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.

Most Important Meal Of The Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The perfect Breakfast Bonnie to my Cornflake Clyde.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“What time did the alarm go off?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A work in progress.

In the Shadows

Revellers were drawn to Birmingham’s gay village by the buzz of the bars, pubs and clubs. Just beyond the bright lights, drink fuelled merriment and music are quiet corners, secluded spots and secret places. A nest of backstreet hook-up hideaways. Birmingham’s gay beat… just off the beaten track. The scene unseen.

Cruising sites in the city centre have diminished over recent years, with residential developments encroaching on our gaybourhood. The gays have been driven from their traditional hunting grounds and forced to seek refuge in ever dwindling nooks and crannies, as the shadows recede.


The remnants of Kent Street Baths and its surroundings were once a hive of post club/predawn activity. Dozens of men cruised the alleyways and abandoned spaces, seeking brief encounters.

Gatherings would spontaneously erupt in empty units or behind crumbling walls.

I remember one Christmas shopping expedition concluding in a group session in the shadows of one of the billboards that dominated the corner of a Southside carpark. The number of participants rapidly increased, as sharks circled and joined the feeding frenzy, the inevitable pilot fish floated on the periphery, hoping to pick up scraps. This impromptu happening lost its appeal once someone tried moving the whole affair to the mundane privacy of his flat in Dorothy Towers and it disbanded as quickly as it had begun. Oh well, the alfresco orgy was over, so I scooped up my gift bags and headed home.


Policing in the area has waxed and waned. During liberal administrations, the gay boyz would be left undisturbed. The attitude seemed to be, ‘If it isn’t hurting anyone, let them get on with it, in the same way people turn a blind eye to antics on Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common or in NYC’s Central Park, embracing it as ‘local colour’, and knowing, like Little Red Riding Hood, not to stray from the path.

Other periods would see increased police presence and the word on the street would be to stay vigilant.

An acquaintance and I were disturbed by approaching headlights, so we rearranged ourselves and strolled casually along the cobbles of Henstead Street, a forgotten byway that acted as the express route between the Birmingham scene’s two surviving traditional pubs, The Wellington and The Fountain.

The police car pulled up alongside us and an officer enquired, “Excuse me guys, may I ask what you are doing here?”

“Just talking to this friend that I bumped into,” I replied, innocently.

“Oh, I see,” the officer said, unconvinced. “By the way, your belt is undone.”


In the dying days of that beat, I got the distinct impression that the occasional police presence was there to ensure the safety of the gay community, rather than controlling our moral impropriety.

The area could undoubtedly be risky. My partner was robbed by a gang at knife point. He gave evidence in court but was so disgusted by the system that he never bothered checking in on what became of them.

I myself escaped a mugger by turning on my heels (I wasn’t actually wearing heels) and running hell for leather towards Sherlock Street, hoping to seek sanctuary in Eden, but could see from a distance that the lights were off and the bar had closed for the night, so I turned up Hurst Street and dashed toward Medusa Lodge, a burlesque and gentlemen’s club incongruously located in the gay village.

When I breathlessly explained to the bouncers on the door what had just happened, the four of them immediately formed a protective barrier around me.

“You are safe now,” the towering head bouncer assured me. “Order a taxi and we won’t let anything happen to you.”

I felt like the US President, surrounded by his personal bodyguard (Not THAT president, obviously, but a decent one).


One early morning in Birmingham’s favourite XXX-rated carpark, my partner and I spotted a steamed-up car with a couple of guys heavily petting in the front seats. The driver was a badass dude, while his passenger appeared a timid slip of a thing.

I made eye contact with the driver and received a look, which I interpreted as a come-on, so we both opened the backdoors and jumped in the rear seats.

“GET OUT MY CAR. MAN,” the driver shouted. “WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU DOIN’?!!!

We leapt straight back out, quickly joined by the lad from the front seat, who had instantly lost his ardour from the driver’s aggressive outburst.

The three of us took one look at each other and exploded with laughter. I was doubled over by the outrageousness of the situation.

Suddenly the driver’s door burst open and he stormed towards us hurling threats and yelling, “DON’T FUCKING LAUGH AT ME!”

This boy from the hood was not someone to tangle with in a desolate carpark, but I stepped forward with my hands raised in contrition.

