10 Months, 23 Days, still sober.
I am devoting today’s blog to a long obituary of my dear and recently departed friend, Robert Newton, known in these columns through the years as ‘Dave’. Rob was one of life’s ‘larger than life’ characters, and I do hope you find my reminiscences of interest.
In keeping with the solemnity of the occasion I will not post scantily clad ladies amongst these reminiscences and instead will post some photos that I took last Sunday, when Noo and I went to watch the annual Long Boat races on the lake, near my home.
The Death of a salesman
(With apologies to Arthur Miller)
Some personal reminiscences on the recently departed Robert Newton, a notable Bangkok farang.
Rob’s principal sales product was ‘Rob’.
He didn’t sell ‘things’; he sold himself, his ideas and, I suppose, his dreams and visions. He was such a good salesman that for most of his life, there was always a line of friends, family, acquaintances, and business people who were happy to buy-in to ‘product Rob’.
For as long as I can remember, from his very early days as a young recording engineer in Bangkok, right to the very end, he was always able to sell ‘himself’ to enough folk to keep a roof over his head, food in his larder and beer in his fridge. Rob was the ultimate survivor.
I first met Rob in Bangkok sometime in 1973. At the time, I was working in oil business in the Arabian Gulf and I had ‘discovered’ that Bangkok was the most wonderful place on earth to take my R & R. In those far off days, Bangkok, and Thailand was yet to be ‘discovered’ by the world at large, especially in faraway England, from whence I hailed.
I well recall my friends back home giving me puzzling glances whenever I mentioned my trips to Thailand, and it was only after I said ‘You know- Siam – The King and I…’ that a flutter of recognition would spread across their faces. How times have changed!
In fact, for me to get to Bangkok from Abu Dhabi in those days required taking a Land rover trip across the desert to Dubai, where I would get a flight to Bombay where I would then pick up another flight to Bangkok.
Anyway, I must have been on about my fourth trip to the city of my dreams. I was staying in the cheap but very comfortable Fortuna Hotel in Soi 5 off Sukhumvit Road. The location was perfect for me, as I would spend my afternoons sitting at the bar of the large ‘HP Massage Parlour’ on the opposite side of Sukhumvit Road, (where the Ambassador Hotel is now located), choose my female ‘escort’ for the day from the hundreds sitting in the large window, and walk her back to the Fortuna to continue my rest and recuperation in the privacy of my own room.
Unknown to me, The Fortuna Hotel had been a long established ‘home away from home’ for Rob in bygone days, when he used it as his Bangkok base when he toured the US air bases scattered around Thailand as a member of a band. Even though he no longer stayed at the hotel, he still occasionally visited his old haunt for a cheap breakfast and to say ‘hello’ to the staff who all remembered him from his years of residence.
I was sitting alone, having a late breakfast when this very tall, (about 6ft 4inches), slender, long-haired Englishman came over and asked me for a light. In those days, I was a somewhat shy, diffident young man who always heeded his dear old Mum’s warning about not talking to strangers, so it took Rob ‘the salesman’ a few minutes to ‘break the ice’ and get through my natural defences, turn on the unique Rob charm, and start to ingratiate himself upon me.
Although had I elected, for convenience, (and for matters of taking ladies to my room), to stay in a cheap, two star hotel, I suppose I flaunted some of the more obvious trappings of wealth, with an expensive ‘brand name’ digital watch on my wrist,(very rare in those days), a gold chain around my neck, matching, gold cross pens in my pristine white shirt top pocket and the obligatory gold Dunhill cigarette lighter sitting atop my imported pack of Marlboroughs.
I don’t wish to be too unkind to Rob’s memory, but thinking back to that very first meeting after all these years, I am inclined to the view that he probably sought me out as a soft ‘mark’ that might be of use to him; for such was his modus operandi. As I was to realise much later, befriending people with money and/or influence or who, in some way may be of use to him one day, were Rob’s stock in trade.
Anyway, for good or bad, Rob and I struck up a friendship which lasted for almost 40 years.
From the very start of our friendship, I was the one with a large disposable income, so it naturally fell to me to pay a lion’s share of the bills, whether they were for food, refreshments, whores or even for occasional loans to Rob and his lady which were rarely, if ever, repaid.
