James Bowen & Street Cat Bob: An Update

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© Dwayne Senior

Among the first few blogposts I wrote on here was this one about James Bowen, his trusty sidekick Bob the street cat and their book “A Street Cat Named Bob”, which was published in March of 2012 and went on to top the UK’s (and many other countries’) bestseller list for up to a year straight!

Time has passed and quite a few things have happened for these two since the publication of their first book, so I thought I’d do kind of an update post here.

For those of you who might never have heard of James and Bob (seriously, though, have you been living under a rock?), let’s do a quick recap of who they are (everyone else can just skip to the next paragraph):
In 2007 James Bowen was a recovering drug addict living in supported housing in North London, when one night he met Bob, a ginger tom, who was hiding in his block of flats. He thought nothing of it at first but the next day, when Bob was still there, James discovered that he was injured and apparently didn’t live with anyone in the building, so James took him to a vet and paid for his medicine with literally the last money he had left from his meagre earnings as a busker. Then he nursed Bob back to health over the next two weeks and after that Bob followed him everywhere, even on the bus and to his busking pitch in busy Covent Garden. He simply refused to leave James’ side, so James decided to keep him, even though he had more than enough on his plate just trying to take care of himself. Letting Bob into his life gave him a new purpose and a new sense of responsibility, and he decided to get his life back on track after years of just surviving from one day to the next. James got a job as a Big Issue seller and soon the unusual pair were famous all over Covent Garden and later Islington, where James sold the Big Issue as well. It was there that James and Bob were “discovered” by a literary agent who asked James to write a book about their story and the rest is, as they say, history…

Spurred on by the success of this first book (and the children’s version, published about a year later), James was quickly asked by his publishers to write a follow-up memoir about the ways in which his and Bob’s life had changed since becoming celebrities and how “The World According to Bob” was treating them following their success.
After James and Bob then asked their readers “Where in the World is Bob?” with a “Where’s Wally”-type picture book, their second memoir was also re-edited to be published as a children’s version.
In 2014 James and Bob even published a Christmas book, describing in what ways the meaning of Christmas had changed for James after Bob came into his life.

Even though the phenomenon “James and Bob” has managed to capture both children and adult readers in equal measure, the latest additions to their array of publications have catered more to their younger fanbase: Two illustrated picture books, one telling a half-fictional tale of how Bob found his way to James (because obviously James doesn’t know where and how Bob lived before he found him), the other describing Bob’s adventures as the saviour of a lost puppy (yes, sometimes cats and dogs DO get along, and not only in fiction).

Apart from their literary achievements, James and Bob have been busy supporting various charities, they have appeared on TV a number of times now and (and this is probably the biggest development since my last post about them) the “A Street Cat Named Bob” movie has been shot in London and is now in post-production, starring Luke Treadaway as James, Ruta Gedmintas as his best friend Belle and Bob as himself (at least for close-ups). The casting agency even managed to get the likes of “Downton Abbey”‘s Joanne Froggatt, “Merlin”‘s Anthony Head, “Jericho”‘s Lorraine Ashbourne (one of my favourite British actresses) and Caroline Goodall of “The White Queen” fame on the team for this film, so it’s going to be a must-watch, not only for James and Bob fans!

So after all of this it’ll be interesting to see what else there might be in store for these two. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess…

 

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Broadchurch: Thoughts on Series 2

Broadchurch Series 2
© itv.com

Remember when I wrote about my disappointment with the first series of Broadchurch here? Well, back then I honestly didn’t think I would want to watch the second series but when I found out that Charlotte Rampling would be in it, I simply couldn’t resist. I mean, David Tennant AND Charlotte Rampling (not to mention Eve Myles, one of my favourite girl-crushes ever, and James D’Arcy, who’s quite easy on the eyes as well… ;-))? Oh, alright then…

So I just finished watching Series 2 and I must say it totally made up for the shitty ending of the first series. I know many people didn’t like it (actually I read a few reviews that referred to it as “Boredchurch”) because it was completely different to Series 1, being a legal drama more than an actual whodunnit. Personally, I love legal dramas and court storylines, so I really enjoyed watching all the townies’ secrets come out in the witness box. The second plotline about the Sandbrook murders was quite riveting as well and I liked the characters of Claire Ripley and Lee Ashworth. FINALLY we got to know more about DI Hardy’s backstory and why he was being so weird in Series 1. Hardy’s interaction with Ellie Miller was really enjoyable as well this time round – I loved their matey banter and how he kept forgetting her younger son’s name. 🙂
The ending of Series 2 was quite different to what I was expecting but I thought it was very well written (quite the opposite to what I thought about Series 1’s ending) and beautifully filmed. I’m not quite sure how they are going to carry on from there for Series 3, which has just been confirmed, but judging from this series, they’ll probably find a way to surprise us. I just hope that Hardy and Miller will be back.

