Setting Out My Stall


With over thirty years of misadventures on the Birmingham gay scene, I have tales to tell of the places, predicaments and people I have been in.

I have socialised and cruised in the bars, pubs, clubs, saunas and secluded midnight nooks that make up Birmingham’s compact gay village since my late teens. Here are my tales of queer encounters on the gay side of the UK’s much maligned second city.

I have experienced the tender, the terrible and the charmingly touching… but most importantly humour and humanity.

Shining a light on the scene unseen.

The Ogre Under the Bridge and Other Tales from the Darkroom

I was late to the XXL party (Birmingham’s XXX rated monthly club night, where anything and everything goes).

Publicity suggested the event was exclusively for big hairy bears in leather and harnesses, which isn’t really my thing. I didn’t want a similar situation to that time I accidently found myself at Skins Night, surrounded by a garrison of National Front style gay Nazis, two ideologies you would assume incompatible. I am tempted to attend a sportswear night though, partially by the lure of scrummy rugby kits, but mainly because I would love to turn up in full cricket whites or golf cap, checked trousers and knitwear, looking like I were about to play a round with Brucie and Ronnie Corbett.

After years of avoiding XXL, I was persuaded by my ex-high school form tutor, “There are all types,” he assured me. “If you enjoy Dare to Bare, you will love XXL.”

He was right… Then Covid struck. XXL was cancelled. My timing sucked harder than those guys behind the drapes.

Eighteen months later, XXL was the first event of that nature to restart in Birmingham, now at The Tunnel Club, former Subway City, near the Jewellery Quarter.

There was a buzz on the scene that weekend. The guys were gagging for its return.

“About bloody time,” I overheard one fella exclaim, “I’ve got balls the size of melons!”

A fleet of cabs departed Hurst Street, depositing their eager passengers outside the club, built into the railway arches leading from Snow Hill station, where a que formed around the block. It was like the opening weekend of Star Wars.

Slightly later than advertised, the doors opened, and the throng streamed in.

The Tunnel Club consists of three rooms: A long bar with reception and toilets; a huge dance floor, domed by the brick arch of the railway bridge, with a metal staircase leading up to a clanking gantry, giving the place the feel of party night in Cell Block H; and a smaller dance space, where the DJ booth had been swathed in a vast XXL promotional banner and lights dimmed to encourage fun, frolics and fornication.

But… before I could enter the club proper, I had to face an ogre in the cloakroom.

“Six pounds,” she demanded as I handed over my items.

Aghast, I spluttered, “How much?”

Without comment, she stabbed her finger at a sign that stated ‘£2 per item’.

“Oh, well in that case, can I have my things back for a moment,” I asked. “One of them was only a shirt and will easily fit in my bag.”

The woman’s lip curled into a snarl, and she skulked back to the rail to retrieve my possessions, which she slammed onto the counter.

“Thank you so much,” I smiled sweetly, countering her brusque manner with exaggerated politeness, as I rearranged my items and handed them back.

She snatched my things and manhandled them to the rear of the cloakroom… to presumably defecate in my bag.

I carefully stowed the chit in that tiny redundant pocket of my jeans, determined not to lose it, as I didn’t fancy my chances of getting anything back otherwise.

In the club, the dancefloor was thumping, while the darkroom filled with pent-up frustration.

As the action got going, the heady atmosphere was disturbed by a jaunty jingle from someone’s phone. Its owner was on his knees, pleasuring another guy, but quickly fumbled to dismiss the call.

The caller was persistent and rang back… twice.

On the third ring, I called out, “Tell the wife you’re busy!”

It’s not often you hear laughter ripple around a busy darkroom.

Back at the bar, I realised the card limit meant I would be better off using cash, which was in my wallet… in my bag… in the cloakroom

Oh shit, I panicked, I’m going to have to deal with that bad-tempered attendant again!

“Sorry to disturb you,” I said with timid sincerity, “but I need to get something from my bag.”

The woman sucked her teeth in disgust, setting her face in a mask of contempt, eyes fixed on some point over my left shoulder… and she stayed like that for what seemed an eternity.

I tried subtly moving my face into her eyeline, but she maintained the blank countenance and just stared through me, as though I didn’t exist.

I cast a glance back toward the bar, just to check that the rest of the room hadn’t also frozen, and I wasn’t caught in some spatial temporal anomaly… but no, they were all still buzzing about.

Finally, she emerged from her trancelike sulk and begrudgingly searched for my bag amongst the randomly arranged racks. I considered suggesting she hung the items in numerical order to make things easier to find, but wisely thought better of it… as I was afraid that would result in me being dragged screaming through the serving hatch and eviscerated.

With cash in my pocket, I bought further drinks and basked in the temptations of the darkroom.

As the night drew to a close, numbers dwindled, and the darkroom began to thin out.

I stood at the side and watched with curiosity as one shadowing figure studied the various images of burly half naked men printed on the banner that screened off the DJ booth. He focused on one stud in particular, looked it up and down, then sidled over, hand outstretched. The guy’s fingers touched the buff chest of the life-sized photo… then he snatched them back in surprise, as though he had been stung.

Hearing my snort of laughter from the gloom, he turned, “Christ that freaked me out, I thought he was real!”

I’ve been back to XXL at The Tunnel Club several times since opening weekend, but on one occasion there was more action in the darkroom than anticipated.

It was toward the end of the night and a dense huddle of men were playing in one dark corner, when an altercation broke out. There were raised voices, a scuffle and the sound of a fist connecting with flesh.

As trousers were rapidly raised and the orgy scattered, I stepped into the fray.

I stood between the two men, separating them with outstretched hands, “No, not in here,” I said in a calm authoritative voice. “Take it outside or forget it.”

The aggressor wasn’t ready to let things go and riled up again.

“No, we don’t fight in here,” I told him and went to place a peaceful palm on his shoulder.

He slapped my hand away and growled, “Don’t tell me to shut up!”

“I didn’t tell you to shut up,” I assured him, “and I would never do so, but this ends now.”

The wind suddenly went from his sails. It was over.

The guy I had been messing about with when the disturbance erupted, appeared in my face and planted a passionate kiss.

When he pulled away, I joked, “Was that hot?”

“Yes,” he nodded… and several disembodied voices from the gloom agreed.

Diplomacy is sexy, apparently.

I don’t know what that ruckus was about (Spurned advances? Cock-blocking? Who knows?), but I once narrowly avoided a similar clash in another venue’s darkroom, several years earlier.

There was just myself and an attractive guy, who seemed interested, so I made a move… only to be aggressively shoved back.

“Get off man,” the guy yelled. “What the fuck you doing?!!”

Shocked by his reaction, I headed to the bar to put some space between us.

Later, as I emerged from the toilets, the guy was stood in my path, playing the fruit-machine. I had two options: I could either skirt sheepishly around him or deal with the matter directly.

“Excuse me,” I said, “sorry about earlier, but places like this are based on nonverbal communication and body language. I misread the signals.”

He seemed taken aback that I approached him to apologise and mumbled an acknowledgment.

Not long after, I was stalking the cruising area, only to find him stood in an empty cubical with the door wide open. He smiled and beckoned me in.

“This is an unexpected turnaround,” I said, as we bolted the door.

“The way you came to apologise impressed me… and turned me on.”

Seriously, professional diplomats must get soooo much action.

Back at XXL, on the night of the fight, I was waiting in line to retrieve my coat and bag, when someone approached to say, “You were so calm in there when it all kicked off.”

“It may have looked that way, but my stomach was doing somersaults,” I confessed. “I thought I was going to get punched at any moment.”

Truth be told… I was more anxious about retrieving my possessions from that bitch in the cloakroom.

For the record, don’t let the fact that an altercation occurred in the darkroom put you off attending an XXL event. This incident was a rarity in the extreme (unlike the Broad Street bust-ups that Brummie police are on constant standby for).

As for that woman in the cloakroom… she is a legendary reason to attend.

One day I hope that they erect a blue plaque in her honour… ‘The Ogre Under the Bridge Once Worked Here’.

Builder’s Craic

“Nice shoes,” I commented to one of two guys stood next to me outside a Birmingham gay bar. They were a combination of brown brogue and tweed (The shoes, not the fellas). Very stylish. “Yours are nice too,” I assured his companion,“but his win.”

