ONCE UPON A WORLD … YET AGAIN

The nearest Robert Duncan got to literary success…

joseph-fullBack in 1976, when the world was young and my distinguished white hair was salt and pepper, I decided to write a children’s book. When I chose my subject a lot of people asked me if I was terribly religious (which I am rather) but I had to tell them that I chose the subject of the Bible for other reasons. One was that I knew it was the world’s best-selling book, and my slimy little marketing brain told me that if I could get a small bit of that action my future would be secure. The other more worthy reason was that the main stories of the good book were full of visual action and adventure, with lots of boats, animals, fiery furnaces and worryingly bad people. The sort of stuff that literary dreams are made of.

In a tiny room at the top of the stairs in my home in Pinner I set to, writing in long hand deep into the night and chuckling to myself because I found humour from an almost entirely untapped source. Add to that the fact that I was getting rather good at cartoons, and my project’s success seemed assured.

My mum, God bless her, was a very good, kind and religious person – so with a certain amount of trepidation I offered her the completed manuscript. I needn’t have worried. She phoned up in tears and said it was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever read. I had arrived.

Her favourite vicar, who had married me to my first wife, agreed to read the good book, and check the accuracy of the detail. This produced an unexpected offer, when he asked me to join him in a special Sunday service where I was to read a few passages of Once Upon A World (for that is what I decided to call it in a divine moment of inspiration). On a cold Sunday night, to a packed congregation, I delivered.

At this stage I hadn’t got a publisher, but I was working a lot and laughing a lot with John Adams of John Adams Toys fame, and his lovely wife Sue, and they had just decided to create a publishing arm to their trendy and successful toy company. I assured them that Once Upon A World would fit in perfectly, and miraculously they agreed.

Exciting times followed. The book was read out constantly on radio (including a near perfect rendition of The Creation by Terry Wogan’s beloved John Marsh) and I submitted to an in-depth interview on LBC by Bob Holness, who agreed to show up at a local book signing. His fame on Blockbusters (can I have a P please Bob) assured record attendances and sales.

W.H.Smith sold quantities of the little paperback, and it was reviewed favourably by almost everyone. Beryl Downing of the Evening News said “One of the most enchanting collections of Bible stories for children.” Other helpful comments came from the Church of England Newspaper ” I had not appreciated what an amusing book the Bible is until I saw it through Robert Duncan’s eyes!” Times Educational Supplement “The book is ideal for bedtime reading.” Book Window “Interesting, amusing and clever. Well worth reading.” Christian Herald “As soon as a child is able to read, this is just the book to place in its hands.” Etc…

I was in Heaven, which curiously was the subject of my slim volume.

A reprint was soon organised, and another one several years later, when a distributor in Kuala Lumpur took 40,000 copies for no apparent reason (so I’m now big in Kuala Lumpur).

To complete this success, which probably made me insufferable, a great bloke (who became an important friend) called Clive Jacobs picked up on Once Upon A World and featured it on his Sunday morning Radio 4 programme Sunday. Soon he had decided to record it and approached Bernard Cribbins to voice it. He said no (stupid sod) so Tom Baker was approached and turned it down (same applies). Finally Clive’s company went for John Le Mesurier, who they thought would be perfect but he was so involved with Dad’s Army that he probably wasn’t affordable, and he said YES!

Totally delightful recording sessions followed, where John muttered his way through the instructions, and then delivered gold in his gentle and perfect voice.

Bang up to date now. The John Le Mesurier recordings have been re-mastered courtesy of an ex-BBC bloke called Andrew Sewell and are currently available on Amazon.

I have frequently considered re-illustrating the book in my style of today and reissuing it – and I have finally realised that the simple 1970s cartoons have a naive charm, and should be cleaned up a little and saved. So Once Upon A World could be out there again any time for a new generation of eager punters to get their hands on.

After all, Little Charlotte read every word. My then bank manager’s daughter listened to the cassettes every night between the ages of five and thirteen. And Sir Tim Rice used to read it to his daughter when he wasn’t rushing off to produce another musical.

