Birmingham Pride: Part 1 – A City Filled with Love

This bank-holiday weekend should have been Birmingham Pride. The city centre would have become one big party celebrating the LGBTQ community and rejoicing in difference and diversity.

If things had been going ahead as planned, my partner and I would have met friends for breakfast at York’s Café then strolled up Pinfold Street to Victoria Square, where we would mingle with the crowds gathering beneath the unamused gaze of the Regina’s bronze statue and watch the opening ceremony.

Last year’s opening speeches had particular resonance, as they focused on the anti-LGBTQ protests that had centred on two Birmingham primary schools (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10th May 2020).

Andrew Moffat, a senior teacher at one of the schools and creator of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme on inclusivity and tolerance, had been invited to lead the Pride parade. He was welcomed to the stage by a roaring crowd of thousands. The roar of the lions… the head of the pride.

After speeches about streets filled with hate… it was time to bask in a city filled with love.

My friends and I headed off to find a suitable vantage point. As we shuffled along the packed side streets, I had my head turned by a handsome police officer, with dark brown eyes peeking from beneath the dome of his helmet.

“Excuse me.” I approached him, brandishing my camera, “Would you mind if I took a selfie with the hottest copper on the beat?”

“Sure,” grinned Officer Sexy, looking from left to right in an exaggerated manner. “Where is he?”

I re-joined my friends and we found ourselves a prime position on Bennetts Hill.

I love how the inspiring parade represents all tribes of the LGBTQ community in full debauchery and glory: gay parents, with children riding on their shoulders or in buggies, stroll side by side with drag queens and half-dressed stilt walkers; floats of spinning pole dancers follow representatives of the emergency services; leather clad clones march behind the military; same-sex ballroom couples are just one  – quick quick slow – step behind Caribbean steel-drummers and bhangra beats; corporate companies, cashing in on the kudos, are represented alongside political parties and genuine civil rights campaigners. All are represented in the colours of the rainbow.

It always heartens me that the most enthusiastic cheers of the parade tend to be reserved for the gay refugees, an unimaginably brave multi-cultural group who have fled everything and everyone they know to escape prejudice, persecution and in some countries the threat of imprisonment or even death. Well… to be totally honest the ‘most enthusiastic cheers’ are saved for the gay refugees and the fire service. Everyone loves a fireman! Hey, we’re only human. X

One fireman always catches my eye. He is short, buff, with slick hair, a prominent side parting and a cute diastema (the noticeable gap between his two upper front teeth. Google it, I just did.), which just adds to his charms.

I once saw my favourite fireman doing community outreach in Birmingham city centre. The fire department were handing out leaflets and badges to passers-by and inviting people to pose for photos in the cabin of the fire engine.

I strolled over and shook his hand, “You were at Pride this summer, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” he replied, sounding surprised. “You remember me?”

“Of course, … I thought you were hot.”

A female colleague within earshot rolled her eyes, “Oh great, that’s all we need. He’s full enough of himself as it is!”

As if to prove her right, he immediately turned to the male officers and cockily declared, “Hey fellas, this guy thinks I’m hot!”

His workmates greeted the boast with a collective ironic groan.

“Now he’s going to be even more unbearable,” one of them sighed.

Back at the Pride parade, we continued to watch the procession of queers and their allies’ march through the city centre.

As a group of burly men with ample body hair and a distinct lack of shirt buttons came into view, a lad behind me turned to his girlfriend and asked, “Why are those men wearing mouse ears?”

“They are wearing bear ears,” I interjected. “They are bears.”

“What are bears?” The girlfriend asked.

“If you are stocky, hairy and have a beard, then you are a bear.”

The lad indicated his own hairy chest and stroked his trim beard, “Would I be a bear?”

I scrutinised him for a moment then replied, “No. You are too young. You would be a cub.”

The couple beamed. This straight boy now had a whole new, hitherto unknown, gay identity and he and his girlfriend seemed delighted.

I was suddenly aware of a presence at my left shoulder. I glanced down and there was a diminutive old lady trying to squeeze through the crowd. Before I could step aside and grant her a better view, she scuttled around to the other side of me and started to elbow her way between myself and the guy stood on my right. Just as she managed to squeeze her head between us, a large pack of human pups, dressed in their rubber outfits, dog collars and masks (See ‘Puppy Love’ – 8th Feb 2020), walked, crawled (It takes some dedication to do a two hour parade on your hands and knees, even with the kneepads.) and scampered by.

I thought I would try luck with ‘call and response’, so shouted, “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?!!”

The pack automatically responded with an enthusiastic, “WOOF…WOOF… WOOF… WOOF WOOF!”

I had become a mass pup handler.

The old lady tutted loudly and moaned, in a thick Brummie accent, “All this bother to get to Primark!!!” She then headed off, chuntering to herself, trying to find a more suitable spot to cross the road.

The stranger on my right and myself grinned gleefully at each other.