In those very early days of our friendship, Rob lived in quite a nice apartment, but it was out in the Bangkok ‘boon-docks’, hence relatively cheap. He lived there with a delightful and very pretty Japanese lady, Aiko, who he had met when his band worked in Japan for a while, in between his stints in Thailand. Aiko was Rob’s second wife, having been previously been married to an English girl who had also been in Thailand with him during his days when he toured the American air bases as a musician.
It was the early seventies, but Rob, Aiko and their friends, were still very much children of the recently ended era of the ‘swinging sixties’ with its so-called free sex, drugs, rock’n’ roll, Beatles, ‘flower power’, ‘women’s lib’ and so on.
They did their very best to live their lives in the style of the sixties. I can still picture today Rob’s very long hair, tight jeans and trousers with incredibly wide flares which completely covered – can you believe – several inches of platform shoes. Rob and Aiko enjoyed their Singha beer, but their main recreation came from smoking gunja – pot – which at that time was as readily available and as cheap as Thai cigarettes.
Although I did have fashionably long hair, for me – Mobi – a relatively ‘straight laced’ Englishman from the Oil industry, much of Rob’s lifestyle was completely alien and I was instantly fascinated by my new found circle of friends with their easy going view of life and their leisure activities.
It was during this period that I had my first – and only – experimentation with marijuana, which I would smoke with Rob, Aiko and the others. Although I quite enjoyed the experience, I concluded that it wasn’t the drug for me as it made me feel ‘out of control’, a sensation I wasn’t too comfortable with. So I stuck to my first recreational; drug of choice -alcohol, as Rob also increasingly elected to do as the years went by.
Many years later, reading Rob’s as yet unpublished autobiography, I would guess that the years that he spent touring as a musician in Hawaii, San Francisco, Thailand, Japan and Singapore followed by the period that he lived with Aiko at his Bangkok apartment were probably the happiest and most fulfilling of his entire life.
I do not wish to go into the details of how he managed to make ends meet during the that time when I first knew him with Aiko, but the couple, while never flush, lived quite well, and Rob even had sufficient money to rent a second apartment in which he set up as his first recording studio. Apart from being an accomplished musician, Rob was also heavily into sound recording and he made many live recordings of his band during their touring days, including many original songs penned by him.
At that time, through his musical background, he had become quite well known in the music scene in Bangkok. He started to make live recordings of some of the famous Thai bands of that time which were later played on local Bangkok radio stations. This all eventually led to him being involved in the writing and producing of an album for one of Thailand’s most famous Thai bands of the time, which was actually recorded in Sweden.
After many more Mobi–R&R’s, including a two month riotous stint in 1974, I moved permanently to Thailand in 1975. Rob was still living with Aiko and was continuing his interest and involvement in the Thai music recording scene. Although he was happily married and clearly adored his wife – who wouldn’t – he also used to ‘play the field’ and wasn’t averse to a bit of extra-curricular female activity, often in the company of ‘yours truly’.
I cannot exactly recall the precise time when the mighty blow fell upon Rob, and I was never privy the precise reasons that precipitated the decision; but one day Aiko informed her husband that she was going to leave him and return to Japan.
We, his friends, assumed that it was occasioned by the fact that Rob would often leave Aiko stuck in her small room for long periods of time during the day, and night, when he would go out carousing and whoring with his friends. There was also a suspicion that Aiko may have met someone at a local ‘Japanese’ Hotel where she worked part time as a receptionist. Maybe it was a combination of both. Or maybe it was simply that she had just had enough of their ‘Thai life style’ and had fallen out of love with her husband.
Aiko was a beautiful, sexy, very intelligent, highly artistic lady – with a very western outlook – who in later life settled, in of all places, in village in the South West of England where, I understand, she runs some kind of pottery business.
Throughout his entire life, Rob rarely, if ever, opened up about his inner most feelings and during the brief period that we waited for Aiko to depart, it was very hard to discern what was going on in his head, though there was little doubt that he was devastated by the turn of events. He retreated into his shell and seemed to just go through the motions of living. He ate, slept and got drunk, but he rarely said anything at all – keeping his thoughts very much to himself. He was clearly going through a private hell.
I think it took many years for Rob to get over the loss of Aiko and I suspect that she was the one true, great love of his life, even though he was to marry twice more. After Aiko departed, he continued to exist and do many of things he used to do, but his whole persona seemed to have changed. For a long time he became very withdrawn and contemplative.
Looking back now, he was very likely suffering from a deep depression. I forget how many months had passed since Aiko’s departure, but one day he announced that he had decided to fly to Japan and try to get her back. This he duly did, but to no avail. There was no way – at that time – that Aiko wished to resume their relationship.