And currently I read it every night to Jamie, because he loves it.

Once Upon A World. It’s a nice little book…

BILBAO PARTYTIME!

The Duncan family gate crash a great event…

WaitingAfter a month of lazing about in and around our Spanish pad, with a load of friends who also enjoy (a) the sun, (b) eating out at any of a dozen alfresco restaurants and (c) putting away a few businesslike gin and tonics, we were just about ready to go home. So after a nine hour drive we finally arrived in Bilbao, ready for a simple dinner and a quick stay-over before we boarded the boat to whisk us back to reality.

The plan was to go to the city centre, have a gentle wander round, and have supper somewhere.

Not to be. We dumped the car and came out onto a street that was hopping. Thousands of people, street theatre, wonderful stalls, bars, dancers, and more people, all jostled around the river and up every square and side street that the lovely Bilbao has to offer.

What was the occasion? Cathy used her enormous knowledge of Spanish to establish that it was a festival that happens over a week every year. Everyone was wearing blue scarves, so we bought one for Jamie, who wore it proudly throughout the evening. After a couple of gin and tonics for medical reasons (clearing the effects of the swirling dusty streets) we found a lovely little bistro that suited all our tastes – a rare thing. We had duck breasts that were so wonderful, and so big, that we decided that Bilbao ducks probably stood about 6ft high and were not worth messing with. A quack from one of those would reverberate deeply, and probably shake glasses off tables.

Still in the mood to show off his new scarf (illustrated) Jamie set off with Sam to chase Pokemon Go or something, and only returned when an enormous bang brought them back to reality. Happily it wasn’t the work of a terrorist bent on ruining everyone’s life, but a gigantic firework. We decided to thread our way through the throng and find our car. We crossed a crowded bridge and edged our way vaguely in the direction of the absurd Guggenheim Museum (the exhibits, not the fab building) when another serious firework went off. A display the like of which I have never seen before followed. It matched the new year wonders around Big Ben that we only see on television – but this time we were seeing it live in all its glory. My love and respect for Sam increased further, if this is possible, when he lifted up Jamie so the little bloke could see better, and held him there for the duration of the show, which was probably twenty minutes. Bless them both.

Apparently the fireworks happen every night of the festival, with local sponsors trying to outdo each other, and spending what must be in the region of €40,000 a pop.

Tired but happy, as the saying goes, we returned to our hotel, all feeling thoroughly chuffed that we had gate crashed someone else’s party in such great style.

Sadly holidays have to have their last day, and you have to return to reality, but a night at the Bilbao festival must be one of the best exit plans ever.

Aloh ! (That’s hola backwards because we’re leaving…)

WE BOUGHT A BOAT!

The Duncan family take to the seas…

Boat1We have dined in Marbella, gazing through the rims of our Bollinger glasses at the beautiful yachts just waiting for us in the harbour. We have watched the sunset over the Bay of Naples as the world’s finest examples of the boat builders craft sail peacefully by. We have been on board the Queen Mary as it made its way to Hamburg. And I always think “What a long way I have travelled since we sailed our own modest little boat in the Isle of Wight all those years ago.”

How times change. Not only do we now own an enviable pad in Spain, but we also have our very own craft.

Getting it down to the coast was simple. Not for us the perilous Bay of Biscay route – we simply loaded it in its box into the car and there it was. Orange, shiny, self-assembly oars, all ready to take the risky tides of the Mar Minor head on.

Cathy, who is rather good at these things, thought she should check the instruction manual, since the briny can be a dangerous enemy. Just ask Christopher Columbus and all those poor people on the Titanic.

Here, word for word, are the notes and warnings supplied, that need to be observed…

Never navigate alone. Beware of offshore winds and currents. Don’t use for white water rafting.

Boat2Be responsible, do not neglect these safety rules. This could jeopardise your life and the lives of others. Do not drink alcohol or take drugs while operating the boat. Maintain passenger sobriety.