Have you seen Broadchurch Series 2 and if so, what did you think?

St. David’s Day (incl. Welsh cakes recipe)

Today is the 1st of March, which means that Welsh people all over the world will be celebrating St. David’s Day to remember the patron saint of Wales. Saint David, who lived near the end of the 5th century, was a Welsh teacher and ascetic and founded a monastic community at Glyn Rhosyn, which – although it started out Celtic – later became an important Christian shrine.

One of many traditions on this day is baking Welsh Cakes, buttery tea cakes with spices and currants. Here’s a recipe if you fancy trying them out:

Ingredients:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 85g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g butter, cut into small pieces
  • 50g lard, cut into small pieces, plus extra for frying
  • 50g currants
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • splash of milk

Method:

  1. Tip the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter and lard until crumbly. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry – it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry.
  2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, re-rolling any trimmings. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan with lard, and place over a medium heat. Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through. Delicious served warm with butter and jam, or simply sprinkled with caster sugar. Cakes will stay fresh in a tin for 1 week.
Welsh cakes
© zingyyellow / flickr.com

Celebrate ‘Breakfast Week’

I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows how important it is to start your day with a healthy breakfast. If your body hasn’t been fed, how is it supposed to function properly throughout the morning, right? Exactly. So, even if skipping breakfast in return for a few extra minutes spent in bed in the mornings is a very tempting thought – don’t do it. But just what SHOULD you do?

This is where ‘Breakfast Week’ comes in. It’s a campaign that was started in 2000 to remind people of the importance of a healthy breakfast and it’s been going strong for the past 15 years. There are a range of activities going on in schools, offices, restaurants, on markets, etc. and you can find out how to get involved right here. Or you could just look for inspiration to refresh your breakfast routine by browsing through loads of great breakfast recipes here. I’ll definitely be trying out a few of the porridge recipes, seeing as I’m a total porridge freak when it comes to breakfast. 🙂

What are your favourite breakfast foods and recipes? Wil you be taking part in any of the ‘Breakfast Week’ activities?

Shakespeare and I

Not only has April 23rd been the International Day of the Book (or World Book Day) ever since 1995… for much longer it has also been the birthday (and death-day, actually) of a certain someone called William Shakespeare, and today we are celebrating it for the 450th time. Since the birthday boy is unable to make it to the party for obvious reasons (well… IF they were already done filming Series 8 of “Doctor Who” and IF they’d had the good sense to include a Shakespeare-themed episode this would have been a different story, perhaps, but alas, it isn’t to be 😉 ), I thought it would be nice to write a bit about my personal “encounters” with The Bard.

The first time I read anything by Shakespeare was in late 1996, around the time when the “Romeo & Juliet” movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes was released. I read the play before I’d seen the movie (I think) and even though I was struggling with Shakespearean English (I was 15 and had only been learning English for about 4 years), I thought the story was lovely and I even liked the writing (well, the parts I understood, at least). To be honest, though, I found it a bit weird to read about a pair of lovers who were only around my own age and wanted to be MARRIED (!!). Back then I didn’t really know much about history and that it was quite normal for people from a certain era to be married at such a young age. However, this didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the play and I wanted to read more of Shakespeare’s works. My friends got me The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for my birthday that year – a big, chunky paperback edition that is still sitting on my bookshelves to this day (and looking quite battered and well-loved by now).

The next time I came across a Shakespeare play was when we watched “Dead Poets Society” at school and that movie made me want to read “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. I didn’t get very far, though, because to be honest, I found it a bit too silly and weird with all the enchanted humans-/woodland creatures-/fantasy-themed drama. That wasn’t my cup of tea back then (it still isn’t, really), so I stopped reading pretty soon and when we did the play in class at uni several years later (what with me doing English Lit and all), it took some convincing to get me to pick it up again. This time around, I enjoyed it a bit more but I can’t say that it’ll ever be among my favourites.

Another play I came across at school was “Much Ado About Nothing”. I had watched the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson movie adaptation first and got to watch a brilliant modern performance of the play during a visit to Berlin with my mum in 1998 before actually reading the play myself for class. Sadly my English teacher at the time wasn’t very successful in getting my classmates interested in the play, so we basically just read it and talked about the text very briefly. Still, it’s my all-time favourite of the plays I’ve read, I just love all the witty wordplays and innuendoes and the characters of Benedick and Beatrice.

