Love in the Time of Corona

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

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

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


One popular park, situated just to the south of the city centre, was particularly busy during that initial sunny summer lockdown. I couldn’t stroll around without running into friends and acquaintances from the scene. We gayly greeting each other with knowing smiles and pleasantries, as we cruised well-trodden pathways beneath towering pine trees: I got reacquainted with my old comrade Radomir; bumped into several faces from Boltz; had fun with a hulking guy I knew from the sauna, who always puts me in mind of an American football player; and caught up with one friend who was sooooo hungover that he could only sit sombrely (if not soberly) on a log, with a wan complexion that blended him, chameleon-like, into the foliage.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Thorry mate,” said the lad, with a subtle lisp,

which only made him more attractive “but could you give us some privithy?”

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, everywhere we went, Doughface followed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

My Mother’s Son?

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

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

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

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

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

“No. I’m sorry, but I like woman.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I subsequently invoiced Birmingham City Council for maintaining the neighbourhood.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He would have stood out like a chubby sore thumb.

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

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


My finest hour came in a local supermarket.

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

I felt my hackles rise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Passing Comments

Sometimes you overhear wonderful snippets of conversation in passing.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You overhear bona banter on the gay scene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Anything… really?”

“Yeah, anything!”

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

“No way!”

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

“Not that!”

“Even if my life depended on it?”

“Still no.”

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

“No!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Fightin’ Like a Ewing, Darlin’

I am not too proud to admit that when the American mega-soap, Dallas, returned to television, for its sadly truncated run, it became my guilty pleasure. I loved the fightin’ an’ a feudin’, where ‘Blood is thinker than water, but oil is thinker than both’.

I enjoyed it soooo much, that I bought the boxset of the original series, spending the next year watching fourteen seasons, a prequel miniseries and two TV movies (I fell short of continuing with the spinoff series Knotts Landing, but never say never).

At the time of watching, I never imagined that this series would become a tutorial in conflict resolution.


My partner and I have different approaches to our open relationship. While I favour the immediacy of anonymous hook-ups in bars, saunas and gay beats, my other half prefers the familiarity of a regular buddy, someone with whom he develops a comfortable intimacy.

Several men have become regular visitors to our house over the years.

One fella became a good friend and welcome house guest for a while. He was a sturdy bull terrier of guy with an ever-growing collection of tattoos and a personality to love. He liked to maintain the air of streetwise geeza, but this tough man image was shattered the time I introduced him to some French cheese. You would have thought I was trying to feed him dog shit! He went into a panic, running around the garden trying to evade me, while I took delight in pursuing him with the offending chunk of stinky fromage. He ended up trapped in a corner, whimpering like Fay Wray at the approach of Kong’s giant paw.

From that day on, if he tried to act tough, I would threaten, “Don’t make me get the cheese.”

Unfortunately, this friendship turned soar. He and my partner fell out and haven’t seen each other in years, but he is still fondly spoken of in our household.


The latest heir to my partner’s affections is a quietly spoken thirtysomething Pakistani with a gentle nature and a winning grin.

Their friendship had been blossoming for many months before I finally met him… but in circumstances that neither of us would have wished for.

I had heard so many good things about this guy, but he avoided me, as I think he was nervous about meeting the ‘husband’.

Apparently, he would sit for hours at our kitchen table in his cap and hoodie, engrossed in playing games on his phone. It seemed, as well as the Islamic relief on offer, he also enjoyed the peace our laidback home gave him compared to his own bustling household. Our house offered a refuge where he could be comfortable in his own skin, away from judgement and cultural expectations.

I found it endearing the time he opened our fridge and asked, “Where your snacks?”

“We’ve got olives, pickles and pate,” said my partner, an offer which was met with a look of disgust. “Or I could make you a cheese sandwich.”

“I don’t trust strange cheese,” he said dismissively (What is it with the cheese?). “Don’t you have samosa or bhaji?”

“I could toast you some crumpets.”

“What are trumpets?”

From that day on, I always knew my partner’s new friend had been over, because the fridge was stocked with south Asian snacks.


One evening, I was greeted at the front door by my partner in a state of high anxiety, “He stole my phone,” he blurted out.

My partner’s buddy had spun some yarn about a fault on his own phone and needing to borrow one to insert his chip into. It didn’t really make much sense, but after months of intimacy, my partner had trusted him. He then made up some ruse to leave the house with the phone, promising to return within the hour.

“That was three hours ago and he’s not replying to messages.”

Recalling my epic watch-thru of Dallas, and the Machiavellian machinations of the show’s infamous star, I asked myself, What would JR Ewing do?

The answer was simple: Find their weak spot and exploit it, while wearing the, oh so charming, grin of a hungry crocodile… darlin’.