Ironically, some years later, when Rob was enjoying the high point of his third marriage, this time with a Thai lady, Aiko suddenly appeared out of the blue and tried to win him back. But Rob didn’t want to know. He claimed – and who were we to disbelieve him – that he no longer had any feelings for her and was very happy with his new wife.
I often wonder whether that was really the case, or was it, as I suspect – that he was so hurt by her abrupt departure all those years ago and her refusal to reconsider when he flew to Japan to beg her to come back, that he couldn’t bear to let any lingering feelings he still felt for her to surface again. Maybe he was simply too proud. The truth of all this I will never know.
Once Aiko’s departure had become a fait accomplis, Rob immersed himself into his recording studio activities and for a while, he went into partnership with a Thai music impresario who provided him with a proper studio into which he installed all his own equipment. It was also during this time that Rob made his first forays into the advertising business after meeting some expats who were working in the then fledgling Thai advertising industry.
Most of the international agencies and production houses were located in or around the business area of Silom Road, and all the expats who worked there tended to patronise one particular bar in Patpong road, The Derby King. The Derby King became the lunchtime and after work ‘hang out’ for all those engaged in advertising at that time. Naturally Rob, became a regular patron and it was there that he made many lifelong friendships and obtained much needed work.
The precise chronology of all these events escapes me after all these years, but it was around this time, having blown my little pot of gold, saved up from my years in the oil industry, that I had reluctantly flown back the UK to seek a job. I subsequently spent a year back in the oil business in Libya before returning in 1976 for my second ‘permanent stint’ in Thailand.
Upon my return, I found that Rob had been making good progress in getting work from the expat creative directors of advertising agencies to write and record advertising jingles. He was also working for record companies, such as EMI, recording albums for Thai bands in his Wireless Road studios.
Rob introduced me to his ‘Thai partner, the music impresario and persuaded me to go and work for him. A year later, with both us having spent a very unpleasant two weeks in jail, due to work permit violations, of which we knew nothing , (the Thai partner had lied to the police to save his own skin), and both of us having been cheated out of our money by the very same Thai man, we ‘upped roots’ and set up a new recording studio business in Soi Asoke.
We were able to do this following the generosity of one Rob’s closest advertising friends, but although the investment was sufficient to build the studio and get things going, we had severe cash flow problems almost from the very first day we opened for business.
At this point in his career, Rob had been a reasonably successful musician – given that he had held down a good job playing at nightclubs in the UK before he spent his years touring around Asia and the USA and had even made a small amount of money when he first set up his studio with the Thai partner.
But by the time Rob had opened his new studio, several things had happened. Firstly, the Thais themselves had seen the business potential for a proper, multi –track recording studio, and almost as soon as Rob’s 4 track studio was open, some well-connected Thais were building bigger and better studios in competition to him.
By then the Thais had also realised that there was good money to be made in recording original advertising jungles. They were subsequently were able to ‘steal’ much of Rob’s business by undercutting him. Indeed, some of Rob’s Thai competitors had originally worked for him, but once they had learned the jingle business from Rob and had got to know his clients, they soon set up on their own and stole much of his business.
This was a pattern that repeated itself over and over, as Rob always had to employ a Thai music director, who would eventually jump ship and set himself up in competition.
It was the start of a difficult financial era for Rob, that rarely changed for the rest of his life. Some expats, and even a few Thais continued to provide Rob with advertising work as they felt that a farang he would provide them with a superior product than the Thai production houses.
In the early days, this was often the case, but as the Thais improved in their production creativity and as they continually undercut Rob’s prices by at least 50%, it was an on-going battle to make ends meet. To his credit, Rob would sink any excess cash he generated into new studio equipment and eventually he upgraded to a professional multi –track studio. This enabled him to get a little studio work for films and albums, but never enough to keep him in ‘the manner that he would like be kept’.
I stayed with Rob for about 2 years during this period, running the business and doing everything from accounting to admin to marketing but never once did I receive one Baht in compensation for my efforts. I had another part time job with the self-same expat who had made the original investment, working as his accountant and tax manager in Hong Kong, and it was my fees from this work that kept my own personal wolf away from the door.
By 1980, Rob was married to his third, wife – this time a Thai – and I taught her to keep the books of account and to do all the things that I was doing. Then, with some regret, I moved on to another job in Bangkok.
