Guest Review – A Street Cat Named Bob – James Bowen
am not a great reader, but when I saw this book promoted in one of the Sunday newspapers, the thought of a cat helping a drug addict overcome his addiction really appealed to me….
The main gist of the story is quite moving. It’s a true story of an unlikely friendship between a man on the streets and the ginger cat who he adopts and helps him heal his life. As you read on it becomes obvious that Mr Bowen’s attitude to life changed as he actually felt he had inadvertently found himself responsible for the life of a cat which showed him affection and loyalty.
Mr Bowen’s main source of income came from busking in Covent Garden and life for him was a hand-to-mouth existence until Bob came along. This ginger cat, sitting on his shoulder, drew the attention of the public and enhanced his ability to make some extra cash. Then, due to circumstances beyond his control, the only real option to enable him and Bob to survive was for him to start selling the ‘Big Issue’.
However, for me it highlighted the many questions I have had about the ‘Big Issue’. Mr Bowen’s book gives us a first-hand account of this magazine and how it works for those who sell it. He describes it as a “business” and those who sell it have to buy copies up-front out of their own money, and if these copies are not sold by the time the new issue comes out on a Monday morning, they incur the debt.
I don’t know about you, but I have been accosted on numerous occasions by a ‘Big Issue’ seller. Some of whom sit on the street corner with a couple of healthy dogs who look very fit and well fed. I have often thought to myself “How these people afford to keep two dogs and yet profess to be homeless?” What upset me was how Mr Bowen and Bob were forced off their patch because other vendors became jealous of his earnings and him having Bob as an additional attraction!
My concerns appear to be confirmed when, on page 198 of his book, Mr Bowen describes one such ‘Big Issue’ vendor:
‘’I knew about one guy who was notorious with all the sellers. He was this big, brash, cockney geezer: a very intimidating character. He would growl at people in a really threatening voice. He would frighten women in particular, by going up to them and saying “come on darling, buy a magazine”.
It was almost as if he was threatening them “buy one or else…”
Apparently this man would roll the magazine up and then slip it into people’s bags as they were walking past! I’d also heard that he would stop them and say “that will be two pounds, please’”, and then follow them until they gave him the money to go away. It wasn’t as if the money was going to a good cause! This brute of a man was a gambling addict and other sellers said that all he did was pump it straight back into fruit machines.
I have met such a ‘Big Issue’ seller in Norwich: very threatening, abusive and obviously intoxicated.
Whilst I enjoyed the story, and really do commend Mr Bowen for his determination to stop taking drugs and make a new life for himself, one of the most moving chapters describes him going ‘cold turkey’, with Bob at his side, as his only support.
However, I do not think this should be made into a film. I cannot see how this could ever give favourable publicity to this so called charitable organisation for the ‘homeless’.
All in all it’s a good book, but I just don’t like what this ‘Big Issue’ business is really all about.
I’d give this book 3/5