Saturday, 18 April 2015

50 shades of Crouch End, sci-fi erotica, rude poems, multiple "Ida"s and Alan Bennett in the bath

Before I begin, if you're wondering what happened to my blog about last month's event - it is here.

So - in the words of Imelda Staunton in her tremendous performance in Gypsy - "Curtain up! Light the lights! You got nothing to hit but the heights!" And on with the show...

Thus Mr Paul Burston introduced our friend and fellow Polari regular Wayne Herbert to the podium. He opened with one of the classic tales from his blog of elderly bitchery and shenanigans in his locality of Crouch End, 50 Shades of Grey Power, in the unlikely setting of a crochet blanket stall at the local craft fair:
‘I can guarantee there are 50 shades of grey in this design,’ said Lil with a wink. Cyril disappeared behind the back boards. The potential customer didn’t know where to look, fumbled in his pocket for change, and selected a small black and yellow blanket directly in front of him.

‘That one looks like a wasp,’ Lil said through gritted teeth as she took the patron’s payment. He moved on quickly.

‘Bloody prude,’ Lil said as he walked away – hopefully too quiet for him to hear.

‘Lil.’ I placed the morning refreshments down with a start.

‘Cake – delicious.’ She accepted the napkin-wrapped item in front of her. ‘I was building up a good appetite.’

‘For what?’ asked Cyril as he emerged from his hiding place. Lil let out an enormous hall filling cackle. I noticed her customer scrambling for the door with his buggy taking the corner on two wheels.

‘Not you as well.’

‘Have you read 50 shades?’ I asked.

‘No, but I’ve heard it’s a bit saucy which I added to my sales’ banter.’

‘I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard enough to know that it’s more than saucy. It’s blue in a deviant sort of way…’ I said.

‘What sort of way?’ Lil asked as her cheeks starting to flush deeper than the already existing rouge.

‘In an S & M way,’ Cyril said.

‘Bondage?’ announced Lil loud enough to elicit odd looks from a number of others in our vicinity. Cyril and I nodded.

‘Well I never.’ She took a large bite from the cake and sat down.

‘Crochet and bondage and all before luncheon,’ Cyril said.
Fab - and followed by sneak preview of some of Wayne's "other" work (he's working on a first novel as we speak), too...

Chris Williams was next up - a newcomer to Polari [and it is impossible to find anything on the web about him] - his tale was an intriguing and convoluted (and wry) account of a writer struggling to balance his life with his writing (of what sounds like a rather dreadful pulp sci-fi slice of gay erotica). Entertaining, and well-written, but I don't think I was the only one in the audience who probably got "lost" somewhere in the middle of the reading, trying to work out which bits were the "real" story and where it overlapped with the "book within a book"...

Annabel Pribelszki concluded the first half with a very energetic snatch (and I use that word deliberately) of lesbian erotic performance poetry. It was very - ahem - "in yer face". I just felt uncomfortable.

Hey ho.

After a suitably hilarious break, bantering with Bryanne and Simon, it was time for John-John, our Paul, little Tony and I to resume our places for the second half, with our opener the very charming Ms Amy Mason, reading from her début novel The Other Ida.

It's certainly an interesting story - a wayward girl (who in the opening passage tries to drown her own sister), scarred by being named after a notorious play written by her un-motherly mother Bridie, and drawn into the maelstrom of its film adaptation. Set in several timelines, there's a hinted-at development of a lesbian encounter with the film's star, then, years later the impending doom of the adult Ida having to shake herself out of her drunken sluttery and return home to face the sister again and discover some home truths... Very enjoyable, I thought.

However, nothing quite compares with a Polari with headliner Karen McLeod! She is such a multitalented writer and performer, and, although we were a tad disappointed at the non-appearance of Barbara Brownskirt (Karen's humourless lesbian "writer-in-Residence at 197 bus stop on Croydon Road" alter-ego - probably just as well, as it might have been seen as a direct piss-take of Ms Pribelszki's poetry), it was a sheer joy to hear her read from a variety of "correspondence-based" writings, including her musings on Penge, which she wrote for local South London magazine The Transmitter. Here's an extract:
The thought of Beckenham makes me defensive. I went to school there. It was really white, well off and stiflingly suburban. David Bowie escaped as soon as he could. People from there take the mickey out of my beloved Penge. It's something to do with the word sounding like minge. I realised a long time back that the word Penge is a cross between penis and minge (coarse I know). And it's where we're all from.
She also (hilariously) recounted her habit of talking to famous people while in the bath:
Often when I am having a good soak I chat away to Alan Bennett, mimicking him and replying to myself giving advice or about some issue or other. I have a tendency to think that people such as Alan Bennett are a bit God-like and not real in bodily form. I mean I have never met him, so it is safe to think this. I know he has hands and feet, but really, letter writing isn’t as risky as a phone call in the fact that it is a monologue addressed to the person reading it. And when you address something to Alan Bennett I believe there is a back and forth going on between you. Even if he will never be there, he is the Alan Bennett version of myself. In the absence of a belief in God I have my own way of communicating.

Other times in the bath, with more female issues I have a bath-chat with Jenni Murray from Radio Four fame. She is often a bit abrupt with me. I think I am drawn to people with regional accents which are a bit more exotic than my plain South-London accent. Over and over, these wise voices tell me to get real and get on with it and out of the bath because the water is no longer hot.
Wonderful. Simply wonderful - and a great uplifting note on which to conclude another remarkable evening...

I love Polari. It may have its ups and downs, but it's an institution in my life - and an unmissable one!

It's a bit of a longer gap till the next one in 26th May, when our headline reader will be the extraordinarily good Gerry Potter. Also featured are Rowan Coleman, Gavin McCrea, Karen Campbell and Iain Finlayson.

Polari website


  1. Please could you spell my name correctly?



  2. Loved the evening - the company was as much fun as the evening itself - Karen McLeod stole the show and my heart x

    1. She is amazing... loved the evening, too! Jx

  3. Great evening. It was a privilege to be part of it.

    Another fabulous write up John. You always capture the essence of the evening perfectly.

    1. Bless - Your readings were excellent! Jx

  4. Really lovely Polari and Karen Macleod was brilliant. I also loved Annabel Pribelszki's performance poetry - a very energetic and engaging end to the first half, it really left a buzz.It really was a performance not a reading, and it was quite a challenging listen, but that's what Polari does best! (but I have also felt a bit uncomfortable sometimes at Polari when chaps have been a bit explicit, and I think that's probably unavoidable for us all sometimes.)

    1. I don't mind "challenging" sometimes. I, too have felt discomfited by male as well as female readers. However, for me, it is context as much as content that sometimes jars the most. Fun evening, nonetheless! Jx


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