Setting Out My Stall

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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.


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 few years earlier and unexpectedly bumped into again 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?

I DON’T KNOW YET, I replied, BUT I WILL BE OUT ON SATURDAY

I WAS WONDERING IF YOU WOULD BE MY PLUS ONE FOR AN EVENT AT THE LOFT… I WAS GOING TO ASK MY FLATMATE, BUT HE’S BUSY.

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.

Love in the Time of Corona

Birmingham promotes itself as ‘having more canals than Venice and more parks than Paris’ and both have certainly seen an increased footfall over the past sixteen months of pandemic and lockdowns. Cruising is back in fashion.

An old colleague claims to have been present at the meeting where this oft touted tagline about Brum was coined by a public relations hack, who apparently made it up on the spot. It turned out the line about parks was true (with Paris having 400 parks, compared to Birmingham’s 500) and Birmingham does technically have more miles of canal than Venice (which doesn’t have the same romantic ring to it). Unfortunately, while the canals of Venice are banked by ancient palaces, glisten beneath picturesque bridges and are filled with bobbing gondolas, Birmingham’s are surrounded by grim graffiti covered warehouses, fester in the murky shadows of Spaghetti Junction and team with trash and old supermarket trolleys.

No matter the reality of this PR statement, those canals and parks have been busy whilst the bars and club have been closed, as they are perfect locations for likeminded gentlemen to meet. The old beats and cruising haunts have been busier than they have in years. It’s been like the 1990s out there!


One popular park, situated just to the south of the city, was particularly busy during that initial sunny summer lockdown. I couldn’t stroll around without running into acquaintances from the scene. We gayly greeting each other with knowing smiles as we cruised well-trodden pathways beneath towering pine trees.

I got reacquainted with my old comrade Radomir; bumped into several faces from Boltz; had fun with a hulking guy I knew from the sauna, who always puts me in mind of an American football player; and caught up with one friend who was sooooo hungover that he could only sit sombrely (if not soberly) on a log, with a wan complexion that blended him, chameleon-like, into the foliage.

One elderly gentleman, whom I vaguely recognised from Equator Bar (and resembled Patrick Stewart), dropped his pants upon seeing me and politely asked, “Would you like this?”

“No, thank you,” I replied, “but it was very kind of you to ask.”


I was intrigued one afternoon to find a portly chap stood in my path, wearing nothing but a toweline robe and a pair of immaculately white trainers.

He took a drag of his cigarette and greeted me with a casual, “Hello”, as though we had both simultaneously stepped out onto adjacent balconies at a compact holiday complex.

How he kept those trainers so pristine and the whereabouts of his other clothes are still a mystery.


I got to recognise the regulars, such as: the three old boys who hung out on a sunny tuffet, like something from a gay Last of the Summer Wine; the disturbed stoner who alternated between an improvised routine of moves that vaguely resembled tai chi or smacking the living Hell out of a tree truck with a staff (people tended to give him a wide berth); and a bad trannie on a bike.

Although a fallow period, compared to pre-Covid promiscuity, I enjoyed hooking up with several new people: There was a handsome Moroccan, who valiantly attempted to persuade me to bottom on each and every encounter… with no success; a Pakistani in full flowing kameez, sporting a meticulously shaved triangle around his crotch, on an otherwise hirsute body; and a dog walker who took advantage of his professional trips to the park to get some unprofessional job satisfaction… Taking the dog dogging.

I met the latter fella one day, while he was out exercising a massive mastiff. The dog was lovely, but overly curious and was determined to get a good sniff, no matter how many times he was gently pushed away. It’s large rugby ball shaped head, short beige hair and large eyes reminded of Zippy from Rainbow, complete with an unfeasibly wide mouth, which I really didn’t trust in such close proximity to my soft delicates.  


There is a L-shaped stretch of canal, accessed via an entrance in a Digbeth backstreet, that has always been a popular hunting ground. It has a strip of secluded greenery, teetering perilously on a sheer drop to the pitiful trickle of the River Rea, which always makes my legs feel funny if I venture too close to the edge, and a long dark tunnel in which to loiter with intent.

The tunnel offers a surprisingly safe place to make out, as it affords views of the towpath in both directions. The contrast in light and dark, means that the eyes of anyone walking towards the tunnel cannot adjust quickly enough to penetrate the gloom, but those within the darkness can clearly see anyone approaching…. and correct their attire accordingly.


