James Bowen & Street Cat Bob: An Update

© 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…


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.

Marcia Moody – Kate: A Biography

I love recommending books to my readers. When I love a book it’s just the best thing to share my enjoyment of it and to see if anyone else likes it just as much as I did. Of course there are always books I didn’t enjoy as much as others, yet I wouldn’t want to speak badly of them because tastes are always subjective and just because I don’t like a book doesn’t mean someone else won’t love it. However, sometimes I come across the odd book that is just so BAD that I feel the need to protect my readers from making the mistake of buying it. The book I’m going to write about here is such a case…
Marcia Moody’s biography of The Duchess of Cambridge was released on July 19th and seemed to me a fitting read in anticipation of the birth of the royal baby. I had seen Moody on TV a couple of times and was following her on Twitter as well and thought quite highly of her, so I fully expected to enjoy her book about Kate’s life. Well, it was not to be… This is one of the worst books I have ever read. For the most part it’s nothing more than a summary of Kate’s royal engagements and her wardrobe. Also the author seems to be such a big fan of Kate that even though she mentions criticism of her, in each case it is simply dismissed as being false, but with very weak arguments against it. It is very poorly edited as well, there’s hardly a page where there’s not a word missing or a typo. I read the Kindle edition, so I’m still kind of hoping this is just due to a poor ebook converter, but somehow I doubt it, because being an editor in publishing myself I know how this is usually done and that the same data is used for the print and ebook editions. Also, there are quite a few repetitions, like the mentioning of Kate being born in the coldest January for ages and such. Again, poor editing. So, to cut this short, because it really doesn’t merit a long review: Don’t waste your money on this!!


Bill Lamin – Letters from the Trenches

Letters from the TrenchesWhen I was still at uni I attended a class on World War I literature and I have been fascinated with WWI stories ever since.

The book I’d like to introduce you to in this post is the true account of Harry Lamin, a young man from Yorkshire who served in the Great War with the York and Lancaster Regiment and later the Royal Munster Fusiliers. The reviews this book is getting on the usual book rating communities are mixed. This is due to the fact that as opposed to most war stories it’s not a tale of shining heroes and acts of bravery in the face of the enemy but simply a tale of an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, doing his duty for his country. It’s presented in the form of letters written by Harry Lamin to various members of his family back home, annotated and edited by his grandson, Bill. It is not particularly gripping entertainment due to the fact that the letters are really very similar and you do get tired of the seemingly endless repetitions of what Harry did during his time at the front and the ever-present ‘could you send some paper/clean shirts/socks etc.’ requests to his relatives. But it is this drabness and monotony that makes the book so realistic because repetition and boredom were basically the main parts of life at the front for the lower ranks, interspersed with stints of fighting that brought a bit of action and escape from homesickness. Harry also very stoically described the long marches or train journeys to new locations in both France and Italy and he never failed to send his family postcards of the different regions he was stationed at and to describe the most prominent features of the landscape and the people he encountered there.

Harry saw action in the Battle of the Messines Ridge and the Battle of Passchendaele, he was wounded in the latter and sent home to recuperate, and after the war had ended he transferred to the Royal Munster Fusiliers in Italy and had to bide his time there until he was finally demobbed in 1920. What was especially remarkable to me is how long and incredibly tedious it must have been for the lower ranking soldiers to wait out the time after the war had ended until they could finally go home. Harry worked as a cook for the officers of his regiment to make some money and he repeatedly mentions in his letters that it probably won’t be long now until they have it all sorted to have the remaining soldiers sent home but in the end it’s almost a year and a half he has to wait before he can return to England. Somehow I had always imagined that as soon as the war was over they would just pack up and put all the soldiers on trains and ships and have them sent home but it wasn’t like that at all. Of course it was a huge challenge the people in charge were facing, logistically, to get thousands of soldiers back home from the various locations, that had to take a certain length of time, and once you were discharged from the army there was no-one who would provide for you, so many chose to stay on even after the armistice just to have a secure source of income, just as Harry did.

Luckily Harry wasn’t too traumatized from his time in the war so when he finally did get home he led a relatively ordinary and uneventful life and the book includes photographs of him as an old(er) man surrounded by his family. His grandson Bill found the letters years later in a drawer and decided to publish them, first as a blog and later in the form of a book. I urge you to persevere with this seemingly dull book if you’re interested to know what real life was like for the ordinary soldiers of the Great War. You won’t regret it and maybe you’ll even learn something new, like I did.

Kate Fox – Watching the English

Watching the EnglishI love reading books about England and the English and this one is a particular favourite of mine.