“Oh my God, that was straight out of Victoria Wood,” I laughed. “In fact, I’m not entirely sure that wasn’t Julie Walters.”

Her timing and delivery were so perfect, that I still suspect that she may have been a professional street performer.

After two colourful hours, the parade trickled to an end. It was time to head to Hurst Street and the awaiting shenanigans in and around the gay village.

To be continued…

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.

Puppy Love

There is one relatively new tribe within the LGBTQ+++ community that had always baffled me, the ‘Human Pups’. This is where like-minded folk don full-face dog masks, rubber body suits, harnesses or collars and meet at ‘Pup Socials’ to play, fetch ball, fight and receive walks and petting from their handlers.

I just could not understand the appeal and although I had bumped into pups in various bars, I have never felt the desire to roll over or sniff butts with them.

I did once unintentionally affront one handler when I casually greeted his pet with, “What’s new… Scooby Doo?”

Ironically, it was the handler that snarled, “He doesn’t look like Scooby Doo!”

I looked from handler to pup and back to handler again and said, “Weeeeeeeeell… he does a bit.”

The pup cocked his head in an approachable manner and let out a series of friendly yaps, which I took to mean that I hadn’t put his cold wet nose out of joint.

The handler did have a point though, the pup didn’t really look like Scooby Doo… more Dynomutt or Ace – The Bat Hound (Yes, Batman really does have a crime fighting dog. Google it.).

The costumes are actually very cool… and I was about to have my views of this subculture within a subculture turned on its head.

I was going out to the cinema with Robin, a mate that I have known for more years than I care to mention. We had arranged to meet at a bar on Hurst Street before the film. Unbeknown to me, a pup social was taking place upstairs in a separate function room, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a litter of human canines coming and going around the place. Although I may not have understood the appeal of this fetish, they always added welcome variety to a night out.

As Robin and I stood chatting, two pups scampered up behind my friend and started to scratch him behind the ear. Without turning around, Robin immediately leaned into the scratch, stuck out his tongue and began to pant in appreciation.

The two guys departed, and Robin carried on as though nothing had happened, but then, registering my perplexed expression, said, “Oh, you have probably just learned something new about me.”

Robin is someone for whom I have a great fondness and respect. The winner of ‘Best in Show’ at Chuffs in my opinion. When we first met him, my partner and I both agreed that he was perfect boyfriend material for some very lucky man. I now had an opportunity to talk to someone that I held in high esteem about this strange new world and learn all about a dog’s life.

Robin explained that it wasn’t necessarily all about sexual fetishism, as the events attract a mix of gay, straight and bi men and women. It is more a form of escapism. A way of taking on a role, separate from the normality of everyday life and entering a fantasy, devoid of responsibility. It’s not unlike attending the increasingly popular Comic Con and cult TV events and losing yourself in the role of a Starfleet officer, Minecraft character, superhero or favourite incarnation of a particular Timelord.

The more I listened, the more pleased I became that this unique practice was represented by the many stripes of the all-embracing Rainbow Flag.

I knew it was an ignorant question, but I had to ask, “Do people pick up poop?!”

“At some events… but that’s hardcore.”

“Are there feeding bowls?”

“Yes, but they are hard to drink out of when wearing the mask. You need a straw.”

“Do you own a mask?”

“No, not yet. They are really expensive.”

It must be a costly business. The masks can cost hundreds of pounds then there’s the suits, the harness, collar, chain, toys… worming tablets, pet insurance, vet bills and kennel costs… not to mention tins of Chum, dry food and maybe the treat of some pâté if they are good.

Much later that night, as we left the cinema, two guys spotted Robin from across the street and barked out a loud, “ARF! ARF!””

Robin responded in kind.

I suspect it was the same two guys from earlier in the bar, but minus their masks.

I loved the fact that they had this secret signal that allowed them to acknowledge a fellow pup while out in public in their civvies. It was like the masonic handshake.

Back at the bar, Robin and I had one last drink together, but I could tell that the pack was calling and he really wanted to be upstairs playing with his friends. It was time to release him back into the wild.

“Go on, go have fun! I’ll be fine down here on my own.”

Robin hugged me goodbye and headed for the stairs.

As he reached the threshold, I called, “Hey Robin!”

He turned.

“You be good dog.”

His eyes narrowed into a hard stare more associated with Paddington Bear than Scooby Doo… then left.

Months later, long after Robin had moved to London, I saw an advert for discount pup masks. Remembering how expensive he had told me they were I forwarded the link. Moments later I received an image in reply of Robin and his new boyfriend tucked up in bed, both wearing dog masks. The response had come back so quickly that it left me wondering if this was just their standard bedwear?

Way back when my partner and I first met Robin, I recall him saying that one day he hoped to have the same settled lifestyle that he perceived we had. He wanted the partner and the dog. It looks like he’s got both… in the same person.

Robin changed my attitude to a facet of the gay community that I didn’t previously appreciate. It took this young pup to teach an old dog new tricks. Xxx