That Time I Took My Straight Mate to a Gay Sex Club

“I know a bar in Birmingham that you have never been to,” I said with a devilish glint in my eye.

I was out on the town with one of my oldest friends. We have always enjoyed a pub crawl around the city centre. During one of these blurry nights out, we discovered a pamphlet showing the locations of over 100 venues renowned for real ale. The fact that neither of us drank real ale wasn’t going to deter us and we enthusiastically adopted this map as our guide to new places and adventure.

For nearly a decade, that map has steered us to an eclectic mix of hostelries, from traditional pubs to swanky bars: We have enjoyed comedy shows; been entertained by backroom bands; mixed with city socialites and slummed it in many a delightful dive. Along the way we have discovered some real gems, such as: the jewel of the Jewellery Quarter, the Rose Villa Tavern, with its magnificent stained glass; enjoyed a vibrant night at the, now demolished, Yardbird; and savoured the old-style charms of the Queens Arms on Newhall Street.

It was on one of these pub crawls, that I made my cheeky proposition to Jamie.

We were in the Lamp Tavern, a peculiar little pub hidden in the gloom of Bartford Street. Those around us supped on guest ales, with robust names like Badgers Scrotum and Admiral’s Arsenal, as we two heathens sipped on our ‘least offensive lager you have on tap’, as I am in the habit of requesting, “please”.

“It doesn’t feature on the map,” I smirked, as the idea dawned, “but there is a place close by that we could go to… but are you man enough?”

Although no stranger to the gay scene, having been dragged into most establishments in the gaybourhood by me over the years, I had never dared to suggest this notorious men-only bar before… because Jamie is straight (Yes really, with a wife and kids and everything! Take that look off your face, I know what you are thinking, but properly straight, not bi, nor curious, closeted or ‘oh go on then’ after three pints… believe me, I’ve tried).

We met back in our twenties when we both worked at a local arts centre. I was on the box office and Jamie was a steward. I took quite a shine to him and we spent a lot of time chatting while he was enduring the drudgery of a quiet gallery shift. I even went as far as asking him out for a drink one evening. It was a while into our ‘date’ that the penny dropped, and he realised that my invitation was motivated by more than mere friendliness. Jamie began to babble about his girlfriend and made an excuse to leave.

Several months later, we were both at a house party, where he apologised for running off that night and confessed that he had invented the girlfriend in panic. From that day on we have been good mates. I was even honoured to be best man at his wedding.


As I rang the entrance buzzer at the club, I turned to Jamie and told him, “This is a private members club, so you are going to be asked to sign up. They take your photo and details, but it is just a formality, you are not going to be put on some gay fetish mailing list. ”

We sat at the bar chatting with another customer, who was in Birmingham on business for a few days and Jamie predictably bonded with the straight barman, a chilled-out lad with an understated line in sarcasm.

“People are surprised that there are straight guys working here,” the barman told us.

“It makes sense, I suppose,” I said. “You’ll spend your time pulling pints, rather than the customers.”

“I had never been in a gay bar before I started working here.”

“Talk about jumping in at the deep end,” I exclaimed.

“I know! I didn’t know where to look at my first naked event.”

This open-minded barman quickly adapted to his new work environment and even got his younger brother a job there. His sibling was only 18 when he started and was an instant hit, particularly as he was cute, in a gawky bad-boy sort of way. Customers would frequently hit on him, but he would dismiss them with an entertainingly offensive, “Fuck off yer poof!”

One time, the lad bid farewell to a departing Eurasian customer with a cheery, “Kon’nichiwa.”

After the guy left, I said, “You do realise that was Japanese for ‘Hello’?”

He gave a dismissive shrug.

“…And he is from the Philippines.”


“I like it here,” Jamie announced after we’d been there a while, “and the beer is only £2.40 a pint. I’m coming back… but only with you!”

“Well,” I said, putting down my empty glass, “you can’t come in here and spend the whole time sat at the bar.”

Jamie nervously gulped down his own drink.

“Come on, I’ll show you around. Don’t worry, there is hardly anyone in tonight, there will be nothing going on,” I reassured him, as we embarked on the grand tour.

I showed him one of the group spaces, with its adjacent cinema then we walked around to the other side of the venue and entered the curved corridor, lined with cubicles, that leads to the darkroom.

“Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust to the gloom surprisingly quickly,” I told him.

As we turned the bend, we reached a sex sling in a cage… where an enthusiastic top was balls deep in his acquaintance. Jamie whimpered slightly at this unexpected hardcore encounter and shot out his hand to grasp mine with a grip so tight that it made me wince.

We hastened our pace and dashed back out into the main bar.

I have always been irritated by the silly twinks who giggle and twitter like schoolkids, but once we were back in the light, we both doubled over in hysterics. Seeing it from Jamie’s perspective was an eyeopener.


Now, while Jamie certainly is not the first married man to spend an evening in a gay sex club, I suspect he is one of the few to go home and tell the wife.

The next morning, I received a tongue-in-cheek text message saying, WHERE DID YOU TAKE MY HUSBAND LAST NIGHT?!

At least, I assume it was meant ‘tongue-in-cheek’. She has allowed him to go out with me since. Although in future, I think we will be sticking to the map.

CRACKANORY: Register of Unfortunate Names

I was chatting with a lively group of teachers in The Fox one night, when the conversation turned to funny or unusually named pupils that they had encountered.

“There was a little Indian girl in my class last year whose surname was Ria,” I was told by one woman. “Her first name was Gorna. Let that sink in.”

There was a collective gasp, then laughter.

“I bet she was quite the catch,” I joked.

“Then there was Princess Leia,” she continued. “You couldn’t just call her Princess or Leia, it had to be ‘Princess Leia’ otherwise she got mad.”

“I knew a Vietnamese guy called Tu Long Dong,” someone else chipped in.

That was a tough name to live up to, we all agreed.

“The best… or should that be worst…,” continued the first woman, embracing the topic, “was a girl whose name was spelt ‘LA – A’. How would you pronounce that?”

I tried out a variety of possibilities, “La ah? Lar? Laaaaaaaaa? (and in desperation) Ella?”

“Nope,” I was told. “It’s Ladasha.”

“You are making that up!”

For a while comedy names became my favourite subject of conversation in the gay bars of Birmingham. Inevitably people contributed a name of a work colleague, family member or acquaintance and so the register of unfortunate names expanded.

Many names are simply lost in translation, such as Alecky Dick, Eezi Goah, Randy Cuntapay, Apishagga, Fajghana (say it out loud) and the childishly titter worthy Wee Wee.

There was the stirring Chinese name of Ting Lee Wang and the painful sounding Chew Kok; the promising Thai tag of Wae Phat Coc; the unintentionally geeky Taiwanese moniker of Wanky Fan; a hot Italian barman blemished by the name Farthi; the poor Indonesian girl branded Windi; and a Polish lad, whom apparently took a friends virginity, with the spectacular name of Fudge Fadge McGadge. It is not known whether he took her up the fudge or her fadge, but I don’t suppose it really matters.

There were other names for which you can only blame the parents, such as Dwayne Pipe, Paige Turner, Shane Payne, Rob Banks, Hope Dyde (which would make you question your parent’s love), Wayne Kerr and Wayne King (say them fast), Dick Packer, Everard Dick and his sister Ophelia, plus the inevitable Richards Head and Hard.

I learned of a car dealership in Bath owned by Dick Lovett; a chain of estate agents in Shropshire run by Nicholas Tart; a friend’s American co-worker called Randy Ho; a consultant at Good Hope Hospital called Dr Donald Duck (known as Don, but somehow that only makes it sound even more ridiculous).

I was told about infant twins Ronnie and Reggie; Georgio and Armarni; and one clueless mother who called her daughters Chardonnay and Chlamydia. Apparently, she thought that Chlamydia sounded particularly nice. For Christ sake don’t introduce her to little Gorna Ria. Double trouble.

Of course, some people acquire unfortunate names through marriage. Carol Carole got off relatively lightly, but the same can’t be said for poor Gaye Hooker, Fanny Fuller, Arnett Curtain, Rhoda Pig, Ishabel Hughes (known as Ish) or the topical Pam Demic! Then there is the outstandingly terrible Fanny Wank. As though Wank isn’t already an impossible name to carry off, but then to team it with Fanny! Although I suppose no choice of first name is going to detract from the surname Wank, a similar problem presumably faced by the parents of Wally Bastard.

