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.

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

God Save The Queen

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Birmingham’s Busiest Quiet Road

Previously published as four separate blogs, it is presented here as one compilation.

When we bought our little Victorian end terrace, ten minutes from bohemian Moseley and five minutes from the Balti Triangle, a neighbour greeted us with, “Welcome to Birmingham’s busiest quiet road.”

We never suspected how prophetic those words would prove to be.


It wasn’t long before the road started to show its vibrant colours.

Within weeks of moving in, we witnessed a dramatic raid on a house opposite, involving a dozen armed police. One particularly glamorous officer carried off her snug flack-jacket and utility belt with all the panache of Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker (If you are under the age of forty, Google it).

We enjoyed the antics of the Eastern European renters, who entertained themselves by regularly wrestling in the front bedroom in their underpants. The boyz considerately left the curtains wide open, almost although they knew they had appreciative gays ogling them from across the street.

Excitingly, a police chase came to an abrupt halt in the bay window of the corner house, when joyriders lost control and crashed through their garden wall, sadly, shattering the original Victorian road sign in the process. Just minutes later it could have been a tragedy, had the primary school at the end of the road dismissed for the day. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident… or again when the exact same thing happened several years later. If I lived in that house, I would consider moving.

There was also that time the hot Kurdish lad from the corner shop popped up on the national news… wanted for double homicide.

Oh… and the freak tornado that felled trees, toppled chimneys and ripped roofs from houses (I’m not making this up). One row of two-up two-downs lost their top floors entirely, rendering them a row of bungalows (or just two-downs). Fortunately, our road emerged relatively unscathed, but it was the last out neighbours saw of their patio furniture. Rumour has it that a man in the kiosk outside Kings Heath’s Iceland was transported though the air, like a Kanas farmhouse, and found himself deposited on the opposite side of the carpark.

Yet all this paled into insignificance when the street found itself at the centre of a sustained campaign of anti-LGBTQ protests.


Events began when a local property developer/slum landlord arranged a meeting with the headmistress of Anderton Park Primary, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkeson, to discuss the school’s progressive stance on inclusion.

He claimed to represent parental concerns that the school’s policy of tolerance and equality be extended to the LGBTQ community. Apparently, they objected to the school’s aim of fostering an environment where there were no outsiders and everyone was respected, including children from same-sex families. Believing it contrary to their religious beliefs, parents decided that they did not want their children to know that some of their friends may go home to a house where two men or two women shared a bedroom.

This self-proclaimed spokesperson stormed into the head’s office, slammed his fists down on her desk, declared himself, “General of a war I intend to win,” and proceeded to bellow his demands in her face.

He was promptly asked to leave, and the poor mite subsequently whined to all and sundry that the school had not been prepared to mediate with him.


This opportunistic agitator spread misinformation and incorrectly claimed that a gay lifestyle was being promoted at the school. He highjacked any legitimate parental concerns and aggressively exploited them for his own agenda of distrust and division.

The following week, he began to orchestrate demonstrations outside the school gates. Every weeknight, crowds would gather to wave banners and shout about their rights to decide what aspects of modern British society they would or would not accept.

Protesters called for the Head’s resignation and chanted: “Our children, our choice”; “Let kids be kids”; “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”; and my personal favourite, “We will not tolerate intolerance”.

May I suggest that if you do not want your innocent children to know that some people have two mummies or two daddies, then don’t turn up outside their school and start shouting about it through a megaphone.


After several evenings of disruption, a group of likeminded residents decided to retaliate by flying the rainbow flag in the front upstairs windows of our houses.

As I worked at Anderton Park School on a freelance basis, I had reservations about being seen to be heavily involved, but the morning our display of flags appeared, I strutted along the pavement, filled with pride, but determined to keep a low profile.

When I walked into the staffroom, it was a buzz with excitement about the sign of support from the street. I kept my head down and pretended to search for something in my bag.

Suddenly, a member of staff burst into the room, “Have you seen what the residents have done? I pulled up in my car and just burst into tears.”

I kept up the pretence of searching my bag for that elusive item.

“I’m so overwhelmed,” she continued. “I just want to thank them.”

I couldn’t contain myself any longer and, without glancing up, uttered a simple, “You’re welcome.”


It did not take long for news of my involvement in the subtle counter-protest to spread and by first break I had been summoned to see the Head.

I apprehensively entered her office, expecting a dressing down, but was instead greeted by a beaming deputy and enveloped in a hug.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushed.

“Really? I thought that I was about to be given my marching orders.”

“We as a school couldn’t take a counter stand, but residents are free to take whatever action they want.”

“I knew that I couldn’t just stand by, with all of this blowing up on my doorstep. I have turned down a few press interviews though, as I thought that would be taking things too far,” I admitted.