At planing speeds, in rough water or during sharp turns, all passengers should position themselves on the floor. No bow riding – this is illegal in most areas and is extremely dangerous. In case of falling, the man overboard is in the way of the propeller. (Propeller?)

Be especially careful when docking. Arms and legs may be injured if they are outside the boat. Keep a sharp lookout especially when operating near beaches and launch sites. Avoid sharp turns at high speeds, you could get ejected from the boat. Do not make changes in direction without advising passengers.

Avoid contact between the buoyancy tubes and sharp objects or aggressive liquids such as acid.

Do not smoke on board.

As you can see from the pictures, Sam and Jamie observed these rules to the letter, and had a safe and pleasant cruise. Poor old Robert Maxwell could have done with these handy tips. I wonder if his yacht cost more than eighteen quid…

GLASTONBURY! WHAT A TIME WE HAD!

(Watching it on TV…)

In years only, my gorgeous wife is far younger than me – and believe it or not we agree on most things. There are exceptions (whether or not to have a dog, why do I always wear black T-shirts, my wine intake) but one that always crops up at about this time of year is ‘I’d like to do Glastonbury just one more time…’

Well I’ve never been a fan of standing knee-deep in mud, listening to the rambling tuneless drug-crazed vocal refrains of the bloke that will be standing next to me until the headline act comes on in twelve hours time, feeling dirty, hungry and in dire need of a comfort break (to use a euphemism), with only a revoltingly uncomfortable night to look forward to. This after sitting in the sort of traffic jams that will one day bring the whole of our fair country to a standstill.

I’m not keen, but maybe the more perceptive among you may have spotted that.

So I sidestep it and, like many other things in my life, hope the whole subject will go away, before that horrifying line comes along ‘you’re just getting past it.’

Not true. I have never been a fan of paying good cartoon drawing money on staying somewhere that is far less comfortable than my own lovely home.

But I love watching Glastonbury from the comfort of my squidgy sofa, with a glass of something and said gorgeous wife for company. This year was no disappointment. ELO delivered, and managed to get through their whole set without introducing us to ‘a new song from our latest album.’ Just all the good stuff I raved about in the seventies (or was it eighties?) Coldplay were OK if you like that sort of thing, and then there was Adele (but not necessarily in that order.)

Adele, you may be surprised to hear this old timer say, is absolutely wonderful. I totally changed my mind about her when I saw Graham Norton’s special about her. She has a rare beauty- a beautiful symmetrical face, expressive hand movements, and an unusual talent for penning clever intelligent lyrics (eat your heart out Gary Barlow).

Cathy and I had a lovely couple of days in our pad in Spain at the beginning of last December and, since we couldn’t understand how the radio worked, and didn’t understand the content once we’d mastered it, we bought Adele’s new album 25 and it became the soundtrack to our adventure.

Anyway, back to Glastonbury and Adele’s brilliant set. She gave us all the right stuff, including Skyfall and the most beautiful rendition of Someone like You that made me cry.

But please tell me why, because I don’t understand, why does she have to use the f word and the s word constantly? She’s worth more than that – or am I just getting past it?

My granddaughter Daisy was there for four fun filled, mud filled, cider filled days, and said Adele’s set was the highlight of an unreal (apparently) time. Daisy and her mum called round to collect the keys for the aforementioned Spanish apartment, for a few days of sun and sangria, and she told me the swearing didn’t matter, and she loved it. To me it spoils the grace that this gigantically successful singer puts out.

But what do I know? I’m probably just getting past it…

THE CORNISH BAKERY

My latest speed draw film…

CornishProbably about number 120, I am devoting one of my precious blogs to this little film because it was such fun to do and, according to the illustrious client, pretty damn good. In fact this is what Lucy said. “You’ve made our day! It’s absolutely delightful and a truly innovative way to show the information…”

Can’t think why I should have repeated that…

Because a very special person called Tony Thornby manages to get me high on the ratings on Google, i get calls from all over the place. This one was from the girls at The Cornish Bakery – a chain of really good ‘pasty and a whole lot more’ cafés.

