Monthly Archives: February 2016


Robert Duncan remembers his glory filled public school days…

Robert-Duncan-when-youngSome complete twat said that school days are the best days of your life. This is totally untrue, at least in my case. After a dubious start at a prep school in Northwood, where I was boarding from age eight onwards (how could my parents survive without me? Me and my whoosh of white curly hair, savagely teased into a voluminous lump?) And how could they set me free to wander amongst footballers with runny noses, teachers who couldn’t wait to beat me for no apparent reason, and older boys who wanted to show their shining manhood to anyone available? Beats me….

Onwards to a curious school near Wisborough Green in Sussex. We were all allowed to wear home clothes, roller skate a lot and cause havoc at Christmas parties. The one that comes to mind was organised by the headmaster out of the kindness of his heart, and turned into the finest food fight I’ve ever witnessed. One of the hard working students took over the Christmas cake, and carefully cut off slices before he threw them. I’ll never forget the patient look on the headmaster’s face as a slice flew past him and ended up sliding down the dusty portrait of the founder.

The school was self-sufficient, so even employed its own team of builders. A memory that will never be removed until I leave this mortal coil is seeing a nearly completed staff house fall to the ground, with the builders jumping off the roof for their lives.

My old friend John Cleaver, sadly no longer with us, was there. He always wore enormous sweaters and could be depended upon to produce a jam sandwich from the woolly folds to slake your early teenage hunger. Happy times.

And onwards, to a single term as a day boy at a local school (I don’t think my alma mater was quite ready for me) where the headmaster was removed rapidly for gross indecency, and I starred as Robin Hood in a school play. This piece of natural casting was spoilt on the first night, when my wooden sword was broken in half and apparently I just stood and stared at it. How the bastards in the audience laughed at my first dramatic role.

And so to Sutton Valence in Kent, where my father and my brother had both distinguished themselves, on and off the sports field. Within days I realised that, no matter how stupid and thick you were, you would always be a superstar to your peers if you could run about with a ball tucked under your arm. (Sorry, that was a sporting reference. Not something that went on in the showers.)

Our poor little curly haired hero just wanted to be an artist, but I hardly dared to say that, apart from to Mr Simmons, who was the art teacher and encouraged me into a feast and famine career that has lasted sixty years since then.

Now for the good bit – and don’t forget we’re talking 1950s here, not 1850s. The horny, rugged, prosperous seventeen year old prefects were allowed to beat the younger boys with canes. Yes proper canes. The wrong doer would lie in his bed after lights out, waiting for the dorm doors to open, and the familiar voice of whichever bullying prefect would yell your name. Into the shower rooms to receive six strokes with only your pyjamas for protection. Lifeless, holding back sobs, wishing for mummy, bleeding, the offender returned to his bed for some troubled sleep and the promise of more delights on the following day.

So it went on. A useless barbaric waste of time and my father’s hard earned money, apparently to make a man of me. Even today I never miss an opportunity to bad mouth the evil place, memorably during a Radio Oxford interview with Bill Heine. He found the whole tale hard to believe. I just hope and pray that said prefects went on to be small fish in big ponds, failed, and never found a more satisfying way of quelling their sexual desires.

I might have been a wet. I may have missed my mum and my sister, but my life has been fulfilling, I’ve had many moments of glory, and I don’t thank Sutton Valence for one of them.

I went back a couple of years ago and met up with a few old friends. There are girls there now, which would have changed the dynamics so forcibly in those black and white days that a female prefect giving out beatings would have had the male prefects forming an orderly queue all the way to the shower rooms.

The head girl showed me round and told me how gentle everything is now. She was terrified of leaving and going out into the big wide world. Big changes.

For years afterwards my worst nightmares were being back there. I’d wake up in a cold sweat waiting for the door of the dorm to open…

Bloody dump.


Robert Duncan reflects on a year to remember…

Round-Robins-redsYou know those typewritten sheets of rhubarb you find in Christmas cards from people you at best hardly know, or at worst met at a seaside bed and breakfast somewhere. Round robins.

Are they just boring because you remember the people involved, or just boring in their own right (or write)? My theory is that they are boring mainly because the less someone does in a year, the more they’re likely to write about it. The old empty vessels syndrome.

Mind you it is super that young Eric has had his buck teeth fixed. And Simon’s rash is now under control. Or Doris now wears glasses. Or Arnold has run off with a barmaid after declaring his love to her publicly on a local radio phone-in. Actually that sounds quite interesting. Do we really have to wait a year to hear that Arnold has come home, his tail (or something) between his legs, and has announced it was all a mistake and she hadn’t enjoyed his accordion music after all. Oh well.

