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.

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.

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.

Two Guys, One Pup

We unexpectedly acquired a puppy at the end of last year.

This adorable nightmare of energy and attitude is a stark contrast to our previous dog, which mellowed into serene dotage before sadly passing away several years ago.

We are now back to being tugged along the pavement in all weather; paw prints on the kitchen floor/furniture/walls; chewed possessions; lost socks; dead grass; and the constant chorus of, “NO!… DOWN!!… OFF!!!”

It is all so exhausting! I can’t remember the last dog being this much work, but that may have something to do with the fact I am twenty years older than when we last had a young dog in the house… but let’s not dwell on that.


This Tasmanian Devil in our lives has been introduced to several of her predecessor’s favourite walking haunts.

In Moseley Private Park, a formidable Barbara Woodhouse type (80’s TV dog trainer), garbed in sensible tweed, inquired, “Is it a bitch?”

“She’s a bit naughty sometimes,” I replied, “but I wouldn’t go that far.”

The woman conceded a thin smile then swiftly changed the subject to the horrors of teething.

“We have been quite lucky with the chewing,” I told her, “but my arms are covered in marks.” I pulled up my sleeves to reveal red welts and scratches, “I look like I’ve been self-abusing.”

“I think you mean ‘self-harming’,” the woman corrected me, in the curt tone of a tolerant schoolmarm.

It was not until we bid goodbye and moved on, that I realised my faux pas and felt my cheeks flush.

On another occasion, in a Kings Heath park, renowned for cruising, I was innocently walking the dog (yes really!), when a patrolling police officer called out, “Hello, beautiful.”

I cheekily responded, “Hi, handsome.”

I knew full well he was addressing the dog, but I could live in hope.

I wanted to add, “I know this park’s reputation, but never expected to be hit on by a copper,” but wisely chose to keep that comment to myself.


The pup is yet to accompany me to any of Birmingham’s cruising grounds, where the old dog was my regular wingman.

Old Dog seemed to understand the concept of privacy and would discreetly vanish off to investigate the surrounding shrubbery, should I hook-up with anyone.

On one occasion, I meet a student on his way to or from Birmingham University. Old Dog gave him a once over with her nose, to ascertain his suitability, then trotted off into the bushes… as did we. She circled around us, exploring the undergrowth and unearthing rocks to chase, returning sporadically to check-in on our progress.

Unfortunately, Old Dog reappeared at an inopportune moment, bursting between my acquaintance’s legs just at the trembling conclusion of our alfresco encounter (She did something similar to Tenko’s Louise Jameson, but in very different circumstances). The guy reached the top of his ladder… and fell off, cascading onto her head.

The poor lad was mortified.

“Don’t worry, It’s nothing a shampoo won’t rectify,” I assured him… before heading home, with the dog resembling Cameron Diaz in that scene from There’s Something About Mary.


After that experience with Old Dog, the little Devil is unlikely to join me at the cruising beats, but we did introduce her to Birmingham’s gay village one Sunday afternoon.

A member of staff at one Hurst Street pub, delivered drinks to our table, then dropped to her haunches to fuss the pup, which immediately delved, nose first, under the hem of her apron.

With innate nonchalance and dignity, she arched an eyebrow and cooed, “You could at least buy me a drink first.”

Another member of staff, wearing unseasonably short shorts, was depositing a round of drinks at a neighbouring table, when the pup leaned over, from her spot on my lap, and licked his smooth toned thigh.

The barman turned to find myself and pup sat there with matching hound-dog expressions.

“It was her,” I snitched, pointing at the culprit.

“I take it where I can get it.”

If there were a prize for deadpan banter, the staff at Missing would win hands down.


Down at The Village Inn, the dog was inundated with attention from inebriated admirers, although I had to repeatedly remind people that tickling fingers make tempting treats to a six-month-old puppy.

She met her first drag queen, but the real highlight was an encounter with a human pup of indeterminable gender, decked out in full rubber suit, collar, chain and leather mask.

“This is too good a photo opportunity to ignore,” I commented to my partner.

Our pup was besotted, boisterously scrambling all over this fascinating new character, trying to investigate under the mask. I pulled her away when she got too enthusiastic.

“It’s okay,” the human pup assured me, “I’m a dog person.”

“Well, it would be ironic if you weren’t.”

We chatted for a while and posed for photos.

“Thank you for talking to me,” this sweet, but socially awkward, pup said. “People can be nasty when I’m dressed like this. This is my favourite outfit and people are really mean when I wear it to the supermarket.”

I am automatically drawn to the most oddball characters in any situation but can understand how this leather clad hound might turn heads in Sainsburys.

