Setting Out My Stall

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As an unashamedly active gay man, I have tales to tell of the places, predicaments and people I have been in.

I have been cruising and socialising in the bars, pubs, clubs, saunas and secluded midnight nooks that make up Birmingham’s compact gay village for thirty years. Here are my tales of queer encounters on the gay side of the UK’s much maligned second city.

I have experienced the tender, the terrible and the charmingly touching… but most importantly humour and humanity.

Shining a light on the scene unseen.


Urinal Encounters: Revised and Reloaded

Originally published last year as four separate blogs, this reedited version is presented here as one ‘Eastenders’ omnibus.

I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals.

No, not like that!

Well… Yes, like that, but not always.


Once, I was stod at a pub toilet, getting on with the job in hand, when an olive-skinned guy with a heavy dark beard came and stood next to me.

Even in gay venues the etiquette is that men don’t tend to talk while taking a pee. The same rule of awkward silence that applies to lifts and the waiting room of an STD clinic applies. The urinals are not the place for idle chitchat. Yet, on this occasion, I became aware that the bearded guy kept casting glances in my direction. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the lavatories of a gay bar, in fact it’s pretty much standard practice. The unwritten rulebook of gay toilets deems talk forbidden, but peeking and downright lechery perfectly acceptable.

Unexpectedly, my urinal companion dared to disregard the convention of not talking and, in a strong Middle Eastern accent, commented, “I like your colour.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your colour, I like.”

I thanked him, assuming he was referring to my hair, as I am ginger with flecks of grey, which I like to think of as ‘Salt and Paprika’.

“Yes,” he continued. “Very pink!”

He now had my full attention, “Pink?!”

“Your face is very pink. I like very much.”

Being fair haired and light skinned, I do develop flushed cheeks after a few beers. It was undoubtedly the oddest compliment I have received, but so sincerely meant that I was happy to take it.

They say that opposites attract, so it makes sense that someone with his swarthy looks would be intrigued by my pink blush.

A Sicilian friend once told me about spending a holiday on the nude beaches of Italy, surrounded by his naked countrymen.

“It sounds like heaven,” I swooned.

“No, it was boring,” he replied. “They all looked like me!”

For me it would be a beach full of exotic looking men, for him it was like looking into an infinity mirror.


One another occasion, my partner and I were visiting Brighton and were having a meal in The Lion & Lobster, a large corner pub situated on the opposite side of town from the city’s famous gay scene. Inevitably, after a few pints, I needed to use the bathroom.

There were only two porcelain urinals in the Gents, tucked into a compact alcove.

I was immediately struck by the management’s curious choice of décor. Each of the three walls that made up the nook were covered in an assortment of mirrors, of all shapes, sizes and styles. They filled the walls from just below waist height to ceiling. It looked like the designer had raided every Poundshop and thrift store in Brighton and Hove for mirrors.

As I stood there, admiring the eclectic collection, another customer entered the gents and squeezed in at my side, awkwardly brushing against me in the tight space.

He glanced around at the walls and immediately commented, “What’s with all the mirrors?!”

“I was just wondering the same,” I said. “I’ve never seen myself pee from so many different angles before,” then added with a wink, “or other people for that matter.”

The guy smirked uncomfortably and starred resolutely ahead.

I must have been feeling particularly emboldened by those two pints, as this wasn’t a gay venue, yet I still flattered him with, “By the way, Not bad!”

The guy gave an uncomfortable laugh, “I’m laughing mate, but you know it’s with fear, right?”

“That’s alright,” I responded. “I’m blushing… and I can see it in every mirror.”

We exchanged pleasantries as we washed our hands then both left the toilets, chuckling as we returned to our respective partners. I bet his girlfriend didn’t let him out of her sight again.

I never did confess that the angle of the mirrors meant that I couldn’t really see anything. I didn’t want to disappoint him.


On another night out at The Golden Cross in Cardiff, I barrelled into the pub toilets and stepped into the only available space at the long communal urinal.

A friend’s boyfriend was stood on my immediate right, so I greeted him with a friendly, “Hello… no peeking!” I glanced to my left and noticed that the lad stood there was very cute, so leaned over and cheekily told him, “You can peek if you want… I’ve just peeked at you.”

The lad let out an exasperated, but good-humoured sigh, and said, “Now I’m not going to be able to go!”

We men are a delicate bunch and can be so easily put off our stride.

“Come on,” I teased, “you can do it.”

“Nothing’s going to happen with you stood there.”

“There’s a que forming.”

“Now I’m under pressure!”

“Let’s see who manages to pee first,” I suggested.

He rolled his eyes, “Great, now it’s a competition!” I started to urinate, my amber stream rattling noisily off the metal trough. “A competition that I’ve just lost.”

He still hadn’t managed to go even as I zipped up and left.

A short while later, I spotted the lad emerge from the Gent’s toilet and we gave each other mischievous grins. I weaved my way across the busy pub to introduce myself properly, shook the lad’s (hopefully washed) hand and told him my name.

He responded, “I suck,”

Taken aback by his unexpected candour, I countered, “Well, that’s good to know, but more information than I was expecting.”

He looked puzzled and replied, “It’s only my name.”

“Your name is ‘I Suck’?!!!’

He was Welsh, but this was one regional name that I was not familiar with.

“NOOOOO!!!” He cried, “Not ‘I Suck’! My name is Issac.”

That made far more sense, although I must confess to feeling a tad disappointed.


The most farcical predicament I have found myself in, happened back home in Birmingham.

We all know that nightclub toilets aren’t always used for the purpose for which they are provided. It doesn’t matter whether the club is gay or straight, there will be people taking advantage of the facilities for a quick sexual encounter.

The guy stood next to me at the urinal of this particular club, made it quite apparent that he was up for fun. He didn’t have to say anything… it was out there and obvious.

I nodded my head towards an empty cubical and raised a suggestive eyebrow.

“I am shy,” the guy muttered.

I glanced back down at his aroused crotch and said, “Not that shy, clearly!”

He considered for a moment then nodded his consent and we both stepped into the waiting cubicle.

Afterwards, as we readjusted our clothes, the guy motioned for me to remain quiet and listened at the thin door. He looked concerned and whispered, “There is someone out there.”

“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “I’ll stand behind the door when you open it then you leave and I’ll slip out once the coast is clear.”

He nodded and we executed our simple plan.

The door opened inwards and was on the side of cubical, rather than facing the toilet, so it was easy to flatten myself against the wall and remain concealed.

Unfortunately, as my brief acquaintance made his escape, another guy immediately walked into the cubical to take his place! This new fella closed the door and bolted it without turning around or giving my feeble hiding place a glance. He didn’t notice that I was there and started to relieve himself. This stranger was completely oblivious to the fact that I was stood, flattened against the wall, merely feet behind him in what should have been his private space!

Well, this is a bit awkward, I thought. I’ve got to reveal my presence, but without scaring this poor man to death.

In the least threatening tone I could muster, I gently said, “Don’t be afraid, but I’m behind you.”

He reacted with amazing composure. I get startled if someone so much as speaks to me unexpectedly while focused on something as mundane as doing the washing-up, let alone being surprised by someone when I think I am alone in a confined space.

After that encounter, I’ll be staying out of toilet cubicles, try to avoid further sitcom scenario and stop talking to strange men at the urinals…. Oh, hang on, maybe I’m the strange man?!

Tales of Christmas Past

I hope you managed to glean some joy from this particularly bleak midwinter.

My partner and I are not ones for traditional festive family gatherings, even though (or more frankly because) my mother starts the emotional blackmail, cajoling us to participate, around mid-September. We choose instead to escape the holiday season for foreign locations, such as Budapest, Istanbul and the south of France, or party in our favourite British getaway spot of Brighton, the ‘Gay capital of the UK’.

