Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights

With ever tightening restrictions on hospitality, job losses and venue closures were inevitable, but I was deeply saddened to hear the announcement that Eden Bar was closing its doors for business after 13 fabulous years. I suspect, it will not be the last to fall.

Grindr has noticeably had an impact on the gay scene over the last decade, with many preferring to cruise from their sofas rather than socialise in bars, which is the equivalent of ordering in a convenient takeaway, compared to going out for a good meal. Apps remove the thrill of the chase, while takeout results in soggy calamari. Either way, both lose their bite.

Birmingham’s scene was facing further pressure from inner city development, with a glut of generic apartment builds encroaching on Southside and driving established gay businesses out. The fact that the vivacious nightlife was what made that area so attractive to buyers doesn’t seem to register with planners or the landed gentry that apparently owns the area. More money in real estate than the pink pound.

Many venues had seen customers dwindle and several had closed already. Unit 2 and The Core were early victims of those building developments, while Boltz had been served notice in preparation for demolition next year. The Jester had died a lingering death and the owners of The Wellington had sold up, leaving that charming Victorian corner pub, with the cheapest hotel rooms in town (including breakfast) and its own backroom theatre, empty and boarded up.

The first lockdown hiatus hit hard, but the scene bounded back, adapting to government restrictions and tempting people in with promotional offers and innovative socially distanced events. They even negotiated permission to close the crossroads of Hurst Street and Bromsgrove Street at weekends so The Loft and Missing could increase capacity by spilling out onto the streets for alfresco dinning and drinking. Shame Birmingham council dithered about giving the go ahead until the end of the uncommonly good summer, when the weather had started to turn.

The terrible knife attack that hit national headlines back in September and a less widely reported incident where crumpling masonry fell from the façade of Equator and Sidewalk, much to the surprise of afternoon drinkers chatting on the pavement below, did little to bolster footfall, but the area was surviving.

In October, the scene was dealt another blow, when the UK government classified Birmingham as Tier 2, introducing additional restrictions on the hospitality industry. Households were now banned from mixing and a crippling 10pm curfew was imposed. We were now regularly home well before midnight, getting an unwelcome glimpse of what straight people’s lives are like. It’ll be fidelity next.

Unlike its straight equivalent, where people think they have had a lovely night out if they have managed to catch an early bird special in their local Toby Carvery, the gay scene barely got started until 9 o’clock. Glamorous didn’t even open its doors until midnight. When you walked through the doors of a busy gay venue you were hit by a tsunami of noise and heat, laughter, passion, music and often a tirade of abuse from the resident drag queen, but Tier 2 meant that the gay scene had effectively been neutered. This latest lockdown is the ultimate kick in those, already tender, bollocks.

Eden Bar, one of the Birmingham scene’s most popular venues (Sssshhh, don’t tell the others), announced its impending closure on Thursday 22nd October, ‘Like many small businesses, 2020 has stretched Eden beyond belief,’ the owners, Garry and Cal, said in a statement. ‘A reduced capacity to 25% then further reduced to 10% under Region Tier 2 has meant we have decided to bite the bullet.’

There was an outpouring of shock and support on social media. We have lost something special. A sparkle has fallen from the gaybourhood’s Rhinestone Rhino (which is a real thing by the way and stands atop Wynner House, from where it keeps a twinkling eye on the antics below).

I had been an irregular visitor to Eden since the days it was the traditional White Swan, but truly fell in love with the place several years ago when we got to know the bar’s brilliantly bolshy barmaid Marie… and her legendary mother Moira.

My partner and Marie were casually chatting over a fag (they were smoking, not just astride one) in the garden of Eden, when she tutted, “Oh, I’ve got to go. There is a customer at the bar.” She returned moments later, explaining, “Its ok, he was just stood at the window watching Asian guys arriving at the wedding venue opposite.”

“Was he ginger?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know?”

He rolled his eyes, “That’d be my other half.”

From then on we looked forward to her banter and incomparable crudeness, although Marie did confess several months down the line, that she had formerly been on her best behaviour, as she thought we were gentlemen. Ha! How little she knew.

Last summer, my partner underwent a major operation. When he had sufficiently recovered for a gentle outing, Eden was the first place we went.

I had just settled him into chair in the garden when Marie appeared and grabbed his shoulders from behind with affectionate gusto, causing him to jump out of his skin.

“He has just had open heart surgery,” I remonstrated her.

“Oh my God,” she apologised, enveloping him in a robust hug, causing him to yelp in pain.

“And my chest is still healing,” he gasped weakly.

Marie dropped her head, held up her hands and slowly back away, muttering, “I’m so sorry. I’m going now… I’m going.”

We love her.