“They do,” the friend agreed. “I spotted them first and he bought them. Not sure how that happened.”

It was this second guy, with the slightly inferior footwear, that had the most dapper overall style though. He complimented his stocky frame with a smart hipster outfit of checked trousers, flattering waistcoat, and sharp shirt, with cool detail at the collars and cuffs. He carried off the look effortlessly, while others can end up looking like cheap rip-offs of the Peaky Blinders (or as my partner inadvertently referred to them‘pesky bleeders’, which I thought sounded like a comic strip from The Beano).

As we chatted, a woman approached and started to fuss my dog.

“I bet your pup is a real chick magnet,” commented stylish Pesky Bleeder.

“She’s a great way to talk to hot guys,” I admitted. “I’ve learned to make it look like she’s pulling in their direction, while I’m actually steering.”

“She’s very pretty,” he said. “Great arse!”

I considered ignoring that comment, but curiosity got the better, “I’m sorry, but did you just say my dog had a ‘great arse’?”

“NO,” he spluttered, “Great eyes!”

“Oh, that’s a relief.” My partner and I have noted that she has a classic pear shape figure, but I did think admiring a dog’s bottom was a bit weird… unless you are another dog, naturally.”

So glad I asked for clarification.

It turned out this stylish fella was a builder… with a tale to tell.

He was once part of a crew hired to renovate a conservative religious school on the Isle of Wight. The workplace rules banned the crew from showing ‘inappropriate’ levels of flesh. Shirts were to be worn at all times and the upper arms had to covered, so no sleeveless tops or vests. Likewise, shorts were not permitted, for fear the sight of a burly calf should sent pubescent pulses racing.

It was a hot summer and after several uncomfortable days of working in high temperatures, he had had enough, so asked the foreman about relaxing the ‘no shorts’ rule, but to no avail.

“I was getting to the end of my wick,” he told me. “So, the next morning, I called in at Asda on my way to work. I headed straight over to the women’s clothing department and asked the sales assistant for help finding a skirt that fit. She was initially surprised, but when I explained the situation, threw herself wholeheartedly behind the idea.”

Having never brought a skirt before, he had to be measured and then the assistant headed off to find appropriately sized apparel.

There was nowhere to try on the item, so he nipped behind the counter, with the sales assistant manoeuvring a rack of clothing into position to protect modestly as he dropped trousers and slipped into his new outfit.

“Would you like those in a bag?” The assistant asked.

“Nah,” he replied, “I’ll wear them.”

He strode boldly out of Asda and across the carpark, enjoying the refreshing breeze his new purchase afforded him.

He was immediately stopped by security when he tried to clock-in on site, ensemble now complimented with toolbelt and hardhat.

“No shorts,” he was told.

“They are not shorts,” he replied, pulling aside his toolbelt to reveal the pleats. “It’s a skirt!”

“A what?!”

“It’s a skirt… I am wearing a skirt.”

“You can’t wear a skirt on a building site!”

“Why not? It doesn’t say anywhere in the rules and regulations that I can’t,” he said, sticking to his guns. “Besides, the office girls come onto site all the time in skirts… and often fail to wear safety shoes for that matter.”

The security guard was flummoxed.

“I’ll have to get a manager.”

Management was met with equal pedantic obstinance, “There is no rule to say I cannot wear a skirt on the job.”

“I don’t care,” the manager responded, digging his heels in. “You are not coming onto this site in that skirt!”

“In that case,” countered Boberta the Builder, “I am trans and if you deny me my right to dress in accordance with my gender identity, I will take you to court.”

The manager’s eyes narrowed, “Ok, go in, but we take no responsibility for any abuse you may receive from your colleagues.”

“I did initially get a bit of flak from the guys, as you can imagine,” my new mate told me. “But when I told them why I was doing it, they thought it was a brilliant idea.”

That lunchtime, half a dozen other builders descended on Asda to buy up their stock of plain skirts (and the sales assistant certainly had a tale to tell when she returned home that evening), returning to work wearing them for the afternoon shift, presumably to wolf whistles and a chorus of, “Nice legs!”.

The following day, management had a change of heart… and shorts could now be worn on site.

“This is brilliant,” I gushed at the conclusion of his tale. “When we first started chatting, you asked if my dog was a ‘chick magnet’, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but am I right to assume you are straight?”

“Oh yeah. My wife introduced me to the gay scene,” he replied. “Love it. You meet great people and there is never any trouble.”

“In that case, I love you and your story even more!”

“I’m straight too,” chipped in his friend, “obviously.”

“Not that obviously,” I commented, glancing down at his feet. “Not in those shoes.”

Refrigerator of Terror – A Chilling Halloween Tale

“We should go as Batman and Robin,” I announced.

Ruru just raised an unconvinced eyebrow.

“They are the perfect Halloween costumes for us.”

It has got to the point where, if I walk into Missing on my own, people automatically glance over my shoulder and ask, “Where’s Ru?”

“Although, they’d have to be cool Batman and Robin outfits,” I insisted. “I don’t want to turn up looking like Del-Boy and Rodney in that episode of Only Fools and Horses!”

I messaged my partner to tell him his potential role at the Halloween masquerade.


Although the image of him in curvy bat-suit, with long red wig spilling from the cowl amused me, I had another member of the bat-family better suited to his look and demeanour. My partner is in his early 60s, with thinning hair on top, a thick pelt back and sides, and sports a fair-haired goatee. He has a reserved manner, which can appear brusque to the uninitiated.

YOU CAN BE ALFRED – I told him. A simple look to achieve by wearing a smart suit, trimming the beard into a moustache and carrying a tray under one arm.

On the theme of the bat-family, I have been watching a DC show called Titans, which follows adult Dick Grayson, after he abandons the mantle of Robin and becomes Nightwing, and his team of young superheroes (I have always had a thing for Robin ever since Burt Ward’s legs made an impression in that 60s classic).

In one episode, Grayson has gone missing. A dishevelled Donna Troy (Wonder Girl) returns to Titans HQ after hours of searching.

Firestorm tactlessly greets Donna with,“You look terrible.”

“Oh, I know,” she replies, “I’ve been up all night looking for Dick.”

We’ve all been there love, I thought.

We toyed with the idea of including our Scene Queen dog in the Halloween masquerade. She could go as Ace the Bat-Hound (It’s a thing, Google it) or, more humiliating for a canine, Catwoman.

After several pints, I thought all of this was a marvellous plan… but we would probably end up spending All Hallow’s Eve watching horror movies by candlelight.

I have always loved scary movies.

As a child, I would stay up late on a Friday with my mother to watch campy Hammer horror and shadowy classics from Universal Studios.

I distinctly remember being traumatised by The Omen trilogy and being surprised to see grow-up Damien, from the final film of the three, turn up in Jurassic Park years later.

Nothing can beat the terror of watching a horror movie on the big screen with no distractions and surround sound. I gradually recede into my seat as tension mounts, clutching a box of Fruit Gums, until I have practically withered away in fear. I love it!

A mutual enjoyment of horror was one of the few things my partner’s mother and I bonded over the first time we travelled to the United States to visit his family. She was a kind-hearted but taciturn host, who didn’t waste words on pleasantries. Her bombastic husband (who put me in mind of Foghorn Leghorn, the brash Loony Toons rooster) refused to watch anything even remotely frightening as it scared the heebie-jeebies out of him.

I was grateful to have at least one connection with my mother-in-common-law, as she certainly didn’t take to my English charms, automatically assuming I was elitist, having only encountered Brits on Upstairs Downstairs or as cod movie villains. Charles Dance has a lot to answer for.

Arriving at their home in small town Pennsylvania, I was greeted by what deceptively appeared to be a moderate sized 50’s bungalow… but was soon to discover the house possessed hidden secrets.

Despite having a perfectly functional front door on the veranda, everyone entered through a side door, straight into the kitchen.

My partner’s mother just gave a perplexed stare as I introduced myself (not the reaction you hope for when attempting a good first impression).

“Don’t worry Norma, you’ll get used to the accent,” her husband assured her, having spent time acclimatising on the drive from the station. “It took me a while too.”

The house had a dim interior, as a combination of drapes, blinds, shutters and canopies were deployed to prevent any ray of fierce summer sun penetrating.

