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.

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.

Birmingham Pride: Part 1 – A City Filled with Love

This bank-holiday weekend should have been Birmingham Pride. The city centre would have become one big party celebrating the LGBTQ community and rejoicing in difference and diversity.

If things had been going ahead as planned, my partner and I would have met friends for breakfast at York’s Café then strolled up Pinfold Street to Victoria Square, where we would mingle with the crowds gathering beneath the unamused gaze of the Regina’s bronze statue and watch the opening ceremony.

Last year’s opening speeches had particular resonance, as they focused on the anti-LGBTQ protests that had centred on two Birmingham primary schools (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10th May 2020).

Andrew Moffat, a senior teacher at one of the schools and creator of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme on inclusivity and tolerance, had been invited to lead the Pride parade. He was welcomed to the stage by a roaring crowd of thousands. The roar of the lions… the head of the pride.

After speeches about streets filled with hate… it was time to bask in a city filled with love.

My friends and I headed off to find a suitable vantage point. As we shuffled along the packed side streets, I had my head turned by a handsome police officer, with dark brown eyes peeking from beneath the dome of his helmet.

“Excuse me.” I approached him, brandishing my camera, “Would you mind if I took a selfie with the hottest copper on the beat?”

“Sure,” grinned Officer Sexy, looking from left to right in an exaggerated manner. “Where is he?”

I re-joined my friends and we found ourselves a prime position on Bennetts Hill.

I love how the inspiring parade represents all tribes of the LGBTQ community in full debauchery and glory: gay parents, with children riding on their shoulders or in buggies, stroll side by side with drag queens and half-dressed stilt walkers; floats of spinning pole dancers follow representatives of the emergency services; leather clad clones march behind the military; same-sex ballroom couples are just one  – quick quick slow – step behind Caribbean steel-drummers and bhangra beats; corporate companies, cashing in on the kudos, are represented alongside political parties and genuine civil rights campaigners. All are represented in the colours of the rainbow.

It always heartens me that the most enthusiastic cheers of the parade tend to be reserved for the gay refugees, an unimaginably brave multi-cultural group who have fled everything and everyone they know to escape prejudice, persecution and in some countries the threat of imprisonment or even death. Well… to be totally honest the ‘most enthusiastic cheers’ are saved for the gay refugees and the fire service. Everyone loves a fireman! Hey, we’re only human. X

One fireman always catches my eye. He is short, buff, with slick hair, a prominent side parting and a cute diastema (the noticeable gap between his two upper front teeth. Google it, I just did.), which just adds to his charms.

I once saw my favourite fireman doing community outreach in Birmingham city centre. The fire department were handing out leaflets and badges to passers-by and inviting people to pose for photos in the cabin of the fire engine.

I strolled over and shook his hand, “You were at Pride this summer, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” he replied, sounding surprised. “You remember me?”

“Of course, … I thought you were hot.”

A female colleague within earshot rolled her eyes, “Oh great, that’s all we need. He’s full enough of himself as it is!”

As if to prove her right, he immediately turned to the male officers and cockily declared, “Hey fellas, this guy thinks I’m hot!”

His workmates greeted the boast with a collective ironic groan.

“Now he’s going to be even more unbearable,” one of them sighed.

Back at the Pride parade, we continued to watch the procession of queers and their allies’ march through the city centre.

As a group of burly men with ample body hair and a distinct lack of shirt buttons came into view, a lad behind me turned to his girlfriend and asked, “Why are those men wearing mouse ears?”

“They are wearing bear ears,” I interjected. “They are bears.”

“What are bears?” The girlfriend asked.

“If you are stocky, hairy and have a beard, then you are a bear.”

The lad indicated his own hairy chest and stroked his trim beard, “Would I be a bear?”

I scrutinised him for a moment then replied, “No. You are too young. You would be a cub.”

The couple beamed. This straight boy now had a whole new, hitherto unknown, gay identity and he and his girlfriend seemed delighted.

I was suddenly aware of a presence at my left shoulder. I glanced down and there was a diminutive old lady trying to squeeze through the crowd. Before I could step aside and grant her a better view, she scuttled around to the other side of me and started to elbow her way between myself and the guy stood on my right. Just as she managed to squeeze her head between us, a large pack of human pups, dressed in their rubber outfits, dog collars and masks (See ‘Puppy Love’ – 8th Feb 2020), walked, crawled (It takes some dedication to do a two hour parade on your hands and knees, even with the kneepads.) and scampered by.