We sat down at the laptop and engaged in spot of research.

With minimum effort, we discovered a glut of personal information. I had his address, work history, names and occupations of his immediate family, the professional contact details of one well connected sibling, plus a selection of very saucy photographs. The internet is a wonderful research tool.

I sent the errant phone thief a polite message, ‘Hello, I gather that you have an item that doesn’t belong to you. I would like it returned by the end of tomorrow, otherwise I will be getting the authorities involved. They may ask awkward questions regarding the exact nature of your relationship with my partner. As a proud gay couple in an honest open relationship, we have nothing to hide. Can you say the same?’

I sat back and awaited his response.

The afternoon of the following day, I received, ‘Don’t call the police. I’ll come around tonight, but no drama.’

I promised ‘no drama’, said I looked forward to meeting him… and not to be late.


I received him at the front door with, “I’ve been saying for ages that I wanted to meet you.”

“But not like this,” he mumbled sheepishly, snatching the cap from his head as he crossed the threshold.

Once in the living room, I motioned for him to sit.

I only recall snippets of the lecture I subjected him to, but the gist was: “You were a welcome guest in our home”; “More than just friends”; “Betrayal, disappointment and disgust”.

I should be able to transcribe the entire conversation, as I had my phone recording the exchange as potential leverage, but I deleted that file long ago.

“It is lucky you got back to me when you did,” I told him. “Your sister’s office is on my route home. If I hadn’t heard from you, I planned to call in and explain the whole situation to her in person.”

He went grey, welled up and looked like he was on the verge of throwing up.

As furious as we were, we would never have outed him to his family for the sake of a phone… but he didn’t know that.


It turned out that he had pawned the phone to pay off a debt.

I had to cough up the cash to get the phone back. We agreed he would repay what he could each week, even repaying ‘in kind’ by helping paint our lounge and kitchen (I made him do all the jobs I hated). At £5 an hour he was the cheapest decorator in town, always dressed in his customary cap and hoodie, but covered in a makeshift poncho, fashioned from a binbag.


Despite the undesirable circumstances of our first meeting, he has become a trusted part of our logical family and home for wayward gays. I suppose friendships have started in worse ways, (although I struggle to think of any off hand).

One evening, I returned home to, “Now, don’t be mad, but he’s in our bed. He finished work early, wanted to hang out…. then fell asleep.”

I popped my head around the bedroom door and could just see the peak of his cap peeking (as it would) over the covers.

We needed to go out to pick up a few things and had no hesitation in leaving him home alone.

Finally, at 9pm, I woke him with, “Hey Goldilocks, it’s time to go home.”

Shortly after, he emerged, bleary-eyed and wearing that Cheshire Cat grin.


These days, he tends to chillout at ours, eating his way through the fruit bowl, demanding cheese sandwiches (We have converted him to ‘strange cheese’) and once, to my mock indignation scoffed a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates that my partner had bought for me!

We mainly cross paths when I return from work (handing over the dayshift to night duty) and we bond over the latest movie blockbusters.

On one encounter, I casually mentioned some modern remake of a silent classic… He looked at me blankly.

“Surely, you’ve seen a silent movie?”

“Oh, yeah man,” he responded, “I watched all the Silent Hill movies.”

After I had finished laughing (and thinking, They made more than one?!), I explained how films originally had music and sound effects performed live in the movie theatres.

He just looked at me with an expression that said, You makin’ dis shit up!

I implored, “You must have at least seen Charlie Chaplin?!”

“Oh, yeah man,” he nodded, “that’s the guy dancin’ ‘round the lamppost in the rain.”

I give up.


The stolen phone incident and my Dallas-style retribution is long forgiven and feels like a dream… Maybe one morning, if I am very lucky, I will awake to find Patrick Duffy in my shower.

Blood is thicker than water, but friendship is thicker than both.

What Goes Around…

There is an oft quoted claim that gay men have more sexual partners in a single year than their straight counterparts. I find this easy to believe, considering that a recent survey concludes that heterosexual men only have an average total of 14 partners in lifetime. The gay guys I know could clock up that tally in a slow month, good week or busy Sunday afternoon in the sauna!


Responsible gay men opt for a regular sexual health MOT. I usually take advantage of the pop-up clinics that appear in bars, clubs and other venues on the gay scene. With a couple of unobtrusive swabs, a few samples and a prick of blood, the job’s done and the results are efficiently text to you over the following week. It is free, quick and simple, gives you peace of mind… and more importantly ensures that you are not out there spreading the ‘love’.

Over the years, I have had the luck of the Devil. Other than a couple of infestations of crabs, I have managed to avoid any sexually transmitted diseases. That was until last year.