“We are not laughing at you, honestly,” I explained. “We are laughing at ourselves. We are the idiots who just climbed into a complete stranger’s car.” I offered him my hand to shake, “It was our mistake. I am so sorry.”

“Don’t get closer,” my partner warned, “he may have a knife!”

“It’s fine. He won’t hurt me,” I replied, realisation dawning, “we’ve met before.”

The guy looked puzzled momentarily then a smile of recognition broke through the scowl, showing a cute gap in his two front teeth, “Hey man, how are you?”

We shook hands and I introduced him to my partner, “I know this guy, we have hooked up in a few places,” I explained.

He smirked and asked, “Can I come back to yours?”

This time with an invitation, my partner and I jumped back into his car and the three of us drove off, with a scrape of gravel, leaving the other chap stood abandoned in the carpark, bewildered by this sudden and unexpected turn of events.


Hot boy from the hood became a semiregular nocturnal visitor to our home, although turning up at ridiculously inappropriate times of the night.

Sometimes, on weeknights, we would ignore his knocks and pretend to be asleep, which in retrospect, I can’t believe we did, as he possessed the physique of a superhero, with muscles that I didn’t even know existed beyond the pages of a comic book.

The first time I saw his abs, I gasped, “Oh my God, I could grate cheese on those!”

He looked like he had been carved from marble, with a hue of darkest midnight, which had the unfortunate drawback of vividly showing up light pet hairs if his visit coincided with our dog’s moulting season. There were occasions when we would have to brush down his ripped torso to prevent him leaving the house looking like the Abominable Snowman, which, to be honest, was hardly a chore.


We hadn’t seen our superhero for many years but did recently discover that a cherished friend is now the recipient of those unannounced late-night visits.

“He will do anything you ask him,” our friend told us. “I make him perform naked press-ups, so I can watch those muscles at work.”

Coincidentally, a few days after learning of our shared connection, I ran into Superman on Lower Essex Street. He was the most gregarious I had ever seen him. Giddy with excitement that he had just been talking about us with our mutual friend only the day before, he bound over the road, with a wide beam that showed off that delectable gap.


Although not highlighted in the brochure, those dark corners are a vital part of any gay scene and usually the reason that they became established where they did in the first place. There is a reason that the scattered venues of Liverpool’s scene are hidden down dumpster strewn alleyways; and what would Canal Street have been without those bridges?

I recently took part in a research project on how Birmingham town planners could consider the needs of the city’s gay community. Along with conventional suggestions, I stressed the necessity for fabulous dark corners, and suggested incorporating them into plans for the gentrified gaybourhood. I would love to be in the council chambers when that is proposed.

Apparently, when a Mayor of Brighton was approached about installing CCTV along the beach front to curb cruising, he refused, stating that he came to Brighton thirty years earlier to cruise men and that was part of gay culture. He was not going to be the guy who put an end to it (so there is a president…from Brighton’s President). 

He knew, only too well, that it may be the lure of the bright lights and the beat of the music that attracts the punters… but it’s the dark shadows of the beat that keeps the lifeblood of the scene pumping.

Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights

With ever tightening restrictions on hospitality, job losses and venue closures were inevitable, but I was deeply saddened to hear the announcement that Eden Bar was closing its doors for business after 13 fabulous years. I suspect, it will not be the last to fall.

Grindr noticeably had an impact on the gay scene over the last decade, with many preferring to cruise from their sofas rather than socialise in bars, which is the equivalent of ordering in a convenient takeaway, compared to going out for a good meal. Apps remove the thrill of the chase, while takeout results in soggy calamari. Either way, both lose their bite.

Birmingham’s scene was facing further pressure from inner city development, with a glut of generic apartment builds encroaching on Southside and driving established gay businesses out. The fact that the vivacious nightlife was what made that area so attractive to buyers doesn’t seem to register with planners or the landed gentry that apparently owns the area. More money in real estate than the pink pound.

Many venues had seen customers dwindle and several had closed already. Unit 2 and The Core were early victims of those building developments, while Boltz had been served notice in preparation for demolition next year. The Jester had died a lingering death and the owners of The Wellington had sold up, leaving that charming Victorian corner pub, with the cheapest hotel rooms in town (including breakfast) and its own backroom theatre, empty and boarded up.

