Urinal Encounters: Quite the Predicament

When I started this series of four themed blogs, I opened with the line: ‘I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals over the years. No, not like that!’ Well… this was very much ‘like that’.

We all know that nightclub toilets aren’t always used for the purpose 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. After a few drinks, inhibitions and decorum become things of the past.

In most gay venues the bar staff and security are fully aware what is going on in the cubicles and turn a blind eye. In fact, on several occasions I’ve found myself in a cubical with a member of staff.

There are of course club staff that show restraint, such as the barman at The Core, who did a double take when he saw me tucking myself away as I emerged from the curtained off darkroom and exclaimed, in a rich African accent, “If I was not on the job… I would be soooo ‘on the job’!”

I was recently on a night out, when the guy stood next to me at the urinals 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 crotch and, seeing what was on offer, said, “Not that shy, clearly.”

He considered for a moment then nodded his consent and we both walked into the waiting cubicle and locked the door behind us. It wasn’t exactly 5-star, but it was larger than most toilet cubicles and adequately suited our needs.

Afterwards, we adjusted our clothes and prepared to step back out into the club.

The guy motioned for me to remain quiet and listened at the thin door to determine if it was safe to slip out.

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 can 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 the cubical, rather than facing the toilet, so it was easy to flatten myself against the wall and remain concealed behind it.

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 in the toilet bowl. 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 stood 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. If I had been in his position, I would have simultaneously shat myself while having that pee… and sprayed the walls, floor and ceiling.

I’ll be staying out of toilet cubicles for a good while and trying to avoid any further sitcom situations.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em meets Queer As Folk.

Urinal Encounters: Taking the Piss

I barrelled into a pub toilet 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!”

He is Chinese and, although his English is good, it isn’t perfect, so I’m not sure if he realised that I was joking and responded with a shocked, “I not going to peek!”

I glanced to my left and noticed that the lad stood there was cute, so leaned over and cheekily whispered, “You can peek if you want.”

The lad let out an exasperated, but good-humoured sigh, “Now I’m not going to be able to go!” We men are delicate bunch and can be put off our stride so easily.

“Come on,” I teased. “You can do it.”

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

“There’s a queue forming.”

“Now I’m under pressure.”

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

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

He still hadn’t managed to go even as I finished 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.”

Slightly 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’?!!!”

I could tell from his accent that he was Welsh, but this was one regional name that I was not familiar with.

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

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

I got to steal a kiss on the cheek though.

Urinal Encounters: Upon Reflection

A few years back, my partner and I were visiting Brighton over Christmas.

We were having a meal in The Lion & Lobster, a busy corner pub situated on a backstreet on the opposite side of town from Brighton’s famous gay scene. The meal was good, as was the beer. Inevitably, after a few pints, I had to use the bathroom.

There were only two porcelain urinals in the Gents, both tucked into a very small alcove.

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

As I stood there, simultaneously having a pee and admiring the eclectic collection, another customer entered and squeezed in at my side, awkwardly brushing elbows 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 cheeky 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, “And by the way, Not bad! Nothing to be ashamed of.”

The guy gave an uncomfortable laugh and exclaimed, “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 all the mirrors.”

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

You have got to admire a straight bloke who is comfortable enough to engage in banter with a gay guy during such a private moment. Although, I suppose it was Brighton.

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

Urinal Encounters: Pretty in Pink

I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals over the years. No, not like that! Well… Yes, like that, but not on this occasion.

I was stood at a pub urinal, getting on with the job in hand, so to speak, 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 engage in conversation while stood next to each other having a pee. It’s the same rule of awkward silence that applies to lifts, bus stops and the waiting room of an STD clinic. They are not the places for chitchat.

I quickly became aware that the bearded guy kept casting, not so subtle, glances in my direction. This certainly isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the lavatories of a gay bar, in fact it’s pretty much standard practice. The unwritten rule book of gay toilet etiquette seems to have deemed that talk is forbidden, but peeking, flirtation and downright lechery are perfectly acceptable or even to be encouraged.