We have now spent enough Christmases in Brighton to have developed our own yuletide traditions. We always indulge in a gluttonous seasonal lunch at The Camelford Arms (on Christmas Eve) and the next day enjoy a Christmas morning promenade along the beach with an ice-cream, culminating in our first drink of the day on the terrace at Legends, overlooking the pier.

Our choice of dinner on the big day itself is far more ad hoc, depending on what is open on the 25th of December. We have had curry, Turkish grill, fried chicken and chips and, once, frog’s legs from a Chinese restaurant. Well, I’ve always liked a leg at Christmas, so I figured. Why not have a dozen?

Another tradition we enjoy is the annual Christmas extDRAGaganza at the Bedford Tavern. One year, we were fortunate enough to secure the sofa situated in the bay window directly next to the small performance area. We made ourselves comfortable with our elderly dog curled up between us. She ignored the bustle of the busy bar and dozed contentedly… until the tall, bearded, drag performer bound onto stage with a fanfare, in full, bright green, Grinch makeup and a baby-doll Santa outfit. The dog sat bolt upright and stared fixatedly at this spectacle, cocking her head inquisitively every time he gestured or shimmied. Before I could stop her, she slinked off the sofa and trotted over to the stage to inspect this character closer. She gave him a few curious sniffs then sprawled out, full length, at his high heeled feet. I made a move to retrieve her, but the performer indicated that it was all fine and so there she stayed, faintly snoring, until the interval, when she sculked off to a quiet spot for the remainder of the night. When we eventually retrieved the dog, she was slumped under a table covered in party-popper ribbons. Oh well, we’ve all ended a night like that.

The dog was a big hit that evening, which is more than can be said for the following afternoon when she disgraced herself by pissing on a carpet of fake turf at the centre of a display of artisan soaps in full sight of a nonplussed shop assistant.

I had been distracted at the time by a tasteless pink Range Rover idling at a pedestrian crossing.

Who would drive something like that? I thought, moments before registering Katie Price sat behind the wheel, with a severe Botox Barbie scowl that looked like it had been drawn on with a Sharpie.

It was the same vehicle that this faded glamour model would go on to throw-up in and lose to repossession after being arrested for drink driving. She’s one classy dame.


We have always found the Brighton gay scene extremely friendly, although this is probably because of the time of year that we visit, when everyone is full of the Christmas spirit… and tanked up to the eyeballs!

As far as gay venues go, I particularly like the compact Marine Tavern, with its dusky wooden panelling, a pub so narrow that you have to breath in every time you traverse the length of the bar; I also like the high camp of Bar Broadway, with live cabaret and a medley of movie musical numbers on constant loop of the televisions doted around the walls; but it was Affinity  Bar that really went all out for Christmas (although I think it went by a different name back then). They used to close for several days at the start of December just so they could decorate… to gaudy excess. Every inch of the venue was decked with tinsel, baubles, streamers, ornaments, glitterballs and shiny knickknacks. This bedazzling grotto was like staring directly into the heart of a mushroom cloud… or how I like to imagine Liberace’s downstairs lavatory.

We were in this glittering venue one night, when the Theatre Royal emptied out and audience members from that evening’s performance of The Rocky Horror Shop descended on the place.

One dashing lad, dressed in nothing but a snug pair of gold lame trucks, showed off his moves and physique on the small dancefloor, but lost balance and tottered toward the lavishly adorned fir tree. My partner swiftly reached out and caught him in his arms just as he was about to tumble, near naked, into the tree’s pine needle covered branches. This act of heroism made quite an impression on the young Rocky impersonator, who took to my partner like a newly hatched gosling imprinting on the first thing it sees. I insisted that the pair had their photo taken together at the end of the night. I have never seen my partner look happier.

Later, I was approached by a straight couple and the girlfriend asked me if I would look after her boyfriend while she went to the toilet, as it was his first time in a gay bar, and he was nervous about being left alone. I looked trustworthy apparently.

While she was gone, a drunk woman barrelled over and enthused about what a lovely couple abandoned boyfriend and I made and how she could see that we were devoted to each other, much to his discomfort.

“That’s lovely of you to say,” I thanked her, reaching for his hand. “He’s the bottom.”


One year, I decided to pose for a special Xmas photo to the nation on Brighton’s famous nudist beach.

I had never been before, but a friend had told me a story about how they had been flashed by some guy there once, much to the amusement of the local police when they phoned to report the incident.

“They didn’t take it seriously at all,” I was told with indignation. “The officer I spoke to just told me to “Hold for a moment” and the line went silent. When the sound resumed, I could hear gales of laughter.”

The desk sergeant had clearly put them on mute to call out across the station that someone was reporting a flasher on the nudist beach.

At the photoshoot, I quickly whipped off my clothes and dropped them on the shingle, posed facing out to sea, to catch a relatively modest photo that was suitable for social media, then redressed.

“Hurry up, there are people coming,” my partner warned, and I glanced up to see two girls, both wearing hijabs, approaching. “They are going to see!”

“That’s very kind of you,” I replied, “but really they’re not… especially in this weather!”


Christmastide this year was a low-key affair with just the two off us at home. We cooked turkey with all the trimmings (no frog’s legs this time), but as we didn’t get the bird in the oven until after 5.30 in the evening, we were in danger of having our Christmas dinner for Boxing Day breakfast. We eventually opted for late night turkey baps… and devoured the full meal at 10.30pm on the 26th. Maybe this could become our new tradition?

Garden-Variety Landlady

Anyone familiar with the books of Armistead Maupin will have clocked a respectful nod to his glorious tales in the name of this blog site. I chose the title Tales of the Second City, because I thought it suggested both Birmingham and LGBTQ content, without explicitly stating either… and paid homage to a series of novels I fell in love with over twenty five years ago.

I was introduced to Maupin’s Tales of the City at university. His heart-felt chronicles of the intersecting lives of a group of fictitious San Francisco residents have been dear to me ever since. I have read all nine books several times, watched the television series repeatedly, listened to the Radio 4 adaptations, tapped my toes to the musical, pre-ordered the French graphic novel (I may have to learn French) and, on my 40th birthday, met a real-life version of one of the novels most cherished characters.


I spent my birthday weekend in Hay-on-Wye (a picturesque market town, just over the border into Wales). Hay is a Mecca for bibliophiles, being home to dozens of bookshops, earning it the nickname ‘the town of books’.

My partner and I set out after work, so it was dark by the time we drove into Breconshire.

“With competition from Amazon and the like, I am amazed that the bookshops in Hay have managed to survive,” I commented as we arrived in town, but as we wove our way through the streets, passing the semi-ruined castle at its centre, it became sadly apparent that online booksellers had clearly had an adverse effect on business. About a third of the bookstores had closed or converted into general antique shops, although the place still boasted many more bookshops than your average rural market town. Shop numbers were depleted, but Hay-on-Wye wasn’t in danger of losing its nickname anytime soon… or its annual international book festival.


Being familiar with Hay, having visited many times before, we easily found our Bed and Breakfast and parked under the dim glow of an ornate iron streetlamp.

We grabbed our bags from the boot of the car and presented ourselves on the monolithic step of the imposing stone fronted guesthouse that was to be our home for the next few days.

I rang the bell and within moments the door was opened with a flourish by an elegant woman adorned in a billowing kaftan.

“Hellooooo,” she greeted us warmly. “Mr (Insert surname here), welcome to my home.” Peering into the darkness to locate my partner, she continued, “This must be Mrs G…” she instantly cut herself off and, without missing a beat, covered her assumption with, “Welcome, welcome, do come in.”

I liked her immediately.

“This is the kitchen,” she said, indicating a door to the left and the rustic room beyond, complete with aga cooker, stone floor and sturdy scrub top table. “We don’t have a dining room,” she told us, “we all eat together in here. I bake fresh bread every morning and there will be a selection of homemade jams and marmalade. While you are staying with me, you are one of my family.”

