Monday, 6 April 2015

Maria the girl, a ghostly twin, the Ripper years, Guyana vs Croydon and a game of Strip Snakes and Ladders

It was the "biggest event ever in Polari's history", Mr Paul Burston proudly announced from the stage (on 30th March). Certainly, the concrete tomb that is the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre was packed to the gunnels - unsurprisingly abounding on the "distaff side", given our headliner: the lesbian icon Miss Sarah Waters...

John-John, Wayne and I settled in for the show, heady with anticipation. We were not disappointed.

Our opening reader Jan Pimblett is much better known for her historical expertise than her writing, being Principal Development Officer at London Metropolitan Archives and their resident LGBT history specialist, as well as a bit of a Steampunk fan - if the above photo is anything to go by.

[NB This blog took ages to complete, for - among many other reasons - a lack of photos, as for some reason - at least in the first half - Purcell Room staff forbade (most of) the audience to take any.]

Her piece (an unpublished work) was a rather excellent short story, told in the first person, of a Midwest youth who has taken refuge from an abusive family background and a narrow-minded home-town to make a new life in New York. As the story unfolds it becomes clear why - the youth is living as a woman, and it is as "Maria" he/she is debating how best to challenge the bigotry of his/her past... I sincerely hope Ms Pimblett finally does get her work published; we thoroughly enjoyed this small sample.

Eric Karl Anderson (aka "The Lonesome Reader") - whose own history with Polari goes all the way back to the Freedom Bar days - was for a change not reading from one of his smuttier works. The piece he chose was first published in a volume of Oval Short Fiction, and is more of a ghost story than anything - a conversation between a young gay man and the ghost of his mother’s twin sister...

As Mr Anderson described it in a recent interview: "[The boy] is in a heightened emotional state because he’s about to leave home for good. He’s also in a semi-creepy attic environment while being slightly intoxicated. His mind might be playing tricks on him. It gives dramatic excitement to the story contemplating whether the spectre of the mother’s twin is real or a projection of his imagination, but the more pressing issue is what this woman will say that can’t be said between the son and his mother. Of course, this ghost doesn’t just appear to fill in narrative detail the characters themselves can’t discuss or think about; she has her own agenda and gripes." It was spooky, camp and thoroughly enjoyable!

Keeping up the slightly sinister tone, Mr Stevan Alcock read for us from his début novel Blood Relatives, a tale of a gay lad "Rick" growing up in grim Leeds in the 1970s, against a backdrop of "Corona" lemonade deliveries and the murder spree of "The Yorkshire Ripper".

Written mainly in Northern dialect, it was refreshing to be treated to an unashamedly gay teen perspective (no "victim", he) on life, prostitution (the majority of the murdered girls were prostitutes) and regular horny sex with one of his delivery-round customers "The Matterhorn Man". Wonderful stuff - and makes me want to read he novel all the more. Here is an extract of Stevan's novel, read by Gareth Bennett-Ryan:

After a "battle royal" to get served at the godawful Queen Elizabeth Hall bar and a quick fag, it was time for round two (ding! ding!), opening with a rare treat. For house fave Mr David McAlmont - better known for his exquisite vocal styling, solo or in partnership with Bernard Butler, Guy Davies, David Arnold or Michael Nyman(!) - was not here to sing, but to read.

He wrote his short story David & Robin for the recently-published anthology Black and Gay in the UK (alongside such names as Rikki Beadle-Blair, Keith Jarrett, Leee John, Dean Atta and former EastEnder Paul J. Medford).

It was a fascinating autobiographical account of a young man's attempts to mollify all the conflicting strands and cultures in his life, from born-again Christianity in Guyana to a flamboyant musical life in Croydon. Singing or reading, Mr McAlmont simply oozes charm...

So, finally came the moment all the ladies-with-sensible-shoes were waiting for, as Miss Waters took to the stage. Best-selling, award-winning author of such TV-adapted favourites as Tipping the Velvet (Victorian slang for cunnilingus, incidentally) and Fingersmith, she remains in the realms of historical literature (albeit 1920s not Victorian) for her latest, from which she read a passage - The Paying Guests.

I can't deny, I have never read/heard a tale of a game of "Strip Snakes and Ladders" before, but this unlikely scenario, it appears, was just the precursor of the impending relationship between the daughter of the house and the lodger's wife (the "paying guests") of the title, which does not bode well for anyone concerned... Here she is, talking about the new novel:

This was indeed a marvellous evening (once again)...

...although I do look forward to returning to the intimate and much more atmospheric surroundings of Level 5 at the Royal Festival Hall for our next outing of "London's peerless literary salon". At the next event on 14th April, none other than our buddy Wayne (Herbert) will be reading, together with Chris Williams, Annabel Pieluszki, Amy Mason and one of our favourite Polari-ites Karen McLeod.

Should be great!

Polari website

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