By the time we got chatting they had seen some of my speed draw films on http://www.duncancartoons.com/speed-drawing-films and thought it could be a fairly up way to get their message over to potential Cornish Bakery staff. I went to Bristol to discuss the whole thing, and ended up submitting a script that was changed a bit but still retained the spirit of my bon mots. A storyboard followed, voiceover artist found, and before I knew it I was drawing away under Alan Fenemore’s prying camera. Lovely result –

I love doing these things – they give me an unique opportunity to show off what I can do, and delivered so fast that any mistakes are soon covered over. I have another six speed drawing films on the go at the moment – long may it continue.

In the light of all this excitement I have just spent the morning with my friend Stuart who singlehandedly updated my website to include (a) loads of new speed draw films to replace the rather tired old ones, and (b) my very own online shop, where eager punters can get Duncan cartoons printed beautifully on T-shirts, phone cases, hoodies, canvases, tote bags, mugs and cushions. While I’m in the mood to reproduce website links of every description, a quick way to get to this treasure trove is to go to RobertDuncan.redbubble.com

Try it. You know you want to…

NEXT STOP BEMBRIDGE!

Robert Duncan and family head for the sun…

Regular readers of this drivel will know that I have a great and historical love of the Isle of Wight. This was our holiday destination of the forties and fifties, where we had fishing nets instead of Xboxes, dirty postcards instead of emails and beach cricket instead of mobile phones. Ah happy times – there we were for three or four weeks in August, meeting up with old mates, watching the lifeboat go out, sailing our little dinghy, and chatting up Jenny Southwell for so many years that I probably clocked up about two years of residency. But before those regular readers start going ‘Not again…’ Or words to that effect, this pithy article is about last weekend, and purely uses the old Bembridge motif as a backdrop to the main thrust.

For reasons I won’t discuss here, in case anyone under eighteen is reading this before the watershed, I wasn’t allowed to go back to this English Eden during the term of my first marriage. So (once again, as I’ve said before) my gorgeous Cathy not only indulged me by letting us visit this nostalgic retreat, but actually got into it to the extent she can’t get enough of it. (The Isle of Wight that is).

So to cut a long story short if it’s not too late, Cathy, Jamie and I left for the 12 o’clock car ferry from Southampton on Friday morning. After returning home twice for forgotten things (coats, teddy) we made good time and were on the ferry with at least four minutes to spare. Pretty drive across the island, soaking in the extraordinary lighting and atmosphere you only find in the home of the English micro-climate, we arrived in Bembridge to examine the lifeboat in detail, reminisce about beach huts, fishing boats, lobster pots and ice cream sodas, and walk along the sea wall. On occasions like this Cathy is always fascinated by what we all got up to, how we spent our time, where we walked, and how we survived without technology. I have just decided to illustrate this article with a good gag we found near the end of the sea wall walk. Weather stoneOver to Shanklin where we were staying in a super little beach front hotel, with alfresco dining overlooking the sea. Glasses of Prosecco, simple but effective food, and Jamie turning out his current speciality – drawings of very fat people with small hats wearing very loud ties. Tired but happy we went to our room etc…

Saturday was all about visiting a dodgy arcade where they charged 20p for the loo because it had been vandalised so often, several highly competitive rounds of crazy golf (where in spite of getting two holes in one Cathy still beat me) and on to a mega walk along the cliffs in Ventnor, ending up in a rocky splashy bay with a rather nice bar in it. Wine for us, ice cream for Jamie.

Back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the imminent arrival of dear friends Mary and Graham – who gave up his Pinner roots to live the dream and become an islander. ( A resident, not the famous plane). Graham and I go all the way back to prep school, and all the way through our dodgy teenage years (don’t ask) and to our marriages, which happened within a few weeks of each other. His peripatetic ways have taken him and the lovely Mary to places as far flung as Putney, St Albans and Kent, where they owned a wonderful orchard. Graham retired early, I think he was about twelve, and they have been living the simple idyll ever since. Constant. Never changing. Always great fun, with a daft sense of humour that hasn’t changed, and the years haven’t dulled. Bless them.

