Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Faghags, Scouse wheelchairs, handbags, fruits and Mary Queen of Scots

Ange, John-John, little Tony, Craig and I excitedly trolled off to the South Bank last night for the (very welcome indeed) return of Paul Burston's "peerless gay literary salon" Polari - truly one of the highlights of our burgeoning social calendar! It seemed everyone was there - among the packed house were Lauren Henderson/Rebecca Chance, VG Lee, DJ Connell, Alex Hopkins, Helen Smith, Joe Storey-Scott, Peter Daniels, Max Wallis, and none other than "Mr S-Express" himself, Mark Moore!

Opening proceedings in customary glamorous gangster-style, bedecked in trilby, sunglasses and the obligatory electronic cigarette, Mr P wasted no time in introducing us to the first in a glittering line-up of readers.

The rather cute pride of Yorkshire Mr Adam Lowe - variously described as "a one-man transsexual, alien, flute girl theatre of insanity" and "the Lady Gaga of literature" - read for us a series of short poems from his extensive repertoire. And very good, they were too - especially this one, Fruit:

Not to be outdone, he was followed swiftly by a most glamorous apparition, in the form of Adrian Dalton (also known as Lola Lypsinka). An astonishing individual, Mr Dalton actually began life as Katherine (apparently lesbian) before having full gender realignment to become not just a man, but a gay man who likes to dress in drag as a woman!

Sensationalism aside, Adrian is an accomplished author - and read for us a passage from his very camp first novel Inside Lindsey's Handbag, a chatty little "soap opera" about the intertwining lives of a group of friends, including the brilliantly-named "Gladys Cox-Hardt - drag queen hooker and avant garde cabaret performer". It's fantabulosa, sweeties!

Concluding the trio of readers in the first half, we had the improbably-named Jesse Blackadder. Described as a "sweeping, imaginative and original tale of political intrigue, misplaced loyalty, secret passion and implacable revenge is based on real characters and events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots... a breathtaking epic from a bold, fresh Australian voice," her novel The Raven’s Heart - from the passage she read - seems a fascinating tale.

I'm intrigued.

Anyhow, it was time for a break and a breather before the "star turns" arrived!

How does one adequately sum up the phenomenon that is Miss Penny Arcade? Warhol acolyte, performance artist and legend of the gay underground of New York's Greenwich Village, she starred alongside Jackie Curtis in Femme Fatale and Quentin Crisp in his one-man performances, was instrumental in producing oral histories of the likes of Jayne County and beat poet Herbert Huncke, and is the star of her own revue Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! (which was on in London recently). Phew!

Ms Arcade read for us some (rather emotionally fraught at times) pieces from her anthology/autobiography Bad Reputation, focusing on the comedy and tragedy of her early life as a teenage runaway, and the horribly sordid individuals she encountered. I shan't go into detail, but there are some real pervs out there...

We were in awe.

Photo: Krysphotos.co.uk

Here is a clip from her original - and magnificently camp - book launch (which featured surviving fellow Warhol-ites and such superstars as Debbie Harry and Deeee-lite's Lady Miss Kier...) Amazing stuff:

Our much anticipated star reader, however, was the marvellously talented Jonathan Harvey, multi-award-winning writer of such classics as Beautiful Thing (the play and the film), as well as the Pet Shop Boys musical Closer to Heaven and Corrie! The Musical. He also created sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme for friend Kathy Burke, wrote the screenplay for one of our favourite TV programmes Beautiful People and has been on the Coronation Street writing team since 2004.

His debut novel All She Wants is basically the story (told in the first person) of Jodie, the "girl next door" who manages to get away from her suffocating life in Liverpool as a shelf-stacker in the local supermarket "Sandalan" to make it big on telly, and her adventures en route. In the chapter he read, we get to meet our protagonist's friends Hayls and Debs, and later on Jodie's hunky boyf Greg, her family and her errant gay brother ‘Our Joey’ who has just been arrested in flagrante delecto at the local "beauty spot". But this passage alone was enough to have the audience in stitches - you have to imagine it being read in the thickest, roughest Scouse accent:
Greg's cousin, who Hayls copped off with at the barn dance, was called Lotan O'Grady. He'd claimed to have ended up in a wheelchair after playing on the railway lines as a kid and getting himself electrocuted. Whereas most of us thought that made him a bit of a knob, Hayls thought he was some kind of hero, or the victim of a huge miscarriage of justice. After a few Lambrinis she had even been known to moot the idea of a conspiracy theory about the railway bosses using him to make an example of what happens when children break the rules and go against the state. God love Hayls, ever the political animal, if a slightly misguided one.

