, leaving me a gasping, weeping mess (she’s done that before and looked like she could again). But she lay there rather passively. I didn’t collapse, I didn’t die;you know, I think I was OK.
Maybe enough time has passed to recognise that that was a different me, it was a different time. There seems to have been some sort of reconciliation; an acceptance of my past. Yes, it lingered in my head for a while, but it was more like a passing thought that I was able to ’empty’, as if doing a mindfulness exercise. I had some control, whereas previously, I know I would have undoubtedly been floored.
I mentioned this the other night when I met with some friends from the Women in Business course. After food, we went to Limelight, in Old Trafford, as one of them was singing there. We sat close to the front and so inevitably the compere spoke to our table. She went round us all and asked what we did. When she got to me, I hesitated before answering.
“Ketchup?!” I had to repeat myself (I’ve grown accustomed to this; it’s rather niche and it isn’t what people expect to hear). “And where is your shop..?” I told her. “Of course, it’s in Chorlton..!” Following a knowing giggle from the room, she moved on.
And there it was. The first time I said it aloud as my one identity – to a room full of strangers, breathing life into my Cat Shop. I wanted to add I used to be an English Teacher too, but I didn’t; I resisted. And I sat there with my new identity draped around me, I think, sporting it proudly. I enjoyed gargling the words around in my mouth and the way they sounded as they rolled out; ketchupcatshop.
This was an identity that I would never have imagined or planned. I guess in many ways, cats behave like life – you have to accept them as they are; accept what happens. You can’t plan for them to sit on your lap, or to lie next to you (believe me, I ‘ve tried), or to be interested in the new treasures you’ve just bought them. If it happens, it happens, but ultimately they’ll do what they want, when they want and (often will) land on their feet. Life does that – we spend hours planning how we want to live or how we expect to live. Sometimes we allow conventions to dictate these choices – sometimes we do. But really, we have little control over them – irrespective of our will-power or desire or need. We’re just not that powerful.
(I’m ashamed to say) My cat has been known to go into others’ houses (he’s been papped too. Several times) and eats other cats’ food. He’s a regular in some gardens and he occasionally smells like other homes and other people (I imagine he goes in and makes himself pretty darn comfortable). But no matter how many times I show him the perimeters and tell him to stay away from Max’s food, or to avoid Tigger, or not to poop in the neighbour’s garden, he’s going to do what a cat does and just be. I guess like life, you can’t plan it. Life happens whilst we’re busy planning it. Maybe we all need to #BeMoreCat and expect changes; shake things up a bit. Maybe embrace rather than panic. Hopefully, we’ll land on our feet too. Eventually.