Relieving the Grind of Grindr

Grindr is a popular gay men’s dating app… where dating is the last thing on anyone’s mind (In fact, as I was writing that opening sentence a combination of a mistype and predictive text corrected it to the far more accurate ‘the arse thing on anyone’s mind’. Maybe I have ‘prophetic text’ installed?).

Most conversations on Grindr go from ‘Hi’, or sometimes the awkwardly accurate typo of ‘Ho’, to an exchange of cock shots in under a dozen messages. Not that I’m complaining. I wholeheartedly believe that this is what Grindr is there for. I get a little irritated with pithy profiles that whine, ‘All anyone wants is sex on here!’ or ‘If you are only after hook-ups, don’t message me.’. If you ain’t after a shag, then don’t go on Grindr! It is like boiling a kettle then moaning that the water is too hot. That’s what it’s there for.

Despite the bracingly direct approach Grindr encourages, I do like it when someone manages to show a glimpse of their personality. My favourite profile admitted on behalf of us all that, ‘These are our best photos guys… it’s all downhill from here’.

My own profile reads something like: ‘I like guys that are darker than me, but as I am ginger that isn’t hard to do.’ If you spot me out there, say ‘hello’… and send pics.  

I have one gambit that tends to wean the men from the boys. When asked for that ubiquitous cock shot, I sometimes send a photo of me stood next to a friend’s chicken coup proudly holding a feathery bundle of poultry (it is actually a hen and not a cock, but let’s not quibble). This can sometimes result in an instant block from the nonplussed recipient, but if they can’t take a joke, then it’s no great loss, but more times than not it results in a good bit of banter.

By the way, while on the subject of ‘cock shots’, I know a woman whose surname tragically is Cockshott. To make matters worse her first name is Gaynor. Gay Cockshott! GAY COCKSHOTT!!! The poor woman is named after those images that we bander about like bonbons. She must dread registering for anything, but on the plus side she has a readymade drag name. I know of another unfortunate whom, through marriage, is now Gaynor Hooker. Let that one sink in.


I really enjoy misappropriating Grindr on occasion. I have a gay neighbour with whom I would chat to on the app, long before we ever spoke in person. I would delight in sending him random neighbourly messages asking to borrow a cup of sugar or reminding him about recycling collections. The more banal the better. Thankfully, he found this nonsense mildly amusing too and played along, otherwise it could have resulted in an instant block, which could have made things awkward next time we were putting the bins out.

On one occasion, I managed to utilise his talents as a math teacher, when a ridiculously beautiful guy appeared on Grindr, showing up as only 20 meters from my house.

I sent his picture to the neighbour, IS HE AT YOURS?

NO, he replied. I WISH HE WAS!

I HAVE JUST STOOD ON MY BENCH, I confessed, BUT I CAN’T SEE HIM IN NEXT DOOR’S GARDEN.

WE CAN TRIANGULATE HIM, he suggested.

It would have been like a scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies, where the militia track down the creatures with thermal heat sensors.

“I’ve got a fix on one, Ripley! 20 meters… 18 meters… 10 meters… 1 meter! Bugger me backwards, he’s in the ducting!”

We never found him.


On one occasion, I was having a drink in a particularly bar when I noticed the bored bar manager scrolling through Grindr on his phone, so I sent him a message.

CAN I HAVE ANOTHER PINT OF SAN MIGUEL… AND A BAG OF NUTS, PLEASE?

Moments later, I heard a bang on the bar, as the barman slapped down his palms. I looked up with a start to see him glowering at me with his typical sassiness.

“What?” I asked, feigning ignorance.

“Seriously?! You couldn’t just ask for a drink like a normal person?”

“I could,” I admitted, “but where would be the fun in that?”

He shook his head with a smirk, “Un-be-lievable!”

Well, it made a change from, DO YOU HAVE A COCK SHOT? Next time someone asks me for one of those, I may forgo the photo of me beside the chicken coup and instead send a picture of the lovely Gaynor.

Pimping My Partner

My partner had been made redundant. Although he had received a generous pay out, I suggested that we could develop a new income stream by selling soiled underwear online. I thought it was a great lark and a sure-fire earner, but he was less enthusiastic about the idea.

“Come on,” I tried to persuade him. “All you have to do is wear them once and then sell them. Easy!”

“They are going to want to see photos of the seller wearing the items,” he pointed out. “I’m nearly sixty. I’m hardly underwear model material.”

“Your look might appeal to a gap in the market,” I offered, trying to put a positive spin on it.

He wasn’t keen.

I had been inspired by someone I’d met, who had told me about supplementing his wages by selling items of distressed clothing on the internet. Apparently, there are numerous websites dedicated to these types of business transactions. You can even sell them on eBay if you are sly with the way you word the listings.

“I make the most money selling top end, designer underwear,” he told me, but went on to explain that there was a market for budget Primark pants too. “Different people want different things. Some guys just want them used in a general sort of way, so I take several pairs out with me, change them throughout the day and then pop them in the post when I get home. Sometimes, I whip up an express order by pulling on a pair and going for a jog. Instant used pants. Job done.”

He would vacuum pack the items to preserve their unique qualities (keeping their un-freshness fresh) and post them off all over the world. He did a brisk trade in Germany and Japan, apparently.

Some customers request specific soiling on their purchases, such as urine, semen and/or excrement. Obviously, it was never going to be grass strains, beetroot and ketchup or anything that the top washing powder brands claim to be able to shift.  

“I can cater to several customers at once if I piss or masturbate on multiple items in one go,” he informed me. “I also sell piss by the bottle.”

“It’s quite the cottage industry you have going,” I commented, with sincere admiration.

“My trainers haven’t cost me a penny in years,” he continued. “Every time a pair comes to the end of their life, I take a photo of them and list them on the site. The more worn the better. I don’t get a lot for them, but it covers the cost of the next pair.”