Our landlady turned to ascend the imposing staircase, kaftan swirling dramatically behind her.

I turned to my partner and mouthed gleefully, “Oh my God, it’s Mrs Madrigal!”

Anna Madrigal is the flamboyant bohemian and ‘mother of us all’ who provides the beating heart of Maupin’s Tales of the City novels. A woman who gathers her logical family around her in the haven that is 28 Barbary Lane. The owner of this Hay guesthouse so reminded me of Mrs. Madrigal that I half expected to find a freshly rolled joint taped to our bedroom door, in the manner that Anna traditionally welcomes new tenants.

As we rose through the house to our room in the eaves, I noticed dozens of painted canvases tucked into every available nook and cranny. They were balanced atop antique wardrobes, slotted behind dressers, stacked beneath tables or just casually propped against walls.

“These are my daughter’s work,” she told us. “Her artwork is currently on sale in a Birmingham gallery.”

After being shown our room and handed the keys, we were left to settle in.

I dropped my bag on the bed, inspected the bathroom then stepped back onto the landing, with its rakishly uneven wooden floors, just in time to hear our landlady’s voice resound up the stairs from the kitchen, “I thought it was his wife, I nearly called him Mrs.————,” followed by a gale of well-meaning laughter.

I laughed too.


We spent a pleasant weekend driving around country lanes, walking along the riverbank, frequenting the town’s many pubs… and one cider house (owned at the time by a distant and dishevelled in-law) and, of course, perusing those numerous bookshops. We had a lovely time… well, until my partner got a dash of food poisoning from a pub meal, but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits, too much.


On the morning of our departure, our landlady invited us to join her in the parlour, a room that fused a cream tease of off-white elegance with brazen bordello.

“I like to learn a little about my guests,” she explained, as she served us tea and biscuits. “I don’t automatically let anyone stay here. If I don’t like the sound of someone on the phone, I tell them we are fully booked and give them the number of another B&B in town.”

“Then we are honoured,” I said.

“I had two girls stay with me last year that I really didn’t take to, so turfed them out after one night and sent them somewhere else.”

I admired her integrity, if not necessarily her business acumen.

She then went on to tell us about an elderly naturist friend of hers who lived a few miles from town.

“You should employ him as a bellhop,” I suggested. “That would ween the men from the boys when he opens the door in the buff, especially when he bends to pick up their cases.”

Out of the blue, she asked, “So, how did the two of you meet?”

“That depends,” I said, putting down my tea and stealing a glance at my partner. “Do you want the real story… or the version we tell our mothers?”

She smiles a smile that conveyed Anna Madrigal’s attitude of, ‘Dear… I have no objections to anything’, and said, “Let’s start with the version you tell your mothers and take it from there.”

I told her the pre-watershed version about how I was sat in a park on my lunchbreak and we struck up a conversation about how we were both reading the same book of short stories.

“Lovely,” she commented. “Now, what’s the real story?”

“Well, I was in the park on my lunchbreak, that much is true, but I was cruising up by the allotments. I wasn’t initially attracted to him, as he had an ungroomed beard, needed a haircut and reminded me of Noel Edmonds, but we still ended up in a bush… with a black man. We have now been together for over ten years. The other fella didn’t keep in touch.”

“I’m pleased for your mother that you have an alternative version to share.”

“The incident with the book did really happen, although it was the second time we met. He planned his walk through the park for the same day and time as the previous encounter in the hope I had a routine. It turns out I did. I was more keen the second time as he had shaved and had a haircut, also the American accent was turn on (we didn’t chat one the first encounter), so I invited him to meet me for a drink at the bar where I worked when I finished my shift that evening.”

As we were chatting in the bar that night, my then boss came over with a note for me. She smiled at my date and introduced herself them promptly departed. After she had gone, I opened the note, which read, ‘I JUST WANTED TO CHECK HIM OUT.’

We thanked our hostess for the tea and made to leave, “We have got to be off, I’m afraid… and speaking of my mum, we have to get back to Birmingham in time to visit her as it is Mother’s Day.”

As we headed back to our room, I had an idea.

“Would you mind finishing off the packing while I pop out for ten minutes?” I asked my partner.

“Why, where are you going?”

“I noticed yesterday that the massive book warehouse, with the pyramid of books out front, had a set of the first six Tales of the City books for ten pounds. As our landlady had been so welcoming, I thought it would be nice to buy them for her as gift. They would be so appropriate.”

I headed off to purchase the books but returned empty-handed.

“Had they sold them?”

“No. There is this odd law in Wales that shops can’t make a transaction until ten am on a Sunday. Bizarrely, you can go in and browse, but you can’t actually buy anything. I’ve put them behind the counter to pay for at ten.”

We checked out and went for breakfast to kill time until I could buy the books, which I hastily wrapped in the car and returned to the B&B.

“Did you forget something?” The landlady asked when we presented ourselves back on her doorstep.

“Yes,” I replied. “I forgot to give you your Mother’s Day present.”

She was touched by the gesture and swept us through the house to meet her friend, who was sat in the conservatory.

“Look what these lovely people have given me,” she enthused.

She was unfamiliar with Tales of the City, so I explained the significance, “The pivotal character runs a house of apartments and considers the tenants her family. She completely reminds us of you.” Suddenly, a thought occurred to me, “Oh… there maybe one aspect of the character, which is revealed as the series goes on, that isn’t like you, at least I presume not, but I won’t spoil it for you.”

Her friend snorted.

“Ah, you’ve read the books?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied with a smirk.

“So, you know Mrs Madrigal’s secret.” I put my finger to my lips, and we gave each other a conspiratorial nod.


Several weeks later, my partner and I were walking through The Mailbox, an upmarket shopping complex that boasts high end retail outlets, but always seems bereft of actual customers.

As we passed though, on our way to the canal side bars and restaurants of Gas Street Basin, I noticed a distinctive painting in the window of a sophisticated art gallery and pointed it out, “That’s the same style as the canvases at that B&B’ in Hay. She told us her daughter’s work was being exhibited in Birmingham.”

We went inside for a closer look and were immediately approached by an attentive sales assistant.

“We’ve just come in to look at this artist’s work,” I explained. “We recently stayed at her mother’s bed and breakfast.”

“I met the mother when she came to the opening reception. She was quite a character,” the assistant recalled. “She belongs in a book.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Funnily enough, I thought the exact same thing.”

Coming Attractions

I had sex in a cinema once (I know, shocking! Clutch those pearls), but this wasn’t some fumble on the back row of the picture house… We moved in for the night.

Back in the early 90’s, I met some guy in a bar. We flirted, enjoying that heady mix of nervous anticipation and lust, until one of us broke the stalemate and mustered the courage to go in for a kiss. He then asked me back to his flat in Dorothy Towers.

The morning after the night before, I executed my tried and tested method for finding out a trick’s name when you don’t remember. I slipped out of bed, on the pretext of going to the bathroom then popped into the kitchen to check his mail, which is usually stacked on the counter or breakfast table. It is a risky gambit, as you don’t want to be caught in the act and look like you are prying, stalking… or stealing their bank details.

Having acquired the information I needed, I could now hop back into bed and confidently address my new acquaintance by name, although I always dreaded someone responding, “But, … I never told you my name.” Or even worse, “That’s my flat mate’s name.”


He had just finished a shift at The Electric Cinema, where he was an usher, checking tickets and flogging choc-ices. He told me, “I am just having one drink before last orders then heading back.”

“Do they have a midnight showing?”

“No, but the manager likes to close up then watch a movie in peace,” he explained. “He’s going to put on Midnight Express. Would you like to join me?”

Midnight Express was a brilliant film. I loved it. To this day, I get an urge to recreate the scene where Brad Davis’ girlfriend helps him relieve his pent-up prison tension by squashing her nipples against the glass partition in the visiting booth, whenever I encounter admin staff behind a reception screen.

