God Save The Queen

The Victoria is a beautiful 19th Century pub which stands proudly on the corner of John Bright Street, beneath the mezzanine that connects the two halves, old and new, of The Alexandra Theatre.

There are so many reasons to love this pub, from its elegant exterior, curving around the bend of the road, to the funky murals that adorn the walls the back bar. A bust of Queen Victoria sits on the internal canopy above the now superfluous central door (It should really be on the corner of the bar, like the one in its fictitious namesake on the BBC soap opera EastEnders), keeping an imperious eye on events. 

I experience a daft thrill every time I arrange to meet friends at The Victoria, because in my mind I have the raspy East End tones of Phil Mitchell, when I say, “See yer daaaaan the Vic.”


The place had a far more shabby feel when I first visited, but had a great collection of signed photos, from the multitude of stars that had frequented the bar while performing at the theatre next-door, framed and displayed up the stairs leading to the function room. I was always enamoured with the one of the marvellous Yootha Joyce, best known for 70’s sitcom George and Mildred.

A decade or so ago, The Vic underwent a thankfully sympathetic makeover, which gave the gaff a much-needed spruce up, while retaining all its original character and charm, which is more than can be said for the poor Prince of Wales, the theatre pub situated behind the Birmingham REP.


The Prince of Wales was a gem, complete with separate bar, lounge and snug, but I received a shock, over twenty years ago, when I went in and found that the partitions had gone, and all the original Victorian features had been ripped out and replaced with mock Victorian facsimiles. I had been half distracted by the book I was reading as I entered (I used to be able to read and walk. Nowadays, I can’t even text while on the move without mishap) and actually thought for a moment that I had wandered into the wrong pub, going as far as stepping back outside to check the sign.

I positioned myself on a seat by the door to await my friend’s imminent arrival and see her response to the changes. She didn’t disappoint, stopping sharp on the threshold and giving a flutter of flummoxed blinks, as though she had just received a slap to the face.

“Yes,” I said, “that was my reaction when I walked in too.”

A few days later, I was telling a colleague about the fate of the Prince of Wales, when she started bobbing about excitedly and interjected, “Oh my God, I agree! My dad owns a print company and while it was closed for refurbishment, he and went on a stealth mission one night and bill posted the windows with sarcastic posters saying, ‘A little bit of Disney in the heart of Birmingham.’ The contractors left them there for ages as they thought that the brewery had put them up.”


The Victoria was the site of my first tantalising encounter with the Birmingham gay scene (Wondering when this was going to go gay weren’t you? A mention of Yootha Joyce not enough?!).

To expand our understanding of modern art, my A-level art class had been instructed to buddy up with a partner and visit the Ikon Gallery, which at the time was located just down he street from The Victoria.

So, one weekend, we obediently made our way to the gallery, under our own steam, where we made notes on any work that caught our attention.

As we headed back toward New Street Station, we passed The Victoria.

The pub has always attracted a mix of gay and straight clientele and on this summer’s afternoon a group of lads were gathered outside on the pavement, enjoying a drink and cigarettes in the sun.

At the sight of two fresh-faced chickens, the boys began to wolf whistle and call out lude comments, much to my friend’s discomfort and my barely concealed delight.

This was my first encounter with anyone that was gay, and I couldn’t let the moment pass without somehow letting them know that I was secretly one of the family.

I used to wear my keys on a long chain attached to one of the beltloops on my trousers. I had been warned by my sister to always keep the keys in my front pocket, because having the chain lead to your rear pocket meant you were queer, in a secret signal akin to the handkerchief code or which side you had your ear pierced.

As we continued down the road, I discreetly took my keys from their ingrained front pocket and slipped them pointedly into the back, then stole a quick glance to see the response.

The catcalling immediately halted and one guy nudged his friend to draw attention to my symbolic gesture. I remember briefly seeing their smiles of understanding and one boy gave me a subtle nod of solidarity. For the first time, I was not alone.