I thought I would try luck with ‘call and response’, so shouted, “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?!!”

The pack automatically responded with an enthusiastic, “WOOF…WOOF… WOOF… WOOF WOOF!”

I had become a mass pup handler.

The old lady tutted loudly and moaned, in a thick Brummie accent, “All this bother to get to Primark!!!” She then headed off, chuntering to herself, trying to find a more suitable spot to cross the road.

The stranger on my right and myself grinned gleefully at each other.

“Oh my God, that was straight out of Victoria Wood,” I laughed. “In fact, I’m not entirely sure that wasn’t Julie Walters.”

Her timing and delivery were so perfect, that I still suspect that she may have been a professional street performer.

After two colourful hours, the parade trickled to an end. It was time to head to Hurst Street and the awaiting shenanigans in and around the gay village.

To be continued…

Nishant Mallick and the Half-Baked Scheme

Back at the start of January, I opened this blogsite with the touching tale of an international student called Nishant, who had embraced the opportunity to study baking in Birmingham to flee family outrage in India, after he was outed by a bitter ex and how his brother had been protecting his secret for years (See ‘Finding the Gems’ – 4th Jan 2020).

I can see Film4 producing the movie version of Nishant’s story… with that lad from Blinded by the Light in the lead role and Dev Patel as his brother. I think Film4 are obliged to include Patel in every movie they make. I hope so, he’s great!

Every time our paths crossed on the scene, Nishant would tickle me with some yarn about his life or antics at the Birmingham College of Food, all told in his sing-song accent and with an endearing wiggle of the head, so characteristic of South Asia.

One time, he told me how he had arrived unprepared for a seminar, where students were expected to announce their creative concepts for original baking projects. He sat, with mounting apprehension, as each student delivered their brilliant idea to the lecturer but feeling no such inspiration himself.

When his turn inevitably came, he improvised, “I am going to bake… erm… a loaf that contains…. uuuhhh… (then inspiration struck) every meal of the day in each separate slice. (He had an idea and he was off… with gusto!!!) The first slice would contain eggs, bacon and the ingredients of a traditional English breakfast, the second would be a suitable lunch, followed by a full dinner and the last slice would contain some form of dessert.”

A feast in a loaf. A banquet in a bun! Genius.

Nishant and his stories completely charmed me, even though I only met him a handful of times before his course concluded and he returned home, thankfully to much improved circumstances.

I was delighted to learn that his family issues in India had been resolved. His mother had finally accepted her son’s sexuality and they now Skyped several times a week. She was desperate to see him in person, but he had hatched a daft plan to make his homecoming even more of an event. He had kept his impending return a secret, going as far as telling his mother a white lie about how he had secured a job and intended to remain permanently in the UK.

“She was so upset and crying on the phone,” He told me. “She wants me to come home so badly.”

My jaw dropped, “Nishant!!! That’s cruel!”

“No, no, no,” he assured me, his head wobbling excitedly, “It will be sooooooo funny.”

He went on to explain how his mother worked at the same place as her best friend, so this friend and Nishant had colluded on a plan. His mother would be told that there was a delivery for her at reception and when she went to collect it, she would be confronted by a large box. Naturally, Nishant would have concealed his slim frame inside the box and planned to burst out and surprise her.

“She will be so shocked,” he beamed. “She will probably cry all over again!”

“You are a baker,” I pointed out. “You could have baked a cake and jumped out of that.”

Nishant’s expression became momentarily serious, “No. That would have required too many ingredients and been very expensive.”

“Hang on,” I said. “Don’t tell me you actually considered that as an option?”

The wide grin returned, along with a proud wiggly Indian nod.

Play It Again… Max

There is one regular barfly on the scene who stands out precisely because of his determination to keep to himself.

This reserved customer always sits on his own at the bar, focused on his phone and resolutely refusing to engage with anyone. He gives off clear vibes that he is content and does not want anyone approaching him. It is not until he has consumed enough Dutch courage that he will rise from his stool and head into the dark room in pursuit of company… on his own terms.

I had always thought that he was kind of cute, but he steadfastly ignored any of my attempts at eye contact.

