I have just read A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen and wow, I am blown away by it. It is a heart-warming story that became the No.1 in The Times and Sunday Times Bestseller List in April 2012. I normally do reviews of books I’ve read on my Pinterest board however this book has left such an impression with me I thought I’d write a blog post about it instead.
James Bowen is a young man who fell into bad times through very simple circumstances going wrong. A nomadic childhood did not help as he was moved between Australia and Britain every few years. With his mother living in Australia and an estranged family in England he tries to make a go of things by himself in London. However things just don’t work out and he embarks on a downward spiral ending up sleeping on the streets of the big city and ultimately hooked on heroin.
A homeless charity picked him up off the streets and he was put on what is known as the “vulnerable housing list”. Although this life doesn’t sound much better – “living in horrendous hostels, B&Bs and houses, sharing my space with heroin and crack addicts who would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down”. This of course did not help his drug dependency but thankfully he ended up in rehab and then on a drug rehabilitation programme. He ultimately blames loneliness as the cause for his drug addiction – I’m sure this will resonate with a lot of people who have any type of addiction. By 2007 he was off the heroin and on methadone which is used to wean morphine and heroin addicts off those drugs. This is when he meets Bob the cat and the story starts.
Everyone that knows me – or just follows me on Twitter – will know I am a huge animal lover, especially my three dogs and two cats. I thought that Bruce, one of my cats, was pretty different – walking with me and the dogs, playing with the dogs and often letting them lick his face in return for him cleaning their ears. Strange I know. But he’s not a patch on Bob.
James finds Bob in his block of flats – obviously injured and a bit worse for wear. He nurses him back to health with the help of the local RSPCA vet and despite trying to release Bob back to whatever life he led before he just cannot get rid of him and the pair quickly become soul mates. James is busking in Covent Garden and Bob joins him of his own accord, attracting lots of attention and therefore lots more “drops” into James’s coin donations. After a few not so nice adventures James ends up being a Big Issue seller and again with Bob captivating passers-by he actually shows up on YouTube – much to the surprise of James.
I cannot for one minute imagine any of my cats, or dogs, (or even me) being so good and patient putting up with the crowds of London and not wandering off. Bob really does sound so humanized despite probably being a wild cat before he met James. Bob seems so wise and the way that his relationship with James really helps see James through some very tough times just proves to me that animals are intelligent and the best companions you can ever have.
I first saw James and Bob on ITV’s This Morning and thought what a lovely guy he was – and of course was fascinated by Bob too. I immediately ordered the book and wish I had read it as soon as I got it. It has really made me think – about my life now, my previous life, my animals and what is good and bad in this world.
When I lived in London I earned a lot of money. Although I wasn’t in the heart of the city that often, I was one of those people that passed beggars by. If I enjoyed listening to buskers I would drop a few quid into their bucket and possibly 2 times out of 10 I would buy the Big Issue. Seeing the TV programme about professional beggars had made me wonder who was real and who wasn’t. Strangely enough now I’m not earning the big money I tend to give more when I see someone selling the Big Issue or busking.
Reading this book has opened my eyes as to what it can be like for those living on the streets, only slightly of course because James doesn’t go into depth about the bad times. James explains that you become invisible and that is so true and also so sad. He explains perfectly how people like myself often think about it – “Well, I may think my life is bad, but it could be worse, I could be that poor sod.” I now so wish I had been more generous when I could have been when I lived in London. For example I had no idea how the Big Issue actually worked before – it really is a step up for people and you can read all about it here.
Here is an extract from an interview James did with Richard Godwin of The London Evening Standard on 15th March 2012 which is the day the book was released.
“It’s nice to know people will be able to sit down and read the story in black and white instead of just assuming things in their mind,” he says. “And also, with the money that I’ll be making from it, it will be nice to make up my flat nicely. It’s not a hell of a lot of money, but it’s enough so that I won’t have to work seven days a week, I can work five days a week. That’s the plan. To have, you know, a normal lifestyle.”
He’s busking at the moment (his signature song is Hurts by Nine Inch Nails, in the Johnny Cash version) as it’s easy to fit around promoting the book. Eventually, he will return to his main source of revenue, which is selling the Big Issue. As for the future, he is thinking of registering Bob as a Care in the Community animal, so he can take him to old people’s homes and care centres. “Animals are great for calming the spirit when you’re stressed,” he explains. “He certainly helped me in that way, and I’d like to help other people in that way. Maybe I’d have to take some courses in community care or something like that.”
The first thing he would do if he makes any money from the book, incidentally, is to buy Bob some pet insurance. “I can’t afford it at the moment, I’d love to be able to do that.”
So what is James and Bob’s story now? I would love to know as I so hope they are making some good money from the book and no longer having to walk the streets selling the Big Issue. Whilst reading the book I was thinking I’d definitely pop to their hang outs next time I’m in London because I’d love to meet up. But hopefully James and Bob won’t have to be there any more. I also really hope there is a follow up to this book explaining how getting the book deal came about and the chaos that is the media following in its wake. Most of all I’d just love to sit down for a coffee (or a pint) with James and Bob and see how they are doing now. So if you are reading this James (and Bob because I know he understands too) please get in touch.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough so please go and buy it. It is available in all good book stores of course plus Amazon using this link.
You can follow James and Bob on Twitter.
Like them on Facebook
And check out the YouTube videos:-
And remember this – as James says what we’re all probably feeling when we see these people on the streets – “there for the grace of God go I.”