His most lucrative transaction came when he met up with a customer in a layby to hand deliver a particularly niche item.

Once the client was happy that the supplier possessed the whole ‘Gay Chav’ vibe that he had specifically requested, he handed over a plastic bag. The donor took the bag into a bush and took a big shit into it (Yes, you did read that correctly). The customer wanted a supermarket carrier bag full of steaming chav shit. Well, maybe not full exactly, as that would be quite an undertaking (he’s not a horse), but certainly a decent deposit. In return for the excrement, he was paid the grand sum of £1500. Fifteen hundred pounds… for a bag of shit!

“It was one-off,” he said, “and I never asked what he was going to do with it. I really didn’t want to know.”

I replied, “Who cares? If I could establish a client base willing to pay me a grand and a half for a poo, I would be curling one out every morning and borrowing your vacuum packing equipment. Money for old rope…well, fresh crap.” (Oooooooo… Can you imagine seeing a poop being vacuum packed? Yuck! I bet there are videos on YouTube, alongside pimple popping and cyst squeezing. I’m not going to look. No, really).

Another guy I know of, makes money on the side by selling oral sex through a glory hole installed in his city centre apartment. He lists his services on several apps and all bookings and transactions are done online.

Several times, he has been chatting at a bar and suddenly announced, “Oh, got to go. I’ve just had a booking and they will be there in twenty min.”

He has a homemade panel, with a gloryhole cut at crotch height, which he bolts into position in the hallway of his flat, meaning that the punter lets themselves in through the unlatched door and can access no more than the entrance area. They unzip, pop their member through the hole and get serviced.

“I then spit their ‘deposit’ out of my bedroom window,” he casually informed me.

“The poor people below you,” I empathised. “They must be the only residents in your block whose hanging baskets have the clap. I bet their clematis has chlamydia… and try saying that after a few pints.”

The most impressive single payment for services rendered that I know of, was paid to a mate who got a substantial amount for having sex with an A-list British comic actor.

They agreed a fee of £500, but then the celebrity asked him to stay the night.

“I don’t do that, sorry,” he explained. I suspect if it had been the buff boy band member that he had previously dallied with things may have been different, but this famous funny fella didn’t have quite the same appeal… until he reached into his bedside drawer and produced a further three thousand pounds in cash.

“Oh… Well, maybe on this occasion I could be persuaded.”

As far as my partner’s career in the sex industry was concerned, he begrudgingly watched me set him up a sellers account on eBay, but that was as far as we got. I can’t even remember the password now… which is probably for the best.

The Siege of Dennis Road

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

Inhabitants of an inner-city suburb of Birmingham had endured months of protests on their doorstep (See ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – 14th June 2020). Division had crept into this diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the ongoing debate about LGBTQ inclusion at Anderton Park Primary School.

Whilst relations between actual neighbours remained cordial, there had been several heated clashes with protestors from the wider area and any discussion with the lead agitator inevitably resulted in him engaging his standard tactic of aggressively dismissing any opinion that contradicted him. His antagonistic approach to debate was clearly in evidence during a widely broadcast exchange between he and Yardley MP Jess Philips, where he shouted over her at length then immediately accused her of being hostile when she was forced to raise her voice to be heard.

An earlier exchange between a female neighbour and the head protester, resulted in the police being called, when he and his supporter’s behaviour became threatening and they essentially ordered her to shut up and go back into her house, like a good woman. The men didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of their mob, was ‘created for man’s pleasure’ and nothing more.

It was amusing to witness Sparkhill’s ‘poster boy for fundamentalism’ damper his bullishness, during a showdown with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning. He was clearly unhappy having his views questioned and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control his anger. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool in front of the cameras. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His nervous demeanour wasn’t helped by the fresh haircut he had got especially for his appearance on national television. The unfortunate style choice of teasing every strand into gravity defying spikes, standing straight up from his head, only served to make him look even more scared, like something from a cartoon.

The inhabitants of Dennis Road could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins (a reviled far-right media parasite) turned up for a sneak photo opportunity on school grounds. Staff didn’t even know that she had been there until the images appeared on social media! Yet, even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance compared to the evening thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road.

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

One half of an openly gay couple living on the street, had stepped out into their back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear the sound of familiar protest chants. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them when they weren’t there.

His partner wandered through to the front room to investigate, just as an egg exploded on the window, followed by another!

He dashed out of the front door, to be confronted by mayhem.

There were shouts and screams coming from far end of the street, vehicles screeching into the cul-de-sac, and masked men were yelling insults and hurling eggs at the houses and cars of those that dared display the rainbow flag (See ‘Flying the Flag’ – 26th July 2020), while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spiky headed star of morning television) was orchestrating the ‘battle’ from a conveniently deniable distance.

The screams were coming from a group of women and their children who were trapped at the closed school gates by masked men. One woman had collapsed to the floor. Her colleagues were trying to help her, while the goons bellowed abuse and pelted them with more eggs.

Suddenly, the front door of a house close to the school burst open and a neighbour dashed out. This diminutive, mild mannered woman, with a mop of grey hair, launched herself at the assailants, slapping, punching and pulling them away from their victims. If they hadn’t been wearing balaclavas, I am sure she would have had them by their ears, like naughty children. The gang didn’t know what had hit them and took flight. They didn’t know how to react to this tiny Tasmanian devil at their heels. It was like their mother and all their ‘aunties’ were after them.

Apparently, a group of activists from an LGBTQ organisation had volunteered to decorate the school gates in preparation for a VIP visit on Monday morning. They had been tying flags, ribbon, artwork, banners and posters in support of the besieged school, that bore messages such as “Love is the answer” and “Love Unites Us”. One heart-shaped motto read: “No to Islamophobia; No to homophobia; No to Transphobia”.

