John Hurt, the first Chancellor of the Norwich University of the Arts, was a talented, versatile and prolific character actor. His superb portrayals of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, Max in Midnight Express and Caligula in the BBC’s I, Claudius immediately spring to mind. There are many, many others in a career spanning six decades. But for me, it was his role as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant which resonated the most. It was 1975 and I was 15 and fretful. The film was a revelation. Not because I wanted to do a Crisp by slapping on, dragging up and renting myself out for a few shillings. No, because I suddenly realised that if Quentin could live an unabashed life during the most hostile of times, then my own coming out might not be so traumatic. Apparently, John Hurt was strongly advised against taking the part. It would be career suicide, he was told. Hurt ignored the doomsayers and I’m so glad he did. And despite a few initial wobbles, my step from the closet turned out just fine.
Recently, apprentice clerics at an Anglican theological college in Cambridge were given permission to hold a service to commemorate LGBT history month. The Church of England still gets its collective cassock in a twist about sexuality, particularly in matters carnal and marital, so a step in the right direction you might think. Allegedly the cheeky ordinands went a tad too far for some when they held the service in Polari, a slang language of mixed origins once used in Britain by sinners on the social margins – actors (when acting was considered little better than whoring), circus types, villains, ladies of the night, and up to the seventies, gay people.
So, instead of…
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The congregation got…
Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy.
The college principal ‘hugely regretted’ the use of an unauthorised liturgy. In other words he threw a queeny fit. Personally, I think it’s much ado about nothing. It wasn’t a public service and, since the Bible has been translated many, many times down the ages from the Hebrew and Greek texts, who’s to say the Polari version is any less legitimate? A fairy tale is a fairly tale whatever language it’s in.
Polari died out when times became less buttoned-up but a few words have entered into modern parlance – naff and camp among them. It has a delicious un-PC vocabulary of wonderfully ripe terms. Here’s a few…
Basket (a man’s bulge through his clothes); bibi (bisexual); bona (good); bona nochy (a good night); bungery (pub); buvare (a drink); camp (effeminate); carts (willy); chicken (young man); cottage (a public convenience used for jollies); dilly boy (rent boy); dish (bum); eek (face); handbag (money); jubes (breasts); lallies (legs); mince (walk); naff (nasty); national handbag (welfare benefits); omi (man) omi-palone (camp queen); plate (oral sex); palone (woman); palone-omi (lesbian); remould (sex change); riah (hair) rough trade (working class sex); slap (makeup); todd (alone); tootsie trade (sex between two passive partners); trade (sex); troll (to walk about looking for sex): varda (see).
Varda the godly chickens!
If Christmas was sedate and tranquil, January was an exploding glitter ball. The month began with the high flying Cinderella at the London Palladium, the middle featured La La Land, the bookie’s favourite at the Oscars, and the grand finale was a splendid performance of ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ at Norwich’s very own Theatre Royal. Literally meaning ‘the cage of crazy women’ – in fact ‘folles’ is French slang for screaming ladies of an entirely different gender. ‘Cage’ enjoys a glorious pedigree – the original 1973 French play, the 1978 (my coming out year) Franco-Italian film, ‘The Birdcage’, a 1996 Hollywood remake starring the late, great Robin Williams and a multi-gonged stage musical. The latest revival is now doing the rounds in the provinces. After Trump’s depressing God’s own country speech at his inauguration, it certainly revived me with its delicious ‘I am what I am’ bugger the bigots message. John Partridge’s performance as Albin, the ageing drag queen, was a revelation – totally OTT one minute, delicately poignant the next. The Norwich crowd gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.
Why is it that bad news travels fastest and furthest? Tales of comfort and joy are always way down the bill on the nightly news. I was reminded of this by Julia at Turkey’s for Life when she commented on my recent Good Samaritan post. Despite my usual it’ll-be-alright-on-the-night demeanour, the post was a tad gloomy. And my mood was hardly lifted by the slaughter in an Istanbul nightclub or the death of George Michael. As contemporaries, George and I had more than one or two things in common.
Julia reminded me that 2016 wasn’t all death and destruction, disease and destitution. There were many good news stories that failed to make the headlines. Luckily for us, Future Crunch compiled many of them in a post – 99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year – which Julia posted on Facebook to add a positive flourish to the end of the year. Many of the ninety-nine celebrate remarkable successes in conservation, ecology and sustainable development. Let’s be hopeful. At the end of the day, this little third rock from the sun is all we have.
Over to George for my favourite track of his – Praying for Time – a real gloomy tune from the master of slash-yer-wrist ditties. It’s all in the words.
We recently attended the funeral of David Harries. It was a bittersweet gig, sad but not in the slightest bit depressing. Stripped of dust-to-dust religious delusions, the ceremony was the perfect celebration of an OTT life lived totally in the moment. Never was the old adage ‘live fast, die young’ any more apt. It was a motif David wore on his designer sleeve without apology or regret. Laughter echoed through the chapel. We were celebrants, not mourners.
On the way to the funeral in London, we stopped off for a spot of tiffin at Balans Soho Café. They have an interesting mission statement, something they call their ‘manifesto’. It goes like this:
I know it’s just a corporate mantra but it’s more uplifting and less cynical than most. And I think it’s a sentiment David would have heartily approved of. I know I do. We raised a glass.