In contrast, I did learn of women who were grateful to get married and lose their maiden names, like Joy Organ and Rachel Blewitt (I bet Rachel’s brother Barry is desperate to ditch the surname too). My heart goes out to poor Peggy Pigg, who dreamed of losing that surname on her wedding day, only to marry a man called Hogg.

There are names that are as lovely as they are unusual and sound like they belong in children’s literature, like my friend’s gran Rose Bush and his mother’s cousin June Moon. I love the names Misty Waters, Penny Lane, Lilly Green, Minnie Onions, Summer Love, Rose Light, Friday Knight, Ida Downs, Pearl Button, Humphry Lordwin, Lordwin Nelson and the nautical Marina Portsmouth.

Someone I know very well, grew up in small town America, where there lived the eccentric Drupp family. Dotty and Earl Drupp ha a son called Leo. I thought that the whole clan sounded like something from a Roald Dahl novel, until he told me that he had inadvertently walked in on teenage Leo suckling from his mother’s breast (You weren’t expecting that dark twist were you?!). More The League of Gentlemen than George’s Marvellous Medicine. Predictably, my friend’s momma decided that she didn’t want him playing with that Drupp boy no more after that awkward encounter.

Staying with the ‘children’s book’ theme, I was recently told the spectacular name of Fanny Missfeldt-Ringius, whom I think sounds like she should be the Sports & Physical Education Mistress at Hogwarts.

At university, I knew of a student called Emma Dale. I used to take great delight in joking or should that be ‘Joe King’ (real name told to me in Boltz) that her best friend was called Brooke Side. Corinne Ashian-Street, anyone?

For a while I directed a girl at a Birmingham youth theatre called Pocahontas. I remember one occasion where she was being particularly disruptive and in a pith of  frustration, I chastised her from across the rehearsal studio, but got all in dither with me Disney and mistakenly hollered, “Pinocchio, will you be quiet?!” Well, there was my fragile authority gone.

Pocahontas had an older sister called Notzereena, which led to endless confusion every time someone asked her name.

She would repeatedly tell them, “My name is Notzereena.”

They would respond, “Well, what is it then?”

People just thought she was being mysterious and allusive.

My friend Martin told me about a customer that he regularly dealt with at his first job as an insurance broker in Bristol. The customer was a pleasant old ex-army type called Colonel Warmbath. One day the Colonel came into the branch to add his son to the car insurance. The son’s name was Luke.

Another acquaintance shared a tale from her father’s time on the police force, when it was proposed that all officers should have their name clearly displayed on their uniform in the style of first initial and surname, all in capitals. Everyone was fine with this initiative, except for PC Paul Enis, who had to perform his duty with ‘P.ENIS’ emblazoned on his lapel.

I was told about how, as a younger man, another friend had spent time in Zimbabwe teaching English. It was the tradition in the region he worked for mothers to name their new-borns after something that made a strong impression on them straight after birth. He taught the sublime Luscious Breakfast and a lad called BBC, which will give him a possibly appropriate Grindr handle when he is older.

The highest profile comedy name that I have encountered belongs the most senior ranking police officer in the United Kingdom, Commissioner Cressida Dick, it doesn’t get any better by including Dame Dick’s middle name Rose, because Cressida Rose Dick just sounds like a brag about what she got up to on Friday night. Ironically, it is safe to assume that the Commissioner has never caressed or risen a dick in her life, she is obviously far more of a Fanny Chmelar.

This catalogue of calamitous christening has put me in mind of the acclaimed 2017 gay romantic movie Call Me By Your Name… because you wouldn’t want to be called by any of these.

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.

Pimping My Partner

My partner had been made redundant. Although he had received a generous pay out, I suggested that we could develop a new income stream by selling soiled underwear online. I thought it was a great lark and a sure-fire earner, but he was less enthusiastic about the idea.

“Come on,” I tried to persuade him. “All you have to do is wear them once and then sell them. Easy!”

“They are going to want to see photos of the seller wearing the items,” he pointed out. “I’m nearly sixty. I’m hardly underwear model material.”

“Your look might appeal to a gap in the market,” I offered, trying to put a positive spin on it.

He wasn’t keen.

