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 Boltz, 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 liked 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?

Play It Again… Max

There is one regular barfly at Boltz Club who stands out precisely because of his determination to keep to himself.

This reserved customer is exceptionally slender (more barstick-insect than barfly), with an impressively angular afro. He always sits on his own at the bar, focused on his phone and resolutely refusing to engage with anyone. He gives off clear vibes that he is content and does not want anyone approaching him. It is not until he has consumed enough Dutch courage that he will rise from his stool and head into the dark room in pursuit of company… on his own terms.

I had always thought that he was kind of cute, like Michael Jackson before it all went wrong, but he steadfastly ignored any of my attempts at eye contact.

I have only once seen him in the real world, outside the dim confines of Boltz. I was shopping in Birmingham city centre and spotted him in the middle of New Street, confidently singing his heart out. He was busking with a guitar and sound system. No Michael Jackson numbers though.

I stood and watched, until my partner lost interest and tried to move on.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “I want to listen to him play it again. I’ve near heard this guy speak, let alone sing.”

Next time I saw him back at the bar, I took a moment to tell him what good a singer I thought he was. He seemed uncomfortable that someone had invaded his space, but still graciously thanked me and I left him smiling in proud silence.

Several weeks later our paths crossed again in the more shadowy corners of Boltz, but this time he unexpectedly gave me ‘that’ look and we bolted into an empty cubical.

Afterwards, as we tucked ourselves away, he told me his name and said, “Next time I see you in here, remind me that you are a good fuck and we should do it again.” He intended on staying in Boltz until closing time and knew that by morning he would have no recollection of the night before.

So, the next time I saw him, I dutifully strolled up and said, “Hello Max.”

As predicted, he did not remember our previous encounter and was startled that I knew his name, although not as surprised as I was. I am usually terrible with names and only recalled his, because it was the same as my dog.

“I have a message for you,” I continued. “I’ve been told to tell you I am a good fuck.”

Max nearly spat out his drink and stared at me in bug-eyed surprise, “Who told you to tell me that?!!”

“Well…,” I paused, teasing out the suspense and feeling like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “you did. You also told me to tell you that we should do it again and I believe that you should always follow your own advice.”

Several months later, I saw Max again and brought up the subject of our second meeting. Max just looked at me blankly. He had absolutely no memory of this encounter either! He must live his whole life like a goldfish, coasting around the bars of Birmingham with no lasting memory of anything that occurs. He can keep doing the same things, with the same people, over and over again and each time is like the first time. The perpetual virgin.

Mind you, I am just as bad if I watch TV after too many beers. My partner tells me that I can re-watch the very same episode and make identical noises, laughs, gasps and comments, at all the same places I did the first time, as though I have never seen the programme before. Double the enjoyment, worth buying the boxset.

I now make a point of always greeting Max with a friendly hello and gentle hand on his shoulder. I am honoured by the fact that I am one of the few people that he tolerates interrupting his contented solitude. I am treating it as personal challenge to get Max to one day engage in a full conversation with me. I feel like a gardener who is patiently taming a skittish squirrel, wary of not overwhelming him and causing him to bolt.

I should be simply contented that this introvert even remembers me. Come to think of it, maybe he doesn’t?

Last Orders At The Bar, Please

A love Letter to Better Days

I was out on the Birmingham gay scene the evening that the UK was told to close and we were all sent to our rooms.

It had been obvious that a nationwide lockdown was on its way. Some businesses were already closing their doors, parents were selecting to remove their children from school, universities had moved lectures online and bars and restaurants were seeing a marked drop in customers. The writing was on the wall. We were just awaiting the official announcement.

The word was that the UK would be allowed one more weekend of real life before it all closed down, so I called in at Missing Bar for a final post work Friday night drink, but suddenly the goal posts changed. Boris announced that he was calling time that Friday night instead, so I unexpectedly found myself out on the tiles to see the doors close, the shutters come down and the lights go out on Hurst Street.

I visited several favourite haunts over the course of the evening and each had a decent ‘midweek’ sized crowd of customers, all determined to have one last night out and give the scene the send-off it deserved. There were the usual laughs and letchery, but also tears and moments of sombre silence, when an entire bar of people would retreat into their own thoughts and stare, with haunted looks, into their drinks, contemplating the unpredictable days to come. A vibrant venue would suddenly and spontaneously take on a funereal air. We were attending a scene-wide wake, unsure when or even if these places would open again.