One afternoon, when I arrived at the canal, there were two guys stood wide apart on the bridge, trying to look inconspicuous, as though standing on a drab stretch of Birmingham canal for no apparent reason was a perfectly normal way of spending your time. One was a handsome black lad with a stunning physique, while the other was a grotesque of long greasy hair, doughy face and simultaneously exposed bulbous belly and massive arse-crack.

I was delighted when the handsome lad immediately flashed a smile and vanished down into the greenery, glancing back to indicate I should follow. Like I needed encouragement!

I mentally punched the air and performed a happy dance in my head, but externally maintained a cool demeanour. It is never good to look too grateful in these circumstances.

As I moved to follow, I passed Doughface, who pointedly let out a disgruntled huff, clearly disappointed that he hadn’t been the recipient of that flirty smile and nonverbal invite into the trees.

I had barely begun to explore that fabulous body when Doughface turned up, pushing his pedal bike through the bushes, and just stood there watching with a dull scowl.

“Thorry mate,” said the lad, with a subtle lisp, which only made him more attractive “but could you give us some privithy?”

“No,” snapped Doughface, sulkily. “You were interested in me until this guy turned up,” he said, nodding in my direction, “and cockblocked me”

“Did what?” I asked, having never heard the term before.

“Cock-blocked,” he repeated, with emphasis. “You are a cockblocker!!!”

I just laughed and suggested to the lad that we find somewhere else to go.

“I didn’t give him any indication that I was interested in him and never would have done,” the lad told me as we headed back onto the towpath.

Unfortunately, everywhere we went, Doughface followed.

We tried the bridge tunnel and a few other secluded spots, but he trailed with his bike, cursing me and mumbling about cockblockery.

Finally, the lad lost patience and told him to, “Fuck off!!!”

“No,” Doughface harrumphed, “I’m going have you.”

In all my years on the scene, I have never encountered such a vile and sexually aggressive attitude and snapped, “You are out of order, Shrek!”

“This is freakin’ me out, sorry,” the lad apologised. “I’m going to have to go.”  

I offered to walk with him, in case Doughface persisted in following, although why I thought someone built like the proverbial brick dunny would require my protection is beyond me.

“No, I’ll be fine,” he assured me. “If he tries anything I’ll punch him.”

“Don’t do that,” I advised him, adding the cliché, “he’s not worth it.” I thought for a moment, looking Doughface up and down, and suggested, “but you could chuck his bike in the canal.”

We said goodbyes, expressing hope of meeting again sometime, then headed off in opposite directions.

Doughface mounted his bike, revealing even more of that cavernous butt-crack and rode away, sneering one last dig at me as he departed, “Beaten by an old man with a handbag!”

I retorted, indignantly, “Do you mind?!! I’m middle-aged… and it’s a satchel!”

Sadly, I’ve not seen the buff boy with the cute lisp again.


These trips to the park and canals were a rare lockdown treat, compared to my level of pre-covid promiscuity. There were points during that first six months of the pandemic where it felt like I had been castrated.

When asked by a work colleague, “What is the first think you are going to do when all restrictions are lifted?”

I automatically replied, “The entire Moseley rugby team.”


The worldwide pandemic presented obstacles to carnal encounters, but you can’t keep a good man down. The gays rapidly adapted and found canal relief.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

My Mother’s Son?

There is a widely touted myth that gay sons develop a close bond with their mothers.

An ex-boss so believed this that she desperately wanted her son (and only child) to be gay, so they could, in her words; “Go shopping and attend the theatre together.”

It got to the point where, as a young man, he had to sit his mother down and come out as NOT gay.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” he told her. “but I’m straight.”

“Maybe it’s just a phase you are going through,” she suggested. “Have you tried being with a man.”

“No. I’m sorry, but I like woman.”

“I understand,” she conceded solemnly, “and I will still love you, no matter what you are.”


My relationship with my own mother is strained… to say the least.

To put it bluntly, I think she is an unpleasant paragon of suburban prejudice, pretention and hypocrisy, with strong opinions and a sharp tongue (Imagine a combination of Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life and Hyacinth Bucket (Booooouquet) from Keeping Up Appearances, but without their wit or one-liners). For the sake of harmony, I keep these opinions to myself and maintain the thin facade of caring son.

Despite a lifetime of railing against my rearing, elements of my mother’s personality do inevitably manifest, not as bigotry and bile, but as pompous bloody-mindedness.

I endeavour to channel my more bolshy genetic traits in positive directions: I am a wiz at securing refunds from retail outlets and dealing with errant utility suppliers and I have left many a customer services manager with shaken timbre after encountering my unyielding stance that every issue can be resolved to my satisfaction.

