There was that time in Bournemouth. One of the summer holidays of guaranteed sunshine. I was about six years old and one afternoon I had my portrait done by a woman near to the beach. It was done in pastels, I think. It must have been pastels because they smudged, and if you rubbed a patch the colour came off on your finger. The artist signed it. I was very happy with the portrait.
Go and show it to people, said Mum, said Dad. Show it around. In the guest house. I ran down to the kitchens. ‘Look at this,’ I said, to our waitress, and the chef, and to the manager, who had a soft spot for me. ‘Look at this. I had it done this afternoon.’ They all looked and something came over their faces. Aren’t children supposed to smile? ‘You could have smiled,’ one of them said. The waitress. She said it. ‘You could have smiled.’ But they were all thinking it. Even the manager, with his soft spot, and his way of specially pulling out my chair for me at breakfast and dinner. They all looked disappointed, and the moment collapsed.
I could have told them, but I didn’t, that it’s easier not to smile. And anyway, how can you force an expression for the duration of a painting? It’s unnatural.
We put the portrait away when we got home, and now it’s somewhere safe but I don’t know where.