In the Picture

Read by Harmage Singh Kalirai
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Malcolm tells his story in pictures, beginning with his photograph in Life – a collection of portraits of visitors to Maggie’s by photographer Zoe Law. He joined the UK book tour for Life speaking at various venues and he showed another image of himself standing in front of his super-size blown up image advertising the launch of this book. He retrieved this and many other images from his phone which became an active partner in storyboarding his life.

The poem speaks to themes in our project ‘People Like You’ in which we investigate the many connections between ‘liking’ – a photograph for example – and ‘being like’ or similar to others. ‘People like you like things like this’ is one version of the recommendations we get when we shop. In sharing the photographs he likes and talking about them, Malcolm derives three sets or groups in which he features. He joins other visitors to Maggie’s Centres featured in Life; a workforce in the aviation industry and a group of 70 year olds who applied through The Sun newspaper to join HRH on the stairs at Spencer House for a portrait. Through the combination of these three sets and further relations to his mother and father, other relatives and their common circumstances, Malcolm also pictures himself as a unique individual. While Suzanne (Per Ardua ad Astra) puts Di ‘in the picture’ kaleidoscopically and the sitter in Howling Wolf with precise chronology, Malcolm is ‘in the picture’ as he sequences his images into a storyboard.

He sits
a modern Maharajah
with Bollywood smile
four-square to camera
pitch perfect
in black and white.

At the book launch
he takes the podium at Christies,
speaks of his years at Maggie’s
‘Life’ the book
and the human condition.

On tour
he goes to the Scottish Parliament,
his image hangs in The Lowry.
He’s travelled to Australia, Rio,
but he’s never been to Manchester.
He notes with satisfaction
the average buildings are not more
than two stories high.

Turbo charged
the story continues
as Maurice gets the tea.

He’s an old BOAC man,
worked in sales in a luxury office
where celebrities dropped by.
For twenty years he works for BA
then joins Gulf Air.
From Toronto to Palolem Beach
people and places fly across time and space
captured on his phone.

He used to put things on the back burner
he says,
now he’s the opposite –
What? When? Where? –
doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet.

He hits seventy,
happens on a copy of ‘The Sun’:
Seventy inspirational people wanted
to celebrate their Seventieth with HRH.

And there he is smiling to camera
on the spiral staircase at Spencer House,
one of the Celebratory Seventy
framing the septuagenarian Prince.

Round the Table anything goes
but his casuals are selective,
dashingly accessorised.
At twenty-one
he had a suit with pocket handkerchief.
His Dad was always smartly dressed.

You can picture him at the Taj
taking tea
but he’s no toff.
He knows hardship.
At the age of twelve his mother dies –
he and his sister come home to Dad
and an empty house.
“You dust yourself off.”

He talks fondly of India
where people may be dirt poor
but will gladly share an orange with you,
conjures a crescent beach with quiet palms
in South Goa
where he has an apartment.

The ring of black onyx catches the eye
as he indicates Carol’s home-made cake,
helps me to a slice.
Then, with consummate gentility,
he turns to a lady – hovering, uncertain,
her first day at Maggie’s –
and easing her to the Table,
explains how things work.

His gaze returns to ‘Life’ –
“When I’m gone it’ll be here, this book” –
checks his phone and stands.
Life calls.