The décor would be best described as country crafts chic. Every space was occupied with quilted cushions, crocheted quotes (extolling the virtues of family and the good ol’ homestead). Bizarrely, quaint scarecrows and stuffed mannequins loitered and slouched in various spots around the house. The characters were regularly changed to reflect the cycle of annual festivities: Halloween witches were replaced by Thanksgiving pilgrims, which were in turn usurped by Christmas Elves, snowmen and Santa. Any grandkids we weren’t going to give them would have loved it!

The big surprise came when you wandered through the study, which led straight off the kitchen, and found yourself on an interior balcony, stretching the entire length of the building, overlooking a cathedral-like space that housed a heated indoor pool. All illusions of compact bungalow disappeared.

Next to the pool were changing rooms and showers, plus a rec-room, with bar and woodstove. Beyond that was a warren of cellars, utilities and storerooms. 

Several nights into our stay, my partner, his mother and myself settled in to watch a remake of The Amityville Horror on cable.

My partner and I took turns going to the basement to retrieve bottles of beer.

When my turn came, I didn’t relish the idea of entering those underground spaces, especially in the heightened state of trepidation that a late-night horror movie instils. To make matters worse, I couldn’t find the light. There was no obvious switch next to the door, so I reached beyond the frame and nervously groped around the interior wall, expecting to be grabbed at any moment by clammy talons and dragged screaming into the dark.

The switch eluded me, so there was only one thing for it… I made a dash into the pitch, throwing open the refrigerator door with a panic that set the beer bottles rattling. A rectangle of icy light stretched across the cellar floor… and I froze in fear.

Illuminated against the wall was a young girl, dressed in period clothing. She looked to be around six or seven years of age and was facing away from me leaning on her raised arms, as though weeping.

In retrospect, can’t believe I was brave enough to do this, but I tentatively approached the apparition, in numb terror.

I reached out a hand to touch the girl’s shoulder and on contact the head turned to reveal a blank featureless face!!!

I stifled a scream… then realised… it was one of those bloody mannequins.

It turned out that this life-sized child was one of a set playing hide n’ seek. She had been relegated to the basement stores as her neck was damaged, hence her head spinning like something from The Exorcist.

I returned to the safety of the TV room, clutching beer… which I really needed.

Well, it is nearly Halloween night, and the Bat-suits haven’t been ordered. Time for candles and spooky movies.

I am just grateful we don’t have a basement.

Duty of Care

Although certainly not the only person to take a cute guy home from Birmingham Pride… I’m probably one of the few to leave him on the sofa for the night.

I spent Pride weekend playing Good Samaritan, starting on my commute that Friday.

When I boarded at Wolverhampton, there was a distressed teenager panicking she was on the wrong train. Another passenger was dealing with her, so I popped in my earphones and relaxed for the fifteen-minute trip back to Brum.

As the train pulled into New Street Station, I removed my earphone and realised the girl was now sat on her own further up the carriage and still upset.

I approached and gently asked, “Are you OK?”

She blubbed a flood of snot and tears.                                                                                  

It turned out she studied at a Staffordshire collage, but instead of catching her direct train home, got muddled and boarded the train to Birmingham instead. Not a major blunder, but this young woman clearly had learning difficulties and the unanticipated change in routine sent her into meltdown.

“Don’t worry, everyone has got on the wrong train at some time,” I reassured her. “I was once travelling home to Birmingham from Liverpool and ended up in London. At least you haven’t done as badly as that.”

Her weeping paused, as she studied me momentarily, presumably wondering if she should put her trust in this numpty who was clearly a liability on a rail network.

Her brief composure crumbled, and she wailed, “But I haven’t got the right ticket!!”

“That doesn’t matter. The staff will understand and help you get home.”

It turned out her ticket was valid on any network.

I ended up escorting her to the main concourse at New St, checking the departure board for her next train and taking her to the appropriate platform. This was trickier than anticipated, as she randomly stopped, turned, dithered, flapped and wandered off in the wrong direction. It was like trying to shepherd a flighty chicken.

Eventually, I got her to the correct platform.

“Here is your train,” I indicted with triumphant sweep of my arm… just as they blew the whistle and it glided out of the station. I saw tears swell and lip tremble, “Don’t panic, there will be another train along in… in… well, soon.”

Thankfully, there were staff a few yards down on the platform, so I guided my overly emotional charge in their direction and, once assured that they grasped the situation, handed over responsibility to the professionals. Job done.

My automatic response to being asked for help is, “Certainly… as long as it doesn’t involve money.” I will always go out of my way to help someone in genuine need, just not fund addiction.

I am particularly inclined to help someone if they seem new to the country, as I have been aided on so many occasions during my own travels around the world.

Whilst interrailing around Europe in my late teens, I was stood at a pedestrian crossing when a stranger asked if I were British. When I confirmed I was, they pressed a £1 coin into my palm and walked away without further comment.

That coin proved to be the only currency I had (or access to, due to a debit card mishap) when I eventually found myself back in the UK and stranded at Euston Station after the last trains had departed. I used it to call my parents and ask them to buy me a ticket home on the first morning train.

After a restless night on the cold concourse, I found a duly purchased ticket waiting at the booking office… along with £10 in cash.

“Your father paid an extra ten pounds so we could give you money out of our till to buy yourself breakfast,” the ticket clerk explained.

Apparently, this was unprecedented and required phone calls to various managers but worked perfectly. Genius.

On holiday in the mountains of Spain, my partner and I asked a couple how to find a particular restaurant. They warned it was on the outskirts of town, a fair walk up a steep incline, but gave clear directions how to get there.

Ten minutes into our trek, the couple pulled up alongside us in their car and beckoned us to get in. They had remembered that the restaurant closed several months earlier.

The girlfriend was so apologetic, “We felt terrible and didn’t want you thinking we had given you bad information on purpose.”

They kindly dropped us off at their favourite place to eat in town.

I was required to play Samaritan once again during the dying hours of Birmingham Pride.

I emerged from Boltz (now at its new premises opposite The Nightingale) at around 2am on Monday morning. The club’s busy darkroom had been stifling and it was refreshing to pause for a moment in the light breeze and drizzle. Glancing over the road, I spotted a vaguely familiar figure slumped under a canopy at the corner of Kent Street.

He was a student from Wolverhampton University whom I had briefly met a several years earlier and unexpectedly bumped into again earlier that evening.

I squatted in front of the lad and asked, “Are you Ok?”

He looked up with bleary eyes and shook his head pitifully.

I plonked myself down next to him.

“What happened?”

“Don’t remember,” he replied. “I veeeery drrrunk.”

He found himself separated from friends and collapsed in this sheltered nook in an intoxicated heap. The details were all a little hazy.

“Where are you meant to be staying tonight?”

“Wifffffriends… Can’t remember. Phone’s dead.”

He was lucky to still have his phone… and wallet for that matter.

“Look, my partner and I live a couple of miles out of the city, only ten minutes in a taxi,” I told him. “I could make you up a bed on the sofa. I promise no funny business, just a genuine offer of help. Would you like to stay at ours?”

He looked at me with huge sad eyes and whimpered, “Yes please.”

My heart melted. I hate that whole ‘daddy’ shit, but every paternal instinct kicked in. I booked an Uber, raised him to his feet and half walked/half carried him to the pick-up point.

“Try not to look too drunk,” I warned, as our waiting car came into view, “and for God’s sake don’t throw up or pee yourself in the back of the cab!”

I sent my partner a simple text message, I AM BRINGING HOME A STRAY.

Next morning, our unexpected sofa surfer was surprisingly chipper.

I offered coffee and arranged an Uber back into town.

“Please send me your bank details so I can pay you back,” he insisted.

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “Buy me a chai or, even better, a beer sometime… and leave a good review on TripAdvisor.”

I couldn’t help wondering, would I have been so inclined to help had he been a complete stranger? Would I have offered a place to crash if I hadn’t known him from Adam? I’d like to think I would, but I’m not sure.

I have subsequently learned of the Southside Safe Space. This initiative provides help, whatever the reason, located in the Arcadian car park every Friday and Saturday from midnight until 5.30am.

Do we all have a duty of care?

We refer to ourselves as a gay community, so maybe it is the responsibility of the whole community to ensure the safety of all, treating strangers in need as we would our friends, partners and logical family.

The lad I encountered was so vulnerable. I am glad that I was in the right place at the right time to help.