Unexpectedly, my urinal companion dared to disregard convention and said, in a strong Middle Eastern accent, “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. More ‘Salt and Paprika’ than ‘Salt and Pepper.’

“Yes,” he continued. “Very pink!”

“Pink?!”

He now had my full attention.

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

Being fair haired and light skinned, I do develop a flush in my cheeks after a few beers. It was undoubtedly one the least common compliments I have received, but it was 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 summer holiday on the nude beaches of Italy, surrounded by his naked countrymen.

“It sounds like heaven,” I sighed.

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

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

What Goes Around…

There is an oft quoted claim that gay men have more sexual partners in a single year than their straight counterparts do in a lifetime. I find this very easy to believe, considering that a recent survey concludes that heterosexual men only have an average total of 14 partners. The gay guys I know could clock up that tally in a slow month, good week or busy Sunday afternoon in the sauna.

Responsible gay men opt for a regular sexual health MOT. I usually take advantage of the pop-up clinics that appear in bars, clubs and other venues on the gay scene. With a couple of unobtrusive swabs, a few samples and a prick of blood, the job’s done and the results are efficiently text to you over the following week. It is free, quick and simple, gives you peace of mind… and more importantly ensures that you are not out there spreading the ‘love’.

Over the years I have had the luck of the Devil, other than a couple of infestations of crabs, I have managed to avoid any sexually transmitted diseases. That was until last year.

I initially noticed a faint burning sensation when I urinated, which got more intense over a few days until I dreaded having to take a pee. It rapidly got to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I phoned in sick and took myself to the drop-in clinic in the basement of Boots the Chemist in Birmingham city centre.

I was immediately struck by how attractive my fellow patients were. I suppose the more attractive you are, the more opportunities you get to catch a sexually transmitted infection.

My partner told me about how he was once cruised by a hot guy while waiting for a sexual health check-up at the Whittall Street branch, but decided that the clap clinic was the last place that you wanted to pick up a guy. What else would you pick up?!

The brilliant Umbrella services provide daily walk-in appointments, but places are limited and are offered on a first come, first served basis, so I was told to arrive as the store opened and wait in line until the clinic itself raised their shutters an hour or so later. It proved to be good advice. I arrived early as instructed and there was already a queue forming.

I had a long wait, made marginally more interesting by a mouse scurrying across the waiting room floor creating brief pandemonium.

For a while it looked like they were going to have to close the clinic due to health and safety concerns, but the decision was left to us patients. We were told that no vermin had been seen in the self-enclosed medical area so, if we were happy to proceed with the appointments, the clinic would remain open.

There was a resounding, “YES!!!”

All I could think was, Please God, don’t make me wait any longer! I’ve had to take a day off work already… and my cock is burning off!!

Finally, I was called to an examination room by a pleasant woman wearing a hijab. I had hoped for her handsome male colleague, but I suppose it is best not to be intimately examined by someone you find attractive, as the uncontrollable effects could be awkward.

The nurse explained that, before she did any tests, she would have to take me through a series of questions relating to my recent sexual history.

The first question was about my sexuality, “Do you identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bi?”

“Homosexual.”

“Do you engage in anal sex?”

“Yes.”

“Do you engage in oral sex?”

“Oooooh yes!”

A hint of a smile played at the corner of her lips.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so enthusiastic.”

The questions moved on to sexual partners.

“How many do you have on average?”

I thought about it for a moment and then estimated, “Around… half a dozen?”

“I’ll put you down as ‘Six a month’.”

“A month?!!” I spluttered, “I thought you meant a week!”

She professionally tapped this information into the computer without comment.

When a mate of mine was once asked this same question about numbers of partners, he casually replied, “Well, there are three of them currently sat in the waiting room, if that’s any indication?”

My nurse continued with her questions and, handing me a sheet of paper listing the continents of the world subdivided into separate regions, she asked, “Have you ever had a sexual contact with anyone from any of these areas?”

I scanned the two columns of geographical regions: South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, North Asia, Australasia; United States and Canada, Central America, South America, Caribbean, etc.

Antarctica was not included on the list, as presumably no one sleeps with penguins… apart from other penguins, if they play their cards right.