My evening ended with a lock-in at Boltz. I cast an affectionate glance around at the dozen or so loyal regulars that had been invited to stay on beyond closing… and what a brilliantly eclectic group we were.

In his favourite corner, sat on one of Boltz’s unfeasibly heavy bar stools, was… well, I’ll call him ‘Average Joe’, a down to earth, blue collar, right-wing, Farage loving, Brexiter, with a screeching laugh that blasts into every corner and crevice of the venue. His unpalatable political opinions are based on tabloid headlines and half read internet propaganda… and are at odds with the reality of this affable barfly who cheerfully welcomes all into his social circle, no matter their creed or colour.

I remember telling ‘Average Joe’ to his face, “You would be very easy to dislike… if you weren’t such a pleasant fella,” which prompted him to explode into a prolonged burst of that toxic laugh.

This fair weather fascist once proudly told his fellow drinkers that someone had left a review on the Boltz website, complaining how an otherwise enjoyable evening had been ruined by the constant and all-pervading noise of the ‘laughing hyena’ at the corner of the bar.

Joe’s drinking buddy, who has the distinction of being the only person I have ever met that can make a Dudley lilt sound sexy, commented, “Weeeeell, they ‘ad a point.”

“Naaaaaah!” Joe replied. “I think ‘e was drinkin’ a Coke,” then shrieked at his own daft joke (a joke that will only make sense to someone familiar with the Black Country accent).

On a padded bench, to one side of the porn room entrance, sat ‘Simple Simon’, someone it is impossible to avoid on the scene… no matter how hard you may try.

Simon clearly has mental health issues, which can be irritating and endearing in equal measures, depending on where his mood, mind, meds or line of colourful shots takes him, but he is harmless, well-meaning and unfailingly friendly, greeting acquaintances and strangers alike, by swooping into a flamboyant bow and declaring, “Your Majesty!”

He goes through periods of donning a shocking fright wig and regaling anyone that he can corner with rapid fire nonsense about his impending appearance on stage as Tina Turner, “I… I … I am performing soon. I’m going to be Tina. Tina Turner! You get me? I’m singing! I’m singing all her songs. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m singing soon… on a stage. You get me? You… you… you get me? This is my wig. You Like it? Shall I keep it? Shall I keep it?! I’ve got the costume. Tina Turner. I’m going to be great. You get me?”

He has been going on about his impending performance for as long as I can remember, but like Christmas in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it never seems to materialise. I’m not sure it has happened, was every going to happen or is only happening in his wig covered head.

Simon is a lithe, feline like, black man who looks a lot younger than his 50+ years, something of which he is understandably proud. For a long time, he enjoyed playing a game where he would demand that people guess his true age. He would repeatedly force me to play, until I got wise to his actual aged and would systematically raise my ‘guess’ by a year every time he asked. He stopped asking by the time I was suggesting that he was in his early 70s.

Thank Heavens he finally got over that phase he went through of impersonating a Velociraptor and screaming the theme tune to Jurassic Park into people’s faces! That’s was a trying period and got him suspended from at least one venue on the scene.

And then… there was Richie (This is the most feeble pseudonym I have used so far, well except for ‘Simon’, because… well, his name actually is Simon), perched on the arm of one of those MASSIVE barstools, content amongst friends.

Richie was, by his own admission, a teenage tearaway who turned his life around when he moved to Birmingham in his twenties. This ‘not so rough’ diamond quickly established himself as a cherished figure on the scene. A guy that can be succinctly described as ‘handsome, humble and hung’ (now there is a tagline for his Grindr profile), who has a constantly evolving style that can swing from ‘Groomed Boyband’ to ‘Homeless Chic’ in a matter of days… or sometime hours, depending on how many pints he’s had.

I really got the measure of this man not long after he started working at Unit 2, the gay sauna on Lower Essex Street. I had hurt my back at work and was forced to take some time off, but after a week of convalescing, I foolhardily decided to visit the sauna, half convincing myself that the steam would help. I figured I’d be back on my back in no time. Hey, you can’t keep a good man down.

All went well, until I tried to get dressed in the empty locker room. T-shirt and trousers didn’t pose much of a problem but getting my socks and shoes on proved a lot trickier, requiring all sorts of contortions and resulting in comedy yelps and spasms.

As I was struggling to bend down low enough to tie my laces, Richie came in to collect the used towels.