The bar manager came over to remind human pup to maintain social distancing, “You have to stay seated.”

“Sorry, it’s my fault,” I explained, then snapped my hand to my shoulder and instructed, “SIT,” in the manner of, (aforementioned) Barbara Woodhouse.

He did.

The manager gave me a sidewise smirk, “Erm… harsh… but that worked!”

“Know your audience.”


Our dog day afternoon on the gay scene was a success… and there have been several since. The pup is destined to become a regular scene queen. She is a canine fag hag in training.

Feel free to come and say hello if you spot us out there… but watch those fingers.

Shut Up and Sign, Ginger!

May bank holiday weekend is traditionally when Birmingham city centre becomes one big party celebrating Pride, but this year organisers have made the wise decision to reschedule the festivities to September.

Under normal circumstances: drag queens would be donning teased wigs and sequins; Sonia would be ironing a frock in preparation for her annual trip out of the care home; pubs and bars would be stocked up, marquees and stages erected, rainbow bunting hung and banners unfurled outside each venue, promoting their line-up of entertainment.

Several years back, one such banner, hanging across the front of Eden, caught my attention, as it advertised actress/singer/dancer Bonnie Langford as headlining Saturday night.

I have got to know Bonnie a little from working with her on various personal appearances, so popped into the pub to find out details.

Eden’s matriarch, Maura, was behind the bar.

I inquired, “What time is Bonnie Langford appearing on stage?”

“Around eleven, I t’ink,” she told me.

“In the morning?”

Maura gave me that look Dorothy from The Golden Girls reserves for Rose when she says something particularly dumb, while I performed a mental facepalm.

“I’m sorry, of course she’s not going to be performing at eleven am,” I apologised, shamefully. They were hardly going to book her for breakfast cabaret.

I turned and headed for the door, feeling Maura’s pitying stare on the back of my neck as I skulked out.


Bonnie Langford, a veteran performer in her mid-50s, has suffered from the enduring stigma of all-singing/all-dancing stage-school starlet, an image seared on the nation’s consciousness by her childhood role in Just William, as precocious Violet Elizabeth Bott and her exuberant ‘teeth, tap and curls’ appearances on countless light entertainment productions in the 70s and 80s, but this is far removed from the grounded professional I have encountered.

Once, on stage with a colleague of mine, she modestly described herself as, “Just… an old turn.”

Deciding to conclude Bonnie’s appearance using her own words, but having misheard, this colleague announced, “Please put your hands together for ‘an old tart’…”

His face was a picture when, after waiting for the applause to subside, she politely explained that wasn’t actually what she had said.

In recent years, the public perception of Bonnie Langford has undergone a transformation, due to her portrayal of Carmel Kazemi on, BBC soap opera, EastEnders. A central storyline saw her character lose a son to knife crime, earning Bonnie the Best Newcomer gong at the British Soap Awards in 2016, an ironic victory for an ‘old pro’ of stage and screen who has been performing since the age of three. It only took fifty year to become an overnight success.


Back at Eden’s Canopied cabaret, Bonnie burst onto stage to an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd of inebriated Pride revellers and belted out a medley of show tunes and camp pop classics, closing with a remix of I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper, including soundbites from her time on Doctor Who, much to the delight of, the surprisingly numerous, sci-fi fans in the crowd.

I got to catch up with Bonnie afterwards.

As we chatted, several people approached for selfies and autographs, which prompted me to ask, “After your appearance on The Catherine Tate Show (where closet case, Derek Faye, inevitably gives her one of his infamous rants after she casually mentioned that she has many “gay fans”) has anyone at the stage door had the audacity to tell you to ‘Shut up and sign, Ginger!’ (A quote from the conclusion of the sketch)?”

“No, not that,” she laughed, “but there was this one young man at a train station…”

Bonnie went on to tell me how, when she had asked the booking clerk for a ticket, he responded, “Who, dear? Me, dear? Gay, dear?”

She didn’t pick up on the reference to Catherine Tate’s character and went into a panic, spluttering, “B…b…but, I didn’t say you were gay.”

“He just kept it going,” Bonnie told me. “It was awful. I felt myself go all hot and cold at the same time. All I could think was, How has this happened, I only asked for a return to Nottingham?!

She explained, “You film these things so far in advance and never know when they are going to be shown. It wasn’t until he said, “How very daaaaare you?”, that the penny finally dropped, and I felt a wave of relief. Apparently, the episode had been broadcast the night before.”


Several months later, I was working with Bonnie again in a church hall in West London (The glamour of showbiz!). She walked into the kitchen where I was washing mugs, so I cheekily nodded at the tea towel and suggested, “I’ll wash, you dry.”

