A Tramp Called Steve

‘Getting a few quid out of the rich gits every day’: we take to the streets to burst the bubble.

Cambridge Cindies Clive Fez Homelessness Market Square Marks and Spencer's Sainsbury's Soul Tree Steve The Big Issue Tramp

After three months away from the beloved bubble, I arrived back in Cambridge, eager – no, desperate – to visit the one sight (and sound) that reminds me most vividly of my first year.

King’s College chapel? No. Cindies? Almost. Sainsbury’s Clive? But of course.  Having ‘Big Issue?’ barked in my face in the early hours should have scared me off, but in fact the familiar sight of the lumberjack-shirted-heavily-bearded-door-blocking Clive reminded me that even in Cambridge, there is still a real world – you just have to try really, really hard to find it.

Over my first three terms, Clive and myself built up a friendly rapport (at least in my head).  He started to recognise me (I think) , and came to the realisation that I was never going to buy the magazine three days in a row, no matter how much he strained his throat.  And it is not only me who has fond, fond memories of this Sainsbury’s-door-dwelling man; students from all over the university have slowly become familiar with him and grown to see him as a slightly-dishevelled-almost-always-tipsy-extremely-angst-ridden-brother.

So, imagine my surprise and heartbreak as, on my first day back at Cambridge (and on my first expedition for the Tab), Sainsbury’s Clive, everyone’s favourite tramp, was nowhere to be seen.  I searched long and hard, up and down Sidney Street, even venturing into the shop itself to see if he was lurking around the deli counter. 

Alas, he was not there.

Oddly, there was no one else in his place, which makes me think that he may have been off enjoying a light lunch, or perhaps squeezing in a spot of punting.  This could have been the end of my stunning debut for the Tab, so – ever the intrepid reporter – I set off to find a replacement.

And that’s when I met Steve: newcomer to Cambridge and now my – and soon to be yours – second favourite tramp. Or perhaps least favourite tramp.  Our eyes met (well, mine sought his out) across the entrance to Marks and Spencer’s on Market Square, and after a few mumbled introductions, and the establishment that he would not be paid for his time, the interview could begin.

Steve likes Cambridge, as he put it, he normally ‘gets a few quid out of the rich gits every day’.  Most of his business though, comes from tourists; hence his frequent excursions from the square to the Kings’ Parade, ‘where all the money is’.  Asked about the increasingly long and dark nights, Steve, who has in his time haunted the ever-so-slightly-different streets of North London, goes as far as to criticise Cambridge students for their lack of after hours disruption.

‘Boring sods’, describes Steve, ‘I have more fun than you lot, and I sleep on cobbles’.  Perhaps he has a point; whilst in most cities, or even Cambridge on the weekend , the night is alive at least until the wee hours of 4 or 5 in the morning, Steve claims he gets at least 7 hours a night thanks to the nature of the students on the streets he calls home. If im honest, I was slightly offended by this estimation of myself and fellow classmates; yes I’m sat at my desk some evenings, but I can often be spotted (and can spot tramps) on my weekly circuit of Cindies, Soul Tree and Fez.

From this point onwards, the conversation struggles.  Yes, Steve is waiting for a council flat, but he can offer no more information than that; no, he doesn’t want a job, he’d rather have a wife and a sports car.

Steve may be a Cambridge tramp, but he is no Sainsbury’s Clive.  Although a fellow Big Issue vendor – ‘there’s just too f***ing many,’ he complains – I do not predict a long lived popularity or infamy for him.  In fact, I should think that he will soon move on to more exciting streets, that is, as soon as he realises that every self respecting Cambridge student will only buy their copy from Clive.