Pimping My Partner

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

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

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

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

He wasn’t keen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Siege of Dennis Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘My friend’ stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voice of the Nightingale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back in Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends and acquaintances began to drift in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is masculine tape?”

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

“That’s ‘masking tape’ you muppet!”

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

It makes his beard look more masculine. Love it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was good to see Missing in action once again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Babe in the Woods

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

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

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

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

YOU COMING? he messaged.

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

YES. GIVE ME 15 MIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shit, too late now, I thought.

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

He motioned me towards a doorway under the communal stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

I suggested a local park.

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

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

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

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

The guy abruptly called out my name.

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

Suddenly, there was a flutter above us.

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

“Just a bird,” I reassured him.

I took his hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nishant Mallick and the Half-Baked Scheme

Back at the start of January, I opened this blogsite with the touching tale of an international student called Nishant, who had embraced the opportunity to study baking in Birmingham to flee family outrage in India, after he was outed by a bitter ex and how his brother had been protecting his secret for years (See ‘Finding the Gems’ – 4th Jan 2020).

I can see Film4 producing the movie version of Nishant’s story… with that lad from Blinded by the Light in the lead role and Dev Patel as his brother. I think Film4 are obliged to include Patel in every movie they make. I hope so, he’s great!

Every time our paths crossed on the scene, Nishant would tickle me with some yarn about his life or antics at the Birmingham College of Food, all told in his sing-song accent and with an endearing wiggle of the head, so characteristic of South Asia.

One time, he told me how he had arrived unprepared for a seminar, where students were expected to announce their creative concepts for original baking projects. He sat, with mounting apprehension, as each student delivered their brilliant idea to the lecturer but feeling no such inspiration himself.

When his turn inevitably came, he improvised, “I am going to bake… erm… a loaf that contains…. uuuhhh… (then inspiration struck) every meal of the day in each separate slice. (He had an idea and he was off… with gusto!!!) The first slice would contain eggs, bacon and the ingredients of a traditional English breakfast, the second would be a suitable lunch, followed by a full dinner and the last slice would contain some form of dessert.”

A feast in a loaf. A banquet in a bun! Genius.

Nishant and his stories completely charmed me, even though I only met him a handful of times before his course concluded and he returned home, thankfully to much improved circumstances.

I was delighted to learn that his family issues in India had been resolved. His mother had finally accepted her son’s sexuality and they now Skyped several times a week. She was desperate to see him in person, but he had hatched a daft plan to make his homecoming even more of an event. He had kept his impending return a secret, going as far as telling his mother a white lie about how he had secured a job and intended to remain permanently in the UK.

“She was so upset and crying on the phone,” He told me. “She wants me to come home so badly.”

My jaw dropped, “Nishant!!! That’s cruel!”

“No, no, no,” he assured me, his head wobbling excitedly, “It will be sooooooo funny.”

He went on to explain how his mother worked at the same place as her best friend, so this friend and Nishant had colluded on a plan. His mother would be told that there was a delivery for her at reception and when she went to collect it, she would be confronted by a large box. Naturally, Nishant would have concealed his slim frame inside the box and planned to burst out and surprise her.

“She will be so shocked,” he beamed. “She will probably cry all over again!”

“You are a baker,” I pointed out. “You could have baked a cake and jumped out of that.”

Nishant’s expression became momentarily serious, “No. That would have required too many ingredients and been very expensive.”

“Hang on,” I said. “Don’t tell me you actually considered that as an option?”

The wide grin returned, along with a proud wiggly Indian nod.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson

I am proud to have Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’s number in my phone.

The majority are now thinking, Who the hell is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson? or maybe a softer, Where do I know that name from? Others will be thinking, Was she on TOWIE? or Did she have an affair with Arthur Fowler? But some will recognise her name as the Headmistress of Anderton Park School, one of the two Birmingham schools that found themselves besieged by anti-LGBTQ protests last year.

