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STUFF AND NONSENSE

Robert Duncan could write a book on it…

Pre-empting what will obviously be a ground breaking blog about my forthcoming five day cruise to Tenerife, where I will be holding workshops about drawing cartoons, I will tell you about my book. The title is as the headline of this article, and this worthy tome will contain elements of my work (close inverted commas) – funny and serious cartoons, excerpts from some of the numerous plays and books I have written, some chat about my attempts at lyrics, more cartoons, and about 70 pages of the best of my blogs (in my opinion).

The big problem with producing such a blockbuster is what to leave out. Should I include that series of cartoon strips about funeral directors, entitled Mourning All? Is my favourite cartoon strip, about two people who spend their lives travelling in a car (and occasionally other modes of transport) and never getting there, wherever ‘there’ is, worthy of a mention? How about Vole RA? A strip that followed the mishaps of a Royal Academician who happens to be a vole, and all the problems that go with being so small. The title by the way was inspired by that old fifties Dean Martin number Volaré – so at least the premise was quite clever.

Big no to all that – but what about my forgotten masterpiece No The One With The Cherry On It? I left that out on the grounds that I didn’t finish it. Well ok, I didn’t actually start it.

Because I liked the grittiness of black and white, the raw honesty of it, the almost palpable courageousness of the concept (and ok, I couldn’t afford colour) the 170 pages are all mono. I really think that it doesn’t make much difference. If the printers proof is anything to go by, the drawings and photos look good – and the only picture that screams out for colour, and depends on it, is a cartoon for a cricket team. But this lack of meaning is carefully explained away in the caption.

But don’t despair, the cover is in colour – and guess how I did it, all you fascinated fans. I drew a two minute cartoon on a bit of textured paper, put the pencil on top of it, and photographed it with my iPad. Brilliant. No retouching. No photographer’s fee. Coo…

So the final selection was made, a mishmash of stuff (hence the ‘stuff’ in the title) and the nonsense bit speaks for itself.

So if you happen to be on a cruise to Tenerife, and you happen to attend a cartoon workshop under the careful guidance of some old white haired bloke, you will be able to buy a copy of this superb limited edition for ten quid.

But in case you aren’t, I have ten copies of Stuff and Nonsense to give away. I’ll even pay the postage. I’m like that. Simply email me on me@robertduncan.biz and I’ll send you a nice new shiny copy (or is it matt?)

The workshops will only take four hours out of my five days at sea, so I have been told in no uncertain terms not to spend the rest of the time in the bar.

No, I’ll go to my stateroom and start on my biography The Girl Behind The Red Door.

Boy oh boy – will there be a blog about that…

ALL DAY AND ALL OF THE NIGHT

That’s how long I could watch the unique British musical that is Sunny Afternoon…

44e4dd_111711kinks02I am not given to standing up and waving my arms about at the end of shows, but I’m afraid to say I made an exception recently. My gorgeous wife (in whom I am well pleased) got tickets for the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon. Kinks founder Ray Davies and his younger brother Dave obviously took the lead, played by John Dagleish and George Maguire with the most incredible energy, which wore me out just watching them – must be the age – and delivering totally brilliant renditions of Ray’s extensive songbook, and a plot that took us through their family history (including the sad fact that one of their sisters, who gave Ray his first guitar, died as a teenager on the dance floor.)

There was something about the intimacy of the theatre, and the warmth of the crowd, and the pure energy and talent I was watching, put Sunny Afternoon fair and square into the bracket of one of my most brilliant musicals ever. Lion King for special reasons, Beauty and the Beast for pure staging wizardry, Les Mis because it makes me cry every single time (right from a preview I saw in New York) …and this.

If anyone in the cast, and especially the two leads, ever get to see this modest blog, they can go to bed safe in the knowledge that they were involved in totally great musical theatre – and Ray, if you’re out there, you’re a genius.

One of the dozens of high spots was their translation of Waterloo Sunset.