I initially noticed a faint burning sensation when I urinated, which got more intense over a few days until I dreaded having to take a pee. It rapidly got to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer, phoned in sick and took myself to the drop-in clinic in the basement of Boots the Chemist in Birmingham city centre.

The brilliant Umbrella servicesprovide daily walk-in appointments, but places are limited and are offered on a first come, first served basis, so I was told to arrive as the store opened and wait in line until the clinic itself raised their shutters an hour or so later. It proved to be good advice. I arrived early as instructed and there was already a queue forming.

I was immediately struck by how attractive my fellow patients were. I suppose the more attractive you are, the more opportunities you get to catch a sexually transmitted infection.

My partner told was once cruised by a hot guy while waiting for a sexual health check-up at the Whittall Street branch but decided that the clap clinic was the last place that you wanted to pick up a guy. What else would you pick up?!

It was a long wait, made marginally more interesting by a mouse scurrying across the waiting room floor creating brief pandemonium.

For a while it looked like they were going to have to close the clinic due to health and safety concerns, but the decision was left to us patients. We were told that no vermin had been seen in the self-enclosed medical area so, if we were happy to proceed with the appointments, the clinic would remain open.

There was a resounding, “YES!!!”

All I could think was, Please God, don’t make me wait any longer! I’ve had to take a day off work already… and my cock is burning off!!


Finally, I was called to an examination room by a pleasant woman wearing a hijab. I had hoped for her handsome male college, but I suppose it is best not to be intimately examined by someone you find attractive, as the uncontrollable effects could be awkward.

The nurse explained that before she did any tests, she would have to take me through a series of questions relating to my recent sexual history.

The first question was about my sexuality, “Do you identify as heterosexual, homosexual or bi?”

“Homosexual.”

“Do you engage in anal sex?”

“Yes.”

“Do you engage in oral sex?”

“Oooooh yes!”

A hint of a smile played at the corner of her lips.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so enthusiastic,” I apologised.

The questions moved on to sexual partners.

“How many do you have on average?”

When a mate of mine was once asked this same question, he casually replied, “Well, there are three of them currently sat in the waiting room, if that’s any indication?”

I thought about it for a moment and then estimated, “Around… half a dozen?”

“I’ll put you down as ‘Six sexual partners a month’.”

“A month?!!” I spluttered, “I thought you meant a week!”

She professionally tapped this information into the computer without comment.

At least she attempted to conceal her reaction, unlike the interim doctor, covering at an Edinburgh sexual health clinic, where a good friend of mine attended an appointment to ascertain his eligibility for PrEP.

He wanted to ensure qualification for free prescriptions, so when asked how many times he had engaged in unprotected sex in the past two weeks, he guesstimated, “Between thirty and forty.”

The doctor’s eyes bugged out of her head and she gasped, “How Many?!!”

“Well… I was on holiday,” he offered, by way of explanation.

He had been to Torremolinos Bear Week, followed by a similar event in Gran Canaria. Those gigs can get busy, so much so that another mate of mine found himself trapped in a packed darkroom by a heaving barrier of flesh. The only way he could reach the exit was by dropping to all fours and crawling through people’s legs.

“I had purposely shaved a dozen or so off the total,” my Edinburgh friend told me, recalling the doctor’s shocked reaction to his tally of partners. “I didn’t want to sound like a slut.”

He certainly met the total to qualify for free PrEP…The criteria was three.


My nurse in Birmingham, continued her questions and, handing me a sheet of paper listing the continents of the world subdivided into separate regions, she asked, “Have you ever had sexual contact with anyone from any of these areas?”

I scanned the two columns of geographical regions: South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, North Asia, Australasia; United States and Canada, Central America, South America, Caribbean, etc.

Handing the sheet back, I simply replied, “Yes.”

The nurse gave a soft sigh and explained in a patient tone, “No, you are meant to identify which of those regions you may have had a sexual partner from.”

“Yes, I understand,” I replied. “All of them. I have very eclectic tastes and I’m a sucker for an accent.”

She shook her head and grinned, “You are refreshingly honest.”

“Why wouldn’t I be? You do this every day and have seen and heard it all, you are hardly likely to judge me. I may as well be totally upfront.”

If you are brazened enough to catch the infection, you need to be confident enough to discuss it with a professional. The STD clinic is no place to be bashful… or pick up guys, apparently.

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

Something Sweet for Easter II: Size Doesn’t Matter.

Thought he hated me… but couldn’t have been more mistaken.


Radomir is an Eastern European of Russian decent, who used to work on the Birmingham gay scene. He has an elfin quality, with a slight frame, sharp features, barnet of teased dark hair, quick mannerisms and alert eyes that notice everything.