Some evenings, you might see the odd famous face in The Victoria, if the cast of whatever show is on at The Alex goes to the pub for a post-performance drink.

I was told by the lesbian couple that ran the place, prior to its makeover, about the night TV Timelord, Sylvester McCoy (7th incarnation of Doctor Who), strolled into the bar, slammed his walking cane on the wooden floor, and declared, “THE DOCTOR IS IN!”

Both women looked at each other and simultaneously asked, “Who?”


On another occasion, I was lucky enough to sit two tables from a childhood crush, when Todd Carty (Grange Hill’s Tucker Jenkins) called in after a performance of Spamalot.

When he headed toward the gent’s toilets, my mate nodded in his direction and suggested, “Now’s your chance.”

It had been many years since Todd Carty had been the lanky heartthrob of my youth (having moved on to EastEnders, The Bill and hilariously lost control and crashed off the rink and out of Dancing on Ice… through the emergency exit), but some bits never change, so I followed him in for a peek.

There’s Tucker’s cock ticked off the bucket list.


I clearly remember the first time I had a drink in The Victoria.

I was away at university but visiting my home city to see a production of Martin Sherman’s Bent with some friends.

We were puzzled by the eclectic mix of characters in the bar, which included a group of old chaps in flat caps, scene queens and a crowd that appeared to be work colleagues.

Curious to determine the demographic, I approached the matronly barmaid.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “but what type of pub is this? I can’t work out if it is gay or straight.”

“Oh luv, it’s a mix of everyone,” she told me. “We ‘av gays, residents from Stephenson Tower (now demolished) and postal workers from the Royal Mail building (now the The Mailbox). We all muddle along together.”


Here’s to The Victoria, the reigning Regina of Birmingham pubs… then, now and forever.

Birmingham’s Busiest Quiet Road

Previously published as four separate blogs, it is presented here as one compilation.

When we bought our little Victorian end terrace, ten minutes from bohemian Moseley and five minutes from the Balti Triangle, a neighbour greeted us with, “Welcome to Birmingham’s busiest quiet road.”

We never suspected how prophetic those words would prove to be.


It wasn’t long before the road started to show its vibrant colours.

Within weeks of moving in, we witnessed a dramatic raid on a house opposite, involving a dozen armed police. One particularly glamorous officer carried off her snug flack-jacket and utility belt with all the panache of Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker (If you are under the age of forty, Google it).

We enjoyed the antics of the Eastern European renters, who entertained themselves by regularly wrestling in the front bedroom in their underpants. The boyz considerately left the curtains wide open, almost although they knew they had appreciative gays ogling them from across the street.

Excitingly, a police chase came to an abrupt halt in the bay window of the corner house, when joyriders lost control and crashed through their garden wall, sadly, shattering the original Victorian road sign in the process. Just minutes later it could have been a tragedy, had the primary school at the end of the road dismissed for the day. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident… or again when the exact same thing happened several years later. If I lived in that house, I would consider moving.

There was also that time the hot Kurdish lad from the corner shop popped up on the national news… wanted for double homicide.

Oh… and the freak tornado that felled trees, toppled chimneys and ripped roofs from houses (I’m not making this up). One row of two-up two-downs lost their top floors entirely, rendering them a row of bungalows (or just two-downs). Fortunately, our road emerged relatively unscathed, but it was the last out neighbours saw of their patio furniture. Rumour has it that a man in the kiosk outside Kings Heath’s Iceland was transported though the air, like a Kanas farmhouse, and found himself deposited on the opposite side of the carpark.

Yet all this paled into insignificance when the street found itself at the centre of a sustained campaign of anti-LGBTQ protests.


Events began when a local property developer/slum landlord arranged a meeting with the headmistress of Anderton Park Primary, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkeson, to discuss the school’s progressive stance on inclusion.

He claimed to represent parental concerns that the school’s policy of tolerance and equality be extended to the LGBTQ community. Apparently, they objected to the school’s aim of fostering an environment where there were no outsiders and everyone was respected, including children from same-sex families. Believing it contrary to their religious beliefs, parents decided that they did not want their children to know that some of their friends may go home to a house where two men or two women shared a bedroom.