The Electric was Birmingham’s first cinema, opening in Station Street in December 1909 and is now the oldest working cinema in the UK, predating its namesake in Notting Hill, London, by around two months.

At the time of our private screening, it was managed by a dishevelled film enthusiast, who slept in the projection booth, possibly because he had nowhere else to go.

By the time Midnight Express finished, it was early morning, so my friend and I decided to take inspiration from the manager and spend the night in the cinema. We gathered cushions from the ratty sofa in the foyer and fashioned ourselves a bed at the back of the auditorium, where we spent a restless night.

I was due at work the following morning and couldn’t be late for my shift but didn’t wear a watch (or have a mobile phone in those days), so the only way I could keep track of the time, was to periodically emerge from the pitch black of the auditorium and try to estimate the hour by the hue of the sky.

It was during one of these excursions to scrutinise the dawn light, that I felt the urge to use the toilet, so groped my way up the unlit stairs to the first-floor gents.

In the disorientating gloom, I managed to open the toilet door into my own face. As I stumbled to the urinals, half asleep and nursing my bruised head, a shadow at the tall window caught my eye. I stifled a scream. Silhouetted in the orange light of the streetlamps, was a figure stood on the external window ledge. For one awful moment I though the manager had had enough of his existence of slumming it in a projection booth and was about to end it all by throwing himself onto Station Street.

I realised with relief that it wasn’t a real person after all. It was just one of several mannequins that adorned the facade of The Electric Cinema at that time… but it didn’t half give me a fright.

In retrospect, it would have been a challenge for a jumper to top themselves from merely one storey up, presuming that they could even leap far enough to avoid dropping ineffectually onto the entrance canopy.

I bet that ratty old sofa, from which we fashioned our love-nest, is long gone.

Whenever I attend a screening at The Electric Cinema, which isn’t as often as I should, I sit in their plush red seats, glance around the auditorium and remember when, for one night only, I was the coming attraction.

That Time I Took My Straight Mate to a Gay Sex Club

“I know a bar in Birmingham that you have never been to,” I said with a devilish glint in my eye.

I was out on the town with one of my oldest friends. We have always enjoyed a pub crawl around the city centre. During one of these blurry nights out, we discovered a pamphlet showing the locations of over 100 venues renowned for real ale. The fact that neither of us drank real ale wasn’t going to deter us and we enthusiastically adopted this map as our guide to new places and adventure.

For nearly a decade, that map has steered us to an eclectic mix of hostelries, from traditional pubs to swanky bars: We have enjoyed comedy shows; been entertained by backroom bands; mixed with city socialites and slummed it in many a delightful dive. Along the way we have discovered some real gems, such as: the jewel of the Jewellery Quarter, the Rose Villa Tavern, with its magnificent stained glass; enjoyed a vibrant night at the, now demolished, Yardbird; and savoured the old-style charms of the Queens Arms on Newhall Street.

It was on one of these pub crawls, that I made my cheeky proposition to Jamie.

We were in the Lamp Tavern, a peculiar little pub hidden in the gloom of Bartford Street. Those around us supped on guest ales, with robust names like Badgers Scrotum and Admiral’s Arsenal, as we two heathens sipped on our ‘least offensive lager you have on tap’, as I am in the habit of requesting, “please”.

“It doesn’t feature on the map,” I smirked, as the idea dawned, “but there is a place close by that we could go to… but are you man enough?”

Although no stranger to the gay scene, having been dragged into most establishments in the gaybourhood by me over the years, I had never dared to suggest this notorious men-only bar before… because Jamie is straight (Yes really, with a wife and kids and everything! Take that look off your face, I know what you are thinking, but properly straight, not bi, nor curious, closeted or ‘oh go on then’ after three pints… believe me, I’ve tried).

We met back in our twenties when we both worked at a local arts centre. I was on the box office and Jamie was a steward. I took quite a shine to him and we spent a lot of time chatting while he was enduring the drudgery of a quiet gallery shift. I even went as far as asking him out for a drink one evening. It was a while into our ‘date’ that the penny dropped, and he realised that my invitation was motivated by more than mere friendliness. Jamie began to babble about his girlfriend and made an excuse to leave.

Several months later, we were both at a house party, where he apologised for running off that night and confessed that he had invented the girlfriend in panic. From that day on we have been good mates. I was even honoured to be best man at his wedding.


As I rang the entrance buzzer at the club, I turned to Jamie and told him, “This is a private members club, so you are going to be asked to sign up. They take your photo and details, but it is just a formality, you are not going to be put on some gay fetish mailing list. ”

We sat at the bar chatting with another customer, who was in Birmingham on business for a few days and Jamie predictably bonded with the straight barman, a chilled-out lad with an understated line in sarcasm.

“People are surprised that there are straight guys working here,” the barman told us.

“It makes sense, I suppose,” I said. “You’ll spend your time pulling pints, rather than the customers.”

“I had never been in a gay bar before I started working here.”

“Talk about jumping in at the deep end,” I exclaimed.

“I know! I didn’t know where to look at my first naked event.”

This open-minded barman quickly adapted to his new work environment and even got his younger brother a job there. His sibling was only 18 when he started and was an instant hit, particularly as he was cute, in a gawky bad-boy sort of way. Customers would frequently hit on him, but he would dismiss them with an entertainingly offensive, “Fuck off yer poof!”

One time, the lad bid farewell to a departing Eurasian customer with a cheery, “Kon’nichiwa.”

After the guy left, I said, “You do realise that was Japanese for ‘Hello’?”

He gave a dismissive shrug.

“…And he is from the Philippines.”


“I like it here,” Jamie announced after we’d been there a while, “and the beer is only £2.40 a pint. I’m coming back… but only with you!”

“Well,” I said, putting down my empty glass, “you can’t come in here and spend the whole time sat at the bar.”

Jamie nervously gulped down his own drink.

“Come on, I’ll show you around. Don’t worry, there is hardly anyone in tonight, there will be nothing going on,” I reassured him, as we embarked on the grand tour.

I showed him one of the group spaces, with its adjacent cinema then we walked around to the other side of the venue and entered the curved corridor, lined with cubicles, that leads to the darkroom.

“Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust to the gloom surprisingly quickly,” I told him.

As we turned the bend, we reached a sex sling in a cage… where an enthusiastic top was balls deep in his acquaintance. Jamie whimpered slightly at this unexpected hardcore encounter and shot out his hand to grasp mine with a grip so tight that it made me wince.

We hastened our pace and dashed back out into the main bar.

I have always been irritated by the silly twinks who giggle and twitter like schoolkids, but once we were back in the light, we both doubled over in hysterics. Seeing it from Jamie’s perspective was an eyeopener.


Now, while Jamie certainly is not the first married man to spend an evening in a gay sex club, I suspect he is one of the few to go home and tell the wife.

The next morning, I received a tongue-in-cheek text message saying, WHERE DID YOU TAKE MY HUSBAND LAST NIGHT?!

At least, I assume it was meant ‘tongue-in-cheek’. She has allowed him to go out with me since. Although in future, I think we will be sticking to the map.

Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights

With ever tightening restrictions on hospitality, job losses and venue closures were inevitable, but I was deeply saddened to hear the announcement that Eden Bar was closing its doors for business after 13 fabulous years. I suspect, it will not be the last to fall.

Grindr has noticeably had an impact on the gay scene over the last decade, with many preferring to cruise from their sofas rather than socialise in bars, which is the equivalent of ordering in a convenient takeaway, compared to going out for a good meal. Apps remove the thrill of the chase, while takeout results in soggy calamari. Either way, both lose their bite.

