A few days ago a random walk took me along King Street. I noted the latest reinvention of The Bun Shop – now more upmarket, The Lazy Scholar, it seems – and gave it the traditional three months. Then towards The Radegund, where stood – on the other side of the road – Disco Kenny.
Kenny’s a Cambridge institution. He’s our version of the white-haired old man with union flags you used to see at every England football match. He’s the Queen’s corgis, the Shipping Forecast. Everyone knows Kenny. He works his way around the city pubs, a half here, a half there, always talking. You know when he arrives: “Alright! Alright! You’ve gotta laugh, ain’cha mate. Gotta laugh.” You know when he leaves: you can hear yourself think.
Ahead of me on King Street, a family – tourists? – passed The Radegund. Kenny called out: “When does it open? What does it say on the door?”. They looked, and answered.
As I passed the pub, he called out again – the same question. I replied, “You just asked them that.” He looked a little crestfallen, perched on the opposite kerb, his familiar wide-brimmed hat drooping.
I concocted a plausible story: he’d arrived to find the pub closed, banged repeatedly on the door and was told to clear off. He was waiting patiently, far enough away, unable to stop himself jabbering to every passer-by.
Kenny is one of those characters every city has. Cambridge has many. The jester; the man with the thing on his head; wasp-bike man; the elderly man who shuffles round town wishing people Happy New Year whatever the calendar says.
Below that, the constructed characters: the busker in the bin; the Sainsbury’s Big Issue seller with the sarcastic patter. Not eccentric, but familiar.
Below that, the faces you recognise. Cambridge is small enough for this to be a long list. You don’t know their names, but you have named them – consciously or not.
I’m one of those. I’m the scribbler on table 24, always Earl Grey with milk. I’m the guy with the backpack snarfing the wifi. I’m the local watching the tourists punt. Sometimes with friends, usually alone.
I suspect that as the years pass you ascend the levels. First each person has their own name for you but nobody realises; then the dots begin to join – “Oh, I know who you mean”; and finally you have a Wikipedia page or a Facebook group.
Still, you’ve gotta laugh, ain’cha. Gotta laugh.
5 responses to “Disco Kenny, the bin-busker and me”
I knew someone who used to work with Disco Kenny, and he said he was perfectly normal when he wanted to be.
It would be an interesting project to go and find out more about the history of these people. There was one bloke who used to sit on the bench by the river, who was once a professional footballer with a house in Spain, but he eventually died waiting for a liver transplant.
Maybe Disco Kenny is like the Shakespearean fool — the teller of truths. The world has indeed gone mad.
We called him Kenny the hot seat! He came into the salon most days and wanted to sit under the ladies hairdryers kept saying hot seat hot seat the whole time , happy days!!!
There’s a book about some of these characters: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cambridge-Characters-Julio-Cesar-Norero/dp/0956732305
I flicked through it in Waterstones once. It’s a little superficial but interesting.
> the elderly man who shuffles round town wishing people Happy New Year whatever the calendar says.
I fear he may be no longer with us. Saw him having a funny turn on Gywdir Street with paramedics in attendance, but haven’t seen him since. Was a lovely old chap.
Also what about that fella on the bike with the ghettoblaster. He’s been around for at least 20 years. Any idea on his background?
When did you last see the elderly man? I saw him just a couple of weeks ago.
The guy on the bike is sometimes known as the angry-wasp bike man. There was a feature on him in Varsity in 2007: http://archive.varsity.co.uk/665.pdf (that’s one of my photos alongside the article).