The first lockdown hiatus hit hard, but the scene bounded back, adapting to government restrictions and tempting people in with promotional offers and innovative socially distanced events. They even negotiated permission to close the crossroads of Hurst Street and Bromsgrove Street at weekends so The Loft and Missing could increase capacity by spilling out onto the streets for alfresco dinning and drinking. Shame Birmingham council dithered about giving the go ahead until the end of the uncommonly good summer, when the weather had started to turn.

The terrible knife attack that hit national headlines back in September and a less widely reported incident where crumpling masonry fell from the façade of Equator and Sidewalk, much to the surprise of afternoon drinkers chatting on the pavement below, did little to bolster footfall, but the area was surviving.

In October, the scene was dealt another blow, when the UK government classified Birmingham as Tier 2, introducing additional restrictions on the hospitality industry. Households were now banned from mixing and a crippling 10pm curfew was imposed. We were now regularly home well before midnight, getting an unwelcome glimpse of what straight people’s lives are like. It’ll be fidelity next.

Unlike its straight equivalent, where people think they have had a lovely night out if they have managed to catch an early bird special in their local Toby Carvery, the gay scene barely got started until 9 o’clock. Glamorous didn’t even open its doors until midnight. When you walked through the doors of a busy gay venue you were hit by a tsunami of noise and heat, laughter, passion, music and often a tirade of abuse from the resident drag queen, but Tier 2 meant that the gay scene had effectively been neutered. This latest lockdown is the ultimate kick in those, already tender, bollocks.

Eden Bar, one of the Birmingham scene’s most popular venues (Sssshhh, don’t tell the others), announced its impending closure on Thursday 22nd October, ‘Like many small businesses, 2020 has stretched Eden beyond belief,’ the owners, Garry and Cal, said in a statement. ‘A reduced capacity to 25% then further reduced to 10% under Region Tier 2 has meant we have decided to bite the bullet.’

There was an outpouring of shock and support on social media. We have lost something special. A sparkle has fallen from the gaybourhood’s Rhinestone Rhino (which is a real thing by the way and stands atop Wynner House, from where it keeps a twinkling eye on the antics below).

I had been an irregular visitor to Eden since the days it was the traditional White Swan, but truly fell in love with the place several years ago when we got to know the bar’s brilliantly bolshy barmaid Marie… and her legendary mother Moira.

My partner and Marie were casually chatting over a fag (they were smoking, not just astride one) in the garden of Eden, when she tutted, “Oh, I’ve got to go. There is a customer at the bar.” She returned moments later, explaining, “Its ok, he was just stood at the window watching Asian guys arriving at the wedding venue opposite.”

“Was he ginger?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know?”

He rolled his eyes, “That’d be my other half.”

From then on we looked forward to her banter and incomparable crudeness, although Marie did confess several months down the line, that she had formerly been on her best behaviour, as she thought we were gentlemen. Ha! How little she knew.

Last summer, my partner underwent a major operation. When he had sufficiently recovered for a gentle outing, Eden was the first place we went.

I had just settled him into chair in the garden when Marie appeared and grabbed his shoulders from behind with affectionate gusto, causing him to jump out of his skin.

“He has just had open heart surgery,” I remonstrated her.

“Oh my God,” she apologised, enveloping him in a robust hug, causing him to yelp in pain.

“And my chest is still healing,” he gasped weakly.

Marie dropped her head, held up her hands and slowly back away, muttering, “I’m so sorry. I’m going now… I’m going.”

We love her.

We went along for Eden’s bittersweet last hurrah, hosted by the brilliant La Voix, who is one of the best drag acts I have ever seen. Glamorous and sassy, as to be expected, but also a talented singer and mimic, with genuinely funny material and banter to rival a stand-up comedian. Britain’s got talent indeed.

She welcomed the audience with, “Well, here we are in Birmingham… at three in the afternoon.” Then dropped the mic from her generously painted lips and mouthed an exaggerated, “What the fuck?!”

We could all relate to this sentiment, being a crowd more comfortable partying at 3 in the morning than 3 in the afternoon, but, despite the early doors, it felt like old times.

The most blistering barb came when La Voix caught venue owners, Garry and Cal, glancing at their phones, between operating sound and lighting, “Thank you for your full attention. What are you two looking at? Are you on Rightmove searching for a new pub?”

