James Bowen spent ten years living homelessly or in vulnerable housing. By 2007 he was a recovering heroin addict, relying on a daily dose of methadone to get him through the day. His life, like that of many, had spiralled out of control and he became one of the many invisible people living on the streets.
Then a sick ginger tomcat walked into James’ life after he found him sitting on his neighbour’s doormat. At first reluctant to take responsibility for another creature due to his own circumstances, James tries to ignore that cat thinking it must belong to someone. However as a few days go by it becomes obvious this isn’t the case.
Slowly, Bob works his way into James’ life, refusing to leave his side after seemingly making a choice – that this was home now. No matter what James did, Bob would not leave his side. He even joined James out busking on the streets of London.
It was from this moment when James’ life changed significantly. Before, he was invisible, but with Bob sitting patiently in his guitar case, people started to come over to pet the cat and exchange a few words with James. Thanks to Bob, James doubled his daily takings. Without the cat, no one spoke to him or paid him much heed. In a way, having Bob humanised an otherwise invisible James.
James went from busking to selling The Big Issue, a magazine sold entirely by the homeless or those in vulnerable housing – people who are at risk of becoming homeless. The philosophy behind the magazine is that it helping people to help themselves – the vendors have to buy the magazines themselves before selling them on and so for them, it operates like any other business.
James Bowen credits Bob for saving his life. Bob gave him someone to care for, something to live for – a responsibility that he did not have before. When Bob walked into his life, he had another mouth to feed and a routine he had to follow. It gave James a meaning to a life that had so far spiralled out of control.
The reasons why James became homeless are probably not extraordinary. There was no real sad story of abuse or true neglect – just one of a life that lacked focus rather than opportunity. He blames it slightly on his mother’s nomadic lifestyle, which perhaps did play a part in things – but ultimately, as he admits to himself by the end – the reason he wound up a homeless heroin addict was down to himself and no one else.
However, as this account shows – just because someone has failed in life does not mean they cannot go on to succeed again. James kicked his heroin addict and he reconnected with his family. Part of this is down to luck – finding a very intelligent cat and then becoming an internet sensation, which resulted in an opportunity to write this book.
It’s a sweet and heart warming book about friendship between human and animal. It is fairly simply written and you can’t really expect it to be anything other than what it is – Bowen is not an aspiring author and never sets himself up to be yet it is an interesting and enjoyable read.
It does make me think more about all those homeless people I see and walk past, the beggars I ignore and the Big Issue sellers I walk quickly past shaking my head and then feeling inwardly bad. Part of it is that I rarely have any change on me when I pass one of the vendors, but also reluctant to stop at the same time to get my purse out and fish around for some change. I keep promising myself that I will buy one more often as it’s a pretty good magazine in itself.
James Bowen didn’t always have Bob and he was lucky to have become a youtube sensation. Without that he wouldn’t have sold a book and it is a rather unusual story. Without Bob he would still be the same person – just invisible.
Whilst this book is a rather simple account rather then an exploration of what it is like to be homeless or addicted to heroin, it should still hopefully make people look and not judge those people who are just less fortunate than us.