“Could you help me?” I asked.

“Sure matey,” he responded without hesitation.

As soon as I explained my predicament, Richie dropped to his knees and began to sort out my shoes. It was at this moment that another customer entered the locker room. Bewildered by the unexpected sight that greeted him, the guy froze in the doorway. He clearly thought he was intruding on some deeply intimate moment and began to slowly retreat.

“You can come in,” I reassured the awkward looking guy, then glanced down at Richie crouching at my feet and explained, “It’s OK. He’s my gimp!” Although, it would have been truer to say that he was my shining knight.

Back on that last night before lockdown, it was time to leave the lock-in.

I collected my coat from behind the bar and headed to the door, pausing at the threshold for one last look around. I didn’t know when or if any of us would be returning and wanted to take in each and every person in that dimly lit ex-industrial unit and remember them at that moment.

I was proud that I stayed to say goodbye and thank you to people and places that have meant so much to me over the decades. It was important, sombre, heart-warming, emotional… and sobering, so let’s hope we can get drunk together again soon.

We fiddled as Rome burned… and believe me there was plenty of fiddling going on! We fiddled like it was like the end of the world.

CRACKANORY: Nanny’s Fanny

We all have stories to tell, so this is the first of a sporadic series where I recount the tales of others.

One pleasant Sunday afternoon, I was sat in Eden Bar with a good friend. The bright sun failed to penetrate the comfortingly dim interior, with its dark walls and heavy velvet drapes, that wouldn’t look out of place in Miss Havisham’s Dickensian drawing room. It was the perfect setting for my friend to tell me a story, although maybe a ghost story would have been more appropriate. In fact, any story would have been more appropriate that this most inappropriate of tales.

My friend and I have a mutual mate called Luke, who speaks his mind with uncompromising directness and is armed with a hilariously sick sense of humour, a character trait that he has possessed since childhood, apparently.

Back when Luke and his brother Jack where aged 11 and 15 respectively, they were staying overnight at their grandmother’s home. There was only the one bed available, so their nan dutifully allowed the boys to sleep in it, while she fashioned herself a nest on the floor from spare blankets and pillows.

During the night, Luke woke up and glanced down at where his nan was slumbering. In her bid to get comfortable, Nan had discarded her sheets and was sprawled uncovered on her makeshift bed. Luke was horrified to see that her nocturnal squirming had caused her nightie to ride up and expose Nanny’s naked nether regions, out there and glistening in the moonlight.

Luke frantically woke his brother, and the two boys descended into a stifled fit of adolescent giggles, as they peered over the edge of the bed at the startling sight.

“Look, look, look… Nanny’s fanny!” Luke sniggered. Suddenly, a twisted idea came to him and, seizing an opportunity to torment his brother in a way that only a sibling could, Luke challenged, “I bet it stinks. Dare you to sniff it!”

Jack refused.

“Go on, sniff it. I dare you!”

“I’m not doing it!!”

“You’ve got to, it’s a dare. Sniff Nanny’s fanny.”

“No!”

“If you don’t sniff Nanny’s fanny, you are a chicken.”

“No way!”

“Chicken… chicken… chicken.”

Finally, after much taunting and goading, Luke managed to pressure his older brother into complying.

Jack crept stealthily off the bed and over to their grandmother’s sleeping form. Egged on by his younger brother, he knelt and lowered his head until his nose hovered just above the exposed region.

Suddenly, quick as a flash, Luke thrust out his arm, grabbed the back of his brother’s head and shoved him face first into the crotch.

Nan awoke in confusion to find her grandson nose deep in her vagina and pandemonium naturally ensued. Jack the ‘Vagina Miner’ vigorously claimed that he had got up to use the bathroom and tripped, while Luke feigned innocence and pretended that the commotion had just woken him up.

So wrong, but so funny.

A few months after being told this tale, I had the pleasure of hearing Luke tell it himself on a packed train to London… much to the distain of the elderly gentleman sat across the aisle from us.

Back on that sunny Sunday afternoon in Eden Bar, my friend and I raised a glass to, “The original Fanny Chmelar”.

Urinal Encounters: Quite the Predicament

When I started this series of four themed blogs, I opened with the line: ‘I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals over the years. No, not like that!’ Well… this was very much ‘like that’.

We all know that nightclub toilets aren’t always used for the purpose 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. After a few drinks, inhibitions and decorum become things of the past.