We were regaled with anecdotes about past antics in the venue, reminiscing about the time they hosted a Birmingham fetish night, “We got into the spirit of things and all tried to dress accordingly, but the only rubberwear Gary owned was a verruca sock and swimming cap. It wasn’t a good look. I won’t tell you where he wore the sock.”

She targeted one audience member, emulating his gothic Eastern European accent, then mimed rapping on a door and hollered, “Housekeeping,” causing a guy several seats up from me to choke on his drink and spray the fella in front with a shower of beer. Don’t worry, I am sure the alcohol killed the Covid, besides Corona is the last virus I’m worried about contracting in a room full of that many gay men.

Social distancing was adhered to by the letter and all tables were situated two meters apart, as per government guidelines. As for the spaces in between…

“It’s like a Trump rally in here,” my partner commented as we entered the marquee.

Two police officers did wander in to perform a spot check, gave a cursory glance around and left. It was a wise move not to be too pedantic. Emotions were running high and I suspect if they had quibbled over social distancing the place could have gone off like Stonewall.

La Voix ensured that those emotions were ramped-up for the end of her set, with a tear-jerking rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart. The lyric, ‘Together we can make it to the end of the line’ had never been so poignant. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Paradise lost. The end of an Eden.

Ironically, Eden was packed to its restricted capacity from the moment it announced its closure until tearfully ringing their final last orders.

I assume, barfly and quiz night devotee, Kelvin Bacciochi is still chained to Eden’s bar, refusing to leave, like a suffragette, but belting out show tunes. In truth, Kelvin has sadly claimed that he can’t see the point of returning to Brum now Eden has gone, but I don’t think we have seen the last of him. Like Jason from Friday the 13th, he just keeps coming back. He prefers to think of himself as Cher, forever doing a farewell tour, or as he is fond of saying, “I am like syphilis, once you have me you have me forever.” I wish the same could be said for Eden. X

If the gay community wants the rest of these places to be there when this Hell is over, then we need to keep showing support. From December 2nd (or whenever those goal posts move to) go to afternoon drag at The Village Inn, enjoy the Sunday roast at The Loft, gather at Equator and Sidewalk again, catch weekend cabaret at the Nightingale, munch on muffins at The Fox (That’s not a typo, they really do sell baked goods… besides it’s not just a bar for ladies that like ladies anymore). The power of the pink pound will be more important than ever.

Hard times are ahead, but the Birmingham gay scene will rise again, like Coventry from the ashes. No, better than Coventry, cos Coventry is a bit shite. Sorry, anyone that lives there, but you know it’s true.

Let us hope the twinks of the future ask what it was like during the pandemic, not before. We want and need the scene to be around for the next generation.

At the point of publishing, the British government have announced an extension of the furlough scheme, paying 80%. of the wages of employees adversely effected by lockdown, until March next year. Fantastic news, but If this had been decided a few weeks earlier, maybe Eden and others would still be in business.

Do You Know Who I Am?

The night started outside Missing watching the boyz go by. Situated as it is, on the crossroads at the heart of the gaybourhood, Missing offers the perfect location to ogle lads coming and going from the gym, admire cute staff from the numerous East Asian restaurants, greet mates with a wave and watch various characters going back and forth. I think the bar should issue customers with score cards, like the ones they have on Strictly, so we can rate the passing talent.

Two particularly buff lads left the gym and strolled past our lookout. One of the lads casually scratched at his belly, exposing exquisitely tight abs, then as they drew level with us, he lifted his T-shirt completely to wipe some irritant from his cheek. I could swear that time slowed down. I forgot how to breath.

A slender guy, with a sharp dark beard, constantly whizzed up and down the road on a motorised scooter (his own sleek black vehicle, which complimented his look, not one of those cumbersome red rental options that are currently careering all over the city centre). My partner is convinced he’s drug running, but he wears a lanyard. Drug pushers don’t wear ID, surely?!

An eccentric character peddled by on his bike, dressed in an arresting red tracksuit, with matching visor and fez. Naturally, he captivated our attention. You don’t tend to see many people out and about in a fez… and an entire coordinated outfit. We watched as he sped along the length of Hurst Street, only to be subjected to the horrifying sight of his exposed arse hanging out of those vibrant tracky bottoms. I tried to snap a photo of the whole ensemble, but only achieved a blurry shot of the arse crack. He was surprisingly speedy for a man of his size.

