Monthly Archives: February 2015

A RUM DO

An excerpt from this fabulous book, in case you haven’t read it…

rumdoWay back when, I used to spend a lot of time in Barbados – about thirty times to be reasonably exact – enjoying the friendship of some carefully nurtured friends who happened to own the two best hotels on the island. Add to that a wonderful few years in the wonderful company of Harry Secombe and his wife, and a couple of jolly evenings with Jeremy Clarkson, you can begin to understand why I loved these times so much. But enough of this shameless name dropping, let’s get on to some place dropping…

I put aside every morning for months constructing and writing what I thought was to be a classic piece of comedy fiction. The fact that it never got anywhere (apart from selling a few copies in Barbados) just goes to prove how ignorant, short sighted and dull the average publisher is.

It is possible this great literary work is not 100% perfect, but I honestly think it’s about 90%.

Out of the fabulous choice of excerpts on offer, I chose this one. Bob is suspecting that treachery is afoot on the island, and decides to drop in on his friendly hotel owner:

Thank goodness, the automatic gates at the end of Webster’s long drive were wide open. Bob stared at the single storey, well proportioned spread, in its Caribbean colours and style, with its accent on the more time consuming aspects of the woodworker’s art, and thought how wonderful it was compared to his own dreary dump in Pratt’s Bottom – not least because this was bathed in afternoon sunshine, and his was normally bathed in rain.

Past the bougainvillea and hibiscus, up the wooden steps, and into a porch that looked like it should be on the front cover of Caribbean Life. The louvres of the double doors were set open to encourage the breeze, and Bob could see in, to generous, homely sofas, big wooden tables and cabinets, colourful pictures by the better local artists, and great displays of multi-coloured flowers. Beyond, patio doors had been thrown open to reveal a veranda, peppered with wicker furniture, a pretty dining table with a series of candle glasses, and a floral tablecloth that almost shouted “Sit down and you’ll never want to leave.”

Beyond all that, the swimming pool, chunky green trees, and the impossibly vivid blue of the Caribbean.

“Oh shit.” thought Bob, as genuine jealousy replaced admiration.

He yanked an antique bell pull.

“I know it’s Sunday, but can I come in for a minute?”

Webster observed the ingrate who had disturbed the one day in the week when he didn’t have to do a few minutes work.

The day when he got up later than usual, pm, and spent the time lying around in the pool, eating salads, drinking Slammers, and staring at Katie in a swimsuit.

The day when the very best friend was far from welcome because, well because, there wasn’t another Sunday for nearly seven days.

“No problem! Come in!” he managed, standing aside so the curious figure with a slouch hat could enter, a bit like Humphrey Bogart did in Casablanca.

“Are you in disguise?”

“No. Why? I have to talk to you both. It’s most important. Is Katie here?”

He noticed her on a lounger by the pool.

“Oh yes . . .” He seemed to lose his track for a second, but soon galvanised himself back into the plot.

Webster remembered his manners. “You don’t want a drink, do you?”

Bob grinned and did a thumbs up as he plonked himself down next to Katie. “Just a large one!”

Webster repaired to the kitchen, vowing not to encourage the Dunlops with any more friendliness in future.

Katie was making small talk.

“First time away this year?”

Bob groaned and adjusted his rather hot chinos against the sun.

“We went to Venice in the Spring. Lovely.”

“Lovely.”

“But you know, Katie, had trouble with Cleo over there. She wanted to spend most of her time on a Gondolier.”

“Don’t you mean Gondola?”

“I know what I mean.”

Katie tried a new tack. “What will happen to that crumbling edifice?”

“Cleo?”

“No. Venice. Will it sink or what?”

Webster appeared with a giant economy size, grown up, fully paid up, business-like rum punch, which Bob took gratefully.

The conversation needed to be pepped up a little. ­ Katie wasn’t making sense.

“What’s your problem Bob? Towels again?”

“No,” said Bob, “More the total destruction of life in Barbados”.

He sat back as Webster digested this hint at an issue that could beat towel problems into a cocked hat.

Bob continued. “I had to talk to someone. I believe that the people we had dinner with on Friday are actually plotting something with curry.”

He paused to gauge the impact of his findings. “I can see you’re curious.”