It is the most proud I have ever felt at Pride.

Bursting with Pride

After nearly two years and three cancellations, Birmingham Pride is back, bigger and better than ever before. It is time to bask in a city filled with love. The city centre is one big party, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community in all its diversity and debauchery.

Rainbows have been appearing all over the city, in anticipation of this weekend’s festivities: New Street Station is resplendent in rainbow colours, from the ticket barriers to the giddying steps that lead down to Station Street; the trams declare their services ‘are for everyone’; and buses are stopping at signs decorated with every colour of the spectrum.

The party kicked off with a free community event of speeches and entertainment on a stage that wouldn’t look out of place a major music festival on the site of recently demolished wholesale markets. Saturday was opened with traditional words of pride, progress and solidarity in front of the council house and concluded with revels in the city’s southside district.

After over eight hundred days since the last Pride event, it was phenomenal to be back together.

“We will meet again,” as some old Queen said last year.

Back at that last event in 2019, my friends and I applauded the opening addresses then headed off to find a suitable vantage point to watch the parade.

As we shuffled along the packed streets, I spotted a handsome police officer, with dark brown eyes peeking from beneath the dome of his helmet.

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

“Sure,” grinned Officer Sexy, looking around. “Where is he?”

The raucous parade thunders through the city, with thousands of participants representing all LGBTQ+ tribes in their full debauchery and glory: Gay parents, with children riding on their shoulders or in buggies, stroll alongside drag queens and half-dressed stilt walkers; floats filled with 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 steeldrummers and bhangra beats; corporate companies, cashing in on the kudos, are represented alongside political parties and genuine civil rights campaigners.

I’m heartened 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 they know to escape prejudice, persecution and in some countries the threat of imprisonment or even death.

Well, to be totally honest, there is one group represented in the parade that is ever so slightly more popular than the gay refugees and receives a louder cheer from the crowd… the fire service. Hey, we’re only human.

There is one particularly hot fireman I always lookout for. He is short, buff, with slick dark hair and a cute diastema (the noticeable gap between his two upper front teeth).

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”

“Oh great, that’s all we need,” one of his colleagues sighed. “He’s full enough of himself as it is!”

Back at the parade, 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.”

The girlfriend looked perplexed, “What are ‘Bears’?”

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

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

“No. You are too young… and slim,” I told him. “You would be a cub.”

This straight boy now had a whole new hitherto unknown gay identity… and seemed delighted.

I was suddenly aware of a presence at my shoulder. I glanced down to find a diminutive old woman trying to squeeze through the crowd. 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, walked, crawled and scampered by.

The old lady tutted loudly and moaned, in a thick Brummie accent, “All this bother just to get to Primark!!!”

The stranger on my right and I grinned gleefully at each other, as she wandered away.

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

A few summers ago, my young work colleague Paige and her friends found themselves accidently part of Brighton Pride parade. 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.

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 cheering crowds, but their 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!!!”

After two colourful hours, the Birmingham parade trickled to an end. It was time to head to the gay village for the awaiting shenanigans… and to give my Pride T-shirt its annual outing.

My special T-shirt features a picture of a hand with index finger pointing to my left and declares, ‘THIS MAN… LIKES COCK.’ It goes down a storm with Pride revellers and has proven to be a real asset, giving me the excuse to approach the best-looking guys and cheekily ask, “Are you man enough for a photo?”

The first year I wore the ‘This Man Likes Cock’ T-shirt, I was clocked by a group of policemen.

One of the officers nodded in my direction, muttered something to his colleagues, then all four headed in my direction.

Oh no, I thought, surely, they’re not going to tell me to cover it up? This is Pride, anything goes! There are guys walking around with their arses hanging out of their chaps, my humble top can’t be causing offense.

“Excuse me sir,” said one of the offers, as he approached, “we couldn’t help but notice your shirt.”

“Errrrm… yes?”

“Could we have our photos taken with you?”

The next thing, all four of them were taking turns to pose next to me with the accusing finger pointing in their direction.

When it came to the turn of the fourth and final police officer to take position for the photo, his colleague pointed at him and commented, “By the way, just for the record, of the four of us… he actually does like it.”

They all giggled, and the officer stood next to me with his arm slung around my waist, nodded that it was true.

From then on it became my mission to have my photo taken wearing that T-shirt with as many official types as possible. I managed to get shots with security guards, vendors, barmen, bouncers, first aiders, some woman off Gogglebox, that fireman with the cute diastema and even got inadvertently ‘papped’ with the Mayor of the West Midlands.

At one point, I approached a strapping armed police officer, decked out in flak jacket and utility belt. I had my arm casually draped across my chest to hide the logan, which surprisingly worked, and he obliviously agreed to pose.

His colleague offered to do the honours with the camera, but just as he was about to take the photo he noticed the statement embossed on my clothing and went to point it out to my unaware victim. I subtly silenced him with my finger to my lips. The other police officer gave a conspiratorial smirk. Only once the photo was taken, did he gleefully draw his colleague’s attention to the wording.

The posse of armed police burst out laughing and gave me contact details to send the photo to, while my quarry performed a resigned facepalm.

The following day, I attempted the same trick on another armed cop, stood in front of an impressively armoured vehicle.

Before I could get close enough to ask for a photo, he shook his head, “No, no, no, I’m having my photo taken with THAT shirt!”

“But why?” I asked, innocently.

“Because the one you took yesterday is all over social media,” he replied. “They’ve even posted it on the West Midlands Police website!”

My mate Kliff was lucky enough to acquire free entry to Pride one year, by being in the right place at the right time and being offered free VIP tickets.

Kliff is an inimitable character. Although small of stature, he 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.

As I said, Kliff is short, but there is one part of his anatomy that is far from small. He is renowned for having one of the biggest cocks on the Birmingham gay scene (Now I’ve got your attention!). His pendulous appendage practically hangs to his knees. When he is stood naked in Boltz at Dare2Bare, people tend to shake his member rather than his hand. Well, it is a private members club.

Back at Pride, Kliff showed his newly acquired VIP ticket at the checkpoint and was admitted into the event but pulled aside for a random search. Security checked his bag then proceeded to pat down his clothing. When the guard reached Kliff’s inside leg, he encountered a potential lethal weapon.

“Excuse me sir,” the guard asked, tugging at the offending object though the trousers. “What is this?”

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

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

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

Birmingham Pride 2021 is in full swing and there will be plenty of tales to tell of fun, friends, frolics and fornication to come, but for now… Let’s party with such passion that we bring this city to its knees.

It has been a phenomenal event so far. Everyone involved in its planning and execution should be very proud.

Pride Plus One

I received a text asking, WHAT ARE YOU DOING FRIDAY EVENING?



The blunt honesty of the last line made me smile.

When Friday came, I ditched my usual jeans and T-shirt for smart casual and mingled with the great and the gay celebrating the long overdue launch of Birmingham Pride.

I had to wash and change out of my work scruffs in the disabled toilet at Missing. It wasn’t until stripped and rinsing my bits at the sink, did I realise I hadn’t bolted the door correctly. I was mortified… that no one tried to take advantage of me.

I met my date at his apartment. We headed to The Loft, where we passed under a rainbow arch of balloons and were welcomed with complimentary drinks by my favourite bartender (Sssshhhh… don’t tell the others). He never fails to put a smile on my face as he sashays between tables in his flamboyant 80s inspired wardrobe. He’s a little ray of sunshine. X

David Nash and Lawrence Barton, the powerhouses behind Birmingham’s gay village and Pride (More ‘The Gays’ than ‘The Krays’), gave speeches outlining the highlights of this year’s celebrations and the journey it had taken to get there, expressing relief that it was finally able to go ahead after eighteen months of uncertainty and cancellations.

They emphasised their aim to return Birmingham Pride to its political roots, remembering that Pride is a protest and Stonewall was a riot… whilst still being the best party in town. In this spirit, they announced the Big Free Community Event on the opening Friday of the weekend, which would include keynote speakers, performers, music, queer talent… and a candlelit vigil. I had better take hankies, as I am bound to be an emotional wreck. I became verklempt (my partner’s favourite word for ‘teary-eyed’) just listening to speeches at The Loft.

