This mini-series in which Aisling talked about L and I talked about Hel, was all the brain child of Anna (umm…like most of the amazing content on AOW at the moment actually – she is ON FIRE). When Anna suggested the idea, we just *knew* she had someone wonderful in mind (Anna is the type of person who would definitely have amazing friends), and we weren’t wrong. Cat (who you will be introduced to shortly, in Anna’s own inimitable style) sounds like the type of person everyone needs in their life – an inspiration, a partner in crime and a drinking buddy. And if she was the one who was responsible for Anna saying ‘yes’ when we asked her to join Team AOW, then we have a lot to thank her for, no?
Allow me to introduce Catherine A. M. Owen, Postgraduate Student in Politics at the University of Exeter, PhD title “Human Rights: A Struggle for Meaning Between Russia and Europe“. I am attempting to fly atop her feet. We were, at the time of this photograph, aged 28.
Let’s go back to the beginning. I was 18, terrified, and in a tutorial with six other students, all of whom spoke fluent French. They were discussing Camus. In French. I felt sick and spent the hour concocting ways of a) making the teacher avoid asking me a question and b) ways of subtly escaping through the open window.
I’m glad I didn’t leave.
In that tutorial sat my partner in crime, my equal and opposite, my co-conspirator, my future best friend. I just hadn’t met her yet. Cat and I went full throttle through the next four years; rarely stopping for anything or anyone. We both believed that we were different, special, that if anyone was going to change the world it was us. From throwing ourselves behind obscure political movements to outwardly despising people who got ”stuck in a rut”, with vivid imaginations, strong convictions and usually spoiling for a fight, we were a double act, comic entertainment and thick as thieves.
Thick as thieves with equally phenomenal taste in wellies
I was a Good Girl when I was growing up, you see. Whilst my contemporaries were snorting coke off each other in the school toilets, I was conjugating Latin verbs. (Note: they probably weren’t snorting coke. It just seemed like they were.) When my dad said a categorical “No” to my request to be allowed to go to the under-18s disco in town, I wrote a letter to my parents, (a letter) to be allowed to go, and made all my friends leave early so we wouldn’t be late getting home. The first time I ever snogged a Boy (who put his hand up my top, which to me was the equivalent of Heavy Petting and therefore Unacceptable), I spent the rest of the night fretting that my parents would find out. How I thought this would happen, I have no idea.
At sixth form I played Skunk Anansie really loud and had a Actual Boyfriend, who owned a Motorbike, and spent the summer working in Switzerland where I learned how to drink tequila and speak colloquial German and Portuguese and had my heart not broken per se, but a bit chipped. Those years shed me of most of my goody-two-shoes persona and sheltered existence, but it was still there, lurking. Waiting to strike, every time I put a foot wrong, every time I carried one small act of rebellion, every time I lit a cigarette or stayed out too late or happened upon a tall dark stranger.
In the story of Anna and Cat, the adventures have been many and one day there will be memoirs. From a 21st birthday I will never ever forget (don’t worry mum, it wasn’t completely illegal), to deciding at the last minute to accompany Cat on a road trip through the Alps and putting my life in Cat’s hands on the Fürchter Pass (the Pass of Fear. Not even a mistranslation), to playing chess and drinking Blaufränkische in various Intellectual European Cafés, to dancing to drum n bass in a Devon field at 3am, to midnight drives along the Northumbrian coast when our tiny University town was suffocating us, to getting off our faces on alcohol and loudly proclaiming what we no doubt thought were Profound Philosophical Discoveries at each other, to skiving off lectures to go and sit in a field of wild horses…the list goes on. Cat once locked us out of the flat in Vienna and we spent 6 hours of New Year’s Eve in sub-zero temperatures laughing on the front door step. Cat looked after me at a gig one night when I thought I could handle more than I could and got so terrifyingly sick that I thought I was dead and nursed me back to health as I went through the seven circles of hell to come back to life. Cat showed me the underworld of Berlin. Cat encouraged me to dye my hair blue. Cat taught me to scramble across rocky outcrops, to be in awe of nature, to take the time to respect the sea, the cliffs, the sky. Cat taught me, above all, to say yes.
3am. A Devon field.
Cat set free my sense of adventure. That’s not to say it was never there in the first place…it was, lying dormant, but Cat unleashed it like a tiger from a cage and I simply could not get enough of the mad, of the unique, of the epic. Cat taught me that I could say yes without worrying about the consequences, or what people thought, but say yes and experience something for its own sake. Cat taught me that I am only the sum of my experiences and my stories, and that I should use the time I had to make as many as I can, and THAT is how I would change the world. Cat taught me to say yes to people, because everyone can teach me something, and to say yes to chances because they don’t come along twice.
How’s this for saying yes? Cat on the Furchter Pass in October 2002. I am behind the camera, freezing.
And so I did. And as I’ve said before, you can’t live like that all the time...and sometimes you do have to say no. But back then…we didn’t know that…or more likely, we didn’t care. We had a saying, back then. Whenever something didn’t turn out as we’d planned, “oh well, it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry” we’d say, knowingly.
Cat and I have made it over ten years. We had some knocks along the way, but we’re intact. We still finish each others’ sentences. We still challenge each other. She holds a mirror up to me and forces me to look at myself, and you can only do that to someone when you know who they were, who they are, and who they want to be. I hope I do the same to her. But we don’t punish ourselves any more. We’re both on paths that, whilst very different, make us happy. Our wild nights have morphed into bracing walks and bike rides through Devon, mutual excitement over the concoting of wizadry in the kitchen with the latest health food craze, too much red wine, laughing, and far, far too much talking for anyone else to follow and stay sane.
Our most recent bike ride in Devon ended here.
Without Cat, my tapestry of life would have been uniform and a lot more threadbare. As it is, it’s rich. Because of Cat, I’m still filling it in, every single day.
Thanks for that, Cat.
Oh how we have matured…