Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On coming to terms with...aging...

This past weekend I have an unveiling of a portrait which a talented painter and friend Richard McWhannell painted of me.

It was a lovely occasion, held at the home of my friends, Tim and Steph.

In the 'poem' below there are two

references which might need explaining. "Bess" is my mother. And the "frolicsome poof" refers to Oliver Messel who designed the scarf which I draped over the portrait. It was a coronation scarf dating from 1953.

I dedicate this blog to other 'debutantes of disaster'....

On Sitting for a portrait @ 60

As a child I always hungered

for the portraits of ancestors.

Reading English books

this was what your walls wore.

It made you original

to have an original.

Lacking these devices

as an author and filmmaker

I set out to create a family of images

surrounding myself with living ghosts

feeling at home

in the whare of faces.


it seemed

when I was harpooned

captured by the hook of time

I came face to face

with what was missing:

a portrait of me.


There is vanity

in thinking an image of self


but no Dorian Grey,

at sixty I can claim

only a register of fissures

faultlines and an iron seam called endurance.

În this sense

this portrait is

a port I have already left behind


on the new old adventure


a corridor of faces

each one shedding

as I move forward

passing a younger self along the way.


Which brings me to this moment now

its lovely presience.

Surrounded as I am

with faces I have seen

like my own

grow more into themselves

and lose the mask of youth

in which we hid

our secret selves

so tender and unformed

needing the dark to grow

till this late stage

when we emerge

with the hardiness of survivors

alert to disasters

which we chronicled

by simply outliving them

debutantes of debacle

scorners of fates which did not fit

like clothes we dropped off

at a charity shop

secretly praying

we won’t have to come back

and find ourselves on the rack

unable to afford

clothes we can no longer


even fit

I salute you

kind friends

who walked into this changing room

awaiting the...reveal...


So I come to this

veiled portrait.

I sat

during the making of it

somewhat sad

as my beloved Bess

had momentarily lost herself.

I took advantage of the

opportunity of sitting silent


like a damaged blackbird

repairing himself

by simply nestling in the rain

welcoming its warm wet

flicking off the drops from

my outspread wings.

Richard painted away

squinting frowning

hemming puffing

as he climbed up the slope of


All I had to do

was sit there

and allow my physical self

some egress

under the protection

of his skill.


So now I



the thing

which duplicates a self

sits here veiled

fittingly in a lovely old scarf

borrowed from Doug

the capturer of butterfly shells

a scarf

done by a frolicsome poof

to celebrate

a young queen’s outing

now almost lost to time.



with a twitch

I will dislodge

this self

which I thank Richard for

and our kind hosts

dear friends

Steph and Tim

for allowing me this space


with the time immemorial words

beloved of magicians

I set this self

which will live longer than myself....




  1. Oh I wish I had been there.

    Did you speak the verses as you stood poised before the portrait on a pedestal, veiled by that pretty and witty and ... where did that grey ever go? ... Messel scarf?

    The portrait (at least photograph of it) connotes an English officer of the W W 1 - W W 2 period - resolute, courageous, - a man of character (dreadful that the word has become so debased).

    I wish the portrait a revered existence.


  2. Ian, people have commented on the military aspect of the image. I unwittingly wore a jacket I am fond of, made by a company called 'Native Agent'. Somehow it has conjured up the past of my father who was a soldier in Egypt and Italy. Why I didn't choose something more dandyish I don't know. I think I was stunned by what was happening to my mother and the portrait shows someone who is quite inward and thoughtful......but yes, when I read the poem, I pranced about and was a right little show off.....I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

  3. It was a lovely event, and I was very pleased to be there Peter.

    Your verse about hungering for family portraits, buying into all that idea of what was "proper" made me recall Beverly Nichols' autobiography and his father's habit of buying up old portraits and claiming them as mythical ancestors, much to his sensitive and socially conscious son's horror!. The desire to appear authentic and proper is widespread.

    I hope you enjoyed it as much as we all did, it was a truly lovely afternoon.

  4. Michael, re portraits, I think there is something in the fact that gay men are ancestors of themselves, so to speak. ie as younger men we chose our own ancestors from people like...Oscar Wilde and others...sort of proto-parents so in one way it doesn't feel strange to 'be my own ancestor'...if that makes sense.

    I now have it hanging on the wall and sometimes I glide by it quietly, almost on tiptoe, aware the eyes of the portrait are watching me.
    It is something to live up to. (And escape from.)

    On the day of the unveiling I was aware of the lovely warmth being volleyed towards me by all my friends and I felt truly blessed.

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