My earliest memory is standing with Rob on the day that my youngest brother was born. We were all born within three years of each other with Rob born in September 1965. I can’t remember him not being there. We lived in London on a quiet street where we were often outside playing. I can recall the various children living in our road who became our playmates as we were all roughly similar ages.
Rob was an active child – he enjoyed playing football and cricket which we played endlessly in the street. He learned to ride a bike and this was another opportunity to expend energy. He also learned to swim and regularly went to the local pool. He had a daring side not always thinking what the consequences might be. One time he rode his bike without hands daring us to throw things at him so that he could dodge them – needless to say he fell off and broke his collar bone. He jumped into a swimming pool once, sideways, almost colliding with the edge but then decided he could do better, so he dived in to the shallow end and broke his front tooth. From confronting small dogs and getting bitten, hurtling downhill on his bike or a skateboard, to wading through a small local stream Rob seemed to get in to a variety of scrapes. Years later he told us that he had walked along the stream as it went through a tunnel under the road and continued to follow it for a while – dark, unknown and without anyone knowing where he was! One holiday – we would drive to visit our relatives in Rome each year – Rob went swimming in the sea and when he came out of the water could not find us. He had swum along the coast and come up on a different stretch of beach. He was missing for several hours.
Rob has always been so clever. It was just one of those things about him, but he never made you feel stupid in comparison. He excelled at school, passing the entrance exam to a secondary school and continuing to do well. Learning did not stop at school – he would perform chemistry experiments at home with a child’s kit seemingly determined to cause an explosion; he build a computer using a kit and a soldering iron; and he read voraciously – adventure stories, war stories, comics. Years later he gifted his two favourite books to my son Josh – the Golden Mares of Samarkand and another, the Silver Sword. When he was older his reading became more spiritual – I remember him reading Siddartha and the Bhagavad Gita – not your average teen fiction but clearly an interest that he would come back to in later life and gave him his direction. He also loved the absurd – he could quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail and delighted in the Mad comics with their parodies of films and books.
Rob had an appetite for life and for food. I have never known anyone be so permanently hungry. He would eat dinner, have seconds and then go and make toast or a sandwich. He enjoyed fiery foods – every Passover he would compete to see who could eat the bigger amount of bitter herbs till tears were streaming down his face. He also had a sweet tooth. My father always shared out treats – a chocolate bar would be cut into 5 pieces so that everyone had a piece – it was never enough for Rob. He still managed to stay ridiculously skinny. In his 20s he was diagnosed with Crohns and also became lactose intolerant. This meant he had to manage his diet more carefully though he still loved sweet treats.
Music was another passion of Rob’s. He loved so many types and thought that some bands were so important – he gave my daughter the Beatles White album when she was 6 though I’m sure she didn’t quite get the cultural significance. The 1970s were very exciting musically and we all loved several bands. At one point he formed a very rubbish punk band with Jez and another boy in the street. And then he learned to play the guitar. He took to this in a way that none of us had taken to piano lessons when we were much younger. I remember his offers to play for us when we were washing up – so everyone would be busily clearing up and Rob would sit there playing the guitar. His other helpful trick would be to dry one plate while wondering the house, coming back when almost everything was finished. His musical tastes continued to develop and after graduating from Oxford he went to study music at Berklee college of music in Boston. He remained there for several years, studying jazz and classical music and composed pieces that were performed both there, and one exciting time in London. I still recall the thrill that he had a small orchestra performing something he had written. I still have those music scores at home.
Rob’s thinking and ideas changed as he got older. He also began to be more drawn to pacifism – everyone at school had to participate in the Cadets but he twisted his badge and returned it to his teacher saying it went against his pacifist beliefs. After his A levels and before university he travelled to India and this also affected his ideals and he began to think about many things at a different level. It probably prompted his change from a degree in Physics to one in Psychology. I know that he didn’t particularly enjoy university but of course he graduated with a first. He said years later that his tutors believed that he was a genius so let him get away with things such as handing in essays late but I also think that was his modesty denying how well he had done.
He stayed in Boston for over 15 years studying and working at music. I know that these times were not always easy as our father died when Rob was 26 and after that Rob began to explore his feelings more with therapy. These were a difficult few years for our family when he almost ceased contact but gradually was helped by therapy and his growing interest in Dharma and meditation. He eventually turned away from his music studies (mid PhD) and came to spend a year on silent retreat at Gaia House. The rest as they say is history.
However, even though he was heavily involved with his teachings we still would see him on his visits to London. As my kids say – we didn’t see him very often but always looked forward to seeing him. He didn’t spoil us but always took an interest in us, got down to our level and had fun with us in a very genuine way. I have pictures of him being slightly crazy with the children and memories of a family holiday where he taught the children how to do bike skids and spent ages going down water slides with them, and of him dancing the night away at my daughter’s BatMitzvah and coming home with us in a car full of balloons. He brought fun to our Friday night gatherings. He had a serious side that sometimes made him seem older than his years, but I’m not sure he never really grew up.