qaStaHvIS wa’ ram loSSaD Hugh SIjlaH qetbogh loD

I awoke to several missed calls and numerous messages asking if I was alright.

It transpired that during the early hours of that Sunday morning a disturbed individual had gone on a knife wielding rampage across the city centre of Birmingham, attacking eight victims and leaving one poor twenty-three-year-old lad dead.

Initial reports focused on the attacks on Hurst Street and made it sound as though the incident was a homophobic hate crime, but as more details came in it would seem that this stabbing frenzy was motivated by nothing but the individual’s unhinged state of mind and that Birmingham’s gay village was just unlucky enough to be on his route of carnage.

I immediately responded to the messages that I had received and sent out many others to people that I knew or assumed would have been out on the scene that night. Messages pinged back and forth across the city all morning as the stunned gay community checked in with each other and reassured everyone that we were lucky enough to be safe and unscathed.

One friend promptly replied to my message, confirming that he was OK, but attached a screenshot from a news site, showing Clonezone on Hurst Street swathed in ribbons of hazard tape and guarded by a barrage of police officers.

IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE I WILL BE GOING TO WORK TODAY, he messaged.

NO, I replied, BUT ON THE PLUS SIDE, YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT SHOPLIFTERS.

Another guy I know, had been in the vicinity of the attacks only fifteen minutes prior to the incident, but, put off by the queue at Glamorous, had decided to grab a kebab and head home to Clydesdale Tower, one of twin tower blocks overlooking the gay village (locally known a Dorothy Towers or Fairy Towers, depending on your age). It was from the vantage point of his flat that he watched in shocked bemusement as the emergency services responded en masse.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but there were police coming from everywhere,” he told me. “The St Johns Ambulance practically took the Holloway Circus roundabout on two wheels and then a police helicopter appeared and began sweeping the area with search lights. I watched for ten minutes or so, until I remembered my kebab was getting cold.”

Lord_harborne of Instagram posted a poignant picture of himself and his three mates, who were all new to Birmingham, enjoying a ‘wonderful night… until it turned into a war zone.’ I hope his friend of a friend, Michael, is recovering well. X


I had been in two minds about going out on that Saturday night, particularly as the evening got going and various venues began posting tempting images on social media of happy people enjoying drinks in the sun. Fortunately, I decided to take advantage of that good weather by staying in and having a barbeque. I planned on going out on the scene on Sunday afternoon instead… a plan I intended to stick to.

When I got to Birmingham’s Southside district, it was all eerily reminiscent of Lockdown. The roads were quiet and the majority of businesses were shuttered up. Every entrance point to the gaybourhood was cordoned off, with dozens of police officers in attendance. If you had a uniform fetish, this was the afternoon to be in town. The crossroads at the heart of the sealed off gay village was busy with a forensic team, clad in their white coveralls, systematically gathering evidence.

Several news crews were stationed at either end of Hurst Street. Suited presenters paced the pavements quietly mumbling through their reports in preparation for going live.

It put me in mind of the first few evenings following the anti-LGBTQ demonstrations at Anderton Park Primary. I had wandered over to chat with the news teams in attendance and find out which TV channels they were from, under the pretext of offering hot drinks.

“We are fine for drinks,” one female reporter thanked me. “We can make our own in the OB van. We’ve even got a pizza delivery due any minute.”

I ascertained that she was from the local ITV station and, never one to miss an opportunity to flirt, even vicariously, cheekily asked, “Next time could you send Des Coleman (Central News’ funky weatherman and occasional correspondent)? He’s hot.”

“And straight,” she laughed.

“Oh well,” I shrugged, “but when you get back to the studio, tell him he has an admirer in Balsall Heath.”


Back at the police barriers on Hurst Street, I was relieved to spot one of the barmen from Missing, safe and well.

“Hey, how are you? Were you working last night?” I asked.

“Yes. It was terrible. I had just sent two lesbians out to get me something to eat from the takeaway across the street when it all happened. They burst back into the pub, barred the door and told me my food would have to wait.”

“I was in that takeaway at the time,” a voice piped up from behind us. “I heard the commotion outside the door, so I rushed out, naturally not wanting to miss out on a drama, but when I realised what was happening, I spun around and ran as fast as I could in the other direction.”

It turns out that this eyewitness was just visiting from Manchester for the weekend.

“Please, do come to Birmingham again. It’s not usually like this,” I assured him.


Apparently, the assailant tore down the length of Hurst Street and turned right at the T-juction on to Sherlock Street.

The lovely Michael, a gent of a man, always there with a welcoming smile and an abysmal ‘dad joke’, was working on the door of Eden at the time and saw him run by, pursued by two guys.