The masked men, or ‘just the boys’ as a sympathiser later described them to the press, had received a tip off that the LGBTQ activists were on the street and stormed in to intimidate and destroy their work.

One of the men shouted, “This is for coming into OUR area,” a sentiment stated by their ‘General’ several weeks earlier, when he had pointed out every Pakistani owned house on the road and boasted, “We own that one and that one and that one etc.”

He should turn on Grindr and see just how many gay profiles pop up within 200 meters. On Dennis Road alone, there are three openly gay men, one bi-curious individual, at least two closet cases (although as they both come from religious families, I can’t see them coming out anytime soon), one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances and fuck buddies I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.

Finally, police with dogs and riot vans arrived. The remaining hooligans skulked away, while their leader claimed that his presence was just a coincidence.

‘My friend’ stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

A police officer approached him and asked, “Are you ok? You look shellshocked.”

“No, I’m not OK. I feel like I’m in a soap opera. I’m expecting a tram to come crashing off the viaduct at any moment… If we had trams… or a viaduct for that matter.”

The officer apologised for not getting there sooner, “We are desperately under resourced and understaffed,” he feebly explained. “We didn’t have any officers in the area. We had to come over from the other side of the city.”

Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safety, damage was cleared up and residents drifted back into their homes.

The police had one last task to perform before they left. They knocked on every house with a rainbow flag in their window and warned the occupants that there may be further reprisals, “We have heard they plan to brick any houses with flags still up after we leave. We can’t tell you what to do, but only advise that it may be in your best interests to remove them. I’m so sorry.”

With heavy hearts, they took the flags down. They had been on display for several weeks. No need to court more trouble.

On the plus side, that terrible night did mark a turning point in the story. The situation had gone from peaceful protests to violent attacks. National papers ran prominent articles on the incident and local authorities could no longer watch impotently. Within weeks the courts had imposed an exclusion zone around the school and the protesters were banished to the outskirts of the neighbourhood, out of sight and earshot of the classrooms, to a muddy grass verge… where my dog used to shit.

The anti-inclusion protests soon ran out of momentum and fizzled out. Neighbourly relations began to heal. With a little understanding, they found the perfect blend.

One of those articles in the national press had stated that the lead agitator accused the LGBTQ group as being responsible for the attacks on that Hellacious Sunday night, “They were provocative, turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages.”

No, the residents weren’t intimidated by ribbons and hearts, it was thirty masked thugs, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

Voice of the Nightingale

The Nightingale Club has been at the heart and in the hearts of the Birmingham gay community for over 50 years.

The Gale, as it is affectionately known, was one of the first two venues that I ever visited on the scene (See ‘To Sir, With Thanks X’ – 16th Jan 20) and it remained part of my social life for many years. I have seen more strippers gyrating on the stage wearing nothing but a liberal dousing of baby lotion than I care to remember and have embarrassed myself on those dancefloors far too often!

On a night out with a new boyfriend (the man that has now been my partner for 20 years), we bound onto one of the plinths that were a feature of the main dancefloor at the time and, emboldened by beer, vigorously showed off our moves. I lost my balance and tipped backwards off the platform, automatically grabbing hold of my partner for support, which merely resulted in the pair of us toppling together and crashing to the floor with a duet of shrieks! We were too humiliated to stand and face the revellers around us, so chose instead to crawl on our hands and knees through their forest of legs until we reached the safety of the bar.

On another occasion, myself and two female friends were stood on the pavement outside the Nightingale, debating whether to call it a night or go into the club.

I was expressing my desire to carry on the night by singing the pop song ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’. I was giving it all that night, when suddenly, I stopped singing mid-song and announced, “The Nolans!!”

My friends just looked at me incredulously, so I repeated myself, but more emphatically.

“Yes, we know who sung it,” they said, assuming that I was just randomly informing them of the name of the Irish girl band that recorded the 80s hit.

Exasperated, I grabbed them by the shoulders and spun them on their heels to face the road. A taxi had just pulled up at the curb and the Nolan Sisters were getting out. Unbeknown to us, they were headlining the venue that night. Well, that made up our minds and we hit the club… and let our bodies sway.

My next celebrity encounter at the Nightingale Club came as a cringeworthy surprise.

At the time, I worked at one of Birmingham’s main theatres. There was a mutual arrangement that staff members from the theatre and club were entitled to discounts and free tickets to each other’s venues.

I would regularly finish an evening shift at the theatre and then wander over to the Nightingale for a few late-night drinks. As one of the few city centre venues open post-midnight back then, it was always busy after the theatre had closed.

One time, I forgot to take my exclusive pass with me, so tried to blag my way in at the door. The guy at the ticket booth was surprisingly sympathetic and simply asked me to prove that I worked at the theatre by naming some colleagues who frequented the club that he might know. Alas, he hadn’t heard of any of the likely suspects that I suggested so, in desperation, I decided to namedrop a well-known soap actor that was an associate artist at the theatre.

“Michael Cashman,” I said. “I know Michael Cashman.”

Baron Cashman, or ‘Colin from Eastenders’ as he was better known, was openly gay and performing at the theatre that season and I knew he was a regular customer of the Nightingale. Despite having seen him around the theatre on occasions, it was a huge overstatement to say that I actually knew him, and he certainly wouldn’t recognise me.

The ticket clerk listened to my claim then immediately looked over my shoulder and called out, “Hey Michael, do you know this guy?”

Michael Cashman was stood several places behind me in the queue. I was mortified.

To his credit, he tried valiantly to collaborate my story and replied, “Yes, I know him.”

Unfortunately, he said it while looking at the person stood next to me and I was rumbled.

Seeing my embarrassment, the clerk kindly gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me in anyway, making me promise to show him my pass next time.

Later, I found myself stood next to Michael Cashman in the piano lounge. I apologised for earlier, explained why I had used his name and thanked him for doing his best to back up my story. He was charming about it.