In some gay venues the bar staff and security are fully aware what is going on in the cubicles and turn a blind eye. In fact, on several occasions I’ve found myself in a cubical with a member of staff.

There are of course club staff that show restraint, such as the barman at The Core, who did a double take when he saw me tucking myself away as I emerged from the curtained off darkroom and exclaimed, in a rich African accent, “If I was not on the job… I would be soooo ‘on the job’!”

I was recently on a night out, when the guy stood next to me at the urinals 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 crotch and, seeing what was on offer, said, “Not that shy, clearly.”

He considered for a moment then nodded his consent and we both walked into the waiting cubicle and locked the door behind us. It wasn’t exactly 5-star, but it was larger than most toilet cubicles and adequately suited our needs.

Afterwards, we adjusted our clothes and prepared to step back out into the club.

The guy motioned for me to remain quiet and listened at the thin door to determine if it was safe to slip out.

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 can 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 the cubical, rather than facing the toilet, so it was easy to flatten myself against the wall and remain concealed behind it.

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 in the toilet bowl. 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 stood 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. If I had been in his position, I would have simultaneously shat myself while having that pee… and sprayed the walls, floor and ceiling.

I’ll be staying out of toilet cubicles for a good while and trying to avoid any further sitcom situations.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em meets Queer As Folk.

Daring to Bare

The first Sunday of every month is Dare2Bare at Boltz, Birmingham’s self-proclaimed ‘Horniest Club’.

Dare2Bare is one of the club’s biggest and most popular events, packing the place out with a mix of men in their underwear or just naked. Every age is in attendance, from the barely legal to the nearly dead, and all body types are on show, including one interesting character who struts around showing off his physique of oddly fitting muscle implants that make him look like he’s wearing a blow up sumo suit.

The heating is on full blast during the winter events, but I have been known to head straight for the biggest and busiest darkroom just to huddle together with the other guys, like a colony of penguins, until I acclimatise.

I was once trying to persuade a friend and colleague to come and dare to bare all with me, once the weekend conference that we were working on together was over. I was having to shout to be heard over the hubbub of the noisy staffroom.

“You don’t have to be fully naked,” I reassured him at the top of my voice, then added, precisely at one of those odd moments when all noise simultaneously ceases, “YOU CAN KEEP YOUR PANTS ON!”

There was one occasion, several years ago, when Dare2Bare coincided with Easter Sunday. I still think that the marketing team missed an opportunity. ‘Dare2Bare: The ResERECTION. Hallelujah, He Has Risen Again’.

Every month, without fail, I see my old form teacher at the event. He’s now in his late 70s and still baring all. The first time I saw Mr G there, he was stood with his back to me at the bar in nothing but a pair of baggy M&S boxer shorts, so I sidled up, stood behind him and said, “Excuse me sir, I’ve been sent to see you.”

He offered to buy me a pint, which he has kindly continued to do on all subsequent encounters and rarely allows me to buy him one back.

Standing there at a bar with Mr G in the near buff, the conversation meandering through various everyday topics, seemed so normal that it felt like I was in any backstreet boozer but had spontaneously developed X-ray vision.

On another occasion, my chat with Mr G was interrupted by the arrival of my neighbour from several houses down. It took me a moment to place the face, as I didn’t recognise him without his clothes on.

After we talked and he headed off to mingle, I turned to Mr G and said, “This is going to be a challenge. I’ve fancied him since he first moved in, but I can’t go there, as that would be too close for comfort.”

We both agreed that it would be unwise to have sex with a neighbour, as you don’t ‘shit on your own doorstep’.

Well… my resolve lasted all of 20 minutes.

There was one occasion at Dare2Bare, when I and a handsome mixed-race guy caught each other’s eye. He flashed me a dazzling smile and vanished into one of the dimly lit cruising areas. I immediately followed.

I soon found him waiting in the gloom. Although they are referred to as ‘darkrooms’ there is adequate light for you to find your quarry, although not always enough to easily negotiate the twisting corridor. I once saw a guy collide full speed into a wall that he had mistaken for a doorway and stay there, like Wile E. Coyote slammed against a fake tunnel entrance painted onto a rockface.

The guy’s name was Kayden and we stood and chatted in the bustling corridor.

“Do you mind me asking, but how old are you?”

“I don’t mind you asking at all. I am forty-seven,” I told him. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” He replied. “I hope I look as good as you… when I get to your age.”