I have only once seen him in the real world. I was shopping in Birmingham city centre and spotted him in the middle of New Street, confidently singing his heart out. He was busking with a guitar and sound system.

I stood and watched, until my partner lost interest and tried to move on.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “I want to listen to him play it again. I’ve near heard this guy speak, let alone sing.”

Next time I saw him back at the bar, I took a moment to tell him what good a singer I thought he was. He seemed uncomfortable that someone had invaded his space, but still graciously thanked me and I left him smiling in proud silence.

Several weeks later our paths crossed again in the more shadowy corners of a private men-only club, but this time he unexpectedly gave me ‘that’ look and we bolted into an empty cubical.

Afterwards, as we tucked ourselves away, he told me his name and said, “Next time I see you in here, remind me that you are a good fuck and we should do it again.” He intended on staying until closing time and knew that by morning he would have no recollection of the night before.

So, the next time I saw him, I dutifully strolled up and said, “Hello Max.”

As predicted, he did not remember our previous encounter and was startled that I knew his name, although not as surprised as I was. I am usually terrible with names and only recalled his, because it was the same as my dog.

“I have a message for you,” I continued. “I’ve been told to tell you I am a good fuck.”

Max nearly spat out his drink and stared at me in bug-eyed surprise, “Who told you to tell me that?!!”

“Well…,” I paused, teasing out the suspense and feeling like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, “you did. You also told me to tell you that we should do it again and I believe that you should always follow your own advice.”

Several months later, I saw Max again and brought up the subject of our second meeting. Max just looked at me blankly. He had absolutely no memory of this encounter either! He must live his whole life like a goldfish, coasting around the bars of Birmingham with no lasting memory of anything that occurs. He can keep doing the same things, with the same people, over and over again and each time is like the first time. The perpetual virgin.

Mind you, I am just as bad if I watch TV after too many beers. My partner tells me that I can re-watch the very same episode and make identical noises, laughs, gasps and comments, at all the same places I did the first time, as though I have never seen the programme before. Double the enjoyment, worth buying the boxset.

I now make a point of always greeting Max with a friendly hello and gentle hand on his shoulder. I am honoured by the fact that I am one of the few people that he tolerates interrupting his contented solitude. I am treating it as personal challenge to get Max to one day engage in a full conversation with me. I feel like a gardener who is patiently taming a skittish squirrel, wary of not overwhelming him and causing him to bolt.

I should be simply contented that this introvert even remembers me. Come to think of it, maybe he doesn’t?

Urinal Encounters: Upon Reflection

A few years back, my partner and I were visiting Brighton over Christmas.

We were having a meal in The Lion & Lobster, a busy corner pub situated on a backstreet on the opposite side of town from Brighton’s famous gay scene. The meal was good, as was the beer. Inevitably, after a few pints, I had to use the bathroom.

There were only two porcelain urinals in the Gents, both tucked into a very small alcove.

I was immediately struck by the management’s curious choice of décor. Each of the three walls that made up the alcove were covered in an assortment of mirrors in all shapes, sizes and styles. They filled the walls from just below waist height to the ceiling. It looked like the designer had raided every pound shop and thrift store in Brighton and Hove for mirrors.

As I stood there, simultaneously having a pee and admiring the eclectic collection, another customer entered and squeezed in at my side, awkwardly brushing elbows in the tight space.

He glanced around at the walls and immediately commented, “What’s with all the mirrors?!”

“I was just wondering the same,” I said. “I’ve never seen myself pee from so many different angles before,” then added with a cheeky wink, “or other people for that matter.”

The guy smirked uncomfortably and starred resolutely ahead.

I must have been feeling particularly emboldened by those two pints, as this wasn’t a gay venue, yet I still flattered him with, “And by the way, Not bad! Nothing to be ashamed of.”

The guy gave an uncomfortable laugh and exclaimed, “I’m laughing mate, but you know it’s with fear, right?”

“That’s alright,” I responded. “I’m blushing… and I can see it in all the mirrors.”

We exchanged pleasantries as we washed our hands then both left the gents toilets, chuckling as we returned to our respective partners. I bet his girlfriend didn’t let him out of her sight again.

You have got to admire a straight bloke who is comfortable enough to engage in banter with a gay guy during such a private moment. Although, I suppose it was Brighton.

I never did confess that the angle of the mirrors meant that I didn’t really see a thing. I didn’t want to disappoint him.