“I don’t do dishes at home,” she replied, “I’m not starting here.”

I mentioned her appearance at Birmingham Pride.

“What an insane night that was,” she recalled. “I finished a show in the West End, jumped in the car, drove up to Birmingham, where I practically stepped straight onto stage, performed this gig for a fabulous crowd that had been drinking all day, caught my breath, then got back in the car and drove home. I just sat behind the wheel, driving down the M1, thinking, Did that really just happen?”     

Well, yes it did… and a ‘bonnie’ wee night was had by all.

Come back to Brum soon. X


I am looking forward to learning what old turns will be performing at this year’s Birmingham Pride… and old tarts for that matter. I am sure there will be plenty of both.

Hearts Broken

I had an inkling something was amiss when Ru went silent on social media (there was a noticeable absence of daft TikTok videos and cute photos, which he ‘might delete later’), but it wasn’t until he sent me a desperate plea that I learned of the circumstances he was in.


I was on lunch, about to tuck into a mishmash of leftovers, when I got a message:

‘I’m about to end my life, I can’t go on any longer at all I promise you I’m not lying… I can’t do it anymore. I’ve never been so desperate.’

It transpired that an estranged relative suspected Ru was gay (a big no-no in his close-knit community… well, at least that’s what they tell the wives). He was threatening Ru and his immediate family and demanding money, to the tune of ten thousand pounds.

The threats and extortion had been going on for weeks before Ru reached out for help, by which time he had already parted with over a grand.

A flurry of messages were exchanged that lunchtime:

“You have to go to the police.”

“No, I won’t. That would put my family at risk.”

“Don’t pay him anymore. He will just see you as a victim and it will never end.”

“I have to pay what I can, otherwise he will kill me and harm my family.”

“The only choice you have is to go to the police.”

“No, I don’t want to.”

“Who have you told about this?”

“Nobody! I have no one.”

“You need to tell your family. You are out to your parents and sisters already, so you can tell them what is happening.”

“No, I can’t. I don’t want them involved. I don’t want them to live in fear like I am.”

“They are going to have to be told!”

The last text I got, before he had to drag himself into work, was, “I give up… I just can’t live like this.”

I had lost my appetite.


We were in constant contact for the rest of the week, with me repeatedly drip-drip-drip-feeding him the advice about payments, parents and police. Thankfully, he did suspend payments, but the other two points were a work in progress.


I felt out of my depth, so called the police adviceline.

The woman on the other end of the phone informed me, “Although we will log this call, a case would have to be opened before the police could take matters further. You can do that on your friend’s behalf, and we could send officers around to investigate.”

“I’m sorry, but at this point I can’t break his confidence,” I explained, “but if things get worse,” my voice cracked, “I am prepared to lose a friend.”

With genuine sympathy, she told me, “I understand, we are here to help.”

“With all respect, it took over forty-five minutes to get through to you. If I had been someone less determined or in difficult circumstances, I would have given up and put the phone down.”

She gave me a direct line to circumvent the queuing system.


After the weekend, I was relieved to hear Ru confided in his sister. She was concerned that he was noticeably troubled and not eating, so challenged him… and it had all come spilling out.

With his sister’s support, he stood up to the extortion and refused to pay any more money.

“I know you haven’t been able to keep a record of the threats (*Apparently, the other party knows if you take a screenshot of conversations on Snapchat… or something.), but now your sister is involved, you can use her phone to take photos of your screen for WHEN you go to the police,” I suggested.

“I’ve got two phones,” Ru responded. “I can do that anyway.”

“Then why the Hell haven’t you been doing it all along… YOU MUPPET?!!!”


Things seemed to be getting better, but then I received a phone call, as I boarded the evening train after work.

The threats had suddenly escalated. Ru was afraid to return home.

“Where are you now?”

“I’m at work.”

“Then get in a taxi and come to our house,” I told him. “You can sleep on the sofa tonight and then we can sort out the spare room.”

“I can’t just leave,” he replied.

“Ru, you are in no fit state to be at work.” I could hear the distress in his voice., “Speak to your manager and tell them what is going on.”

“I can’t! There is no manager here.”

I realised that there was no point pursuing this, “Okay, just promise me you will come straight to ours when your shift ends.”

There was a long pause, where I could hear him crying on the other end of the phone, then he feebly consented, “…Okay.”

I messaged my partner to inform him of our impending houseguest.


When he arrived at our house, he was broken.

Ru looked grey and gaunt.

Those beautiful eyes, usually shining with sass and mischief, were dull and bloodshot.

The boy had lost the hearts from his eyes… and I was heartbroken.