Rob had now completely taken on the mantle and persona that would remain with him for the remainder of his life. His business, to quote a major advertising agency at that time, ‘was seriously under-capitalised’, and with the proliferation of Thai competition, it was simply unviable. But it would take many more years before Rob would even contemplate acknowledging this simple fact. He had to use his ‘salesman’ skills, as never before to stay alive.
Rob was a highly intelligent, highly skilled and creative person, but he was his own worst enemy. I personally believe that because he was so intelligent, he always believed that he knew better than anyone else, particularly when it came to music, recording and writing music.
Advertising is a business where creativity continually clashes with the harsh realities of commercial demands and any creative person who wishes to survive in such an environment must always be prepared to compromise his creative principals in the interest of the client and the product.
This was lesson that Rob never learned. He always thought he knew better than the creative directors who gave him his briefs and as a result, even the most loyal of them would eventually tire of this arrogant farang who not only stubbornly refused to do as he was asked, but was invariably late in delivery, and even arrived late to meetings to discuss briefs or to present music demonstrations.
Clients grew increasing fed up with this kind treatment and would move on to pastures new. This was a pattern that not only encompassed his business life, but also his personal life.
Rob was a good salesman of himself and for a while, as some clients would become disillusioned and go elsewhere, he would find knew ones who, for a while, would believe in him and take their place. But over time, the number of clients would slowly reduce, until there were pitifully few remaining.
A similar situation occurred in his personal life. He would make good friends with someone for a while and during the peak of these friendships, the pair would become almost inseparable. It would appear for all the world as though Rob had found yet another new soul mate.
But in the end, all these seemingly ‘close friends’ would eventually fade away. Why? I’m sorry to say it is because Rob could never resist the temptation to ‘use’ people and ultimately they would realise what was happening.
No matter how much you believed him to be your genuine friend, there was always some kind of ulterior motive lurking in the background. There would always be some money making scheme or wonderful business opportunity in which he wanted your participation – at your expense; or it was simply the fact that after an initial impression that Rob was paying his way, you subsequently found that it was actually you who was paying all the bills.
I would stop short of saying that Rob was a ‘con man’ – that’s a bit harsh, so let’s just say he was a ‘salesman’. At the end of the day he would do whatever he had to do to survive.
After a couple more years of barely adequate earnings, I eventually returned to the UK and embarked on a successful business career that spanned the next 17 years of my life.
During this time, Rob continued to run his studio, moving after a couple of years, from Soi Asoke, to new location nearby, and apart from a few, brief periods of relative prosperity, he would be back to his perpetual ‘lurch’ from crisis to crisis. For the most part, he was essentially living hand to mouth, being kept alive as much by the generosity from his friends and business acquaintances, as from the meagre amount of business he was able to generate in his studio.
During this period, Rob divorced his third wife and married a fourth; a younger, very attractive lady that he met in Soi Cowboy.
Then he ran into an incredible piece of luck. Purely by accident, he picked up a well-paid part time job working as a sound engineer for Dolby. Whenever there was a new film released in Bangkok that carried Dolby sound, Rob’s new job required him to go to these cinemas and ensure that the Dolby sound was up to standard and to make ‘equalisation’ adjustments as necessary. It was easy work, requiring the occasional unsocial work visit, but only irregularly, whenever new movies with Dolby sound were released.
His fees were on a UK scale and were like ‘manna from heaven’ to the perpetually broke Rob. I’m not sure how long he managed to hang on to this work – maybe a year or so, but this was certainly a happy time for Rob and his new beloved.
But like all things in Rob’s life – he became lazy and arrogant about his duties. From his own admissions, he had some disagreements with local movie people about the best way to do his job, as well as with his employers in the UK. I also gathered that his missed some appointments. Whatever the truth of the matter, the result was that he was fired.
If he had any sense at all, he would have kept his mouth shut, done what he was told and he could have probably held onto that job for years. Who knows – he might still have had it today. But Rob, the smart-arsed salesman, always knew better.
The loss of this work precipitated a major crisis in his life. He lost the most lucrative job he had ever had along with the accompanying lifestyle. He could no longer keep his beautiful, sexy, fourth wife in the manner that she was accustomed and she started to look elsewhere to pay for her ex bar girl habits.