This is the image I have got of this classic pop song – and I don’t want anyone to change it by saying it wasn’t like that, or it wasn’t them, or it wasn’t even that location. This is my version. Ray Davies was the more serious Davies brother. Dave, the younger one, was enjoying every moment of his fame by clocking up an unstoppable list of women and enjoying every inch of the rock and roll lifestyle. So I have Ray standing in his shadowy apartment overlooking the Thames and staring across the water towards Waterloo station. Inspired by the gentle evening lighting, as Monet was, he begins to hum a creation, develop an emotive thought in his own style of painting in sound. The apartment is silent, a million miles away from the noise of the recording sessions, the adulation of Kinks fans, the buzz of the Ready Steady Go studio. Alone. It is Friday.

He sees two people crossing Waterloo Bridge. Friends he has met at a few sixties parties. Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, who met on the set of Far from the Madding Crowd, and fell in love. The constant adulation and pressure of constant screenings, auditions and interviews is put on hold. Julie is meeting her lover and stealing away for a weekend alone in a country cottage, where they will live and lie together for a God given moment before they return to their commitments as two of the most beautiful people on earth. Ray smiles. He is happy with this quiet life, with his wife, with his incredible and highly respected song-writing talent. And as long as he gazes on Waterloo Sunset he is in paradise.

He turns back into his room, the shadows growing long now, adjusts the sleeves of his white linen shirt, and picks up his guitar…

That’s how I see it – and I believe the Sunny Afternoon programme gave a slightly different story. But I refused to read it, because my scenario will always be in my head, especially when I hear this, probably one of the most atmospheric and beautiful pop songs ever.

HOLIDAY CONTINUITY

The joys of Summer reunions…

Duncans_back_in_SpainAfter my parents’ mistaken concept that boarding school and then public school would make a man of me I was forced to rewrite the famous maxim so it goes like this: Summer holidays are the best days of your life.

Back in those black and white days of the early fifties we used to pack up the Rover 75, with everything from picnic baskets to shrimping nets to water wings to packets of Spangles and head to Portsmouth in time to catch the Isle of Wight ferry. Happy days. The sun always shone, the excitement grew as the island got closer, and the prospect of catching up with our old friends was almost palpable.

My sister had many male followers who couldn’t wait to see whether she was any more forthcoming with kisses than the year before. My brother couldn’t wait to see if there were enough chums for sailing races, beach cricket and major sand castle building projects. I simply wanted to see Lance, John Stoneham, Linda, George, Jenny Southwell and a few other young types to find out how tall they’d grown, whether they had braces on their teeth, or if they demonstrated a certain worldliness that proved that their emergent love life at home had got a shaky kickstart.

In the meantime my parents entered into the gossip round the beach huts, the tales of the expensive rented Summer homes (heading worryingly towards £10 a week) and the inevitable early evening drinks parties.

And all this was good for all of us. We knew what to expect from our holiday, we knew who we’d be with, and we knew the layout of the place to the extent that we’d even know where to congregate on rainy days – somebody’s beach hut, with plenty of Horlicks, Eccles cakes and chat.

I’m in Spain with my little family, over sixty years later, at a poolside apartment we have been coming to for seven years. The moment we arrive we are welcomed by all our regular Summertime friends. Sam and Jamie dash off to the pool, the centre of their (and our) social scene. Shy hellos over, the action of the day carries on exactly where it ended last year. Lots of splashing, ball games, promises of meetings later.

We catch up with what’s been happening. “Thought they’d break up.” “She’s put on a bit.” “Ooh he didn’t did he?” Etc.

Early evening drinks are arranged. Gin bottles are produced. Giggles last deep into the warm Summer night.

All very different from those early Isle of Wight days, but somehow all exactly the same too. Continuity. Knowing what you’re going to find on your holiday, and knowing that this set of friends, as far flung as Canada, Denmark and Watford, are enjoying time with their families in a place they have all grown to love. And that beats two weeks in Benidorm, where if you’re lucky you’ll meet quite a nice family that will tell you how Marvin has succeeded in football, Edna’s up the duff, and Eric’s plumbing business has gone up the duff too.

See you next year?

ONCE UPON A WORLD…AGAIN

Still hopeful after all these years…

Once-Upon-A-WorldWaiting patiently in the wings for the gigantic earth-shattering success it deserves is my 1976 children’s book of Bible stories Once Upon A World. Even Sir Tim Rice used to read it to his children and said it was ‘an irresistible interpretation of the scriptures.’

You can still get it as a remastered double CD on Amazon. Read by the wonderful John Le Mesurier, which proves how old it is, and still sounding fresh as a daisy today.