Without saying a word, he crumpled, trembling, into the sofa and began to weep.

All we could do was offer support and safe haven.

Having not eaten in days, I hoped to tempt him with freshly baked peanut butter cookies, but even these failed to entice.

As the evening progressed, he visibly calmed, until finally slumbering on the sofa, swaddled from head to toe in a blanket. It was impossible to work out which end was which, putting me in mind of a silly joke about how to determine which end is a worm’s head… Tickle it in the middle and see which end laughs.


The next morning, my partner came downstairs to find Ru with a glimmer of his usual sparkle and on the phone to the police. One night of respite was all he had needed to muster the resolve to fight back… but he still stayed, a welcome guest, for three weeks.

He rapidly became his old self: daft as a brush, feisty after three beers and back on TikTok (sorry everyone). He gasped with such gay abandon when Cher appeared on a music channel one evening, that I told him, “I’m going to message that relative of yours and tell him to demand an extra two grand just for being soooooo gay.”


We gave Ru a key and he became one of the family, even inviting him to pee in the compost, a privilege only afforded our closest friends, but the offer was greeted with the same look of disgust I assume you are now wearing. Hey, the ammonia in urine helps the composing process. Stop judging me!


One drizzly Sunday, Ru and I went on an extended dog walk.

A six-month-old puppy attracts attention, and it is obligatory for every puppy owner to welcome all who wish to indulge in a spot of therapeutic petting. With each successive stop, chat and tickle, Ru and I found ourselves more adept at succinctly covering the standard topics of housetraining and the horrors of teething, deftly alternating lines and finishing each other’s sentences.

“You do realise that everyone thinks we are a couple,” I told Ru, after the dozenth or so encounter, “and they are all thinking that you are punching way above your weight.”

This comment was greeted with an exaggerated eyeroll and a dismissive, “Oh Pleeeease… I don’t think so!”

When I repeated my comment to my partner, upon returning home, he quipped, “They were more likely thinking he must be costing his sugar daddy a fortune.”

Ru wholeheartedly agreed.

I hate them both.


Involving the police put pay to the threats and extortion, without even having to press charges. After several weeks, Ru felt confident enough to return to his parent’s home.

“If he was going to do anything, he would have done so by now,” he reasoned.

On his final night, we barbequed and had a fire in the garden.

“It has been great having you here,” I told him fondly. “You have lifted the tedium of lockdown. It has been refreshing to have someone else here, thank you.”

“No,… thank you,” he replied. “If it wasn’t for you guys taking me in, I don’t think I could have got through this. I’d have done something to myself. I wouldn’t be here right now.”

He stepped out of the flickering light of the firepit, and I heard a tell-tale tinkle in the shadows.

“Are you peeing in the compost?”

“LOOK WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO ME!!!”


The next morning, he loaded his bags into a taxi and headed off.

We had taken him in, patched him up and now it was time to release him back into the wild. We done good.

“I’m going to suffer Empty Nest Syndrome,” I commented to my partner, as we waved him off.

“He’ll be back in a few weeks with his laundry,” he replied.


On that awful night when he first came to us, a sad shadow of himself, I got an indication that he was going to be alright when he managed a weak smile and said, “You are going to write about this in your blog, aren’t you?”

“Well, it has crossed my mind,” I confessed, “but I thought, Too soon?”


Now, with his consent and consultation, it is the right time to tell his tale.

He still has a key to our house… and hearts. X

Most Important Meal Of The Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The perfect Breakfast Bonnie to my Cornflake Clyde.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“What time did the alarm go off?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A work in progress.

God Save The Queen

The Victoria is a beautiful 19th Century pub which stands proudly on the corner of John Bright Street, beneath the mezzanine that connects the two halves, old and new, of The Alexandra Theatre.

There are so many reasons to love this pub, from its elegant exterior, curving around the bend of the road, to the funky murals that adorn the walls the back bar. A bust of Queen Victoria sits on the internal canopy above the now superfluous central door (It should really be on the corner of the bar, like the one in its fictitious namesake on the BBC soap opera EastEnders), keeping an imperious eye on events. 

I experience a daft thrill every time I arrange to meet friends at The Victoria, because in my mind I have the raspy East End tones of Phil Mitchell, when I say, “See yer daaaaan the Vic.”


The place had a far more shabby feel when I first visited, but a great collection of signed photos, from the multitude of stars that had frequented the bar while performing at the theatre next-door, framed and displayed up the stairs leading to the function room. I was always enamoured with the one of the marvellous Yootha Joyce, best known for 70’s sitcom George and Mildred.

