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.

Relieving the Grind of Grindr

Grindr is a popular gay men’s dating app… where dating is the last thing on anyone’s mind (In fact, as I was writing that opening sentence a combination of a mistype and predictive text corrected it to the far more accurate ‘the arse thing on anyone’s mind’. Maybe I have ‘prophetic text’ installed?).

Most conversations on Grindr go from ‘Hi’, or sometimes the awkwardly accurate typo of ‘Ho’, to an exchange of cock shots in under a dozen messages. Not that I’m complaining. I wholeheartedly believe that this is what Grindr is there for. I get a little irritated with pithy profiles that whine, ‘All anyone wants is sex on here!’ or ‘If you are only after hook-ups, don’t message me.’. If you ain’t after a shag, then don’t go on Grindr! It is like boiling a kettle then moaning that the water is too hot. That’s what it’s there for.

Despite the bracingly direct approach Grindr encourages, I do like it when someone manages to show a glimpse of their personality. My favourite profile admitted on behalf of us all that, ‘These are our best photos guys… it’s all downhill from here’.

My own profile reads something like: ‘I like guys that are darker than me, but as I am ginger that isn’t hard to do.’ If you spot me out there, say ‘hello’… and send pics.  

I have one gambit that tends to wean the men from the boys. When asked for that ubiquitous cock shot, I sometimes send a photo of me stood next to a friend’s chicken coup proudly holding a feathery bundle of poultry (it is actually a hen and not a cock, but let’s not quibble). This can sometimes result in an instant block from the nonplussed recipient, but if they can’t take a joke, then it’s no great loss, but more times than not it results in a good bit of banter.

By the way, while on the subject of ‘cock shots’, I know a woman whose surname tragically is Cockshott. To make matters worse her first name is Gaynor. Gay Cockshott! GAY COCKSHOTT!!! The poor woman is named after those images that we bander about like bonbons. She must dread registering for anything, but on the plus side she has a readymade drag name. I know of another unfortunate whom, through marriage, is now Gaynor Hooker. Let that one sink in.


I really enjoy misappropriating Grindr on occasion. I have a gay neighbour with whom I would chat to on the app, long before we ever spoke in person. I would delight in sending him random neighbourly messages asking to borrow a cup of sugar or reminding him about recycling collections. The more banal the better. Thankfully, he found this nonsense mildly amusing too and played along, otherwise it could have resulted in an instant block, which could have made things awkward next time we were putting the bins out.

On one occasion, I managed to utilise his talents as a math teacher, when a ridiculously beautiful guy appeared on Grindr, showing up as only 20 meters from my house.

I sent his picture to the neighbour, IS HE AT YOURS?

NO, he replied. I WISH HE WAS!

I HAVE JUST STOOD ON MY BENCH, I confessed, BUT I CAN’T SEE HIM IN NEXT DOOR’S GARDEN.

WE CAN TRIANGULATE HIM, he suggested.

It would have been like a scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies, where the militia track down the creatures with thermal heat sensors.

“I’ve got a fix on one, Ripley! 20 meters… 18 meters… 10 meters… 1 meter! Bugger me backwards, he’s in the ducting!”

We never found him.


On one occasion, I was having a drink in a particularly bar when I noticed the bored bar manager scrolling through Grindr on his phone, so I sent him a message.

CAN I HAVE ANOTHER PINT OF SAN MIGUEL… AND A BAG OF NUTS, PLEASE?

Moments later, I heard a bang on the bar, as the barman slapped down his palms. I looked up with a start to see him glowering at me with his typical sassiness.

“What?” I asked, feigning ignorance.

“Seriously?! You couldn’t just ask for a drink like a normal person?”

“I could,” I admitted, “but where would be the fun in that?”

He shook his head with a smirk, “Un-be-lievable!”

Well, it made a change from, DO YOU HAVE A COCK SHOT? Next time someone asks me for one of those, I may forgo the photo of me beside the chicken coup and instead send a picture of the lovely Gaynor.

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.

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