When the rope snaps, when the long story’s done.
Not for you only but for everyone
These praises will continue fresh and true
As ever, cruelly though the Goddess tricked you,
And lovers (it may be) will bless you for
Your blindness, grieved that you could praise no more.
(From Across The Gulf, Late Poems, Robert Graves published by the New Seizin Press in
Bob Jones left the planet on January 1st 2016
It is very difficult for me to write of my friend Bob Jones. Not because I can’t remember much about our times together, but because I can remember too much.
As I said in the post on his death, we were partners in mischief. An honest account of that mischief would be interminable. And one other thing.
The death of a close friend, only a few years younger than I am, brings mortality and the finite into sharp focus. As another old Mate Mark Lang said after a little health scare, it reminds you that life is a finite boogie and not an infinite doddle.
Bobby and I met when it seemed that life was an infinite doddle, back in the last year of the sixties, when I joined J Walter Thompson for my first job ever as a copywriter.I had, up to that point, been driving cabs and smoking way too much dope.
Bobby was my designated art director, an incredibly cool surfie from the northern beaches who could draw like an angel, sing and play the guitar. We were under the eagle eye of group head Tony Moon and his art director Jules Sher. Moon was brilliant, mercurial and a bloody hard to work for.
And Jones and I were not as much into work as we were into dope and booze. And sex. Moon endeared himself to us with one hard and fast rule. “If you get pissed at lunch don’t come back to work. You’ll only make a dick of yourself.” But we did work hard and we both learnt how to make ads that worked.
Bobby had a girl friend, Sandra Maddocks (Sam) who he later married. I was married to Sue. But in the tenor of the times this did little to stop our extramarital activities. And while Sue and I divorced after 12 years, Sam was with Bob until the day he died. A remarkably resilient relationship with both partners wandering off along other paths from time to time. What kept them together was a strong and deep seam of love that wouldn’t die.
But back at JWT, living in the seventies, Bob and I bonded at work and outside work. Dope was smoked, a little acid was dropped, young women were loved and lost or at least mislaid, but amidst all the frivolity much work was done. There were many times we worked the whole weekend through, day and night, to finish a campaign for the dreaded Moon.
Three years later we left together, and Bob and Sue I went to Singapore where we worked in the world’s craziest agency, then Indonesia. Sam had already gone to Europe and was, if I remember correctly, doing secretarial work for Robert Graves in Deià
Bob loved Indonesia and especially Bali. He spoke often of wanting to return to trade in antiques, rugs, batiks. He loved the bartering process, loved the antique markets.
In those days the markets in Jakarta were stuffed with treasures from colonial times. We talked of organising shiploads of furniture and sending it back to Sydney. Of course he and I never did, but later, he and Sam did become traders in Indonesia.
The three of us then went to London, Bob went to Spain, and then sent me a postcard. That postcard changed the course of my life.
It was a hand drawn postcard. I wish I still had it. I’ve searched all over. It’s lying in some forgotten pile of letters, notebooks, other postcards. Or else it’s been tossed. What is remarkable about it is not just the deep — and often devastating — effect that it had on my life, but that I can still see it so clearly in my mind’s eye. That postcard cost me peace of mind, maybe a marriage. But it gave me Spain.
Bob had drawn himself lounging in an arched window, strumming his guitar, a wine glass on the sill. Behind and below him were gentle hills, a palm tree, beyond that olive trees, and finally, the sea, the Mediterranean. It was drawn with one of those fine black pens beloved of art directors of the time (when they drew rather than raided web sites for scrap), a Rapidograph, which delivered a fine, spidery, black line.
And although it was only a black and white drawing, the sun shone out of it, the sea was a seductive blue and the palm tree waved in the gentle breeze from Africa. We — Susie and I — were about to enter our second winter in London when that card arrived, a city that I have never liked and then actively loathed (I was almost shot there). A second winter of pushing coins into the slot of the rattling gas water heater, walking to work over rain slick pavements, wrapped in a tatty black fur coat, living with a damp cold that penetrated to the bone marrow, and trudging to Soho daily to earn just enough to keep the whole sordid process ticking over. Bob’s card promised sun, fun — and adventure.
He’d spent the first winter with us in London, before heading south to the island where Sam had lived and worked for several years before going back to Oz. The island was Mallorca, and the drawing on the postcard depicted the view from Son Rullan, a 14th century possessió, just outside Deiá on the north western coast of the island. A possessió was a county estate, a self contained farmhouse which had once housed the workers who picked the olives, pressed the olives and was a in reality a small village. By the time Bob got there, it was in disrepair and, in exchange for free rent, Bob and the others living there were supposed to be repairing it. But I knew none of this. Just that this postcard offered a way of escaping another London winter.
Suddenly, as is possible when you’re young and childless and resplendently irresponsible, we weren’t there, in our crummy flat in the Fulham Road, but on a train rattling through the south of France to the Spanish border.
And then we were living in this huge old wreck of a house and having more adventures than a boatful of Barbary coast pirates. A lot of those adventure, for Bob, were with a beautiful Spanish woman, Remedios. Check out the bottom left hand corner: someone – could have been me – toking on a pipe.
Here’s a shot Bob send me taken during that time, of Sam, in the background, and in the foreground one of the genial villains of the village, the actor Del Negro, also departed.
And finally, another of Sam, as an ethereal hippy in a field of wild flowers, by local photographer Heiner Schmitz.
I’m not going to go on about those times. I’ve written about them (only the names have been changed et cetera) in my book Grazing, but let me sum up my dear old friend.
He was a romantic, from his long blonde hair to his toenails. Facts were not his forte. He lived for beautiful women, beautiful music, beautiful images and beautiful places, especially islands. And although, sadly, he never kept up with his music – he had the talent to have made a career of it – the life he lived had much beauty in it. He and Sam lived in Deià, opened a shop called Islas and once a year, in winter, they travelled to Bali to stock the shop and then toured around the Islands of South East Asia. At least in the early days, Deià was very congenial village set amongst spectacular countryside.
I once called Bob the man who was always somewhere else. He was restless in one place, always ready to move on. Well, to a great extent, that’s what his life was: two places, two lives. And many dreams.
In our last conversation Sam told me she’d be planting a palm tree over his ashes. Which goes full circle back to that postcard that sent us to Spain. It’s the right tree to contain a romantic soul. She was with him, as I said, when he left, as were their two sons, Asher and Aden
Adios Bobby. I am just realising I’ll never sit opposite you at Sa Fonda, talking bullshit and drinking wine – well I’d be drinking wine, you’d be drinking beer. You’d remember your old Mate John T Fisher who’d bellow across the bar “I would kill my father rob my mother rape my sister break a blister for a San Miguel!”
Nothing left to say but vaya con dios or, as is more likely for both of us, the other bloke.