Birmingham’s scene was facing further pressure from inner city development, with a glut of generic apartment builds encroaching on Southside and driving established gay businesses out. The fact that the vivacious nightlife was what made that area so attractive to buyers doesn’t seem to register with planners or the landed gentry that apparently owns the area. More money in real estate than the pink pound.

Many venues had seen customers dwindle and several had closed already. Unit 2 and The Core were early victims of those building developments, while Boltz had been served notice in preparation for demolition next year. The Jester had died a lingering death and the owners of The Wellington had sold up, leaving that charming Victorian corner pub, with the cheapest hotel rooms in town (including breakfast) and its own backroom theatre, empty and boarded up.

The first lockdown hiatus hit hard, but the scene bounded back, adapting to government restrictions and tempting people in with promotional offers and innovative socially distanced events. They even negotiated permission to close the crossroads of Hurst Street and Bromsgrove Street at weekends so The Loft and Missing could increase capacity by spilling out onto the streets for alfresco dinning and drinking. Shame Birmingham council dithered about giving the go ahead until the end of the uncommonly good summer, when the weather had started to turn.

The terrible knife attack that hit national headlines back in September and a less widely reported incident where crumpling masonry fell from the façade of Equator and Sidewalk, much to the surprise of afternoon drinkers chatting on the pavement below, did little to bolster footfall, but the area was surviving.

In October, the scene was dealt another blow, when the UK government classified Birmingham as Tier 2, introducing additional restrictions on the hospitality industry. Households were now banned from mixing and a crippling 10pm curfew was imposed. We were now regularly home well before midnight, getting an unwelcome glimpse of what straight people’s lives are like. It’ll be fidelity next.

Unlike its straight equivalent, where people think they have had a lovely night out if they have managed to catch an early bird special in their local Toby Carvery, the gay scene barely got started until 9 o’clock. Glamorous didn’t even open its doors until midnight. When you walked through the doors of a busy gay venue you were hit by a tsunami of noise and heat, laughter, passion, music and often a tirade of abuse from the resident drag queen, but Tier 2 meant that the gay scene had effectively been neutered. This latest lockdown is the ultimate kick in those, already tender, bollocks.

Eden Bar, one of the Birmingham scene’s most popular venues (Sssshhh, don’t tell the others), announced its impending closure on Thursday 22nd October, ‘Like many small businesses, 2020 has stretched Eden beyond belief,’ the owners, Garry and Cal, said in a statement. ‘A reduced capacity to 25% then further reduced to 10% under Region Tier 2 has meant we have decided to bite the bullet.’

There was an outpouring of shock and support on social media. We have lost something special. A sparkle has fallen from the gaybourhood’s Rhinestone Rhino (which is a real thing by the way and stands atop Wynner House, from where it keeps a twinkling eye on the antics below).

I had been an irregular visitor to Eden since the days it was the traditional White Swan, but truly fell in love with the place several years ago when we got to know the bar’s brilliantly bolshy barmaid Marie… and her legendary mother Moira.

My partner and Marie were casually chatting over a fag (they were smoking, not just astride one) in the garden of Eden, when she tutted, “Oh, I’ve got to go. There is a customer at the bar.” She returned moments later, explaining, “Its ok, he was just stood at the window watching Asian guys arriving at the wedding venue opposite.”

“Was he ginger?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know?”

He rolled his eyes, “That’d be my other half.”

From then on we looked forward to her banter and incomparable crudeness, although Marie did confess several months down the line, that she had formerly been on her best behaviour, as she thought we were gentlemen. Ha! How little she knew.

Last summer, my partner underwent a major operation. When he had sufficiently recovered for a gentle outing, Eden was the first place we went.

I had just settled him into chair in the garden when Marie appeared and grabbed his shoulders from behind with affectionate gusto, causing him to jump out of his skin.

“He has just had open heart surgery,” I remonstrated her.

“Oh my God,” she apologised, enveloping him in a robust hug, causing him to yelp in pain.

“And my chest is still healing,” he gasped weakly.

Marie dropped her head, held up her hands and slowly back away, muttering, “I’m so sorry. I’m going now… I’m going.”

We love her.

We went along for Eden’s bittersweet last hurrah, hosted by the brilliant La Voix, who is one of the best drag acts I have ever seen. Glamorous and sassy, as to be expected, but also a talented singer and mimic, with genuinely funny material and banter to rival a stand-up comedian. Britain’s got talent indeed.

She welcomed the audience with, “Well, here we are in Birmingham… at three in the afternoon.” Then dropped the mic from her generously painted lips and mouthed an exaggerated, “What the fuck?!”

We could all relate to this sentiment, being a crowd more comfortable partying at 3 in the morning than 3 in the afternoon, but, despite the early doors, it felt like old times.

The most blistering barb came when La Voix caught venue owners, Garry and Cal, glancing at their phones, between operating sound and lighting, “Thank you for your full attention. What are you two looking at? You on Rightmove searching for a new pub?”

We were regaled with anecdotes about past antics in the venue, reminiscing about the time they hosted a Birmingham fetish night, “We got into the spirit of things and all tried to dress accordingly, but the only rubberwear Gary owned was a verruca sock and swimming cap. It wasn’t a good look. I won’t tell you where he wore the sock.”

She targeted one audience member, emulating his gothic Eastern European accent, then mimed rapping on a door and hollered, “Housekeeping,” causing a guy several seats up from me to choke on his drink and spray the fella in front with a shower of beer. Don’t worry, I am sure the alcohol killed the Covid, besides Corona is the last virus I’m worried about contracting in a room full of that many gay men.

Social distancing was adhered to by the letter and all tables were situated two meters apart, as per government guidelines. As for the spaces in between…

“It’s like a Trump rally in here,” my partner commented as we entered the marquee.

Two police officers did wander in to perform a spot check, gave a cursory glance around and left. It was a wise move not to be too pedantic. Emotions were running high and I suspect if they had quibbled over social distancing the place could have gone off like another Stonewall.

La Voix ensured that those emotions were ramped-up for the end of her set, with a tear-jerking rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart. The lyric, ‘Together we can make it to the end of the line’ had never been so poignant. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Paradise lost. The end of an Eden.

Ironically, Eden was packed to its restricted capacity from the moment it announced its closure until tearfully ringing their final last orders.

I assume, barfly and quiz night devotee, Kelvin Bacciochi is still chained to Eden’s bar, refusing to leave, like a suffragette, but belting out show tunes. In truth, Kelvin has sadly claimed that he can’t see the point of returning to Brum now Eden has gone, but I don’t think we have seen the last of him. He is like Jason from Friday the 13th, he just keeps coming back. He prefers to think of himself as Cher, forever doing a farewell tour, or as he is fond of saying, “I am like syphilis, once you have me you have me forever.” I wish the same could have been said for Eden. X

If the gay community wants the rest of these places to be there when this Hell is over, then we need to keep showing support. From December 2nd (or whenever those goal posts move to) go to afternoon drag at The Village Inn, enjoy the Sunday roast at The Loft, gather at Equator and Sidewalk again, catch weekend cabaret at the Nightingale, munch on muffins at The Fox (That’s not a typo, I do really mean muffins, they do baked goods… besides it’s not just a bar for ladies that like ladies anymore). The power of the pink pound will be more important than ever.

Hard times are ahead, but the Birmingham gay scene will rise again, like Coventry from the ashes. No, better than Coventry, cos Coventry is a bit shite. Sorry, anyone that lives there, but you know it’s true.

Let us hope the twinks of the future ask what it was like during the pandemic, not before. We want and need the scene to be around for us and the next generation.

At the point of publishing, the British government have announced an extension of the furlough scheme, paying 80%. of the wages of employees adversely effected by lockdown, until March next year. Fantastic news, but If this had been decided a few weeks earlier, maybe Eden and others would still be in business.