Here’s NOAH’S ARK.

Noah and the ark“Adam and Eve had sons, and their sons had sons, and the sons of the sons had sons. By that time there were lots of people on the world. God sat back and watched them. He saw them hurting each other, being selfish, and not thinking about him very much.

But God saw Noah, who was a very good man, and said, ‘I like Noah, but I don’t like the others much.’

The world had not turned out quite as well as he had hoped, so he decided to have a great storm, which would cause a flood, so he could start again. The flood would soon get rid of all the bad men, animals and everything that lived.

Before God started the storm he told Noah how to build a great boat – the ark. He told him how long it should be, how many rooms it should have, and how many windows and doors.

God said, ‘Now listen, Noah, when your ark is finished, I want you to get two of every animal, two of every bird, and all the insects and bugs you can lay your hands on. Then get your wife, your sons, and their wives, and put the whole lot in the ark. Right?’

Noah said he would do it, and the ark was built. Just as the last nails were hammered in, the sky went black and the lightning started flashing. God had turned on the storm.

‘Quick,’ shouted Noah, ‘everybody in. No pushing, you lions. Hurry up at the back, tortoises.’

Just in time, the door was shut and locked. For nearly six weeks it rained and rained and rained. All the ground was covered with water, and even the trees and mountains were covered.

But the ark sailed on. It bounced up and down a bit in the rough sea, but all the animals, all the birds, all the family, even old Noah, were safe and happy inside.

After a while the rain stopped banging on the roof, and sunlight started to shine through the cracks in the door and windows. Noah knew it was time to find out if the water had gone down.

He thought, ‘If I send out one of the doves it will soon tell me if there is any land showing yet.’

So that day, nearly a year after the ark had started its journey, Noah opened the window and the dove flew out into the clear blue sky. Noah looked round. He certainly couldn’t see any land, just sea, sea, sea. (As far as he could see.) The dove came back looking a bit fed up. ‘No good,’ it said.

A week later, Noah sent out the dove again. This time it came flying back, proudly carrying an olive twig in its beak.

That told Noah the water had gone down enough for some land to appear, so he left it a few days and then opened the door of the ark. All the animals ran out on to the dry land; the horses prancing about, the kangaroos jumping up and down, and the lions growling happily.

They all thanked Noah for the lift, and went on their way.

God spoke to Noah. He said, ‘ I promise I won’t flood the world again. Go now, and let all your children and grandchildren make the world a really nice place to live in.’

God went away again, leaving a lovely rainbow to show that he was going to keep his promise.”

There you go. Written when I was a lad. And still proud of it.

Any publishers out there?

WAITING AT THE STATION WITH SINDY

Robert Duncan is reminded of a worrying train crash…

Jamie-and-a-tank-engineOne of the many joys of being the ancient father of a six year old lad is having a really good excuse to go to places like Legoland and Thomas Land.

A couple of years ago head office announced that we were going over to Quainton, near us, which boasts a railway museum and a short track where you can actually travel up and down on a steam train. This is all operated by a team of volunteer enthusiasts, and comes to life especially when Thomas arrives (God knows how) and we all chat to the Fat Controller and we all get on him and ride up the track. ( On Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) Ah! The smell of the smoke, the beep of the whistle, the puffing and blowing. (Of Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) All too soon he is laboriously put on a low loader and dragged away to where he is kept. (Thomas, not the Fat Controller.) On this particular occasion we had done the Thomas ride, bought the souvenir Thomas model at the shop, had a coffee and sticky bun and were ready for the other delights that this fab place had to offer. Top of the list was a very small gauge train that you sit on the back of. It works properly, with coal and steam and everything – and railway enthusiast number 47 drives it round the little track. On this occasion we were building up a good head of steam if you’ll pardon the expression, and were turning a corner before we got on the straight back to the main station. Our driver, resplendent in greasy railwayman’s cap, leant out of his locomotive to throw the points switch and fell off. This had two immediate effects, or three if you count our horror at the bad things that were happening. (1) We realised that the engine was driverless and (2) the engine itself fell off the tracks and went over. I need hardly tell you that this had the effect of stopping the train, and left us all with very little to do apart from sit there and wonder what was going to happen next.