I don’t remember, but I do hope that I bought him a drink.

Flying the Flag

The residents of a nondescript backstreet in the Birmingham inner city neighbourhood of Balsall Heath were surprised, to say the least, to find themselves at the heart of a major media storm in 2019.

By the conclusion of months of anti-LGBTQ protests (See ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – 14th Jan 2020) hundreds of demonstrators had descended on the street and reporters from the major TV news outlets were in attendance, with their hi-tech transmitter vans filling the curb side.

The extent of media coverage got to a point where one friend commented, “I don’t need to talk to you to find out what is happening in your life anymore, I just turn on the evening news.”

The story started when the lead agitator, a local property developer/slum landlord with no children at the school, arranged a meeting with the Head of Anderton Park Primary (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10 May 2020) to discuss the profoundly religious community’s concerns about the school’s progressive stance on inclusion, which fostered tolerance and respect for everyone, including families that have ‘two mummies or two daddies’ and how this conflicted with the teachings of their faith.

Apparently, this self-appointed spokesperson stormed into the headteacher’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself a ‘General in a war that he intended to win’ and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face. He was promptly asked to leave. The poor little mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.

The following week, the protests at the school gates started. Every evening, as the pupils were heading home, a crowd of parents and their supporters would gather in Dennis Road to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society their children would or would not accept. Every evening this small cul-de-sac was filled with chants of “Our Children, Our Choice,” “Head-teacher Re-sign,” and, my personal favourite, “We Will Not Tolerate Intolerance!”

After several evenings of disruption, a group of Dennis Road residents decided to show their support for the school by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of their terrace houses.

An openly gay couple on the road, were integral in instigating the counter protest, but as one worked at Anderton Park School in a freelance capacity he had slight reservations about being seen to be too heavily involved, due to possible conflicts of interest.

The Friday morning when the show of flags first appeared, he strutted along the pavement, full of pride, but determined to keep a low profile at the school.

The staffroom was a buzz when he walked in with everyone discussing the sign of support from the street, so he kept his head down and fumbled in his bag pretending to search for something.

Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room with tears in her eyes, “Have you seen what they have done on Dennis Road? I pulled up in my car and just started to cry.”

The resistant resistance kept up the pretence of searching his bag for that elusive item.

“I’m so overwhelmed that they are backing us,” continued the emotional member of staff. “I just want to thank them.”

The reluctant rebel couldn’t contain himself any longer and, without glancing up from his bag, acknowledged her gratitude with a simple, “You’re welcome.”

It didn’t take long for news of his involvement to spread around the school and by first break he had been summoned to see the Head. He apprehensively entered the office, expecting a dressing down, but instead was greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a tight hug.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushed.

“Really? I thought that I was about to be given my marching orders.”

“We as a school couldn’t take a counter stand, but residents are free to take whatever action you want.”

“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by passively, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep, even if it meant I would have to stop working at the school. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” he admitted.

“Please, feel free to do interviews,” the deputy insisted. She indicated the headmistress, who was visible through the internal office window, deep in conversation on the phone, “Sarah has been doing interviews all morning. She’s currently talking to Gay Times.”

That evening every house on Dennis Road received a curtesy call from a police officer enquiring about how the protests where impacting residents and offering support, should it be required.

The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer a personal opinion on a dispute of this nature… but we all want to say, ‘Well done!’ You could have organised your own protest, but that would have only escalated matters. What you did was far more effective. The display of flags totally undermined what they are doing. We are so proud of you.”

The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about the ‘General in a war’ behind the protests, his unscrupulous family and their insidious plans to manipulate parental concerns for their own agenda of division, but I will not go into any more detail about what was said, as language like that would only make you blush.

Our flags full of pride had taken the wind out of their sails… for now, but drama of soap opera proportions was about to be unleased.

Back in Business

The pubs reopened in England on the 4th July and Birmingham’s gay scene took its first tentative steps back to normality.

Ruru (See ‘The Boy with Hearts in His Eyes’ – 7th June 2020) had reserved a table for the reopening afternoon at Missing within minutes of their online booking system going live. I suspect Ru was like an excited child on Christmas morning (well, Eid in his case) when that Saturday arrived. I imagine him up at the crack of dawn, washed, dressed, sprayed with far too much cologne, man-bag packed and sat on the bottom step of the stairs, impatiently counting down the minutes until his pre-booked Uber arrived to take him to our 4 o’clock slot at his beloved home from home.

My partner and I went into the city centre early ourselves, but only so we could experience a sense of normality by reviving our semi-regular weekend routine of shopping in the Bullring markets and Chinatown. We were reassured to see that everything was as we had left it, although quieter, and all the familiar faces were where they should be. We were served with characteristic severity by the women at the Polish supermarket, our favourite Romanian fruit & veg seller (See ‘The Art of the Flirt’ – 5th July 2020) greeted us with an enthusiastic handshake, which morphed into a more reserved fist-bump as he remembered current etiquette (We got free tomatoes btw.) and chatted amiably with the stout woman with the deadpan demeanour at the cheese stall. Our world was back in business!

At the indoor market, my partner rushed off to check that the handsome lad with the caramel eyes was back where he should be, while I stopped for a favourite snack.

I was asked, “Are you eating these in?”

“Erm… Yeeeees,” I replied hesitantly, thinking, Does being stood at a flimsy shelf, two foot from the counter, constitute ‘eating in’?

“Then I will have to take your contact details.”

“Really?” I grinned, “Just for a pot of whelks?”

She smiled back. “I know! Welcome to the new normal.”

We finished our shopping over an hour earlier than expected, so headed to Missing to see if it we could possibly gain entry ahead of schedule, only to find that Ruru had beaten us to it!  He was sat on display at a table set up on the redundant stage. Although he claimed to feel self-conscious, being so prominently in the spotlight (literally, as some of the stage lighting was turned on), I suspect that he loved the attention it guaranteed.