Blimey, I’m going on a bit. Better stop before you get bored (I heard that).

Anyway, Sunday morning was all about a long walk along the front at Shanklin, another game of crazy golf that Jamie won for heavens sake, and it was all about loading the car with all the unnecessary coats, luggage, souvenirs from Monkey World which I forgot to mention, and a quick drink in the relentless sunshine before sailing back to Southampton.

Sitting on deck watching the yachts go by it was almost as if this little paradise hasn’t bothered to change since those black and white fifties days.

Long may it be so…

BURGER V THE SUNSHINE SUPERMAN

Sadly the burger won…

donovan-xlarge_trans++eo_i_u9APj8RuoebjoAHt0k9u7HhRJvuo-ZLenGRumAMy oldest and dearest friend Duncan is a bloke who was so utterly daft in the sixties (as was I) that it’s hard to believe he could have found employment at all, let alone hold down an impressive international position, advising local government in Ukraine, and writing worthy books on the subject. Not like the tosh I churn out occasionally. And before you ask, he had nothing to do with the fact that Ukraine won Eurovision this year.

So far, dear reader, you are asking yourself (or discussing it at length in a crowded smoky coffee house) what has the Duncan character got to do with the title of this pithy article. That’s pithy. Well the answer is this. When I heard that Donovan of Catch the Wind (1966) fame was doing a seventieth birthday gig at the London Palladium, I naturally thought of inviting the Ukraine connection along, instead of dragging poor long suffering Cathy to the event. Then she said she’d like to go – it could be as unexpectedly good as the Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon.

So it was all fixed. Said lady came back from school early (she’s a teacher there – she’s not that young) and we left to make the incredibly early 7pm start. On the way we established that the spectacular, with its inevitable Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman, Jennifer Juniper playlist was to actually start at 7.30. All parked up, quick taxi ride to the venue, and we were standing outside the theatre just before seven.

“Just time for a burger” said Cathy, with her usual knack of saying totally the right thing at the right time.

Commercial break now. Five Guys is simply the best burger joint we have ever been to. Maybe a little expensive, but when you see the size of this double burger with its melted cheese, heavenly crispy bacon, wide choice of add-ons, and chips that must have shared the bacon’s bus ride from heaven, you know. You just know.

We polished off these masterpieces quicker than they deserved and dashed to the Palladium, only to be told the show didn’t start until 8pm. Regretting the fact that we had rushed those prime examples of the burger master’s art, we repaired to the bar. Oh well, we still had Donovan to regale us with his beautiful pure voice.

Not so. We got in and were told by a miffed fan that the man wouldn’t be on until nine. A stupid girl bounced on stage doing a totally indifferent rap about Donovan’s life and seedy past, which made me regret Cathy’s presence. More deep regrets were to follow. A classical guitarist came on and played for ages, followed by a poet who read some Dylan Thomas for some unknown reason. Presumably because he was Welsh and Donovan’s Scottish. Daft girl bounced on again and introduced an antique poet who spouted out such utter drivel, annotated with wailing noises on a kazoo, that we once more repaired to the bar. We weren’t alone. Soon there were more people in the bar than the theatre. Someone said it was like a school concert.

The word soon got round that Donovan wasn’t coming on until ten past nine.

Could we stay awake?

You know that business when you aren’t expecting too much and it turns out to be wonderful? Well it wasn’t like that. The man sung most of his songs in a turgid tuneless manner, reminding me of other superstars who should have been told to quit ages ago – like Paul McCartney. Nothing was added to those lovely old sixties songs. Loads was taken away by bad singing, boring name dropping stories and, I suspect, a total lack of interest. Sad evening. Albums going to be put on the naughty step when I got home. Not even a programme to buy. Hmmm…

Home for a midnight drink and an Eastenders catch-up. Wot’s goin on?

