In the Shadows

Revellers were drawn to Birmingham’s gay village by the buzz of the bars, pubs and clubs. Just beyond the bright lights, drink fuelled merriment and music are quiet corners, secluded spots and secret places. A nest of backstreet hook-up hideaways. Birmingham’s gay beat… just off the beaten track. The scene unseen.

Cruising sites in the city centre have diminished over recent years, with residential developments encroaching on our gaybourhood. The gays have been driven from their traditional hunting grounds and forced to seek refuge in ever dwindling nooks and crannies, as the shadows recede.


The remnants of Kent Street Baths and its surroundings were once a hive of post club/predawn activity. Dozens of men cruised the alleyways and abandoned spaces, seeking brief encounters.

Gatherings would spontaneously erupt in empty units or behind crumbling walls.

I remember one Christmas shopping expedition concluding in a group session in the shadows of one of the billboards that dominated the corner of a Southside carpark. The number of participants rapidly increased, as sharks circled and joined the feeding frenzy, the inevitable pilot fish floated on the periphery, hoping to pick up scraps. This impromptu happening lost its appeal once someone tried moving the whole affair to the mundane privacy of his flat in Dorothy Towers and it disbanded as quickly as it had begun. Oh well, the alfresco orgy was over, so I scooped up my gift bags and headed home.


Policing in the area has waxed and waned. During liberal administrations, the gay boyz would be left undisturbed. The attitude seemed to be, ‘If it isn’t hurting anyone, let them get on with it, in the same way people turn a blind eye to antics on Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common or in NYC’s Central Park, embracing it as ‘local colour’, and knowing, like Little Red Riding Hood, not to stray from the path.

Other periods would see increased police presence and the word on the street would be to stay vigilant.

An acquaintance and I were disturbed by approaching headlights, so we rearranged ourselves and strolled casually along the cobbles of Henstead Street, a forgotten byway that acted as the express route between the Birmingham scene’s two surviving traditional pubs, The Wellington and The Fountain.

The police car pulled up alongside us and an officer enquired, “Excuse me guys, may I ask what you are doing here?”

“Just talking to this friend that I bumped into,” I replied, innocently.

“Oh, I see,” the officer said, unconvinced. “By the way, your belt is undone.”


In the dying days of that beat, I got the distinct impression that the occasional police presence was there to ensure the safety of the gay community, rather than controlling our moral impropriety.

The area could undoubtedly be risky. My partner was robbed by a gang at knife point. He gave evidence in court but was so disgusted by the system that he never bothered checking in on what became of them.

I myself escaped a mugger by turning on my heels (I wasn’t actually wearing heels) and running hell for leather towards Sherlock Street, hoping to seek sanctuary in Eden, but could see from a distance that the lights were off and the bar had closed for the night, so I turned up Hurst Street and dashed toward Medusa Lodge, a burlesque and gentlemen’s club incongruously located in the gay village.

When I breathlessly explained to the bouncers on the door what had just happened, the four of them immediately formed a protective barrier around me.

“You are safe now,” the towering head bouncer assured me. “Order a taxi and we won’t let anything happen to you.”

I felt like the US President, surrounded by his personal bodyguard (Not THAT president, obviously, but a decent one).


One early morning in Birmingham’s favourite XXX-rated carpark, my partner and I spotted a steamed-up car with a couple of guys heavily petting in the front seats. The driver was a badass dude, while his passenger appeared a timid slip of a thing.

I made eye contact with the driver and received a look, which I interpreted as a come-on, so we both opened the backdoors and jumped in the rear seats.

“GET OUT MY CAR. MAN,” the driver shouted. “WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU DOIN’?!!!

We leapt straight back out, quickly joined by the lad from the front seat, who had instantly lost his ardour from the driver’s aggressive outburst.

The three of us took one look at each other and exploded with laughter. I was doubled over by the outrageousness of the situation.

Suddenly the driver’s door burst open and he stormed towards us hurling threats and yelling, “DON’T FUCKING LAUGH AT ME!”