This self-proclaimed spokesperson stormed into the head’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself, “General of a war I intend to win,” and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face.

He was promptly asked to leave, and the poor mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.


This opportunistic agitator spread misinformation and incorrectly claimed that a gay lifestyle was being promoted at the school. He highjacked any legitimate parental concerns and aggressively exploited them for his own agenda of distrust and division.

The following week, he began to orchestrate demonstrations outside the school gates. Every weeknight, crowds would gather to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society they would or would not accept.

Protesters called for the Head’s resignation and chanted: “Our children, our choice”; “Let kids be kids”; “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”; and my personal favourite, “We will not tolerate intolerance”.

May I suggest that if you do not want your innocent children to know that some people have two mummies or two daddies, then don’t turn up outside their school and start shouting about it through a megaphone.


After several evenings of disruption, a group of likeminded residents decided to retaliate by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of our houses.

As I worked at Anderton Park School on a freelance basis, I had reservations about being seen to be heavily involved, but the morning our display of flags appeared, I strutted along the pavement, filled with pride, but determined to keep a low profile.

When I walked into the staffroom, it was a buzz with excitement about the sign of support from the street. I kept my head down and pretended to search for something in my bag.

Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room, “Have you seen what the residents have done? I pulled up in my car and just burst into tears.”

I kept up the pretence of searching my bag for that elusive item.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she continued. “I just want to thank them.”

I couldn’t contain myself any longer and, without glancing up, uttered a simple, “You’re welcome.”


It did not take long for news of my involvement in the subtle counter-protest to spread and by first break I had been summoned to see the Head.

I apprehensively entered her office, expecting a dressing down, but was instead greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a 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 they want.”

“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” I 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.”


The headteacher of Anderton Park Primary School, is a dynamic, progressive woman, with her own striking style (imagine Grange Hill’s Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker) and a determined ally of the LGBTQ community, received daily threats for her progressive stance. This was not the first time she found herself the target of abuse having, several years earlier, been involved in exposing the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.

In retaliation, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates.

On a more positive note (although, quite frankly, anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog crucified at the entrance of a primary school), this beleaguered maverick was touched to receive an offer of support from a knight of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen. The movie star and gay activist had become her number one fan on Twitter (Gandalf reads her Tweets!) and got in contact.

Sarah and her husband were invited as honoured guests to Sir Ian’s 80th birthday party, along with the great and the gay.

“At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton,” Sarah told me in awe. “I was sat next to Frances Barber!”

At the end of the night Sir Ian stood up and told anecdotes, wandering amongst the tables recounting stories about his gathered friends.

“There is one person here whom I have never actually met in person, but admire greatly,” he said, indicating Sarah. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, Head of Anderton Park Scho…” but before he could complete the sentence, everyone in the room rose and gave her a standing ovation.

“I’m getting choked up,” I said to Sarah when she told me this.

“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing.”

As the night came to an end and the guests made to leave, Sir Ian found Sarah and offered, “If I can do anything to help your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.”

“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I reached for the tissues, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted!”


The evening after our rainbow flags appeared, every house on the road received a courtesy call from a police officer, enquiring about how the protests were impacting residents and offering support.

The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer an 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.”

The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about that ‘General in a war’ behind the protests and his unscrupulous family, 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, temporarily, taken the wind out of their sails.


The protests peaked when over 300 people descended on the school, with demonstrators ferried in on coaches from other cities and religious leaders invited to deliver vitriolic sermons, which attracted worldwide media attention.

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.”

While another friend in Australia, messaged to say she had just seen my house on a TV bulletin in Darwin!

This mass gathering coincided with the arrival of our flamboyant temporary lodger, who sashayed through the throng with all the attitude of Joan Collins entering a champagne soiree. He dragged his luggage along several streets, as the Uber driver was too intimidated by the crowds to drop him at the door.

