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 in my life.’

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 night 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 had crossed my mind,” I confessed, “but I thought, Too soon?”


Now, with consent and consultation, it feels 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

The Etiquette of Naked Dining and Other Occasions to Let it All Hang Out

I have several friends who enjoy nothing better than hanging out at home… in more ways than one.

One acquaintance of my partner’s, who has now become a dear friend to us both, first came to my attention, when he was potentially in need of somewhere to stay.

He and my partner had met up for the odd naked coffee in our lounge or unobserved nook of the back garden, on a suitably sunny day. He insists that we met briefly at the conclusion of one of these nude visits, but I have no recollection of this, which is surprising as he should have made quite an impression, being the epitome of ‘tall, dark and handsome’, with expressive eyes, a playful smile, and the softest hint of an Italian accent, which gets noticeably stronger when he phones his favourite pizzeria to order a meal. A beautiful man blessed with charisma and humour.

“I don’t know him that well,” my partner said, at the time, “but he may need somewhere to stay while looking for a new place to live? He would want to be naked around the house, though, would that be ok?”

I pondered, “Do I mind a hot Italian guy moving in with us, and taking his clothes off? No, I can’t see a problem with that.”

Friends and family were vying for invites when I told them about our impending lodger, but sadly circumstances changed, and he never came to stay.


A good while later, I got to meet this Italian naturist properly (for the first time), when he came over for naked dinner.

I had done Grindr encounters and sex parties, but naked dining was a whole new ballgame of which I had no experience or idea of the etiquette.

“I’m sorry, but how does this work, exactly?” I asked, after we had been entertaining our guest for a while. “When do we take our clothes off?”

In preparation, I had cranked up the heating AND lit the wood burner. It was sweltering!


After the initial awkwardness of undressing for dinner, it just felt like a normal social occasion, just sans clothing. We stood in the kitchen chatting as food was prepared (keeping a safe distance from spitting pans) and sat around the table like any other dinner party, albeit with interludes to take comedy photos of us posing with carefully positioned utensils and ingredients to hide our modesty, which we naturally sent to curious friends. 

One recipient of these photos of underdressed diners was a pal who frequently attends naturist events with her gentleman friend.

Knowing that I am always up for new experiences, her friend invited me to join his naked rambling group on an excursion to the Sussex Downs. A day on a bluff in the buff.

“Doesn’t it trouble you that you that your other half wants to hangout naked with a gay man?” I teased my female friend.

She just shrugged.

Now, I am no stranger to public nakedness, having frequented gay saunas and strutted my milky complexion along many a nudist beach, but there was one thing that concerned me.

I asked, “What if I find one of the rambling group attractive? I might not be able to hide the effects.” I nodded pointedly ‘below decks’, to emphasise my potential predicament.

“Don’t worry,” she assured me. “I’ve seen the men in the group, that is not going to be an issue.”


As it turned out, my fellow ramblers put me in mind of a greetings card I had seen, where two women are at a bus stop when an elderly streaker runs past.

One of the women asks, “Did you see that?!”

“Yes, I did,” her friend replies, “and it needed a jolly good iron.”

At one point I looked at my fellow ramblers, a line of grey-haired heads, paunches and drooping bottoms, trapsing through the countryside, and commented to the chap next to me, “I feel like I’m in a very strange episode of Dad’s Army (*Classic BBC sitcom about the British Home Guard).”

He laughed, “Does that make you Pike (*Youngest character on the show)?”

“Very probably,” I replied, “and I have never needed his trademark woolly scarf more than I do right now.”


The whole naked rambling event was a well-planned affair, as an eleven-mile naked hike through the East Sussex countryside needed to be to avoid undue attention.

Apparently, it is not illegal to be naked in public, but curiously becomes an issue should someone complain, so a designated guide performs a recce of the route in advance, to identify problem areas where the group might potentially worry the sheep or cause a dog walker to bristle with Daily Mail indignation. In anticipation of such encounters, we were instructed to carry a pair of ‘emergency pants’, which could be donned at a moment’s notice. A line of mature ramblers, parading past in nowt but their underwear, was deemed perfectly acceptable and less likely to attract attention… obviously.

“Nothing to see here,” I could imagine the team leader declaring, “just out for a stroll in our skivyies… Oh, and good afternoon vicar!” 