Luckily the driver hadn’t had some sort of attack and was well enough to jump to his feet and run to a little station that was a few yards away and would probably have been our next branch line stop. On bended knee he reached into a tiny signal box and pulled out a large phone to report the horrific incident. He then hurried back to us and told us to get off, and that help was at hand. In the meantime we all stood on a very small platform, with only some SIndy doll passengers for company, and waited to be rescued. The SIndy dolls were not in great shape either, which was strange since they had not been involved in the horrors of a train crash. They appeared faded, having been subjected to years of sun and rain, and were not in the least interested in our sad plight.

After many minutes of standing around among SIndy dolls in appealingly short skirts, very small pieces of luggage, tiny and sadly empty chocolate machines and rusty porters trolleys we were rescued and taken back to the main station, sadder but wiser men.

Jamie has never forgotten this incident and whenever reminded of it does a rather good impression of the train driver keeling over with a sort of aaaagh groan, and falling on the floor.

For comic effect I once tried the same thing, but I couldn’t get up again. Oh the joys of youth, 2nd class carriages, string luggage racks, slide down windows, whistles, tunnels and railways generally. And me? I used to walk down to Pinner station to meet my Dad off the 6.30 steamer on many sunlit post-war evenings – but that’s another story…

SPEED DRAWING

Nice work if you can get it…

Robert-Duncan-drawing003

At the moment I seem to be doing an awful lot of drawing ( not a lot of awful drawing) under the watchful eye of Alan Fenemore’s big professional camera. There I am, surrounded by lights, fill-in lights, monitors, and small pieces of cardboard to remind me not to get my head in the way.

What we do is this. I meet a client and persuade him that life is no longer complete without a speed drawing mini-film to promote his company, product, service or event. He shouts hooray and the deal is done. I go away and write a script which is so utterly simple that even I understand it. I maintain that any story, no matter how technical or complex, can be told in a couple of minutes if it’s done properly – and boy, do we do it properly. (Yes we do.) Often the client has the nerve to add a bit of what he wants to say, and then I produce a storyboard – a sheet or two of cartoons showing how the programme will run. The soundtrack is recorded, normally at Steve’s Black Frog recording studio, and the result is checked by everybody. When this is all loved (or ok’d) by the client I get under Alan’s glitzy camera arrangement and redraw the cartoons, all in one sitting.

Job done, I buzz off to look for another lucky client, or to the pub, and Alan painstakingly goes through the footage (a bit like Spielsberg) and removes all the bits where I have hovered uncertainly over the paper, or stopped temporarily for a swig of tea, and speeds up the finished result in infinitely varying speeds to fit the voice-over exactly. He prefers to do all this alone, and strangely would prefer it if I didn’t help out. To ensure this he usually starts at about 7am. A guarantee that I won’t be there.

The other day I did one of my conference cartoon gigs for a lovely lot called the Investor Relations Society. During our preliminary meeting, when I said it would be handy to find out precisely what they do if I was to produce about 25 wise and witty cartoons chronicling the event, I happened to mention that I made these speed drawing cartoon films, and wouldn’t it be fab if we made one to put on their website to promote their annual conference. Guess what? They agreed, and the result was a neat little number which looked good on their website, helped to sell loads of tickets for this ultra-classy event, and looked especially fantastic when they showed it big screen to the 500 or so delegates, as a curtain-opener to the great day. I tried to start a ripple of applause, but that didn’t quite work. The lovely organisers of the event were very pleased with everything I’d done, as was I, and the main man’s daughter, who got a Duncan cartoon of her river dancing, was thrilled to bits.

So look at the Speed Drawing link on my website, and find out why I seem to be drawing away under Alan’s camera on a very frequent basis.

It beats graphic design into a cocked hat or whatever the expression is, and that’s been my living, with all the boring, fickle and undeserving clients, since I was a young lad. Give me Speed Drawing films, and conference cartoons anytime. They’re what I really am…

CONFERENCE CARTOONING

Robert Duncan invests a little time…

Scary-RidesI don’t know about you (well I might do a little) but I have certain words and expressions that throw me into bewilderment so consequently I turn off rather. Examples: sealed unit, fiscal year, cam shaft, lattice work, keyboarding and anything to do with sausages. The last one doesn’t actually fit into the category under discussion, it was just the first thing I thought of.