We went along for Eden’s bittersweet last hurrah, hosted by the brilliant La Voix, who is one of the best drag acts I have ever seen. Glamorous and sassy, as to be expected, but also a talented singer and mimic, with genuinely funny material and banter to rival a stand-up comedian. Britain’s got talent indeed.

She welcomed the audience with, “Well, here we are in Birmingham… at three in the afternoon.” Then dropped the mic from her generously painted lips and mouthed an exaggerated, “What the fuck?!”

We could all relate to this sentiment, being a crowd more comfortable partying at 3 in the morning than 3 in the afternoon, but, despite the early doors, it felt like old times.

The most blistering barb came when La Voix caught venue owners, Garry and Cal, glancing at their phones, between operating sound and lighting, “Thank you for your full attention. What are you two looking at? You on Rightmove searching for a new pub?”

We were regaled with anecdotes about past antics in the venue, reminiscing about the time they hosted a Birmingham fetish night, “We got into the spirit of things and all tried to dress accordingly, but the only rubberwear Gary owned was a verruca sock and swimming cap. It wasn’t a good look. I won’t tell you where he wore the sock.”

She targeted one audience member, emulating his gothic Eastern European accent, then mimed rapping on a door and hollered, “Housekeeping,” causing a guy several seats up from me to choke on his drink and spray the fella in front with a shower of beer. Don’t worry, I am sure the alcohol killed the Covid, besides Corona is the last virus I’m worried about contracting in a room full of that many gay men.

Social distancing was adhered to by the letter and all tables were situated two meters apart, as per government guidelines. As for the spaces in between…

“It’s like a Trump rally in here,” my partner commented as we entered the marquee.

Two police officers did wander in to perform a spot check, gave a cursory glance around and left. It was a wise move not to be too pedantic. Emotions were running high and I suspect if they had quibbled over social distancing the place could have gone off like another Stonewall.

La Voix ensured that those emotions were ramped-up for the end of her set, with a tear-jerking rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart. The lyric, ‘Together we can make it to the end of the line’ had never been so poignant. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Paradise lost. The end of an Eden.

Ironically, Eden was packed to its restricted capacity from the moment it announced its closure until tearfully ringing their final last orders.

I assume, barfly and quiz night devotee, Kelvin Bacciochi is still chained to Eden’s bar, refusing to leave, like a suffragette, but belting out show tunes. In truth, Kelvin has sadly claimed that he can’t see the point of returning to Brum now Eden has gone, but I don’t think we have seen the last of him. He is like Jason from Friday the 13th, he just keeps coming back. He prefers to think of himself as Cher, forever doing a farewell tour, or as he is fond of saying, “I am like syphilis, once you have me you have me forever.” I wish the same could have been said for Eden. X

If the gay community wants the rest of these places to be there when this Hell is over, then we need to keep showing support. From December 2nd (or whenever those goal posts move to) go to afternoon drag at The Village Inn, enjoy the Sunday roast at The Loft, gather at Equator and Sidewalk again, catch weekend cabaret at the Nightingale, munch on muffins at The Fox (That’s not a typo, I do really mean muffins, they do baked goods… besides it’s not just a bar for ladies that like ladies anymore). The power of the pink pound will be more important than ever.

Hard times are ahead, but the Birmingham gay scene will rise again, like Coventry from the ashes. No, better than Coventry, cos Coventry is a bit shite. Sorry, anyone that lives there, but you know it’s true.

Let us hope the twinks of the future ask what it was like during the pandemic, not before. We want and need the scene to be around for us and the next generation.

At the point of publishing, the British government have announced an extension of the furlough scheme, paying 80%. of the wages of employees adversely effected by lockdown, until March next year. Fantastic news, but If this had been decided a few weeks earlier, maybe Eden and others would still be in business.

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 drug 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 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.

qaStaHvIS wa’ ram loSSaD Hugh SIjlaH qetbogh loD

I awoke to several missed calls and numerous messages asking if I was alright.

It transpired that during the early hours of that Sunday morning a disturbed individual had gone on a knife wielding rampage across the city centre of Birmingham, attacking eight victims and leaving one poor twenty-three-year-old lad dead.

Initial reports focused on the attacks on Hurst Street and made it sound as though the incident was a homophobic hate crime, but as more details came in it would seem that this stabbing frenzy was motivated by nothing but the individual’s unhinged state of mind and that Birmingham’s gay village was just unlucky enough to be on his route of carnage.

I immediately responded to the messages that I had received and sent out many others to people that I knew or assumed would have been out on the scene that night. Messages pinged back and forth across the city all morning as the stunned gay community checked in with each other and reassured everyone that we were lucky enough to be safe and unscathed.

One friend promptly replied to my message, confirming that he was OK, but attached a screenshot from a news site, showing Clonezone on Hurst Street swathed in ribbons of hazard tape and guarded by a barrage of police officers.

IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE I WILL BE GOING TO WORK TODAY, he messaged.

NO, I replied, BUT ON THE PLUS SIDE, YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT SHOPLIFTERS.

Another guy I know, had been in the vicinity of the attacks only fifteen minutes prior to the incident, but, put off by the queue at Glamorous, had decided to grab a kebab and head home to Clydesdale Tower, one of twin tower blocks overlooking the gay village (locally known a Dorothy Towers or Fairy Towers, depending on your age). It was from the vantage point of his flat that he watched in shocked bemusement as the emergency services responded en masse.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but there were police coming from everywhere,” he told me. “The St Johns Ambulance practically took the Holloway Circus roundabout on two wheels and then a police helicopter appeared and began sweeping the area with search lights. I watched for ten minutes or so, until I remembered my kebab was getting cold.”

Lord_harborne of Instagram posted a poignant picture of himself and his three mates, who were all new to Birmingham, enjoying a ‘wonderful night… until it turned into a war zone.’ I hope his friend of a friend, Michael, is recovering well. X


I had been in two minds about going out on that Saturday night, particularly as the evening got going and various venues began posting tempting images on social media of happy people enjoying drinks in the sun. Fortunately, I decided to take advantage of that good weather by staying in and having a barbeque. I planned on going out on the scene on Sunday afternoon instead… a plan I intended to stick to.

When I got to Birmingham’s Southside district, it was all eerily reminiscent of Lockdown. The roads were quiet and the majority of businesses were shuttered up. Every entrance point to the gaybourhood was cordoned off, with dozens of police officers in attendance. If you had a uniform fetish, this was the afternoon to be in town. The crossroads at the heart of the sealed off gay village was busy with a forensic team, clad in their white coveralls, systematically gathering evidence.

Several news crews were stationed at either end of Hurst Street. Suited presenters paced the pavements quietly mumbling through their reports in preparation for going live.

It put me in mind of the first few evenings following the anti-LGBTQ demonstrations at Anderton Park Primary. I had wandered over to chat with the news teams in attendance and find out which TV channels they were from, under the pretext of offering hot drinks.

“We are fine for drinks,” one female reporter thanked me. “We can make our own in the OB van. We’ve even got a pizza delivery due any minute.”

I ascertained that she was from the local ITV station and, never one to miss an opportunity to flirt, even vicariously, cheekily asked, “Next time could you send Des Coleman (Central News’ funky weatherman and occasional correspondent)? He’s hot.”

“And straight,” she laughed.

“Oh well,” I shrugged, “but when you get back to the studio, tell him he has an admirer in Balsall Heath.”


Back at the police barriers on Hurst Street, I was relieved to spot one of the barmen from Missing, safe and well.

“Hey, how are you? Were you working last night?” I asked.

“Yes. It was terrible. I had just sent two lesbians out to get me something to eat from the takeaway across the street when it all happened. They burst back into the pub, barred the door and told me my food would have to wait.”

“I was in that takeaway at the time,” a voice piped up from behind us. “I heard the commotion outside the door, so I rushed out, naturally not wanting to miss out on a drama, but when I realised what was happening, I spun around and ran as fast as I could in the other direction.”

It turns out that this eyewitness was just visiting from Manchester for the weekend.

“Please, do come to Birmingham again. It’s not usually like this,” I assured him.


Apparently, the assailant tore down the length of Hurst Street and turned right at the T-juction on to Sherlock Street.

The lovely Michael, a gent of a man, always there with a welcoming smile and an abysmal ‘dad joke’, was working on the door of Eden at the time and saw him run by, pursued by two guys.

“What did he look like?” I asked, as no hint of a description had been issued at the time.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Michael replied. “I’m terrible at remembering that sort of detail.”

“The police haven’t released anything. Was he white, Asian, …?”

“Oh, he was Caucasian,” Michael interrupted me emphatically, “as in black.”

I let that go for a moment, but had to politley corrected him, “Sorry, but Caucasian means the opposite.”

“See, I told you I was terrible at descriptions.”

No shit Sherlock Street!


Despite a heavy police presence on the scene, people were understandably apprehensive about going out after the incident. The few venues that could open that Sunday evening were sparsely occupied and a sombre atmosphere prevailed.

But… fear and fun has always gone hand in hand on the gay scene… every gay scene: from those first pioneering publicans who defiantly opened their doors to societies’ undesirables and the courageous clientele that faced prejudice and prosecution to frequent them; to every new chicken and chick that nervously embarks on their first gay adventure; and those that stalk the night, uncertain of what awaits them in that enticingly dark corner or alleyway they are beckoned into. We suck it up and boldly face the fear head on, usually with a withering retort for anyone that dares oppose us.

Just this week, my partner was taunted in the street with, the quite frankly baffling insult of, “You dropped yer dick!”

