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.

Nishant Mallick and the Apartment of Fire

Previous stories may have given the impression that my friendship with Nishant was purely platonic (See ‘Finding the Gems’ – 4th Jan  and ‘Nishant Mallick and the Half-Baked Scheme’ – 17 May), but anyone who knows me will realise that the likelihood of that is nil to zero. There is no way I would be able to resist the charms of a cute, sweet natured, funny Asian lad with big eyes, broad smile and a delectably wobbly head. Besides, he is filth, total filth!

Within half an hour of our first meeting in my favourite men-only club, Nishant and I bound into an empty cubical, but after only fifteen minutes he asked, “Would you mind if we took a break?” It happens when people realise that they have abandoned their friends or partners for too long, want another drink or just want to see what else is on offer.

Forty minutes later, we had reconnected, chatted some more and dived into another cubical, but again, before the party was over, he asked to take another break.

Reading my perplexed expression, this time he explained, “I am sorry. It is not you. I am claustrophobic and can only manage fifteen minutes at a time in a confined space.”

This quirk made him even more adorable.


The next time we met was at his student digs. It was conveniently located on my route home on a Tuesday and the size of his bedroom was less likely to bring on a panic attack.

When I arrived at the 1970s estate where Nishant lived, I was greeted by emergency services and a small crowd of residents making appreciative Ooooooh and Aaaaaah noises, of the type that tend to accompany a fireworks display. I joined the crowd and watched events for a while, equally enjoying the spectacle, then headed over to Nishant’s apartment and rang his buzzer.

“Do you know that the block next door is on fire?” I asked when he came to the door.

“No, I did not know this,” he replied, barely registering interest in the information or even glancing in the direction of the unfolding drama.

He motioned me to come in.

“How’s your head?” I asked as we walked up the stairs, as he had posted a sorry looking picture of himself, with dried blood all over this hair, on social media a few days earlier.

“It is very much better, thank you.”

“So, what happened to you?”

“It was all so ridiculous,” he exclaimed.

I sensed a monologue coming on (Please read the following in a rapid Indian accent. It works better!).

“A friend had come over and we were planning on going into Birmingham for a night out. I decided to go to the shop around the corner first. I left my friend in my room and ran down the stairs. I have a habit of jumping over the handrail at the bottom of the stairs and landing in the hall in front of the entrance. I must have banged my head on the underside of the stairway and blacked out. The next thing I know, I wake up lying on the floor with blood pouring from my head!”

Apparently, this had all happened in the space of a few minutes. Up he got and off did trot, as fast as he could caper, and his friend was surprised to see Nishant stagger back into the flat, looking like something from the conclusion of Carrie, when he had only popped out to get a few snacks.

Instead of a night out, painting the town pink, they had spent the rest of the evening in A&E, making the swabs red.

“Soon, I was getting messages from my family in India,” Nishant continued. “My cousins were texting me to say, ‘Hahaha. We have heard that you got drunk and banged your head.’ I told them, ‘No, I was not drunk.’”

“My Uncle then messaged me to tell me to be careful how much I am drinking, but I told him, ‘I was not drunk! I had not been drinking.’”

“Then my mother phones me and is shouting, ‘Nishy, you are getting too drunk and hurting yourself!’ She is very angry. Oh my goodness! Where are they getting their information?!”

By the conclusion of Nishant’s story, we had walked up the offending stairs to his second floor flat and were stood in his hallway.

I had been warned by a mutual friend, not to expect a tidy flat, but I wasn’t prepared for the level of mess that greeted me. It was like there had been a significant and highly localised seismic event in his bedroom… and the carpet was filthy!

I didn’t want to be one of those guys that has sex with his socks on, but I didn’t even want to take my shoes off! If I did go barefoot, I would have to determine a way to get from doorway to bed without touching the floor, like I used to amuse myself as a kid. I would weave a convoluted path across my bedroom, rolling on an office chair, swinging from wardrobe doors and balancing on a chest of draws, pretending there were sharks in the carpet. Other people did that, right? Right?!

Oh well. I would just have to kick my shoes off on the bed and worry about retrieving them later.

We had been playing on the bed for a while, when Nishant’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and read a message.

“It is a friend,” he said. “He is just around the corner. Do you mind if he joins us?”

“Is he cute?”

“Yes. I think he is very handsome.”

“Sounds good. I’m up for it.”

Several minutes later, the door buzzer sounded and Nishant slipped out to let his mate in.

The guy walked into the bedroom, mumbled a cursory greeting and proceeded to sit in the corner of the room playing games on his phone. When Nishant had asked if his friend could join us, I had expected a hot threesome, not an audience! Although, ‘audience’ would be overstating it, as he barely looked up from his mobile device. It was all a bit weird.

At one point, something in my repertoire caught his attention, because he glanced up, watched briefly, subtly nodded his approval then returned his attention to the game he was playing.

All in all, it was a very odd last encounter with Nishant before he returned home to India, but I wish there had been more meetings. I enjoyed his quirky company and would have loved to have known him for longer. I am sure there would have been plenty more tales to tell.

I sat on the bed, pulled on my clothes, managing to retrieve my shoes without too much difficulty, and thought, I wonder if the flat next door is still on fire?

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.