A decade or so ago, The Vic underwent a thankfully sympathetic makeover, which gave the gaff a much-needed spruce up, while retaining all its original character and charm, which is more than can be said for the poor Prince of Wales, the theatre pub situated behind the Birmingham REP.


The Prince of Wales was a gem, complete with separate bar, lounge and snug, but I received a shock, over twenty years ago, when I went in and found that the partitions had gone and all the original Victorian features had been ripped out and replaced with mock Victorian facsimiles. I had been half distracted by the book I was reading as I entered (I used to be able to read and walk. Nowadays, I can’t even text while on the move without mishap) and actually thought for a moment that I had wandered into the wrong pub, going as far as stepping back outside to check the sign.

I positioned myself on a seat by the door to await my friend’s imminent arrival and see her response to the changes. She didn’t disappoint, stopping sharp on the threshold and giving a flutter of flummoxed blinks, as though she had just received a slap to the face.

“Yes,” I said, “that was my reaction when I walked in too.”

A few days later, I was telling a colleague about the fate of the Prince of Wales, when she started bobbing about excitedly and interjected, “Oh my God, I agree! My dad owns a print company and while it was closed for refurbishment, he and I went on a stealth mission one night and bill posted the windows with sarcastic posters saying, ‘A little bit of Disney in the heart of Birmingham.’ The contractors left them there for ages as they thought that the brewery had put them up.”


The Victoria was the site of my first tantalising encounter with the Birmingham gay scene (Wondering when this was going to go gay weren’t you? A mention of Yootha Joyce not enough?!).

To expand our understanding of modern art, my A-level art class had been instructed to buddy up with a partner and visit the Ikon Gallery, which at the time was located just down he street from The Victoria.

So, one weekend, we obediently made our way to the gallery, under our own steam, where we made notes on any work that caught our attention.

As we headed back toward New Street Station, we passed The Victoria.

The pub has always attracted a mix of gay and straight clientele and on this summer’s afternoon a group of lads were gathered outside on the pavement, enjoying a drink and cigarettes in the sun.

At the sight of two fresh-faced chickens, the boys began to wolf whistle and call out lude comments, much to my friend’s discomfort and my barely concealed delight.

This was my first encounter with anyone that was gay, and I couldn’t let the moment pass without somehow letting them know that I was secretly one of the family.

I used to wear my keys on a long chain attached to one of the beltloops on my trousers. I had been warned by my sister to always keep the keys in my front pocket, because having the chain lead to your rear pocket meant you were queer, in a secret signal akin to the handkerchief code or which side you had your ear pierced.

As we continued down the road, I discreetly took my keys from their ingrained front pocket and slipped them pointedly into the back, then stole a quick glance to see the response.

The catcalling immediately halted and one guy nudged his friend to draw attention to my symbolic gesture. I remember briefly seeing their smiles of understanding and one boy gave me a subtle nod of solidarity. For the first time, I was not alone.


Some evenings, you might see the odd famous face in The Victoria, if the cast of whatever show is on at The Alex goes to the pub for a post-performance drink.

I was told by the lesbian couple that ran the place, prior to its makeover, about the night TV Timelord, Sylvester McCoy (7th incarnation of Doctor Who), strolled into the bar, slammed his walking cane on the wooden floor, and declared, “THE DOCTOR IS IN!”

Both women looked at each other and simultaneously asked, “Who?”


On another occasion, I was lucky enough to sit two tables from a childhood crush, when Todd Carty (Grange Hill’s Tucker Jenkins) called in after a performance of Spamalot.

When he headed toward the gent’s toilets, my mate nodded in his direction and suggested, “Now’s your chance.”

It had been many years since Todd Carty had been the lanky heartthrob of my youth (having moved on to EastEnders, The Bill and hilariously lost control and crashed off the rink and out of Dancing on Ice… through the emergency exit), but some bits never change, so I followed him in for a peek.

That was Tucker’s cock ticked off the bucket list.


I clearly remember the first time I had a drink in The Victoria.

I was away at university but visiting my home city to see a production of Martin Sherman’s Bent with some friends.

We were puzzled by the eclectic mix of characters in the bar, which included a group of old chaps in flat caps, scene queens and a crowd that appeared to be work colleagues.

Curious to determine the demographic, I approached the matronly barmaid.

“Excuse me,” I asked, “but what type of pub is this? I can’t work out if it is gay or straight.”

“Oh luv, it’s a mix of everyone,” she told me. “We ‘av gays, residents from Stephenson Tower (now demolished) and postal workers from the Royal Mail building (now the The Mailbox). We all muddle along together.”


Here’s to The Victoria, the reigning Regina of Birmingham pubs… then, now and forever.