Most Important Meal Of The Day

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch… but I discovered that there is such thing as a free breakfast.

When I get the opportunity, I enjoy a day where I rise early and head into Birmingham to be a tourist in my own city: I catch a film; visit the museum and art galleries; meander along the canals; sample the local cafes and bars; take in the sight (this ain’t London, we only got the one); and, to get the whole ‘visitor’ experience, start the day with breakfast at a hotel.

I would explain to a member of staff that, although I was not a guest, I would like to purchase a breakfast, but on one morning, as I finished my third helping of traditional fry-up, it dawned on me that no one had asked my room number. I duly presented myself at the reception to pay, but as I left, I couldn’t help wondering, Could I get away with having breakfast without paying?

The following week I returned to the same hotel, not out of some compulsion to embark on a life of crime, just mischievous curiosity to see if it was possible to pull off this scam… and guess what? It was!

Now I was on a mission to see how many hotels in Birmingham I could get a free early morning meal from. It turned out to be nearly a dozen, one of which was unintentional.

On that occasion, I had just finished the meagre offerings at a well-known budget chain (Continental breakfast? Blah! What’s the point of that?! I would have demanded a refund… had I paid). I decided to pop into another, more upmarket, hotel to ‘case the joint’ for a possible cheeky brekkie in the future. I strolled by reception, giving the receptionist a smile that I hoped conveyed steadfast honesty, and stepped into the lift.

When the lift doors opened, directly into the dining room, I was immediately greeted by the immaculate maître d’ and, before I could say anything, I was escorted to a table, offered a choice of hot beverages and instructed to help myself to the buffet. It would have looked suspicious had I just left, so there was no choice but to sit and eat a second (and, it has to be said, far superior) breakfast that I didn’t actually want or need (Lovely selection of pastries though).


The only friend that I have managed to persuade to join me on these misadventures is a respectable retired professional from the one of Birmingham’s more affluent suburbs.

When we entered the hotel, she confessed to being nervous about the whole affair… then proceeded to kick off her shoes and put on a pair of slippers that she had stowed in her bag to make it look like she had just come down from her room.

“Oh my God, you have brought props,” I gasped with admiration.

She zhuzhed her hair to make it look like she had just got out of bed.

The perfect Breakfast Bonnie to my Cornflake Clyde.


Several months later, I bumped into a good friend of my ‘Bonnie’ sidekick, enjoying a Sunday lunch with her family in bohemian Moseley.

“I have heard about your breakfast scam,” she said, accusingly, “and told my husband all about it.”

I shrugged at her husband, who was scowling at me from the other end of the table, “It is just a bit of fun.”

Turns out the husband was a senior office in the police force.

He broke into a grin, “I think it’s hilarious. Can I join you when I retire?”


There was one time though, when I was nearly rumbled.

I was greeted at the buffet by a petite waitress, “Morning sir, sorry about the disturbance last night.”

As I obviously had no idea what she was taking about, I opted for a noncommittal, “Oh… erm… that’s quite all right.”

“What time did the alarm go off?”

Clearly there had been an evacuation during the night, so I sputtered, “Oh, I…I…I’m not really sure, it was all a bit of a blur.”

“I think around three,” she suggested. “Well, sorry again.”

“Don’t worry,” I graciously told her, “it made my visit to Birmingham all the more interesting.” I scuttled away before she quizzed me further.


In another breakfast room on a different morning, my eyes locked with those of a hot Eastern European, whose job it was to keep the trays of food stocked up from the kitchen. Every time he walked by my table, carrying a platter of beans or processed pork product, he would smile bashfully then look away.

A few days later, I spotted him on Grindr and we struck up a conversation. He seemed sweet, charming and shy, but disappointingly, when I bumped into him in person at Equator Bar, he was pretentious, bitchy and sly.

When I offered to buy him a drink, he immediately ordered the most expensive choice on the menu and brandished it like a symbol of achievement. It was an overpriced cocktail, not the Strictly Glitter Ball!