This boy from the hood was not someone to tangle with in a desolate carpark, but I stepped forward with my hands raised in contrition.

“We are not laughing at you, honestly,” I explained. “We are laughing at ourselves. We are the idiots who just climbed into a complete stranger’s car.” I offered him my hand to shake, “It was our mistake. I am so sorry.”

“Don’t get closer,” my partner warned, “he may have a knife!”

“It’s fine. He won’t hurt me,” I replied, realisation dawning, “we’ve met before.”

The guy looked puzzled momentarily then a smile of recognition broke through the scowl, showing a cute gap in his two front teeth, “Hey man, how are you?”

We shook hands and I introduced him to my partner, “I know this guy, we have hooked up in a few places,” I explained.

He smirked and asked, “Can I come back to yours?”

This time with an invitation, my partner and I jumped back into his car and the three of us drove off, with a scrape of gravel, leaving the other chap stood abandoned in the carpark, bewildered by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.


Hot boy from the hood became a semiregular nocturnal visitor to our home, although turning up at ridiculously inappropriate times of the night.

Sometimes, on weeknights, we would ignore his knocks and pretend to be asleep, which in retrospect, I can’t believe we did, as he possessed the physique of a superhero, with muscles that I didn’t even know existed beyond the pages of a comic book.

The first time I saw his abs, I gasped, “Oh my God, I could grate cheese on those!”

He looked like he had been carved from marble, with a hue of darkest midnight, which had the unfortunate drawback of vividly showing up light pet hairs if his visit coincided with our dog’s moulting season. There were occasions when we would have to brush down his ripped torso to prevent him leaving the house looking like the Abominable Snowman, which, to be honest, was hardly a chore.


We hadn’t seen our superhero for many years but did recently discover that a cherished friend is now the recipient of those unannounced late-night visits.

“He will do anything you ask him,” our friend told us. “I make him perform naked press-ups, so I can watch those muscles at work.”

Coincidentally, a few days after learning of our shared connection, I ran into Superman on Lower Essex Street. He was the most gregarious I had ever seen him. Giddy with excitement that he had just been talking about us with our mutual friend only the day before, he bound over the road, with a wide beam that showed off that delectable gap.


Although not highlighted in the brochure, those dark corners are a vital part of any gay scene and usually the reason that they became established where they did in the first place. There is a reason that the scattered venues of Liverpool’s scene are hidden down dumpster strewn alleyways; and what would Canal Street have been without those bridges?

I recently took part in a research project on how Birmingham town planners could consider the needs of the city’s gay community. Along with conventional suggestions, I stressed the necessity for fabulous dark corners, and suggested incorporating them into plans for the gentrified gaybourhood. I would love to be in the council chambers when that is proposed.

Apparently, when a Mayor of Brighton was approached about installing CCTV along the beach front to curb cruising, he refused, stating that he came to Brighton thirty years earlier to cruise men and that was part of gay culture. He was not going to be the guy who put an end to it (so there is a president…from Brighton’s President). 

He knew, only too well, that it may be the lure of the bright lights and the beat of the music that attracts the punters… but it’s the dark shadows of the beat that keeps the lifeblood of the scene pumping.

A Babe in the Woods

My sleep patterns go haywire when I am off work for long periods. My freelance profession means that I get regular weeks off throughout the year. During these breaks I find myself waking in the early hours and going downstairs to read or watch TV, even sometimes cooking a pre-dawn breakfast, only to then crash on the sofa and sleep until late morning.

During these bouts of insomnia, I often distract myself by scrolling through Grindr and chatting to anyone else that is up. These interactions never lead to night-time hook-ups, as I am unwashed, crusty eyed and have midnight dog breath (Yes, quite the catch!) and besides, my partner is upstairs mumbling to himself in his sleep.

On one occasion though, I received a set of pictures that were irresistible. He had darkly handsome face pics staring with bad boy attitude into the camera, toned body shots of a guy who knew his way around a gym and the other shots were… well, average to be honest, but meticulously well groomed.