Handing the sheet back, I simply replied, “Yes.”

The nurse gave a soft sigh and explained in a patient tone, “No, you are meant to identify which of those regions you may have had a sexual partner from.”

“Yes, I understand,” I replied. “All of them. I have very eclectic tastes and I’m a sucker for an accent.”

She shook her head and grinned, “You are refreshingly honest.”

“Why wouldn’t I be? You do this every day and have seen and heard it all. You aren’t going to judge. I may as well be totally upfront.”

If you are brazened enough to catch the infection, you need to be confident enough to discuss it with a professional. The STD clinic is no place to be bashful… or pick up guys, apparently.

Daring to Bare

The first Sunday of every month, the dresscode is naked or underwear at Birmingham’s self-proclaimed ‘Horniest Club’.

This event is one of the club’s biggest and most popular events, packing the place out with a mix of men in their underwear or just naked. Every ages are in attendance and all body types are on show.

The heating is on full blast during the winter events, but I have been known to head straight for the biggest and busiest darkroom just to huddle together with the other guys, like a colony of penguins, until I acclimatise.

I was once trying to persuade a friend and colleague to come and bare all with me, once the weekend conference that we were working on together was over. I was having to shout to be heard over the hubbub of the noisy staffroom.

“You don’t have to be fully naked,” I reassured him at the top of my voice, then added, precisely at one of those odd moments when all noise simultaneously ceases, “YOU CAN KEEP YOUR PANTS ON!”

There was one occasion, several years ago, when the event coincided with Easter Sunday. I still think that the marketing team missed an opportunity. ‘Naked or Underwear: The ResERECTION. Hallelujah, He Has Risen Again’.

Every month, without fail, I see my old form teacher at the event. He’s now in his late 70s and still baring all. The first time I saw Mr G there, he was stood with his back to me at the bar in nothing but a pair of baggy M&S boxer shorts, so I sidled up, stood behind him and said, “Excuse me sir, I’ve been sent to see you.”

He offered to buy me a pint, which he has kindly continued to do on all subsequent encounters and rarely allows me to buy him one back.

Standing there at a bar with Mr G in the near buff, the conversation meandering through various everyday topics, seemed so normal that it felt like I was in any backstreet boozer but had spontaneously developed X-ray vision.

On another occasion, my chat with Mr G was interrupted by the arrival of my neighbour from several houses down. It took me a moment to place the face, as I didn’t recognise him without his clothes on.

After we talked and he headed off to mingle, I turned to Mr G and said, “This is going to be a challenge. I’ve fancied him since he first moved in, but I can’t go there, as that would be too close for comfort.”

We both agreed that it would be unwise to have sex with a neighbour, as you don’t ‘shit on your own doorstep’.

Well… my resolve lasted all of 20 minutes.

There was one occasion, when myself and a handsome mixed-race guy caught each other’s eye. He flashed me a dazzling smile and vanished into one of the dimly lit cruising areas. I immediately followed.

I soon found him waiting in the gloom. Although they are referred to as ‘darkrooms’ there is adequate light for you to find your quarry, although not always enough to easily negotiate the twisting corridor. I once saw a guy collide full speed into a wall that he had mistaken for a doorway and stay there, like Wile E. Coyote slammed against a fake tunnel entrance painted onto a rockface.

The guy’s name was Kayden and we stood and chatted in the bustling corridor.

“Do you mind me asking, but how old are you?”

“I don’t mind you asking at all. I am forty-seven,” I told him. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” He replied. “I hope I look as good as you… when I get to your age.”

I thanked him for the compliment but explained that he really didn’t need to add the last bit.

Kayden looked sheepish.

“So,” I asked, “have you been to here before?”

It was my turn to look sheepish when he replied, “Yes! You fucked me last month.”

I apologised and gave the feeble excuse, “Well it was dark.”

“That’s OK. I’ll let you make it up to me,” he said, taking my hand and leading me into a cubical.

Once the door was closed, Kayden dropped to his knees and got on task.

I automatically placed my hand on the back of his head and was surprised by the softness of his hair. Being mixed white and Afro-Caribbean, his hair naturally had a pronounced curl, but it had a particularly luxurious feel, like a deep plush carpet.