To which he immediately snapped back, “It’s in your mouth!”

The abuser was at a loss as how to react and a passer-by mocked him with, “He blazed you, man.”

My partner told me that the other response that sprung to mind was, “Yeah, in your mother!” Both work for me.

So, doll yourself up, grab your wallet, your keys, your phone, your condoms, your lube, your poppers and your mask (Christ, the list just keeps getting longer! I am going to need more pockets). Hit the town and paint it every shade of rainbow. I’ll see you out there.

Love each feather and each bangle… and don’t let the bad guys win.

Oh… You are probably wondering what the title of this blog means. No, I didn’t fall on my keyboard. It is a Klingon proverb, in the original Klingon (obviously), and translates as: ‘A running man can slit four thousand throats in a single night.’ It sprung to mind as I read those disturbing headings in my newsfeed last Sunday morning and seems darkly appropriate. Fortunately, the disturbed attacker that ran rampage through the city centre was identified and apprehended within 48 hours and will not be running anywhere again anytime soon.

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.

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

Birmingham Pride. Part 2 – For the Love of Cock

I own a T-shirt that only comes out once a year for Pride.

This T-shirt features a picture of a hand with index finger pointing to my left and declaring, ‘THIS MAN… LIKES COCK.’ It essentially ‘outs’ anyone stood on the side of me that the fickle finger points… and goes down a storm with Pride revellers. It has proven to be a real asset, giving me the excuse to approach the best-looking guys, far out of my league and cheekily ask, “Are you man enough for a photo with this T-shirt?”

Over Pride weekend, I am constantly approached by strangers, asking to have their photo taken with the T-shirt. Often it is women, who shove their embarrassed looking husbands and boyfriends into position for the photograph. It is great, as I get to have the craic with dozens of inebriated people.

The first year I wore the ‘This Man Likes Cock’ T-shirt, I was skirting around the perimeter of the Pride enclosure (I don’t tend to buy tickets for the main event anymore, choosing instead to troll between the half dozen or so venues that are on the periphery of the scene.), when I was clocked by a group of policemen.

One of the officers nodded in my direction, muttered something to his colleagues and then all four of them headed in my direction.

Oh no, I thought, surely, they aren’t going to tell me to cover it up? Freedom of speech and all that! Besides, it is Pride, anything goes! There are guys walking around with their arses hanging out of their chaps, my humble T-shirt can’t be causing offense.

“Excuse me sir,” said one of the offers, as he approached, “we couldn’t help but notice your T-shirt.”

“Errrrm… yes?”

“Could we have our photos taken with you?”

The next thing, all four of them were taking turns to pose next to me with the accusing finger pointing in their direction.

When it came to the turn of the fourth and final police officer to take position for the photo, his colleague pointed at him and commented, “By the way, just for the record, of the four of us… he actually does like it.”

They all giggled, and the officer stood next to me with his arm slung around my waist, rolled his eyes and nodded that it was true.

From then on it became my mission to have my photo taken wearing that T-shirt with as many official types as possible. I managed to get shots with security guards, vendors, barmen, bouncers, first aiders, some woman off Gogglebox, that fireman with the cute diastema and even got inadvertently ‘papped’ with the Mayor of the West Midlands.

I had the most fun trying to take surreptitious photos with characters, who were the least likely to like cock and were clearly only at Pride to do a job.

At one point, I approached a strapping young armed police officer, decked out in flak jacket and a utility belt that Batman would be envious of. I had my arm casually draped across my chest to hide the print on, which surprisingly worked, and he obliviously agreed to pose.

His colleague offered to do the honours with the camera, but just as he was about to take the photo, he noticed the statement embossed on my clothing and went to point it out to my unaware victim. I quickly and subtly moved my finger to my lips and silenced him. The photographer smirked and proceeded to take the photo. Only once the image was captured, did he gleefully draw his mate’s attention to the wording I was wearing.

The posse of armed police officers burst out laughing and gave me contact details to send the photo to, while my quarry performed a resigned facepalm.

The following day, I attempted the same trick on another armed officer, but even better, this one was stood in front of an impressively armoured police vehicle.

Before I could get close enough to even ask the officer to pose for a photo, he started shaking his head and said, “No, no, no, you are not having your photo taken with me in THAT T-shirt!”

“But why?” I asked, innocently. “You not man enough?!” Which, thinking about it, was an audacious question to ask a man holding a semiautomatic weapon!

“The one you took yesterday is all over social media,” he replied. “They’ve even posted it on the West Midlands Police website!”

Finally, he did agree to have his photo taken with me, but only if I stood on the other side of him, with the offending finger pointing in the wrong direction… which sort of missed the point.

Oh well. The one that got away.

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 in 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.

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 men, straight men, gay women and straight 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 group are 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 to him 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