PS: you may remember that I have mentioned my award winning animated version of Edward Lear’s The Jumblies a few million times? https://goo.gl/4htAyd

Well I had the idea of following that triumph up with another Lear piece, The Owl and the Pussycat. On the HMS Donovan album is a lovely little musical version of said poem and I thought this would make a great soundtrack for my next adventure. I got in touch and he said he would rather not, as it was about to be the fiftieth anniversary of his launch on Ready Steady Go and there was bound to be a fuss, loads of publicity, and a distinct possibility of an animated Owl and the Pussycat. Any news of that?

And Don, should you happen to read this, I’d still love to do it and my videographer Alan is all keyed up.

That’s when you’ve paid us back for the theatre tickets of course…

I’M GOING TO SPAIN!

No longer a seventies cliché…

On-the-beachI think it was Jess Conrad who recorded a song called that – right after his other classic ‘This pullover.’ (Found a wi-fi signal now. So I was wrong – it was actually Steve Bent in 1976, Sharing Jess’s listing in Kenny Everett’s Bottom Twenty. Tell you about my work with Cuddly Ken sometime.)

Way back then Spain was considered a bit of a joke. It was all absurdly crowded beaches surrounded by terrible high rise hotels and multi storey car parks (hard to tell the difference. I stayed in one once – ended up being towed away, and I didn’t even have a car.) There were English pubs, fish and chip shops and Celtas cigarettes at 6d for twenty. It was embarrassing to admit that you’d been there.

But that was then. The years have been incredibly kind to Spain, and the country has been incredibly kind to itself, and is now wonderful. Natural beauty, a stonking road system and some of the most delightful seafronts in the world. Add a predictable and placid climate, with a lack of humidity that would make the Caribbean jealous, and you have the perfect destination to head for if you have holidaying in mind. Ok, the aforementioned beaches probably still exist, but they no longer have that tired yellowing Kodachrome look that the travel brochures used to wave despairingly in front of our noses.

Today’s Spain is cool. You will always find a café with a warm welcome, tapas and a friendly gin and tonic served in a glass like a bowl with a stem.

And all this is building up to the fact that Spain has become so utterly fabulous since those miserable seventies days, that the Duncan family not only grace the place with our presence, but actually own a little pad down there near Murcia. Swimming pool about twenty yards away, a cute little town called Sucina about five minutes away, and a wide choice of dream destinations around the Mar Minor within spitting distance.

What we do is this. We cram the car with Cathy’s latest taste in curtains, candles, pictures, cooking utensils and new bikinis. Add the boys and us and head down to Portsmouth to pick up the Brittany ferry that will whisk us down to Santander or Bilbao (where there’s a hilarious museum called the Guggenheim, where artists can break the rules by very nearly fooling all the people all the time.) We drive on board and before you know it we have dumped the suitcases in our neat little cabin (where you can have a porthole for a bit extra) and it’s off to the bar for wine, Pringles and watching Portsmouth, with its wonderful Spinnaker Tower, disappear into the romantic sea mist.

The journey takes about 24 hours, by which time we have enjoyed a dinner which is about a hundred times better than it need be, at a lovely table by a window, slept well (unless the Bay of Biscay is playing up) had a fantastic breakfast (unless the Bay of Biscay is playing up) and landed on Spanish soil, rested and ready for the nine hour drive to our gorgeous pad. This we do in bite-size chunks, with plenty of coffee and comfort breaks (as those extraordinary transatlantics say) and arrive, tired but happy, in the underground car park that has a lift that takes us direct to our door.

On our last visit several exciting things happened – I painted a very big picture that now graces our lounge. Cathy remade all the beds and then announced our bed wasn’t big enough so we bought another. Sam (who flew in later because of school commitments) gave the place his wholehearted blessing because the wifi worked so well. Jamie fell into the pool, which was numbingly cold but he came out giggling. We cooked at ‘home’, ate out alfresco, caught up with wonderful friends and stood apprehensively as one of these friends put up some shelves for us.

And it was time to go home. For details of the return journey simply reverse the description a few paragraphs back. The Bay of Biscay was playing up, so small white bags were in evidence – except for Sam who slept through the whole thing.

