Street Cat Bob,
the Big Issue cat
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The Big Issue is a weekly street newspaper, written by professional journalists and sold in several countries of the world by homeless or similarly disadvantaged people. They buy the papers themselves and sell them at a profit, giving them a chance to improve their situation. Sellers have to be registered, and each usually has a particular spot, or 'pitch', in their town or city where they are to be found. One such seller in London is James Bowen, who has regular pitches near entrances to the Underground ('Tube') stations at Angel, Islington and at Covent Garden. In between times James plies his trade as a street musician.
Some time ago James came across a stray cat with an injured leg, sitting in a doorway near where he lives; he thinks it had been bitten by a fox. Next day it was still there; he asked the folks in whose doorway it was, but they said they had no knowledge of the cat or where it came from; so James kindly took it home, fed it and then took it along to an animal shelter to get it sorted out. He thought that would be the end of it, but after they had prescribed some antibiotics, which James paid for, they said he should take the cat back with him so that's what happened.
The abscess on the leg was successfully treated and after a couple of weeks was practically healed. James told the cat he was free to go now but Bob, as he had been named, had other ideas! He'd become greatly attached to his rescuer and made it clear he wanted to stay with him. He would also try to follow James whenever he went out. Realising that cats usually do what they want, James gave up trying to get the cat to stay at home, bought him a harness and allowed Bob to go with him. These days the cat will be found sitting outside the station as James sells copies of the magazine, calmly sitting on his bag which he will not leave and guarding the takings. He appears to love the hustle and bustle, loves the attention he gets, and seems to enjoy posing for photos. He is a very calm and even-tempered cat, and happily travels with James on the Underground and on London buses.
James and Bob are now a familiar sight in central London, with the cat often draped around James's shoulder when they're on the move or else contentedly sitting at one of the pitches and receiving the attention of passers-by and posing for photographs. In the second clip the cat is seen wearing a scarf presented by one of his regular admirers, and James says Bob likes wearing it. James credits his companion with turning his previously unsettled life around.
Because of his popularity at the Underground stations and his frequent travels around London, we understand that London Transport presented Bob with his very own special Oyster card. (Oyster is a plastic smartcard you can use instead of paper tickets by putting pay-as-you-go credit on it Ed.) And then, in 2011, it was reported that James and Bob had gained a book deal! The book, entitled A Street Cat named Bob, was published in March 2012 and we believe has done well on the best-sellers list (see details and our review in Folios). There was a book signing on 13 March at Waterstones in Islington with Bob present, of course, and apparently enjoying all the attention! There are some pictures at the London Underground blog where, as well as several further links, there are also a short video narrated by James and a clip from Russian TV. See also this CBS News clip (may be slow to load, depending on connection).
Clearly James and Bob's fame has spread far and wide, and to emphasise it they appeared on nationwide breakfast-time TV in the UK on 27 March. Bob sat calmly on the sofa next to James, as good as gold, with just a bit of tail-twitching perhaps indicating a little uncertainty. Shortly afterwards the pair also appeared on another channel. See the footage: BBC Breakfast and ITV This Morning.
James says if he makes some money from the book his priorities will be to spend some of it renovating his flat, and to take out pet insurance for Bob. Although still busking but only five days a week instead of seven because it fits in well with promoting his book, he thinks he will return to selling the Big Issue as his main source of income. As for the longer-term future, he is thinking of registering Bob as a Care in the Community animal, so he can take him to old people's homes and care centres. 'Animals are great for calming the spirit when you’re stressed,' he explains. 'Bob certainly helped me in that way, and I'd like to help other people in that way too. Maybe I'd have to take some courses in community care or something like that.'
James says of Bob: 'He is what I wake up for every day now. It will be horrible when he leaves me, 'cos I know cats don't live as long as human beings ...' he drifts off. 'But he's definitely given me the right direction to live my life.'
Update, November 2012
There's a long and informative article about Bob and James, with several photos, at the Daily Mail. It says that the book had sold, by late 2012, some quarter of a million copies worldwide, and there's a fun site called Around the World in 80 Bobs showing some of the places where it's been read. However it had not yet been published in the USA, and that is due to happen in 2013.
Even more potentially exciting is that there is a possibility of a movie being made about the pair; we'll keep our eyes open for any further news of that, but it seems that rights for the screenplay are being negotiated.
See also Bob and James' Facebook page.
We acknowledge Annie Mole's Going Underground blog of July 2010 and later for much of the above information, including a video of James telling Bob's story (or see the clip at YouTube where links to others of Bob will also be seen). There's a wonderful photo of Bob at Flickr, with many more at this group pool.