Katie and Webster separately thought that it was probably Bob who was curious, but they let him continue.

etc…

I read it again recently, after about ten years, and you know what? It’s good! Well, not bad anyway. Anybody thinking of visiting Barbados should treat it as essential reading.

You can get A Rum Do on Amazon – click on this: http://goo.gl/h2mip5

Or if you’re too mean to spend a mere £9 I’ll send you an electronic copy if you promise to give me some work.

Go on. You know you want to…

LOVE AND MARRIAGE

Robert Duncan explores matters of the art…

Jan van Eyck's wedding snap

Jan van Eyck’s wedding snap

I spent last Sunday among some of the world’s greatest masterpieces and told the gorgeous Cathy to keep moving in case they were stocktaking. We were at the Tate Gallery (the proper one) admiring the wonders of Turner and the like, and deliberating about the different ways that love and marriage have been portrayed over the years. Some of the types you see in 15th century paintings just wouldn’t cut the mustard today. The women were tight lipped, moody looking, and, since they had to have loads of money before they could have their portrait done anyway, rather overbearing and disdainful. The men all wore silly hats and a dictatorial gaze. They were arrogant, lordly and high-handed. And if you need proof of that (and why wouldn’t you?) take a look at Jan van Eyck’s Giovanni Arnolfini Marriage Portrait. Ok you smart arses out there, I know that one’s in the National Gallery, not the Tate, but it doesn’t change the premise. Just look at the art print so faithfully reproduced here – he’s wearing a hat that you wouldn’t even consider for your wedding, well you might, and his expression doesn’t give away anything of the passion and romance that has lead him to this highly important day in his life. He’s taken off the pointy wooden shoes, which is a start and clearly underlines his romantic intentions, and when the hat comes off, wow! Stand by girl. But maybe it’s too late – she looks like she’s up the duff already. Bad Giovanni…

David Hockney's Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

So right up to date – well the seventies anyway – and we have another marriage situation. David Hockney’s big and strange portrait of Mr and Mrs Clark and their furry chum Percy. Look at this picture as I might, I can’t quite understand why it was done. The Mrs is standing there looking a bit bored, and her husband is sitting down, Pussycat on lap, with a phone next to him just in case, and his toes firmly dug into the woolly carpet. Can’t Hockney do feet? This all proves to me that by the time you’ve got a reputation you can do virtually anything. Look at Picasso.

I believe that very few young ladies think beyond the ceremony when the marriage bug grabs them. They persuade their future husbands, their parents, and anyone else who’ll listen to them to spend as much as possible so they can prove to all their girlfriends how super they can look, and how their romantic dream has come true. Tanned and happy, if a little knackered after their all action honeymoon – where they’ve paraglided, water-skied, and swum with dolphins – they return to a wonderful evening with Mum and Dad, where they view the rather disappointing final selection of wedding photos and then…what? Go back to work? Move into a starter home with a bloke they’re suddenly not so sure about? (Because that wine waiter looked a bit double tasty.) Lose their silly and cheeky evenings out with girlfriends because they have to do their share of the cooking? My advice – enjoy the wedding and then say goodbye.

Cupid_wins

None of that’s true of course, but it was quite a fun rant, and I have met many people who would agree with the whole sentiment.

Do you remember that joke about the guy who made a speech about sex at his local golf club? When he got home he told his wife he spoke about sailing, to be on the safe side. The next morning she met one of the members who said how good her husband’s speech was. She said, “I don’t know why he talked about that. He’s only done it twice – the first time he was sick and the second time his hat blew off.”

A loving relationship is a wonderful thing in our uncertain world.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

Oscar Wilde said that.

“Cartoonists are the best lovers by far.”

I said that.

ALWAYS LET YOUR CONSCIENCE BE YOUR GUIDE…

Jiminy Cricket got it right all those years ago…

Jiminy Cricket

Jiminy Cricket

When that little chap sang “Give a little whistle, and always let your conscience be your guide…” the part that people remember is the ‘Give a little whistle’ bit. But I put it to you your honour, isn’t the conscience line a lot more telling? And while I am digging deep deep into the limitless depths of my brain, I have this earth shattering bombshell to share with you – the world can be a terrible place. Wow. Impressed?