After eating at Miss Vietnam, we popped into Eden where we bumped into acquaintances and chatted to their sweet barman, who always puts me in mind of comedian Jack Whitehall, with his affable English bumbling.

We finished the night at the table seating on the sidewalk outside of, well, Sidewalk, when a rowdy crowd approached the doorman. The lairy girl at the head of the group was instantly belligerent when the doorman politely explained that they couldn’t accommodate a group their size, because of COVID restrictions. She insisted that he find them a table, while flapping her ridiculously oversized eyelashes and flicking her extensions. She had surprisingly plummy tones for one so brassy, but as the legendary Dolly Parton is fond of saying, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

The girl looked like she was on the verge of storming off when a thought occurred to her. She pointed out one member of their party, who stood out already with his cool head of bleached twists and said, “Hang on, you can’t turn us away. Do you know who this is?”

The poor guy she had indicated looked mortified and mumbled, “No, please don’t do this to me.”

“This is…,” she persisted.

“Oh God, she’s doing it. It’s happening,” he cringed.

“…KSI. He’s an internet star!”

She then held her phone up to his face showing an image that she had just Googled of the ‘celebrity’, “Look, it’s the same person.”

KSI just gave a weak shamed smile and looked like he wanted to die. I immediately liked his humility.

The doorman remained intractable.

“You know who he is, don’t you?” She suddenly snapped at us over the barrier.

“No, Sorry,” I replied, giving an apologetic shrug.

We may have been ignorant of his celebrity status, but the people at the table next to us got very excited and wanted a selfie. I considered doing the same, so I could impress people more ofay with ‘yoof’ culture… but decided not to.

Apparently, KSI (real name Olajide Olayinka Williams) is a YouTuber, internet personality, rapper, actor, and boxer, who built his following from posting gaming-commentary videos of the FIFA video game series, although as his following has grown, his YouTube content has diversified to include more comedy style videos. As of August 2020, he has received over 30 million subscribers and over 7 billion video views across his two individual channels (That’s just 0.8 Billion shy of the current world population). In 2015, Variety ranked KSI as the most influential celebrity among US teens and in 2019, he was ranked as the second most influential online creator in the United Kingdom by The Times (Thank you Wikipedia/cut and paste. Where were you when I was a student?).

While we clearly are not in his demographic, my neighbour’s twelve-year-old son was suitably impressed and reacted with bug-eyed wonder when I told him about our ‘star’ encounter. He even pulled out his phone to show me some of his favourite KSI vlogs (Is that what they are called?).

While it was all happening on the threshold of Sidewalk, two members of their group had other ideas in mind. The hottest guy and the only other (far less vocal) girl were exchanging lustful glances and decided to slip away to find some privacy in the shadows of an adjacent street.

They were back surprisingly quickly, presumably unable to find a suitable nook, but the anticipation had clearly got the guy’s gander up by way he was rearranging himself when they returned. Sweatpants can be frankly revealing… and the gays were appreciative of the show.

Finally, the revellers gave up their attempt to sway the doorman and headed off in the direction of Eden in search of that nightcap.

I wanted to suggest that they might have more luck if they didn’t let ‘brassy’ do the talking, as she just seemed to get everyone’s backs up unnecessarily, but I decided to keep my advice to myself. Maybe they would have had more luck getting into a gay bar if they elected the hot guy their spokesman… or at the very least pushed him up front where he could be seen in all his glory.

My mate Ruru recently had his own encounter with internet celebrity when he had commented on a post by Johnnyvintis and Danspraggofficial, two well-known TikTok contributors, after noticing that they had checked-in at a city centre Weatherspoons. They messaged him back, invited him to join them for a drink.

“Dan shared our location and table number online,” Ruru told me, “and the staff kept bringing things to that fans had ordered for him via the Weatherspoons app. We got sent soft drinks, shots, brunch, chips, a glass of milk, mushy peas and random bowl of ketchup.”

According to Ruru, these guys were great company. They created several videos together, even coaxing a passing police officer/fan to get in on the act.