I had been inspired by someone I’d met, who had told me about supplementing his wages by selling items of distressed clothing on the internet. Apparently, there are numerous websites dedicated to these types of business transactions. You can even sell them on eBay if you are sly with the way you word the listings.

“I make the most money selling top end, designer underwear,” he told me, but went on to explain that there was a market for budget Primark pants too. “Different people want different things. Some guys just want them used in a general sort of way, so I take several pairs out with me, change them throughout the day and then pop them in the post when I get home. Sometimes, I whip up an express order by pulling on a pair and going for a jog. Instant used pants. Job done.”

He would vacuum pack the items to preserve their unique qualities (keeping their un-freshness fresh) and post them off all over the world. He did a brisk trade in Germany and Japan, apparently.

Some customers request specific soiling on their purchases, such as urine, semen and/or excrement. Obviously, it was never going to be grass strains, beetroot and ketchup or anything that the top washing powder brands claim to be able to shift.  

“I can cater to several customers at once if I piss or masturbate on multiple items in one go,” he informed me. “I also sell piss by the bottle.”

“It’s quite the cottage industry you have going,” I commented, with sincere admiration.

“My trainers haven’t cost me a penny in years,” he continued. “Every time a pair comes to the end of their life, I take a photo of them and list them on the site. The more worn the better. I don’t get a lot for them, but it covers the cost of the next pair.”

His most lucrative transaction came when he met up with a customer in a layby to hand deliver a particularly niche item.

Once the client was happy that the supplier possessed the whole ‘Gay Chav’ vibe that he had specifically requested, he handed over a plastic bag. The donor took the bag into a bush and took a big shit into it (Yes, you did read that correctly). The customer wanted a supermarket carrier bag full of steaming chav shit. Well, maybe not full exactly, as that would be quite an undertaking (he’s not a horse), but certainly a decent deposit. In return for the excrement, he was paid the grand sum of £1500. Fifteen hundred pounds… for a bag of shit!

“It was one-off,” he said, “and I never asked what he was going to do with it. I really didn’t want to know.”

I replied, “Who cares? If I could establish a client base willing to pay me a grand and a half for a poo, I would be curling one out every morning and borrowing your vacuum packing equipment. Money for old rope…well, fresh crap.” (Oooooooo… Can you imagine seeing a poop being vacuum packed? Yuck! I bet there are videos on YouTube, alongside pimple popping and cyst squeezing. I’m not going to look. No, really).

Another guy I know of, makes money on the side by selling oral sex through a glory hole installed in his city centre apartment. He lists his services on several apps and all bookings and transactions are done online.

Several times, he has been chatting at a bar and suddenly announced, “Oh, got to go. I’ve just had a booking and they will be there in twenty min.”

He has a homemade panel, with a gloryhole cut at crotch height, which he bolts into position in the hallway of his flat, meaning that the punter lets themselves in through the unlatched door and can access no more than the entrance area. They unzip, pop their member through the hole and get serviced.

“I then spit their ‘deposit’ out of my bedroom window,” he casually informed me.

“The poor people below you,” I empathised. “They must be the only residents in your block whose hanging baskets have the clap. I bet their clematis has chlamydia… and try saying that after a few pints.”

The most impressive single payment for services rendered that I know of, was paid to a mate who got a substantial amount for having sex with an A-list British comic actor.

They agreed a fee of £500, but then the celebrity asked him to stay the night.

“I don’t do that, sorry,” he explained. I suspect if it had been the buff boy band member that he had previously dallied with things may have been different, but this famous funny fella didn’t have quite the same appeal… until he reached into his bedside drawer and produced a further three thousand pounds in cash.

“Oh… Well, maybe on this occasion I could be persuaded.”

As far as my partner’s career in the sex industry was concerned, he begrudgingly watched me set him up a sellers account on eBay, but that was as far as we got. I can’t even remember the password now… which is probably for the best.

The Siege of Dennis Road

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

Inhabitants of an inner-city suburb of Birmingham had endured months of protests on their doorstep (See ‘Veil of Ignorance’ – 14th June 2020). Division had crept into this diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the ongoing debate about LGBTQ inclusion at Anderton Park Primary School.