“What did he look like?” I asked, as no hint of a description had been issued at the time.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Michael replied. “I’m terrible at remembering that sort of detail.”

“The police haven’t released anything. Was he white, Asian, …?”

“Oh, he was Caucasian,” Michael interrupted me emphatically, “as in black.”

I let that go for a moment, but had to politley corrected him, “Sorry, but Caucasian means the opposite.”

“See, I told you I was terrible at descriptions.”

No shit Sherlock Street!


Despite a heavy police presence on the scene, people were understandably apprehensive about going out after the incident. The few venues that could open that Sunday evening were sparsely occupied and a sombre atmosphere prevailed.

But… fear and fun has always gone hand in hand on the gay scene… every gay scene: from those first pioneering publicans who defiantly opened their doors to societies’ undesirables and the courageous clientele that faced prejudice and prosecution to frequent them; to every new chicken and chick that nervously embarks on their first gay adventure; and those that stalk the night, uncertain of what awaits them in that enticingly dark corner or alleyway they are beckoned into. We suck it up and boldly face the fear head on, usually with a withering retort for anyone that dares oppose us.

Just this week, my partner was taunted in the street with, the quite frankly baffling insult of, “You dropped yer dick!”

To which he immediately snapped back, “It’s in your mouth!”

The abuser was at a loss as how to react and a passer-by mocked him with, “He blazed you, man.”

My partner told me that the other response that sprung to mind was, “Yeah, in your mother!” Both work for me.

So, doll yourself up, grab your wallet, your keys, your phone, your condoms, your lube, your poppers and your mask (Christ, the list just keeps getting longer! I am going to need more pockets). Hit the town and paint it every shade of rainbow. I’ll see you out there.

Love each feather and each bangle… and don’t let the bad guys win.

Oh… You are probably wondering what the title of this blog means. No, I didn’t fall on my keyboard. It is a Klingon proverb, in the original Klingon (obviously), and translates as: ‘A running man can slit four thousand throats in a single night.’ It sprung to mind as I read those disturbing headings in my newsfeed last Sunday morning and seems darkly appropriate. Fortunately, the disturbed attacker that ran rampage through the city centre was identified and apprehended within 48 hours and will not be running anywhere again anytime soon.

Back in Business

The pubs reopened in England on the 4th July and Birmingham’s gay scene took its first tentative steps back to normality.

Ruru (See ‘The Boy with Hearts in His Eyes’ – 7th June 2020) had reserved a table for the reopening afternoon at Missing within minutes of their online booking system going live. I suspect Ru was like an excited child on Christmas morning (well, Eid in his case) when that Saturday arrived. I imagine him up at the crack of dawn, washed, dressed, sprayed with far too much cologne, man-bag packed and sat on the bottom step of the stairs, impatiently counting down the minutes until his pre-booked Uber arrived to take him to our 4 o’clock slot at his beloved home from home.

My partner and I went into the city centre early ourselves, but only so we could experience a sense of normality by reviving our semi-regular weekend routine of shopping in the Bullring markets and Chinatown. We were reassured to see that everything was as we had left it, although quieter, and all the familiar faces were where they should be. We were served with characteristic severity by the women at the Polish supermarket, our favourite Romanian fruit & veg seller (See ‘The Art of the Flirt’ – 5th July 2020) greeted us with an enthusiastic handshake, which morphed into a more reserved fist-bump as he remembered current etiquette (We got free tomatoes btw.) and chatted amiably with the stout woman with the deadpan demeanour at the cheese stall. Our world was back in business!

At the indoor market, my partner rushed off to check that the handsome lad with the caramel eyes was back where he should be, while I stopped for a favourite snack.

I was asked, “Are you eating these in?”

“Erm… Yeeeees,” I replied hesitantly, thinking, Does being stood at a flimsy shelf, two foot from the counter, constitute ‘eating in’?

“Then I will have to take your contact details.”

“Really?” I grinned, “Just for a pot of whelks?”

She smiled back. “I know! Welcome to the new normal.”

We finished our shopping over an hour earlier than expected, so headed to Missing to see if it we could possibly gain entry ahead of schedule, only to find that Ruru had beaten us to it!  He was sat on display at a table set up on the redundant stage. Although he claimed to feel self-conscious, being so prominently in the spotlight (literally, as some of the stage lighting was turned on), I suspect that he loved the attention it guaranteed.

Customers at Missing were now greeted at the door and their details taken. A one-way system was in place around the bar and you were politely, but firmly stopped in your tracks if you absentmindedly went against the flow. You were assigned a table and table service was recommended, although you could still order at the bar, as long as you did not linger.