True to type, I suppose you could say, she became attracted by the idea of owning her own bar so with the last of Rob’s meagre savings, she opened a beer bar at the corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 19. She actually stayed with Rob for several more years, but the couple grew rapidly apart and it was an open secret that she slept around to make ends meet. I know this for sure, as on more than one occasion, she came on seriously to ‘yours truly’ and I can tell you it was quite an effort to resist the temptation. I am sure others had far less scruples about jumping in.
We used to speculate whether Rob knew what was going on with his wife. I was firmly of the opinion that he knew very well – after all, she rarely came home before dawn – if at all – and sometimes she would disappear for days at a time, only to return bearing all manner of expensive gifts. Towards the end of their time together she actually bought an impressive looking SUV – well that certainly didn’t come from the sparse profits of a not very well patronised beer bar, now did it?
Rob would never discuss such things and always maintained the pretence that when she failed to come home, she was drunk and sleeping it off with her sister or some other friends, rather than with a paying customer. But that was just Rob, in denial, as ever.
Rob went downhill fast and his drinking, already very heavy, soon became completely out of all control. It was the start of what we later called the Lazarus period of his life; he had so many ‘near death’ experiences that most doctors were astounded that he could live through them.
It was in the late 1990’s that Rob’s liver completely gave out – by all accounts sort of ‘exploded’ and he was rushed to Chulalongkorn hospital where he underwent major surgery by one of Thailand’s most eminent surgeons. How he recovered from this no one will ever know, but get through it he did, although it was a very long, and painful recuperation.
When he was fit enough to travel, he made a rare trip to the UK where he was looked after by his family for a short while and was also driven across country by another lifelong friend to meet up with me and my family in our Northamptonshire bungalow. He was barely recognisable, as he had lost a huge amount of weight and was so weak and sickly that when I saw him in December, I really felt he would not make it to New Year, only a week or two away.
But he did survive and eventually he regained his strength and his weight, and returned to Thailand where everyone fussed over him and made sure that he had proper care and enough money in his pocket.
I should also add that for many years, and right up to his death, his elder brother, who for most of his life has been severely disabled with Parkinson’s disease, had made a generous monthly financial contribution to Rob’s living expenses. Without this allowance, I doubt whether Rob would have survived half as long as he did, and there is no doubt that Rob’s brother was as much a victim of the ‘Rob Dream’ through the years as anyone else.
When I returned to Thailand in 2000, Rob had finally given up the notion of running a studio and had moved into a Thai apartment with his third wife who was still with him in spite of her dubious nocturnal activities. He was getting regular money from his brother and other loyal friends and he was now spending most of his spare time trying to persuade anyone who would listen that his autobiography was worthy of publication.
Most of us were convinced that despite his amazing recovery, he didn’t have very long to live and we encouraged him in his ‘book writing’ efforts as a way to keep him busy and occupied, and hopefully away from the booze.
But after a while, Rob’s health continued to improve and he was persuaded to re-open his studio by some who should have known better. So once more he moved back in, with all the attendant running costs. But predictably, he was unable to drum up sufficient business and once more the state of his finances became ever more precarious.
I’m afraid to admit that having newly arrived back in Thailand, it was now my turn, yet again, become the latest victim of the Rob Newton sales pitch.
He had this idea to export Thai handicrafts to the UK and, like a fool, I thought it sounded a feasible plan. I did a bit of research, ran a few spread sheets and really believed – and still do – that our plan could generate enough profit to make a difference to Rob’s life. I wasn’t interested in anything for myself, I just wanted to set up Rob with something that would keep him solvent. So the two of us did a fair bit of research and did a bit of travelling to source the products, from as far away as Hua Hin. I even contacted a few friends back in the UK, including my own brother, to sound them out if they would be prepared to be UK reps.
In all, a lot of work was done – mostly by me and I also bankrolled all the expenses, which while not breaking the bank – were slowly racking up.
The project reached an advance stage and we were preparing to make our first ‘sample’ shipment to the UK. At around this time the two of us had a business meeting where we clearly delineated all the duties and responsibilities for the new business going forward.
I had made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t about to devote my life to this project and that this was Rob’s ‘baby’ and he must be prepared to do his fair share of the work. Of course he readily agreed to all this, but as time went on I became increasingly concerned that he was far from pulling his weight as he continually tried to offload all his agreed duties onto me. It reached a crisis point one day. He was due to deliver a completed project to me but he called and said he had been too busy and could I come round and do it for him!