Whilst relations between actual neighbours remained cordial, there had been several heated clashes with protestors from the wider area and any discussion with the lead agitator inevitably resulted in him engaging his standard tactic of aggressively dismissing any opinion that contradicted him. His antagonistic approach to debate was clearly in evidence during a widely broadcast exchange between he and Yardley MP Jess Philips, where he shouted over her at length then immediately accused her of being hostile when she was forced to raise her voice to be heard.

An earlier exchange between a female neighbour and the head protester, resulted in the police being called, when he and his supporter’s behaviour became threatening and they essentially ordered her to shut up and go back into her house, like a good woman. The men didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of their mob, was ‘created for man’s pleasure’ and nothing more.

It was amusing to witness Sparkhill’s ‘poster boy for fundamentalism’ damper his bullishness, during a showdown with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning. He was clearly unhappy having his views questioned and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control his anger. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool in front of the cameras. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His nervous demeanour wasn’t helped by the fresh haircut he had got especially for his appearance on national television. The unfortunate style choice of teasing every strand into gravity defying spikes, standing straight up from his head, only served to make him look even more scared, like something from a cartoon.

The inhabitants of Dennis Road could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins (a reviled far-right media parasite) turned up for a sneak photo opportunity on school grounds. Staff didn’t even know that she had been there until the images appeared on social media! Yet, even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance compared to the evening thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road.

Residents didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit their windows.

One half of an openly gay couple living on the street, had stepped out into their back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear the sound of familiar protest chants. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them when they weren’t there.

His partner wandered through to the front room to investigate, just as an egg exploded on the window, followed by another!

He dashed out of the front door, to be confronted by mayhem.

There were shouts and screams coming from far end of the street, vehicles screeching into the cul-de-sac, and masked men were yelling insults and hurling eggs at the houses and cars of those that dared display the rainbow flag (See ‘Flying the Flag’ – 26th July 2020), while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spiky headed star of morning television) was orchestrating the ‘battle’ from a conveniently deniable distance.

The screams were coming from a group of women and their children who were trapped at the closed school gates by masked men. One woman had collapsed to the floor. Her colleagues were trying to help her, while the goons bellowed abuse and pelted them with more eggs.

Suddenly, the front door of a house close to the school burst open and a neighbour dashed out. This diminutive, mild mannered woman, with a mop of grey hair, launched herself at the assailants, slapping, punching and pulling them away from their victims. If they hadn’t been wearing balaclavas, I am sure she would have had them by their ears, like naughty children. The gang didn’t know what had hit them and took flight. They didn’t know how to react to this tiny Tasmanian devil at their heels. It was like their mother and all their ‘aunties’ were after them.

Apparently, a group of activists from an LGBTQ organisation had volunteered to decorate the school gates in preparation for a VIP visit on Monday morning. They had been tying flags, ribbon, artwork, banners and posters in support of the besieged school, that bore messages such as “Love is the answer” and “Love Unites Us”. One heart-shaped motto read: “No to Islamophobia; No to homophobia; No to Transphobia”.

The masked men, or ‘just the boys’ as a sympathiser later described them to the press, had received a tip off that the LGBTQ activists were on the street and stormed in to intimidate and destroy their work.

One of the men shouted, “This is for coming into OUR area,” a sentiment stated by their ‘General’ several weeks earlier, when he had pointed out every Pakistani owned house on the road and boasted, “We own that one and that one and that one etc.”

He should turn on Grindr and see just how many gay profiles pop up within 200 meters. On Dennis Road alone, there are three openly gay men, one bi-curious individual, at least two closet cases (although as they both come from religious families, I can’t see them coming out anytime soon), one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances and fuck buddies I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.

Finally, police with dogs and riot vans arrived. The remaining hooligans skulked away, while their leader claimed that his presence was just a coincidence.

‘My friend’ stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

A police officer approached him and asked, “Are you ok? You look shellshocked.”

“No, I’m not OK. I feel like I’m in a soap opera. I’m expecting a tram to come crashing off the viaduct at any moment… If we had trams… or a viaduct for that matter.”

The officer apologised for not getting there sooner, “We are desperately under resourced and understaffed,” he feebly explained. “We didn’t have any officers in the area. We had to come over from the other side of the city.”

Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safety, damage was cleared up and residents drifted back into their homes.

The police had one last task to perform before they left. They knocked on every house with a rainbow flag in their window and warned the occupants that there may be further reprisals, “We have heard they plan to brick any houses with flags still up after we leave. We can’t tell you what to do, but only advise that it may be in your best interests to remove them. I’m so sorry.”

With heavy hearts, they took the flags down. They had been on display for several weeks. No need to court more trouble.

On the plus side, that terrible night did mark a turning point in the story. The situation had gone from peaceful protests to violent attacks. National papers ran prominent articles on the incident and local authorities could no longer watch impotently. Within weeks the courts had imposed an exclusion zone around the school and the protesters were banished to the outskirts of the neighbourhood, out of sight and earshot of the classrooms, to a muddy grass verge… were my dog used to shit.

The anti-inclusion protests soon ran out of momentum and fizzled out. Neighbourly relations began to heal. With a little understanding, they found the perfect blend.

One of those articles in the national press had stated that the lead agitator accused the LGBTQ group as being responsible for the attacks on that Hellacious Sunday night, “They were provocative, turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages.”

No, the residents weren’t intimidated by ribbons and hearts, it was thirty masked thugs, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

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.

Birmingham Pride. Part 3 – Slipping in the Backdoor

These days, I don’t actually get a ticket for the main Pride event. As much fun as it is, there are only a finite number of times you can watch STEPS or Katrina and the Waves in a tent. Instead my friends and I are happy to wander between venues situated on the outskirts of the gay village that are not a part of the official festivities. We alternate between Eden, Boltz, The Fountain Inn, The Wellington (before it closed) and a few straight pubs on Hurst Street, as all bars are gay bars over Pride weekend.

Last year, my partner and I decided to call in briefly at Unit 2 (the gay sauna) to see mates that work there. The sauna is situated just inside the temporary fences that are erected for the duration of Pride weekend, but so as not to affect Unit 2’s business, security are instructed to allow non-ticket holders access, but on the strict understanding that they go straight into the sauna and leave the Pride compound once they have finished their business.

After chatting with the Unit 2 staff for a while, we wished them a ‘Happy Pride’ and departed, but as we re-emerged onto the street, I got the devil in me. I threw a cursory glance in the direction of security, to ensure they were otherwise engaged, grabbed my partner’s hand and dragged him unwillingly in the opposite direction, quickly vanishing into the crowd. In our defence we didn’t take advantage. We just wandered around the street stalls for a short while, had a couple of drinks then left. It was never about executing a major scam, just the juvenile glee of getting away with it, like when you get to see two films at the multiplex on the one ticket. We all do that, right? Right?!

Last summer, my young work colleague Paige and her friends had a far more public experience, when they found themselves accidentally part of Brighton Pride. They had been cruising the streets in their car, trying unsuccessfully to find a parking spot, when they inadvertently drove through a neglected security barrier and found themselves trapped in the parade.

There was nowhere for them to turn off and escape, so they had no choice but to keep driving along the parade route. They had a group of fetish enthusiasts in front of them and a float full of dancing go-go boys directly behind.

Paige and her girlfriend were mortified and just kept their heads down, trying not to make eye contact with the mass of cheering onlookers, but their more flamboyant male friend threw back the sunroof and burst from the car like a jack-in-the-box, basking in the glory.

When they eventually reached the end of the route, the organisers were furious with them for illicitly entering the parade and demanded they pay the participation fee.

The usually mild-mannered Paige lost it, “We didn’t want to be in your fucking parade! We were only stuck there because someone left the gate open!!!”

We should all take a leaf out of my friend’s book. If you want to gain free entry to any Pride, just be in the right place, at the right time, with the right people and get offered free VIP tickets.

I will call my friend Kliff, as he is a huge fan of Cliff Richard and has seen him in concert over one hundred times! It has got to the stage where the UK’s immortal bachelor boy, now recognises my friend in the audience and greets him by (his real) name. Although to be fair, Kliff must stand out, being presumably the only brown male face in a sea of white middleclass women of a certain age that makes up Cliff Richard’s demographic.