“The staff aren’t smiling much,” Ruru remarked.

“This is all new to them too,” I replied. “They are scared of getting something wrong, I think they are too nervous to smile.”

This went for the customers as well. Initially, you felt like you daren’t even look at the people on the next table, let alone speak to them and certainly not leave your seat, but it didn’t take long for people to loosen up. Smiles and laughter soon returned, and banter began to bounce between the various bubbles sat in their assigned spots.

“I feel like I’m in a retirement village,” I commented, “where everyone is too infirm to move.”

A guy on the next table overheard me and, indicating someone he knew on the opposite side of the room, bellowed, “The gentleman on table twelve needs his bag changing.”

Friends and acquaintances began to drift in.

I spotted Kev and popped over for a brief, socially distanced, chat. He is an amiable regular on the scene, who speaks with a hypnotically soft Brummie drawl, peppered with long pregnant pauses as he considers every phrase. I had last seen him on that long-ago evening when the bars had closed for Lockdown.

“You said we would be back in a couple of weeks,” I reminded him.

“Hmmmm…,” he pondered, lips pursed. “Did I… saaaaaay… that?” He paused for another eternity. “It did… last… a… little bit… looooonger… than I… expec-ted.”

His sentences can be so protracted that it is possible that he had only just come to the end of the previous thing he was saying on that closing night, mere moments before the pubs re-opened.

Meanwhile, at our spot-lit table, Ruru was proudly showing off his meticulously groomed beard.

Knowing that Ruru has a technique for getting the line so fastidiously sharp, I asked, “Did you use Sellotape?”

“No, I used masculine tape,” he told me.

“What is masculine tape?”

“You know, masculine tape! That white tape you can rip.”

“That’s ‘masking tape’ you muppet!”

“I knew that really,” he unconvincingly replied, looking sheepish.

It makes his beard look more masculine. Love it!

I excused myself and went upstairs to use the toilet. Only one person was admitted to the toilets at any time. Where is the fun in that?

On the way back down, I stuck my head around the door of the function room, where additional seating had been laid out. I spotted my mate Joe sat on his own, so automatically invited him to join us at our table.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to, am I?” Joe asked, all a fluster.

“Oh, good point,” I conceded, “but surely you count as my ‘social bubble’?”

“Best not. I don’t want to get barred in the first hour of being let back in.”

Fair enough, I thought, especially as he’d only just been allowed back into Missing, a few days before lockdown commenced, following a previous barring for an incident that he doesn’t even remember.

It turns out that Joe was right, the new guidelines meant that he couldn’t join us.

“You could all go outside, rebook and then come back in as a group,” I was informed.

“Thanks,” I replied, “but that’s too much bother. He can stay upstairs.”

It was good to see Missing in action once again.

We moved on to Sidewalk, with its pavement seating now extended down the street, then the last port of call for the day was Eden, a popular pub that faces Hurst Street with cocky independence.

We were greeted at the entrance by Eden’s joint owner and silver fox, a guy who is universally fancied by every man, straight woman and twink on the scene. We were escorted to a table in the corner with designated areas and pathways through the bar clearly marked out in that black and yellow hazard tape you see at crime scenes (Now, that is ‘masculine tape’).

Because of the pitstop at Sidewalk, the first thing I did in Eden was dash for the toilets. Every other urinal basin was sealed off to ensure social distancing. As I took up position and unzipped, I asked the guy one urinal along from me, “Would you say that this is a meter?” I quickly added, “I mean the distance between us, I’m not bragging.”

The whole of our day out had been about reassuring ourselves that the world we knew was on its way back after its four month hiatus, that things hadn’t changed beyond all recognition and that we would indeed all meet again, so we were delighted to see the final piece in the puzzle stood in her rightful place behind Eden’s bar. This cherished matriarch, force to reckoned with, Brum’s answer to Corrie’s Betty Turpin and runner up in last year’s Best Bar Staff category in the Zone Magazine poll, was where she should be, pulling pints and maintaining order with stolid expertise.

“Maura,” I called out, “I want to give you a hug, but I can’t.”

“I don’t think that she’s the hugging type,” my partner cautioned me.

I suspect that he is right, but in different circumstances I would have given it a damn good go, I was so pleased to see her.

It was good to be back. This ‘new normal’ would take a little getting used to, but the new systems and restrictions were enforced and adhered to with good humour. It was as easy as buying a pot of whelks.

Birmingham Pride. Part 3 – Slipping in the Backdoor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Last Orders At The Bar, Please

A love Letter to Better Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Could you help me?” I asked.

“Sure matey,” he responded without hesitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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