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, so are hellbent on ‘recruiting’ children. I didn’t realise that gay numbers were in decline and we are looking to swell the ranks.

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.

There was one fabulously camp Imam, in a bold gold turban, that the media made a beeline for.

“Ho-mo-sexuality?! It’s disgusting,” he exclaimed on camera, 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 stepped out to watch the circus but found myself engaged in a forthright discussion with one of the religious leaders, whose style of debating was to bark rapid questions, dismiss any responses and quickly switch to another subject.

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

“We are not homophobic people,” I was told, just as two men bellowed threats and gay slurs from their passing car.

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

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

“I can’t comment on every aspect of the gay community just because I am a gay man, any more than you can discuss every aspect of multifaith theology, just because you represent one religion,” … was what I would have replied had he not abruptly 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 snapped. “Is that because it is God’s punishment?”

“NO…” I furiously responded, before he could draw breath and charge into another aspect of the debate. I flung my arms out to indicate the sea of protestors, “It is because of things like this! There are children in that school that know 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 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 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 during that period of the month.”

“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 sharing intimate details and discussing his 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 sounds 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… should that be ‘douché’?

Won that battle, but open warfare was about to erupt on the road.


The months of protests had caused division in our diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the debate on LGBTQ inclusion.

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 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 his behaviour became threatening and he essentially ordered her to shut up and go back inside… like a good woman. He didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of his 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 challenged and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control himself. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool on camera. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His 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.


Residents could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins, a reviled far-ring 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), but even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance, compared to the thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road. We didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit our windows.


My partner had stepped into our back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear familiar protest chants from the front of the house. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them.

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

I 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, while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spikey headed star of morning television) was observing events from a conveniently deniable distance.

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

Suddenly, the 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 trying flags, ribbons, 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”.

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.

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 our road alone, there are three openly gays men, one bi-curious individual, at least two possible closet cases, one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances that I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.


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

I stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

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

“No, I’m not OK,” I replied. “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.”

Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safely, 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 that they plan to brick any houses with flags, 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, we took the flags down. They had done their job. No need to court more trouble.


That terrible night did mark a turning point. 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, to a muddy verge… were my dog used to shit!

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


One of those articles in the national press stated that the leader agitator blamed the LGBTQ group for the attacks that occurred on that Heluations evening, “They provocatively turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages,” he claimed.

No, the residents were not intimidated by ribbons, hearts and flags… it was the thirty masked cunts, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

Our neighbourhood was under siege for months, all because the local school dared acknowledge the existence of alternative lifestyles.

I saw this inclusive policy, that parent’s were so opposed to, in practice one afternoon in a year 6 class.

One form teacher had a routine of ending the school day by bringing up current news stories on the class’s interactive whiteboard, from an appropriate children’s news source.

On the occasion I witnessed, the stories were: The New Zealand Prime Minister’s response to the terrible attack on a mosque in Christchurch; and a same-sex marriage on Peppa Pig (a popular pre-school cartoon series), between two male aardvarks.

The children knew all about both news items and objectively chatted about them, as (ironically) protest chants drifted in through the open windows.

No child was scandalised: No child spontaneously developed gayness; The world did not end.

A class of children casually discussed topical issues, unencumbered by the veil of intolerance that shrouds their parents.

In the Shadows

Revellers were drawn to Birmingham’s gay village by the buzz of the bars, pubs and clubs. Just beyond the bright lights, drink fuelled merriment and music are quiet corners, secluded spots and secret places. A nest of backstreet hook-up hideaways. Birmingham’s gay beat… just off the beaten track. The scene unseen.

Cruising sites in the city centre have diminished over recent years, with residential developments encroaching on our gaybourhood. The gays have been driven from their traditional hunting grounds and forced to seek refuge in ever dwindling nooks and crannies, as the shadows recede.


The remnants of Kent Street Baths and its surroundings were once a hive of post club/predawn activity. Dozens of men cruised the alleyways and abandoned spaces, seeking brief encounters.

