All last week I hardly read anything at all.
I was struggling to reread my ancient, crappy paperback of Michael Ende’s masterful kids’ fantasy novel, ‘The Neverending Story.’ My copy has the tiniest print imaginable and some previous owner has scrawled daft pencil marks on many of the pages. Even now I’m only about a hundred pages back into that wonderful epic.
Something I’ve been reminded of, though.
There’s a motif running through the book. It usually goes something like this:
‘And so they turned off at the next path and, although they left this particular story, they carried on having adventures of their own. And maybe one day we’ll get to hear all about them.’
I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the idea.
For me this has to be one of the most important sentiments in the book. In fiction generally. Any kind of fiction.
The promise that these people – these friends, family, colleagues, lovers, characters, friendly creatures; everyone who ever leaves you and your story; who chooses to or finds they have to leave your side – they will carry on having their own adventures elsewhere. And somewhere, somehow, that is what’s happening.
And one day you will find them again and catch up and hear what’s been going on.
It’s one of the oldest ideas in the book. In any book.
Rereading ‘The Neverending Story’ last week I had Fester purring on my knee. He dozed and gradually lost control of all of his body. He became lighter and lighter in my arms. It was like he was becoming even less than skin and bone. He was turning into paper.
In ‘The Neverending Story’ every character peels off and away.
Everyone goes off into their own imaginary spin-off tale.
This is important to me.
In the six, almost seven years that Fester was with us, I believe he taught us to be a family. In many ways the odds have been against us. There have been some awful things going on in that time, outside and inside our house. From the grandness of a global economic collapse, to the dreadfulness of lost parents and bitter family feuds, down to the microcosmic detail of the day-to-day problems of careers gone crazy. We’ve had it all going on round here.
But through all of the past six or seven years Fester has been our constant. He taught us how to live in one house together. This house was where we settled properly in one place and spread out, with all our stuff under one roof, pooling all our dreams and building a home and a garden and a future together. It was the place we found in our mid thirties. In south Manchester, alongside the railway lines.
And only then did Fester come marching out of the undergrowth and up our back garden, demanding to be let into our house and our lives. This cat who must have been a kitten back in the mid-nineties, back in the days when Jeremy and I first met, up in Edinburgh. They were heady days, a long time ago, when Jeremy and I decided that we had found each other at last and this was it.
Fester was waiting for us all that time. Until he was twelve. Until we were in our house.
He was all about the value of sitting down nicely. Like a Zen master he knew it was all about the sitting and breathing and relaxing. You could tell his whole life’s narrative in the form of a list of favourite perches he found and why each one was essential. He loved long spells in safe havens and special spots. Curling up and being content with doing nothing but just sitting and singing and breathing and working towards the most contented of deep-felt sighs. This was something he taught me to share. Work towards that biggest sigh and that’s you in the moment like never before.
That was the kind of wisdom he brought here – up our back garden, up the back stairs, into our kitchen. We just thought he was starving and glad to have some bits of bacon to chew on with his painful one-and-a-half teeth. But no, he had a whole lot of stuff to unpack and impart to us. And it took the full six and a half years between 2006 and now.
He was teaching us and we were learning to be older, happier, and more still. He came from outside in order to teach us how to live in a house.
Fester’s accomplishment for me was that he made being happy seem easy. Not just for me. For everyone he met. They all felt it. He made it seem easy to be content.
More than that.
He was all about showing us that it’s easy to be happy. Easier than miserable any day.
It’s something I hope I never forget.
Which is why I have to write it down.
And remember that there’s a garden out there, and a Beach House. And there’s always going to be a little cat out there, ready to remind you to be happy, and to remind you of everything you almost nearly forget.