Monthly Archives: November 2015


You need a password to read this…

phoneAh technology! The very word makes me get hot and bothered as my mum used to say. To start with, my illustrious friends Stuart and Keith attempted the impossible, and tried to introduce me to the wonders of technology. Up until then I could understand the workings of a coat hanger and just about record something on a video machine. Well sometimes. The first lucky girl to become my wife had a great admiration for the gritty perfectly acted intelligently scripted mind shatteringly complex plotting and general state of the art entertainment that was Home and Away- and I would join her every evening at 6.30, glass of wine in hand, to catch up with the doings in Summer Bay. On one occasion we were off to Barbados for three weeks, safe in the knowledge that I had set up the video thingy to record every earth shattering moment of this intense drama. Sadly I hadn’t taken British summertime into consideration, and we came back to fifteen episodes of – oh I don’t know – something else. This tragedy still brings a lump to my throat.

But I digress. Let’s now cut to my early adventures with computers and puzzling over (as I still do) how they work, and why should they work at all. Stuart chose my first laptop for me, and soon had me sending emails and staring at my early website, with its handful of cartoons and a choice of only about three typefaces to make it look nice.

Then Keith took over. A genius I still see frequently, who is always there if I have a problem (of the computer sort I mean. He can’t cure rashes as far as I know.) he can even sort things remotely, which blows me away.

And when he’s not available, and something goes tits up as the saying goes, I get irritable, hot, and on the verge of hurling the bloody thing out of the window. Teddy being thrown out of the pram. I finally find him and within minutes I am in charge of my technological life again.

Onwards. I changed my cuddly little iPhone 5 for an iPhone 6S the other day. Now if you have a mobile phone, and I’ve heard that a lot of people do, it’s no longer a case of keeping it charged and making phone calls. It’s taking a degree in electronics, and being expected to understand every instructive reference. Loads of different codes, reference numbers and email addresses come up, with the phone refusing to do anything until all questions are answered to this little swine of a machine’s full satisfaction. Aaaaaaaaaaaagh! (Sorry, I felt the dialogue needed one of those there.)

The very kind, friendly and capable guys at the O2 shop helped me (all right they did it) to transfer all my ‘data’ from my sweet little old phone to the scary new one. All fine apart from half a dozen things, all of which involved … wait for it… passwords.

Life used to be so simple then (or has time rewritten every line) when you had a password. Mine was a special date. Now I have a two page printout of them, all cunningly disguised so the bad people can’t infiltrate my photos, phone numbers and trite writings. And this list is also on my iPad (don’t start me on that) so I have to have that with me to access what I need on my phone – because if I leave the thing I’m trying to do, the chances are I won’t find it again. Know what I mean?

So I have about 2000 passwords if you include all the variables, and if my new phone asks politely what my password is before I can get on to YouTube for example, I have to get irritable and do that getting hot thing (or ring Keith) before I can solve it.

The phone has a fantastic camera which is handy when my own fantastic camera is in a drawer somewhere at the very moment I want to take yet another photo of Jamie in a sports kit. And those photos can easily be transferred to someone else’s phone if you press AirDrop properly. We were having dinner in Spain once and Sam realised he could send a picture to a lady who was sitting a few tables away. I suggested he should go to the loo, take a photo of his bum, and AirDrop it to her. He declined because he’s more sensible than me.

Anyway, everything is working on my new glitzy phone, all is in order and, guess what…it does everything the old one does. Apart from the fact that I now have a tendency to polish its screen whenever I look at it. That will pass, as the novelty of a new gadget always does, and I will get another new one, which will probably have a batch of fab new features like – sending out a high pitched electronic beep that will shatter my wine glass when it thinks I’ve had enough, or fly up to my roof to take panoramic shots of our lovely home, or leap out of my hand in hot pursuit of a burglar who’s tried to pinch it, stunning him long enough for me to catch up, press the built-in panic button, and summon the police to the scene of the crime. After that it will call on its new app to award itself a medal for bravery. Or it could produce a sunny day for whenever the village fete happens to be on. By this time the nice people at Apple will have totally forgotten that first and foremost it was meant to be a phone, and leave that facility out completely.

So there we are. I could have just said “I’ve got a new phone” but that sort of brevity has never been my style. Ask anybody.


Robert Duncan rolls along on the crest of a wave…

Slapstick-CruiseAnd now for something completely different. I agreed to go on a comedy cruise to Tenerife to do a series of workshops about cartooning. I got permission from head office and found myself on a train out of Oxford hurtling towards Southampton with the heaviest suitcase I had ever attempted to carry – full of copies of my new book Stuff and Nonsense, and cartoon kits for all my eager students to buy.