English anthropologist Kate Fox has studied the unwritten codes and rules her fellow countrymen (and -women) live by. In 14 chapters, divided into two parts (“Conversation Codes” and “Behaviour Codes”) Kate Fox talks about speech patterns, people’s behaviour at home, at work or with friends, and includes a section about specific class characteristics in each chapter.

Kate Fox chronicles her findings in a very witty and amusing manner. I loved the parts where the author tells of her endeavours to act against her own English nature, e.g. by trying to commit queue-jumping, deliberately bumping into other people waiting on platforms or very bluntly asking homeowners what they paid for their house.

The author’s way of telling her readers about her findings seems more like a friendly chat among friends rather than a scientific lecture. She doesn’t take herself and her countrymen too seriously and uses self-deprecating humour in those situations where she talks about things she herself doesn’t feel comfortable with (“How very English of me…”). I found this way of handling the subject very refreshing and entertaining, especially compared to the book ‘The English’ by Jeremy Paxman, which I’d started to read shortly after finishing Fox’s book but couldn’t bring myself to finish on account of it being so terribly dry and boring.

I highly recommend ‘Watching the English’ to everyone interested in English society and its rules and codes. The mixture of background info, facts and personal experiences is a gem for everyone wanting to increase their understanding of how English people, English minds ‘work’. Judging by my own experiences with English people I can certainly say that Kate Fox has painted a very realistic picture of her country’s society, even though, as with all things, her findings shouldn’t be over-generalised. We are all individuals, after all. Even the English. 😉

If you’re interested in buying a copy of the book, just click on the cover image up there to go to The Book Depository.

The Incredible Story of One Man and His Cat

A Street Cat Named BobWhenever I’m being asked who my heroes are I’m quick to name Joanne Rowling and James Bowen and Bob the cat. Now I’m sure all of you will be familiar with the first name in that list but what about the other two? And, more importantly, why do I count a cat among my personal heroes? Well, if by any chance you’ve been following the Sunday Times bestseller list over the past year you will probably have heard of James Bowen and his ginger tomcat Bob. Their first book “A Street Cat Named Bob” has been in the Top Ten for a whole year and there’s even a rumour about a forthcoming movie adaptation. Twice there has been an article about the author James Bowen and his ginger tom Bob in the Sunday Times and numerous other online and print publications have written about them, around the world.

What is the book about, then?

When James Bowen, a formerly homeless busker and drug addict, came home one evening from another busking session in Covent Garden to his flat in North London, he befriended a ginger tom that was hiding in his building. He’d been attacked by another animal and as James couldn’t find his owner anywhere close by he decided to take him in. He literally gave every last penny of his meagre income to have the cat treated by a vet and to buy medicine for him. And he gave him a name: Bob.

Once Bob was well again, James wanted to let him go on his way as by then he’d concluded that he was probably a stray, but Bob had made his choice and had decided to stay with James. From then on he not only followed James down the road to the bus stop, he even travelled with him to Central London, where the pair quickly became a sort of tourist attraction to the Covent Garden crowds. While James continued with his busking or selling the street magazine “The Big Issue”, Bob sat at his feet, watching the world go by.

After a while the first YouTube videos of the unusual pair appeared and their fan base grew. However, it was only after a literary agent, who passed the two of them every day on her way into work, had decided to approach James and ask him if he wanted to write a book about their story, that those few videos turned into a phenomenon that incorporated not only a No. 1 bestseller, but also a Facebook page, a Twitter account, numerous TV appearances, an official fan club (The Streetcats), a foto blog with pictures of the book taken at various locations around the world, a special children’s edition of the book that was released earlier this year, a forthcoming sequel to the book that’s coming out in July 2013 and a possible movie adaptation in the vein of “Marley & Me”.

After this phenomenal year James and Bob haven’t stopped going out busking but ever since the first royalties came through they can now take things a bit easier. James has been clean for quite some time now and it really shows when you compare those recent TV appearances with videos from the “early days”. Life is finally treating him well and the friendship with Bob has definitely changed his life quite dramatically. The gratitude and affection that connects those two best friends is clearly visible for everyone. They have found each other at just the right time in both of their lives. To put it in James’s words: “It’s karma!”

I have been following those two since 2010, when I read this blog post about them and watched the video that was linked to in there. On July 11th, 2012 I finally had the chance to meet them on my trip to London (see pic below) and it is still one of the best days of my life! James is such a warm, sincere and affectionate man and Bob is simply amazing (and he has the softest, silkiest fur I have ever felt!). I’m very excited to  see what else there is to come for them!