A Secret Language Hiding Secrets by Tony Papard

Tony Papard was one of the writers for Gay News, having discovered London’s gay scene in 1967 at the age of 22. He is mentioned a couple of times in Fabulosa! as he learnt Polari from his boyfriend, George, who he met at the Biograph Cinema in Victoria. Below is an essay which Tony wrote in Polari, which he’s kindly allowed me to share here.

A Secret Language Hiding Secrets – Tony Papard

Known as the Elephants’ Graveyard because it was the haunt of older gay men and a few rent boys, the City of Quebec gay pub is just off the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street. Two very camp older gay men were at the bar, a very big man and a tall slim one. The latest Beatles hit was playing softly in the background.

‘My lallies are killing me. I was trolling Hyde Park all last night, then up and down Oxford Street this afternoon,’ said the huge man who was known as Big Bertha.

‘You want to be careful, girl. The sharpies arrested Mad Myra for hustling in the park last week,’ said his companion known as Latchmere Lil.

‘Oh they stopped me and asked what I was doing in the park that time of night. I said I was hoping to find an omy with plenty of measures but you’ve scared off all the rich punters,’ said Bertha, who then ordered a large gin and tonic from the barman.

‘You want to watch that big screech of yours, you don’t want to be cheeky to lily law,’ said Lil. ‘What’s in the bag?’

‘Lots of things, I’ve been shushing in Selfridges. This is for you, dear, and vada this bona pair of bats,’ said Bertha handing Lil a little gold neckchain and pulling an expensive pair of brogues out of the bag.

Holding his fingers to his lips Latchmere said: ‘Nanty polari!’ pointing at a bespectacled woman the other end of the bar: ‘I’m sure she’s a sharpie polone. Put them away and keep the rest of the stuff you’ve nicked in your shushing bag,’

‘That polone with the cod ecaf? I’ve seen her somewhere quite recently I’m sure,’ said Bertha quickly putting the shoes back in the bag. ‘Yes, I think you’re right Lil. Look at the ogles behind the bins, she’s clocking everything!’

‘You make me nervous flashing your stolen stuff around. Oh I must have a vogue, ‘ said Lil lighting up a cigarette and then pointing to a tall, thin man with a badly fitting red wig who had just walked in: ‘I’ve seen her somewhere before.’

‘That HP? She’s a leather queen, always in the Coleherne down in Earls Court. She’s a mystery, dear, quite green and new on the scene. We call her Kangaroo Kate ‘cos she’s from Ozzie,’ said Bertha.

‘Cod switch,’ said Lil, pointing out the wig which had slipped to reveal the man’s baldness, ‘If I had nishta riah I’d just wear a big capella on my head.’

‘She’s got nishta riah and nanty measures either judging from the naff drag she’s wearing,’ said Bertha, pointing out the man’s scruffy leather jeans. ‘Those strides aren’t even worth shushing from Oxfam.’

‘That dolly chicken’s new too,’ said Lil, nodding his head towards a handsome young man standing by the wall sipping a beer. ‘Not seen him in here before.’

‘Turned up on the meat rack down the Dilly last week dear. These filly omies are ruining the trade for us older queens,’ complained Bertha. ‘I was just about to pull a punter when he flashes his big blue ogles and they both jump in a cab and head off. Makes it difficult for your mother to make any measures on the bash’

‘Well it’s your own fault Bertha,’ said Lil. ‘At our age those bright flashing lights down the Dilly show up all the tramlines on our naff old eeks.’

‘You speak for yourself. A bit of slap and I can look 20 years younger,’ said Bertha.

‘In your dreams! With all the manjari you shove in your screech you’ve got the lacoddy of Big Daddy the all-in wrestler. And the size of your dish,’ Lil said referring to Bertha’s huge posterior. ‘ I’ve still got the figure of an 18 year old teenager’, Lil added, running his hands down his slim waistline.

‘Yes, it’s just a pity he’s got his grandfather’s head stuck on top of it,’ said Big Bertha.

Just then Lady Loot came up to them, a wealthy ginger-haired queen.

‘Are you two bitching at each other and everyone else in the bar again?’ he said. ‘You ought to go on stage as a double act and earn some metzers. Anyway let me buy you both a bevy.’

Lil and Bertha thanked Loot, ordered their drinks, then the three of them sat down at a table and talked about what they would be wearing to the next Drag Ball at Porchester Hall. Big Bertha, of course, opened the bag and showed them the red dress and matching stilettos he had just stolen from the Big Girls shop in Oxford Street.

Bertha quickly closed the bag again as the woman Latchmere Lil had pointed out as plainclothes police came over to their table with her drink. Lady Loot greeted her: ‘Hallo Jane, I didn’t see you over there. Meet Latchmere Lil and Big Bertha. Jane’s my sister, she works in a store nearby, so we arranged to meet in here after the shop closes.’

Big Bertha clutched his closed bag, downed the rest of his drink, and said he just remembered he had to be somewhere. He had seen the woman in Selfridges and thought she was just a customer, but now suspected she was a store detective.

‘Oh, what’s upset your friend?,’ asked Jane. ‘I hope I didn’t scare him off.’

Latchmere Lil thought quickly, ‘No, he’s always remembering something and rushing off like that. He is very forgetful.’

‘Busy day?’ Lady Loot asked her sister.

‘Very busy, and in the crush an expensive pair of brogues went missing, and a gold neckchain,’ said Jane.

Latchmere Lil nearly choked on his drink, but quickly recovered and said: ‘Yes, there are some very dodgy people about aren’t there?’ He thought how awkward it would have been if Big Bertha had been recognized as the thief. Stubbing out his cigarette, Lil finished his drink and said goodbye. He was just glad the stolen neckchain was now safely in his pocket out of sight. Big Bertha was a liability and was always likely to get you into trouble.

Glossary of Polari and other slang expressions:

lallies = legs, trolling = walking, sharpies/lily law = police, hustling = soliciting as a prostitute, omy = man, measures/metzers = money, screech = mouth, shushing = stealing, vada = look at, bona = nice/beautiful/handsome, bats = shoes, nanty polari = no speaking/keep quiet, sharpie polone = policewoman, shushing bag = bag for hiding stolen goods, polone = woman, cod = ugly/nasty/horrible, ecaf/eek = face (backslang), ogles = eyes, bins = spectacles, vogue = cigarette, HP/homie polone = effeminate gay man, mystery = ignorant or green newcomer on the scene, switch = wig, nishta = no, riah = hair (backslang), capella = hat (Italian), nanty = no, naff = nasty/cheap/(originally acronym for ‘not available for f****ing’ when a straight man was in a gay venue), drag = clothes or cross-gender clothes, strides = trousers/jeans, dolly = handsome/pretty/nice, chicken = young man/male teenager, meat rack = railings in Piccadilly Circus where rent boys used to hang out, filly omie = young man, trade = sexual encounters/sex work , punter = sex worker’s client, your mother = camp way of a queen referring to himself in the third person, on the bash = doing sex work/on the game, manjari/jari = food (Italian), lacoddy = body, dish = bum, bevy = alcoholic drink

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