Ru managed to persuade them both to join him for a drink in his favourite gay bar, where Dan’s sexy neck tattoos must have gone down a storm. This couple of straight boys made a TikTok video of themselves with their “new gay mate” showing how, to their amusement, he was supping pints while they were sipping camp cocktails.

Ru’s own modest TikTok following jumped by 300 overnight, after he posted the videos with this popular pair and he received thousands of extra views. Maybe their Midas touch will rub off on this blog by association and I can strut through the gay village demanding, “Do you know who I am?!” I might even get a free order of mushy peas. They can keep the milk.

qaStaHvIS wa’ ram loSSaD Hugh SIjlaH qetbogh loD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“And straight,” she laughed.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No shit Sherlock Street!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relieving the Grind of Grindr

Grindr is a popular gay men’s dating app… where dating is the last thing on anyone’s mind (In fact, as I was writing that opening sentence a combination of a mistype and predictive text corrected it to the far more accurate ‘the arse thing on anyone’s mind’. Maybe I have ‘prophetic text’ installed?).

Most conversations on Grindr go from ‘Hi’, or sometimes the awkwardly accurate typo of ‘Ho’, to an exchange of cock shots in under a dozen messages. Not that I’m complaining. I wholeheartedly believe that this is what Grindr is there for. I get a little irritated with pithy profiles that whine, ‘All anyone wants is sex on here!’ or ‘If you are only after hook-ups, don’t message me.’. If you ain’t after a shag, then don’t go on Grindr! It is like boiling a kettle then moaning that the water is too hot. That’s what it’s there for.

Despite the bracingly direct approach Grindr encourages, I do like it when someone manages to show a glimpse of their personality. My favourite profile admitted on behalf of us all that, ‘These are our best photos guys… it’s all downhill from here’.

My own profile reads something like: ‘I like guys that are darker than me, but as I am ginger that isn’t hard to do.’ If you spot me out there, say ‘hello’… and send pics.  

I have one gambit that tends to wean the men from the boys. When asked for that ubiquitous cock shot, I sometimes send a photo of me stood next to a friend’s chicken coup proudly holding a feathery bundle of poultry (it is actually a hen and not a cock, but let’s not quibble). This can sometimes result in an instant block from the nonplussed recipient, but if they can’t take a joke, then it’s no great loss, but more times than not it results in a good bit of banter.

By the way, while on the subject of ‘cock shots’, I know a woman whose surname tragically is Cockshott. To make matters worse her first name is Gaynor. Gay Cockshott! GAY COCKSHOTT!!! The poor woman is named after those images that we bander about like bonbons. She must dread registering for anything, but on the plus side she has a readymade drag name. I know of another unfortunate whom, through marriage, is now Gaynor Hooker. Let that one sink in.


I really enjoy misappropriating Grindr on occasion. I have a gay neighbour with whom I would chat to on the app, long before we ever spoke in person. I would delight in sending him random neighbourly messages asking to borrow a cup of sugar or reminding him about recycling collections. The more banal the better. Thankfully, he found this nonsense mildly amusing too and played along, otherwise it could have resulted in an instant block, which could have made things awkward next time we were putting the bins out.

On one occasion, I managed to utilise his talents as a math teacher, when a ridiculously beautiful guy appeared on Grindr, showing up as only 20 meters from my house.

I sent his picture to the neighbour, IS HE AT YOURS?

NO, he replied. I WISH HE WAS!

I HAVE JUST STOOD ON MY BENCH, I confessed, BUT I CAN’T SEE HIM IN NEXT DOOR’S GARDEN.

WE CAN TRIANGULATE HIM, he suggested.

It would have been like a scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien movies, where the militia track down the creatures with thermal heat sensors.

“I’ve got a fix on one, Ripley! 20 meters… 18 meters… 10 meters… 1 meter! Bugger me backwards, he’s in the ducting!”

We never found him.


On one occasion, I was having a drink in a particularly bar when I noticed the bored bar manager scrolling through Grindr on his phone, so I sent him a message.

CAN I HAVE ANOTHER PINT OF SAN MIGUEL… AND A BAG OF NUTS, PLEASE?

Moments later, I heard a bang on the bar, as the barman slapped down his palms. I looked up with a start to see him glowering at me with his typical sassiness.

