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.

Last Orders At The Bar, Please

A love Letter to Better Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could you help me?” I asked.

“Sure matey,” he responded without hesitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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