Thursday, 12 September 2013

Diamante, neuroscience, ghosts, hurricanes, old broads, an Antiguan dandy and Maggie Thatcher

Me and DJ Connell

"The suggested dress-code is silver" was the message from Paul Burston, hostess with the mostest of "London's peerless gay literary salon" Polari, to celebrate in style the return for the Autumn/Winter Season of our favourite regular evening out. So I dragged out from the back of the wardrobe where it had languished since Gay Pride the dinner jacket that I lovingly customised in Art Deco diamanté style, and minced across with John-John to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank to do just that!

It was lovely to see everyone again - regulars such as John McCullough, Jayne Rogers, Val Lee, Chris Chalmers, Alex Hopkins, Helen Smith, Anny Knight, Suzi Feay and DJ Connell; not-so-regulars such as Ingo from Wotever World; and Paul's hubby Paulo and his dear mum (all the way from Brazil), Heidi.

Paul, of course, arrived in customary understated fashion in his silver winged cape to open proceedings and usher on the first of our readers for the evening.

Nick Field, an old fave of ours - and making quite a name for himself these days as a performance artist, with a gig at the Latitude Festival this summer - read for us a selection of his poems, all linked cleverly together on the theme of "neuroscience" (the rational scientific explanation for the feelings we experience when we are in love).

As always, food for thought, and excellently done!

Actress, performer, singer, opera librettist and author Lois Walden gave us a tour-de-force turn as she read (complete with all the voices) some segments from her latest acclaimed novel Afterworld, a decadent and Grand Guignol tale about the ghostly manifestation of the dead patriarch of a Deep South sugar plantation dynasty observing the self-destructive behaviour of his family - including a steamy scene of the son's exploits in a public toilet - to the backdrop of the looming devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Here she is reading at another recent literary event - with the passage she read for us:

The ever-lovely Susie Boyt (who I have discovered, to my surprise, is the daughter of the controversial artist Lucien Freud), closing the first segment of literary treats, read for us her fabulously camp short story Documentary at Clareville Lodge.

A poignant tale of the reminisces of two elderly former stars of the silver screen, her story was published in the anthology Once Upon a Time There Was a Traveller, a selection of writings by women authors, new and established. It was utterly superb, and left us laughing and contemplative in turn as we headed into the break.

Suitably refreshed with nicotine and a top-up of alcohol, we returned to our seats for a special announcement as Miss Suzi Feay took to the stage to announce the shortlist for the Polari First Book Prize 2013! The final candidates are:
  • The Murder Wall – Mari Hannah
  • Tony Hogan Bought Me An Icecream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hudson
  • The Sitar – Rebecca Idris
  • Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan - Mark O’Connel
  • The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones – Jack Wolf
The winner of this year's prize will be announced at November's Polari - which will take place in the swanky and prestigious Purcell Room in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (normally home to recitals, chamber orchestras, jazz and World Music) - and the lucky author will receive £1000, donated by sponsor Societé Generale.

And so, on with the show...

Bernardine Evaristo's fascinating story Mr Loverman tells the tale of Barrington Jedidiah Walker, a 74-year-old Antiguan living a double life - married to the shrewish and fearsome Carmel, who constantly accuses him of "carrying-on" with other women, he is in fact in a long-term gay relationship with his best friend Morris. The conundrum for poor Barry is can he, after all these years, finally leave his "conventional" life and settle down with his one true love?
...Still here, thanks be to God. Still spruced up and sharp-suited with a rather manly swagger. Still six foot something with no sign of shrinkage yet. Still working a certain je ne sais whatsit. I might have lost the hair on my head, but I still got a finely clipped moustache in the style of old Hollywood romancers. Folk used to tell me I looked like a young Sidney Poitier. Now they say I resemble a (slightly) older Denzel Washington. Who am I to argue? The facts is the facts. Some of us have it, some of us do not. Bring it on Barry, bring it on.
From the brief extracts she read, this is a beautifully-written and absorbing story, and by the end we were all rooting for the plucky Barry...

Finally, our top-billed author (and host of his very own literary salon in swanky Soho House) Mr Damian Barr took to the lectern, to read for us some pieces from his opus Maggie and Me. An autobiographical recollection of the pain of growing up a weedy, abused, gay child in a recession-torn industrial Scottish town in the mid-80s, the piece he read took a more tender turn - his early "love" for his school chum, and their brief yet romantic attempt to run away from all that grimness to dabble their toes in the sea on a beach in Cornwall.

Touching, adorable and a fittingly satisfying climax to another marvellous evening!

Here is Mr Barr talking about the book:

And here he is talking about the eponymous anti-heroine of the story, Maggie Thatcher:

Applause, photoshoots and "working the room" over and done with, John-John and I headed back across the (by now, moonlit) Thames for a nightcap before winging our way home, our literary senses refreshed once more for another month.

Next month's Polari (on 22nd October) features a very welcome return appearance from the writer of some of our favourite films and telly series ever (Beautiful Thing, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Murder Most Horrid, Beautiful People) Mr Jonathan Harvey, plus Diriye Osman, Robyn Vinten and more.

Bring it on!

Polari website


  1. You certainly worked the room, baby. Fab blog as ever. DJ

  2. Working the room? You? Never in a million years, darling! ;-)

    I was GUTTED to have missed it (looks like I won't be at October's either which I'm most p'turbed about as I'll be missing Jonathan Harvey read. His latest book is just EXCELLENT!)

    Hope to see you soon. XX

    1. Oh dear - and there's me thinking you were a lady of leisure with all the time in the world for social events such as Polari :-) Still, all the more space for moi to work another room...

      I thoroughly enjoyed "All She Wants" as well, and I do love Mr Harvey - can't wait! Jx

      PS There is a "Pop-up Polari" at the Soho Literary Festival on 28th, but it clashes with our trip to Wilton's Music Hall with the birthday boy (it's the day after his party, too)

  3. Fantastic write-up, as always. It was great to see you - see you at the next one!

    1. Lovely to see you again - and yes, we'll definitely see you at the next one! Jx

  4. Well, I meant the cape here. These old eyes aren't quite what they used to be.

    1. I saw your comment on my blog about Moby, and I did wonder what you were on about...

      It is a cape to die for! Jx


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