“Your hair is amazing!”

Kayden paused what he was doing, as he knew it was rude to talk with his mouth full. Still cupping me in his hand, he looked up, gave me an incredulous stare and said, in a deadpan tone, “Yeah… You said that last month too.”

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to iron my underwear. 😉

Queer as Fuck: An Audience with Russell T Davies

I have always hoped that the T in Russell T Davies stood for Tiberius, as in ‘James Tiberius Kirk’. I suppose I could just Google it to find out, but I would only be disappointed to learn that it was something more mundane… besides I had the opportunity to ask the man himself when the Midlands Arts Centre hosted an event to celebrate 20 years of Queer as Folk last Summer.

I couldn’t believe that 20 years had passed since this ground-breaking TV series first aired. At the time I was living in a flat over a chip shop in bohemian Moseley (my room always smelled of fried chicken). My flatmate and I would watch each new episode then jump into a taxi and head to Hurst Street. Watch it. Live it.

The event at mac, as the arts centre is affectionately known, consisted of a screening of the first two episodes of series one, followed by a live Q&A with Russell T Davies, expertly hosted by a local guy that I recognised from the scene. It had originally been programmed to start at 7.30, but the mac’s marketing department realised that this would clash with the Eurovision Song Contest and create a conflict of interests for the target audience, so moved RTD to an earlier slot. I love the fact that the management at mac realised that Eurovision night is ‘Christmas for the Gays’ and amended their schedule accordingly.

Russell T Davies talked enthusiastically about all things Queer as Folk and other aspects of his career, starting with how Channel 4 had originally guaranteed him total artistic licence to write whatever he wanted, no holds barred, until he presented them with his finished scripts entitled ‘Queer as Fuck’ and they reasoned that such a title would never be permitted to appear in the pages of the TV listings.

Russell was clearly enjoying the evening and even insisted on continuing when the interviewer tried to wrap things up after the allotted 45 minutes.

“Let’s carry on,” he said, in that booming Welsh voice of his. “I’m having a lovely time. More questions. How marvellous!”

He may not have actually said ‘How marvellous’, but I like to imagine that he squeezes that phrase into every sentence.

After an hour and a half of chat, Russell decided that it was time to finish.

“One last question,” he announced, “from the handsome man on the back row.”

The interviewer took the roving mic up to the audience member that Russell had indicated.

The handsome man took the mic and said, “Hello Russell. I met you at a book signing 10 years ago and you called me a ‘handsome boy’ then.”

Russell chuckled and replied, “Well at least I’m consistent!”

The interviewer returned to the stage and began to make a closing statement about how touching it had been to hear so many people in the audience express how much Russell’s work had affected them and in particular Queer as Folk.

Russell interrupted, “Yes, that has been nice. Guys usually just come up to me in the street and say, “I had a really good wank over your stuff”!”

After the event was over Russell kindly stayed behind in the auditorium to sign autographs. I had brought along a few DVD covers, just on the off chance that this might happen, so joined the queue that had formed on the stairs.

As I waited, I realised that this was my opportunity, not to ask him about that middle initial, that could remain a tantalizing mystery, but to tell him how I owed him for making me look really cool during a sexual encounter several years earlier.

I had picked up a young guy in Unit 2, Birmingham’s recently closed and much missed gay sauna. We had retreated to a private cubical, with its standard issue wipe down mattress, and started to play around. This lad was in his early twenties and, while I doubt it was his first time, it was clear from his reactions that this was all still virgin territory for him.

The lad was lying on his front on the mattress and it put me in mind of a scene in the first episode of Queer as Folk where Stuart Alan Jones takes Nathan back to his apartment. Purely for my own amusement, I began to re-enact one pivotal moment from that scene. Beat by beat. Lick by lick.

I licked between his shoulder blades and he shuddered.

I licked the nape of his back and his spine arched.

I parted his cheeks and went in for the star prize and he gasped in an identical manner to Charlie Hunnam in the actual scene. It was like the lad knew the episode and was playing along.