Anyway, a lovely conference cartooning job turned up which boasted one of these worrying phrases – investor relations. Now I have handled most of these gigs, which are important to Cathy’s lifestyle, quite easily – even road building and colostomy care, but this one struck me as the sort of thing that might need a crammer course in finance, a lengthy teach-in on company law or something, or at least fighting my way through a few dozen puzzling acronyms to discover the truth.

But time was short, and the wonderful society who had seen something in me that I didn’t even see in myself, gave me the job of (b) turning up at their seminar, and (a) making one of my speed drawing films to promote it on their website, YouTube, and anywhere else they could think of.

So it was arranged. A fantastic London marketing co agreed to sponsor me, have their name printed on every cartoon I did, and promote my results on their stand at the event, and a great big television that was to be constantly updated – as I rapidly provided wise, intuitive and witty takes on how the day was unfolding.

And that is why I was creeping around my lovely house, trying hard not to wake up my lovely wife or my lovely boys, at 5.30 in the morning. And that is why I got the 6.23 from Haddenham which took me nonstop to Marylebone just thirty seven minutes later. And (bear with me) that is why I was in Kings Cross, set up, pen in hand, ready to go, at 7.45am.

I attended the first meeting in total bewilderment. They showed my little speed drawing film big screen in front of about five hundred people (and it looked totally fab) and the creme de la creme of the investment industry started to spout on about where the investor relations business is today. And you know what? I began to understand it. It was pretty much you go to someone, tell them about your idea, and they back it (or don’t). So I started scribbling away at high speed, and by lunchtime had produced fourteen apparently funny, quirky and useable single frame mono cartoon gags. Inspired and driven forth by many complimentary reactions I worked through lunch, stopping only briefly to demolish a Danish and a cappuccino, and by 5pm had finished about twenty five drawings. Throughout the day these had been taken away every ten minutes by a nice bloke called Graham, and the next time I saw them they were on a big screen TV for all to see, and catch the admiring glances of the wealthy and friendly delegates.

I had spent a great day on the exhibition stand of MerchantCantos, with two ladies, Amanda and Olivia, who spurred me on to great things.

At the cocktail session afterwards I happily plied them with Prosecco (which was free anyway) and welcomed loads of people who told me how clever I was, and how I could see a situation from a new, interesting and obtuse angle. I liked them all, can’t think why…

I have done these conference cartoon days on obvious subjects, like Volkswagen and World Wildlife, with all the visual opportunities they present – but it’s also great fun to turn up, not knowing what the hell you’re doing, and make it work.

71? Why don’t you retire? No way – I’ve only just started…

PORT OUT, STARBOARD HOME

Mr and Mrs D stow away on the Queen Mary 2…

Queen Mary 2As much as I love our boys, a few days away from them is a guilty pleasure. So when my gorgeousness suggested that we were very nearly old enough to dip our toes into cruising I couldn’t help but agree. And when she said the spanky new Queen Mary 2 was a possibility, well, my boater flew off my head and the deck shoes began to dance.

Regular readers will know that the Duncan family decamp to Spain for several weeks in the summer, and to get there we put the car on the Bilbao ferry, followed by a considerable drive to our lazy haven.

Well, we have always considered that the ferry was a fitting start to this annual event, and food and accommodation isn’t half as bad as it could be. But compared to going on a liner like the QM2? Maybe no contest.

So it was arranged. My wonderful in-laws took over the enormous responsibility of looking after the boys, and we were off. Down to Southampton where smartly dressed people took away our large suitcases (full to the brim with the sort of haute couture that Cathy assumed would be the norm on such a marine adventure. Turns out it was far too smart, as people wandered round the deck in jeans and trainers, not looking in the least like the privileged nobs we saw in Titanic) and drove away our car for safe storage. Onto the wonderful ship, with its staggering eight floor atrium, approached by gorgeous sweeping staircases and glass lifts leading to the delights of beautiful restaurants, stylishly inviting bars, a tempting casino and art nouveau lifts taking you to your stateroom. A complimentary bottle of Champagne waiting, a chap called Chris who promised to do anything to help, and a balcony promising the setting for preprandial drinks as the sun set over the ocean.

