Thursday, 14 November 2013

A murderous lion, a transsexual diva, the N-word, tuberose, evening wear and Miss Lederer

We decided that on such a noteworthy occasion as the sixth anniversary of "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari - for one night only relocated to the prestigious (if a bit soulless) Purcell Room for the occasion - and the announcement of the winner of the Polari First Book Prize, we would dress up a bit. We all (Madam Arcati, Paul, little Tony, Jim, Wayne and a host of regulars including Alex, Paulo, Lauren/Rebecca, Diane, Val, Peter, Emma, Toby, Anni and the rest, and non regulars including Mzz Kimberley) looked very smart indeed, I thought!

Paul Burston appeared as proud as punch at the turnout, and with good reason - in six years, Polari has risen from "just another" author evening in a bar in Soho to one of the most respected regular literary events that the Southbank Centre has! Always brilliant, always entertaining, and a firmly-established part of London's premier artistic showcase. Tonight's line-up was certainly something rather special...

Opening the show was the marvellous Ms Rosie Garland - in another life she is known as "Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, cabaret chanteuse and mistress of ceremonies" - whose estimable talents have turned of late to writing. Indeed her first novel Palace of Curiosities, from which she read us an extract, was only published earlier this year.

It seems a quirky, sinister, brilliantly-written tale - the piece she read graphically described the moment when the mangy and tortured lion ("Jambo") in a Victorian circus finally turns and rips his tormentor the trainer's throat out (before itself being killed) in front of a horrified audience. Well, almost all horrified. The narrator of the book just happened to be conceived that very night, as her mother, evidently consumed with perverse passion at the carnage, takes the opportunity to consummate her relationship down an alleyway...with the lion's blood still dripping from her clothes. What the resulting freak-child is like and how her subsequent life story unfolds is for us to discover in the rest of the book, methinks... Here is Ms Garland (with short snippet from the book) at a recent spooky “Crime & Fear“ event at Staffordshire University:

As Mr Patrick Flanery quite rightly said, "How do you follow that?" An American ex-pat resident of London, Mr Flanery has two well-received novels under his belt - and a third on its way - and he read first from one of those Fallen Land, a convoluted tale of the paranoia that engulfs a selection of haunted characters tainted by their doomed pursuit of the "American Dream". It was difficult to get the measure of this complex story, as it was with the taster he gave us of his next novel that features the agonies faced by a closeted gay actor in the midst of the "studio system" that ruled the Golden Age of Hollywood - whether it was the pace of the reading itself, the acoustics of the cavernous hall, or merely the multitude of interwoven conversations between Mr Flanery's characters, I don't know. Maybe a more leisurely read of the books might unravel the threads, but we were exhausted.

Thankfully, entertainment of a simpler, more musical kind was to follow.

Miss Dee Chanelle, the glamorous trans founder of the annual Miss Diamond Queen contest, sang (beautifully, admittedly) two songs that are not exactly our cup of tea - Luther Vandross' dreadful Dance With My Father and Emeli Sande's Clown - but finished off with the most faboo version of Dame Shirl's eternal classic This Is My Life [please excuse the crappy clip - as with all such hand-held phone videos, the audience "participation" rather ruins the impression one gets of the singer; she was excellent last night!]

And so to the break, the inevitable shitty service at the Queen Elizabeth Hall bar, a little varda at the gorgeous views of the Thames from the terrace, and back to the auditorium, hardly having had a chance to speak to anyone [the consensus from most people was that they missed the milling around and mingling that is possible in our usual function room at the Royal Festival Hall].

Regardless, our opener for the second half, the charming Mr Dean Atta is always welcome - with his "in-yer-face" punk-poetry challenging racism, homophobia and hypocrisy in modern society. He got the biggest cheer for his most famous poem I Am Nobody’s Nigger:

But the anger soon turned to laughter as our adorable special guest star Miss Helen Lederer took to the stage!

