Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Santa's beard hairs, an assassin, the Boy, perfectly Frank, boarding school dorm fun, and an Agony Aunt

"And so here it is, Merry Polari,
Ev'rybody's having fun!"

So it was that I trolled off (on my own - although Bryanne and Simon arrived to keep me company) through the slush and the biting winds on Monday to the Southbank, for the very last outing of "London's peerless gay literary salon" in 2017 - A Very Polari Christmas! Unfortunately I had neglected to put my camera into my bag in the haze of getting ready to to go to work, so any pics here are courtesy of fellow Polari-ites...

Our host Paul Burston was gaily bedecked as a hipster Santa to open proceedings, managing to hold it all together despite spitting out beard hairs, wished us Season's Greetings - and, without further ado introduced our first reader (and Polari regular) William Parker.

Fellow "New-putt"-born Mr Parker read from us a couple of pieces from his as-yet-unpublished new work. Weaving together the childhood experiences of a lonely (gay) schoolboy, the trepidation he and and his chums feel using a Ouija board for the first time, and (as reflected in a series of flashbacks to her own childhood) the spirit they conjure up - bizarrely, that of Charlotte Corday, the woman who was caught up in the French Revolution and became notorious as the assassin of the vicious Jean-Paul Marat, his selection was bewildering, and yet very intriguing indeed...

Next to the stand was a real raconteur of the old school variety - Mr Ian Elmslie. Formerly "the Boy" of legendary cabaret duo Katrina and the Boy [who I saw perform at the now-defunct Market Tavern in Vauxhall waaaay back in 1991!], apparently he was born at the same hospital as Quentin Crisp; he certainly brought a little load of camp to the proceedings - resplendent as he was with immaculate maquillage and sparkly brooch [pictured above]!

He read for us (with all the voices!) a couple of pieces from his memoir (or, as he described it, "a series of thank-you notes") A Marvellous Party, featuring his meetings with the great and the good among his (and our) heroes, including Dame Julie Walters (whose appearance was subject to a running commentary by the local bric-a-brac shopkeeper and the theatre's charlady)... and Armistead Maupin:

Simply faboo, sweeties!

How could the delightful Miss Susie Boyt possibly follow that? Arriving on stage, top-to-toe in the most divine silver ensemble, and with her characteristically dry-as-dust delivery, she managed very well, methinks - especially as she opened with a little prize quiz. "Who is the only Oscar-winner, both of whose parents were also Oscar-winners?", she asked. "Liza Minnelli", I responded in a stage whisper - and promptly won a copy of her book Love & Fame (from which her reading for us was taken)!

And what a story this was - the convoluted escapades of our heroine, a media-type waiting at a posh hotel for her supposed celeb-interviewee (who, she knows after six hours, is never going to show up); she makes a rash decision to instead amuse herself by inviting an older stranger ("Perfectly Frank") she met in the bar to her room. Then she promptly spends the rest of the evening on the phone to her sister, going over and over the feelings they felt at their mother's funeral. Meanwhile, the disappointed stranger leaves - and we are left hanging, wondering what she's up to...

I cannot pay sufficient justice to Miss Boyt's talents - the audience was enraptured!

With all that ringing in our ears, however, it was time to brave the chill for a fag-break and a top-up at the bar.

Warming up the audience for the second half [metaphorically and literally; the room was cosier than the windswept walkways of the Southbank!], Paul - "robbed" of his Santa-suit - proudly introduced a "literary hero of his" to the stand, the remarkable Mr Tony Peake.

He read from us a few passages from his first new novel in 20 years North Facing, the blurb for which reads thus:
A novel of awakening and atonement, this exquisitely realised story revisits a seminal boyhood moment as it plays out - with unexpected and sinister consequences - against the backdrop of political upheaval in South Africa. For one long, intense week in October 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought with it an East-West stand-off and the possibility of nuclear holocaust. On the other side of the globe, in Pretoria, a group of schoolboys scan the horizon for signs that the world is about to end. There is political tension here too, and the power struggles and cruelties of the boys mirror the corruption of a deeply divided country. Paul Harvey - sensitive, isolated, and desperate to fit in at school despite his English heritage - will do whatever is needed to please the class ringleader, Andre du Toit. Now in his sixties and living abroad, Paul is drawn back to South Africa to confront the unexpected and chilling consequences of this seminal boyhood moment - and the part he unwittingly played in the drama that unfolded.
At times teasingly erotic (just what was he prepared to do for Andre in the dorm in order to be accepted into the "gang"?) and funny (the older Paul encountering an "English countryside"-themed hotel in the midst of the lawless "badlands" outside Johannesburg), this has the promise of being a very good read, indeed.

But, of course, now it was time for the "true" Spirit of Xmas to take to the stage: the "Secret Santa" herself, "Aunty" Val Lee!

Reading a selection of hilarious "letters" from her "agony aunt postbag", she dished out a wealth of pithy (and often ridiculously awry) "advice" to all and sundry. With the laughter subsiding, she shed her "advice columnist" persona in favour of "VG Lee, Author" - to read for us a passage from her classic Always You, Edina.

The piece she focused us on was engrossing - the childhood memories of the book's protagonist Bonnie, and her daily attempts to impress the idol of her life: Joanna Bayliss, the most popular girl at her school; the games she invented, the glances they shared, the desperate yearning... and the contrast between her dreams and the reality of her home life, and her relationship with her no-nonsense Nan. Brilliant, as always!

And so, with the customary "curtain call" of all the evening's readers, another fantabulosa evening's literary entertainment came to a close - with resounding applause, as one might expect!

Now we have to wait till the itinerary for next year's Polari events is published before making plans for the next visit - hopefully it won't be too long a wait.

We love Polari!


  1. Another lovely and festive looking evening....and by all your flush looks...some holiday stiffeners?

    1. I always love a good stiffener while listening to literary readings. Jx

  2. Thanks Jon! What a wonderful account of a special evening.
    We’ll be back on Monday Jan 22! Px

    1. Three little words: "FAB. U. LOUS!"

      Can't wait... Jx


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