Customers at Missing were now greeted at the door and their details taken. A one-way system was in place around the bar and you were politely, but firmly stopped in your tracks if you absentmindedly went against the flow. You were assigned a table and table service was recommended, although you could still order at the bar, as long as you did not linger.

“The staff aren’t smiling much,” Ruru remarked.

“This is all new to them too,” I replied. “They are scared of getting something wrong, I think they are too nervous to smile.”

This went for the customers as well. Initially, you felt like you daren’t even look at the people on the next table, let alone speak to them and certainly not leave your seat, but it didn’t take long for people to loosen up. Smiles and laughter soon returned, and banter began to bounce between the various bubbles sat in their assigned spots.

“I feel like I’m in a retirement village,” I commented, “where everyone is too infirm to move.”

A guy on the next table overheard me and, indicating someone he knew on the opposite side of the room, bellowed, “The gentleman on table twelve needs his bag changing.”

Friends and acquaintances began to drift in.

I spotted Kev and popped over for a brief, socially distanced, chat. He is an amiable regular on the scene, who speaks with a hypnotically soft Brummie drawl, peppered with long pregnant pauses as he considers every phrase. I had last seen him on that long-ago evening when the bars had closed for Lockdown.

“You said we would be back in a couple of weeks,” I reminded him.

“Hmmmm…,” he pondered, lips pursed. “Did I… saaaaaay… that?” He paused for another eternity. “It did… last… a… little bit… looooonger… than I… expec-ted.”

His sentences can be so protracted that it is possible that he had only just come to the end of the previous thing he was saying on that closing night, mere moments before the pubs re-opened.

Meanwhile, at our spot-lit table, Ruru was proudly showing off his meticulously groomed beard.

Knowing that Ruru has a technique for getting the line so fastidiously sharp, I asked, “Did you use Sellotape?”

“No, I used masculine tape,” he told me.

“What is masculine tape?”

“You know, masculine tape! That white tape you can rip.”

“That’s ‘masking tape’ you muppet!”

“I knew that really,” he unconvincingly replied, looking sheepish.

It makes his beard look more masculine. Love it!

I excused myself and went upstairs to use the toilet. Only one person was admitted to the toilets at any time. Where is the fun in that?

On the way back down, I stuck my head around the door of the function room, where additional seating had been laid out. I spotted my mate Joe sat on his own, so automatically invited him to join us at our table.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to, am I?” Joe asked, all a fluster.

“Oh, good point,” I conceded, “but surely you count as my ‘social bubble’?”

“Best not. I don’t want to get barred in the first hour of being let back in.”

Fair enough, I thought, especially as he’d only just been allowed back into Missing, a few days before lockdown commenced, following a previous barring for an incident that he doesn’t even remember.

It turns out that Joe was right, the new guidelines meant that he couldn’t join us.

“You could all go outside, rebook and then come back in as a group,” I was informed.

“Thanks,” I replied, “but that’s too much bother. He can stay upstairs.”

It was good to see Missing in action once again.

We moved on to Sidewalk, with its pavement seating now extended down the street, then the last port of call for the day was Eden, a popular pub that faces Hurst Street with cocky independence.

We were greeted at the entrance by Eden’s joint owner and silver fox, a guy who is universally fancied by every man, straight woman and twink on the scene. We were escorted to a table in the corner with designated areas and pathways through the bar clearly marked out in that black and yellow hazard tape you see at crime scenes (Now, that is ‘masculine tape’).

Because of the pitstop at Sidewalk, the first thing I did in Eden was dash for the toilets. Every other urinal basin was sealed off to ensure social distancing. As I took up position and unzipped, I asked the guy one urinal along from me, “Would you say that this is a meter?” I quickly added, “I mean the distance between us, I’m not bragging.”

The whole of our day out had been about reassuring ourselves that the world we knew was on its way back after its four month hiatus, that things hadn’t changed beyond all recognition and that we would indeed all meet again, so we were delighted to see the final piece in the puzzle stood in her rightful place behind Eden’s bar. This cherished matriarch, force to reckoned with, Brum’s answer to Corrie’s Betty Turpin and runner up in last year’s Best Bar Staff category in the Zone Magazine poll, was where she should be, pulling pints and maintaining order with stolid expertise.

“Maura,” I called out, “I want to give you a hug, but I can’t.”

“I don’t think that she’s the hugging type,” my partner cautioned me.

I suspect that he is right, but in different circumstances I would have given it a damn good go, I was so pleased to see her.

It was good to be back. This ‘new normal’ would take a little getting used to, but the new systems and restrictions were enforced and adhered to with good humour. It was as easy as buying a pot of whelks.

The Art of the Flirt

I was once told by a friend that I would ‘flirt with a letterbox’ given half a chance… I think he is right.

Flirting with other gay boys is indistinguishable from cruising, whilst flirting with straight boys just looks like a friendly smile, so I figure that I might as well just smile at everyone, because there is nothing to lose, except maybe for my front teeth if a less enlightened hetero-guy takes exception to the attention. Luckily, that hasn’t happened and I still have all my teeth. Well, I don’t… I have two missing at the back of the bottom row, but that was to do with eating too many jelly frogs as a child and nothing to do with flirting.

So anyway, everywhere I go, I radiate smiles in all directions. Miles of smiles. This makes me look like the friendliest person on the planet… or possibly a bit simple.

I walk at a fast pace, so when I am out and about with my partner, he tends to trail a few steps behind (like the Duke of Edinburgh maintaining a subordinate distance behind the Queen on royal engagements, as I like to tell him), which means he always catches the aftermath of my smile/flirt (smirt?). I constantly hear him asking, from over my shoulder, “Why did he just smile at you?” Did you just smile at that guy? Did you smile at that one too? Are you smiling AGAIN?!”