Sarah is a vibrant, dynamic, caring, progressive, determined woman, with her own striking style. Imagine Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sue Pollard. No, not Sue Pollard that sounds like an insult. Janet Street-Porter? Christ no, that is even worse! Vivian Westwood? Dame Zandra Rhodes? Again, no. Both fabulous, but too extreme. Sarah Jessica Parker? Oooooh, that could work. ‘Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker’. She would love that, and their names even have a similar ring to them.

Last year, two primary schools in Birmingham became the focus of a prolonged campaign protesting their policies of tolerance and equality. Children, as young as three were being educated and nurtured in an environment that recognized difference and diversity. Children were told that there were no outsiders, everyone was respected.

Unfortunately, the strongly religious parents at both schools, located in majority Muslim areas of the city, objected to the fact this policy of tolerance should be extended to the LGBTQ community. The parents did not like the idea that their children were being told, if the subject came up, that there were many different family units out there, including some households where children had two mummies or two daddies.

Parents decided that they didn’t 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. They would get confused, the parents claimed.

Demonstrations began to take place outside both schools. Every weeknight, crowds would gather (usually several dozen, but culminating in over three hundred on one occasion) to wave banners, chant slogans and call for the Head’s resignation! Parents would holler, “Our children. Our choice”, “Let Kids Be Kids”, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and accuse the Headmistress of having a paedophile agenda (May I suggest that, if you don’t want your innocent children to know that queers exist, don’t turn up outside their primary school, just before home time, and start shouting about it through a megaphone!).

Mind you, this was not the first time Sarah had found herself the target of abuse. Several years earlier, she had been involved in exposing, what the national press christened the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed there was an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.

In retaliation for her involvement, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates, like something from a canine version of Hellraiser.

On a more positive note, although to be honest anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog corpse crucified at the entrance of a primary school, Sir Ian McKellen, movie star and gay activist, has become Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’s number one fan on Twitter. Gandalf reads her Tweets!

Sarah was even invited to Sir Ian’s surprise 80th birthday party, which was organised by Baron Michael Cashman (Yes, Colin from Eastenders).

Eighty guests had been invited to signify the birthday boy’s age. Sarah and her husband found themselves sat at one of the eight tables of ten, surrounded by the great and the gay. “At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton. I was sat next to Frances Barber!” Sarah told me.

At the end of the night, Ian McKellen (I can’t keep calling him ‘Sir Ian’, it just sounds so pretentious and far too Downton), stood up and told anecdotes about various friends in attendance. He wandered from table to table, incorporating stories about his gathered friends.

He concluded, “There is one person here, whom I have never actually met in person, but I admire greatly.” Turning to Sarah, he introduced her to the room, “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 to their feet and gave her a standing ovation.

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

“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing. I had make-up running down my face!”

As the night came to an end and the guests made a move to leave, Sir Ian (I’ve slipped back into that again) made a point of finding Sarah and her husband to thank them for coming.

“If I can do anything to help you and your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch,” he told her.

How lovely.

“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I wiped a tear from my eye, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted.”

Play It Again… Max

There is one regular barfly on the scene who stands out precisely because of his determination to keep to himself.

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

I had always thought that he was kind of cute, but he steadfastly ignored any of my attempts at eye contact.

I have only once seen him in the real world. I was shopping in Birmingham city centre and spotted him in the middle of New Street, confidently singing his heart out. He was busking with a guitar and sound system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Orders At The Bar, Please

A love Letter to Better Days

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

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

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

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

I cast an affectionate glance around at the loyal regulars… and what a brilliantly eclectic group we were.

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

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

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

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

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

Sat on a long bench was Simeon, someone it is impossible to avoid on the scene… no matter how hard you may try.

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

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

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

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

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

And then… there was Richie, chatting contentedly with friends.

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

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

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

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

“Could you help me?” I asked.

“Sure matey,” he responded without hesitation.

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

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

Back on that last night before lockdown, it was time to leave.

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

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

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