Sunday, 7 October 2012

The World's Most Famous Busker's Cat (An Interview I Did Earlier This Year)

It’s early afternoon on a sunny spring Saturday in London, and Covent Garden’s Neal Street is bustling with the usual mixture of tourists and hipsters. Amidst a crowd of fifty or sixty of them, a busker sings Molly’s Lips, a song written by the Scottish band The Vaselines and made famous by his favourite band, Nirvana. His look is pretty archetypal for his trade: long black coat, jeans, beard, floppy, collar-brushing hair. What makes him unusual is that in front of him sits a medium-sized ginger cat, in a scarf. As people mill around him, taking photographs, the cat sits perfectly still, like a small ginger Buddha, barely flinching even when a huge four by four passes along the street within a few feet of his nose. 

“As far as I know, I’m the only person who does this in the UK,” James Bowen tells me, leaning down to stroke the head of Bob, the ginger moggy who accompanies him everywhere he goes. “I heard about a guy in New York who walks around with a cat on his head, but not here. Lots of dogs and some ferrets, but no cats. I wouldn’t actually recommend it. I think Bob’s a one off.”

It was almost five years ago that James, a former heroin addict, met Bob, a poorly stray who hung around the assisted housing where he lived in Tottenham. Having nursed him back to health, he not only realised that Bob wanted to stay by his side, but that he was perfectly happy to ride around on his shoulders and sit patiently with him while he busked. At first, Bob would trot into town alongside James unshackled, but, following a hairy incident when Bob got frightened by a man in an inflatable suit on Piccadilly Circus and ran away, he introduced a harness. “Some people have told me I’m cruel to keep him on a lead,” says James, “but if a cat is unhappy on a lead, it’s obvious. And Bob is happy with it.” In agreement, Bob gazes beatifically up at him, before – and I really have to pinch myself as I watch this - giving him a high five with his paw.

 Soon, James and Bob became London celebrities, whose fans would bring Bob daily treats and clothing (“his wardrobe is much bigger than mine,” says James). As an author of two books about cats, I remember my readers sending me photos of the pair of them as far back as 2008. Now their adventures have been recorded by James in A Street Cat Named Bob: an instantly bestselling memoir that, beside its heartwarming tale of their friendship, offers an insight into the injustice of life on the streets that’s by turns frustrating and life-affirming. “My life really can be divided into two periods: Before Bob, and After Bob,” says James. “I feel blessed every day to know this cat. Some people have asked me if they can buy him, and I always reply with the same question: ‘Would you sell me your firstborn child?’.”

  A Street Cat Named Bob
  Under The Paw
  Talk To The Tail


Eileen said...

I'm going to London in November, a proper outing from my home in the South-West. If I don't manage to meet Bob and James, and get Bob to paw-print my copy of their book, I shall be heartbroken! Their story is so touching, a lesson to us all about friendship and trust.

Mr. Black said...

This is really a great story! And, I love the high-five photo.

I'm going to put a link to your website on my blog!

Anonymous said...

I used to see Bob and James selling the Big Issue outside Angel tube station when I went to bank cheques at the RBS next to it for work. One day I saw them sitting down the side of a building down the road and James was reading a book on the floor while Bob sat opposite him looking at the book too. I miss them now they're famous!

Shawn said...

I also have known Bob and James for along time and they are the nicest buskers in Covent Garden.I think they find it a bit hard now too do busking as Bob has so many fans.I still pop by some afternoons too Neil's Yard too say HI.

Anonymous said...

I was down in London in August for the Olympics but the highlight of my trip was meeting Bob and James at Neal Street. They are lovely and such an inspiration.

Claire @ nuthinbutanailthing said...

Oh my gosh! What a lovely story! <3 a high fiving cat too, WINNER!