The Walk of Shame

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I whimpered, “What is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Hey man, whatcha up to?”

“Nothing, just wandering around. You?”

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Won’t it be dark?”

“Nah… There’s a light back there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Hello. You been out tonight?”

I told him that I had.

“Hurst Street?”

I acknowledged that was indeed where I had been.

“You like men?”

I told him that I did.

“You come with me? I have key.”

“Do you have a flat nearby?”

“No,” he replied. “Reception.”

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

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

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

“Pardon… You show me what?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Coming Attractions

I had sex in a cinema once (I know, shocking! Clutch those pearls), but this wasn’t some fumble on the back row of the picture house… We moved in for the night.

Back in the early 90’s, I met some guy in a bar. We flirted, enjoying that heady mix of nervous anticipation and lust, until one of us broke the stalemate and mustered the courage to go in for a kiss. He then asked me back to his flat in Dorothy Towers.

The morning after the night before, I executed my tried and tested method for finding out a trick’s name when you don’t remember. I slipped out of bed, on the pretext of going to the bathroom then popped into the kitchen to check his mail, which is usually stacked on the counter or breakfast table. It is a risky gambit, as you don’t want to be caught in the act and look like you are prying, stalking… or stealing their bank details.

Having acquired the information I needed, I could now hop back into bed and confidently address my new acquaintance by name, although I always dreaded someone responding, “But, … I never told you my name.” Or even worse, “That’s my flat mate’s name.”


He had just finished a shift at The Electric Cinema, where he was an usher, checking tickets and flogging choc-ices. He told me, “I am just having one drink before last orders then heading back.”

“Do they have a midnight showing?”

“No, but the manager likes to close up then watch a movie in peace,” he explained. “He’s going to put on Midnight Express. Would you like to join me?”

Midnight Express was a brilliant film. I loved it. To this day, I get an urge to recreate the scene where Brad Davis’ girlfriend helps him relieve his pent-up prison tension by squashing her nipples against the glass partition in the visiting booth, whenever I encounter admin staff behind a reception screen.

The Electric was Birmingham’s first cinema, opening in Station Street in December 1909 and is now the oldest working cinema in the UK, predating its namesake in Notting Hill, London, by around two months.

At the time of our private screening, it was managed by a dishevelled film enthusiast, who slept in the projection booth, possibly because he had nowhere else to go.

By the time Midnight Express finished, it was early morning, so my friend and I decided to take inspiration from the manager and spend the night in the cinema. We gathered cushions from the ratty sofa in the foyer and fashioned ourselves a bed at the back of the auditorium, where we spent a restless night.

I was due at work the following morning and couldn’t be late for my shift but didn’t wear a watch (or have a mobile phone in those days), so the only way I could keep track of the time, was to periodically emerge from the pitch black of the auditorium and try to estimate the hour by the hue of the sky.

It was during one of these excursions to scrutinise the dawn light, that I felt the urge to use the toilet, so groped my way up the unlit stairs to the first-floor gents.

In the disorientating gloom, I managed to open the toilet door into my own face. As I stumbled to the urinals, half asleep and nursing my bruised head, a shadow at the tall window caught my eye. I stifled a scream. Silhouetted in the orange light of the streetlamps, was a figure stood on the external window ledge. For one awful moment I though the manager had had enough of his existence of slumming it in a projection booth and was about to end it all by throwing himself onto Station Street.

I realised with relief that it wasn’t a real person after all. It was just one of several mannequins that adorned the facade of The Electric Cinema at that time… but it didn’t half give me a fright.

In retrospect, it would have been a challenge for a jumper to top themselves from merely one storey up, presuming that they could even leap far enough to avoid dropping ineffectually onto the entrance canopy.

I bet that ratty old sofa, from which we fashioned our love-nest, is long gone.

Whenever I attend a screening at The Electric Cinema, which isn’t as often as I should, I sit in their plush red seats, glance around the auditorium and remember when, for one night only, I was the coming attraction.