Kliff is an inimitable character. He is small of stature, but fills a room with his personality: howling with laughter, gasping in delight, bursting into song and launching himself excitedly into the air from a barstool whenever someone he knows walks in. He is one of the quirkiest people I have ever met. He is a constantly twitching mass of nervous energy, with a pair of glasses that never seem to sit straight on his face, like a kid that has just taken a tumble down a slide. I love him.

One of the first times I ever chatted to Kliff, he told me about his diverse career choices. He had been a gymnast, West End performer, cabaret singer, a holiday entertainments manager, occasional gigolo and worked in nursing.

“You have done nearly every gay job going,” I remarked. “You only need hairdresser and cabin crew to complete the set!”

As I said, Kliff is short, but with a firm physique, the legacy of his days as a gymnast.

He stayed at our house for several weeks last year. When he hung out his diminutive clothes on the washing line, my partner commented, “It looks like G.I. Joe has left his laundry out to dry.”

There is one part of Kliff though that is not small. He is renowned for having one of the biggest cocks on the Birmingham gay scene… probably on any gay scene (Now I’ve got your attention… and no I’m not giving you his number!). His pendulous appendage practically hangs down to his knee, although his legs are quite short, so it could all be relative. No, I’m joking, it’s MASSIVE! When he is stood naked in Boltz on Dare2Bare Sundays, people tend to shake that and not his hand.

Back at Pride, Kliff showed his newly acquired VIP ticket at the checkpoint and was admitted legitimately into the event, but he was pulled aside for a brief random search. The security guard checked his bag and pockets then proceeded to pat down his clothing. When the guard reached Kliff’s inside leg, he encountered something that concerned him.

“Excuse me sir,” the guard asked, grasping and tugging at the offending object though the material of the trousers. “What is this in your pocket?”

Kliff rose grandly to his full ‘action figure’ height and with resolute dignity declared, “That… is my penis!”

The straight security guard staggered back, horrified and muttering, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!”

Clearly in this instance, VIP should have stood for ‘Very Impressive Penis’.

So sadly, this year there was no Birmingham Pride and we all missed out on the fun, the friends, the frolics and the fornication, but there will be other years… that will be full of Pride.

To be continued… in 2021.

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.

Last Orders At The Bar, Please

A love Letter to Better Days

I was out on the Birmingham gay scene the evening that the UK was told to close and we were all sent to our rooms.

It had been obvious that a nationwide lockdown was on its way. Some businesses were already closing their doors, parents were selecting to remove their children from school, universities had moved lectures online and bars and restaurants were seeing a marked drop in customers. The writing was on the wall. We were just awaiting the official announcement.

The word was that the UK would be allowed one more weekend of real life before it all closed down, so I called in at Missing Bar for a final post work Friday night drink, but suddenly the goal posts changed. Boris announced that he was calling time that Friday night instead, so I unexpectedly found myself out on the tiles to see the doors close, the shutters come down and the lights go out on Hurst Street.

I visited several favourite haunts over the course of the evening and each had a decent ‘midweek’ sized crowd of customers, all determined to have one last night out and give the scene the send-off it deserved. There were the usual laughs and letchery, but also tears and moments of sombre silence, when an entire bar of people would retreat into their own thoughts and stare, with haunted looks, into their drinks, contemplating the unpredictable days to come. A vibrant venue would suddenly and spontaneously take on a funereal air. We were attending a scene-wide wake, unsure when or even if these places would open again.

I cast an affectionate glance around at the loyal regulars… and what a brilliantly eclectic group we were.

In his favourite corner, sat on a heavy bar stool, was… well, I’ll call him ‘Average Joe’, a down to earth, blue collar, right-wing, Farage loving, Brexiter, with a screeching laugh that blasts into every corner and crevice a bar. His unpalatable political opinions are based on tabloid headlines and half read internet propaganda… and are at odds with the reality of this affable barfly who cheerfully welcomes all into his social circle, no matter their creed or colour.

I remember telling ‘Average Joe’ to his face, “You would be very easy to dislike… if you weren’t such a pleasant fella,” which prompted him to explode into a prolonged burst of that toxic laugh.

This fair weather fascist once proudly told his fellow drinkers that someone had left a review on the website of one gay venue, complaining how an otherwise enjoyable evening had been ruined by the constant and all-pervading noise of the ‘laughing hyena’ at the corner of the bar.