On board I was given a very nice cabin with good old fashioned portholes, and since I appeared to have to work for only four hours in the five days on board I thought I’d get ahead with my book of limericks about slimmers – Slimmericks. (More of that in a future blog. Suffice to say I didn’t get many done…)

First job was to meet up with the cruise director Simon and find out what was expected of me, apart from eating all their food and exploring the bar in depth. Turned out all the entertainers were there (if I can count myself in that category) and what a jolly bunch they were. There was Miki, Jon and Don who were comedians. There was Stan and Robbie who were truly brilliant Laurel and Hardy lookalikes, with a great talent for magic which obviously extended their repertoire enormously. (Stan changed his name to Stan, so committed was he to his profession.) There was Jonty and Ian, who were more like Morecambe and Wise than Morecambe and Wise were. And there was Steve Smith whose job it was to give a series of four talks about the history of comic songs, from Marie Lloyd to Benny Hill. Accompanying himself on the guitar, his wit and wisdom captivated us all, and every one of us made sure we were in the theatre for 10am so we didn’t miss a minute. There was also a wonderful duo I had the pleasure of flying home with, who did murder mystery dinners.

So the scene was set. We took off or whatever ships do, and headed overnight towards the dreaded Bay of Biscay. I joined my merry band for dinner before they took it in turns to present their own unique brand of act – Jon, a finalist in last year’s Britain’s Got Talent, did a brilliant 45 minute set without putting a foot wrong. Which was surprising, since the ship was beginning to rock a bit, and sick bags (unused) were available on every stair and every corner. Don, the older comedian (think Les Dawson, via the Comedians TV show of the seventies, and Ken Dodd, who Don supplied gags to) did 45 minutes and left us with the impression that he could have done another eight hours or so if asked to do so.

Trouble was the weather was getting worse, and the Croatian captain kept on asking us to be happy. Jon said our leader should come on stage and sing Don’t Worry be Happy. We could have done with it. By Tuesday the boat was being thrown about like a sponge in a bath or whatever the expression is, and it was getting difficult to walk, let alone draw. I had organised a flip chart for my workshops so I could show my eager students how to draw expressions, speed and what to leave out etc. The fact that I couldn’t even stand up, let alone draw fabulously, didn’t help. I ended up lowering the flip chart and working sitting down.

That night we all had a jolly few drinks while Miki did his sensational stand-up and were horrified by the news that one of the dining rooms had been affected by a freak wave, and people, chairs, people in chairs, chairs on people, bottles, glasses and waiters had gone flying, and the doctor was busy mending arms, fitting neck braces, and plastering generally. On came the captain’s voice “Be happy…”

The next day I was in cartoonist’s paradise – people were limping everywhere, staying in their cabins, or being injected in the bum by the desperately overworked doctor.

And still the swell continued. If you can call 20ft waves a swell. We weren’t allowed out on the grounds that lost passengers and men overboard could only add to the problems, so air conditioning was being breathed for the fourth day running. I survived on a diet of large and fabulous buffets, their delicious rose wine, and industrial quantities of motion sickness pills, that dried me out like an old crisp.

But every night I would be there, cheering on my hearty comrades, and wondering, as I always do, at the talent of these people who can get on stage, make people happy, and deliver.

On the Wednesday night we all took photographs – me with my new best friends Laurel and Hardy, and Jon and Miki – and then got the drinks in as the captain promised fair weather, sunbathing on the deck, and free rum punches for everyone. So his Be Happy motto was beginning to come true.

Thursday night. Big variety show where all the entertainers did a ten minute slot and then repaired to the bar after the inevitable photos. Hugs. Talks about disembarkation plans, chat about when everyone was working next.

Put on a Stan Laurel voice and say this. “Rob, how do you like my tattoo?” Me. “Laurel and Hardy! On your arm! Where did you get that done?” Stan, pointing to his arm. “Right here.” Love ‘em.

Old comedy song singer Steve and I shared a taxi on the way to the airport. We compared notes about such luminaries as Anthony Newley, Stanley Holloway and Tom Lehrer. I saw him again at Gatwick, probably preparing to bring a bit of total joy to his next audience somewhere.

Home to my darling wife and my boys. Lovely time. Lovely to be back. Back from silliness, over the top characters, sick bags. Time out of time…