There are two films that I always watch at Christmas time: “A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol” (the version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge, no other one will do!). I’m sure many of you are familiar with both of these stories. This year I am adding a new tradition of reading a book as well as watching the two films. The book is “A Gift From Bob” by James Bowen.
Previously in my book reviews on Horse Addict I reviewed James Bowen’s first book about his life with Bob: “A Streetcat Named Bob.” This book tells the story of how he and Bob came together and basically saved each other’s lives. “A Gift From Bob” is James Bowen’s recollections of Christmases in his life starting from his childhood and also from the time he was a heroin addict living on the streets of London.
This book has a cute picture of Bob on the cover that looks very Christmassy. But this is not a book for the kiddies. Bowen’s childhood was dysfunctional in the extreme. One Christmas was spent in a mental institution as his mother thought he was too difficult . His young adult life saw him fail as a musician and descend into addiction. He gets himself straight and starts busking (playing a beaten-up guitar) in London’s Covent Garden. Then Bob comes into his life and things turn around. This book focuses on the Christmas of 2010 when the weather was unusually frigid for England. He was desperately short of money and I don’t mean just not able to pay for a latte, I mean not able to put money into the meter to pay for electricity for heating and light in the subsidized apartment he lived in.
But despite the bitterly cold weather and some health problems he and Bob go out to entertain and also to sell copies of the Big Issue. This is a weekly magazine designed to help the down and out to give them “a hand up, not a hand out”. They must buy the magazine for £1.00 and sell it for £2.50. If they do not sell all the magazines they are out the money. Each seller must have a badge and be approved by the Big Issue and have a particular place to stand and sell the magazines.
One of James regular customers sees him and gives him a present for Christmas. It is a Santa Paws outfit for Bob. When James puts it on he thinks that at least it will help to keep Bob warmer. It not only does that but lots of people notice and buy the magazines or drop a bit more cash if James is playing the guitar. Christmas begins to look up.
Then in a “Christmas Carol” sort of ‘ghost’ appearance, he runs into a drug dealer he knew back in the days of his addiction. He gets away from him but it brings back memories. He sees another ‘ghost’ when he turns a corner and sees a young man asleep on the pavement in a place where, exactly on Christmas Eve, he himself had lain when he was a homeless addict. He gives the young man some money and encourages him to get to a shelter. He then recalls what his Christmas had been like the year when he went to a shelter.
Once he has made enough money to pay for heat and electricity he buys Christmas cards to give out to those who buy the magazines from him or listen to him play and sing. He enjoys giving out the cards and seeing people smile. He says to Bob:” Let’s see how many more smiles we can put on people’s faces today.”
This story is not about Sugar Plum Fairies and Santa’s Reindeer. It is not a story for the younger kiddies. But it is a great story because like the central characters of George Bailey, in “A Wonderful Life” and Ebenezer Scrooge in a “Christmas Carol” James Bowen is given a second chance. A chance to see his life as it was and to see how good it can be now. He has a happy Christmas. Here are his words on the ‘Gift’ from Bob.
“The fact that I could now appreciate and enjoy a Christmas like this was just one of the blessings Bob had bestowed on me. It was part of the even greater gift he had given me, probably the most wonderful one I’d ever received. Bob had given me a new life, a new life that was full of happiness and hope. “
I will read this little book with enthusiasm each Christmas. It is such a good reminder of how fortunate I have been and that I too have had second chances. My wish for you, dear readers, is that if you need a second chance it will come your way. And when it does you will make the very best you can of it.