Joe’s drinking buddy, who has the distinction of being the only person I have ever met that can make a Dudley lilt sound sexy, commented, “Weeeeell, they ‘ad a point.”

“Naaaaaah!” Joe replied. “I think ‘e was drinkin’ a Coke,” then shrieked at his own daft joke (a joke that will only make sense to someone familiar with the Black Country accent).

Sat on a long bench was Simeon, someone it is impossible to avoid on the scene… no matter how hard you may try.

Simeon clearly has mental health issues, which can be irritating and endearing in equal measures, depending on where his mood, mind, meds or line of colourful shots takes him, but he is harmless, well-meaning and unfailingly friendly, greeting acquaintances and strangers alike, by swooping into a flamboyant bow and declaring, “Your Majesty!”

He goes through periods of donning a shocking fright wig and regaling anyone that he can corner with rapid fire nonsense about his impending appearance on stage as Tina Turner, “I… I … I am performing soon. I’m going to be Tina. Tina Turner! You get me? I’m singing! I’m singing all her songs. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m singing soon… on a stage. You get me? You… you… you get me? This is my wig. You Like it? Shall I keep it? Shall I keep it?! I’ve got the costume. Tina Turner. I’m going to be great. You get me?”

He has been going on about his impending performance for as long as I can remember, but like Christmas in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it never seems to materialise. I’m not sure it has happened, was every going to happen or is only happening in his wig covered head.

Simeon is a lithe, feline like, man who looks a lot younger than his 50+ years, something of which he is understandably proud. For a long time, he enjoyed playing a game where he would demand that people guess his true age. He would repeatedly force me to play, until I got wise to his actual aged and would systematically raise my ‘guess’ by a year every time he asked. He stopped asking by the time I was suggesting that he was in his early 70s.

Thank Heavens he finally got over that phase he went through of impersonating a Velociraptor and screaming the theme tune to Jurassic Park into people’s faces! That’s was a trying period and got him suspended from at least one establishment on the scene.

And then… there was Richie, chatting contentedly with friends.

Richie was, by his own admission, a teenage tearaway who turned his life around when he moved to Birmingham in his twenties. This ‘not so rough’ diamond quickly established himself as a cherished figure on the scene. A guy that can be succinctly described as ‘handsome, humble and hung’ (now there is a tagline for his Grindr profile), who has a constantly evolving style that can swing from ‘Groomed Boyband’ to ‘Homeless Chic’ in a matter of days… or sometimes merely hours, depending on how many pints he’s had.

I really got the measure of this man not long after he started working at Unit 2, the gay sauna on Lower Essex Street. I had hurt my back at work and was forced to take some time off, but after a week of convalescing, I foolhardily decided to visit the sauna, half convincing myself that the steam would help. I figured I’d be back on my back in no time. Hey, you can’t keep a good man down.

All went well, until I tried to get dressed in the empty locker room. T-shirt and trousers didn’t pose much of a problem but getting my socks and shoes on proved a lot trickier, requiring all sorts of contortions and resulting in comedy yelps and spasms.

As I was struggling to bend down low enough to tie my laces, Richie came in to collect the used towels.

“Could you help me?” I asked.

“Sure matey,” he responded without hesitation.

As soon as I explained my predicament, Richie dropped to his knees and began to sort out my shoes. It was at this moment that another customer entered the locker room. Bewildered by the unexpected sight that greeted him, the guy froze in the doorway. He clearly thought he was intruding on some deeply intimate moment and began to slowly retreat.

“You can come in,” I reassured the awkward looking guy, then glanced down at Richie crouching at my feet and explained, “It’s OK. He’s my gimp!” Although, it would have been truer to say that he was my shining knight.

Back on that last night before lockdown, it was time to leave.

I collected my coat from behind the bar and headed to the door, pausing at the threshold for one last look around. I didn’t know when or if any of us would be returning and wanted to take in each and every person in that dimly lit bar and remember them at that moment.

I was proud that I stayed to say goodbye and thank you to people and places that have meant so much to me over the decades. It was important, sombre, heart-warming, emotional… and sobering, so let’s hope we can get drunk together again soon.

We fiddled as Rome burned… and believe me there was plenty of fiddling going on! We fiddled like it was the end of the world.