Ken Swain, 52, New Street, Birmingham

“A customer wrote into the magazine to say I was a complete gent. That’s cool”

If you ever want coffee, you should come and stand by my pitch. There’s a Costa in the Odeon and people are always coming out with a coffee and a bit of cake for me. At one stage today I had five! I drink the coolest one first and if there are any other vendors around I give them one.

At the moment I’m living on a derelict boat in Bedworth that I’m doing up. I’ve got a sleeping bag on there, and a kettle. Each day selling the magazine I have to make £10.30 – to cover my train fare and the £20 a week it costs for mooring. I’m hoping to make enough money to get a little log burner. That should make it just about warm enough to keep the condensation out and make it viable as my permanent home.

I lived on the water a long time ago. When my parents were alive they had a houseboat so I stayed on there with them when I was about 15. I was always in trouble though – always down to drink – and I was in and out of jail. It got too much for my mum to bear, telling the neighbours I was in jail again, so I left home.

Due to The Big Issue, and jail as well, I’ve been off the drink for nearly four years. When I got out of jail I thought, this is going to be hard but I haven’t touched any. It has its bad times when I’m tempted to have just one can but I know that would lead to another can.

Due to The Big Issue, and jail as well, I’ve been off the drink for nearly four years

I’d sold The Big Issue before but I came back to it at the beginning of this year. When I put out CVs I always say that I’ve sold The Big Issue and so know how to handle money. Selling has also given me people skills. I talk to my customers, I don’t just stand there and shout: “Big Issue, Big Issue.” I heard a few weeks ago that a customer wrote into the magazine to say that I was a complete gent. That’s cool.

I’d love to work on boats one day. I’m trying to learn to make my own rope fender for the front of the boat. I keep watching a guy who can do it and the idea is that maybe in future I could have a go at making and selling them. I’d love to find another spot closer to Birmingham but with mooring costs and without an engine it looks like for the foreseeable future I’m staying in Bedworth.

King of horror… I love Stephen King, at the moment I’m reading Christine again. I probably know it by heart – but stick with the books you love, that’s what I say.

I’m a Numismatist... I like to collect coins. I got my best one last week from a charity shop. It’s a 20p and it’s worth about £30 as it hasn’t got a date on it. But I don’t want to sell it unless I have to.

On my pitch… I’m outside the Odeon, New Street, Birmingham, 7.30am-1.30pm daily.

Photo: Nikki Cooper

New Street, Birmingham, United Kingdom

The Big Issue

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