For every genius making films about little wooden boys, or much later, blow-up robots who are medical experts (Big Hero 6 if you’re wondering) there is a bunch of ignorant clowns whose only ambition when they get up in the morning is to blow something up, or behead somebody, or scare the shit out of everyone generally.

Imagine the difference between the waking thoughts of, say, the Big Hero 6 chief animator, and that of the murderer. No contest.

If all children were asked to consider not exactly what to do and not to do, and to consider how the other person will feel if you minimise him or her in the playground, or get a crude excitement out of getting someone else into trouble – but just simply to consider in themselves whether they should be doing this or not – that’s the conscience kicking in.

Being unselfish is a difficult nut to crack, and hopefully that comes with experience, a feeling for others, and good education from a person the little type looks up to. But a conscience seems to be built in, and easier to tap than the selfishness angle. So if these young guys take notice of what their conscience is whispering to them – don’t be nasty to him, he’s not as lucky as you are/be kind to her, because she may not be as pretty as you – they will be listening to a very powerful force, that could actually save the world. Your conscience is telling you not to do that, go there, say that – so listen.

Give a little whistle if you must, but more importantly, always let your conscience be your guide.

And that line was written way before I was born…

THE BEST GIG I EVER DID…

Robert Duncan reflects on his big one.

This girl phoned up and said, “I’m from Coutts – have you heard of us?” I thought of claiming that I’d banked there for years but decided an utter lie wouldn’t get me anywhere, so I simply said yes.

“Because we’ve seen your website and like your stuff.”

Robert and Cathy

Robert and Cathy

She went on to explain that the company was launching an award thingy called The Coutts Prize for Family Business and, instead of presenting some dry old cup or a dreary shield they thought it would be a good idea to present a framed cartoon instead.

I heartily agreed.

I thought ‘This is Coutts. They’ve got a few bob…’ and quoted her accordingly. She jumped at the price which scared me briefly, until she said “No no – Coutts are very fussy and maybe you should allow rather more than that.”

I found myself agreeing heartily again.

Cut to me walking into the multi-story atrium that is Coutts head office in the Strand, and being ushered into a private dining room where a bloke in a bowtie showed me to a luxurious sofa and brought me a gin and tonic.

Lunch followed in the company of Mark, the totally delightful Head of Family Business, where I pushed aside the smoked salmon and the 1986 Latour to scribble out some ideas to Mark’s obvious delight.

So it was arranged. I was to be sent a list of the ten finalists and it was up to me to contact them and arrange meetings, wherever they were.

In that first year I visited the West Country, the Lake District, Northumberland and, okay, Feltham. When the ten venues were called upon, with resulting overnight stays, fancy dinners and lovely people I returned to my studio to begin the process as they say on The Apprentice.

This was good stuff. The Lake District one was a group of luxury hotels, with staff who had obviously been told to treat me with great care to create a favourable impression. A London one was with the chairman of Wates who treated me with a bit of disdain to start with, but soon realised I was super, and became quite charming.

etc.

Finished cartoons were delivered to Coutts, and framed to perfection with a little silver ingot set into the mount, boasting the winner’s name and the bank’s logo.

Then regional finals were held in the north (Castle Howard), the south (Sandown Park) and in London (Coutts own swanky headquarters.) In all these venues black ties were in order, and we slurped back quantities of champagne and ate wonderful buffets, all to the strains of such acts as Kit and the Widow and El Divo.

Wise and witty speeches were made, referring to ‘the eminent cartoonist Robert Duncan’ and inviting everyone to the grand final at said headquarters in June, where everyone would have an opportunity to view a gallery of the eminent RD’s cartoons.

And so this went on for five years with my lady and I being greeted like old friends by every one of these captains of industry. Many of them asked me to do other assignments such as Christmas cards, and a couple of nearly-finalists commissioned me to produce the nine cartoon format at their own expense, no doubt so they could tell their chums that they won it.

But nothing lasts forever as my grandmother’s parrot so wisely said – and the whole award thing was dropped shortly after the country took up ownership of 87% of this wonderful client.

Hey ho. On to something else. But I still look fondly at the results. Eminent indeed.