“Please, feel free to do interviews,” the deputy insisted. She indicated the headmistress, who was visible through the internal office window, deep in conversation on the phone, “Sarah has been doing interviews all morning. She’s currently talking to Gay Times.”


The headteacher of Anderton Park Primary School, is a dynamic, progressive woman, with her own striking style (imagine Grange Hill’s Mrs McClusky with a dash of Sarah Jessica Parker) and a determined ally of the LGBTQ community, received daily threats for her progressive stance. This was not the first time she found herself the target of abuse having, several years earlier, been involved in exposing the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, which revealed an organised attempt to introduce a radical Islamist ethos into several schools in the area.

In retaliation, dead cats were slung into the school playground and a dog was slit from throat to groin, splayed and attached to the main gates.

On a more positive note (although, quite frankly, anything would be more positive than an eviscerated dog crucified at the entrance of a primary school), this beleaguered maverick was touched to receive an offer of support from a knight of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen. The movie star and gay activist had become her number one fan on Twitter (Gandalf reads her Tweets!) and got in contact.

Sarah and her husband were invited as honoured guests to Sir Ian’s 80th birthday party, along with the great and the gay.

“At my table alone were Derek Jacobi and Graham Norton,” Sarah told me in awe. “I was sat next to Frances Barber!”

At the end of the night Sir Ian stood up and told anecdotes, wandering amongst the tables recounting stories about his gathered friends.

“There is one person here whom I have never actually met in person, but admire greatly,” he said, indicating Sarah. “This, ladies and gentlemen, is Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, Head of Anderton Park Scho…” but before he could complete the sentence, everyone in the room rose and gave her a standing ovation.

“I’m getting choked up,” I said to Sarah when she told me this.

“You should have seen the state of me,” she replied. “I was sobbing.”

As the night came to an end and the guests made to leave, Sir Ian found Sarah and offered, “If I can do anything to help your school, anything at all, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.”

“Well…”, I said to Sarah, as she reached the conclusion of her story and I reached for the tissues, “if he’s kept the beard from Lord of the Rings, that’s your Christmas Santa sorted!”


The evening after our rainbow flags appeared, every house on the road received a courtesy call from a police officer, enquiring about how the protests were impacting residents and offering support.

The officer had a special message for those houses flying the flag, “As a representative of West Midlands Police, I obviously cannot offer an opinion on a dispute of this nature, but we all want to say… Well done! You could have organised your own protest, but that would have only escalated matters. What you did was far more effective. The display of flags totally undermined what they are doing.”

The officer then launched into an unguarded rant about that ‘General in a war’ behind the protests and his unscrupulous family, but I will not go into any more detail about what was said, as language like that would only make you blush.

Our flags full of pride had, temporarily, taken the wind out of their sails.


The protests peaked when over 300 people descended on the school, with demonstrators ferried in on coaches from other cities and religious leaders invited to deliver vitriolic sermons, which attracted worldwide media attention.

One friend commented, “I don’t need to talk to you to find out what is happening in your life anymore, I just turn on the evening news.”

While another friend in Australia, messaged to say she had just seen my house on a TV bulletin in Darwin!

This mass gathering coincided with the arrival of our flamboyant temporary lodger, who sashayed through the throng with all the attitude of Joan Collins entering a champagne soiree. He dragged his luggage along several streets, as the Uber driver was too intimidated by the crowds to drop him at the door.

At one point in the speeches, an Imam pointed at the school and libellously spat, “There are paedophiles in there! They have a paedophile agenda!” He went on to mock the LGBT community, “They are saying that men can love men… women can love women, well that’s OK I suppose, but bisexual?! Yoyoing back an’ forth!!!” His parting shot was to resort to the oft used accusation that the gays cannot breed, so are hellbent on ‘recruiting’ children. I didn’t realise that gay numbers were in decline and we are looking to swell the ranks.

I know that there are inspirational, inclusive, moderate Imams out there, but the jumped-up little Farage that organised this event didn’t invite any of them.

There was one fabulously camp Imam, in a bold gold turban, that the media made a beeline for.

“Ho-mo-sexuality?! It’s disgusting,” he exclaimed on camera, in a fey Yorkshire accent that put me in mind of Alan Bennett. “Two men together? It’s just not right! When I think of them ho-mo-sexuals kissing and fondling and touching… with their rippling muscles and their tight clinging t-shirts, it makes me blood boil! Oooooh, I can feel me blood surging even now. I’m positively throbbing with it!!!” (I may have paraphrased).

I stepped out to watch the circus but found myself engaged in a forthright discussion with one of the religious leaders, whose style of debating was to bark rapid questions, dismiss any responses and quickly switch to another subject.

An ever-growing crowd of his supporters encircled me as we talked, sneering and disparaging my comments.