When he started working on Hurst Street, his customer service style ranged from ‘indifference’ to ‘distain’, so you can imagine my surprise when one evening he surreptitiously slipped me his number. I was dumbfounded, up until that moment he had given every indication that he despised me… and possibly wanted me dead (using the spring-loaded dagger mounted in the toe of his shoe).

I contacted him a few days later… and we have been ‘comrades with benefits’ ever since.


Our morning commutes occasionally intersected. He would come to an abrupt halt and greet me in his formal style of brief handshake, curt bow of the head and subtle click of the heels.

“Hhhhhhhhallo,” he would say in his robust accent, peppered with rolling consonants and interchangeable vowels, giving the ‘H’ a particularly phlegmy roll, “hhhhow are you?”


I visited him several times at his bohemian bedsit, in a once grand Victorian house, with its lofty ceiling and view over a garden so thick with foliage that it blotted out neighbouring houses, giving the impression of looking onto a woodland wilderness, rather than a densely populated city suburb.

Rad is a talented artist and his room was filled with all the paraphernalia of his craft. Canvases sat on easels, in various stages of completion, awaiting further touches, or were propped against walls and stacked in alcoves. There were shelves of artbooks, materials and an assortment of creative curiosities dotted about the place.

One summer’s afternoon, I lay contentedly on his bed with a breeze from the open windows stirring the gauze curtains, affording glimpses of the canopy beyond and allowing sunlight to dance across the room.

I felt like I was in an arthouse movie… with subtitles and an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Cinematography’ (One of those films that rarely wins an Oscar, but you feel worthy for having seen).

It was in this moment of postcoital contentment, that I chose to good naturedly challenge him about his initial dower demeanour.

“I hhhad lot to learn about Britain, when I first come here,” he told me with an apologetic smile. “In my country, people are not so… erm…” He faltered searching for the right word.

“Gregarious? I offered.

“Yes,” he nodded, “this.”

Radomir went on to explain how his nation was more economical with their emotions than we Brits. Apparently, they consider it impolite to be too free with smiles and laughter. These are things only expressed when genuinely felt, not to be faked or casually bandied about.

This attitude can come across as a tad terse to us from a country where people would rather be told they are bad lovers than lacking a sense of humour but is simply a different example of social manners. In certain circumstances, this approach would be welcome, partially if it put pay to those ‘hilarious’ work colleagues that insist on greeting you on a rainy day with the quip, “Have you been singing…?” then glance pointedly at the heavens to suggest that your voice has caused the bad weather. It is a particular bugbear of mine, which I always respond to with a snake’s smile and death behind the eyes.


I told Rad that about three blonde, beautiful and terrifying Slavic girls that used to work at Canalside Café on Gas Street Basin. Their hostile hospitality was a hilarious incentive to visit the bar with friends but resulted in squabbles about who was going to brave the bar to buy the next round.

One of these sirens demanding that I give her exact change, as they were running low on coins. I frantically scrabbled through my wallet but could only muster an approximation of the required amount.

“This is all I have,” I said with fear in my voice. “W… w… will it do?”

The young woman scrutinised me for a moment then actually gave a fleeting laugh and nodded.

I felt a real sense of achievement, having briefly broken that austere temperament. Truth be told, I would have offered her a kidney, just to placate her.

The girls no longer work at the pub, before you all start booking post-lockdown tables. I miss them.


Rad turned up working at a local pub. He suddenly appeared at my table, with that familiar handshake, bow, click of heels and, “Hhhhhhhhallo, hhhhow are you?”

One Easter, my partner and I decided to go the Radomir’s Pub (as we now referred to it) for lunch. We stopped at the local supermarket on the way to buy each other discounted chocolate eggs (What is the point paying full price in advance, when the shops are desperate to get rid of the things come Easter Sunday?). In a moment of whimsy, I decided to pick up an extra egg, just in case Rad was working a shift, but was disappointed when we walked into the bar and he was nowhere to be seen. When I enquired, he popped out of the of the kitchen.

He was very touched by our Easter gift (I didn’t mention it was on discount).

He returned to the kitchen, but a shortly reappeared. With a click and bow, he thrust his hand at me, but this time palm up with fingers lightly closed.

“Hhhhhhere are your Eeester eggs,” he said with a self-satisfied smile, as he unfurled his fingers to reveal two Cadbury Mini-Eggs, which he had pilfered from sweet counter on the far side of this family-friendly bar. “Hhhhheppy Eeester.”

It was a sweet gesture, proving the old adage about size… and that, with his tiny eggs, he had cracked the British sense of humour.


Sadly, Radomir left the job at our local pub and haven’t seen him for far too long. Hope we meet again soon. Always liked those times when, as disco divas, Boney M, put it, I was ‘lover to a Russian Queen’. 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.