Cathy-on-the-Queen-Mary-2I was with Cathy don’t forget, so the first port of call was the shops. Now with all this promise of unashamed luxury seeping from ever gold doorknob, piano playing Cole Porter lookalike and ruched curtain, you could justifiably expect the shops to contain all things wonderful. Not so. I haven’t seen such a bunch of overpriced badly chosen thoughtlessly displayed crap since I last visited…oh I don’t know…somewhere. The Bilbao ferry was ten times better. If I was in charge of selling QM2 souvenirs I would make sure there were beautiful little models of all the ships in the line, including the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary (which we used to see enviously from our beach in the 1950s Isle of Wight), sets of coasters featuring posters from Cunard’s proud history, a cut out and colouring model of the craft we found ourselves on, or even a tea towel or two with an emotive design on it. There was nothing apart from a box of fudge with a photocopy of a picture of the ship on it. (The in-laws got that.) Big disappointment. What could we take home for Jamie? Not that he’d care as long as there was an iPad nearby. If anyone knows the powers that be at Cunard, send this on to them, with the name of a very nice man who could design and supply all these wonderful things, who can be found on www.duncancartoons.com

But us British can get over such trials, and several dinners, served next to a window in the most delightful restaurant, with dear friends Peter and Margaret, soon made up for that. Caring service, an inventive menu, and overpriced wine soon made us forget all that. And besides, a day in the wonderful city of Hamburg was on the cards.

The Venice of the North. This was the biggest surprise. The sun shone all day without interruption, and the many waterways glittered as these four excited travellers visited church towers, drank wine in lovely alfresco cafes, caught up with some much missed shopping, and cruised round the city’s pretty lakes. Tired but happy, as the saying goes, we returned to the QM2 in time for a Jacuzzi, some sunbathing, a gin and tonic or two, a visit to the incredible theatre and another seriously good dinner before we were due to sail back towards Southampton.

Imagine a warm perfect evening. Further imagine a group of happy people assembling on the stern deck of one of the most beautiful ships in the world, as a Dixieland band played us on our way. Champagne glasses chinking, the lights of Hamburg twinkling, a heartwarming rendition of Land of Hope and Glory as we sailed up the Elbe estuary. A few tears, loads of badly taken photos, and we were on our way.

Time to explore the ship a little further because we weren’t tired enough to hit the stateroom. Instead we found a late night spot where everyone was eating cookies and drinking cocoa. I may be a simple lad, but to me it doesn’t get much better than that.

Last day at sea. More of the same. Still lots of very nice gin and tonics in the bars, and awful offers in the shops. Packing. Settling up the bill, because everything had been paid for, including the casino chips, on the mandatory card. Aaaaaagh! Big hugs for Peter and Margaret and promises of other adventures in the future.

Off this extraordinary floating town, where every day we had clocked up a mile by walking round it three times, and back to reality. Driving home. Unpacking. Looking at the two hundred or so photos we had taken to bore some unfortunate audience at some future date.

The boys come bouncing in, looking gorgeous.

As Frank Sinatra put it, it’s so much nicer to come home…

THE DAY I LOST MY WALLET

And it was all going so well…

AaaaaghI am proud to be a member of the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain, and even more proud to be best mates with the chairman Ian Ellery. With great energy, and putting all his paying work aside, he not only chairs the meetings, but also arranges get-togethers in such diverse places as Margate, Belgium and Malta. He designs and edits our monthly magazine Jester – a fine organ indeed (and I’ve cut the next line). We all search through our archives, or just put pen to paper, to grab space in Jester, and try to stick to the topic of the month. Ian is a committed follower of cartoonery – worldwide.

So as I got on the train to London to meet him, with promises of lunch, gossip, chat, cartoon stuff and many drinks, I felt strangely happy that I had skipped a day of drawing and actually left my studio. Gin and tonics were ordered almost before we’d said hello, and lunch was arranged. A change from our usual scheme of cheap and cheerful (and wonderful) Chinese nosh – we went for pub grub on the grounds it didn’t involve moving.

After taking rather a long time over this we headed for an exhibition of the work of a friend of ours, Rosy Brooks, in a seedy nightclub in Soho. Her work was lovely, and I was waxing quite lyrical until I discovered I had been separated from my wallet.