Within minutes of meeting, he made a point of telling me how he didn’t like anyone on the scene, as they were all vile. I could not help but wonder if they were just mirroring his own abrasive attitude?

I rapidly finished my own drink and made an excuse to leave. Unexpectedly, he embraced me and said how nice it was to meet. I checked my back for a knife.

That angelic face, perfect smile and deep dark eyes concealed an acerbic personality. A profound example of beauty being only skin deep.


Next time our paths crossed was in Sidewalk one busy Saturday night.

I watched him troll around the bar, systematically pissing off every individual or group he spoke to. He was like Dementor from Harry Potter, sapping the joy from everyone he encountered. As he performed a circuit of the bar, you would see smiles fade, hear laughter die and faces harden. A grand tour of negativity, leaving a trail of contempt in his wake.


Not long after, my heart sunk when I spotted him approaching me as I walked down Hurst Street, but he was lovely. We chatted, good naturedly, for a long while. He was friendly, upbeat and a real pleasure to catch-up with.

I thought, Maybe I misjudged him? Perhaps I had just seen him on a bad day… or several.

“Honestly, it has been lovely to see you,” I gushed.

“You too,” he replied with that Colgate smile then, just as he was about to depart, turned and… made a snide remark.

He just couldn’t help himself, I thought as I watched him walk away.

I was reminded of a fable, where a scorpion, which cannot swim, asks a fox to carry it across a river on its back. The fox hesitates, afraid of being stung by the scorpion, but the scorpion argues that if it did that, they would both drown. The fox considers this argument and agrees to transport the scorpion. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the fox anyway, dooming them both. The dying fox asks the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies, “I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.”

Why it is in this individual’s nature to be so venomous, I have no idea. Insecurity? Anxiety? Something dark in his past? Who knows?


Although this vixen certainly isn’t the only toxic character I have met on the scene, he is the one who lingers in my thoughts. It was sad to see someone alienate everyone they meet, people that could potentially become friends, partners, surrogate family and a welcoming community… if only he let them.

Why does this particular poisonous personality haunt my thoughts? I suppose because I was initially so attracted to him: The shy smiles in the hotel breakfast room; friendly banter on social media; occasional glimpses of someone likeable behind that waspish persona.

Maybe someday someone will get through those defences, but until then, he will remain a sly fox… with the sting of a scorpion.

A work in progress.

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.

Urinal Encounters: Revised and Relieved

Originally published last year as four separate blogs, this reedited version is presented here as one ‘Eastenders’ omnibus.

I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals.

No, not like that!

Well… Yes, like that, but not always.


Once, I was stod at a pub toilet, getting on with the job in hand, when an olive-skinned guy with a heavy dark beard came and stood next to me.

Even in gay venues the etiquette is that men don’t tend to talk while taking a pee. The same rule of awkward silence that applies to lifts and the waiting room of an STD clinic applies. The urinals are not the place for idle chitchat. Yet, on this occasion, I became aware that the bearded guy kept casting glances in my direction. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the lavatories of a gay bar, in fact it’s pretty much standard practice. The unwritten rulebook of gay toilets deems talk forbidden, but peeking and downright lechery perfectly acceptable.

Unexpectedly, my urinal companion dared to disregard the convention of not talking and, in a strong Middle Eastern accent, commented, “I like your colour.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your colour, I like.”

I thanked him, assuming he was referring to my hair, as I am ginger with flecks of grey, which I like to think of as ‘Salt and Paprika’.

“Yes,” he continued. “Very pink!”

He now had my full attention, “Pink?!”

“Your face is very pink. I like very much.”

Being fair haired and light skinned, I do develop flushed cheeks after a few beers. It was undoubtedly the oddest compliment I have received, but so sincerely meant that I was happy to take it.

They say that opposites attract, so it makes sense that someone with his swarthy looks would be intrigued by my pink blush.

