Venerable Rob's story
"I’m getting a bit old now and my teeth are falling out. I was sleeping in my tent one night and I put my fake tooth outside in a jar. Then I saw a magpie swoop down and steal it. It cost £150 that tooth. I saw it again the next day looking sheepish in a tree. I never did get it back.
I was born in Sussex but my dad was in the navy and took us off to Australia for a couple of years, then to Liverpool and Portsmouth. He was captain of an aircraft carrier. I studied at Oxford but flunked my first degree so went off to see the world instead.
I was only about 23. My fifty-pound ticket took me all the way through Bulgaria, Istanbul and into Afghanistan. I remember wandering through the market in Kabul and then down the Kyber pass into northern India. They’re fighting a war now but it was peaceful then. People were still buying flying carpets and all that.
After Afghanistan I went to see The Dalai Llama who was living in exile in Dharamshala where he’d set up a university. He did a public talk one day and I joined on the end of the queue to shake his hand and said, “Hello Dalai Llama, you’ve got a very interesting university.” And he said: “Yes, you should join in!”
After that I stayed studying philosophy in India for about ten years. Learning Tibetan, and living the yogi way of life.
When I came back from India I went to work for the Tibetans in this country and continued to have a bit of a yogi way of life here too. They had various meditation centres in London and Oxford, but I didn’t want to shave my head or change my name so I never became a monk.
I did woodworking, building and landscape gardening over the years, but living that life you can become a bit disconnected from the material world - from home, job and family, and you can end up on the street like I did.
My grandfather’s house is only about twenty miles away in the Chilterns so I’m a bit of a native, but even when you’re part of the local tribe like I am, if you’re homeless as well, you can still feel rootless, like most of the homeless crowd I meet.
I was married once but it didn’t last long. I met my long lost daughter recently after a twenty-year absence. We lost contact after my marriage ended and my ex-wife married another man. But my sister managed to track her down. We had a reunion for about three hours. She’s an actress here in Oxford. She’s brainy and beautiful. I think she gets a bit of that from me, but we only have occasional contact now.
I still go to the local temple with some Thai monks down here who are very friendly. I bring them apples and write them Zen poetry. They call me ‘Venerable Rob’.
So the yogi way of life is not necessarily a good influence, but I can cook a good curry these days, and I’ve learnt to have peace of mind. Even if a magpie did steal my tooth."
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