It’s the most depressing feeling, mixed with some of the following thoughts: How dare someone reach their foul hand into my pocket? Sod them for using my money to fuel their useless drug habit? Why was I such a twat that I didn’t notice? Have I lost my lovely picture of my family in Turkey? Aaaaaagh – which credit cards did I have? How do I cancel them? Will I make sense on the phone after several drinks? Etc…

Ian suddenly became the most sensible person I’d ever met. ‘Sit down. Think it through. Where were we last? Try looking in your shoulder bag. We’ll retrace our steps. Ring Cathy – she’ll cancel the cards. Have another drink. I’ll pay…’

We were back at the pub which so recently had been a haven of happiness, and host to our jolly lunch. And now here was I, sitting on a cold seat outside, telling my gorgeous wife all my woes. Ian asked the barman, the waitress and anyone else he could find if they had seen a wallet, and they all said no – but if it turns up we’ll ring. One of the most depressing reactions you can imagine.

I carried on giving Cathy more woes when Ian, who had disappeared again, came back and put my wallet on the table. We had left the pub an hour before, walked the streets of London, seen Rosy’s exhibition, and all the time the wallet had been on the floor in the Gents. And nobody had noticed it, walked round it, or pinched it.

Ian got a pat on the knee and a pint of lager for that.

The rest of the day was truly back on the fun mode track, but we didn’t get to the second exhibition that we had planned, Simon’s London Experience, because he finished at five. If he ever reads this I’m sure he will understand that lost wallets surpass almost everything, and drinks afterwards to celebrate finding of same, is highly important. Simon should be comforted by the fact that we were in London to see his work in the first place. So don’t hold it against us.

Star of the day? Ian Ellery, chairman of the Cartoonists Club of Great Britain. What a man…

PUBLISHERS

in a world of their own…

PublishersCurious things, publishers. I am convinced that they actually don’t want to publish books at all – and when they do it’s grudgingly, with a proviso or two, including ‘We’ll totally rewrite your precious manuscript for you.’

Up to 1976 my main claim to fame, apart from designing window displays for Mary Quant and Harrods among others, was that I had had a children’s book published. It was a struggle because (a) I wanted to use my own cartoon illustrations, and (b) they didn’t seem particularly convinced that it would sell. Luckily it did. About 80,000 copies.

Fresh from this dizzy success I put pen to paper again (older readers will understand this expression) and again, and again. To cut a long story short, I now have enough unpublished manuscripts to hold up the leg of the largest and wobbliest table in England.

But maybe I don’t fully understand. Or maybe they don’t. Richard Adams was turned down by ten publishers before he found someone with enough faith in his seminal work Watership Down to push it out to that dodgiest of all audiences, the public. J.K.Rowling struggled a bit before meeting with the sort of modest success that can stop you writing in the corners of seedy cafes and become one of the richest women in history. If I was a publisher I would have turned down Harry Potter by about page ten, labelling it as a silly bit of nonsense on that ridiculously overused theme – magic. So it’s probably lucky I wasn’t in that job, because I may have been kicked unceremoniously onto the street, as my publisher boss flounced back into his Regency style Bedford Square offices.

Incidentally I think J.K.R. is one of the finest authors we have (apart from my friend Sharon.) Under a pseudonym she wrote a brilliant gumshoe detective tale that showed how clever she is, how unmoved she has been by her gigantic success, and how much she still loves her craft. What a woman.

Anyway, back to me (it never drifts far does it). Over the years I have supplied cartoons for loads of books, including a delightful series of hilarious volumes under the banner heading of Curiosities of….cricket, golf, football and politics. Neat little drawings that still look good to this cynical eye, even though they could be as much as twenty years old now. Other subjects that have benefited from my quirky line style include sport generally, psychology, teaching, whisky, teenagers and Martians. But not necessarily in that order.

But my dream is for a publisher, or a smarmy film producer, or anybody really, to step across my portal and offer to take my comic novel A Rum Do to the stars. I have been accused many times of getting so much satisfaction out of actually writing things that I promptly forget to try to get them published afterwards. I have sent copies out to a few of these strange professional book refusing people, but I know what their answer will be, so I stop bothering.

Unless you, you gorgeous publisher, who has just read this article with enormous interest, know any different. You’ll easily find my number. It’s in the book. (You know the things – those lumps of paper you try to ignore…)