A Sicilian friend once told me about spending a holiday on the nude beaches of Italy, surrounded by his naked countrymen.

“It sounds like heaven,” I swooned.

“No, it was boring,” he replied. “They all looked like me!”

For me it would be a beach full of exotic looking men, for him it was like looking into an infinity mirror.


One another occasion, my partner and I were visiting Brighton and were having a meal in The Lion & Lobster, a large corner pub situated on the opposite side of town from the city’s famous gay scene. Inevitably, after a few pints, I needed to use the bathroom.

There were only two porcelain urinals in the Gents, tucked into a compact alcove.

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

As I stood there, admiring the eclectic collection, another customer entered the gents and squeezed in at my side, awkwardly brushing against me 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 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, “By the way, Not bad!”

The guy gave an uncomfortable laugh, “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 every mirror.”

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

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


On another night out at The Golden Cross in Cardiff, I barrelled into the pub toilets and stepped into the only available space at the long communal urinal.

A friend’s boyfriend was stood on my immediate right, so I greeted him with a friendly, “Hello… no peeking!” I glanced to my left and noticed that the lad stood there was very cute, so leaned over and cheekily told him, “You can peek if you want… I’ve just peeked at you.”

The lad let out an exasperated, but good-humoured sigh, and said, “Now I’m not going to be able to go!”

We men are a delicate bunch and can be so easily put off our stride.

“Come on,” I teased, “you can do it.”

“Nothing’s going to happen with you stood there.”

“There’s a que forming.”

“Now I’m under pressure!”

“Let’s see who manages to pee first,” I suggested.

He rolled his eyes, “Great, now it’s a competition!” I started to urinate, my amber stream rattling noisily off the metal trough. “A competition that I’ve just lost.”

He still hadn’t managed to go even as I zipped up and left.

A short while later, I spotted the lad emerge from the Gent’s toilet and we gave each other mischievous grins. I weaved my way across the busy pub to introduce myself properly, shook the lad’s (hopefully washed) hand and told him my name.

He responded, “I suck,”

Taken aback by his unexpected candour, I countered, “Well, that’s good to know, but more information than I was expecting.”

He looked puzzled and replied, “It’s only my name.”

“Your name is ‘I Suck’?!!!’

He was Welsh, but this was one regional name that I was not familiar with.

“NOOOOO!!!” He cried, “Not ‘I Suck’! My name is Issac.”

That made far more sense, although I must confess to feeling a tad disappointed.


The most farcical predicament I have found myself in, happened back home in Birmingham.

We all know that nightclub toilets aren’t always used for the purpose for which they are provided. It doesn’t matter whether the club is gay or straight, there will be people taking advantage of the facilities for a quick sexual encounter.

The guy stood next to me at the urinal of this particular club, made it quite apparent that he was up for fun. He didn’t have to say anything… it was out there and obvious.

I nodded my head towards an empty cubical and raised a suggestive eyebrow.

“I am shy,” the guy muttered.

I glanced back down at his aroused crotch and said, “Not that shy, clearly!”

He considered for a moment then nodded his consent and we both stepped into the waiting cubicle.

Afterwards, as we readjusted our clothes, the guy motioned for me to remain quiet and listened at the thin door. He looked concerned and whispered, “There is someone out there.”

“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “I’ll stand behind the door when you open it then you leave and I’ll slip out once the coast is clear.”

He nodded and we executed our simple plan.

The door opened inwards and was on the side of cubical, rather than facing the toilet, so it was easy to flatten myself against the wall and remain concealed.

Unfortunately, as my brief acquaintance made his escape, another guy immediately walked into the cubical to take his place! This new fella closed the door and bolted it without turning around or giving my feeble hiding place a glance. He didn’t notice that I was there and started to relieve himself. This stranger was completely oblivious to the fact that I was stood, flattened against the wall, merely feet behind him in what should have been his private space!

Well, this is a bit awkward, I thought. I’ve got to reveal my presence, but without scaring this poor man to death.