Of course I never did and I canned the business. After so many years, the penny had finally dropped; Rob was just one of life’s ‘users’. Always a ‘user’, never a ‘do-er’; unless he happened to fancy it, and even then, he would only do it his way, not someone else’s way. He had used me and my money for so many years that I can’t even begin to remember it all; as indeed he has done with so many others during his lifetime. Some, many of them Thais, have lost far more from Rob than the relatively small amounts that I have expended.
I moved to Pattaya and eventually Rob’s fourth wife faded out of the picture after No. 3 ex-wife returned to Bangkok to stay with him and take care of him. Incredibly, there was a short period when both wives lived together with Rob. Crazy, ain’t it!
This was the result of another shrewd move on his part. Previously, when he was still with wife number 4, I can well recall several occasions when he would pop down to the bank to send a few hundred baht to his third wife, who at that time had moved to Trang.
Given his own parlous financial state, I used to wonder why he did that. He just told me that she was very poor and he felt sorry for her. He certainly had me fooled, but since then, knowing the huge role that this third wife subsequently played in the last years of Rob’s life, call me an old cynic – but I am personally convinced these little ‘money parcels’ were part of Rob’s ‘last resort insurance policy’.
I don’t believe she even really needed the money he sent her, for while she was by no means well off, I do know that her family was, and still is, quite well to do, so there was no way she was starving. When the time was ripe, Rob would ‘cash in’ the conscience or ‘face’ money.
Meanwhile, in Pattaya, I still worried about him and kept in constant contact. He moved yet again and set up his studio once more in a sprawling town house deep inside Soi 49, but by this time the business had more or less totally dried up. His third wife was now firmly entrenched with him and his drinking became ever more out of control.
Amongst several recently acquired new ‘friends’, (by ‘friends’ I mean ‘soft touches’), Rob had become very close to an ageing, retired British doctor who not only tried to tend to Rob’s failing health problems but also gave him quite a bit of money.
Much of this was given on the pretext of the work that Rob did for him in digitalising the Doctor’s record collection, as well as buying a lot of new recording equipment for Rob to play with. I can only imagine that the good doctor has more than enough cash to see out his own days and was simply trying to make Rob’s final years as comfortable as possible, as by this time most of us, including the Doc, were convinced that he didn’t have long to go.
Rob was ‘brought back from the dead’ on at least four occasions during this latter period of his life. Each time, the pattern was fairly familiar. He would drink himself into total stupor, refuse to move or to eat, lose control of his bodily functions, abuse and fight his carers before sliding into unconsciousness. He would then be rushed into hospital where he would be dried out and effectively brought back to life. On two occasions, he actually collapsed and fell over heavily in the house, (he weighed over 120 kilos and could hardly walk), suffering severe head damage before being stretchered into hospital.
In between these crises, (any one of which, according to the good doctor, would have killed most people), Rob would make brief, ineffectual attempts to quit drinking. A couple of years back, I tried very hard to get him to quit drinking. I exhorted him, without success, to go to ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’, and even arranged for some ‘AA’ people to visit him at home. I would spent countless hours talking with him, trying to make him see that he could quite if he really put his mind to it. The most telling argument was that if he didn’t stop, he would surely be dead very soon.
He promised faithfully that he would try to quit and I used to call him every day. We would have long telephone chats and he would assure me he was sober. Then during one of my regular trips to Bangkok to check on him, I went to his house and found his fridge full of beer.
He told me he was still off the booze, but I knew that he was lying. An alcoholic can maintain a façade of sobriety, but I knew him too well and could detect the slight slur in his speech. Ex-wife no. 3 admitted as much. I did not feel particularly let down as I knew from my own experience that this is the way of alcoholics, but I felt personally that after all these years, I had gone as far as I could go with him. It was time for me to give up.
I had spent the best part of 40 years trying support him as a close friend and doing my what I could to help someone who, for many years, I had considered to be a luckless victim of an unhappy and unfortunate life.
But I was no longer a youngster and I was fighting my own alcoholic demons. Rob’s problems were simply more that I could bear so I made the decision to break off regular contact with him. I realised that he was just dragging me down and depressing me, and that was the last thing I needed.
The result of that decision, as many of you will know, has been very good for me as I am nearly 11 months sober and happier and healthier than I have been in years.
After I cut off regular contact, Rob continued his financial decline and about 10 months ago he realised could no longer afford the rent on his town house and decided to move, lock stock and barrel, to ex wife no. 3’s house in Trang, in the south of Thailand.