Miss L is an absolutely on-the-ball comedienne, playing up to the "ditzy" persona that made us adore her so much in classic series such as Ab Fab and Naked Video, yet always with perfect timing for the punchline. She regaled us with recollections of appearing semi-naked with Tom Daley (lucky cow) in his universally panned reality show Splash, of school-days, auditions and the unexpected complexities of trying to get "crowd-funding" to put together a stage show. Speaking of which, her WTF spoof panel show is on at the St James Theatre on 28th November:

[We would have had some lovely photos of us with Helen, with whom we were chatting after the event - quite impassioned and seriously - for a while, but Jim fucked up and managed to take two of the blurriest images known to man, short of actually smearing the lens with lard. This is the best I could do to actually be able to make out that we were all in it. I know it looks like a crappy old Polaroid, but then again thanks to the oh-so-trendy-bollocks that is Instagram, this is quite the look nowadays. Apparently.]

Miss Lederer having suitably perked us all up, it was time for our headline reader to come to the lectern...

Ms Charlotte Mendelson is an author of some magnitude – she's won the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and has been short-listed for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction, and her latest novel Almost English was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2013. And it was from this that she read us a truly absorbing piece, a short extract of which is below:
The air stinks of tuberose, caraway and garlic: the universal scent of central European hospitality. But Marina is not hospitable. After only an hour her skin is tender with cheek pinchings; she has been match-made, prodded and instructed beyond endurance, and the night is young.

Soon they will come to find her, to admire the shape of her fingernails, the thickness of her lashes, their eyes peeling back her clothes, weighing her like fruit. This is not new. She has been brought up to accept the questions and kisses as if nothing could please her more, however much lava is boiling inside.

The problem is that Marina has changed. She can bear their scrutiny no longer because her life is a disaster, and it is her fault. She betrayed them and escaped them, and now she wants to come back.

So, finally, we came to the crux of the evening, as Paul B and Val Lee announced the winner of the Polari First Book Prize 2013 - Ms Mari Hannah, for The Murder Wall.

She appeared absolutely overjoyed as Vincent Francois from sponsors Societé Generale presented her with a cheque for £1000. And so another deserving winner was crowned!

Lots of mingling and chatting later (including and especially with the lovely Miss Lederer), and that was another marvellous evening over and done with...

I think many of us will be relieved that the Polari Xmas bash returns to its cosy environs of the 5th Floor Function Room on 9th December - with a line-up that includes our lovely friend Marcus Reeves as well as Philip Hoare, Barbara Brownskirt, Neil Spring and Ann Mann.

I can't wait!



  1. Great blog/review as always darling. I was gutted not to have been there but bad news from HKG earlier that day meant that I had to stay home and be with S. This year is turning out to be the worse ever for us and especially for S and his family. I DO plan to be at the next one, circumstances allowing. Missing you guys! xxx

    1. Our thoughts are with you and S, sweetie! Jx

  2. Fab blog honey! And like Ange things (family wise) have overtaken everything else. I'm detetmined to make December to see our Lovely Marcus (hmm, I wonder how he will be dressed) and the amazing Barbara Brownskirt. JJxx

    1. One wonders whether the "Singing Xmas Tree" will be making another reappearance... See you Wednesday if not before! Jx

  3. I was sorry to miss this one - I was at another awards ceremony on the other side of town. Another great write-up, as always. You all looked fab! Congratulations to Mari on winning the prize. See you at the next one, I hope.

    1. It was a shame - but you weren't the only one with conflicting events that prevented them making an appearance (it is the season for it, or so it seems). Hopefully see you at the Xmas bash! Jx

  4. Replies
    1. Who doesn't, dear? She's fabulous. Jx

  5. A very accurate account of the night - I'm glad the Christmas Polari is back in it's usual venue - where we're free to mingle, looking forward to Marcus, Barbara Brownskirt and everyone else xx

    1. We always manage to mingle and "work the room", no matter where we are - as you will agree... Jx

  6. Thanks for the little mention Jon! But I didn't even come close to the dazzling and glitzy smart you guys achieved :-)

    Great blog! You have a way of capturing the essence of the evening!


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