Monthly Archives: May 2015


Robert Duncan takes the A road to motoring history…

Jamie in back of carAll those avid readers of my blogs, who hang on my every word in an attempt to gain insight into (a) my exciting world, and (b) how to be involved with it for a few brief but golden moments, will know that I love going to events with my family, and especially my little boy Jamie. Seeing any event, especially to do with transport, through his eyes is good wholesome fun. And we all like that don’t we…

I have stood on underground stations as trains come and go, and then rapidly changed platforms to see them coming from the other way. And then changed again to see the first lot again. This can be a bit boring after about half an hour, especially since on one occasion it shortened our proposed visit to the London Transport Museum, with its brilliant collection of old buses and trains, by about thirty minutes. And we’ve been to the Car Museum too (somewhere up the M40) and on virtually every old railway in the country. We’ve watched trains and boats and planes to the extent that I could have given Burt Bacharach a run for his money.

So the Vintage Car Rally in Aylesbury was a no brainier (to slip into the vernacular for a moment). The sun was shining, and so was a field of the most wonderful old cars you’ve ever seen. There was a Rover 75 just like my dad’s. There was an MGB GT which reminded me of the one I owned in the sixties round about the time my gorgeous wife was born (way too young to take her out in it). Cadillacs that were so long that an 8ft bloke could probably lie down lengthways in the boot (sorry, the trunk). Austin Sevens. Triumph Stags – originally designed as the dream car, to look at home on the quayside at St Tropez as the sun sets behind it, and the grinning occupant gets out, straightening his bow tie. Old buses that we were allowed to sit in. Three wheelers that we didn’t dare sit in. A Ford Prefect like Auntie Doris used to have. A Ford Zodiac like her rotter of a husband had. An Austin 1100 identical to the ones owned by (a) my mum and (b) Cathy’s grandfather. Old cars that had been cared for to the extent that they probably looked better than when they left the production line all those years ago. Obviously the pride and joy of the men and their long suffering wives, who sat on deckchairs behind them, aching to show you the gleaming works under the bonnet. (Of the cars, not the wives). And so on. Probably 200 gleaming masterpieces, from Model T Fords, to Austin A30s to a fine pair of Bristols. (Oh please…)

And so on to our photograph. The Isetta bubble car. Made by BMW before they realised how groovy they were – with a little sign outside rubbishing the story I was about to tell of a man who drove into his garage, not realising that there was no reverse gear, and having to stay there for years because the only door was at the front. Apparently they all have reverse and it never happened. Somebody will tell me that they don’t really go at 85mph in second gear next. Jamie loved it as the most observant among you will notice from the picture – and we tried to remove from our minds that this was probably Sam’s dream car.

Time for coffee and a sticky bun, and to watch a dog show which was there for some reason. I told the little lad that the dogs would probably race the cars but he didn’t believe me. Instead they just walked round, cocked their legs, and barked at each other. And that was only the owners.

Tired but happy (isn’t it always the way?) we drove home, imagining that road sixty or seventy years ago when these classic machines were cluttering our lanes, breaking down on steep hills and, when they were working properly, transporting cads with flat caps, goggles and flowing scarves to some lovely country location to have dinner with Rodney and Bunty before strapping the trunk on the back, or filling the dicky seat with a few hearty chaps, and dashing back to town at a crisp forty miles an hour.

These motorised treasures are still cared for, polished daily, and adored by proud owners, and put up with by their infinitely patient wives.

I suppose you haven’t got a brass manifold nut for a 1959 Morris Traveller?


Roll up roll up. The Duncan family go clowning about…

Jamie&ClownWhen we arrived outside the big top it didn’t bode well. There were only about five cars there, and the show must go on in about twenty minutes. We looked at each other, both silently wondering if this was the best way to introduce Jamie to the nostalgic joys of the sawdust ring. But we went for it anyway, and entered to find an athletic type selling flashing wands, a footballer doing face painting (no I didn’t. Why gild the lily?) and a good looking lady who was in charge of the popcorn, hot dogs and candy floss. Quaint.

We needn’t have worried about numbers. With only three minutes to go before showtime the place was filling up. Almost every white garden chair was occupied, and we met lots of people we know. Jamie had two hot dogs just before the chuck wagon was closed and the ringmaster came on. The lighting changed and smoke filled the air. A juggler came on doing wonderful things with footballs – yes it was the face painter, but now he was climbing up high ladders, juggling anything that got near him, and doing dangerous stunts on one leg. Then the clown came on and was very funny and daft, the athletic type did some balancing and stuff which would have hurt him quite badly if he’d got it wrong, and then, in a blaze of coloured lights the lady from the hot dog place came on, now covered in glittery sequins and a costume that didn’t leave much to the imagination, especially when she turned upside down at the top of her silky rope. I’ve seen a few hot dog sellers before, and I would put money on the fact that they couldn’t do that. Most of them would need a fork lift truck. As the music got louder she swung round, holding on with one arm, before descending gracefully to the ground, giving an extravagant bow in the style of the lovely Debbie McGee.