Lovely wonderful time. Jamie still says he wishes we were back there, which we will be for August, and the rest of us agree.

Spain has really got its act together – like an end of pier comedian who has moved on to Shakespeare, having shaken off the critics who suggested he could never make that gigantic transformation.

I could show you about five hundred carefully composed photos to prove how beautiful this lovely country is, but for this in-depth article I will show you only one.

And it’s not of pop balladeer Steve Bent…

FOOTBALL CRAZY

Jamie Duncan is sick with the sport…

Jamie football

That’s him, middle row, fourth from right…

Now my hordes of fans know me for a lot of things – advertising cartoons, speed drawing films, conference cartoons and occasional forays into the pen being mightier than the sword, but I can’t help thinking they wouldn’t immediately associate me with sport in general, and football in particular.

So it may come as a bit of a surprise to hear that my number one son is totally committed to this mystifying game. He lives it and breathes it, to the extent that when he’s not kicking balls into a pop-up goal in the family room (and knocking leaves off a precious plant that started off life as a seed on a Barbados beach) he is playing FIFA 15 on an X Box or something in that very same room. And when he’s not doing that he is collecting cards which feature famous players such as Messi from Barcelona and Rooney from somewhere else. The other day I refused to buy him any more so he said “No problem, Grandad will…” What have we spawned?

But that’s not it. Last weekend I got up early on Saturday to make the Full English for everyone (very popular move) and by 10am I was booted, scarfed and standing on a muddy touch line watching the Crendon Corinthians going through their rigorous training regimen. If we were in that trans-Atlantic place called America they would probably be called the Little League – but here they are just a bunch of seven year olds (boys and girls) who are getting excitingly good at a sport that has them running and jumping back and forth for about an hour and a half as us highly witty parents try to stave off the cold by commentating, cheering and shouting advice to the poor little mutts who are trying to score those elusive goals. We always know when training is nearly over because it stops drizzling horizontally and the sun comes out.

And talking about shouting advice (oh attend for heaven’s sake) I am getting rather good at shouting wise comments at the unfortunate children. I’m on a learning curve, and am picking up tips from the assembled mothers and fathers. “Get rid of it!” I shout because nobody has told me not to, and last week I yelled “Watch your marker!” I don’t know why…

When Jamie scores I normally tell the others that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – which promotes answers like “It’s landed in the next county.” People can be very hurtful.

So training was a success. I wasn’t totally soaked through, and the only cloud on my horizon was that there was to be an actual match, with opponents and everything, at Wendover the next morning. Kick-off 9.30. Hardly encouraged by the fact that the Crendon Corinthians lost to them last time, in four small matches, 3 to 30 – we all turned up with what can only be described as a pessimistic air. But we got off to such a cracking start that the evil cold wind was forgotten. In Jamie’s first match the CC boys won 2-1 with Jamie taking a carefully considered shot from beyond the half way line, over everyone’s heads, into the back of the net. Game on. They equalised their second game 2-2 much to the delight of the touch line team of advisers. The other team didn’t do quite as well, with a small but respectable loss, but broadly the day was ours. Wonderful coach Richard couldn’t have been more proud of his young discoveries. Everyone shook hands and we were back in the car heading for home and major roast lunch.

And since we’re on a football theme, our weekend was completed with a …footballing party! Three of the Crendon Corinthians had their birthdays around the same time and their wise parents decided to have a football themed party at Thame Football Club on Sunday afternoon. Intensive training followed on that hallowed turf (another chance for the long suffering spectators to get freezing cold) and tea was served.

Home again, and into a football-free zone.

Well nearly. Long Crendon’s answer to David Beckham carried on with his pop-up goal until he was sent to bed to study his football card collection.

Maybe he’ll take up darts soon. Or table tennis. Anything that doesn’t involve freezing cold feet, horizontal rain, and barking out sideline orders I don’t understand.

Bless him. Perhaps he’ll earn £200,000 a week and keep me in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed. Mine’s a Bentley Continental please son…

YUK SCHOOL!

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.