I was School Captain of an independent Catholic College, reckless tendencies don’t tend to get you the top job. Reckless for me back then, before the cat incident of 1994, was wearing my hair in pigtails, as a 17 year old.
While my teenage friends were experimenting with life. I completed independent risk assessments on their risky choices. Jumping off Dalwood falls, was based on my best calculations, dangerous. I was never going to jump, no matter how much peer pressure they burdened me with. I am a rule follower.
A recipe to me, is a legal document, that is to be carried out, as stated, up until the last teaspoon. Honey seeded mustard, must come out of a jar, labelled as such. It is not ok to use seeded mustard, then add honey separately. I follow instructions. I don’t do reckless. That is an activity for others.
It was as an exchange student, in Germany that my always sensible behaviour, came into question. It was only my third week, of a 12 month exchange year when my host brother Clemens and I went for a bike ride in the city. The bike that I had, was of German Democratic Republic (GDR) heritage, with no gears, and a front light that worked only when you pedalled.
I obviously was still assimilating into a new family, culture, school and language. I was trying my best with the language, I knew a few words. My German vocabulary was a work in progress, I was like an apprentice learning on the job.
In my best Hogan’s Heroes German I announced,
“Achtung Clemens” it sounded so formal –
With his attention, and that of some unwanted strangers.
I pedalled with more intensity, it felt weird to feel my warm breathe, as I rode in the cold January winter, at speed, in the direction of my target.
What cat, if it sees a bicycle riding towards it, doesn’t move? Not that I was in the habit of chasing down cats across the world on bicycles, but in my defence, I thought some sort of survival animal instinct would kick in, and it would scamper away as I approached.
I couldn’t break suddenly on my bike, the hundred year old cobble stone was slippery from the earlier snow, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, this was crazy. I am getting closer, the bloody cat is not moving, I can’t change my line, there are Germans everywhere. If I have to choose, it’s the cat- not a human. I apply the brakes gingerly. Can you believe it? The cat is playing chicken with me. Its emerald green eyes staring at me…
Then a bump, then in quick succession, another- as my back bike tyre flattens, the black grey mottled cat, into the cold wet stones. Now it moves, not as spritely as I was hoping though.
“Was soll das? Yes to the good people of Erfurt, what was that?
That my friends, was a classic example of recklessness….