A Nightmare on Hurst Street

I have never known anyone as excited by Halloween as Ruru was last year. He was planning his costume from mid-September. Personally, I am content to spend All Hallows’ Eve at home watching horror movies with the lights off, but Ruru was sooooo excited at the prospect of going to the big Halloween party at Missing.

Initially, he sent me a screenshot of an impressive latex mask of Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT that he had found online and a message saying that he was thinking of buying it. Several days later I received a text telling me that he had ordered it. Next, he found the full clown suit, complete with trademark ruff, and bought that. I was then treated to regular updates tracking the various items progress and estimated delivery dates. I think he forwarded me every notification that he received from Amazon and eBay (Did I mention he was excited?). Soon, the inevitable selfie of Ru wearing the mask (doubtlessly grinning delightedly from ear to ear under the latex) appeared in my inbox, followed days later by one of him wearing the complete outfit. Finally, he enlisted his little brother in proceedings, posing him dressed as one of the monster’s victims, in a mustard coloured coat with the hood pulled up and back turned to camera, in homage to the film poster.

I misunderstood the significance of the kid in the mustard anorak and thought his brother was going trick or treating dressed as the youngest son from East is East.

“You have got to come to Missing on Saturday night,” Ruru told me.

“I’m going to London that day.”

His face fell, “You have to see me in my costume.”

“Alright, if I am back in Brum early enough, I’ll pop in and find you,” I promised.

As it turned out, I arrived back in plenty of time, so headed straight to the pub and joined the drunken throng.

Ruru was easy to spot, dancing on Missing’s glitter backed stage dressed as a killer clown… while the red balloon floating above his head also helped pinpoint him.

I weaved my way across the pulsating dancefloor, leapt onto the stage and planted an exaggerated kiss on Pennywise’s fang filled mouth. Thankfully, Ru hadn’t opted to dress as Pinhead from Hellraiser, otherwise I could have had an eye out.

Funnily enough, many years ago, I was facilitating a den making workshop at a local arts venue, where I was using swaths of fabric, washing lines and pegs to create billowing tents. Two cheeky children took delight in covering my ears, eyebrows and cheeks in the wooden pegs. I just went with the flow, thinking, It’s making them giggle, but I’m not sure how long I can bare this, then turned my peg covered face to the children’s mother and, assuming the reference would go over her sons’ heads, announced, “Look, I’m Pinhead.”

The mother gasped then laughed, “The actor that plays Pinhead is an old friend of mine. I’ve known Doug Bradley for years. The children actually call him ‘Uncle Pinhead’.”

What are the chances of that?!

Back at the night of the Halloween party, Ruru was in his element. He twirled around the pub posing for photos with everyone. I had never seen him so happy. He was like a little celebrity.

He vanished for twenty minutes, as he performed a lap of the bar, then returned and yanked off the latex mask to reveal a flushed face, soaked with perspiration. It was like he had sweat incontinence.

Holding up a limp piece of string with a scrap of red rubber attached, he tutted glumly, “People keep bursting my balloon.”

It turned out that Ruru had prepared for this eventuality and produced a whole bag of balloons from his pocket. Quickly inflating one with a device he had stashed with the staff behind the bar, he had soon donned his mask once more and bounced off eagerly on another circuit.

When Ruru returned twenty minutes later, he was giddy with adulation, drenched with sweat… and holding a flaccid piece of string.

The conversation at the Halloween party turned appropriately to tales of ghosts and the unexplained. I told the small group I was stood with about a spooky incident that happened to my father, many years ago…

He and my mother had been attending a house party. At the time, the Ouija board was very much in vogue. In the late 1960s, Waddington‘s, the nation’s favourite children’s games company, even produced boards for sale in high street stores. Those halcyon days when you could just pop into Woolworths to buy a paranormal portal to the spirit world… and a quarter of pick n mix.

My dad was always a cynic and had no belief in the supernatural, so much so that he couldn’t even tolerate scary movies, as he found it all so preposterous, so I can imagine the sceptical look on his face when a group of fellow party goers engaged in an impromptu séance.

The lights were dimmed and a Ouija board, marked with the letters of the alphabet, the numbers 0–9, the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’, was set out in the centre of a table. Participants then placed their fingers on an upturned glass, which acted as a movable indicator to spell out messages from the other side.

My dad watched for a while, as the group asked the ‘spirit of the glass’ the customary “Is there anybody there?”, followed by various questions like, “Do pets go to heaven?”, “Have you met Elvis yet?” or “Where did late Uncle Frank leave the key to the patio doors?”. The glass obligingly slid from letter to letter spelling out the answers.

Someone is pushing the glass, Dad thought, but I’ve got a question that no one here will know the answer to, so he joined the table, determined to expose proceedings as a charade (the old spoilsport).

My dad came from a family of six siblings, so he asked, “What is the name of my eldest brother?”

No one at the party, other than presumably my mother, would have been able to even name one of Dad’s brothers or sisters, let alone the eldest of either gender. In fact, I have just had to text my sister to doublecheck what order they were all born in myself. She pays attention to these things.

In response to my dad’s question, the possessed glass slid across the board to the letter K.

Ha! I’ve got ‘em, thought Dad, triumphantly. His eldest brother was called Geoff.

The glass then went on to spell out further letters… E… N… N… E…T… and H. ‘Kenneth’.

Dad immediately snatched his finger from the glass and pulled away from the table.

He did indeed once have a brother called Kenneth, but tragically he had died in accident as a child. That was the last name Dad was expecting to see or even thinking about. If Kenneth had lived… he would have been my father’s eldest brother.

Sweet dreams. X

CRACKANORY: Register of Unfortunate Names

I was chatting with a lively group of teachers in The Fox one night, when the conversation turned to funny or unusually named pupils that they had encountered.

“There was a little Indian girl in my class last year whose surname was Ria,” I was told by one woman. “Her first name was Gorna. Let that sink in.”

There was a collective gasp, then laughter.

“I bet she was quite the catch,” I joked.

“Then there was Princess Leia,” she continued. “You couldn’t just call her Princess or Leia, it had to be ‘Princess Leia’ otherwise she got mad.”

“I knew a Vietnamese guy called Tu Long Dong,” someone else chipped in.

That was a tough name to live up to, we all agreed.

“The best… or should that be worst…,” continued the first woman, embracing the topic, “was a girl whose name was spelt ‘LA – A’. How would you pronounce that?”

I tried out a variety of possibilities, “La ah? Lar? Laaaaaaaaa? (and in desperation) Ella?”

“Nope,” I was told. “It’s Ladasha.”

“You are making that up!”

For a while comedy names became my favourite subject of conversation in the gay bars of Birmingham. Inevitably people contributed a name of a work colleague, family member or acquaintance and so the register of unfortunate names expanded.

Many names are simply lost in translation, such as Alecky Dick, Eezi Goah, Randy Cuntapay, Apishagga, Fajghana (say it out loud) and the childishly titter worthy Wee Wee.

There was the stirring Chinese name of Ting Lee Wang and the painful sounding Chew Kok; the promising Thai tag of Wae Phat Coc; the unintentionally geeky Taiwanese moniker of Wanky Fan; a hot Italian barman blemished by the name Farthi; the poor Indonesian girl branded Windi; and a Polish lad, whom apparently took a friends virginity, with the spectacular name of Fudge Fadge McGadge. It is not known whether he took her up the fudge or her fadge, but I don’t suppose it really matters.

There were other names for which you can only blame the parents, such as Dwayne Pipe, Paige Turner, Shane Payne, Rob Banks, Hope Dyde (which would make you question your parent’s love), Wayne Kerr and Wayne King (say them fast), Dick Packer, Everard Dick and his sister Ophelia, plus the inevitable Richards Head and Hard.

I learned of a car dealership in Bath owned by Dick Lovett; a chain of estate agents in Shropshire run by Nicholas Tart; a friend’s American co-worker called Randy Ho; a consultant at Good Hope Hospital called Dr Donald Duck (known as Don, but somehow that only makes it sound even more ridiculous).