Reacting to an unsettling rise in anti-Trans sentiment, David stressed that the theme of Pride 2021 was ‘Stronger Together’ and pledged Pride’s commitment to stand in unity with all members of the LGBTQ+ community, campaigning against Trans, Bi or Homophobia and any form of hate.

“There is no L, G, B… without the T,” David succinctly put it, reminding those gathered that it was a courageous black trans woman, called Masha P. Johnson, who hurled the first projectile at the cops outside of Stonewall Inn. There is debate whether the projectile in question was a brick or, more fabulously, a shot glass, but whatever she chucked, it was a watershed moment that TRANSformed the gay liberation movement, which evolved into LGBTQ+ rights we know today… and beyond.

I was startled from the speeches by rapid-fire clicking to my right. I turned to see the lens of a camera hovering over my shoulder and the official event photographer sheepishly mouthing an apology, as he had made me visibly jump.

Later that evening, while relieving myself at the urinals, the same photographer wandered in, festooned with camera equipment.

“No photos,” I declared, then added, “Oh go on then, I could do with new Grindr pics.”

The evening soiree served the dual purpose of launching Birmingham Pride and welcoming Pride House Birmingham to their new hub of offices above The Loft.

The Pride House teams explained their aim to create a safe space and inclusive environment for LGBTIQ+ supporters, athletes, staff, volunteers and organisations at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games; scheduling queer entertainment before and during the games; promoting LGBTIQ+ participation in sport and physical activity; and offering a programme of education, across all key stages, centred on the theme that ‘Everyone is welcome in Birmingham’.

The team of three expressed thanks to The Loft for their home for the duration of the project, inviting the ensembled audience to approach them for a private tour of their upstairs suites at any time during the evening.

One of the Birmingham Pride House team in particular won hearts when he mentioned how he had thrown himself, so enthusiastically, into promoting the gay agenda, a mere handful of years after coming out. I swear the guys in the room simultaneously swooned (the fitted white T-shirt and matching smile helped too).

After the speeches, I made beeline for Mr. White T.

“Quite frankly,” I said, “I am surprised there isn’t a queue around the block for your private upstairs tour.”

He was very gracious… and couldn’t get away fast enough.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at The Loft, particularly the bottomless supply of filled mini-Yorkshire puds, stuffed mushrooms, brownie bites and savoury tarts that circled the room in a never-ending supply (tarts circling the bar… who’da thought?).

Maybe next year I’ll merit my own invite?

I wonder who I could take… as my second choice?

Hate Crime – The Boys Are Back in Town

Fun and Fear have always gone hand in hand on the gay scene: whether it be slurs and insults that can mar a night out; or open hostilities that erupted at the heart of Birmingham’s gay village in the early hours of Sunday 15th August.

Two men were viciously attacked with broken bottles by a group in a SUV. What started as a verbal exchange (whether cheeky banter or inflammatory slurs is point of debate), quickly escalated to a brutal assault, which left one man unconscious and his partner with extensive cuts. A female friend of the couple valiantly reached into the vehicle’s window, to retrieve their stolen phone, which the gang had snatched, only to find herself dragged along the road with legs flailing from the car!

I had been in the same gay venue as the victims an hour earlier, so must have seen them, but didn’t recognise either from their battered and bloodied post-attack selfie that appeared online.

Several days after the incident, West Midlands Police issued the names of three men wanted in connection with the crime, accompanied by existing mugshots (Clearly these guys were no angels).

One suspect resembled identical twins that had been working on a building project several doors up from my house.

It couldn’t be one of them… Could it?

I initially noticed this tall handsome guy, supervising the house renovation, whilst walking my dog walking around the block and frequently made any excuse to stop and chat. He was friendly and always awarded me a winning smile.

“You have got to see the hottie working on the house on the corner,” I told my partner. “He looks like a model!”

A few weeks into the building project, I saw him with his twin for the first time.

I rushed home and announced excitedly, “It’s just got better… There are two of him!!!”

The twin was nothing like his brother in temperament. He never engaged with me and just scowled as I passed by.

Good twin… Bad twin, a staple of every dodgy soap and daytime drama.

Over morning coffee, my partner read an update on the homophobic attack. Looking at the accompanying image, he commented on the resemblance to the local builder boy.

“I thought the same,” I admitted, “but dismissed it, because he didn’t look as hot in the photo.”

I suppose mugshots are rarely flattering.

“It says that he has a twin,” my partner continued.

“It is definitely one of them then.”

Although not sure which twin was guilty, I suspect it was bad-boy moody, but now both seemed less attractive.

The article stated whichever one it was had handed himself in, so there was no need to contact the authorities.

We scrutinised the other two mugshots with more attention and realised that we also recognised the youngest of the three. I regularly pass him in the neighbourhood, his severe fringe being particularly memorable, as it looked like his mother had cut his hair with a pudding basin.

The third of the three didn’t look familiar, but to be brutally honest I could pass his bulbous dim-witted face every day of the year and never give it a second glance.

Talking to neighbours, they thought they recognised all three of the assailants as some of ‘the boys’ at anti-LGBTQ protests outside a local school a few years back.

Birmingham’s busiest quiet road strikes again!

Statistics show that homophobic hate crime is on a steady increase.

Lawrence Barton, leading light of Birmingham’s gay village, said in a recent article in The Guardian:

“There has been an increase in this type of activity, locally and nationally. We had a homophobic attack on a drag queen only a few weeks ago.

“I’m out regularly in the gay district on a weekend, and it staggers me how many people come out with homophobic remarks, shout from their car windows and make comments as they’re walking past,” he added.

“Some people delude themselves into thinking that we live in a society that’s very progressive, and that we enjoy all these equalities and freedoms. But actually, when you cut underneath the surface, it’s clear there’s still a massive journey to true equality.”

Inevitably, I have encountered homophobic hostilities, such as having a bag of trash launched at my head from a third storey balcony (It missed) and drive-by abuse being yelled as I emerged from a gay bar, although three years of drama training meant my hearty response of “CUUUUUUUUNNNNNNT” was far louder.

Because of this current climate of hate and hostility, I found myself wary of a group of lads larking about on the pavement ahead of me, whilst taking the dog for a late-night walk.

I crossed the road to avoid them, but as we drew level, one of the lads glanced over and made a point of drawing his mate’s attention to me.

“Hey,” he called, “how’s it going?”

He then used a name that could only mean one thing… and I beamed a relieved grin.

He was clearly an ex-pupil from a local primary school I had worked at a decade ago, where the kids gave me an endearing nickname.

“I’ll always remember you,” he continued. “You made us laugh.”

“Sorry, I don’t recognise you,” I replied, “but I assume you didn’t have that beard when you were eleven.”

I crossed back over the road, chatted with the group and felt better about the world.

It was all good… this time.

At point of writing, all responsible for those malicious assaults have been located, charged and are currently on bail awaiting trial.

Ironically, for their attack on the gay community, they’ll serve time in a facility where they’ll experience more gay sex than they could ever imagine… which gives me far more pleasure than I suspect it will give them.

Suck it up boys!

One Lump or Two?

I was in the bath, facing that middle-aged dilemma of how to keep my phone far enough away to be in focus, without submerging it in water.

I was warm, pink and relaxed… when I noticed something worrying.

One testicle seemed larger than its companion.

I’d been concerned for a while that there was something amiss. There appeared to be a hardening at the base of my right testicle, but I kept foolishly pushing that thought to the back of my mind.

As I was on a schedule to meet Ruru in town, I didn’t have time to dwell on the matter.

I dried, dressed and departed… but that niggling worry persisted.

Missing Bar was heaving.

We enjoyed the novelty of being allowed to stand at the bar again. I had forgotten just how busy bars were in life before Covid… or loud.

One of the gaybourhood’s prominent venue owners told me how, on the full reopening weekend, he asked for the volume to be turned down when testing the sound system, “I thought, surely it was never this loud before?”

“I considered bringing the dog tonight,” I confessed to Ru, having got used to taking her out while restrictions were in place.

“She’d have been squished!”

My bath time discovery was still bothering me, so I shared my concerns with Ruru.

Having nursing experience, he immediately offered to go to a toilet cubical with me and take a look.

“No one will believe that you are just giving me a check-up.”

Ruru just raised a dismissive eyebrow and headed to the gents.

I followed a few moments later.

Walking into the toilets, I was met with an unanticipated obstacle.