“We are not homophobic people,” I was told, just as two men bellowed threats and gay slurs from their passing car.

Faced with a barrage of arguments and abuse, I calmly explained that I could only comment from my own personal experience.

“See,” the Imam announced in a mocking tone, “he can’t even answer my questions!”

“I can’t comment on every aspect of the gay community just because I am a gay man, any more than you can discuss every aspect of multifaith theology, just because you represent one religion,” … was what I would have replied had he not abruptly jumped to a whole new topic.

“It is a fact that there is a high proportion of mental health problems amongst the gay community,” the Imam snapped. “Is that because it is God’s punishment?”

“NO…” I furiously responded, before he could draw breath and charge into another aspect of the debate. I flung my arms out to indicate the sea of protestors, “It is because of things like this! There are children in that school that know they are different. Every day for the past six months they have been greeted at the school gates by members of their own family telling them that it is not OK to be themselves, that they will not be accepted by their community and that their parent’s love is not unconditional! THIS… HERE… NOW…. is why there is a high degree of mental health issues in the gay community!!!”

I had finally managed to get a word in and was determined to make the most of it, “Every person in this crowd has a member of the LGBTQ community in their family, but because of ignorance and intolerance it has to remain hidden. Everyone here will have a brother, sister, cousin, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, parent, or grandparent who is either L…G…B…T… or Q, but they are forced to live a lie. These protests are hurting your own families!”

This revelation clearly rattled the Imam, as he purposely turned the questioning to intimate aspects of my own sex life, so I made a decision to answer every question he asked me… in excruciating detail. I countered his inevitable opening gambit about how revolting he found the idea of anal sex, by explaining the practicalities of douching. It was a joy to watch his entourage squirm as they were compelled to listen, because their respected community leader had instigated the topic.

“It’s still disgusting,” I was told. “The anus is where excrement comes from!”

“The hole that you use is where a woman menstruates from,” I countered.

“We do not have sex with our wives during that period of the month.”

“It is also a region associated with urination… and we have already established that your wife doesn’t douche.”

“My wife is a clean woman!”

I had managed to turn the tables on him. This revered figure was now openly sharing intimate details and discussing his wife’s lady-parts in the street… with an audience!

“I hope that you return the favour by cleaning yourself thoroughly before your wife performs oral sex,” I said, with my most charming smile.

“My wife and I do not engage in that act!”

“Oh, I am sorry,” I offered sympathetically. “It sounds as though you have a very dull sex life. I hope, at the very least, she gives you a good tit-wank.”

With this parting shot, I departed.

Touché… should that be ‘douché’?

Won that battle, but open warfare was about to erupt on the road.


The months of protests had caused division in our diverse, but previously cohesive neighbourhood, with households taking opposing sides on the debate on LGBTQ inclusion.

Whilst relations between actual neighbours remained cordial, there had been several heated clashes with protestors from the wider area and any discussion with the lead agitator inevitably resulted in him engaging his standard tactic of aggressively dismissing any opinion that contradicted him.

His antagonistic approach to debate was clearly in evidence during a widely broadcast exchange between he and MP Jess Philips, where he shouted over her at length then immediately accused her of being hostile when she was forced to raise her voice to be heard.

An earlier exchange between a female neighbour and the head protester, resulted in the police being called, when his behaviour became threatening and he essentially ordered her to shut up and go back inside… like a good woman. He didn’t like being challenged by a female, whom, in the words of one of his mob, was ‘created for man’s pleasure’ and nothing more.

It was amusing to witness Sparkhill’s poster boy for fundamentalism damper his bullishness, during a showdown with Holly and Phil on ITV’s This Morning. He was clearly unhappy having his views challenged and at points could be seen literally biting his lip to control himself. It looked like he had been advised by cohorts not to lose his cool on camera. This usually arrogant aggressor seemed uncomfortable without his megaphone and entourage. His demeanour wasn’t helped by the fresh haircut he had got especially for his appearance on national television. The unfortunate style choice of teasing every strand into gravity defying spikes, standing straight up from his head, only served to make him look even more scared, like something from a cartoon.


Residents could be forgiven for thinking that the drama on their doorstep couldn’t get any worse… until Katie Hopkins, a reviled far-ring media parasite, turned up for a sneak photo opportunity on school grounds (Staff didn’t even know that she had been there until the images appeared on social media), but even that wannabe Nazi’s sly intrusion paled into insignificance, compared to the thirty masked thugs launched an attack on the road. We didn’t know what was happening… until the first volley of eggs hit our windows.


My partner had stepped into our back garden for a post dinner cigarette and was perplexed to hear familiar protest chants from the front of the house. At first, he thought that he had got so used to hearing the slogans that he was now imaging them.

I wandered through to the front room to investigate, just as an egg exploded on the window, followed by another!