I once explained to a New Street Station official how I had left my return ticket in the toilets at Wolverhampton, whist having a poop, and being a frequent passenger, would know better than traveling without a valid ticket.

“I believe you,” he admitted, but resolutely insisted that I still had to pay the fine, as that was the rule.

I disagreed with his stance and asked, “If policies are so intransigent, then why employ managers to make decisions?”

“Good point,” he conceded… and let me through.


My bullishness does mean our small Birmingham backstreet is litter free.

When my partner and I moved in, I got so frustrated by the amount of litter dropped by pupils from the local school and drifting in from the nearby Balti Triangle, that I became a vigilante litter picker.

Initially, I cleaned the street under cover of darkness, as I felt self-conscious about being a local busy body.

One evening though, I was caught in the act by an elderly Pakistani neighbour.

He pointed at the binbag in my hand and, in faltering English, told me, “You… good neighbour.”

From that moment, I became an out and proud litter picker at large.

A family over the road even bought their own litter picker sticks and would join me on weekend mornings.

I returned home one evening to find a card on the doorstep from the school, thanking me for my community spirt, along with a family box of wine gums. How they knew these were my all-time favourite confectionary, I have no idea.

Unfortunately, the school let themselves down, when hundreds of letters failed to make it home to parents as intended but were instead strewn far and wide.

I picked up every scrap, filling several binbags, which I tied to the school gates with a note, written in red pen, ‘POOR EFFORT. MUST TRY HARDER. D- ‘.

I subsequently invoiced Birmingham City Council for maintaining the neighbourhood.

The council responded, predicably stating they do not pay for unsolicited services… but I had made my point.


On another occasion, a secondary school pupil provoked me when he spouted homophobic insults on my morning bus ride into Birmingham city centre (Not specifically at me, but in an obnoxious manner, to the whole bus).

He was remonstrated by a couple of passengers, which only resulted in a further tirade.

I don’t usually keep quiet in the face of homophobia (as the guy who delivered a drive-by insult outside Missing one evening discovered. Three years of drama training meant my response of “CUUUUUUUNT!” was far louder), but on this occasion I decided to remain silent and pursue a different course.

When he got off in Digbeth, beating aggressively on the bus windows from the outside, I also disembarked and followed him. It did occur to me that pursuing a schoolboy across the city in the early hours could be misconstrued, but I hoped to follow him to his school and report his behaviour to a senior teacher.

Unfortunately, he boarded another bus at a stop further up the high street.

As I had already made myself late for work with my impromptu crusade, I abandoned the chase, but made a mental note of the bus number.

That evening, I conducted a little research online and then set about methodically telephoning every secondary school on that bus’s route.

The majority of schools were sympathetic, but one severe receptionist, of the type schools and medical practices favour, scoffed, “We have almost three thousand pupils at this school. How are we supposed to identify one child from a description?!”

I politely explained, “I know your school’s demographic. This particular boy will stand out… as he is white.”

There was a brief pause, while she nibbled humble pie, then the subdued receptionist admitted, “Ah, well yes, that is unusual in this school.”

I proceeded to give a full description, “He is overweight, although more chubby than fat. He has mousey brown hair, a dull face and thick rimmed retro style glasses that would look funky on somebody more attractive. The most distinctive thing about him was his coat. He was wearing a mustard-coloured anorak, not Colman’s mustard though,” I clarified, “more like those cheap brands you get in Lidl.”

He would have stood out like a chubby sore thumb.

Each school got back to me with their progress over the next few days.

None admitted to a positive identification, but all promised to pursue the matter, and several said they would bring the incident up in no uncertain terms in assembly that week. By this point the red mist had dissipated and I let the matter go. I just hope one podgy pupil in a school off Coventry Road, unexpectedly learned actions have consequences.


My finest hour came in a local supermarket.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon, but inexplicably only the self-checkouts were open, which is fine when you have a limited number of items to scan, but impractical when dealing with a large trolly load, a comment that was curtly dismissed by the member of staff I mentioned this to.

I felt my hackles rise.

After several failed scans, a prolonged proof of age verification and unregistered discounts, I had had enough.

“Right, this is ridiculous,” I fumed, sweeping items back into our trolly.

I stormed around to one of the abandoned checkouts and started to pile it high.

Using that drama training, I projected, “AISLE THREE IS NOW OPEN, AISLE THREE IS OPEN!”

A queue immediately formed behind me and within moments a harassed looking young woman dashed over and took up position behind the till.

