Porchester Balls

“I’m going to the Grand Ball at the Porchester Hall,” he said.

“Oh,” said I, being in the rag trade (ooh! you used that word), “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help!”

“OK,” says he. “I want to go, take me!”

Well, knowing this was no invitation in the literal sense, I agreed.

Thus, I found myself at the Porchester Hall, a delightful creature on each arm, wondering just what was in store for me at my first ever drag ball.

The foyer was a mass of seething humanity and inhumanity. Every shop within 20 miles radius must have sold right out of sequins and chiffon, although gold lame and feathers held their own (if you know what I mean); and, speaking as a fairly frequent visitor to the Coleherne, it was a pleasant change to see socks and hankies used to supplement a different part of the male anatomy. I never know by what criteria one should judge drag: does one look for originality, outrageousness, subtlety, femininity or what?

Jean Fredericks, the organiser of the ball whom one must credit as being something of an expert on this question told me he thinks of Drag as an art, the art of looking like a woman.

If this is the criterion we are to take, then the evening had its quota of dismal failures, and, to be scrupulously fair, also some stunning successes.

Jean himself, although no sylph as he would be the first to admit, succeeded in looking all woman in a series of fascinating gowns and wigs.

In a fair number of cases, the sex of the assembled company was pretty obvious; the five-o’clock shadow, the muscled arms, the protruding adam’s apple, and butch gait, were often dead give-aways. The outfits ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

The themes for the evening were: The Virgin, The Witch and The Tart, and I felt it was a pity that more of the guests had not made an effort to fit into those categories rather than chasing that elusive quality, glamour.

However I did meet at least one interesting attempt at each class, the oh-so-lovely ‘Christine’ was the Virgin, floating in and frequently tripping over, clouds of pastel chiffon. She assured me that her left nostril was completely unsullied – unless you count the bird of paradise.

The Witch was a monument of personal endeavour having spent two months making an exquisite full-length creation in dark blue and green patterned Lurex, with a much befringed bust, sequin-coated shoes, and an imposing head dress. Come winter and the power cuts, his outfit, with the aid
the power cuts, his outfit, with the aid of a single candle has enough refracting power to illuminate a whole street.

The Tart was Big Sylvia, sporting that, by now, well-known stand-by, the simple little black dress, worn with pearls at her throat and in her hair. Her two main accessories were a feather boa, which to regular visitors to the now defunct “Your Father’s Moustache” must look very familiar, and piece de resistance, two very interesting sailors, Chris and Peter, who are welcome to dock at my place (I said dock) any time they like.

But for me. the most fascinating person at the ball was Freddie in a froth of white, originally designed, he told me, for the Great Waltz. Freddie is, in his own words, “no chicken” but he looked great. He’s always at the balls, so look out for him at the next one — (on December 6) he’s a real character.

There are many people I haven’t mentioned but shortage of space makes it inevitable, sorry, girls.

I made a point of chatting to as many “straights” as I could, including the staff at the hall, and there was a singular lack of criticism about the place, the people or the event, so it looks as if Jean and his team are doing a great public relations job for this facet of gay life. Keep it up, Jean, and may your balls get bigger every year.