A few weeks ago, just as the nights closed in and the unmistakable scent of winter began to fill the air, my cat Bob and I found ourselves holed up in a small, dingy flat in West London. The sparsely furnished apartment was chilly and shrouded in darkness, mainly because the electricity hadn’t been paid. The only way to heat up food or some water for a cup of tea was to place a pan over a few small candles in the kitchen. Not that there was much to eat: the cupboards were bare.
It immediately reminded me of a dark and difficult period in my life when I’d come off the streets and was living in a flat just like this, recovering from addiction and dreading the electric running out. It felt like I’d stepped back in time 10 years, which in a way I had.
The flat had been built on a sound stage at Twickenham Film Studios. Along with Bob, I was there to take part in filming of A Gift From Bob, a new movie adapted from my book of the same name. Published in 2014, it told the story of the last Christmas Bob and I spent on the streets of London in 2010, relying on busking and sales of The Big Issue to keep us going. More importantly, it explored what that tough, cold winter on the streets taught me about the meaning of Christmas. How I learned, for instance, that even when you feel you’ve got nothing – as I did at the time – you’ve always got something to give. And that there’s always someone worse off than you and that you should be grateful for all the friendships and relationships you have in life.
Fittingly, another of the lessons I learned during that bitterly cold winter was to always expect the unexpected. Finding myself back on a film set with Bob certainly fell into that category. It capped a year or so filled with surprises, most of them happy ones.
Since our first book, A Street Cat Named Bob, came out in 2012 our lives have been transformed. We’ve tried to use our good fortune to work with as many charities as we can and this year has been particularly gratifying.
In October Baroness Pidding CBE invited us to the House of Lords to give a talk on homelessness. It was a real ‘pinch me’ moment to stand in the Peers Bar overlooking the Thames and then have dinner in the Peers’ Dining Room, inner sanctums that are usually only accessible to Members of the House. We’ve also supported animal charities as well as – naturally – The Big Issue who, in keeping with their motto, gave us a hand up rather than a handout.