Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Gang wars, psychics in Torquay, rubbish lesbians, the Hollywood closet and a mini Joanna Lumley

Paul Burston, our host at "London's leading gay literary salon" wasn't happy when - opening the evening's proceedings dressed as a gangster - he appeared to be "shooting blanks" (his toy gun failed to go pop when it was supposed to - oo-er). However, it didn't dampen the enthusiastic welcome that I, Paul, Little Tony, Emma, Toby, Bryanne, Simon, Sexy Lexi, Val, Jane and a huge crowd of the great and the good of the glitterati gave to the latest outing of our favourite cultural evening - Polari.

First to the lectern was the rather delicious Kevin Franke, runner up in the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook short story competition 2014.

His tale A Visitor was a most bizarre fantasy indeed, involving an unexpected house guest, in the (remarkably miniaturised) form of one of our national treasures:
And that’s that: Joanna Lumley is living at the bottom of my bed. She’s made her home in the red wicker basket the cat used to sleep in. She says it’s ever so comfortable but I struggle to understand why she would want to live at the bottom of my bed. I can always tell which room she’s in because the cat will be outside the door, squatting, his eyes downcast as if he’s either plotting murder or considering suicide. He has taken to shitting in the bedroom.

You couldn’t wish for anyone more charming to live at the bottom of your bed, however her smoking does bother me. I wake up to smoke-signals rising. ‘This is a non-smoking house,’ I tell her. ‘Of course it is, Darling,’ she says, gently stroking my left cheek with the back of her hand. One of my trainers is now an overflowing ashtray at the side of her basket-home. I empty it when she’s out.

She’s always perfectly turned out. New outfits appear all the time. A lot of whites, creams, with splashes of colour in the form of expensive-looking scarves. A burnt orange, a sunflower yellow, royal blue. I decide to iron a pile of my own clothes, which have been languishing in a heap on the floor for months, and soon it feels normal again to put on a fresh shirt every day...

...She leaves one day while I’m at work. I find her bedding folded up neatly on top of the bed, the room aired to rid it of any stale smoke, and a note:

Darling Man.
I hope you don’t mind.
JL xxx

An imprint of her red lips. I can smell her perfume. Alongside it a pile of envelopes: red-lettered reminders, long ignored by me, opened by her, a cheque with her signature left on top of them. I sit on the edge of my bed, looking down at the red basket, already reclaimed by the cat, curled up in it, opening his eyes briefly to squint at me knowingly: the intruder gone. For a moment I have an image of a Hello! magazine feature about Joanna Lumley, one of those ‘Stars in their Homes’ pieces. I picture a multi-page spread of her all dolled up, sexy yet classy, holding a glass of champagne, photographed living in some random bloke’s bedroom in an old cat basket at the bottom of his bed.

Following on from the world of fantasy, we traversed to the world of murder mystery (albeit a distinctly off-beat one), courtesy of the utterly adorable Helen Smith (the night's "token heterosexual" according to Mr B).

Reading from her latest hit novel Beyond Belief, her story revolved around the mass gathering of psychics, cult members and spiritualists in the - ahem - exotic climes of Torquay for a conference; and the prediction by one of their notable number that a murder would take place during the event. Hilariously transposing the portentous pronouncements of the future-telling characters with the day-to-day bewilderment of Torquay's assembled hen parties - it's very funny stuff!

Here's Helen herself, magnanimously sharing one of the secrets of literary success:

Putting all tittering aside with a bang, V.A. (Veronica) Fearon launched us into a quite terrifying gang-war chase sequence from her (first) book The Girl with the Treasure Chest.

Thankfully, her second extract introduced us to the woman whose interventions were aimed at breaking this cycle of violence (Dani) and her cheeky way of seduction, of Susanna, at a family wedding. An intriguing insight into the book; it does sound very promising...

A good way to round-up part one, methinks.

Sarah Westwood describes herself as a "Rubbish Lesbian". So much so, she even has her own column of that name in Diva magazine - and now, some of her often hysterically funny musings have been published in book form. Including this one:
I do think it's important to be 'Loud and Proud', but it's possible I might have taken that sentiment too literally. I've just broadcast the fact I'm a lesbian to half of Currys Wembley. I wouldn't mind, but I only went in there to test speakers.

