Gay Outdoor Club
Not the official history of the Gay Outdoor Club
Not the official history of West Midlands Gay Outdoor Club – written by Bob Miles in 2004
"The West Midlands group is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary in August 2004. Not that the group is 25 years old, you understand, but what the hell?
It actually started about 30 years ago as a Birmingham Friend / Campaign for Homosexual Equality walking group. At some point, which might have been 25 years ago - nobody can remember - that group metamorphosed into a Gay Outdoor Club (GOC) group.
The group’s early years could be characterised as the Age of Innocence. We were all young(ish) then (whereas nowadays only some of us are) and, imbued with the boundless optimism of youth, we travelled hopefully. Walks were never reccyd; if anyone had a map, it was probably an AA road map; and much of the time we were – well, lost. We had more legovers than Peter Stringfellow, only we were getting our legs over five-barred gates. Planned six-mile saunters could turn out to be sixteen-mile route marches; and on one famous occasion, the walk ended abruptly ten minutes after the lunch stop, when we suddenly found ourselves back at the cars, having taken a massive unintentional short cut. Slick, it was not, but it was fun. For the most part.
But all good things come to an end and, in time, the Age of Innocence gave way to the Age of Leadership. Our first leader was Big M. Now Big M was not only big, he was big on Spam. Anomalously, one of the few things he wasn’t too big on was walking. When he walked at all, he did so with a stick. You might be forgiven for thinking that Big M was not the ideal leader for a walking group, but undeterred by his unsuitability for the job, Big M changed the job to suit himself. In Big M’s time, a GOC walk began by making a hamperful of Spam sandwiches. Then we would all drive out to Cannock Chase, stagger from the car park to the nearest grassy bank, sit down and eat a mountain of Spam sandwiches, before driving home with the windows wound down. This all went along merrily enough, until one fine day Big M got big on God as well as Spam and vanished without so much as a ‘tarra a bit’, never to be seen again.
Our next leader was Big L. Big L was on the National GOC committee, and at his inaugural pep talk he told us how embarrassed he had been to discover that at National HQ we were viewed as an abject bunch of shamble-ramblers. The rest of us were not so much embarrassed, as relieved to learn that HQ hadn’t a clue how bad it really was. Anyway, Big L told us, all that was about to change. He was going to be mean and masterful. (He knew how to win us round.) In future, camping weekends would be tenting weekends, and walks would be Long and Hard. The apogee of this regime came on a tenting weekend in Devizes, when we toured all of the 529 ancient monuments on Salisbury Plain and got chased by a bull, all in the course of an extremely long day’s walk. Back at the campsite – sorry, tentsite – Big L announced he was going to have five Ss before dinner. OK, so that’s a shave, a shower, a crap and a quickie, but what was the other one?
Great credit to Big L, he was indefatigable. Apart from his national GOC work, real walks and tenting weekends, he organised canal boat trips, meals out, parties, you name it. We didn’t dare think about how much he put into the group, for fear of feeling tired and needing a lie-down, which wasn’t allowed, of course. So as well as sad, we were more than a bit concerned when, one day, Big L told us his job was taking him away.
We needn’t have worried, because the group immediately fell into the extremely capable hands of Big F, who has an intriguing leadership style. Relaxed and laid-back as he may seem, Big F gets things done. We now have more walks than ever (usually around 18 a year), which are well supported and (nearly!) always well-researched. There is cycling, and a burgeoning and very active swimming group. We have the occasional party and a Christmas lunch, and take a stall every year at Birmingham Pride, where we sign up a modest percentage of the 100,000-plus who attend. Last but not least, we take pride in the fact that we were the first GOC group to have its own website (http://www.gocwestmindlands.org.uk), and the first to declare itself a Spam-free zone.
Enough of the past, what of the future? Will this wacky, wayward and intermittently shambolic group still be around in another twenty-five years’ time? Do you know, I’ve a funny feeling it will".
Contributed by: Bob Miles