In 2000 we went on a week-long school trip to London and got to do a workshop at The Globe Theatre there, which also included going up on stage and reciting/acting out a few lines from various Shakespeare plays. To this day I never fail to mention to everyone who cares to hear it (and those who don’t 😉 ) that I once stood on the stage of The Globe, reciting Shakespeare! 🙂 We also went to Stratford-upon-Avon during this trip and saw Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage and also Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity Church there.

When I started uni I got my first taste of Shakespeare’s history plays and it came in the form of “Richard II”. I absolutely hated that play! Well, not the play itself, but the character of Richard with his whiny, spoilt-brat-personality, who kind of reminded me of Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter books. He totally ruined the play for me. And yes, I know that the reader is supposed to hate him but I just couldn’t get past this and enjoy the plot, I just kept thinking what an awful person he was and that overshadowed everything. I plan on reading it again sometime, though, hopefully I’ll enjoy it a bit more then.

For the same class at uni I had to read “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” and I quite liked both of them, possibly “Hamlet” a bit more than “Macbeth” because I got really fed up and annoyed with the character of Lady Macbeth, kind of in the same vein as with Richard II. These two I plan on reading again sometime as well because I’ve forgotten quite a lot about their plots already.

A different class at uni dealt with a few others of the history plays, namely “Richard III”, “Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2)” and “Henry V”. Out of these, I liked the two Henries the best but for some reason I wouldn’t want to read them again, as opposed to “Richard III”, which I somehow feel I’ll enjoy much more now that I know quite a bit more about the real Richard III.

That’s it for the plays I’ve read so far. Not too many, I know, but hopefully that’ll change over time. As for the poetical works of Shakespeare, I’ve only read a few of the sonnets. My favourites are Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”). I can still recite both of these off by heart, even though I haven’t read them in ages. They are just so lovely!

So which are your favourite works by Shakespeare and why? Let me know in the comments.

RMS Titanic

In the early hours of April 15th, 1912 the RMS Titanic bade her final farewell to the world and sank to the depths of the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg two hours and forty minutes earlier. I don’t think there’s much to be said about how and why this happened that hasn’t been said already but I would like to use this anniversary to share with you all my favourite Titanic-related videos.

Here is a video of the accounts given by five survivors of the disaster, among them 2nd Officer Charles Lightoller:

Titanic: Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary by James Cameron and Bill Paxton (who played Titanic treasure hunter Brock Lovett in the 1997 blockbuster movie):

The Curse of the Titanic Sister Ships, a documentary about the ill fate suffered by the three White Star Line sisters, Titanic, Britannic and Olympic:

I hope you enjoy watching these as much as I did.

“Life’s a mixed bag, no matter who you are.”

Last Tuesday I had a day off and after running a few errands in town I ended up browsing the “New Releases” blu-ray shelf at the local MediaMarkt (which is kind of a mix of HMV and Currys/Dixons). Not only did I find “The Day of the Doctor” there (and an unabridged version for a change as well, usually all the BBC productions are missing a few minutes on their German releases), but also discovered that the newest film written by Richard Curtis (of “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill” fame) had finally been released after it had completely escaped my notice when it was in cinemas last year.

The film is called “About Time” and it’s about… well, time. Or time travel, to be exact. It tells the story of Tim Lake (played by Domhnall Gleeson), who, at the age of 21, is being told by his father (Bill Nighy) that all men in their family have the ability to travel in time. They can’t change history in the grand scheme of things but they can change what happened in their own past or simply relive their favourite moments again and again. Mind you, the whole concept of this seems a bit “dumbed-down” for someone who watches things like “Doctor Who” practically on a daily basis, because somehow Tim and his father never meet their past selves on these trips back in time and therefore actually changing things is much more easily and smoothly done than you’d expect. It’s still great fun to watch Tim embark on his mission to finally get a girlfriend, because that is what he decides to use his special power for (after being told that his other idea, trying to get his hands on as much money as possible, has basically ruined one of his uncles).
After moving from his Cornwall home to London to train as a lawyer (and to be house-mates with an eternally grumpy friend of the family, brilliantly portrayed by Tom Hollander) he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), a lovely, quirky American girl and they fall in love. However, various situations require him to attempt do-overs through trips back in time and these have consequences on his present life. The entire time you’re expecting him to mess up his relationship with Mary and for things to end badly (only to be fixed in the last third of the film, of course, this IS being marketed as a rom-com, after all). However, unlike “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually”, this isn’t a film about things going wrong and having to be fixed (though in a way it is, of course, because that’s basically all Tim ever does through his trips back in time, just not in the sense that our hero and heroine are torn apart and have to be re-united in the end). It is a film about being happy with the people you love and care about and about spending the time you have on this planet wisely, even if you should be in the rather unique position of being able to travel in time and change things. Of course there still IS a rather big thing (or two) going wrong in this film, because we all know a good story needs conflict, an obstacle, something that can’t be fixed or overcome, no matter what super-power you might possess. I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t want to spoil things for you, so I’ll just say this: I never knew a film about a family just being genuinely happy could be this moving and inspiring and just so GOOD. If this one doesn’t become an instant favourite with you, I don’t know what will. Go and watch this, now!! And if you still need encouragement, here’s the trailer:

Let me know what you think about it once you’ve seen it! 🙂

The Last Frost Fair on the River Thames

When I first read about the River Thames frost fairs in a novel I was instantly fascinated by the idea. Living in a time and area where the winter is hardly ever cold enough for a small lake to freeze over solidly enough for ice-skating, it is a rather marvellous thought to have a mighty river such as the Thames freeze so solidly that even an elephant was able to cross it – this was done at the last Thames frost fair that lasted four days from February 1st, 1814.
Between the 1400s and the early 19th century the Thames froze over about 25 times. The flow of the river was much slower back then – ever since the old London Bridge with its huge pillars was dismantled, riverside marches have been drained and embankments erected, the river has been able to flow more freely and this combined with the mild winters of modern times makes it highly unlikely for the Thames to ever really freeze over again.

When it did, though, Londoners made the most of it and set up huts and stalls on the ice and turned the frozen river into a full-blown party location, unlicensed drinking and gambling being the main attractions. During the last frost fair of 1814, even printers set up shop with their presses on the ice to produce postcards and other printed memorabilia of the event. A small sheep was roasted and fair visitors charged to view it and its meat then sold as ‘Lapland mutton’.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though, even if the area between Blackfriars and London Bridge was lined with over 30 stalls and booths and the main throughfare quickly named ‘City Road’. The ground was still ice and ice can melt or break. A large chunk of it broke off near London Bridge and carried off a man and two boys, who were lucky enough to be rescued by fishermen at Billingsgate. Two women fell through the ice and were also rescued by Thames watermen (who also often charged people for entry to the fair) but a plumber carrying some lead wasn’t so lucky when he fell through the ice.

On the 5th of February the wind turned to the south and brought sleet, rain and warmer temperatures. The thaw was so quick that two men who went on the ice on the 6th fell in and were carried off before they could be rescued. This marked the end of the last frost fair on the Thames. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a time-machine now to be able to go and see this event for myself – actually, the frost fairs are such a huge part of London folklore that even The Doctor and a few of his companions went there in the TARDIS (only in the audio or printed adventures, though, sadly).

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The last frost fair in 1814

The King’s Army Parade

Yesterday was the last Sunday of January, which meant that the English Civil War Society gathered on The Mall to hold their annual King’s Army Parade to commemorate the execution of King Charles I on 30th January 1649. Elevated by his son, Charles II, to the position of a martyr, Charles I is immortalised in the form of a statue that stands on a traffic island in Trafalgar Square (this used to be the site of the original Charing Cross and it is from here that all distances from London are measured).

The Royalist division of the English Civil War Society sets off on a sombre march from St James’s Palace to Horseguards Parade and there the chaplain of the society gives a brief explanation of the goings-on (mostly for the benefits of any tourists watching) and afterwards reads from the Book of Common Prayer. Medals are being presented and more readings carried out by other participants and finally, three officers of the King’s Army proceed through the arches of Horseguards and cross busy Whitehall to hang a wreath on the metal railings outside Banquetting House, which is the spot where Charles I was executed. The parade is no longer allowed to continue onto Whitehall due to the inconvenience of having to close off the street for traffic.

Pics of yesterday’s parade can be seen on this site.

Burns Night

Tomorrow is Burns Night, so get those neeps and tatties ready! For the haggis you might want to try this recipe. Might be a bit late to learn ‘The Address to a Haggis’ off by heart, though, so why not just play this great rendition of it at supper? As for the beverage of choice I’d recommend the Talisker 10 Year Old, which is not too pricey and goes very well with haggis.
After supper how about joining hands with your guests and giving the Auld Lang Syne a go? Here are the lyrics:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll take a cup o’kindness yet
For auld lang syne

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp
And surely I’ll be mine
And we’ll tak a cup o’kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae rin aboot the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d i’the burn,
frae morning sun till dine
But seas between us braid hae roar’d,
sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere
And gie’s a hand o’thine
And we’ll tak a right gude willie-waught
for auld lang syne.