GEORGIE, BELLADONNA, SID
GEORGIE, BELLADONNA, SID
Paper, scissors, stone. Grinning poster boys
for Winston’s bona home front, the flashing sky
pink as a boudoir. Sid’s craggy martinis thump
away with a powder puff to the gramophone
trills of ‘There’s a Small Hotel’. My eek hovers
above Lady B’s sink, bleach storming my scalp.
my fitness for trolling and jitterbugging
in prearranged gloom. Kohl, rouge, bronze lipstick.
Steadfast sisters, we camp like Fates on the periphery
of guest-houses where bonaroo forces are stationed,
B stitching sequins to maroon gloves by the light
of a tissue-papered torch. Sid bats ogle riahs
in ten minute spells. We’re the bang they want
to go out with, saintly omi-palones who fall
with a stroke of the Polish navy’s smooth serge.
Cackle is ruthless: weather, duties, family –
buvare at mine? My favourite’s a Yank.
Ed Paxton, his fluent hands unknotting the rope
of my body, loosening dreams that have never been,
will never again be freer. Between his legs
I’m the right shape, intrepid, all-seeing.
The horrors of peace are many. Street lamps slam on
beside cod snapping bunting, thrashed Union flags.
What’s wrong with your eyebrows? brother says.
I stare blankly back, incapable of irony,
laughter. Sid moves to Orkney – Bless her
Chatsworth Road heart – has five dolly feeles.
Belladonna signs up for the merchant navy.
She screeves, praising bijou striped curtains,
black sailors, the Atlantic’s sharp smell
though I do not reply. I linger here, still paper
but folding, folding. The streets swarm with mammoth
skirts, decency, bedsits. I’ve used the last smudge
of American shampoo. Each dusk I vada
the ripped-open, scattered rose sky and pray
to God for the safe return of my blackout.
Poet’s Note: Glossary of Polari Words
Polari is the English homosexual and theatrical slang prevalent in the early to mid 20th century.
bona – lovely; martinis – hands; eek – face; aunt nells – ears; zhooshy – tarted up; trolling – mincing; bonaroo – wonderful; ogle riahs – eyelashes; omi-palones –effeminate men (literally ‘men-women’); cackle – talk; buvare – drink; cod – vile; dolly – beautiful; feeles – children; bijou – small; vada – look at
I’ve failed. I can’t even get by one day without veering off in to a serious mood.
If a poem in Polari can be considered serious. Polari is such a camp language that even a serious poem can seem a bit, well… fantabulosa. It’s not that hard to find a song or two in Polari. Bona Eak by Lee Sutton comes to mind, as well as the songs that Julian and Sandy sing, from time to time, in Round the Horne, but finding a poem in Polari is no easy task. I’m sure it was hearing Kenneth Williams recite You Are Old Father William yesterday that did it. Williams’ talent for voice work is outstanding whether he’s reading a poem by John Betjeman with Maggie Smith, or if he’s doing character work like J. Peasmold Gruntfuttock, Rambling Sid, or Sandy of the Julian and Sandy sketches.
Just this Monday I was listening, on BBC 4 Extra on-line, to Beyond Our Ken (a British radio program) and I noticed just how much of that program is further developed in Round the Horne. Clearly it’s because the same cast and writers worked on both programs, but last week there was even a couple of actors camping about speaking Polari. The actors were played by Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick. These two were, of course the two who played Julian and Sandy: the first, and surely most popular, homosexuals to ever assault the ears of gentile old grandmothers on a Sunday afternoon radio program, and all before homosexuality had been decriminalized.
The BBC broadcasts old Round the Horne episodes and has them up for a week after their airing. They are inconsistent and sometimes replace it with Beyond Our Ken, or Stop Messing About; the program hurriedly created with the cast of Round the Horne after Kenneth Horne died unexpectedly.