I thanked him for the compliment but explained that he really didn’t need to add the last bit.

Kayden looked sheepish.

“So,” I asked, “have you been to ‘Dare to Bare’ before?”

It was my turn to look sheepish when he replied, “Yes! You fucked me last month.”

I apologised and gave the feeble excuse, “Well it was dark.”

“That’s OK. I’ll let you make it up to me,” he said, taking my hand and leading me into a cubical.

Once the door was closed, Kayden dropped to his knees and got on task.

I automatically placed my hand on the back of his head and was surprised by the softness of his hair. Being mixed white and Afro-Caribbean, his hair naturally had a pronounced curl, but it had a particularly luxurious feel, like a deep plush carpet.

“Your hair is amazing!”

Kayden paused what he was doing and looked up at me.

Still cupping me in his hand, he gave me an incredulous stare and said in a stonic deadpan, “Yea… You said that last month.”

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to iron my underwear. 😉

Finding the Gems

You can find heart-warming stories in the most unexpected of places.

I was in Boltz, a private members men-only club situated at the shadowy end of Lower Essex Street, which confidently describes itself as ‘the Midland’s horniest club’. While anything and everything can and does go on in this salacious bar, this was a particularly quiet mid-week, where only a modest early evening crowd had come in for a post-work pint and to see if they could retreat to a convenient cubical or more private corner with some likeminded gentleman, before heading home to partners, wives, families…. pets.

Uninspired by the half dozen familiar faces in the bar, I pulled out my phone and occupied myself by casually exchanging taps and pleasantries with local guys on… well I’ll say a ‘popular gay dating app’… but I mean Grindr, when a friendly ‘Hello’ popped up in my message box from someone 10 meters way.

I looked up to see a petite, South Asian lad beaming a wide grin at me from the other side of the rectangular bar that dominates the core of the club. The lad turned his large, doe like, eyes bashfully to the floor. I waited the few self-conscious moments that it required for him to muster the confidence to look back up again, then returned his smile, picked up my drink and walked around the bar.

We introduced ourselves. His name was Nishant and it turned out that he was from a small town outside of New Delhi and was in the UK on a three-year student visa, studying baking at the Birmingham College of Food.

Soon any hint of shyness had disappeared, and this guy showed that he loved to talk.

Nishant chatted enthusiastically about his studies, future ambitions and friends, both in Birmingham and back home in India. One subject rapidly tumbling into the next in an engaging monologue, all delivered in a charmingly lyrical Indian accent, of the extravagant type you don’t tend to hear outside of the politically incorrect sitcoms of my youth and certainly not in Birmingham these days, as most of the city’s South Asian population are natural born Brummies and have varying degrees of the city’s notorious accent.

Most endearing, was the enthusiastic head wiggle that punctuated Nishant’s soliloquy, adding emphasis to key moments and marking changes of emotion, pace and tone, like a human metronome! Often referred to as the ‘Indian Nod’, this expressive movement of the head is utterly charming.

Sadly, Nishant’s melodic narrative took a tragic downturn as he started to talk about a secret affair that he had been involved in with a man in his hometown. Things had turned sour after they had split up and the bitter ex-lover had maliciously outed Nishant to his whole community, bringing shame on his family and resulting in a temporary breakdown in his relationship with his mother.

Nishant felt that he had no choice, but to get away. His studies in Birmingham not only presented new opportunities, but also respite from the scandal.

When it came time to leave for the UK, Nishant’s mother refused to accompany him to the airport or even say goodbye.

Nishant had one older brother with whom he was understandably nervous of broaching the subject of his sexuality for fear of further rejection.

When he finally mustered the courage to talk to the brother, he asked, “Are you also ashamed of me?”

The brother replied, “Nishant, I am neither ashamed or surprised… and have been deleting your browser history since you were 12 years old.”

The older brother had discovered Nishant’s taste in internet porn sites years before and had been keeping his younger sibling’s secret safe ever since.

“I love your brother,” I said, once the story was over and I could get a word in, “but hang on… 12?!! Dirty boy!!!”

Nishant gave a bashful smile and, of course, a characteristic wiggle of the head and replied, “What can I say? I was an early developer.”

Some on the Birmingham gay scene condemn Boltz for its pseudo-sleaziness, but if you take a moment to look beyond the window dressing of slings and bars, rubber and leather you will find something else.

Within the gloom of the darkroom… you can find gems in the shadows.