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Back Then: On the road to Mandalay

Just like famous song, Denis and Jill Wilson will do 5,500 mile trek and be Burma-bound... in a vintage Volvo

By Eddie McIlwaine

There's a song called The Road To Mandalay that was a hit once upon a time for Frank Sinatra with lyrics by one Oley Speaks (1874-1948).

It also had a little bit of help from a poem by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) all about a British soldier longing for his true love back in 19th century Burma, where he had served.

The song goes something like this:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda/

Looking eastward to the sea/

There's a Burma broad a settin'/

And I know she thinks for me.

Now businessman-adventurer Denis Wilson (65) and his wife Jill are leaving on a 5,500-mile trek down the real road to Mandalay in their midnight blue Volvo PV 544 with a wartime look, which Denis bought from a museum in Sweden.

The car, which dates back to the Fifties and has just 18,000 miles on the clock, has been serviced and is awaiting the arrival of the Wilsons in Singapore from where they start their trip along with 70 other drivers from the famous Raffles Hotel.

"I picked this sturdy vehicle deliberately when I heard the museum was selling it off," Denis, of Glenavy, explained.

"It's perfect for this long journey and won't let us down. It's an offbeat car which never went on the market here."

Denis and Jill, married 38 years with two sons, are motoring through Malaysia and Thailand on their way into Burma (also Myanmar), down that legendary road to Mandalay, which was once the capital of the country. There have been several films about this road and Mandalay.

"The drive will take us four weeks, starting at the Raffles Hotel and staying in hostels along the way, winding up in Rangoon. We will spend another two weeks exploring Burma," Denis added.

"We did a previous international vintage rally, covering 11,000 miles from Beijing to Paris in an 80-year old Rolls Royce. The trip involved crossing the width of China, the Gobi Desert, the Ural Mountains, and then the full length of Siberia. This all happened in 2007, re-enacting a journey undertaken by an Italian, Prince Borghesi exactly 100 years before."

Denis and Jill now give talks to groups all over the province in aid of a children's recovery unit in the Philippines called Helping Hands, Healing Hearts.

"We expect that this trip will launch a new spate of requests for our talk," added Denis

Statue clean-up will put a spring back in Robinson Crusoe's step

The statue of Robinson Crusoe that has stood in Lower Largo, Fife, since 1885 is to be given a welcome spring clean. It stands at site of the cottage where Alexander Selkirk was born and has become a little weatherbeaten.

Selkirk, of course, was the Scottish boy on whom Daniel Defoe based his Crusoe story. Alexander ran away to sea, and after upsetting the captain and crew of the sailing ship on which he was a cabin boy, they marooned him on the island of Juan Fernandez in the Pacific.

He lived in solitary for five years before he was rescued. His story was told again and again, but it was Defoe who turned it into a bestseller.

It's a book that never dies and has been called one of the great British novels. Crusoe has even been made into several films. The book's original title was The Strange And Surprising Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe and the author's name on the cover was Robinson Crusoe, who for years readers thought was a real mariner writing his memoirs.

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