Review: James Bowen “A Street cat named Bob”

We know that late twenty first century capitalism is unequal and does not work for everyone. Too many of us fall through the cracks into rough sleeping and drug use. The homeless crisis came to my front door in Dublin when I noticed that a man had begun sleeping on a park bench less than twenty feet from the apartment where I live. Ireland has been in the dark grip of a homeless crisis the like of which I naively believed our society had evolved past. People in Dublin felt so powerless that several activists joined forces to take over a disused building, Apollo house, to enable forty homeless people to take respite from the cold over the winter. Bowen’s tale takes us right into the daily life of a man who became destitute in London. It is a harsh and harrowing tale at times, but also essential for people to understand what it is to slip through the cracks and haul yourself back up. Kudos to Bowen for turning his life around.

He does so with the help of a little feline friend whom he encounters meowing outside his basic abode. Bob and Bowen’s lives become intertwined and they help each other to get through some dangerous times. Bowen always had a soft spot for cats but became a certified ailurophile!

Society did not look at Bowen as a person when he was on the streets. People avoided eye contact and breezed straight past him while he busked around London. It is harrowing to hear how dehumanised and worthless he felt. When he began busking with his new sidekick, the public suddenly start to look at him as a person again. This highlights a strange sense of how society has been conditioned in modern times to empathise with animals more than human beings in some instances. Think of Tony Soprano crying over the ducks at the end of the first episode of the series. He has this paradoxical empathy with animals yet, concurrently, had his minions meting out brutal violence to people.

Have we learnt to just walk past homeless people and ignore it? I tried to help the homeless man outside where I live by feeding him and calling the public services that would get him into a hostel, which he refused on multiple times. I failed to get him indoors. Despite this, I still believe we could all empathise more. Miniscule gestures of benevolence can make the difference. Do we want to end up with a world where we just ignore fellow human beings who needs help?

Bowen was on a methadone programme to get clean. There is no doubt that as people saw him as a part of society again, it helped him to turn his life around: “No one had engaged me in conversation on the streets around my flat in all the months I’d lived here. It was odd, but also amazing. If was as if my Harry Potter invisibility cloak had slipped off my shoulders”. Perhaps, we could all learn a little from his experience and treat the worst off among us equals? Say hello, give them food. Help in any way you can. We never know, it may just turn somebodies life around.


About Mick Gilbride

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