Thursday, 28 June 2018

Daddy-chasers, dead Divas, swifts, stalkers, and a multi-cultural middle-class soap opera

Eeek!! A close-up...

Maybe it was the weather. After a little bit of a break from attending, I made a valiant attempt to "round up the troops" for Tuesday's Polari. To be fair, John-John was going to accompany me, but in the event was sick; everyone else was otherwise engaged...

Not that any of that matters, of course - Polari is a "family" all of its own and I always enjoy it. Regulars VG Lee, Wayne Herbert and Alexis Gregory were present and correct, and I was overjoyed to see that the effervescent and every-lovely Rebecca Chance/Lauren Henderson was there, so I joined her at her "ringside table".

Our genial host Paul Burston opened proceedings at "London's peerless gay literary salon" by thanking all of us for turning up on what was the hottest day of the year so far [the Royal Festival Hall terrace was packed with sun-seekers!], before, without further ado he introduced our first reader Polis Loizou.

Reading from his novel Disbanded Kingdom, his account of the obsessive cruising/stalking of a hot "Daddy" from pub to pub and into the outer environs of London by the "hero" of the book, twenty-two-year-old Oscar, certainly did leave us a little hot under the collar, I must admit...

However, it was the next "turn" that provided the classic kind of entertainment for which Polari is rightly so popular, as our second reader Derek Farrell came to the stage, accompanied by our own dear Rebecca Chance! The reason for the double-header soon became clear.

Outrageously camp, Mr Farrell's Death of a Diva [which has been described as “Like The Thin Man meets Will & Grace via Ab Fab. In Southwark.”] was the first in his series of books featuring the hapless Danny Farrell, and his unlikely best friend Caz (Lady Caroline Victoria Genevieve Jane De Montfort, only daughter of the thirteenth Earl of Holloway) - and guess who got to play the part of the hard-drinking, incisive aristocrat..? Here's a synopsis of the book - and it sounds every bit as hilarious as our readers made it:
Lyra Day, one time TV star, singer and gay icon is booked to stage her big comeback at the Marquess of Queensbury, a big coup for Danny at his grand re-opening night. Sitting in her make-up chair, eyes staring lifelessly ahead, the diva is dead. Her sequinned dress glittering in the light cast from above; the little pools of reflected light sparkling across the paper held tightly in her hand. The policeman carefully prises it out of her grip and unfurls it. It reads “The Last Will and Blurb of Lyra Day”.

Danny Bird is having a very bad day. In the space of just a few hours he lost his job, his partner and his home.

Ever the optimist, Danny throws himself headlong into his dream to turn the grimmest pub in London into the coolest nightspot south of the river. Sadly, everything doesn’t go quite as planned when his star turn is found strangled hours before opening night.

Danny becomes the prime suspect in the crime, and then the gangster who really owns the pub starts asking where his share of the takings has gone… it seems things are going to get worse for Danny before they get better.
It was a hilarious romp!

Completing the trio of readings for the first half, Kate Bradbury is a renowned writer on nature - and particularly wildlife gardening - for many leading publications such as the Guardian and the Telegraph. She embarked upon transforming a gloomy, rotting and overgrown back yard in Hove into a living garden space, and to write a book about her travails - The Bumblebee Flies Anyway: A year of gardening and (wild)life. It developed into something darker, however, when in the middle of her transformation project her mother was taken critically ill - and the domestic drama began to interweave into the narrative of the book.

She read for us a piece about studying the minutiae of nature as a release from the tension of dealing with hospital visits, then followed it with a beautifully-described piece about the swirling, swooping beauty of swifts in full flight. It was entrancing.

After a break for a drink, a fag and a gossip, it was time for the headliners...

But first - our darling "Sexy Lexi" Alexis Gregory made an announcement of the long list for this year's Polari First Book Prize, as follows:

  • Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard – Alex Bertie (Wren & Rook)
  • Through Your Blood – Toby Campion (Burning Eye)
  • Mussolini’s Island – Sarah Day (Tinder Press)
  • A Marvellous Party – Ian Elmslie (Ignite)
  • Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride - 30 years of Gay Britain – Paul Flynn (Fourth Estate)
  • Pansy Boy - Paul Harfleet (Barbican)
  • Carnivore - Jonathan Lyon (HQ)
  • Elmet – Fiona Mozley (John Murray)
  • Little Gold – Allie Rogers (Legend Press)
  • Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney (Faber)
  • Bravado – Scottee (Oberon)
  • Is Monogamy Dead? Rethinking Relationships in the 21st Century – Rosie Wilby (Accent Press)

Amanda Jennings is a best-selling author, and she read for us from her latest Cornwall-based novel The Cliff House. With a slightly Gothic feel to it, the story is told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Tamsyn, obsessed with the goings-on at the huge Art Deco house overlooking the cove where she lives (to the extent of spying on its occupants with binoculars), and the budding relationship that develops between her and the rich family's daughter as their paths cross when she is caught swimming in the house's pool without permission.

Whether or not - as is implied - there develops some kind of lesbian frisson between the girls remains a mystery - until or unless one reads the book, of course. Or gets someone with a lovely voice to read bits from it for you...

Finally, our headliner - Mr Philip Hensher. His latest magnum opus The Friendly Ones is a complicated and comprehensive examination of cultural histories, focussing on the interwoven relationship between a middle-class Bengali family and their immediate neighbour, a retired gent with a distant and somewhat dysfunctional family who he rarely sees. Needless to say - in the passage Mr Hensher read - it is the neighbouring "foreigners" who come to his solace when the elderly man receives news that his son has been killed in a tragic incident.

The "whos", "whats" and wherefores of their relationships - and indeed, who the hell is who in the cast of apparent thousands, even in this short extract - was confusing, but would likely be resolved by delving deeper into the novel. At some stage, I might.

And, with the applause for the great man subsiding, it was time for the curtain call - and the end of another session of literary brain-food.

Our next outing will be will be on 25th July, and features Lesley Thomson, Patrick Horrigan, Babirye Bukilwa, David Kerby-Kendall and Stephanie Dickinson.

We love Polari!

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