Ru was stood at the sinks, surrounded by a multitude of sprays, gels, perfumes and potions, being peddled for tips by the man on the stool (another aspect of pre-Covid life that I had forgotten about).

There was no way we were going to be able to slip into a cubicle unobserved.

This was going to prove more of a challenge than expected.

We returned to the bar to consider our options.

Equator was too compact, we decided. There was no way we would be able to head off to the toilets together without being noticed.

“I don’t even think there is a door on the men’s loo,” I recalled. “We are bound to be seen going in or out of a cubical.”

The Nightingale Club naturally charges for admission, but we didn’t want to pay for the privilege of using their facilities for a medical examination.

There was another popular village venue where nobody would blink an eye if we went into a toilet cubicle together, but they have so much through traffic that we would probably have to form an orderly queue.

Who’da thought it would be so difficult to find an empty cubical on the gay scene?

“We could go to The Fox,” I announced. The little gay bar with the big gay heart would possibly be suitable for our purposes.

We ordered our drinks and sat at a table in The Fox’s neat little beer garden, but before we could execute our plan, Ruru got distracted when he recognised a fellow TikTok performer and excitedly trotted over to introduce himself.

My medical examination would have to wait.

Ruru’s new buddy was a flamboyant reality TV wannabe.

He stood out in an arresting outfit of coordinated white trainers, jeans, shirt and brand sweater, an ensemble that matched his dazzling veneers and set off his salon tan of burnt sienna. He was decked in gold bracelets and a multitude of rings on every finger. There were even several rings displayed on a gold chain around this neck.

This was a man who didn’t believe in subtlety.

His gaudy look was topped off with a tightly permed mullet, dyed a few shades darker than, what I imagine was once, his nature hair colour.

This glitzy oddball was with a gentile older gentleman who basked in his companion’s radiance.

This odd couple were surprisingly pleasant company, so after several more drinks, we invited them to join us back at Missing.

Our mission, to afford Ruru a quick peek at my troublesome testicle, had been temporarily forgotten.

In Missing, I kept the older gent company, while Ru bounced off like Tigger to twirl about the dancefloor and ‘Mr. Burnt Siena’ performed extravagant drop splits at every opportunity.

I was thrilled to spot a lovely man that I had been introduced to on several occasions by a mutual friend. We greeted each other enthusiastically, delighted to hug after eighteen months of social distancing.

I made introductions between Ru and this friend of a friend, and was struck by how much they resembled each other, apart from the striking height difference. One towered over his diminutive doppelganger. It was like they were each other’s reflections in a funfair mirror.

Watching Ruru’s orange friend from The Fox drop into his umpteenth split, I thought, He is going to require medical attention if he keeps this up… which reminded me of my own potential health issue.

“I’m an idiot,” I told Ru, as I dragged him to the stairwell at the rear of the venue. “We were looking for discreet toilets, but the perfect option was here all along. There are toilets upstairs… that people hardly ever use.”

In the cubical, Ru adopted a totally professional, albeit tipsy, manner. He gave me the onceover and concluded that everything seemed in order, but to go see my GP all the same.

Only once the examination was concluded, did we collapse into fits of giggles. Suddenly, nothing seemed more ridiculous than being stood in a toilet cubical with my best mate, pants around my knees, with my right testical cupped in his left hand.

Matters weren’t helped by some twink and his female friend attempting a 90s dance classic in the next stall, whilst simultaneously discussing what drinks they were going to get their mate, Oscar, to buy once they returned to the bar.

I called over the partition, “How are you managing to perform The Macarena in such a small space? Oh, and if Oscar is buying, I’ll have a pint of Stella.”

The next evening, I booked an appointment on the NHS app.

By the time I woke, late the following morning, I had missed several calls and received an email trying to book me in for that afternoon.

I called the doctor back and he explained what an examination would entail and the signs to lookout for.

“Well, I am currently stood in my kitchen fondling myself,” I informed him, “and, to be honest, I can’t feel anything unusual. I hope I’m not wasting your time.”

“No, not at all. It is better to be sure,” he assured me.

The doctor then rambled on about some Olympic cyclist who had competed with undiagnosed testicular cancer. I assume this was his attempt to reassure me that a positive diagnosis would not mean a loss of virility or physical prowess, although I suspected I wouldn’t be competing in major cycling tournaments anytime soon… especially as I don’t own a bike.

The misconception that the loss of a testicle effects your masculinity is, quite frankly, a load of bollocks. Over the years, I’ve been with plenty of mono-testicled men that have all performed admirably.

On one memorable occasion in Budapest, I met a guy in a cruise bar who bore a striking resemblance to Miranda Hobbs’ cute husband Steve, from HBO’s Sex and the City, a character whose storyline saw him undergoing treatment for testicular cancer.

After going with him in a darkroom, I informed my partner, “That guy only had one ball, just like Steve.”

“Maybe it really is him,” he suggested.

“Only the character had surgery,” I tutted, “that would be taking method acting way too far.”

My professional examination established there was nothing of concern.

At no point was I made to feel uncomfortable nor alarmist. I was repeatedly told, if in any doubt, the best thing was to have it checked out.

Now I know what everything is meant to look and feel like at factory settings, I will be in a better position to spot any abnormality.

The boys of Brum can breathe a collective sigh of relief, everything is in working order and I’m out there… having a ball.

Birmingham’s Busiest Quiet Road

Previously published as four separate blogs, it is presented here as one compilation.

When we bought our little Victorian end terrace, ten minutes from bohemian Moseley and five minutes from the Balti Triangle, a neighbour greeted us with, “Welcome to Birmingham’s busiest quiet road.”

We never suspected how prophetic those words would prove to be.

It wasn’t long before the road started to show its vibrant colours.

Within weeks of moving in, we witnessed a dramatic raid on a house opposite, involving a dozen armed police. One particularly glamorous officer carried off her snug flack-jacket and utility belt with all the panache of Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker (If you are under the age of forty, Google it).

We enjoyed the antics of the Eastern European renters, who entertained themselves by regularly wrestling in the front bedroom in their underpants. The boyz considerately left the curtains wide open, almost although they knew they had appreciative gays ogling them from across the street.

Excitingly, a police chase came to an abrupt halt in the bay window of the corner house, when joyriders lost control and crashed through their garden wall, sadly, shattering the original Victorian road sign in the process. Just minutes later it could have been a tragedy, had the primary school at the end of the road dismissed for the day. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident… or again when the exact same thing happened several years later. If I lived in that house, I would consider moving.

There was also that time the hot Kurdish lad from the corner shop popped up on the national news… wanted for double homicide.

Oh… and the freak tornado that felled trees, toppled chimneys and ripped roofs from houses (I’m not making this up). One row of two-up two-downs lost their top floors entirely, rendering them a row of bungalows (or just two-downs). Fortunately, our road emerged relatively unscathed, but it was the last out neighbours saw of their patio furniture. Rumour has it that a man in the kiosk outside Kings Heath’s Iceland was transported though the air, like a Kanas farmhouse, and found himself deposited on the opposite side of the carpark.

Yet all this paled into insignificance when the street found itself at the centre of a sustained campaign of anti-LGBTQ protests.

Events began when a local property developer/slum landlord arranged a meeting with the headmistress of Anderton Park Primary, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkeson, to discuss the school’s progressive stance on inclusion.

He claimed to represent parental concerns that the school’s policy of tolerance and equality be extended to the LGBTQ community. Apparently, they objected to the school’s aim of fostering an environment where there were no outsiders and everyone was respected, including children from same-sex families. Believing it contrary to their religious beliefs, parents decided that they did not want their children to know that some of their friends may go home to a house where two men or two women shared a bedroom.

This self-proclaimed spokesperson stormed into the head’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself, “General of a war I intend to win,” and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face.

He was promptly asked to leave, and the poor mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.

This opportunistic agitator spread misinformation and incorrectly claimed that a gay lifestyle was being promoted at the school. He highjacked any legitimate parental concerns and aggressively exploited them for his own agenda of distrust and division.

The following week, he began to orchestrate demonstrations outside the school gates. Every weeknight, crowds would gather to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society they would or would not accept.

Protesters called for the Head’s resignation and chanted: “Our children, our choice”; “Let kids be kids”; “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”; and my personal favourite, “We will not tolerate intolerance”.

