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).
Aside from late starters, rent-a-womb celebrities and the yogurt pot and turkey-baster brigade, most people of a queer bent don’t have any children. The social revolution that enabled many of us to step out of the closet and skip hand-in-hand through the pansies also robbed us of a safety net. Where are the kids to protect us in our dotage? The irony is not lost on me. Our various nephews and nieces may well be fond of their limp-wristed old uncles but I don’t expect any of them to give up a spare room or change our nappies during our dribbling years.
Care of the old is a hot topic right now and Channel 4 News has been doing its bit to highlight the fate of the oldest gays in the village. I don’t know where Liam and I might end our days but we certainly won’t be stepping back into the closet for the convenience of a born-again carer, whatever the religious persuasion. So what to do?
I’m reading Alan Clark’s ‘Rory’s Boys’ for a bit of a steer (that’s Alan Clark, travel journalist and former mad man, not the late Alan Clark, former philanderer and right-wing diarist). Rory’s Boys is a fictional tale about Britain’s first retirement home for gay men; a private establishment for the well-endowed. We’re not talking a state-underfunded shit-hole where the inmates are ignored or worse by under-trained, couldn’t-care-less carers on zero-hour contracts. In care homes, as in life, you get what you pay for and it’s all our own fault. Society simply isn’t willing to stump up and pay for the old to shuffle off this mortal coil with their dignity intact. I certainly don’t think the municipal pension coming my way will stretch to private care; maybe assisted suicide will be the answer in the end.
Alan Clark and I have something in common (apart from the shirt lifting thang). Our books were both nominated for the 2012 Polari First Book Prize, made it to the top ten then fell at the last fence. I’m only a few pages into the book but, as the title suggests, I’m guessing Rory’s brave new world of cute orderlies with cut lunches and the Sound of Music on a loop, won’t include any of our lesbian sisters. It’s a sad fact of life that gay men and lesbians often struggle to get along. Activism and the marching season may bring us together now and again but generally, that’s it. When sex, romance and parenting are removed from the equation, men really are from Mars and women really are from Venus.
Blimey. Perking the Pansies has made the long list of 10 for the prestigious Polari First Book Prize. I popped along to the Polari Literary Salon at the Royal Festival Hall to catch the broadcast. I sat at the back with my eyes firmly shut, a nasty stirring in my stomach and fingers crossed so tight they developed rigor mortis. In my pretty days I might have offered to sleep with one or two of the judges to increase my chances. Now I’ve reached my midriff years, this strategy would attract pity not punters. The colour slowly drained from my face as the successful titles were read out one by one by top-hatted MC, Paul Burston. I was held at the edge of my seat right to the bitter end. My book was the last on the list. Will I make the short list? Can my ancient heart take it? Find out in September.
As my regular pansy punters know, I’ve just done a gig for the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I was in the company of a fine cast of literati – Rebecca Idris Hugh Mulhall, Max Wallis, Catherine Hall and Tiffany Murray. The chorus line was made up of friends and regular pansy characters – Nancy, Murat, Clive, Ian, Matt and Philip. I calmed myself with a quick wine stiffener in the Green Room before I climbed the stage to perform against a sumptuous backdrop of The London Eye and Palace of Westminster. I’m not sure who was the more nervous, Liam or me. Despite the tummy terror, I didn’t fluff too many of my lines. I was well received by the enthusiastic audience and I’m eternally grateful to the wonderful and gifted Paul Burston who made it all possible.
I’ll be banging on about my book ad nauseum at the Polari Literary Salon at London’s Royal Festival Hall on the 6th February 2012. All my profit and more has gone on paying for the bloody airfare. I suppose you have speculate to accumulate. Anyone who has read the book and likes it, please add a review to Amazon (if you haven’t already). Every little helps, as they say in the Tesco’s advert.
For details about the event check Time Out online. To buy tickets check out the Southbank Website.