I was politeness itself to the shop assistant, aware that none of this was her fault and thanked her profusely as we bagged up.

“Thank Christ that worked,” I remarked to my partner as we left. “If it hadn’t, I would have looked a right twat pulling everything back in the trolley.”


It is said, ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’… you should try a mildly inconvenienced homosexual.

Passing Comments

Sometimes you overhear wonderful snippets of conversation in passing.


I heard a heart-warming conversation between a mother and son, who were sat behind me on the bus.

“I really want a pair,” the young lad implored his mother.

“I’m just not sure,” she replied hesitantly.

“But I would LOVE a pair of sparkly shoes,” the son insisted.

“You need to be a strong person to wear shoes like that,” the mother explained. “Some people may not understand and could laugh at you.”

“But I just really like them,” he persevered. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

Without missing a beat, mum-of-the-year replied, “Well then, let’s go get you a pair of sparkly shoes.”

A scene from a real-life Everyone’s Talking About Jamie… performed atop a double-decker.


You overhear bona banter on the gay scene.

One December, I had finished a spot of Christmas shopping in Birmingham city centre and headed to Hurst Street for a pint. As I strolled by two guys, I caught the tail end of their conversation, “… he didn’t realise that he’d bought the wrong calendar and spent three days eating dog chocolates.”

It sounded like a line Rita would say about Norris from Corrie.

On another occasion, a barman in the gay village greeted a regular customer by indicating a stack of condoms at the door and saying, “Hey mate, we’ve got your size in. You should grab a load, we don’t get XXL very often.”

It is one thing the bar staff knowing your usual tipple, I thought, but another matter them knowing your size of condom!

Unsurprisingly, the customer was unconcerned about his personals being broadcast across the bar, as it pays to advertise, and cockily responded, “Actually, they are a bit too big.”

The barman was taken aback, “Really? Even for you?!”

The customer was adamant, “Yes, I popped one on the other day and looked like a kid in his dad’s wellies.”


One evening, I was waiting for a friend in a pub near Snow Hill Station and couldn’t help listening to a ridiculous conversation between a couple of larrikins, who were several pints into their post-work drinking session.

“You know I love you like a brother,” one of the lads gushed, “don’t you?”

“Yeah mate, me too. I’d do anything for you,” the friend reciprocated.

“Anything… really?”

“Yeah, anything!”

“Soooooo…,” mused the first lad, “if I had been kidnapped and the only way to get me released was to fuck a guy… would you?”

“No way!”

“But you just said you would do anything for me.”

“Not that!”

“Even if my life depended on it?”

“Still no.”

“All you have to do to save me is fuck a guy, but you still wouldn’t do it?”

“No!”

Trying a different track, the first lad asked, “How about my mom? Would you fuck my mom to save my life?”

“Oh yeah,” the friend enthused. “Your mom is fit!”

Undeterred, the lad persisted with his hypothetical hostage scenario, “You still wouldn’t fuck a guy to save my life? I have known you since primary school. You are my best mate. All you have to do, to save me from being brutally murdered… and probably tortured…, would be fuck one guy. I am really hurt that you wouldn’t do it.” He looked genuinely crestfallen.

“Ok… ok,” his potential saviour finally conceded, “if it were absolutely the only possible way of saving your life, I’d do it…., but only for you.”

First lad smugly raised his half empty pint and gave a victorious snort of mocking laughter, “Ha… you’d fuck guy!”

At my own table, I drank a silent toast to Beavis and Butthead of Brum and an expertly executed entrapment.


I experienced being listened to by a good-natured eavesdropper on one occasion, whilst telling the story a good friend’s husband told me about his first prostate examination.

It was during the period the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was undergoing its re-build and consultations were relegated to temporary cabins. The husband had watched in mounting trepidation as the doctor donned a glove and applied lube to his finger. When the doctor inserted his digit, he let out a shrill scream and his leg shot out in an involuntary spasm, kicking a gaping hole in the plasterboard wall.

When I reached the conclusion of my tale and dropped the punchline, “At which point he ejaculated,” I noticed the guy at the next table failing to disguise his amusement, so turned and welcomed him into our conversation.

“You have got to love a straight guy who is confident enough to tell this story in mixed company,” I said. “He told us that he didn’t know if he was dreading next year’s examination… or looking forward to it!”


In the words of the late, great, Victoria Wood, “Keep your trap shut and your lugholes open, and you can pick up some very interesting conversations,” … especially if you happen to be sat in the right spot in the gaybourhood.