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…


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.

5 Facts You Always Wanted To Know About… Queen Victoria

Two days from now, January 22nd, marks the anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria, the longest-reigning monarch (63 years and 7 months) in British history, in 1901. To commemorate this, here are 5 facts about this queen that you may not know:

She proposed to her husband, Prince Albert.
In a time when it was the norm to have the men ‘pop the question’, Queen Victoria was an exception. As she was already queen when the match between her and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was decided on, he couldn’t propose to her, so she had to do it. She wore a white wedding dress, which set the trend for brides worldwide to start wearing white on their wedding day. Contrary to many royal unions of the time, Victoria and Albert’s marriage was a love match and Victoria is famous for maintaining a permanent state of mourning after Albert’s untimely death in 1861 (from typhoid fever).

She was more German than English.
Being the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, who was the fourth son of George III, and Victoria Saxe-Saalfeld-Coburg, Queen Victoria was primarily of German descent. Her first language was German, though she also spoke English, French, Urdu and Hindustani. Her German husband famously introduced the tradition of having a Christmas tree to England and the Royal Family to this day still opens their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day, as is the custom in Germany as well.

She wasn’t very fond of babies.
Even though she had 9 children, Queen Victoria wasn’t very keen on the idea of giving birth (well, who can blame her, really?) and didn’t enjoy the company of her children during their infant years. In fact, she was so repulsed by them, she had them live in a different wing of the palace and frequently referred to them as ‘frogs’.

The phrase “We are not amused” is attributed to her.
Although there is no historical evidence she ever said it, many believe that the famous phrase “We are not amused” was first uttered by Queen Victoria. Russell T. Davies incorporated this into the script for the Doctor Who episode ‘Tooth & Claw’, in which the character of Rose Tyler repeatedly tries to get Queen Victoria to say it (and succeeds).

She is still called the ‘Grandmother of Europe’.
Victoria’s 9 children all married into the royal families of Europe (which is why most of them are still related to each other to this day, even though the custom of marrying among themselves has mostly died out) and she’s therefore often called the ‘Grandmother of Europe’. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are actually both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with some of their children

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!!


It’s a boy!

Finally! Demonstrating impeccable timing the royal baby chose the hottest day of the year in Britain to be born and the world awaited the announcement with baited breath, while the media that had been gathered outside the hospital for weeks finally sprung into action. The Duchess of Cambridge was admitted to St Mary’s Hospital shortly before 6am and was accompanied by her husband, Prince William. Apparently they didn’t know the gender of their baby beforehand and were planning on a natural birth. The 3rd in line to the throne, a boy weighing 8lbs 6oz was finally born at 4.24pm on July 22nd and just over four hours later the announcement of his birth was made and placed on an easel in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, where thousands of well-wishers had already gathered.

To see the real deal, however, the world had to wait until the following evening when finally the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge left the hospital at around 9:15pm on July 23rd and presented their as-yet-unnamed baby boy to the media and countless onlookers. Dressed in a spotted Jenny Packham number, very reminiscent of Diana’s outfit from 31 years ago when she took baby William home, Kate carried her son out and then carefully handed him to her husband before the couple answered a few questions. They revealed that the first nappy change had already taken place and that it had been William who did the honours, that Baby Cambridge was quite a big boy with a good pair of lungs on him and that they were still working on a name. Asked about the baby’s looks, Prince William joked that he had Kate’s looks (to which she replied laughing “No, no, I’m not sure about that!”) and a lot more hair than himself, “thank God”. The couple then went back inside for a few minutes to put the baby in a car seat, which William very competently secured in the car that he then drove himself in the direction of Kensington Palace. After the new family had left the crash barriers were opened and lots of hospital staff were seen celebrating and hugging each other, obviously thrilled to have been part of “Operation Royal Baby”.

With the birth over now comes the task of raising that little boy who will one day be King. Good luck with that, Kate & William!

The new family

UPDATE: …and the name is… George Alexander Louis! Personally, I would have preferred James, I think George sounds as if he’s 60 already. But to each their own, I suppose. 🙂

Hats off, Strangers!

The State Opening of Parliament is always an excellent opportunity to watch the British monarchy in action at what they do best: Pomp and pageantry! It marks the commencement of a session of Parliament including a speech by the monarch, outlining what measures and actions will be put into place by the government in the coming year. It is a ceremony full of rituals and symbolism dating back centuries, and therefore it is a must-see event for a British history buff like myself. 🙂 Just in case you aren’t familiar with the proceedings, let me explain a few of the key parts of the ceremony.