I considered packing a man thong or something transparent from Clonezone, but opted for modest pyjama bottoms.


I enjoyed a unique afternoon of hiking hills, crossing streams, walking in woods, striding through meadows and fields of barley in the company a dozen brilliantly brazen older men, two of whom were in their eighties. You haven’t seen anything until you witness the rear view of a naked octogenarian straddling a stile, an image that will be seared across my retina for the rest of my days.

I am delighted to live in a world where splendidly unapologetic enthusiasts like this exist. You have to admire their balls… and believe me, I had ample opportunity.

Most Important Meal Of The Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The perfect Breakfast Bonnie to my Cornflake Clyde.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“What time did the alarm go off?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

A work in progress.

Cut and Blow

“I’ve found someone who will come to the house and cut my hair… plus I think I can fiddle with his cock while he does it,” was the greeting that welcomed me home as I walked in the door.

It turns out that my partner had been chatting to a Turkish barber on Grindr who offers home visits.

While it is not officially permitted, it is not uncommon for guys to sell their services on Grindr, but it tends to be more trade than tradesmen. You will frequently be spammed by escorts, sex parties and only-fans sites, but I have occasionally been approached by decorators, electricians, gardeners and once a plasterer from Bilston, who we did consider hiring, as we needed the chimneybreast skimming, but I accidently deleted his details during an overzealous purge of Grindr messages.

This offer of a haircut could not have come at a better time, as my partner was long overdue one. He is thinning on top, so when his hair gets too long, the sides tend to stick out, giving him a look that he has christened ‘Clown-head’ and puts me in mind of a mad scientist. He had spent the past fortnight looking like he was on the cusp of cracking the secret of alchemy or converting a DeLorean into a time machine.


“I’m not sure about the whole set up though,” my partner said, fretting about the impending house call.

We debated whether the fact that money was exchanging hands made this lad a sex worker?

“He is only charging ten pounds more than you would pay at the barbers and you have the convenience of him coming to the house,” I offered. “The extra tenner just covers his taxi, surely? It’s a good price for a haircut and you might get some action too, although I would be cautious about groping someone while they are holding a pair of scissors in their hand,” I warned. “You don’t want to startle him at a tricky moment and end up looking like Van Gogh.”

We decided that he was a hairstylist with optional extras, little different from visiting a salon and being offered refreshments or a free nasal wax.

“I think he is just a horny lad,” my partner decided, “with a unique technique for meeting guys.”


I have myself been approached to offer extras for cash on a few occasions… but coyishly declined.

One time, I was stood at the urinal in the now defunct toilets under the McDonald’s ramp (don’t judge me), when a grubby old man sidled up, pushed a crumbled £20 note in my direction and muttered, “Blow job, blow job.”

I gave him a disdainful look, zipped up and left, but he wasn’t going to give up easily and followed me out.

So began a cat and mouse pursuit through Birmingham city centre. Everywhere I went, he followed. If I paused to look in a shop window or walked into a store, he would sneak up on me and repeat his lewd demand.

I suppose I could have just made a run for it and lost him in the crowds, but I had a better idea. I led him a merry dance down New Street and into the Pavilions shopping centre, occasionally slowing my pace to allow him to catch up.

I rode the escalators up to the top floor of the mall, turning to check that he was still on my tail, and walked into Marks & Spencer. I found a particularly busy department, where I stopped and feigned interest in a rack of clothing.

Inevitably, the creepy guy sidled up to me and again whispered, “Blow job, blow job.”

I turned on him and at the top of my voice bellowed, “I AM NOT GOING TO SUCK YOU OFF IN MARKS AND SPENCERS!!!”, shocking my dogged pursuer and the gaggle of prim women of a certain age, who were perusing M&S fashions in our immediate vicinity.

The guy turned grey and scuttled out of the store as fast as he could.

I gave the slack jawed customer closest to me my sweetest smile and departed, with my head held high.

I had been inspired by the example of a friend whom, when she was groped on the London tube, immediately grasped the offender’s hand, thrust it into the air and shouted, “Whose grubby little hand is this?!”

Her handsy admirer had also made a hasty exit, jumping off at the next stop. 


