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

To Sir, With Thanks. X

Being sat at a bar with my form teacher wasn’t exactly how I had expected my first night on the Birmingham gay scene to turn out… but I could not have wanted for a better introduction.

It was a relief to finally have another gay man to confide in and even better that it was a familiar and trusted figure. Here was an opportunity to talk to someone with experience of a world I was taking my first steps into and who had no agenda other than just being there to listen and support.

Although being caught in a gay bar by Mr. G had been a shock, I myself had not been surprised that he frequented such establishments, as rumours about his sexuality had circulated around school for years. The shaved head, handlebar moustache, penchant for a leather jacket and the general ‘Village People’ vibe had always been a bit of a giveaway.

Predictably, I was not the first (or presumably the last) pupil that Mr. G had encountered on the scene during his decades of teaching. It even transpired that only a few weeks earlier a fellow classmate had come to see him in school to confess that he was gay and ask for advice.

Mr. G never revealed the identity of this mystery pupil, as he had been approached in confidence, but several years later I would discover that it had been a good friend and someone on whom I had a schoolboy crush. How different things could have been if we had both come out to each other while still at school. First kiss? Secret affair? Fuck buddy? Prom date?!

As the evening progressed, it was suggested that we move on to ‘The Nightingale’, the city’s only night club in the 1980s. Mr. G was a member of the club and offered to sign me in as his guest.

At this point in ‘The Gales’ history it was a single level venue situated near the stage door of the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre. It was accessed through a heavy door set at the end of a short alleyway. You had to ring the bell, wait until a pair of eyes were revealed behind a sliding slot and then confirm that you knew what type of bar it was, before being admitted.

Once inside, I recall an entrance space with a cloakroom, a small bar and I think a gaudy fountain, but I may be mistaken about the water feature. The main room had a large dancefloor at its heart, another bar and plenty of seating. On the far side of the dancefloor was a more private dimly lit area, partitioned off from prying eyes. I remember being baffled as to why anyone would want to disappear into a dark subdivision of a busy nightclub. How naive! So much to learn… and so much fun learning.

At the end of the night, Mr. G drove me home. He dropped me off a few streets away from where I lived, so as not to arouse the suspicions of potentially insomniac parents, awaiting their son’s late-night return.

I am eternally grateful to Mr. G (not actual name) for looking after me on my first night out on the Birmingham gay scene. He was the perfect gentleman… and continues to be so to this day.

Here’s to 30 years and counting. X

Please, Don’t Let Me Trip

I didn’t exactly explode onto the Birmingham gay scene in ‘glorious rainbow technicolour’, but more ‘creep apprehensively down a flight of steep stairs’…  and straight into a mortifyingly familiar face.

At age 18, my Friday nights were usually spent with a group of school friends, alternating between several pubs that made up the social triangle of Aston University Campus. I had been drinking on that campus for several months prior to turning the legal age to drink, but being student pubs, used to a clientele of fresh-faced undergrads, our spotty faces barely stood out. As long as you could rattle off your fake date of birth with enough conviction, the doormen were convinced or at least prepared to turn a blind eye and let the brewery take your money, as long as you didn’t make a nuisance of yourselves.

On this particular night though, I could not shake off thoughts of another bar in the city centre. One bar that every local child had heard tales of and sniggered about in the schoolyard. One bar that the mere thought of ignited my teenage hormones, like a drop of blood screaming out to a hunting shark.

I decisively downed the dregs of my pint of cordial coloured Snakebite & Black, turned to my best-friend, whom I had come out to several months earlier, and announced, “I’m going to ‘The Jester’.”

The Jester was a basement bar that lurked beneath a faded curve of concrete, glass and aluminium on Holloway Circus. A typical 1960’s development of offices, shops and originally a cinema, of the type that old-school Birmingham is ‘renowned’, Scala Building had seen better days… even back in the 80s.

I paced around outside of The Jester for an age. I was trying to spur myself into going inside, but every time I managed to muster the courage, somebody would walk by or a lit up night bus, packed with people, would circle the roundabout and I would lose my nerve. I was terrified of being seen by someone I knew or anyone at all for that matter.

Finally, the coast was clear and I dashed inside. The unremarkable entrance led to a flight of stairs leading down into… well, I had no idea.

My heart was pounding with a giddy mix of fear and arousal. My legs were shaking. As I descended the steep stairs, all I could think was, Please, don’t let me trip. I didn’t want my first entrance into a gay bar to be marred by a scream, a commotion and numerous thumps down the stairs! I gripped the handrail with white-knuckle intensity, while still trying to convey a pretence of casual nonchalance. No mean trick I can tell you.

I managed to get to the bottom of the stairs, upright and with the maximum dignity that an awkward ginger teenager could carry off, to find that every person in the bar had turned to check out who had just entered. Fresh meat. New chicken.

I crossed to the vast elliptical central bar and ordered a lager.

As I waited for the barman to return with my drink, I dared a quick glance around the venue. I took in the small raised dance floor in the corner, the neon lighting and, to my delight, a glitterball. They actually had a glitterball! My only previous knowledge of a gay bar came solely from ‘The Blue Oyster’ in the movie ‘Police Academy’, which had a glitterball that the Leather Queens danced romantically beneath. I was now convinced that every gay venue in the world had a glitterball.

I spotted one really cute guy around the curve of the bar to my left.

I thought, He looks very handsome. About my age, leather jacket, chiselled jawline, slicked back black hair… Oh hang on. It’s a lesbian.

My drink arrived and I let out a sigh of relief. I had made it inside, down the stairs and got a drink, all without incident. The night was mine!

Suddenly, a hand fell on my shoulder.

“Hello young man. How are you?”

I turned and was met with the benignly smiling face… of my form teacher!

“Oh,” I gulped. “Hello Sir.”