Before the Queen arrives at the Houses of Parliament a ceremonial searching of the cellars is carried out by the Yeomen of the Guard, the oldest existing British military corp (not to be confused with the Yeomen Warders a.k.a. “Beefeaters”, who are guarding the Tower of London). This dates back to 1605, when on November 5 of that year the Catholic revolutionary Guy Fawkes and his accomplices were caught red-handed in the cellar beneath the Palace of Westminster, trying to blow up the House of Lords in an attempt to kill the Protestant king James I. Ever since then the cellars have been searched before the State Opening of Parliament.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who usually accompanies her to this event, arrive from Buckingham Palace in a carriage procession. Prior to that the Imperial State Crown is being taken to the Palace of Westminster in a separate State Coach to be worn by the Queen during her speech.

Once the Queen has put on the Parliament Robe of State and the Imperial State Crown in the robing chamber and has entered the House of Lords, she first addresses the House with the words “My Lords, pray be seated” and then instructs the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod to summon the House of Commons. Black Rod walks down the corridor connecting both chambers, accompanied by an inspector of police who shouts “Hats off, strangers!” to the people watching along the way. Upon approaching the House of Commons the doors of the chamber are slammed shut in Black Rod’s face. This is due to the fact that ever since in 1642 King Charles I rushed into the House of Commons to have five members arrested for treason no monarch has been allowed to enter the House of Commons. Black Rod then knocks on the door to the chamber with his staff three times and is then allowed to enter. With the following words he commands the House of Commons to follow him to the House of Lords: “Mister Speaker, The Queen commands this honourable House [pauses to bow to both sides of the House] to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers.” Usually this is greeted by an amusing remark from Labour MP Dennis Skinner (who is known for having been suspended from Parliament several times for using foul language) before the MPs set off in a casual procession down the corridor. Once they have arrived at the Bar of the House of Lords the Queen begins reading out her speech, which really isn’t her speech at all but has been written by the government. The speech concludes with the words: “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels”. The Queen then leaves the House of Lords and the Commons return to their chamber for a debate on the speech, which concludes the proceedings.

If you’d like to watch today’s State Opening of Parliament, I recommend YouTube user belfastjack’s videos, who uploaded the entire BBC broadcast from this morning in four parts. Here’s the first:

The Boat Race

Sunday, 31st of March, 4:30pm (GMT) will see the start of the 159th Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race on the River Thames in London. Make sure to tune in because if the races of the past few years are anything to go by then we are in for an exciting late afternoon!

The first race was held in 1829 and since 1856 it has been an annual event, the only exceptions being the wartime years of 1915-1919 and 1940-1945. The course covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake. So far Cambridge have won the race 81 times and Oxford 76 times.

I have watched the race every year since 2009 (sadly only on TV, I would love to be there in person one day) and what with Oxford being one of my all-time favourite cities I’m always rooting for the Oxford boat, of course. The 2012 race was particularly dramatic for any Oxford supporter. The boats had been running neck and neck when, after about 2/3 of the course had been completed, a man had swum between the boats, apparently wanting to protest against elitism (he was jailed for 6 months shortly afterwards). Apart from the fact that he could have been killed if assistant umpire Matthew Pinsent hadn’t spotted him in time, he also completely ruined the race. It was halted for over 30 minutes, the boats had to be rowed back to Chiswick Eyot after umpire John Garrett had decided to restart it from there and not long after the restart the boats clashed, resulting in the Oxford boat losing an oar and ultimately the race by a little over 4 lengths. John Garrett ruled that this mishap was Oxford’s fault and therefore Cambridge were declared the winners, though for the first time in the race’s history without an officially recorded winning time. Oxford bow man Alex Woods collapsed in the boat from exhaustion shortly after crossing the finish line (it was kind of a miracle that Oxford lost by only 4 1/4 lengths after losing an oar, so it’s clear that their team pushed themselves beyond their limits) and had to be taken to hospital. Due to all of this the celebrations were kept short and muted and the awards ceremony was cancelled.

So after the excitement of last year I am really hoping that this year we will have an uninterrupted race with the Oxford boat crossing the finish line first! 🙂 The crews of both boats were announced a short while ago and I’m particularly excited that Constantine Louloudis will be back in the Oxford Blue Boat this year after winning a Men’s Eight bronze medal for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics (he missed the 2012 Boat Race due to training for the Olympics).

Will you be watching the race, and if so, which team are you rooting for and why?