I don’t smirt (I coined it… I’m using it) at every guy though… only the cute ones.

It’s not always possible to get a clear look at the face of all the guys you see, so you don’t immediately know if they are worth smiling at, as they may be turned away or looking down, so I have honed a sure-fire method of getting them to look in my direction. As you approach a potential smile recipient, simply scuff your heal on the pavement. The resulting scraping noise inevitably prompts the subject of your attention to glance up or turn around, primarily to check that they are not about to be hit by a careering bicycle or mugged, but it does the job. Try it… and you’re welcome.

The most sustained subject of my flirtations is an attractive Romanian, who sells fruit and veg in the shadow of St Martin in the Bullring (locally known as the Black Church, because of discoloration from centuries of industrial pollution. It was actually cleaned nearly twenty years ago and now its true golden stonework glows, but the name sticks). I always make a beeline for him when shopping in the outdoor market and we have struck up a nice rapport over the years. A moment in his company makes my heart sing for the rest of the day.

Despite clearly being straight, he doesn’t seem too perturbed by the attention. I think that he is more than aware that he sends me silly and seems to appreciate it. My favouritism hasn’t gone unnoticed by his workmates, which sometimes results in him receiving a mild ribbing from them, but he brushes it off and always looks genuinely pleased to see me. He certainly doesn’t turn down the occasional hot chocolate from me on a cold winter’s afternoon and he has been known to slip me the odd extra banana or two now and again, which sadly isn’t a euphemism.

I had an opportunity to take the art of the flirt to another level while shopping for groceries last week.

It was on the hottest day of the year so far, but I was still surprised to see an equally hot Pakistani lad stroll into a supermarket in Balsall Heath without his shirt on. Being a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, Islamic modesty means that flesh, male or female, is rarely so blatantly on display, especially not in the middle of Lidl.

This lad was as handsome as a Bollywood idol and buff to boot, with bulging biceps, an expansive chest of dark hair and nipples like a couple of sovereign coins. No wonder he wasn’t bashful about whipping his top off.

I kept subtly cruising around him in the aisles, sneaking furtive peeks. On one sly pass-by, I overheard him ask a member of staff where he would find the fishfingers. As I knew where they were, I took a shortcut and, like the Big Bad Wolf, ensured that I got there ahead of him.

I stood at the wall mounted freezers, pretending to peruse the scallops and battered calamari rings, until he arrived and then accidentally-on-purpose reached for the cabinet’s handle at the exact same moment that he did, ensuring that our fingers brushed.

“Oh sorry,” I apologised and graciously opened the freezer door for him. A bracing blast of cold air cascaded from the cooler. “I bet that feels good,” I commented, nodding pointedly at his bare chest and delivering a textbook smirt. “You should stand here all day.”

“Yeah, it feels nice man,” he sighed.

The next thing, I was slowly opening and closing the freezer door, fanning this Asian Adonis’s naked torso in wafts of icy mist. He responded by closing his eyes and relishing the respite from the summer heatwave. I swear his chest hairs stood on end and those sovereign nipples got decidedly perky.

I don’t know what was going through his mind, but my thoughts could have defrosted those fishfingers!

A Babe in the Woods

My sleep patterns go haywire when I am off work for long periods. My freelance profession means that I get regular weeks off throughout the year. During these breaks I find myself waking in the early hours and going downstairs to read or watch TV, even sometimes cooking a pre-dawn breakfast, only to then crash on the sofa and sleep until late morning.

During these bouts of insomnia, I often distract myself by scrolling through Grindr and chatting to anyone else that is up. These interactions never lead to night-time hook-ups, as I am unwashed, crusty eyed and have midnight dog breath (Yes, quite the catch!) and besides, my partner is upstairs mumbling to himself in his sleep.

On one occasion though, I received a set of pictures that were irresistible. He had darkly handsome face pics staring with bad boy attitude into the camera, toned body shots of a guy who knew his way around a gym and the other shots were… well, average to be honest, but meticulously well groomed.

We exchanged messages for a while then he said he could accommodate and sent his location. Only a couple of roads away! I was understandably cautious about heading out to meet a stranger at 2am. Although the guy was hot, he exuded an air of brooding danger.

YOU COMING? he messaged.

I hesitated. Was this a good idea? Probably not. I should be sensible and stay safe… but those pecs, … that tough-guy scowl, … that fastidiously shaved scrotum.

YES. GIVE ME 15 MIN

I quickly washed, brushed my teeth and threw on some clothes. I paused to write a note for my partner should he wake up and find me gone, which I left in a prominent spot in the lounge. ‘Gone to meet a Grindr shag. Back soon. Don’t wait up… well, just go back to bed! X’

I really shouldn’t be doing this, I thought as I walked up the silent street. I have heard of incidents of men being lured into an attack or mugging on Grindr!

Moments later, I was back home. I decided to leave my wallet behind, just in case this was a set up and to take my phone instead, so I could call for help if necessary.

By the time I arrived at the guy’s flat, I was a jitter of nerves, having considered numerous unpleasant scenarios that could await me.

This is ridiculous. Anything could happen. Why am I not under a blanket on the sofa, watching Sharknado 3 on the Horror Channel or, even better, asleep in bed… like everyone else? I should turn around and just go back home.

He was stood in the illuminated entrance of the flats beckoning me in.

Shit, too late now, I thought.

Alarm bells really started to ring when he explained that we couldn’t use the flat after all, as he was staying with a friend.

He motioned me towards a doorway under the communal stairs.

Oh my God, I panicked, I am going to end up like one of those missing schoolgirls that spend fifteen years locked in a basement and eventually emerge, blinking into the light, with a litter of children/siblings!

It turned out that my imagination was getting away with me and the door didn’t lead into basement dungeon. It was just a dusty store cupboard containing the gas meter, fuse box and a long-irrelevant copy of the Yellow Pages.