David leaves behind my old mucker, Philip, his partner of 21 years. In place of floral tributes to wither and rot, Philip asked people to donate to the Za Foundation, a friend’s charity currently raising money to give a Christmas dinner to children in South Africa who might otherwise go hungry. Few if any reading this will have known David and I know it’s an expensive time of year but if you have any pennies to spare… well, you know the drill. Here’s the link.
If you do donate, please mention it’s in David’s memory. Philip would be really chuffed.
David Harries (1960-2016)
When Liam and I first pitched our yurt in Anatolia, we bought an olive sapling in John’s memory and put it in a patio pot. It did remarkably well and bore fruit in the first year – a lean harvest but a harvest nonetheless. After we decided to wade back to Blighty, I asked Annie of Back to Bodrum fame if she would take care of John’s little twig in her Bodrum garden. Annie went one better and offered a sunny spot in the olive grove of her fabulous country pile.
Four years on and the wedding of the year presented the perfect opportunity to check on John’s tree. Little more than a twig when it was transplanted to Annie’s field, it now stands tall as a strapping sapling, framed in chicken wire to protect it from nibbling cattle.
The first snap is courtesy of Elaine Akalin.
Thank you, Teo, for planting it. You did all the sweaty work while all I did was pat it down like the Queen at an opening. And thank you, Annie, for taking such good care of it. I’m not religious at all but a part of me hopes Teo and John popped a cork and shared a bottle on the big day.
Following last week’s delivery from the Royal Mail, here’s the second batch of postcards to land on the mat.
The staff in our global holiday village are delightful, particularly Pedro, our mad barman. He services us with charm and generosity and rings his little bell every time he gets a tip. It’s like a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey when we’re around and the bigger the tip we give, the bigger the drink we get. As Pedro said to Liam:
Ah, you Engleesh with your happy hour. It’s always happy hour in Pedro’s bar!
Regular readers will know I’m a dedicated eavesdropper. Here’s a small selection:
And I’ll tell you one thing for nothing. As soon as I get home, I’m back on the tramadol.
We went tut Benidorm in January. It were great. We ‘ad beach to ourselves.
Oh. How come?
It were rainin’.
Me son’s got an apartment in Bulgaria.
Nice. Wotsit like?
Cheap but those Bulgarians…you wouldn’t trust ‘em.
Of course, we normally go to Goa, don’t we Jean? All-in for a tenner a day – and that includes two packs of fags and enough booze to sink the Ark Royal.
A Yumbo Cocktail
We’re just a short mince from the Yumbo Center, the largest of the many tacky shopping and entertainment centres dotted about Playa Del Ingles. As I wrote back in 2012 after our last trip…
The Yumbo Center is the throbbing epicentre of gay Canarian low-life. The Yumbo is a naff treat for all the senses, a crumbling multi-layered open air shopping and sex emporium. It started to fall apart as soon as it was built (some twenty five years ago). By day, it’s an over-sized pound shop patronised by ancient slow-lane Germans in busy shirts and socked sandals. But, at the stroke of midnight, the racks of tat are wheeled away, the garish bars throw open their doors and the entire place is transformed into a gaudy cacophonous neon-lit cess-pit of drunken debauchery.
It was one of my most popular posts ever. Can’t think why. Strangely, we’ve only ventured into the Yumbo Center once so far – and then only during the day to do a bit of shopping for that must-buy momento. The venues come and go but the place never really changes – apart from the newly installed lift for the mobility-challenged. It’s true, we did stop for a daiquiri or two – for old time’s sake and to survey the footfall. Our immediate neighbours were an over-waxed Franco-German gay couple with plucked brows, precision beards and perfect pecs. They could have been separated at birth. Must be like shagging a mirror. When they weren’t fiddling with their iPhones (to check Grindr, presumably), they communicated in Globalish*. Our barman was pretty. And pretty useless. Just like every gay bar around the world.
Mercifully, the heatwave has broken. I’d started to lose the plot and I was a hair’s breath away from garrotting the leathery old early birds who always get the brollies. With plunged temperatures, Liam bundled me out of the apartmentos for an excursion to Puerto de Mogán, a marina resort on the south-west coast of the island. We went by public transport, by far the easiest way to get around. Naturally, the bus stop was like a multi-national rugby scrum. You’d think people were fleeing a war zone. Why do we Brits bother queueing?
Set on a steep-sided valley, Puerto de Mogán is built in faux Spanish colonial style and very pretty it is too. But the epithet ‘Venice of the Canaries’ is over-egging the pudding a bit. There’s just the one ‘canal’ – more of a creek really. Still, we ate tapas in a lovely marinaside restaurant followed by coffee and cake in an inviting backstreet bakery. The port’s like a mini version of Bodrum in look and feel, particularly with the dripping, multi-coloured bougainvillea. Sadly, the relaxed ambience was marred by a gang of pissed-up Geordies stalking the streets and waving empty Peroni bottles. My dad was a Geordie. He’d be spinning in his urn.
Back to Bodrum
All in all, it’s been a splendid week, with batteries, scent and cigs (for my mother) recharged. Next trip: back to Bodrum for the wedding of the year. Now that really is something to write home about.
*Globalish is the cut-down version of English used by air traffic controllers, international conferences and dating apps which is totally lacking in elegance, colour, nuance or wit.