We spoke and exchanged emails soon after he moved down there, and then more recently he sought my help in claiming a small UK state pension which we had belatedly discovered he was entitled to.
I can’t resist a smile when I recall this event, which became my very last dealings with him. Even in this final go around between us, he never gave up his grifting.
He needed my help in remitting money to the UK pension office to make good a shortfall in his contributions, which would result in a higher monthly pension. So we arranged that he would put the required funds into my Thai bank account, whereupon I would remit the sterling equivalent to the UK pension office.
But at the last moment he tried to get me to remit the money BEFORE he had deposited the cash in my account. Despite his protestations that he didn’t have all the money yet and ‘please could you pay the cash up front’, I told him there was no way. Miraculously, he suddenly came up with the requisite Thai funds and immediately transferred them into my account. Dear old Rob – trying it on to the very end.
According to his third wife, after they moved to Trang, Rob had already survived several crises and emergency hospital admissions. His admission last week followed the usual pattern when he he was admitted in a semi-comatose state, having drunk God knows how many bottles of Sangsom whisky.
But it was the final throw of the dice. Last Thursday, at about 4 am, his ravaged body gave up the unequal struggle, and by his wife’s account, that was what he had intended to happen. He had been ready to go. Selfish to the end, he has left a total mess for her and his friends to sort out.
It wasn’t a great way for this legendary – or should I say notorious – farang, who has spent most of his adult life in Thailand, to pass away, but I guess it could have been worse. At least he didn’t expire on some side-walk, destitute and homeless, with no one to take care of his body, or his memory.
In spite of all his many faults, I couldn’t help liking this gentle giant who had the ‘gift of the gab’. He ‘took in’ so many people during his life of fighting for survival, but in the end, the person he most deceived was himself.
There is no question that Rob was a clever and highly talented individual, and who knows, if things had gone even a little differently in his life, he may have been a successful and famous person.
Frankly, I doubt it. In spite of his undoubted talents, I believe he was always destined to be one of life’s losers – always too quick to believe in his own bullshit than to see himself and world as it really is.
I could relate so many stories about Rob and his bullshit and his hypocritical nature, but one that always sticks in my mind was always his vehement protestations that under no circumstances would he ever go in a bar again. The reason that he refused to go in bars? ‘Well.’ Rob would say, ‘I have spent nearly all my life working in bars as a professional musician that I can’t stand the sight of them any more.’
Fair enough, you may think but let’s look at the facts. Firstly, at best, he spent about 10 years of his life as a professional musician which is hardly a lifetime, and in any event he played in clubs, discos and air bases, not bars. But the main point is that after he stopped being a muso, he must have spent the next 20 years screwing his way around every bar that Patpong and Soi Cowboy possessed and I can personally vouch for much of that time, as I was there!
So why would he say such a thing which is patently crap? Because deep down Rob was a snob. He thought he was superior to us mere bar flies because he used to be a professional musician, essentially the only ‘respectable’ job he had ever held for any length of time. He tried to blot out the fact that he probably spent more hours in bars as a customer than the rest of us put together. It was one of his countless, foolish deceits. In the end he probably believed it all himself.
None of us are without fault and I am sure that many of us have more to regret in our lives than Rob ever did. We can all be selfish and dishonest when the occasion demands it and I bear absolutely no resentment or any ill feelings towards him. My only regret is that I was unable to remain strong and to be there at the end as I had always intended to be.
He was a very flawed individual, but he certainly made an indelible mark on the Thai music scene and was instrumental in bringing multi-track recording studios and professional advertising jingles to Thailand. Sure, these things would have still come to Thailand if Rob had never existed, but I doubt they would have happened quite at that time when Rob was leading the charge.
Rob was – and is – well known by probably thousands of people in Thailand – Thai and farang alike – who have all had the dubious pleasure of crossing his path at some time or other in their lives. I know that many of them will mourn his passing. He was a true character on the Bangkok skyline and in spite of everything; I feel the world is a little poorer for his passing.
For me, he was an exasperating, disingenuous, hypocritical, selfish, lazy, conniving man with an exaggerated opinion of his own worth, but he was also a loveable, soft spoken gentleman with never a bad word to to say about you – well, never to to your face, anyway…
I loved him, and he will be sorely missed by this writer and, I have no doubt, by many others.
Noo’s tropical patio….
BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a Hoot!