Gatherings would spontaneously erupt in empty units or behind crumbling walls.

I remember one Christmas shopping expedition concluding in a group session in the shadows of one of the billboards that dominated the corner of a Southside carpark. The number of participants rapidly increased, as sharks circled and joined the feeding frenzy, the inevitable pilot fish floated on the periphery, hoping to pick up scraps. This impromptu happening lost its appeal once someone tried moving the whole affair to the mundane privacy of his flat in Dorothy Towers and it disbanded as quickly as it had begun. Oh well, the alfresco orgy was over, so I scooped up my gift bags and headed home.


Policing in the area has waxed and waned. During liberal administrations, the gay boyz would be left undisturbed. The attitude seemed to be, ‘If it isn’t hurting anyone, let them get on with it, in the same way people turn a blind eye to antics on Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common or in NYC’s Central Park, embracing it as ‘local colour’, and knowing, like Little Red Riding Hood, not to stray from the path.

Other periods would see increased police presence and the word on the street would be to stay vigilant.

An acquaintance and I were disturbed by approaching headlights, so we rearranged ourselves and strolled casually along the cobbles of Henstead Street, a forgotten byway that acted as the express route between the Birmingham scene’s two surviving traditional pubs, The Wellington and The Fountain.

The police car pulled up alongside us and an officer enquired, “Excuse me guys, may I ask what you are doing here?”

“Just talking to this friend that I bumped into,” I replied, innocently.

“Oh, I see,” the officer said, unconvinced. “By the way, your belt is undone.”


In the dying days of that beat, I got the distinct impression that the occasional police presence was there to ensure the safety of the gay community, rather than controlling our moral impropriety.

The area could undoubtedly be risky. My partner was robbed by a gang at knife point. He gave evidence in court but was so disgusted by the system that he never bothered checking in on what became of them.

I myself escaped a mugger by turning on my heels (I wasn’t actually wearing heels) and running hell for leather towards Sherlock Street, hoping to seek sanctuary in Eden, but could see from a distance that the lights were off and the bar had closed for the night, so I turned up Hurst Street and dashed toward Medusa Lodge, a burlesque and gentlemen’s club incongruously located in the gay village.

When I breathlessly explained to the bouncers on the door what had just happened, the four of them immediately formed a protective barrier around me.

“You are safe now,” the towering head bouncer assured me. “Order a taxi and we won’t let anything happen to you.”

I felt like the US President, surrounded by his personal bodyguard (Not THAT president, obviously, but a decent one).


One early morning in Birmingham’s favourite XXX-rated carpark, my partner and I spotted a steamed-up car with a couple of guys heavily petting in the front seats. The driver was a badass dude, while his passenger appeared a timid slip of a thing.

I made eye contact with the driver and received a look, which I interpreted as a come-on, so we both opened the backdoors and jumped in the rear seats.

“GET OUT MY CAR. MAN,” the driver shouted. “WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU DOIN’?!!!

We leapt straight back out, quickly joined by the lad from the front seat, who had instantly lost his ardour from the driver’s aggressive outburst.

The three of us took one look at each other and exploded with laughter. I was doubled over by the outrageousness of the situation.

Suddenly the driver’s door burst open and he stormed towards us hurling threats and yelling, “DON’T FUCKING LAUGH AT ME!”

This boy from the hood was not someone to tangle with in a desolate carpark, but I stepped forward with my hands raised in contrition.

“We are not laughing at you, honestly,” I explained. “We are laughing at ourselves. We are the idiots who just climbed into a complete stranger’s car.” I offered him my hand to shake, “It was our mistake. I am so sorry.”

“Don’t get closer,” my partner warned, “he may have a knife!”

“It’s fine. He won’t hurt me,” I replied, realisation dawning, “we’ve met before.”

The guy looked puzzled momentarily then a smile of recognition broke through the scowl, showing a cute gap in his two front teeth, “Hey man, how are you?”

We shook hands and I introduced him to my partner, “I know this guy, we have hooked up in a few places,” I explained.

