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