We exchanged messages for a while then he said he could accommodate and sent his location. Only a couple of roads away! I was understandably cautious about heading out to meet a stranger at 2am. Although the guy was hot, he exuded an air of brooding danger.

YOU COMING? he messaged.

I hesitated. Was this a good idea? Probably not. I should be sensible and stay safe… but those pecs, … that tough-guy scowl, … that fastidiously shaved scrotum.

YES. GIVE ME 15 MIN

I quickly washed, brushed my teeth and threw on some clothes. I paused to write a note for my partner should he wake up and find me gone, which I left in a prominent spot in the lounge. ‘Gone to meet a Grindr shag. Back soon. Don’t wait up… well, just go back to bed! X’

I really shouldn’t be doing this, I thought as I walked up the silent street. I have heard of incidents of men being lured into an attack or mugging on Grindr!

Moments later, I was back home. I decided to leave my wallet behind, just in case this was a set up and to take my phone instead, so I could call for help if necessary.

By the time I arrived at the guy’s flat, I was a jitter of nerves, having considered numerous unpleasant scenarios that could await me.

This is ridiculous. Anything could happen. Why am I not under a blanket on the sofa, watching Sharknado 3 on the Horror Channel or, even better, asleep in bed… like everyone else? I should turn around and just go back home.

He was stood in the illuminated entrance of the flats beckoning me in.

Shit, too late now, I thought.

Alarm bells really started to ring when he explained that we couldn’t use the flat after all, as he was staying with a friend.

He motioned me towards a doorway under the communal stairs.

Oh my God, I panicked, I am going to end up like one of those missing schoolgirls that spend fifteen years locked in a basement and eventually emerge, blinking into the light, with a litter of children/siblings!

It turned out that my imagination was getting away with me and the door didn’t lead into basement dungeon. It was just a dusty store cupboard containing the gas meter, fuse box and a long-irrelevant copy of the Yellow Pages.

“We can’t have sex in here,” I told him. “There’s no lock… and besides, it has a glass door!”

“My car is outside. We could drive somewhere.”

This could have been my opportunity to backout, but he was menacingly good looking with a rugged beard and… seriously, those biceps.

I suggested a local park.

As we drove there, I introduced myself and made a point of repeating my name several times, as I had heard somewhere that assailants are less inclined to attack if they can relate to you as a person rather than just a victim. I think I had picked that up from watching Silence of the Lambs. He listened to me in ominous silence (just like those lambs) and didn’t smile.

It took little time to navigate the empty roads to where we were going and soon we were stood at the threshold of the ominously pitch-black park.

If he intended me harm, then I had enabled it to happen. I had agreed to meet this risky looking stranger and even suggested we go to this deserted spot in the dead of night. ‘He only had himself to blame,’ my epitaph would read… but those abs were too good to resist.

As I led the way into the darkness, I was suddenly aware of a quick movement behind me. Had he got a knife?!

The guy abruptly called out my name.

I turned to see him stood there with his arm extended towards me, his eyes wide with fear. He was scared of the dark and wanted me to hold his hand and lead him down the uneven path.

Suddenly, there was a flutter above us.

He jumped and whimpered, “What was that?!”

“Just a bird,” I reassured him.

I took his hand.

We walked through the foreboding canopy of trees, like Hansel and Gretel… well, more Hansel and Hansel.

“There’s something over there,” he whispered nervously, at the sound of rustling in the foliage.

“It’s fine, you are safe,” I told him, pulling him close. “It’s just nocturnal animals. We are disturbing them. It is probably just a fox.”

“A FOX!!!” He practically screamed. He looked terrified, “I’m too nervous! I don’t think I can do this.”

I now saw it from his perspective. I was the stranger who had turned up on his doorstep in the dead of night and tempted him to an isolated spot full of eery shadows and wild creatures.

I cupped his face with my free hand, stroked that beard and we kissed.

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: 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.