Sunday, 14 December 2014

Yearning, Ormskirk, revenge, Lea Salonga at McDonalds and a Jelly Baby Jesus

As my regular reader will no doubt be aware, I am no fan of this "Festering Season". Xmas for me is merely a few days off work; and weeks of trying to avoid Mariah Carey and Slade at all costs, with the whole world going absolutely crazy in supermarkets, department stores and pubs all around - for no particular reason except the chance to get utterly bladdered and stressed, all planning to spend a day trapped in a house with relatives they would prefer never to see in their life.

But there is one event that is always worth looking forward to at this time of year - A Very Polari Xmas! And so it was that Paul, John-John, Little Tony, Jim, Wayne and I (and hordes of fantabulosa literati) headed to the South Bank on Friday for the last outing of "London's peerless gay literary salon" for 2014. Our ebullient host Mr Paul Burston played "Santa" for the evening, as he proudly introduced us to a very special range of literary talent, indeed...

Yrsa Daley-Ward is "a model, actor and writer of mixed West Indian and West African heritage", and certainly strikes a stunning figure on stage. The poems she read for us from her anthology Bone were gorgeous, too - words of yearning, of love, relationships and difficult family relationships - not least this one, Not The End Of the World:

Utterly enchanting stuff - Miss Daley-Ward is a force to be reckoned with! You can read more of her poetry and buy her book via her Tumblr site.

Following that impressive start was the multi-talented Miss Rosie Wilby - once famously described by Diva Magazine editor Jane Czyzselska as a "lesbian Eddie Izzard". In my opinion, she is far funnier than that...

We last saw her at Polari way back in 2012. More recently she has turned her talents to writing, and her soon-to-be-published memoir is already short-listed for the Mslexia memoir award. Tackling subjects as disparate as life in Ormskirk, coming out as a lesbian, being a 90s BritPop singer and the perils of comedy clubs, she had the audience in the palm of her hand. We loved her! Here she is on The Science of Sex:

Speaking of favourites, the very lovely VG (Val)Lee is most definitely one of ours. Long-time Polari stalwart (both as performer and audience member), when it became clear that hers was going to be a special entertainment for our Xmas extravaganza, we were intrigued. When she arrived from the side of the stage dressed as the Virgin Mary, complete with "Jelly Baby Jesus" ("Famous people become representatives of famous brands; I am the new 'Face of Bassett's'", she said], we were cracking up...

After offering bowls of sweets around the room, we were treated to some snippets of Val's observations on life, the universe and the price of tea-towels. Here she is reading (as she did for us on Friday) her short story featuring regular character the fearsome Deirdre - Alpaca Moonlight:

That marvellous wordsmith Miss Susie Boyt - another Polari favourite - was up first after the "comfort break". Hers was a much weightier tale (perhaps a semi-autobiographical one, given the fact that she is the child of the controversial Lucien Freud, about whom much was written - not always complimentary - after his death), that of a man whose normally indifferent composure is driven to thoughts of revenge by the betrayal of his own father's reputation by his former friend and biographer.

It was fascinating to listen to her portray her main character's descent from insouciance to concern, as friends and colleagues start to offer him words of pity and his own period of mourning is rudely broken, into seething and almost uncontrollable rage. We were hooked!

But of course, there was a final treat in store - for every time Mr Jonathan Harvey heads the bill at Polari, we know it is going to be good. We were not disappointed, as he read (hilariously - as an eight-year-old girl) an extract from his newest novel:
I lived in Tring. Tring didn’t even sound like a proper place; it sounded like the noise the bell on my bicycle made. Sometimes I pronounced it with a mock French accent to make it sound more exotic. Tringue. Or sometimes Trinje. Some thought that was pretentious for an eight-year-old, but as Mummy said to the neighbours on more than one occasion, "She’s not exactly a conventional child"...

I was very excited about going to see Miss Saigon as I had borrowed the CD from the local library and knew all the words because I had sung along to them non-stop in my bedroom for two weeks, even though I wasn’t sure what half of them meant. Plus there was a lady in it called Lea Salonga, which had to be the best name in the whole of the universe. Mummy disagreed with me on this – she thought the best name was a crumbly old actress called Googie Withers – but undeterred, I would often practise signing "love, Lea Salonga" in my autograph book for hours. One day I was going to change my name to Holly Salonga and star in Miss Saigon, even though Mummy said that wasn’t a possibility because I wasn’t ‘oriental’ enough. She had said the same when the local amateur dramatic group were putting on The King and I and I wanted to be Tuptim.

My favourite song in the show we were going to see was ‘The Heat Is On In Saigon’. I had worked out a whole dance routine to it, using cushions, which I pretended were pom-poms, and lots of high kicks. I was beside myself with excitement that we were finally, finally going to experience it!

But first we were going to do something else incredibly exciting. After taking the train from Tring to London Euston, we were going to have a pre-theatre lunch at...McDonald’s!!!! I had never been before. We didn’t have one in Tring. They had them in Hemel Hempstead and Aylesbury and Leighton Buzzard, but not where we lived. I would get so jealous of other children in my class saying how brilliant their lives were because they’d had a shopping trip to Hemel and gorged on eighty-three Big Macs. I had never had that pleasure. Till now...

I bit into my Filet-O-Fish. Kasey Woodlands was right: it was like biting into heaven.

But then Mummy spoke...
Having found out she's actually adopted (that was what "Mummy" wanted to say), so her suspicions about her "boring" parents seemed true to Holly, and she - The Girl Who Just Appeared of the book's title - makes a decision to try and find her "real" parents. I bought the book (and Mr Harvey kindly signed it), and I can't wait to find out what happens next...

And with that - and all the joie de vivre of the final mingling, air-kissing and seasonal greetings to everyone we knew - the evening came to a close (followed, inevitably, by late drinkies at Halfway to Heaven).

A wonderful evening!

Unfortunately I will miss the first outing for Polari in the New Year on 30th January - featuring Stella Duffy heading the bill, with James Maker, Catherine Hall, John R Gordon and Persia West - as we fly to Spain at some ungodly hour the following day, which is a shame... However, there is plenty more to look forward to in 2015 including Christopher Fowler, Diriye Osman and the multi-award-winning Sarah Waters!



  1. A talented bunch; thanks for sharing, Jon.

    1. It is a consistently brilliant evening... Jx

  2. Another great blog encapsulating another fabulous salon x

    1. It was a lovely evening - and good to see you, dear! Jx

  3. A brilliant write-up, as always. Enjoy your trip to Spain, Jon. Festive greetings (yes, I *know* you hate it but I'm sending you a parcel of love wrapped up in tinsel anyway) and Happy New Year!

    1. Hee hee! As if our abode at Dolores Delargo Towers isn't already awash with sequins and marabou, you have to add tinsel, too... Jx


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