Home > Commentary > Bona Books, or: The Seven Ages of Omi

Bona Books, or: The Seven Ages of Omi

I’ve been reminded of my age over the last few days.

First there was the Winter Fuel Allowance, which turned up unannounced in my bank account – and very welcome it was, too. Then I received a letter from HMRC with a forecast of how much retirement pension I can look forward to less than two years hence. And the other day Weasel the Whippet and myself went shopping in Brighton on the bus – for free, using my Senior Citizen’s Bus Pass.

But then I also remembered the final line of Jules’s (Hugh Paddick’s) Polari rendition of the Seven Ages of Man (from King Lear): “Nante hampsteads, nante minces, nante riah, nante everything.” And I realised I’ve still got a long way to go before I catch up with Lear.

For those young enough to be unfamiliar with either King Lear or Julian and Sandy (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams, in the BBC radio show “Round The Horne” from the mid-sixties, when homosexuality was still illegal and punishable by imprisonment), here’s a translation of Jules’s plaint: “No teeth, no eyes, no hair, no everything!”

Play the audio clip below:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/wnx6qn3zfsee3cb/seven_ages.mov

Polari (also palare) is a “secret” language that probably originated amongst fairground travellers and Romany gypsies, part dialect, part lingua franca, and aimed to allow conversations to take place in the hearing but without the comprehension of the uninitiated. It drew its words from eastern European and Yiddish sources, with the addition of some English backslang and rhyming slang. (So, for example: “riah” = hair; “hampsteads” = Hampstead Heaths, teeth.) In the first half of the twentieth century it was adopted by homosexuals and significantly “camped up”. I’m absolutely certain that the secret aspect of Polari was eventually abandoned, and with it the protection from being “outed”, for, even if outsiders couldn’t understand what was being said, it was pretty clear who was doing the saying.

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