At The National Portrait Gallery


I am sitting drinking coffee with Maggie Smith and Sylvia Syms.

The ladies are in a pensive mood and do not meet my vassal gaze.

Underneath my feet, I sense the gentle rumble of the Jubilee

Which spins my soaking brogues.

Above me, the January rain splats the Perspex canopy,

Its puddles refracting skeletons of trees against a Payne’s grey sky.

It’s warmer inside the snug corridors

Where time plays tricks and Tudors sit beside late Plantagenets.

The Stuarts live on the floor above,

Deposed perhaps, but reposing and depicted.

Here in the vaults, you’ll find more human portraiture,

The living subjects of more fundamental things:

Maternal hugs, lovers’ looks and friendly tourist encounters.

All the energy that comes from refreshing interactions

Which blunt the edge of this hard of hearing, grizzly day.

Even Sylvia seems ready to smile.