Back with the mobile barber, my partner had finally set up an appointment, after several failed attempts.

“Well, I hope I have a sexual encounter this afternoon,” he told me in desperation, as I left for work that morning, “or, at the very least, a haircut.”


Apparently, it was all a little chaste when the barber did finally show up.

He set up in the kitchen, unpacked the tools of his trade and set to work, awkwardly engaging in the usual barber banter about holidays and the like in his limited English.

“You know, you have thick hair on the sides,” he said. “You could grow it to cover the thinning on top.”

“What and look like Donald Trump?!”

He started to giggle, then out of the blue, he asked, “So, are you a top or a bottom? I am bi myself.”

He presumably meant ‘versatile’, but my partner didn’t like to correct him, besides he found it endearing (but why they had left it to this stage to establish the basics, I have no idea?).

After the haircut was finished, the lad swept up then stepped into the lounge and politely commented on how much he liked the décor, then directly asked, “Are you going to suck my cock or not?”


“The sweetest thing about him was how shy he was,” my partner told me when he relayed the encounter that evening. “I might get my hair cut again next week.”

Glancing at my own unkempt lockdown locks in the mirror, I commented, “I could do with a cut myself. Do you think he would offer a ‘blow and go’ two for one discount?”

That special offer never happened, but I did look at my partner yesterday and commented, “You need a blowjob.”

“I’m sorry?” He responded, indignantly.

I smirked, “Have you seen the state of your hair?”

Something for the weekend, Sir?

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.

In the Shadows

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Urinal Encounters: Revised and Relieved

Originally published last year as four separate blogs, this reedited version is presented here as one ‘Eastenders’ omnibus.

I’ve had some odd encounters at urinals.

No, not like that!

Well… Yes, like that, but not always.


Once, I was stod at a pub toilet, getting on with the job in hand, when an olive-skinned guy with a heavy dark beard came and stood next to me.

Even in gay venues the etiquette is that men don’t tend to talk while taking a pee. The same rule of awkward silence that applies to lifts and the waiting room of an STD clinic applies. The urinals are not the place for idle chitchat. Yet, on this occasion, I became aware that the bearded guy kept casting glances in my direction. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the lavatories of a gay bar, in fact it’s pretty much standard practice. The unwritten rulebook of gay toilets deems talk forbidden, but peeking and downright lechery perfectly acceptable.

Unexpectedly, my urinal companion dared to disregard the convention of not talking and, in a strong Middle Eastern accent, commented, “I like your colour.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your colour, I like.”

I thanked him, assuming he was referring to my hair, as I am ginger with flecks of grey, which I like to think of as ‘Salt and Paprika’.

“Yes,” he continued. “Very pink!”

He now had my full attention, “Pink?!”

“Your face is very pink. I like very much.”

Being fair haired and light skinned, I do develop flushed cheeks after a few beers. It was undoubtedly the oddest compliment I have received, but so sincerely meant that I was happy to take it.

They say that opposites attract, so it makes sense that someone with his swarthy looks would be intrigued by my pink blush.

A Sicilian friend once told me about spending a holiday on the nude beaches of Italy, surrounded by his naked countrymen.

“It sounds like heaven,” I swooned.

“No, it was boring,” he replied. “They all looked like me!”

For me it would be a beach full of exotic looking men, for him it was like looking into an infinity mirror.


One another occasion, my partner and I were visiting Brighton and were having a meal in The Lion & Lobster, a large corner pub situated on the opposite side of town from the city’s famous gay scene. Inevitably, after a few pints, I needed to use the bathroom.

There were only two porcelain urinals in the Gents, tucked into a compact alcove.

I was immediately struck by the management’s curious choice of décor. Each of the three walls that made up the nook were covered in an assortment of mirrors, of all shapes, sizes and styles. They filled the walls from just below waist height to ceiling. It looked like the designer had raided every Poundshop and thrift store in Brighton and Hove for mirrors.

As I stood there, admiring the eclectic collection, another customer entered the gents and squeezed in at my side, awkwardly brushing against me in the tight space.

He glanced around at the walls and immediately commented, “What’s with all the mirrors?!”

“I was just wondering the same,” I said. “I’ve never seen myself pee from so many different angles before,” then added with a wink, “or other people for that matter.”