Then one day his mum had told Hayls that Lotan had always been in a wheelchair, so she dumped him because he'd lied to her.

"He can't always have been in a wheelchair, " I said, while Hayls cried on my shoulder in the stock lift.

"He has. His Ma said," she spluttered between breaks in the tears.

"Well, he can't have come out of the womb in one," I pointed out, which mollified her.

"But why did he lie to me?" she asked.

"I dunno," I said with a shrug.

"Maybe," said Debs, "he was just trying to sound more interesting."

"Oh yes." I ran with this. "Like that time you told everyone your aunty was Wincey Willis."

Hayls blushed, though it was hard to tell under all that fake tan.

A week later they were back together. Hayls was very quick to inform everyone that Lotan hadn't lied through choice, but that society had forced him to lie. None of us minded as Lotan was basically a decent guy.

Hayls thought he was the bee's knees and fussed over him like he was a new born baby, treating the wheelchair like an oversized pram. She was forever lifting him out of it onto our couch, then folding it up with two sharp slaps and a kick and moaning about the lack of wheelchair access - even at Sandalan. Honestly, she couldn't even pop round without answering the first "How are you?" with "Well, Jodie. I'm fine. But what I'm thinking about is... how would Lotan have made it up them stairs?" It was enough to drive you mad. We lived in a dormer bungalow, for God's sake! There was one step up from the drive to the front door, and she made it sound like we lived at the top of the Thirty-Nine Steps.
He was a hoot! We laughed till the tears ran down our faces...

On that high note, it was almost time to draw a close to proceedings, but Paul had one more very special announcement to make - and introduced one of the judging panel Suzi Feay to announce the shortlist for The Polari First Book Prize 2012! The contenders are:
  • The Frost Fairs by John McCullough (Salt)
  • Ey Up and Away by Vicky Ryder (Wandering Star Press)
  • Becoming Nancy by Terry Ronald (Transworld)
  • Exit Through The Wound by North Morgan (Limehouse Books)
  • Modern Love by Max Wallis (Flap)
The winner (of a grand prize of £1000, courtesy of Square Peg Media), will be announced in "glitz and glamour at Polari's fifth birthday bash on 26th November", apparently.

This was a triumphal return, a fantastic evening - and one we'll remember for a long time!

Roll on the next outing for Polari on Monday 29 October 2012, with Jake Arnott, Marco Mancassola, Stella Duffy, Rebecca Chance, Andie Davidson and Charlie Bauer.


  1. Polari never fails to surpass expectations - in a rather busy September it's right up there with the peak of the month x

    1. I was incredibly impressed! A fab night, as always... Jx

  2. Every time it's "the best one yet" but this really was! Loved Penny Arcade and Jonathan Harvey; both surpassed my wildest expectations! Bravo! Roll on the next Polari... Ticket in hand already!

    1. I can't wait for my monthly dose of culture with a capital "K"... Jx

  3. Jon, you are fabulous. What a wonderful blog piece. DJ X

    1. High praise indeed from a brilliant writer such as you! Thanks, my darling - and see you at the next one... Jx

  4. Another great write-up of another great night. Thanks, Jon!

    1. It was fab to see you there, my dear! Mwaaah... Jx

  5. I'm about to faint.

    Jonathan Harvey?

    Possibly THE best writer on Corrie!

    And, of course, as you mentioned the delightful romp "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme."

    How is it possible I haven't seen "Beautiful People?" Nor was I aware that he'd written a novel.


    1. He was a lovely man, too!

      As for "Beautiful People", you must - you really must watch this programme! One of the best telly programmes, ever. Jx

    2. The clips are "not available" in The Colonies but I'm adding this programme to my DVD list of must-sees based on your recommendation and the fact that they're part of the Jonathan Harvey opus.

    3. You will adore it - do let me know what you think... Jx

    4. Will do.

      Do you have a list of your fave telly programmes somewhere in your archives?

      Comedies are my genre of choice, although I enjoy drama as well.

      I'd love to see what you recommend.

      BBC Canada is good but doesn't offer everything so I have a growing stack of BritComs in my DVD collection.

      I've recently made my way through all of "Ideal" and "Benidorm."

    5. I'm not that prescriptive. It's quite random - I love "Benidorm" and "The Royle Family" but never got into "Shameless", for example. However I listed loads of faves (music, film, theatre, TV) on my MySpace profile, which still exists "in the ether" for the moment (it's on my Blogger profile as "My Web Page"). Jx

  6. *revives briefly to say how much I love that arched eyebrow of yours*


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