I immediately darted my lips to his ear and whispered Aidan Gillen’s line, “They never told you about that did they?”

I had never appeared so cool during sex before and it was all thanks to Russell T Davies.

Finally, it was my turn to meet the man himself and tell him how my re-enactment of Charlie Hunnam’s most famous scene, well ‘most famous’ until he made it big in Hollywood with the aptly named movie Pacific Rim, had me look like the sauna’s greatest Lothario.

I gazed up at Russell’s pleasant open face, thrust my DVD covers at him and said…  “What do you think of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who?”

To Sir, With Thanks. X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to 30 years and counting. X

Please, Don’t Let Me Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, a hand fell on my shoulder.

“Hello young man. How are you?”

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

“Oh,” I gulped. “Hello Sir.”

Finding the Gems

You can find heart-warming stories in the most unexpected of places.

I was in a private members men-only club, situated on the shadowy side of the scene. While anything and everything can and does go on in this salacious bar, this was a particularly quiet mid-week, where only a modest early evening crowd had come in for a post-work pint and to see if they could retreat to a convenient cubical with some likeminded gentleman, before heading home to partners, wives and families.

Uninspired by the half dozen familiar faces in the bar, I pulled out my phone and occupied myself by casually exchanging taps and pleasantries with local guys on… well I’ll say a ‘popular gay dating app’… but I mean Grindr, when a friendly ‘Hello’ popped up in my message box from someone 10 meters way.

I looked up to see a petite, South Asian lad beaming a wide grin at me from the other side of the rectangular bar that dominates the core of the club. The lad turned his large, doe like, eyes bashfully to the floor. I waited the few self-conscious moments that it required for him to muster the confidence to look back up again, then returned his smile, picked up my drink and walked around the bar.

We introduced ourselves. His name was Nishant and it turned out that he was from a small town outside of New Delhi and was in the UK on a three-year student visa.

Soon any hint of shyness had disappeared, and this guy showed that he loved to talk.

Nishant chatted enthusiastically about his studies, future ambitions and friends, both in Birmingham and back home in India. One subject rapidly tumbling into the next in an engaging monologue, all delivered in a charmingly lyrical Indian accent, of the extravagant type you don’t tend to hear outside of the politically incorrect sitcoms of my youth and certainly not in Birmingham these days, as most of the city’s South Asian population are natural born Brummies and have varying degrees of the city’s notorious accent.

Most endearing, was the enthusiastic head wiggle that punctuated Nishant’s soliloquy, adding emphasis to key moments and marking changes of emotion, pace and tone, like a human metronome! Often referred to as the ‘Indian Nod’, this expressive movement of the head is utterly charming.

Sadly, Nishant’s melodic narrative took a tragic downturn as he started to talk about a secret affair that he had been involved in with a man in his hometown. Things had turned sour after they had split up and the bitter ex-lover had maliciously outed Nishant to his whole community, bringing shame on his family and resulting in a temporary breakdown in his relationship with his mother.

Nishant felt that he had no choice, but to get away. His studies in Birmingham not only presented new opportunities, but also respite from the scandal.

When it came time to leave for the UK, Nishant’s mother refused to accompany him to the airport or even say goodbye.

Nishant had one older brother with whom he was understandably nervous of broaching the subject of his sexuality for fear of further rejection.

When he finally mustered the courage to talk to the brother, he asked, “Are you also ashamed of me?”

The brother replied, “Nishant, I am neither ashamed or surprised… and have been deleting your browser history since you were 12 years old.”

The older brother had discovered Nishant’s taste in internet porn sites years before and had been keeping his younger sibling’s secret safe ever since.

“I love your brother,” I said, once the story was over and I could get a word in, “but hang on… 12?!! Dirty boy!!!”

Nishant gave a bashful smile and, of course, a characteristic wiggle of the head and replied, “What can I say? I was an early developer.”

Some on the Birmingham gay scene condemn this particular club for its pseudo-sleaziness, but if you take a moment to look beyond the window dressing of slings and bars, rubber and leather you will find something else.

Within the gloom of the darkroom… you can find gems in the shadows.