I blame the store assistant. He was the one who instructed me to try the sound of my chosen speakers for size. I plugged my phone in, scrolled down to a random playlist, and hit play. He whacked up the volume and gave me a look as if to say, "Just wait; you're going to be blown away." There was a momentary pause then a woman in a very deep voice came lustily over the speakers saying, "Sapphic Seductions, a collection of erotic short stories…" I'm blown away.

At first I just stare at the dude from Currys and he stares back. I had no idea that this racy little oeuvre was coming from my phone; I thought it must have been a mistake. I was thinking, "Any minute now Rihanna will kick in". But instead it continued, "I could feel the soft silk of my blouse tighten against my chest as I slowly arched my back in…" I glance down and notice my phone is now helpfully displaying an image of a naked woman and the title Sapphic Seductions. Oh hell. I'm wishing I'd gone for the cheaper, less audible speakers, or better still headphones.

I know exactly how this happened. A few years ago I was stuck in a Chicago airport lounge with a lot of stuffy businessmen. A heady mix of boredom and Bloody Marys prompted me to search iTunes for lesbian content and I downloaded this audiobook. It was a bit of fun at the time and I've never listened to it since. In fact I had forgotten about it's existence. This audiobook has been languishing in my iPhone for the last six years like some lesbian curse, just waiting for an opportunity to be heard again publicly. Why now, audiobook? Why Currys Wembley?

Coming out as a lesbian is one thing, but coming out as a lesbian fan of erotic audiobooks in a high street electrical store is unconscionable. I would have some of my guilty pleasure music: Steps, Celine Dion, or even Chris de Burgh. I frantically fumble with my phone in an attempt to silence my Sapphic Seductions, but I'm panicked and fat fingering. I can't make it stop. The couple in the aisle opposite, who have been loudly arguing over extending a television warranty stop what they're doing and listen. Everyone from Home Cinema to Audio falls silent. All that can be heard is the sound of a breathy voiced narrator and her tale of lesbian office 'romance'. Oh God, where the hell's Rihanna when you need her?
We had tears pouring down our faces with that one...

Our headliner Matt Cain - cute, in a camp-Max-Headroom-sort-of-way - was formerly culture editor for Channel 4 News (and claims he was the inspiration for a gay character in the BBC piss-take comedy W1A) and since leaving, has turned his hand to writing. His début book Shot Through The Heart is described (by the author) as "a romantic comedy about a Hollywood actress who falls in love with a paparazzi photographer; and as if that situation isn’t tricky enough the pap starts getting jealous about his new girlfriend’s relationship with her handsome co-star, who he doesn’t realise is a closeted gay man."

It was the meanderings of the latter, Billy Spencer, who formed the crux of the extract he read for us; and the arrogant self-love, the playing-up to deluded yet adoring fans, the shallowness of Billy's hiding behind the closet door all rang very true even in today's world - where fame at all costs is all that seems to matter, truth be damned. Very well-observed, very funny and pithy, I think this bodes very well for a first book, and the Polari audience appeared to think so too.

Depressingly, the evening was over all too soon. However, there is some very good news afoot for Polari, as Paul announced - thanks to an Arts Council grant, the "show will be going on the road" this year, with Pop-Up Polari events up and down the country. So look out for the literary gays appearing at a venue near you!

Speaking of which, I am planning to attend the first of these a week on Saturday (7th June), as Paul Burston, VG Lee, Alex Hopkins and Sophia Blackwell turf up at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival (how posh), just down the road from Dolores Delargo Towers!

June's (regular) Polari is on Wednesday 25th June 2014 at the Southbank, and features Julie Bindel, Alexis Gregory, Barbara Marsh, Michele MacFarlane and Rachel Holmes.

Polari website


  1. Every month I think Polari can't get any better … and then it does - fabulous night x

    1. It was indeed tremendous! Jx

    2. PS 113 "hits" on this blog, 186 on the last one about Polari, and you are the only person to leave a comment. I am constantly amazed by that.


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