I was told about infant twins Ronnie and Reggie; Georgio and Armarni; and one clueless mother who called her daughters Chardonnay and Chlamydia. Apparently, she thought that Chlamydia sounded particularly nice. For Christ sake don’t introduce her to little Gorna Ria. Double trouble.

Of course, some people acquire unfortunate names through marriage. Carol Carole got off relatively lightly, but the same can’t be said for poor Gaye Hooker, Fanny Fuller, Arnett Curtain, Rhoda Pig, Ishabel Hughes (known as Ish) or the topical Pam Demic! Then there is the outstandingly terrible Fanny Wank. As though Wank isn’t already an impossible name to carry off, but then to team it with Fanny! Although I suppose no choice of first name is going to detract from the surname Wank, a similar problem presumably faced by the parents of Wally Bastard.

In contrast, I did learn of women who were grateful to get married and lose their maiden names, like Joy Organ and Rachel Blewitt (I bet Rachel’s brother Barry is desperate to ditch the surname too). My heart goes out to poor Peggy Pigg, who dreamed of losing that surname on her wedding day, only to marry a man called Hogg.

There are names that are as lovely as they are unusual and sound like they belong in children’s literature, like my friend’s gran Rose Bush and his mother’s cousin June Moon. I love the names Misty Waters, Penny Lane, Lilly Green, Minnie Onions, Summer Love, Rose Light, Friday Knight, Ida Downs, Pearl Button, Humphry Lordwin, Lordwin Nelson and the nautical Marina Portsmouth.

Someone I know very well, grew up in small town America, where there lived the eccentric Drupp family. Dotty and Earl Drupp ha a son called Leo. I thought that the whole clan sounded like something from a Roald Dahl novel, until he told me that he had inadvertently walked in on teenage Leo suckling from his mother’s breast (You weren’t expecting that dark twist were you?!). More The League of Gentlemen than George’s Marvellous Medicine. Predictably, my friend’s momma decided that she didn’t want him playing with that Drupp boy no more after that awkward encounter.

Staying with the ‘children’s book’ theme, I was recently told the spectacular name of Fanny Missfeldt-Ringius, whom I think sounds like she should be the Sports & Physical Education Mistress at Hogwarts.

At university, I knew of a student called Emma Dale. I used to take great delight in joking or should that be ‘Joe King’ (real name told to me in Boltz) that her best friend was called Brooke Side. Corinne Ashian-Street, anyone?

For a while I directed a girl at a Birmingham youth theatre called Pocahontas. I remember one occasion where she was being particularly disruptive and in a pith of  frustration, I chastised her from across the rehearsal studio, but got all in dither with me Disney and mistakenly hollered, “Pinocchio, will you be quiet?!” Well, there was my fragile authority gone.

Pocahontas had an older sister called Notzereena, which led to endless confusion every time someone asked her name.

She would repeatedly tell them, “My name is Notzereena.”

They would respond, “Well, what is it then?”

People just thought she was being mysterious and allusive.

My friend Martin told me about a customer that he regularly dealt with at his first job as an insurance broker in Bristol. The customer was a pleasant old ex-army type called Colonel Warmbath. One day the Colonel came into the branch to add his son to the car insurance. The son’s name was Luke.

Another acquaintance shared a tale from her father’s time on the police force, when it was proposed that all officers should have their name clearly displayed on their uniform in the style of first initial and surname, all in capitals. Everyone was fine with this initiative, except for PC Paul Enis, who had to perform his duty with ‘P.ENIS’ emblazoned on his lapel.

I was told about how, as a younger man, another friend had spent time in Zimbabwe teaching English. It was the tradition in the region he worked for mothers to name their new-borns after something that made a strong impression on them straight after birth. He taught the sublime Luscious Breakfast and a lad called BBC, which will give him a possibly appropriate Grindr handle when he is older.

The highest profile comedy name that I have encountered belongs the most senior ranking police officer in the United Kingdom, Commissioner Cressida Dick, it doesn’t get any better by including Dame Dick’s middle name Rose, because Cressida Rose Dick just sounds like a brag about what she got up to on Friday night. Ironically, it is safe to assume that the Commissioner has never caressed or risen a dick in her life, she is obviously far more of a Fanny Chmelar.

This catalogue of calamitous christening has put me in mind of the acclaimed 2017 gay romantic movie Call Me By Your Name… because you wouldn’t want to be called by any of these.

Nishant Mallick and the Apartment of Fire

Previous stories may have given the impression that my friendship with Nishant was purely platonic (See ‘Finding the Gems’ – 4th Jan  and ‘Nishant Mallick and the Half-Baked Scheme’ – 17 May), but anyone who knows me will realise that the likelihood of that is nil to zero. There is no way I would be able to resist the charms of a cute, sweet natured, funny Asian lad with big eyes, broad smile and a delectably wobbly head. Besides, he is filth, total filth!

Within half an hour of our first meeting in my favourite men-only club, Nishant and I bound into an empty cubical, but after only fifteen minutes he asked, “Would you mind if we took a break?” It happens when people realise that they have abandoned their friends or partners for too long, want another drink or just want to see what else is on offer.

Forty minutes later, we had reconnected, chatted some more and dived into another cubical, but again, before the party was over, he asked to take another break.

Reading my perplexed expression, this time he explained, “I am sorry. It is not you. I am claustrophobic and can only manage fifteen minutes at a time in a confined space.”

This quirk made him even more adorable.


The next time we met was at his student digs. It was conveniently located on my route home on a Tuesday and the size of his bedroom was less likely to bring on a panic attack.

When I arrived at the 1970s estate where Nishant lived, I was greeted by emergency services and a small crowd of residents making appreciative Ooooooh and Aaaaaah noises, of the type that tend to accompany a fireworks display. I joined the crowd and watched events for a while, equally enjoying the spectacle, then headed over to Nishant’s apartment and rang his buzzer.

“Do you know that the block next door is on fire?” I asked when he came to the door.

“No, I did not know this,” he replied, barely registering interest in the information or even glancing in the direction of the unfolding drama.

He motioned me to come in.

“How’s your head?” I asked as we walked up the stairs, as he had posted a sorry looking picture of himself, with dried blood all over this hair, on social media a few days earlier.

“It is very much better, thank you.”

“So, what happened to you?”

“It was all so ridiculous,” he exclaimed.

I sensed a monologue coming on (Please read the following in a rapid Indian accent. It works better!).

“A friend had come over and we were planning on going into Birmingham for a night out. I decided to go to the shop around the corner first. I left my friend in my room and ran down the stairs. I have a habit of jumping over the handrail at the bottom of the stairs and landing in the hall in front of the entrance. I must have banged my head on the underside of the stairway and blacked out. The next thing I know, I wake up lying on the floor with blood pouring from my head!”

Apparently, this had all happened in the space of a few minutes. Up he got and off did trot, as fast as he could caper, and his friend was surprised to see Nishant stagger back into the flat, looking like something from the conclusion of Carrie, when he had only popped out to get a few snacks.

Instead of a night out, painting the town pink, they had spent the rest of the evening in A&E, making the swabs red.

“Soon, I was getting messages from my family in India,” Nishant continued. “My cousins were texting me to say, ‘Hahaha. We have heard that you got drunk and banged your head.’ I told them, ‘No, I was not drunk.’”

“My Uncle then messaged me to tell me to be careful how much I am drinking, but I told him, ‘I was not drunk! I had not been drinking.’”

“Then my mother phones me and is shouting, ‘Nishy, you are getting too drunk and hurting yourself!’ She is very angry. Oh my goodness! Where are they getting their information?!”

By the conclusion of Nishant’s story, we had walked up the offending stairs to his second floor flat and were stood in his hallway.