I dashed out of the front door, to be confronted by mayhem.

There were shouts and screams coming from far end of the street, vehicles screeching into the cul-de-sac, and masked men were yelling insults and hurling eggs at the houses and cars of those that dared display the rainbow flag, while that ‘General in a war’ agitator (and spikey headed star of morning television) was observing events from a conveniently deniable distance.

The screams were coming from a group of women and their children who were cornered at the school gates by masked men. One woman had collapsed to the floor, while the goons bellowed abuse and pelted them with more eggs.

Suddenly, the door of a house close to the school burst open and a neighbour dashed out. This diminutive, mild mannered woman, with a mop of grey hair, launched herself at the assailants, slapping, punching and pulling them away from their victims. If they hadn’t been wearing balaclavas, I am sure she would have had them by their ears, like naughty children. The gang didn’t know what had hit them and took flight. They didn’t know how to react to this tiny Tasmanian devil at their heels. It was like their mother and all their ‘aunties’ were after them.

Apparently, a group of activists from an LGBTQ organisation had volunteered to decorate the school gates in preparation for a VIP visit on Monday morning. They had been trying flags, ribbons, artwork, banners and posters in support of the besieged school, that bore messages such as “Love is the Answer” and “Love Unites Us”. One heart-shaped motto read: “No to Islamophobia; No to Homophobia”.

The masked men, or ‘just the boys’ as a sympathiser later described them to the press, had received a tip off that the LGBTQ activists were on the street and stormed in to intimidate and destroy.

One of the men shouted, “This is for coming into OUR area,” a sentiment stated by their ‘General’ several weeks earlier, when he had pointed out every Pakistani owned house on the road and boasted, “We own that one and that one and that one etc.”

He should turn on Grindr and see just how many gay profiles pop up within 200 meters. On our road alone, there are three openly gays men, one bi-curious individual, at least two possible closet cases, one house at the T-junction that is gay owned and exclusively rented to LGBTQ tenants and a few dozen queer acquaintances that I could certainly introduce him to in the surrounding area.


Eventually, riot vans with dogs arrived. The remaining hooligans skulked away, while their leader claimed that his presence was just a coincidence.

I stood watching the aftermath in disbelief.

A police officer approached and asked, “Are you ok? You look shellshocked.”

“No, I’m not OK,” I replied. “I feel like I’m in a soap opera. I’m expecting a tram to come crashing off the viaduct at any moment… If we had trams… or a viaduct for that matter.”

Eventually, things calmed down. The LGBTQ activists were escorted to safely, damage was cleared up and residents drifted back into their homes.

The police had one last task to perform before they left. They knocked on every house with a rainbow flag in their window and warned the occupants that there may be further reprisals, “We have heard that they plan to brick any houses with flags, after we leave. We can’t tell you what to do, but only advise that it may be in your best interests to remove them. I’m so sorry.”

With heavy hearts, we took the flags down. They had done their job. No need to court more trouble.


That terrible night did mark a turning point. The situation had gone from peaceful protests to violent attacks. National papers ran prominent articles on the incident and local authorities could no longer watch impotently. Within weeks the courts had imposed an exclusion zone around the school and the protesters were banished to the outskirts of the neighbourhood, out of sight and earshot, to a muddy verge… were my dog used to shit!

The anti-inclusion protests soon ran out of momentum and fizzled out. Neighbourly relations began to heal and… with a little understanding, we found the perfect blend.


One of those articles in the national press stated that the leader agitator blamed the LGBTQ group for the attacks that occurred on that Heluations evening, “They provocatively turning up as night fell, disturbing residents and causing intimidation by putting up rainbow flags and inflammatory messages,” he claimed.

No, the residents were not intimidated by ribbons, hearts and flags… it was the thirty masked cunts, bringing threats and violence to the road, that did that.

Our neighbourhood was under siege for months, all because the local school dared acknowledge the existence of alternative lifestyles.

I saw this inclusive policy, that parent’s were so opposed to, in practice one afternoon in a year 6 class.

One form teacher had a routine of ending the school day by bringing up current news stories on the class’s interactive whiteboard, from an appropriate children’s news source.

On the occasion I witnessed, the stories were: The New Zealand Prime Minister’s response to the terrible attack on a mosque in Christchurch; and a same-sex marriage on Peppa Pig (a popular pre-school cartoon series), between two male aardvarks.

The children knew all about both news items and objectively chatted about them, as (ironically) protest chants drifted in through the open windows.

No child was scandalised: No child spontaneously developed gayness; The world did not end.

A class of children casually discussed topical issues, unencumbered by the veil of intolerance that shrouds their parents.

Last One Out Please Turn Off the Lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was he ginger?” he asked.

“Yes. How did you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We love her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise lost. The end of an Eden.

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

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

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

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

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

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