“We can’t have sex in here,” I told him. “There’s no lock… and besides, it has a glass door!”

“My car is outside. We could drive somewhere.”

This could have been my opportunity to backout, but he was menacingly good looking with a rugged beard and… seriously, those biceps.

I suggested a local park.

As we drove there, I introduced myself and made a point of repeating my name several times, as I had heard somewhere that assailants are less inclined to attack if they can relate to you as a person rather than just a victim. I think I had picked that up from watching Silence of the Lambs. He listened to me in ominous silence (just like those lambs) and didn’t smile.

It took little time to navigate the empty roads to where we were going and soon we were stood at the threshold of the ominously pitch-black park.

If he intended me harm, then I had enabled it to happen. I had agreed to meet this risky looking stranger and even suggested we go to this deserted spot in the dead of night. ‘He only had himself to blame,’ my epitaph would read… but those abs were too good to resist.

As I led the way into the darkness, I was suddenly aware of a quick movement behind me. Had he got a knife?!

The guy abruptly called out my name.

I turned to see him stood there with his arm extended towards me, his eyes wide with fear. He was scared of the dark and wanted me to hold his hand and lead him down the uneven path.

Suddenly, there was a flutter above us.

He jumped and whimpered, “What was that?!”

“Just a bird,” I reassured him.

I took his hand.

We walked through the foreboding canopy of trees, like Hansel and Gretel… well, more Hansel and Hansel.

“There’s something over there,” he whispered nervously, at the sound of rustling in the foliage.

“It’s fine, you are safe,” I told him, pulling him close. “It’s just nocturnal animals. We are disturbing them. It is probably just a fox.”

“A FOX!!!” He practically screamed. He looked terrified, “I’m too nervous! I don’t think I can do this.”

I now saw it from his perspective. I was the stranger who had turned up on his doorstep in the dead of night and tempted him to an isolated spot full of eery shadows and wild creatures.

I cupped his face with my free hand, stroked that beard and we kissed.

Veil of Ignorance

Last year, two Birmingham neighbourhoods found themselves at the centre of protests where parents objected to same-sex relationships being acknowledged in their children’s primary schools, as they believed it was contrary to their religious beliefs (see ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10 May 2020).

An opportunistic agitator, took advantage of parent’s concerns, spreading misinformation and incorrectly claiming that a gay lifestyle was being promoted at the schools. He hijacked any legitimate parental concerns and aggressively exploited them for his own agenda of distrust and division.

The protests peaked on one Friday last May, when over 300 people descended on one of the schools at the heart of the controversy. International media were on the scene to report, as demonstrators were ferried in on coaches from other cities and religious leaders were invited to deliver vitriolic sermons.

This drama coincided with the arrival of a friend’s flamboyant lodger, who sashayed through the throng with all the attitude of Joan Collins entering a champagne soiree. He had to drag his luggage along several streets, as the Uber driver was too intimidated by the crowds to drop him at the doorstep.

At one point in the speeches, an Imam pointed at the school and libellously spat, “There are paedophiles in there! They have a paedophile agenda!” He went on to mock the LGBT community, “They are saying that men can love men… women can love women, well that’s OK I suppose, but bisexual?! Yoyoing back an’ forth!!!” His parting shot was to resort to the oft used accusation that the gays cannot breed (although we give it a damned good try), so are hellbent on ‘recruiting’ children. I didn’t realise that gay numbers were in decline and we are looking to swell the ranks. An enGAYnered species, no less! I should put an advert in the window, ‘Gays Wanted. Apply Within.’

I know that there are inspirational, inclusive, moderate Imams out there, but the jumped-up little Farage that organised this event didn’t invite any of them.

Ironically, there was one fabulously camp Imam, in a bold gold turban, that the media made a beeline for. I assume the bling turban looked good on telly. Beeline for a headline.

“Ho-mo-sexuality?! It’s disgusting, it really is,” he exclaimed to SKY News and others, in a fey Yorkshire accent that put me in mind of Alan Bennett. “Two men together? It’s just not right! When I think of them ho-mo-sexuals kissing and fondling and touching… with their rippling muscles and their tight clinging t-shirts, it makes me blood boil! Oooooh, I can feel me blood surging even now. I’m positively throbbing with it!!!” (I may have paraphrased).

I came to the street to watch the circus but instead found myself engaged in a forthright discussion with one of the religious leaders (not the one in the big gay hat, unfortunately), whose style of debating was to bark rapid questions, dismiss any answers that challenged or contradicted him and quickly switch to another subject.

An ever-growing circle of his male supporters encircled me as we talked, jeering, sneering and disparaging my comments.

“We are not homophobic people,” I was told, just as two passing men bellowed threats and insults at one of several houses on the street that had dared to fly the Rainbow Flag.

Faced with a barrage of arguments and abuse, I calmly explained that I could only comment from my own personal experience and perspective.

“See,” the Imam announced in a mocking tone, “he can’t even answer my questions!”

“I can’t comment on every aspect of the diverse LGBTQ+ community just because I am a gay man, any more than you can discuss every aspect of multifaith theology, just because you represent the beliefs of one aspect of one religion,” was what I wanted to reply, before he abruptly interrupted me and jumped to a whole new topic.

“It is a fact that there is a high proportion of mental health problems amongst the gay community,” the Imam stated, but before I could draw breath to reply, he continued, “is that because it is God’s punishment?”

“NO…” I responded, furiously. I flung my arms out to indicate the sea of protestors filling the small backstreet. “It is because of things like this! There are children in that school that are gay. They may not be able to acknowledge or articulate it yet, but they know that they are different. Every day for the past six months they have been greeted at the school gates by members of their own family telling them that it is not OK to be themselves, that they will not be accepted by their community and that their parent’s love is not unconditional! THIS… HERE… NOW…. is why there is a high degree of mental health issues in the gay community!!!”