“What?” I asked, feigning ignorance.

“Seriously?! You couldn’t just ask for a drink like a normal person?”

“I could,” I admitted, “but where would be the fun in that?”

He shook his head with a smirk, “Un-be-lievable!”

Well, it made a change from, DO YOU HAVE A COCK SHOT? Next time someone asks me for one of those, I may forgo the photo of me beside the chicken coup and instead send a picture of the lovely Gaynor.

Voice of the Nightingale

The Nightingale Club has been at the heart and in the hearts of the Birmingham gay community for over 50 years.

The Gale, as it is affectionately known, was one of the first two venues that I ever visited on the scene (See ‘To Sir, With Thanks X’ – 16th Jan 20) and it remained part of my social life for many years. I have seen more strippers gyrating on the stage wearing nothing but a liberal dousing of baby lotion than I care to remember and have embarrassed myself on those dancefloors far too often!

On a night out with a new boyfriend (the man that has now been my partner for 20 years), we bound onto one of the plinths that were a feature of the main dancefloor at the time and, emboldened by beer, vigorously showed off our moves. I lost my balance and tipped backwards off the platform, automatically grabbing hold of my partner for support, which merely resulted in the pair of us toppling together and crashing to the floor with a duet of shrieks! We were too humiliated to stand and face the revellers around us, so chose instead to crawl on our hands and knees through their forest of legs until we reached the safety of the bar.

On another occasion, myself and two female friends were stood on the pavement outside the Nightingale, debating whether to call it a night or go into the club.

I was expressing my desire to carry on the night by singing the pop song ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’. I was giving it all that night, when suddenly, I stopped singing mid-song and announced, “The Nolans!!”

My friends just looked at me incredulously, so I repeated myself, but more emphatically.

“Yes, we know who sung it,” they said, assuming that I was just randomly informing them of the name of the Irish girl band that recorded the 80s hit.

Exasperated, I grabbed them by the shoulders and spun them on their heels to face the road. A taxi had just pulled up at the curb and the Nolan Sisters were getting out. Unbeknown to us, they were headlining the venue that night. Well, that made up our minds and we hit the club… and let our bodies sway.

My next celebrity encounter at the Nightingale Club came as a cringeworthy surprise.

At the time, I worked at one of Birmingham’s main theatres. There was a mutual arrangement that staff members from the theatre and club were entitled to discounts and free tickets to each other’s venues.

I would regularly finish an evening shift at the theatre and then wander over to the Nightingale for a few late-night drinks. As one of the few city centre venues open post-midnight back then, it was always busy after the theatre had closed.

One time, I forgot to take my exclusive pass with me, so tried to blag my way in at the door. The guy at the ticket booth was surprisingly sympathetic and simply asked me to prove that I worked at the theatre by naming some colleagues who frequented the club that he might know. Alas, he hadn’t heard of any of the likely suspects that I suggested so, in desperation, I decided to namedrop a well-known soap actor that was an associate artist at the theatre.

“Michael Cashman,” I said. “I know Michael Cashman.”

Baron Cashman, or ‘Colin from Eastenders’ as he was better known, was openly gay and performing at the theatre that season and I knew he was a regular customer of the Nightingale. Despite having seen him around the theatre on occasions, it was a huge overstatement to say that I actually knew him, and he certainly wouldn’t recognise me.

The ticket clerk listened to my claim then immediately looked over my shoulder and called out, “Hey Michael, do you know this guy?”

Michael Cashman was stood several places behind me in the queue. I was mortified.

To his credit, he tried valiantly to collaborate my story and replied, “Yes, I know him.”

Unfortunately, he said it while looking at the person stood next to me and I was rumbled.

Seeing my embarrassment, the clerk kindly gave me the benefit of the doubt and let me in anyway, making me promise to show him my pass next time.

Later, I found myself stood next to Michael Cashman in the piano lounge. I apologised for earlier, explained why I had used his name and thanked him for doing his best to back up my story. He was charming about it.

I don’t remember, but I do hope that I bought him a drink.

Back in Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends and acquaintances began to drift in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is masculine tape?”

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

“That’s ‘masking tape’ you muppet!”

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

It makes his beard look more masculine. Love it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was good to see Missing in action once again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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