May I suggest that if you do not want your innocent children to know that some people have two mummies or two daddies, then don’t turn up outside their school and start shouting about it through a megaphone.

After several evenings of disruption, a group of likeminded residents decided to retaliate by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of our houses.

As I worked at Anderton Park School on a freelance basis, I had reservations about being seen to be heavily involved, but the morning our display of flags appeared, I strutted along the pavement, filled with pride, but determined to keep a low profile.

When I walked into the staffroom, it was a buzz with excitement about the sign of support from the street. I kept my head down and pretended to search for something in my bag.

Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room, “Have you seen what the residents have done? I pulled up in my car and just burst into tears.”

I kept up the pretence of searching my bag for that elusive item.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she continued. “I just want to thank them.”

I couldn’t contain myself any longer and, without glancing up, uttered a simple, “You’re welcome.”

It did not take long for news of my involvement in the subtle counter-protest to spread and by first break I had been summoned to see the Head.

I apprehensively entered her office, expecting a dressing down, but was instead greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a hug.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushed.

“Really? I thought that I was about to be given my marching orders.”

“We as a school couldn’t take a counter stand, but residents are free to take whatever action they want.”

“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” I admitted.

“Please, feel free to do interviews,” the deputy insisted. She indicated the headmistress, who was visible through the internal office window, deep in conversation on the phone, “Sarah has been doing interviews all morning. She’s currently talking to Gay Times.”

The headteacher of Anderton Park Primary School, is a dynamic, progressive woman, with her own striking style (imagine Grange Hill’s Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker) and a determined ally of the LGBTQ community, received daily threats for her progressive stance. This was not the first time she found herself the target of abuse having, several years earlier, been involved in exposing the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.

In retaliation, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates.

On a more positive note (although, quite frankly, anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog crucified at the entrance of a primary school), this beleaguered maverick was touched to receive an offer of support from a knight of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen. The movie star and gay activist had become her number one fan on Twitter (Gandalf reads her Tweets!) and got in contact.

Sarah and her husband were invited as honoured guests to Sir Ian’s 80th birthday party, along with the great and the gay.

“At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton,” Sarah told me in awe. “I was sat next to Frances Barber!”

At the end of the night Sir Ian stood up and told anecdotes, wandering amongst the tables recounting stories about his gathered friends.

“There is one person here whom I have never actually met in person, but admire greatly,” he said, indicating Sarah. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, Head of Anderton Park Scho…” but before he could complete the sentence, everyone in the room rose and gave her a standing ovation.

“I’m getting choked up,” I said to Sarah when she told me this.

“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing.”

As the night came to an end and the guests made to leave, Sir Ian found Sarah and offered, “If I can do anything to help your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.”

“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I reached for the tissues, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted!”

The evening after our rainbow flags appeared, every house on the road received a courtesy call from a police officer, enquiring about how the protests were impacting residents and offering support.

The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer an opinion on a dispute of this nature, but we all want to say… Well done! You could have organised your own protest, but that would have only escalated matters. What you did was far more effective. The display of flags totally undermined what they are doing.”

The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about that ‘General in a war’ behind the protests and his unscrupulous family, but I will not go into any more detail about what was said, as language like that would only make you blush.

Our flags full of pride had, temporarily, taken the wind out of their sails.

The protests peaked when over 300 people descended on the school, with demonstrators ferried in on coaches from other cities and religious leaders invited to deliver vitriolic sermons, which attracted worldwide media attention.

One friend commented, “I don’t need to talk to you to find out what is happening in your life anymore, I just turn on the evening news.”

While another friend in Australia, messaged to say she had just seen my house on a TV bulletin in Darwin!

This mass gathering coincided with the arrival of our flamboyant temporary lodger, who sashayed through the throng with all the attitude of Joan Collins entering a champagne soiree. He dragged his luggage along several streets, as the Uber driver was too intimidated by the crowds to drop him at the door.

At one point in the speeches, an Imam pointed at the school and libellously spat, “There are paedophiles in there! They have a paedophile agenda!” He went on to mock the LGBT community, “They are saying that men can love men… women can love women, well that’s OK I suppose, but bisexual?! Yoyoing back an’ forth!!!” His parting shot was to resort to the oft used accusation that the gays cannot breed, so are hellbent on ‘recruiting’ children. I didn’t realise that gay numbers were in decline and we are looking to swell the ranks.

I know that there are inspirational, inclusive, moderate Imams out there, but the jumped-up little Farage that organised this event didn’t invite any of them.

There was one fabulously camp Imam, in a bold gold turban, that the media made a beeline for.

“Ho-mo-sexuality?! It’s disgusting,” he exclaimed on camera, in a fey Yorkshire accent that put me in mind of Alan Bennett. “Two men together? It’s just not right! When I think of them ho-mo-sexuals kissing and fondling and touching… with their rippling muscles and their tight clinging t-shirts, it makes me blood boil! Oooooh, I can feel me blood surging even now. I’m positively throbbing with it!!!” (I may have paraphrased).

I stepped out to watch the circus but found myself engaged in a forthright discussion with one of the religious leaders, whose style of debating was to bark rapid questions, dismiss any responses and quickly switch to another subject.

An ever-growing crowd of his supporters encircled me as we talked, sneering and disparaging my comments.

“We are not homophobic people,” I was told, just as two men bellowed threats and gay slurs from their passing car.

Faced with a barrage of arguments and abuse, I calmly explained that I could only comment from my own personal experience.

“See,” the Imam announced in a mocking tone, “he can’t even answer my questions!”

“I can’t comment on every aspect of the gay community just because I am a gay man, any more than you can discuss every aspect of multifaith theology, just because you represent one religion,” … was what I would have replied had he not abruptly jumped to a whole new topic.

“It is a fact that there is a high proportion of mental health problems amongst the gay community,” the Imam snapped. “Is that because it is God’s punishment?”

“NO…” I furiously responded, before he could draw breath and charge into another aspect of the debate. I flung my arms out to indicate the sea of protestors, “It is because of things like this! There are children in that school that know they are different. Every day for the past six months they have been greeted at the school gates by members of their own family telling them that it is not OK to be themselves, that they will not be accepted by their community and that their parent’s love is not unconditional! THIS… HERE… NOW…. is why there is a high degree of mental health issues in the gay community!!!”

I had finally managed to get a word in and was determined to make the most of it, “Every person in this crowd has a member of the LGBTQ community in their family, but because of ignorance and intolerance it has to remain hidden. Everyone here will have a brother, sister, cousin, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, parent, or grandparent who is either L…G…B…T… or Q, but they are forced to live a lie. These protests are hurting your own families!”

This revelation clearly rattled the Imam, as he purposely turned the questioning to intimate aspects of my own sex life, so I made a decision to answer every question he asked me… in excruciating detail. I countered his inevitable opening gambit about how revolting he found the idea of anal sex, by explaining the practicalities of douching. It was a joy to watch his entourage squirm as they were compelled to listen, because their respected community leader had instigated the topic.

“It’s still disgusting,” I was told. “The anus is where excrement comes from!”

“The hole that you use is where a woman menstruates from,” I countered.

“We do not have sex with our wives during that period of the month.”

“It is also a region associated with urination… and we have already established that your wife doesn’t douche.”

“My wife is a clean woman!”

I had managed to turn the tables on him. This revered figure was now openly sharing intimate details and discussing his wife’s lady-parts in the street… with an audience!

“I hope that you return the favour by cleaning yourself thoroughly before your wife performs oral sex,” I said, with my most charming smile.

“My wife and I do not engage in that act!”

“Oh, I am sorry,” I offered sympathetically. “It sounds as though you have a very dull sex life. I hope, at the very least, she gives you a good tit-wank.”

With this parting shot, I departed.

Touché… should that be ‘douché’?

Won that battle, but open warfare was about to erupt on the road.

The months of protests had caused division in our diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the debate on LGBTQ inclusion.

Whilst relations between actual neighbours remained cordial, there had been several heated clashes with protestors from the wider area and any discussion with the lead agitator inevitably resulted in him engaging his standard tactic of aggressively dismissing any opinion that contradicted him.

His antagonistic approach to debate was clearly in evidence during a widely broadcast exchange between he and MP Jess Philips, where he shouted over her at length then immediately accused her of being hostile when she was forced to raise her voice to be heard.