In my innocence, and remembering (a) the circus scenes in Dumbo and (b) the circuses I was dragged to as a child, I was fully expecting a lion trainer, a horse or two (probably with the hot dog lady riding on them) and some sad looking elephants who were made to stand on little platforms as they were poked about by some aggressive bloke with a waxed moustache. But no, these things are no more. We got a dog who came on and did some clever tricks with his owner, and then helped out when she brought three cats on, who didn’t always do what they were told.

Half time break, and guess who was in the hot dog stand? The clown was back selling stuff, people made a run for the portaloos, and the ring was set for part two.

More of the same and just as good. Then the centrepiece. The clown came staggering on with a seven foot high board bearing all the marks of a lifetime being used as part of a knife throwing act. And the knife thrower was to be the clown. Gulp…

He asked for a volunteer which made Cathy and I look in the opposite direction so we didn’t make eye contact – and our friend Cliff stood up and said “I’ll do it!”

We all said our goodbyes and he was off. As the clown did some practice shots, mostly misses, The brave (or crazy) Cliff was manacled to the board and the clown, now wearing a black bag on his head, began to say that he knew exactly what he was doing and turned, knifes waving, towards the worried audience. Then he put the black bag on Cliff. Aaaaaaagh! Tense moments indeed. The clown pretended to throw the first knife and his assistant jumped from behind the screen and drove a duplicate knife next to Cliff’s head – then the bag was removed to reveal a very worried expression. It went on like that, ending up with an axe bursting a balloon between his legs. They supplied a bucket. I hope I haven’t given away any trade secrets here.

The show finished and everyone took a bow, quite forgetting that Cliff was still chained to his board. Eventually he was released and got the best ovation of the day.

We came away feeling nostalgic and happy. We had been kids again, staring in wonder at the lights, the ropes, the smoke, the colour, the extraordinary acts and the very inside of the big top itself. We decided that the cast of jugglers, animal trainers and funny men we had seen probably took the tent down afterwards, and loaded it away to be taken to the next venue. And I bet the hot dog lady was sent way up to the smoky top to loosen some of the knots.

Good value. Real old fashioned entertainment in our cynical modern world. A theatrical form which goes back for centuries, and obviously a big enough pull to lure these young people into the peripatetic life of running off to join the circus.

They certainly got three new fans on Sunday afternoon.


Cathy and Robert Duncan celebrate with a cosy video evening…

cathy and rob's wedding 131Regular avid followers of my warm, wise and witty blogs will be surprised to see that I have chosen something as everyday as a wedding anniversary – but I have. With good reason. Every one of these (and we have one every year you know) reminds me of (a) how much I love my wife and (b) what a wonderful day it was.

This was underlined when we took our sons out for an Indian dinner (at the Dinner Man, as Jamie calls it) and then settled in to watch the entire wedding video, and not skip through the church service in order to get to my speech. There I was at St.Mary’s Church in Thame (a special place to Cathy’s wonderful parents) welcoming the guests, many of which have now gone on to their great reward, and waiting for the arrival of the star of the day. Driven in style (my car) by superstar chef Lotte Duncan, the lady in question arrived on the arm of the man in her life that had the enviable task of giving her away, Sam. Incidentally I asked him earlier if he would be prepared to give her away, and he said ‘No, but I’ll sell her for fifty quid.’ Smart lad. As they walked up the aisle I was lucky to be in the right place to thank God that I had taken a calming down pill, because otherwise I would probably have burst into tears and would have had to be comforted by my best man Peter. She looked beautiful. Hair perfect. Dress designed to be the best covering this girl of mine could have, further underlining how extraordinary it was that I had (a) attracted her attention, (b) got her, and by some amazing  chance, created our gorgeous little boy, and (c) dragged her down this very aisle to get manacled to me for life.

 1st May 2010 was planned as a simple event. Second time around for both of us. The service was lovely, annotated by my illustrious mother in law reading a relevant passage from my Bible story book Once Upon A World, my dear friend theatre producer Ian Liston reading a poem of Cathy’s choosing, and walking out of the church to the strains of Cliff singing When the Girl in your Arms is the Girl in your Heart. Not live sadly.

Then back to The Old Forge, our home at the time. Marquee looking fab, weather behaving itself perfectly unexpectedly, loads of balloons ready to be released into the blue sky. Those guests expecting white tablecloths, reconstituted chicken and giggling bridesmaids were disappointed. We gave them loads of champagne, shepherd’s pie, jelly and ice cream, and some riveting speeches.

One guest was overheard to say to her husband ‘If I ever get married again, this is just the sort of wedding I want.’

Wedding cake with a cartoon of us, bubbles, a magician, a harp player and weather that stayed on hold until we were all finished and didn’t care anymore, and the day was over.

A few people stayed on for an Indian takeout and that was it. Job done. Cathy and I had a wonderful lunch at Le Manoir the following day and returned to normality.

Jamie was fascinated with the whole video thing, not least the fate of the people who are no longer with us. But he has a broken arm, silly little thing, so he couldn’t do much else apart from watch a DVD that starred him when he was one and a bit, and a few other people, including his mummy and daddy, who thought it was probably the best time ever.

Prezzie time – and The present for a fifth anniversary is wood (behave) so I gave her a bay tree. This will be in the lovely garden, outside the lovely house that we have created since that happy day, and will hopefully grow as our love grows. And if you think that’s a bit cheesy, it is. But I mean it. She’s my girl.