In the least threatening tone I could muster, I gently said, “Don’t be afraid, but I’m behind you.”

He reacted with amazing composure. I get startled if someone so much as speaks to me unexpectedly while focused on something as mundane as doing the washing-up, let alone being surprised by someone when I think I am alone in a confined space.

After that encounter, I’ll be staying out of toilet cubicles, try to avoid further sitcom scenario and stop talking to strange men at the urinals…. Oh, hang on, maybe I’m the strange man?!

Coming Attractions

I had sex in a cinema once (I know, shocking! Clutch those pearls), but this wasn’t some fumble on the back row of the picture house… We moved in for the night.

Back in the early 90’s, I met some guy in a bar. We flirted, enjoying that heady mix of nervous anticipation and lust, until one of us broke the stalemate and mustered the courage to go in for a kiss. He then asked me back to his flat in Dorothy Towers.

The morning after the night before, I executed my tried and tested method for finding out a trick’s name when you don’t remember. I slipped out of bed, on the pretext of going to the bathroom then popped into the kitchen to check his mail, which is usually stacked on the counter or breakfast table. It is a risky gambit, as you don’t want to be caught in the act and look like you are prying, stalking… or stealing their bank details.

Having acquired the information I needed, I could now hop back into bed and confidently address my new acquaintance by name, although I always dreaded someone responding, “But, … I never told you my name.” Or even worse, “That’s my flat mate’s name.”


He had just finished a shift at The Electric Cinema, where he was an usher, checking tickets and flogging choc-ices. He told me, “I am just having one drink before last orders then heading back.”

“Do they have a midnight showing?”

“No, but the manager likes to close up then watch a movie in peace,” he explained. “He’s going to put on Midnight Express. Would you like to join me?”

Midnight Express was a brilliant film. I loved it. To this day, I get an urge to recreate the scene where Brad Davis’ girlfriend helps him relieve his pent-up prison tension by squashing her nipples against the glass partition in the visiting booth, whenever I encounter admin staff behind a reception screen.

The Electric was Birmingham’s first cinema, opening in Station Street in December 1909 and is now the oldest working cinema in the UK, predating its namesake in Notting Hill, London, by around two months.

At the time of our private screening, it was managed by a dishevelled film enthusiast, who slept in the projection booth, possibly because he had nowhere else to go.

By the time Midnight Express finished, it was early morning, so my friend and I decided to take inspiration from the manager and spend the night in the cinema. We gathered cushions from the ratty sofa in the foyer and fashioned ourselves a bed at the back of the auditorium, where we spent a restless night.

I was due at work the following morning and couldn’t be late for my shift but didn’t wear a watch (or have a mobile phone in those days), so the only way I could keep track of the time, was to periodically emerge from the pitch black of the auditorium and try to estimate the hour by the hue of the sky.

It was during one of these excursions to scrutinise the dawn light, that I felt the urge to use the toilet, so groped my way up the unlit stairs to the first-floor gents.

In the disorientating gloom, I managed to open the toilet door into my own face. As I stumbled to the urinals, half asleep and nursing my bruised head, a shadow at the tall window caught my eye. I stifled a scream. Silhouetted in the orange light of the streetlamps, was a figure stood on the external window ledge. For one awful moment I though the manager had had enough of his existence of slumming it in a projection booth and was about to end it all by throwing himself onto Station Street.

I realised with relief that it wasn’t a real person after all. It was just one of several mannequins that adorned the facade of The Electric Cinema at that time… but it didn’t half give me a fright.

In retrospect, it would have been a challenge for a jumper to top themselves from merely one storey up, presuming that they could even leap far enough to avoid dropping ineffectually onto the entrance canopy.

I bet that ratty old sofa, from which we fashioned our love-nest, is long gone.

Whenever I attend a screening at The Electric Cinema, which isn’t as often as I should, I sit in their plush red seats, glance around the auditorium and remember when, for one night only, I was the coming attraction.

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.

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.