Exciting as it is to write for The Big Issue, days in the office can still blur into one. But not this one. For on September 26 2016, a Street Cat named Bob came to visit our London office along with his best friend, James Bowen.
Our plan was to make a short film with James and Bob ahead of The Big Issue’s 25th anniversary – with James talking about what The Big Issue meant to him, and Bob, well, Bob just had to be Bob. Two Big Issue legends, one very excited office.
They arrived, of course, in trademark style. Bob was in his happy place on James’ shoulders and an already happy office became instantly happier, warmer, more exciting.
For Bob home could be anywhere as long as he was with James
Bob was right at home in this unfamiliar environment in an instant. The harsh lighting, the mass of desks and computers, the whirring of printers and air conditioning units, the phones ringing and workplace hubbub held no fear for Bob. He was right at home because for Bob home could be anywhere as long as he was with James.
Bob had an ease. A calm. He seemed like a very chilled human in cat form, with none of that feline jumpiness.
To spend time with James and Bob was to see two halves of a whole. The way they moved in sync, always checking in with each other when any distance appeared between them, the telepathic link they shared.
This was an unusual day. It’s not every day writers are dispatched to the local supermarket to buy emergency cat litter or fashion an impromptu litter tray from printer paper boxes. For months afterwards, Bob’s bag of litter lived, in hope of his return, next to the printer. Bob spent a bit of time by that printer – clearly he sensed the mice we suspect were living in the walls.
It was the day I fully understood what this human and cat combo truly meant to both The Big Issue as an organisation but also to the wider world, the Bobites, the people who have been inspired by a story of hope, redemption, belonging, companionship and love.
We began filming in the boardroom. Bob drinking milk from his bowl, getting occasional treats, while James told his story. Bob would stretch his legs, walk across the magazines and portraits of him that we had strewn on the table, leaving paw prints that would make these photos extra collectable. Like James, he was a natural on camera. The duo happily posed together for their close ups.
Two popular local Big Issue vendors, Jon Gregg and Amy Stevens, joined us. They talked with James, admired Bob, took pictures. Our vendors all love James and Bob – and not just because Bob’s face on the cover of the magazine can help them record extra sales.
We left them to chat. I disappeared into the kitchen and came back to discover that… Street Cat Bob was sitting at my desk. How unexpected. How brilliant.
Bob jumped from my chair onto my desk, wandered across my computer – glancing up to see his own face peering back from the screen. I’ll never clean my desk again, I thought. I had never cleaned it before either, but at least now I had an excuse.
James and Bob sat there for an hour – James telling more stories about his time selling The Big Issue in nearby Angel, and about the film of their story that had by then been shot and was set to be released a few months later, Bob just relaxing and eating the odd treat.
James took great pride in telling us that the actor cat that was supposed to play Bob struggled with some of the scenes so the real Bob was drafted in. Bob was now in the movies, playing himself, acting alongside the brilliant Luke Treadaway as James.
The duo posed for more pictures, and off they went – Bob once again perched on James’s shoulder.
James and Bob made time for everybody
Our film was launched a few weeks later in Camden. James and Bob were there at the Proud Galleries on a noisy and busy and celebratory night. Again, Bob was immediately at home despite the crowds.
My mum, midway through chemotherapy, came down from Derby as a surprise with my brother and stepdad – driving there and back in one evening. To see her face when she saw James and Bob was quite something. The cat an instant tonic, her subsequent massive grin a huge lift to me.
It was a hectic night, and James and Bob were, naturally, in great demand. They made time for my mum, though. Of course they did. They made time for everybody.
I took the obligatory picture in the few seconds they were together – a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but one that produced a treasured photo.
How many similar moments have James and Bob brought to people since their story moved and inspired millions? One tiny moment for a cat producing a joyous memory to cherish for a human. Enough to last even more than nine lives, no doubt. That is surely something to celebrate.
Let’s send some of this love to James Bowen as he mourns his constant cat companion. And thank James and Bob for sharing their story, their lives, and their precious moments with us all.
How you can buy a copy of this week’s Big Issue
Our tribute edition dedicated to Bob is out now. Please seek out your local vendor and buy a magazine from them. Like James and Bob all these years ago, they are working their way out of poverty and hoping for a brighter future. Purchasing a magazine helps them take another step on that journey.
If you do not have a vendor in your area – or if you live outside of the UK – then you can still support our vendors by ordering online from The Big Issue Shop or via our app, available from the App Store or Google Play.
Buy a Big Issue Winter Support Kit for £34.99, you’ll receive four copies of the magazine and vendors could receive immediate tools for survival plus access to vital training and employment pathways to escape poverty for good.