The guy smirked uncomfortably and starred resolutely ahead.

I must have been feeling particularly emboldened by those two pints, as this wasn’t a gay venue, yet I still flattered him with, “By the way, Not bad!”

The guy gave an uncomfortable laugh, “I’m laughing mate, but you know it’s with fear, right?”

“That’s alright,” I responded. “I’m blushing… and I can see it in every mirror.”

We exchanged pleasantries as we washed our hands then both left the toilets, chuckling as we returned to our respective partners. I bet his girlfriend didn’t let him out of her sight again.

I never did confess that the angle of the mirrors meant that I couldn’t really see anything. I didn’t want to disappoint him.


On another night out at The Golden Cross in Cardiff, I barrelled into the pub toilets and stepped into the only available space at the long communal urinal.

A friend’s boyfriend was stood on my immediate right, so I greeted him with a friendly, “Hello… no peeking!” I glanced to my left and noticed that the lad stood there was very cute, so leaned over and cheekily told him, “You can peek if you want… I’ve just peeked at you.”

The lad let out an exasperated, but good-humoured sigh, and said, “Now I’m not going to be able to go!”

We men are a delicate bunch and can be so easily put off our stride.

“Come on,” I teased, “you can do it.”

“Nothing’s going to happen with you stood there.”

“There’s a que forming.”

“Now I’m under pressure!”

“Let’s see who manages to pee first,” I suggested.

He rolled his eyes, “Great, now it’s a competition!” I started to urinate, my amber stream rattling noisily off the metal trough. “A competition that I’ve just lost.”

He still hadn’t managed to go even as I zipped up and left.

A short while later, I spotted the lad emerge from the Gent’s toilet and we gave each other mischievous grins. I weaved my way across the busy pub to introduce myself properly, shook the lad’s (hopefully washed) hand and told him my name.

He responded, “I suck,”

Taken aback by his unexpected candour, I countered, “Well, that’s good to know, but more information than I was expecting.”

He looked puzzled and replied, “It’s only my name.”

“Your name is ‘I Suck’?!!!’

He was Welsh, but this was one regional name that I was not familiar with.

“NOOOOO!!!” He cried, “Not ‘I Suck’! My name is Issac.”

That made far more sense, although I must confess to feeling a tad disappointed.


The most farcical predicament I have found myself in, happened back home in Birmingham.

We all know that nightclub toilets aren’t always used for the purpose for which they are provided. It doesn’t matter whether the club is gay or straight, there will be people taking advantage of the facilities for a quick sexual encounter.

The guy stood next to me at the urinal of this particular club, made it quite apparent that he was up for fun. He didn’t have to say anything… it was out there and obvious.

I nodded my head towards an empty cubical and raised a suggestive eyebrow.

“I am shy,” the guy muttered.

I glanced back down at his aroused crotch and said, “Not that shy, clearly!”

He considered for a moment then nodded his consent and we both stepped into the waiting cubicle.

Afterwards, as we readjusted our clothes, the guy motioned for me to remain quiet and listened at the thin door. He looked concerned and whispered, “There is someone out there.”

“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “I’ll stand behind the door when you open it then you leave and I’ll slip out once the coast is clear.”

He nodded and we executed our simple plan.

The door opened inwards and was on the side of cubical, rather than facing the toilet, so it was easy to flatten myself against the wall and remain concealed.

Unfortunately, as my brief acquaintance made his escape, another guy immediately walked into the cubical to take his place! This new fella closed the door and bolted it without turning around or giving my feeble hiding place a glance. He didn’t notice that I was there and started to relieve himself. This stranger was completely oblivious to the fact that I was stood, flattened against the wall, merely feet behind him in what should have been his private space!

Well, this is a bit awkward, I thought. I’ve got to reveal my presence, but without scaring this poor man to death.

In the least threatening tone I could muster, I gently said, “Don’t be afraid, but I’m behind you.”

He reacted with amazing composure. I get startled if someone so much as speaks to me unexpectedly while focused on something as mundane as doing the washing-up, let alone being surprised by someone when I think I am alone in a confined space.

After that encounter, I’ll be staying out of toilet cubicles, try to avoid further sitcom scenario and stop talking to strange men at the urinals…. Oh, hang on, maybe I’m the strange man?!