I had finally managed to get a word in and I was determined to make the most of it, “Every person in this crowd has a member of the LGBTQ community in their family, but because of ignorance and intolerance it has to remain hidden. Everyone here will have a brother, sister, cousin, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, parent, or grandparent who is either L…G…B…T… or Q, but they are forced to live a lie. These protests are hurting your own families.”

This revelation clearly rattled the Imam, as he purposely turned the questioning to intimate aspects of my own personal sex life, so I made a decision to answer every question he asked me… in excruciating detail. I countered his inevitable opening gambit about how revolting he found the idea of anal sex, by explaining the practicalities of douching. It was a joy to watch his entourage squirm as they were compelled to listen, because their respected community leader had instigated the topic.

“It’s still disgusting,” I was told. “The anus is where excrement comes from!”

“The hole that you use is where a woman menstruates from,” I countered.

“We do not have sex with our wives when they are having their period.”

“It is also a region associated with urination… and we have already established that your wife doesn’t douche.”

“My wife is a clean woman!”

I had managed to turn the tables on him. This revered figure was now openly discussing intimate details of his sex life and the wife’s lady-parts in the street… with an audience.

“I hope that you return the favour by cleaning yourself thoroughly before your wife performs oral sex,” I said, with my most charming smile.

“My wife and I do not engage in that act!”

“Oh, I am sorry,” I offered sympathetically. “It does sound as though you have a very dull sex life. I hope, at the very least, she gives you a good tit-wank.”

With this parting shot, I departed.

Touché… or should that be ‘douché’?

The Boy with Hearts in His Eyes

Many a middle-aged man in Missing has gazed into his eyes and seen their feelings reflected… then been flicked in the bollocks and called a ‘Dirty Bitch’.

Meet Ruru… the Marmite of the Birmingham gay scene. Love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore him. A beguiling Yemini, capable of going from sweet boy to sassy bitch in just one of his faint heartbeats.

To misquote the Sisters of Nonnberg Abbey from The Sound of Music:

‘Unpredictable as weather

He’s as flighty as a feather

He’s a darling! He’s a demon! He’s a laaaamb!’

I originally met Ruru on… well, I’ll say a popular gay networking app. He came over several times then spent one long sunny afternoon sat in my back garden… and stayed… and stayed… and stayed. He wouldn’t leave. He stayed so long that day that I started wondered if he had moved in, but had just failed to mention it to me.

He chatted occasionally, but mainly spent the time making me ‘go live’ on social media and trying to take selfies with my aging dog.

I had a bottle of wine cooling in the fridge and after the fifth time I had unwillingly featured on MyFace or Twatter (look at me ‘getting down’ wiv da’kids), I really needed a drink. #timetogetpissed

As Ruru was Muslim, I didn’t want to offend him by drinking alcohol, but after a couple of parched hours, I finally gasped, “Would you mind if I had a glass of wine?”

“No, but just a small one,” he replied.

“No, no, no,” I blathered apologetically, “I wouldn’t get drunk in front of you.”

He gave me a coy look, “I meant, I’ll only have a small one.”

“You Drink?!” I spluttered in exasperation, “I’ve been sat here gagging for hours but didn’t want to insult you by drinking in your company.”

We polished off the bottle of wine (admittedly I had most of it, as he was a lightweight) then reached for a bottle of Prosecco. Midway through releasing the cork, I got particularly animated while telling a story and set the bottle on the kitchen counter as I gesticulated. Unexpectedly and dramatically, the bottle erupted in a geyser of sweet effervescence and the cork ricocheted from ceiling, sink and fridge in startling fury. I screamed and Ruru dropped into a lithe Spiderman crouch. Spidey-senses all of a tingle! Ru has subsequently discovered he has a fluttery heart. It could have killed him.

Several weeks later, I was strolling by the expansive windows of Loft Lounge and was attracted by Ruru’s frantic waving. He was sat inside on a sofa (Ah… Those comfortable days when Loft Lounge still had furniture you could sit on without getting splinters! This was before they ditched the Friends inspired Central Perk look for industrial chic) and motioning me to join him.

He had an untouched glass of red wine and three beer bottles in front of him, two of which were empty. It turns out that he had only wanted the wine but had bought a beer to take him over the £5 card limit at the bar. He had never had beer before and necked it. Now having a taste for it, he immediately returned to the bar to buy another, but of course the card limit meant he bought two more to bring him up to the required amount. Why he didn’t just buy a bag of crisps like a normal person I will never know.

By the time I walked in, he was absolutely spannered.

Ruru just sat, consumed by an oversized sofa, gazing around in dazed contentment and occasional blowing out of his mouth, producing a sound like a gently neighing horse.

Whenever his eyes met mine, a dopey smile spread across his face and he emphatically poked me in my chest with a fickle finger, exclaiming a meaningless, “You… You… Yoooooooooou!”

He was in a right pickle.

I had been on my way to meet a friend, so had to leave. It was all a bit of a rush.

“I’ve got to go. Are you going to be OK?”

Ruru rolled his eyes in indignation and harrumphed, “Offff coursssse!”

I left him basking in his newfound love of beer and staring around the bar like a new-born calf trying to make sense of this strange new world it found itself in.

He survived the night (I did text him several times, just to check he wasn’t sprawled in the gutter).

Five years later and he is still an adorable lightweight and complete Muppet. Missing Bar is now his second home, where he regularly flirts with and winds up the other regulars, broadcasts live karaoke on social media and once got so drunk that he came out to his Muslim family in a text message then promptly ran away to Scotland to hide in the heather with a herd of wild haggis… but that is a whole other story.

One night, I was describing Ruru to someone that I assumed must know him.

They asked, “Is he small, really cute… and a nightmare after three pints?”

“That’s him.”

The radiant Ruru! How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Xxx