North London's Cultural Guide

Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Cat Santos, textile printer

'Don't panic! It rarely gets you anywhere. Save this reaction for when you really need it'

‘Someone once described me as a moth – brown, slightly furry and fluttery.’ Photo: Sarah Fox

Cat Santos grew up in Golders Green with her Portuguese parents. Her brother started printing studio Fifth Column in 1977 when she was studying fine art at Central St Martins, and after graduating, Cat worked there part time. The print studio was forced to move from its premises in Greenwood Place after a fire broke out in Anglers Lane. Now it can be found in the 5000 square feet building which is part of Kentish Town tube station – although in January the business is sadly moving to Tottenham.

When were you happiest?
My 21st birthday party in Greenwood Place was amazing. We got a call the next day saying there had been a fire in the basement that had gutted the whole building – we were gutted too. We were so lucky it didn’t happen when we were all there – we all could have died.

Where would you like to live?
I’m ultra lucky because I live in a fantastic house on the edge of Hampstead Heath with all my extended family: my son, nephew and girlfriend, great niece, brother in law, sister in law, and partner. Perhaps if we could take over the whole of the Assembly House, I could have the tower at the top and the public bar could be my studio?

What is your favourite sound or smell?
Bean About Town. I get one every morning.


What is your greatest life achievement?
Being an OK mother, making my 36 year relationship get better.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To relax and not get too stressed about things. I’m pretty good at that now, nothing really phases me.

What makes you unhappy?

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
Less work, no supermarket shopping.

What is your most unappealing habit?
I get angry about religion. It all comes out at dinner parties. I’m an atheist and I know I should respect other people’s views, but I’m finding it harder the older I get.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Lunches from Earth with a bottle of Leffe (or two); and a cocktail when I get my hair cut at Flaxon Ptootch with that lovely man Michael.

Where do you hang out?
The Heath: I have an allotment after being on the waiting list for 13 years. Oh, and The Bull and Last for a meal.

What do you hate and why?
When people go on about someone’s ‘energy’ or ‘aura’ in some vague mystic way, without relating it to science or logic – my partner does this.

What have been your best and worst experiences?
Worst? Arriving at work in the morning and having to clear up whatever mess is on our doorstep. It doesn’t happen often anymore. Kentish Town has really cleaned up. And my best? We had our Fifth Column 20th anniversary in 1997 at the Forum: huge party with friends and family, colleagues and clients.

Cat on a roof...above K-Town tube
Cat on a K-Town roof…above the tube
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My mother always made me believe I was very beautiful, so I went through my teens feeling confident and happy. It was only later that she said my mouth was a bit wide and then I realised I wasn’t quite as beautiful as she had led me to believe.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
“Go home you Paki cunt,” Brick Lane 1977. I’m Portuguese but The National Front still made me feel horrible.

Tell us a secret.
I am planning on doubling my holiday every year.

What has your career taught you?
Don’t panic! It rarely gets you anywhere. Save this reaction for when you really need it.

What is your favourite dish and why?
Bacalhau A Gomes Sa, a Portuguese salt fish dish. When I get a whiff I’m reminded of my parents, aunts and uncles who are no longer at my side. Food forges strong and fond memories.

What did you do today?
I fed the dogs then I drove my son to school because he was very late, but I feel bad about that because you shouldn’t use cars for short journeys. I came back and took the dogs for a walk before work.

Describe yourself as an animal.
Someone once described me as a moth when I was young and stoned – it really freaked me out. Brown, slightly furry and fluttery.

Did you know Fifth Column print our clothing range of t-shirts, tote bags, kids’ hoodies and babygros? The perfect Xmas gift – have a gander here.

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.