He smirked and asked, “Can I come back to yours?”

This time with an invitation, my partner and I jumped back into his car and the three of us drove off, with a scrape of gravel, leaving the other chap stood abandoned in the carpark, bewildered by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.


Hot boy from the hood became a semiregular nocturnal visitor to our home, although turning up at ridiculously inappropriate times of the night.

Sometimes, on weeknights, we would ignore his knocks and pretend to be asleep, which in retrospect, I can’t believe we did, as he possessed the physique of a superhero, with muscles that I didn’t even know existed beyond the pages of a comic book.

The first time I saw his abs, I gasped, “Oh my God, I could grate cheese on those!”

He looked like he had been carved from marble, with a hue of darkest midnight, which had the unfortunate drawback of vividly showing up light pet hairs if his visit coincided with our dog’s moulting season. There were occasions when we would have to brush down his ripped torso to prevent him leaving the house looking like the Abominable Snowman, which, to be honest, was hardly a chore.


We hadn’t seen our superhero for many years but did recently discover that a cherished friend is now the recipient of those unannounced late-night visits.

“He will do anything you ask him,” our friend told us. “I make him perform naked press-ups, so I can watch those muscles at work.”

Coincidentally, a few days after learning of our shared connection, I ran into Superman on Lower Essex Street. He was the most gregarious I had ever seen him. Giddy with excitement that he had just been talking about us with our mutual friend only the day before, he bound over the road, with a wide beam that showed off that delectable gap.


Although not highlighted in the brochure, those dark corners are a vital part of any gay scene and usually the reason that they became established where they did in the first place. There is a reason that the scattered venues of Liverpool’s scene are hidden down dumpster strewn alleyways; and what would Canal Street have been without those bridges?

I recently took part in a research project on how Birmingham town planners could consider the needs of the city’s gay community. Along with conventional suggestions, I stressed the necessity for fabulous dark corners, and suggested incorporating them into plans for the gentrified gaybourhood. I would love to be in the council chambers when that is proposed.

Apparently, when a Mayor of Brighton was approached about installing CCTV along the beach front to curb cruising, he refused, stating that he came to Brighton thirty years earlier to cruise men and that was part of gay culture. He was not going to be the guy who put an end to it (so there is a president…from Brighton’s President). 

He knew, only too well, that it may be the lure of the bright lights and the beat of the music that attracts the punters… but it’s the dark shadows of the beat that keeps the lifeblood of the scene pumping.

Urinal Encounters: Revised and Reloaded

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

I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals.

No, not like that!

Well… Yes, like that, but not always.


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

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

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

“I’m sorry?”

“Your colour, I like.”

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

“Yes,” he continued. “Very pink!”

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

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

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

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

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

“It sounds like heaven,” I swooned.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The guy smirked uncomfortably and starred resolutely ahead.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Come on,” I teased, “you can do it.”

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

“There’s a que forming.”

“Now I’m under pressure!”

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

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

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

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

He responded, “I suck,”

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

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

“Your name is ‘I Suck’?!!!’

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“I am shy,” the guy muttered.

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

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

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

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

He nodded and we executed our simple plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of Christmas Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Garden-Variety Landlady

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I liked her immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I laughed too.


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


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

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

“Then we are honoured,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why, where are you going?”

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

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

“Had they sold them?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her friend snorted.

“Ah, you’ve read the books?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied with a smirk.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Attractions

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

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

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

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


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

“Do they have a midnight showing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gave a dismissive shrug.

“…And he is from the Philippines.”


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

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

Jamie nervously gulped down his own drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was he ginger?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We love her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise lost. The end of an Eden.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nishant Mallick and the Apartment of Fire

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

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

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

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

This quirk made him even more adorable.


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

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

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

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

He motioned me to come in.

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

“It is very much better, thank you.”

“So, what happened to you?”

“It was all so ridiculous,” he exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he cute?”

“Yes. I think he is very handsome.”

“Sounds good. I’m up for it.”

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

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

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

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

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