Opinion

James Bowen and Street Cat Bob: Why do we wait until Christmas to show love?

Want a purrfect end to the year? All you need is love… James Bowen and Street Cat Bob deliver their Christmas message

James Bowen and Street Cat Bob

James Bowen and Street Cat Bob

It was another famous Londoner named Bob, the great comedian, Bob Hope, who best summed up an uncomfortable truth about this time of the year.

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others,” he said, before asking. “Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”

Hope, originally from Eltham before conquering Hollywood, didn’t need humour to expose the irony at the heart of the so-called season of goodwill.

Wherever Street Cat Bob and I have gone, we’ve been greeted with love

Why do we wait until Christmas to show what should be the most natural of human qualities: love? If we only share it with others for a week or so each December, what are we doing for the other 360-odd days of the year? Couldn’t we spread our love at other times?

It’s a question that we should all consider as – inevitably – we turn our minds to Christmas and the New Year ahead, but also take stock on the year just gone. I’ve certainly been thinking about it as I look back on 2017.

It’s been a memorable 12 months for Bob and me. We’ve felt blessed beyond words, continuing to travel the world promoting A Street Cat Named Bob, the book and film based on our life together.  Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve been greeted with warmth and – well, there’s no other word for it – love. We’ve tried to give some of that love back.

The simple power of that act never ceases to touch and amaze me. Bob, in particular, seems to be able to lift and inspire people wherever we go.

In the spring we travelled to Oslo, in Norway, where – amongst many other people – Bob met a lady called Anne Torill. She was blind but had seen, in reading a Braille version of our story of redemption, something that gave her hope too. It shone some light in her darkness, she told us. To see the joy meeting Bob brought this lovely lady was touching beyond words. I was close to tears.

Street Cat Bob and James Bowen at The Big Issue Japan
Street Cat Bob gives Big Issue vendor Shinzo a high five

I had a similar experience visiting Japan [above] to help launch the movie of the book. We met a group of Big Issue sellers in Tokyo. I was fascinated to discover that there were very different reasons why these men were on the streets, specifically to do with the economic crash of 2008 and its impact on the service industries there.

But during my time with these vendors I was struck more by the similarities than the differences. Two had even had cats as companions on the streets. They too were lifted by the chance to meet Bob. Their beaming smiles lit up the trip.

Nearer to home we’ve visited charities, prisons, done talks to help assorted organisations working to alleviate social issues. Literacy, for instance, is a cause that’s particularly close to our hearts and we’ve offered support to campaigns, including The Big Issue’s own #whybooksmatter.

Of course, there is homelessness, a cause that, for personal reasons, is very close to our hearts. With the number of rough sleepers across the UK rising alarmingly this year we’ve put a lot of our energy into supporting charities that are tackling this problem in different ways.

Our association with The Big Issue remains a special one and this year we attended a reception at the House of Lords with founder Lord Bird [below], and also a charity art evening with John Lydon.

Former vendors Sam and George with James Bowen, Lord Bird and current vendor Johnny

We’ve also been involved with The Barons Court Project in west London, a charity that offers a friendly drop-in where people who are vulnerable through mental health issues or homelessness can find a safe, supportive and welcoming space. We’re beginning to support Beam, an enterprising new venture using crowdfunding to help homeless people get the resources they need to go back into work.

So many charities across the UK show huge imagination and innovation to tackle these issues. In the autumn Bob and I travelled to Truro, in Cornwall, to a screening and Q&A with the film critic Mark Kermode in aid of Emmaus, a charity which helps formerly homeless people get back on their feet by giving them a home and meaningful work in a social enterprise.

Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve learned that love, affection, interest, whatever you call it, can make or break a person’s day, lift even the lowest of spirits. And we’ve seen that, in return, you get something priceless. This year we’ve received thousands of smiles, tears, handshakes and – in Bob’s case – ruffles on the back of the neck from grateful people around the world.

Which brings us back to Bob Hope. Why don’t we love others more often?

So in 2018 why don’t we all just spread the Christmas spirit a little wider by helping people who are less fortunate or more vulnerable? Even if it’s for an extra day or two. You’ll be amazed at the lift it gives others – and yourself.

Bob and I certainly intend to keep doing our little bit.  In the meantime we’d both like to wish you a very peaceful Christmas and a fulfilling New Year.

With thanks to Garry Jenkins | @garryj123

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