Do You Know Who I Am?

The night started outside Missing watching the boyz go by. Situated as it is, on the crossroads at the heart of the gaybourhood, Missing offers the perfect location to ogle lads coming and going from the gym, admire cute staff from the numerous East Asian restaurants, greet mates with a wave and watch various characters going back and forth. I think the bar should issue customers with score cards, like the ones they have on Strictly, so we can rate the passing talent.

Two particularly buff lads left the gym and strolled past our lookout. One of the lads casually scratched at his belly, exposing exquisitely tight abs, then as they drew level with us, he lifted his T-shirt completely to wipe some irritant from his cheek. I could swear that time slowed down. I forgot how to breath.

A slender guy, with a sharp dark beard, constantly whizzed up and down the road on a motorised scooter (his own sleek black vehicle, which complimented his look, not one of those cumbersome red rental options that are currently careering all over the city centre). My partner is convinced he’s drugs running, but he wears a lanyard. Drug pushers don’t wear ID, surely?!

An eccentric character peddled by on his bike, dressed in an arresting red tracksuit, with matching visor and fez. Naturally, he captivated our attention. You don’t tend to see many people out and about in a fez… and an entire coordinated outfit. We watched as he sped along the length of Hurst Street, only to be subjected to the horrifying sight of his exposed arse hanging out of those vibrant tracky bottoms. I tried to snap a photo of the whole ensemble, but only achieved a blurry shot of the arse crack. He was surprisingly speedy for a man of his size.

After eating at Miss Vietnam, we popped into Eden where we bumped into acquaintances and chatted to their sweet barman, who always puts me in mind of comedian Jack Whitehall, with his affable English bumbling.

We finished the night at the table seating on the sidewalk outside of, well, Sidewalk, when a rowdy crowd approached the doorman. The lairy girl at the head of the group was instantly belligerent when the doorman politely explained that they couldn’t accommodate a group their size, because of COVID restrictions. She insisted that he find them a table, while flapping her ridiculously oversized eyelashes and flicking her extensions. She had surprisingly plummy tones for one so brassy, but as the legendary Dolly Parton is fond of saying, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

The girl looked like she was on the verge of storming off when a thought occurred to her. She pointed out one member of their party, who stood out already with his cool head of bleached twists and said, “Hang on, you can’t turn us away. Do you know who this is?”

The poor guy she had indicated looked mortified and mumbled, “No, please don’t do this to me.”

“This is…,” she persisted.

“Oh God, she’s doing it. It’s happening,” he cringed.

“…KSI. He’s an internet star!”

She then held her phone up to his face showing an image that she had just Googled of the ‘celebrity’, “Look, it’s the same person.”

KSI just gave a weak shamed smile and looked like he wanted to die. I immediately liked his humility.

The doorman remained intractable.

“You know who he is, don’t you?” She suddenly snapped at us over the barrier.

“No, Sorry,” I replied, giving an apologetic shrug.

We may have been ignorant of his celebrity status, but the people at the table next to us got very excited and wanted a selfie. I considered doing the same, so I could impress people more ofay with ‘yoof’ culture… but decided not to.

Apparently, KSI (real name Olajide Olayinka Williams) is a YouTuber, internet personality, rapper, actor, and boxer, who built his following from posting gaming-commentary videos of the FIFA video game series, although as his following has grown, his YouTube content has diversified to include more comedy style videos. As of August 2020, he has received over 30 million subscribers and over 7 billion video views across his two individual channels (That’s just 0.8 Billion shy of the current world population). In 2015, Variety ranked KSI as the most influential celebrity among US teens and in 2019, he was ranked as the second most influential online creator in the United Kingdom by The Times (Thank you Wikipedia/cut and paste. Where were you when I was a student?).

While we clearly are not in his follower’s demographic, my neighbour’s twelve-year-old son was suitably impressed and reacted with bug-eyed wonder when I told him about our ‘star’ encounter. He even pulled out his phone to show me some of his favourite KSI vlogs (Is that what they are called?).

While it was all happening on the threshold of Sidewalk, two members of their group had other ideas in mind. The hottest guy and the only other (far less vocal) girl were exchanging lustful glances and decided to slip away to find some privacy in the shadows of an adjacent street.

They were back surprisingly quickly, presumably unable to find a suitable nook, but the anticipation had clearly got the guy’s gander up by way he was rearranging himself when they returned. Sweatpants can be frankly revealing… and the gays were appreciative of the show.

Finally, the revellers gave up their attempt to sway the doorman and headed off in the direction of Eden in search of that nightcap.

I wanted to suggest that they might have more luck if they didn’t let ‘brassy’ do the talking, as she just seemed to get everyone’s backs up unnecessarily, but I decided to keep my advice to myself. Maybe they would have had more luck getting into a gay bar if they elected the hot guy their spokesman… or at the very least pushed him up front where he could be seen in all his glory.

My mate Ruru recently had his own encounter with internet celebrity when he had commented on a post by Johnnyvintis and Danspraggofficial, two well-known TikTok contributors, after noticing that they had checked-in at a city centre Weatherspoons. They messaged him back, invited him to join them for a drink.

“Dan shared our location and table number online,” Ruru told me, “and the staff kept bringing things to that fans had ordered for him via the Weatherspoons app. We got sent soft drinks, shots, brunch, chips, a glass of milk, mushy peas and random bowl of ketchup.”

According to Ruru, these guys were great company. They created several videos together, even coaxing a passing police officer/fan to get in on the act.

Ru managed to persuade them both to join him for a drink in his favourite gay bar, where Dan’s sexy neck tattoos must have gone down a storm. This couple of straight boys made a TikTok video of themselves with their “new gay mate” showing how, to their amusement, he was supping pints while they were sipping camp cocktails.

Ru’s own modest TikTok following jumped by 300 overnight, after he posted the videos with this popular pair and he received thousands of extra views. Maybe their Midas touch will rub off on this blog by association and I can strut through the gay village demanding, “Do you know who I am?!” I might even get a free order of mushy peas. They can keep the milk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is masculine tape?”

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

“That’s ‘masking tape’ you muppet!”

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

It makes his beard look more masculine. Love it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was good to see Missing in action once again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy with Hearts in His Eyes

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

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

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

‘Unpredictable as weather

He’s as flighty as a feather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was in a right pickle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s him.”

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

Xxx