So here’s mine for 2015:

“January found us starting an avalanche in Zermatt. We couldn’t help laughing when Sam did his customary yodel in his newly attained deep teenage voice and they’re still looking for the picture postcard chalet we had rented. Was Cathy mad – she told him off enormously until she burst into helpless giggles and slapped her older son heartily on the back. The resulting noise nearly took care of the rest of Zermatt. The little town went very quiet after that. Even the reindeer weren’t talking to us!

Home again to wile away the tiring days of February by opening Valentine cards from everyone from Brad Pitt to Madonna, Idris Elba to Michelle Pfeiffer, and a touching declaration of love from Keira Knightley. As I sit here, pen poised, in December, I am beginning to wish she would leave me alone. Cathy says she can have you – serve her right. She can be very hurtful.

March – and we’re off for six glorious months in a time machine, so I will finish this round robin as soon as I return. Oh we’re back. That was quick. And if you don’t believe me, come round and meet our dinosaur Porky. Aptly named after what he did, somewhat embarrassingly, to a pig at a local farm we visited with an intention to buy.

Jamie’s violin is coming on a pace, so it was lovely to go to Les Miserables again and hear him leading the orchestra. Cathy watched the whole thing through a veil of tears until a rude (and probably jealous) woman in the next row told her to bloody well shut up. I wonder if she’s had those opera glasses removed yet…

April, and our home is abuzz with preparations for our family entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Modesty prevents me from telling you that I actually wrote our song. Oh, I’ve told you. Well never mind. The middle eight nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown – finding a suitable rhyme for ‘Fits like a glove, love’ made me lose sleep and swallow boxes of paracetamol without even opening them.

May arrived, and so did Eurovision – and I am still convinced we would have won if the organisers had told us the right city. We questioned whether Juneau in Alaska was correct but they insisted our song Ping went the String of my Thing had a real chance of success there. The Europeans don’t like us.

When June arrived we got a gigantic load of publicity from saying ‘Where does the time go?’ This staggeringly original line has now gone into the public parlance and we can hardly walk down the street without people running up for signed copies. One young girl even had it tattooed on her chest, and an older woman did the same but at least she had the decency to tuck the message under her belt for propriety if the occasion didn’t lend itself to such outlandish behaviour. Funds were short so I had half a haircut, thereby starting an instant fashion that had me fast tracked to the covers of Vogue, Men Only and Woman’s Weekly.

Exciting times and I’m not exaggerating when I say that we all thought July couldn’t better June for sheer delight. But, you’ve guessed it, something turned up to stop this round robin from being mind numbingly boring. This appeared totally out of the blue one Saturday night right after my birthday, when there was little else to do apart from writing to the Duke of Edinburgh to thank him for his kind words and the generous portion of Windsor Castle. There was a tap on the door (so we had it relocated to the bathroom) and Daffy Duck was standing there. Cathy sent him off for pancakes and the rest of the evening looked after itself. July had proved to be as superb as we had hoped.

It couldn’t last forever and in August disaster struck when Jamie’s first novel failed to reach the Sunday Times Top Ten Books list and missed the Times hundred best companies because the turnover was £3 short. Well you can imagine what that did to the mood of the family. Cathy repaired to her bed, Sam retired to his room with a Star Wars movie and 27 slices of toast, and Jamie and I passed the time by re-enacting Othello. Sad times indeed.

September wasn’t much better. Cheered briefly by a visit to war torn Chinnor, a pleasant trip to Richard Branson’s island in the Caribbean (he wouldn’t leave us alone) and a game of Monopoly that lasted three weeks. Unhappy times.

October starts on a high. Jamie is accepted by Manchester United and (isn’t it always the way?) gets seventeen goals against Everton. “Don’t peak too early” I wisely told him, but he had the nerve to say shut up and bought me a Bentley Continental to say sorry. Kids!

November is best forgotten. Suffice to say the firework was safely removed and I’m walking again.

And here we are in December! Those bloody Norwegians have sent us their usual Christmas tree, so it’s time to remove the flap from the floor of Jamie’s room and make the great thing fit somehow. It looks good, but the local dogs are making a real mess of the base, and they don’t have the good grace to aim only for the waterproof presents. The Albert Hall has insisted on staging Sam’s one man show for a further three nights so I suppose I’ll have to drop him off at the stage door as usual. This year we are due to perform the family dance routine as a finale, but to tell you the truth I can’t be bothered. Who wants that? Apart from that queue of some two thousand people waiting in the snow, and singing my Eurovision hit?

I must put my pen down now. The family is eager for my rendition of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol (the entire thing) before I carve the ostrich whilst singing Silent Night at full volume in my pleasing light baritone.

So Happy Christmas! And here’s to 2016!

I hope I’ll be able to report a less boring year next time.”

Round robins. Don’t you love ‘em?