London hadn’t quite shaken off the winter and it was still bitingly cold on the streets.
He seemed to be enjoying the affection, and began brushing himself lightly against me.
She knew I had a weakness for cat.
After the cold and dark of the corridor, the flat was five-star luxury as far as the tom was concerned.
Drury Lane used to be known as “cat streets” and were overrun with them. These strays are the flotsam and jetsam of the city, running around fighting for survival on a daily basis. A lot of them were like this ginger tom: slightly battered, broken creatures.
He was middle-aged vet. He had that kind of world-weary, seen-it-all expression you see on some people’s faces.
I now had two mouths to feed.
When the mood took him he could be an absolute maniac, charging around the flat.
My mother had itchy feet, however, and within about two years we had moved from Melbourne to Western Australia.
I probably stuck out with a British accent and my eager-to-please attitude.
But things wouldn’t exactly go to plan.
This morning, as usual, cars, lorries and motorbikes were carving their way along the road, trying to pick their way through the clogged traffic.
As we picked our way along I could tell from his slightly uptight body language and the way he kept looking up at me that he was uneasy.
We then curled up for a couple of hours, me watching television and him snuggled up in his favourite spot under the radiator. We both slept like logs that night.
It was as if my Harry Potter invisibility cloak had slipped off my shoulders.
We followed that up six months later in March 2004 with a second album called Profound Destruction Unit, which featured three songs, “Sorry”, “Profound”, and another version of “Retaliator”.
Despite the fact that quite a lot of people were milling around when the gang confronted me, none of the passers-by offered to intervene. In fact, people did their best to melt into the background and shuffle off. Nobody was going to come to my aid.
It was as if it was a minor annoyance for him, like swatting a pesky fly.
When I took him downstairs to do his toilet now, he made a beeline for the area at the back of the flats where the dustbins were kept.
Old habits die hard.
To help the moulting process he rubbing himself on anything and everything he could find in the flat.
All it requires is a simple surgical procedure in which a vet injects a tiny chip into the cat’s neck, the chip contains a serial number, which is then logged against their owner’s details. That way if a stray cat is found people can scan the chip and find out where it belongs.
I must have been wearing a smile as wide as the Thames.
Saw images of myself that I really had hoped to banish from my mind forever.
They call our lives chaotic, because they don’t conform to their idea of normality, but it is normality to us.
But I also knew rules were there to be bent a little when they could be.
So at first I’d moved to the top of Neal Street, near the junction with Long Acre, still no more than a healthy stone’s throw from the tube station but far enough to be out of sight of the staff.
But that quickly gave way to paranoia.
Time had seemed to slow down, it was as if it was all happening in slow motion.
All my fears about him wanting rid of me evaporated as he purred deeply and rubbed himself against me.
I wasted no time in gathering up my stuff and calling it a night.
Bob and I clung to each other like two survivors hanging on to a life raft at sea.
Of course, it hadn’t all been a bed of roses.
As Christmas 2007 approached and our first calendar year together drew to a close, our life had settled into a real routine.
The lady was over the moon.
Bob thought the world of her.
Bob was sitting in his usual spot under the radiator, but perked up the minute he heard his name mentioned.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came one afternoon in May that year.
I’d slope off, promising never to darken their doorstep again, then slink back into position when the coast was clear.
Bob thrived on attention.
You have got to bite the bullet.
It felt like a real kick in the stomach.
I really didn’t relish that prospect.
I decided to give Covent Garden a wide berth the following day.
If I was lucky I’d get away with a small fine and a rap across the knuckles, nothing more.
But if I get caught again, I’m for the high jump.
They wouldn’t—and probably couldn’t—touch me with bargepole.
It had been a pretty good day already, but the icing on the cake came after I’d been there for about two and a half hours.
They say that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, so I decided to stay cool.
The other thing you had to factor in was that there was a huge difference in the quality.
It wasn’t a community built on caring for each other, it was a world in which everyone looked after number one.
I knew the air of bonhomie wouldn’t last.
The look she gave him spoke volumes.
It was a cold and wet autumn that year. The trees were soon being stripped of their foliage as the cold winds and heavy rains began to build.
A giant bank of steely, grey clouds were hovering over north London like some vast, alien spaceship.
The rain was already intensifying. Fat, heavy drops of water were bouncing off pavement.
It wasn’t an easy process and I kept hopping around to sidestep the bigger puddles and the giant umbrellas that flew at me every now and then.
Had he simply eaten something that disagreed with him this morning?
You can take the cat off the street, but you can’t take the street out of the cat.
For the first times in years, I felt like I could see the tiniest light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Things had been building up to this for a while.
It didn’t take a genius to work it out.
It would go in one ear and straight back out the other.
I resigned myself to having to spend the next few weeks taking my chances in other parts of London, hoping that the coordinators didn’t know I was persona non grata.
It was a real catch-22situation. I’d made sure to steer clear of the main pitches and tried to pick places that were a bit off the beaten track.
They gave me a real dressing down.
Bob had the magical ability to slow them down. People would see him and suddenly they weren’t in quite such a rush. It was as if he was providing them with a little bit of light relief, a little bit of warmth and friendliness in their otherwise frantic, impersonal
If that was the case, he’d always make a beeline for the enclosed garden area at the heart of the Green.
Their job was to collar well-heeled commuters and tourists and get them to listen to a spiel about their charity.
On minute I was so hot I felt like I was inside a furnace. The next I’d feel ice cold.
Every traffic light was on red, every road seemed to have a long tailback of traffic.
Over the next few days, the transformation in my health and life in general was huge. It was as if someone had drawn back the curtains and shed some sunlight into my life.
There would have been a time when I’d have thrown the letter straight into the dustbin. I’s have been defiant and stubborn and too proud to take a handout from my family.
She’d gone to amazing lengths to get hold of me at times.
The emotional floodgates had been waiting to burst open for a while now. for years I had used drugs to escape from my emotions, in fact to make sure I didn’t have any. Slowly but surely I’d changed that. And now my emotions were coming back.
By the time I finished selling the Big Issue at Angel around seven o’clock most evenings, dusk was already descending and the streetlights were blazing into life, as were the pavements.
I knew I really was clutching at straws now, but maybe he had headed there for refuge.
I was in bits. For the nest few minutes I was in a daze.
The next half hour or so was a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions.
The traffic was already thick on Islington High Street and the honking of horns was building into a cacophony of noise.
I was in my late twenties and yet I had no real direction or purpose in life beyond survival.
Lovely airports are all alike, but every wretched airport is wretched in its own way.