Tuesday, 18 March 2014

New Romantic slap, Judi, green VPL, Scottish lesbian secessionists and a "Fuck It" list

So there we were (our Paul, little Tony and I; and Emma, Toby, Bryanne, Simon, and Lauren/Rebecca and her coterie of "safety gays" including songwriter Jake Hook), on Paddy's Day at Polari ("London's peerless gay literary salon"). And Paul Burston, our host, was all in green - in a suit with trousers so tight one could see his Leprechaun. A perfect start to another evening of cultural wonderment!

Our opening entertainment was from Mr Carl Stanley, former New Romantic and make-up and hair artist to the stars, who read for us from his as-yet-unpublished memoir, punningly titled Kiss and Make Up, from whence comes this small extract about his (ahem!) fabulous mother:
“What’s a hysterectomy?” I’d asked.

“Somethin’ I should’ve `ad twelve years ago,” had been her flippant comeback as she’d pinned her commandments to the cork note-board.

Later, I’d trawled through the ‘H’s in my Collins Gem: hysterectomy n. the surgical removal of the womb.

"Hang on a mo’, if I’m eleven an’ it takes nine months to have a baby..." I’d thought...

Frosty and irascible, she’d never been especially likeable, but that’d been the cherry on a gateau of dislike that’d started two Christmases earlier in 1978 when the Girl’s World I’d written Santa for wasn’t under the tree. I’d hunted high-and-low lest he’d hid it elsewhere, and she got so annoyed with me badgering where else could it be that she said nowhere because he wasn’t real.

I should’ve known really, as she’d never have allowed anyone in Wellington boots to step on her Axminster, not even a saint...
The book sounds a hoot, and I hope it gets a publisher soon. You can read more at his Authonomy page.

The charming Nicolas Collins - a man whose online profile is practically invisible, sharing as he does a name with a popular electronic musician and the son of 80s pop-shame Phil, and the title of whose book of poetry is more a topic of conversation on MumsNet than findable on Google - was next onto the stage, reading a selection of pithy and sometimes rather wonderful poetry from his (self-published) anthology Washing the Duvet, tackling love, sex, relationships and everything in-between. We loved it.

Nevertheless, no matter how excellent our first two readers were, they were about to be upstaged! Forcing Paul B's hand once again to allow her into the limelight, everyone's favourite Barbara Brownskirt arrived - virtually at first, on her Big Day Out - a tribute to Judi Dench:

As she continued ("in the flesh" this time) with her deadpan readings about failure and obsession, we laughed till our faces hurt! Always a joy, Miss Karen McLeod's "miserable militant lesbian" creation appears to have developed a rather wonderful life of her own. And more power to her cagoule-clad elbow, I say...

We needed a fag and a drink break after that.

Actress, producer and writer Miss Angela Clerkin opened the second half with a corker of a reading, first from her short story The "Fuck It" List. It's a brilliant tale, and was one of the highlights of the compendium Men and Women (edited by Mr Burston), the launch of which I went to way back in 2011. And here she is, reading from the story, at that very event:

She's a great storyteller, to be sure. And a great dancer of the jig, too!

However, our "leading lady" on this occasion was a pioneer who has been creating stories for a little while longer - Ms Maureen Duffy.

The first gay woman in British public life today to be open about her sexuality (on TV as well as in her work), before homosexuality was decriminalised at the end of the 60s; she was an early participant in the CND marches; first president of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA); is a staunch campaigner for the rights of gays, women, and oppressed minorities in general (and animals); a fellow of King’s College London and a Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature; and the author of 33 published works, including seven collections of poetry, non-fiction and 16 plays for stage, screen and radio. Quite a record.

She read some extracts from one of those works, her latest, In Times Like These - a lesbian love story set in a dystopian future following a successful independence campaign by Scotland from the United Kingdom and the havoc that it wreaks. And it was enchanting to listen to her.

This was yet another evening of first-class literature, and I had missed it terribly - having been in absentia for the last one (and I was told off by that event's headliner Val (VG) Lee for not being there!) thanks to its clash with the end-of-LGBT-History-Month ball in Camden.

Next month's is quite a line-up. On the bill on 28th April are Sophie Ward, Rebecca Chance, LaJohn Joseph, Kiki Archer and Booker Prize-nominated author and journalist Philip Hensher, and I can't wait!



  1. It was a really good night (as ever).

    I missed Paul's Leprechaun - I'm a good boy and wasn't looking, although I did see a man in full velvet green suit with shamrock brooch in the loos - he wasn't Irish, it turns out.

    Polari always has some readers/poets that I like and the March production was over-flowing with great readers, fun stories and some Irish dancing - it's all the culture a Monday night can handle.

    Roll on next months. x

    1. Shamrock brooches in the loos at the Southbank Centre? Whatever next...

      It was another excellent evening's "brain-food", and I am certain the next will be brilliant, too! Jx

  2. Great write up Jon, as always. Karen McLeod and Barbara x


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