I had been warned by a mutual friend, not to expect a tidy flat, but I wasn’t prepared for the level of mess that greeted me. It was like there had been a significant and highly localised seismic event in his bedroom… and the carpet was filthy!

I didn’t want to be one of those guys that has sex with his socks on, but I didn’t even want to take my shoes off! If I did go barefoot, I would have to determine a way to get from doorway to bed without touching the floor, like I used to amuse myself as a kid. I would weave a convoluted path across my bedroom, rolling on an office chair, swinging from wardrobe doors and balancing on a chest of draws, pretending there were sharks in the carpet. Other people did that, right? Right?!

Oh well. I would just have to kick my shoes off on the bed and worry about retrieving them later.

We had been playing on the bed for a while, when Nishant’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and read a message.

“It is a friend,” he said. “He is just around the corner. Do you mind if he joins us?”

“Is he cute?”

“Yes. I think he is very handsome.”

“Sounds good. I’m up for it.”

Several minutes later, the door buzzer sounded and Nishant slipped out to let his mate in.

The guy walked into the bedroom, mumbled a cursory greeting and proceeded to sit in the corner of the room playing games on his phone. When Nishant had asked if his friend could join us, I had expected a hot threesome, not an audience! Although, ‘audience’ would be overstating it, as he barely looked up from his mobile device. It was all a bit weird.

At one point, something in my repertoire caught his attention, because he glanced up, watched briefly, subtly nodded his approval then returned his attention to the game he was playing.

All in all, it was a very odd last encounter with Nishant before he returned home to India, but I wish there had been more meetings. I enjoyed his quirky company and would have loved to have known him for longer. I am sure there would have been plenty more tales to tell.

I sat on the bed, pulled on my clothes, managing to retrieve my shoes without too much difficulty, and thought, I wonder if the flat next door is still on fire?

Do You Know Who I Am?

The night started outside Missing watching the boyz go by. Situated as it is, on the crossroads at the heart of the gaybourhood, Missing offers the perfect location to ogle lads coming and going from the gym, admire cute staff from the numerous East Asian restaurants, greet mates with a wave and watch various characters going back and forth. I think the bar should issue customers with score cards, like the ones they have on Strictly, so we can rate the passing talent.

Two particularly buff lads left the gym and strolled past our lookout. One of the lads casually scratched at his belly, exposing exquisitely tight abs, then as they drew level with us, he lifted his T-shirt completely to wipe some irritant from his cheek. I could swear that time slowed down. I forgot how to breath.

A slender guy, with a sharp dark beard, constantly whizzed up and down the road on a motorised scooter (his own sleek black vehicle, which complimented his look, not one of those cumbersome red rental options that are currently careering all over the city centre). My partner is convinced he’s drug running, but he wears a lanyard. Drug pushers don’t wear ID, surely?!

An eccentric character peddled by on his bike, dressed in an arresting red tracksuit, with matching visor and fez. Naturally, he captivated our attention. You don’t tend to see many people out and about in a fez… and an entire coordinated outfit. We watched as he sped along the length of Hurst Street, only to be subjected to the horrifying sight of his exposed arse hanging out of those vibrant tracky bottoms. I tried to snap a photo of the whole ensemble, but only achieved a blurry shot of the arse crack. He was surprisingly speedy for a man of his size.

After eating at Miss Vietnam, we popped into Eden where we bumped into acquaintances and chatted to their sweet barman, who always puts me in mind of comedian Jack Whitehall, with his affable English bumbling.

We finished the night at the table seating on the sidewalk outside of, well, Sidewalk, when a rowdy crowd approached the doorman. The lairy girl at the head of the group was instantly belligerent when the doorman politely explained that they couldn’t accommodate a group their size, because of COVID restrictions. She insisted that he find them a table, while flapping her ridiculously oversized eyelashes and flicking her extensions. She had surprisingly plummy tones for one so brassy, but as the legendary Dolly Parton is fond of saying, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

The girl looked like she was on the verge of storming off when a thought occurred to her. She pointed out one member of their party, who stood out already with his cool head of bleached twists and said, “Hang on, you can’t turn us away. Do you know who this is?”

The poor guy she had indicated looked mortified and mumbled, “No, please don’t do this to me.”

“This is…,” she persisted.

“Oh God, she’s doing it. It’s happening,” he cringed.

“…KSI. He’s an internet star!”

She then held her phone up to his face showing an image that she had just Googled of the ‘celebrity’, “Look, it’s the same person.”

KSI just gave a weak shamed smile and looked like he wanted to die. I immediately liked his humility.

The doorman remained intractable.

“You know who he is, don’t you?” She suddenly snapped at us over the barrier.

“No, Sorry,” I replied, giving an apologetic shrug.

We may have been ignorant of his celebrity status, but the people at the table next to us got very excited and wanted a selfie. I considered doing the same, so I could impress people more ofay with ‘yoof’ culture… but decided not to.

Apparently, KSI (real name Olajide Olayinka Williams) is a YouTuber, internet personality, rapper, actor, and boxer, who built his following from posting gaming-commentary videos of the FIFA video game series, although as his following has grown, his YouTube content has diversified to include more comedy style videos. As of August 2020, he has received over 30 million subscribers and over 7 billion video views across his two individual channels (That’s just 0.8 Billion shy of the current world population). In 2015, Variety ranked KSI as the most influential celebrity among US teens and in 2019, he was ranked as the second most influential online creator in the United Kingdom by The Times (Thank you Wikipedia/cut and paste. Where were you when I was a student?).

While we clearly are not in his demographic, my neighbour’s twelve-year-old son was suitably impressed and reacted with bug-eyed wonder when I told him about our ‘star’ encounter. He even pulled out his phone to show me some of his favourite KSI vlogs (Is that what they are called?).

While it was all happening on the threshold of Sidewalk, two members of their group had other ideas in mind. The hottest guy and the only other (far less vocal) girl were exchanging lustful glances and decided to slip away to find some privacy in the shadows of an adjacent street.

They were back surprisingly quickly, presumably unable to find a suitable nook, but the anticipation had clearly got the guy’s gander up by way he was rearranging himself when they returned. Sweatpants can be frankly revealing… and the gays were appreciative of the show.

Finally, the revellers gave up their attempt to sway the doorman and headed off in the direction of Eden in search of that nightcap.

I wanted to suggest that they might have more luck if they didn’t let ‘brassy’ do the talking, as she just seemed to get everyone’s backs up unnecessarily, but I decided to keep my advice to myself. Maybe they would have had more luck getting into a gay bar if they elected the hot guy their spokesman… or at the very least pushed him up front where he could be seen in all his glory.

My mate Ruru recently had his own encounter with internet celebrity when he had commented on a post by Johnnyvintis and Danspraggofficial, two well-known TikTok contributors, after noticing that they had checked-in at a city centre Weatherspoons. They messaged him back, invited him to join them for a drink.

“Dan shared our location and table number online,” Ruru told me, “and the staff kept bringing things to that fans had ordered for him via the Weatherspoons app. We got sent soft drinks, shots, brunch, chips, a glass of milk, mushy peas and random bowl of ketchup.”

According to Ruru, these guys were great company. They created several videos together, even coaxing a passing police officer/fan to get in on the act.

Ru managed to persuade them both to join him for a drink in his favourite gay bar, where Dan’s sexy neck tattoos must have gone down a storm. This couple of straight boys made a TikTok video of themselves with their “new gay mate” showing how, to their amusement, he was supping pints while they were sipping camp cocktails.

Ru’s own modest TikTok following jumped by 300 overnight, after he posted the videos with this popular pair and he received thousands of extra views. Maybe their Midas touch will rub off on this blog by association and I can strut through the gay village demanding, “Do you know who I am?!” I might even get a free order of mushy peas. They can keep the milk.