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

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

Residents could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins, a reviled far-ring media parasite, turned up for a sneak photo opportunity on school grounds (Staff didn’t even know that she had been there until the images appeared on social media), but even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance, compared to the thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road. We didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit our windows.

My partner had stepped into our back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear familiar protest chants from the front of the house. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them.

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

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

There were shouts and screams coming from far end of the street, vehicles screeching into the cul-de-sac, and masked men were yelling insults and hurling eggs at the houses and cars of those that dared display the rainbow flag, while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spikey headed star of morning television) was observing events from a conveniently deniable distance.

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

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

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

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

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

He should turn on Grindr and see just how many gay profiles pop up within 200 meters. On our road alone, there are three openly gays men, one bi-curious individual, at least two possible closet cases, one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances that I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.

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

I stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

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

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

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

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

With heavy hearts, we took the flags down. They had done their job. No need to court more trouble.

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

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

One of those articles in the national press stated that the leader agitator blamed the LGBTQ group for the attacks that occurred on that Heluations evening, “They provocatively turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages,” he claimed.

No, the residents were not intimidated by ribbons, hearts and flags… it was the thirty masked cunts, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

Our neighbourhood was under siege for months, all because the local school dared acknowledge the existence of alternative lifestyles.

I saw this inclusive policy, that parent’s were so opposed to, in practice one afternoon in a year 6 class.

One form teacher had a routine of ending the school day by bringing up current news stories on the class’s interactive whiteboard, from an appropriate children’s news source.

On the occasion I witnessed, the stories were: The New Zealand Prime Minister’s response to the terrible attack on a mosque in Christchurch; and a same-sex marriage on Peppa Pig (a popular pre-school cartoon series), between two male aardvarks.

The children knew all about both news items and objectively chatted about them, as (ironically) protest chants drifted in through the open windows.

No child was scandalised: No child spontaneously developed gayness; The world did not end.

A class of children casually discussed topical issues, unencumbered by the veil of intolerance that shrouds their parents.

The Walk of Shame

I believe that sunrise is best seen at the end of a long and enjoyable night… not as a painfully early start to the day.

I love wandering home through the dawning city: drunkenness giving way to exhaustion; dark changing to grey then light; birds telling the world they’re awake; the first buses of the day rumbling by.

Shameful? I don’t think so! It makes me feel young.

In my younger days, I would return home from a night out via the direct route through Birmingham’s largest park, much to my mother’s consternation.

She would regularly berate, “I wish you wouldn’t walk through the park at night. You never know who might be in there!”

I would nod and make all the appropriate noises of contrition… then do the exact same thing the following weekend.

I had no intention of changing my habits. The route from pub to home through the park took 40 minutes, compared to double that had I gone the long way round, besides I always assumed that muggers were unlikely to lurk in deserted parkland when they would have far more chance of finding victims on busy thoroughfares.

I only encountered other people in that sizeable 2,400 acres on one memorable night. I was passing through one stretch of woodland that always gave me the heebie-jeebies. The canopy of trees was so dense that no ambient light could penetrate. I was plunged into total darkness in a black so dense that the only way I could tell that I was not straying from the path was the reassuring feel of tarmac beneath my feet.

A thick mist had risen from the many ponds and pools in the park and was hanging close to the ground, giving the already atmospheric environment a particularly creepy feel that night.

Suddenly, the path ahead was filled with unearthly light. Several towering silhouettes stretched elongated tendrils of blackness toward me. I stopped in my tracks, convinced I was having a close encounter of the third kind and was destined to be whisked away like Emma Samms in a Dynasty cliff-hanger.

It turned out to be night-time fishermen heading home, light from their powerful torches augmented by mist and casting distorted shadows.

That meeting in the woods turned out to be much ado about nothing, but my partner and I had an experience in the forests of Croatia that could have ended in toothy tragedy.

We were exploring the country by car and had stopped for the night in Plitvice Lakes National Park, a wilderness of wooded hills, waterfalls and crystal-clear lakes.

We found a friendly, puppy filled, homestay in a picturesque valley.

That evening, we walked the mile or so down a weaving lane to the only place to eat in the area, but at the conclusion of our meal, decided to slice 15 minutes off the return journey by taking a shortcut through the woods, so exited the establishment via the backdoor to access the path.

The woods were forebodingly dark, but we could just make out the track when our eyes adjusted to the gloom.

Once deep enough into the woods to be committed to that course of action, we became aware of the sound of moving foliage and the snap of detritus in the undergrowth. Something was moving alongside us.

I whimpered, “What is that?”

“It’s probably a squirrel,” my partner offered, unconvincingly.

“Squirrels don’t snap sticks with their paws!”

We both scrambled around in the dark to find something to defend ourselves with. My partner came up with a log so big that he could barely carry it and would struggle to swing in combat, while all I could find was a thin sapling that would barely swat a fly.

Fortunately, we spotted light up ahead and ran the last 100 yards to the road and safety.

Having no other options available, we returned to the same restaurant for breakfast. Pulling up in the carpark, we were horrified to see a huge sign, which we would have noticed the previous night, had we not emerged from the rear entrance. The sign featured an arresting image of a human skull with a big red cross through it and warned not to enter the woods during hours of darkness, because of the danger from wild cats, wolves, and bears… oh my!

“See,” I gulped, “I told you it wasn’t a bloody squirrel!”

Back on my more mundane walks home from Birmingham city centre, it is almost inevitable that some horny lad will cruise by in their car (especially if you know the side streets to loiter on).

They will pull up alongside and engage in an exchange that goes along the lines of:

“Hey man, whatcha up to?”

“Nothing, just wandering around. You?”

“Just drivin’ man. You been out tonight?”

“Yeah, to a few bars. What you been up to?”

“At a mate’s place… you know, chillin.”

Then there will be a few awkward moments, as they stare ahead trying not to make eye contact, as they invite you into their car without directly admitting what they are after.

One evening, I was picked up by a guy in a white van.

He found a suitably quiet place to park up and suggested, “We can get in the back of the van, as there’s more room.”

“Won’t it be dark?”

“Nah… There’s a light back there.”

When he opened the van’s rear doors, the space was filled with commercial sized sacks of onions, potatoes, rice and pulses, stacked one on top of each other.

“Sorry,” he apologised, “I had to do a Cash & Carry run for my uncle’s shop.”

We manged to climb in and make a bed amongst the lentils.

Afterwards, I asked, “So where is your uncle’s shop?”

He responded, defensively, “Why do you want to know?”

“Because I’ve seen what you do on the produce,” I told him, “And I never want to shop there!”

Several weeks back, I took full advantage of the first weekend of freedom after restrictions on hospitality were finally lifted and stayed out partying until gone 5am.

As I staggered home, I approached an area of warehouses and abattoirs, with their claggy stench of death. I became aware of a handsome Middle Eastern fella walking parallel with me on the other side of the street. Our paths crossed at the intersection, and he struck up a conversation, in limited and heavy accented English.

“Hello. You been out tonight?”

I told him that I had.

“Hurst Street?”

I acknowledged that was indeed where I had been.

“You like men?”

I told him that I did.

“You come with me? I have key.”

“Do you have a flat nearby?”

“No,” he replied. “Reception.”

Before I could ask for clarification, he trotted up a few steps to one of the many industrial units on the road, unlocked the doors and beckoned me in.

The reception space was sparse, littered with cardboard, but fit for our purposes.

Once our brief liaison was concluded, he casually offered, “I show you livestock?”

“Pardon… You show me what?”

He immediately threw open a nondescript door to reveal a vast warehouse of pens filled with hundreds of sheep.

They all turned simultaneously to silently stare at me with benign curiosity.

I surveyed this unexpected sight for a few bemused moments then the guy closed the door again and announced, “We go now.”

Sadly, my eyes were probably amongst the last things those ewes ever saw.

It made for a unique conclusion to a very long night.

When I relayed this tale to my partner the following morning, he asked, “How could you not know the sheep were there?”

“They didn’t make a sound,” I explained, “and that area of town always smells like a barnyard, so how was I to know I was having sex in a slaughterhouse?”

Thankfully, the animals I encountered on that urban walk home were less menacing than whatever stalked us through the woods of Croatia … unless one of them was only wearing sheep’s clothing.