Deep in a wood in a valley in the Marches of Wales, by an abandoned railway line, there lives a 75 year old man called Bob Rowberry. His home is an ancient school bus whose engine has died and whose wheels have fallen off.
A Hero For High Times is the story of how he ended up in this broken down bus, on this abandoned line, in this forgotten part of the world. It tells of how, along the way, Procul Harum were named after his cat, how he sold Owsley acid to RD Laing, of how he annoyed Saddam Hussein and the IRA, and how he was freed from jail in Mexico by a popular uprising of the peasantry who had come to know him as ‘El Maestro’.
It’s also the story of his times, and the ideas that shaped him. It’s a story of why you know your birth sign, why you have friends called Willow, why Yoko Ono affected how we eat much more than Linda McCartney ever did, why sex and drugs and rock and roll once mattered more than money, why dance music stopped the New Age Travellers from travelling, and why you need to think twice before taking the brown acid.
– from Ian Marchant‘s new book, A Hero For High Times (Jonathan Cape, 2018) – extract repeated here with the kind permission of Ian.
I first heard about Bob from friends we were staying with last Autumn, apparently he was a well-known local character. The more they described this charismatic, resourceful man who lived by himself in the woods in an old school bus, the more I knew I had to meet him. Bob is a man who has really lived the life of an adventurer, unafraid to take risks and to seek out the unusual. There is something feline about him, as if he has lived several lives. He certainly has plenty of tales and he loves to tell them. I was eager to record Bob talking about his adventures, so here we are.
After you’ve listened to the episode, (of which there will be two parts) why not pop over to your local book-selling-outlet and order a copy of Ian’s new book for a richer exploration of themes woven through Bob’s story. Bob is a very gifted metal worker and jeweller who regularly posts his work on Facebook. if you’re lucky and he’s in a good mood, you might even be able to commission something from him.
Grab yourself a hot brew and take a seat by the burner as I joined Bob in the bus for a twist-turning conversation about his life. Part Two will be out in a week’s time. Special thanks to Jayne Worthington for the wonderful photography.
Until then, go well,
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- Bob describes where he lives and why he loves it
- On getting into van life through traveling
- The perils of driving old vehicles in Germany
- The origins of Bob’s fascination with Asia
- Afgan tales: Altercations with armed locals
- Istanbul teacup eating and jazzing up the van
- Afgan tales: hashish chillums and firearm stories
- Bob’s early years as a risk-taker
- Living on the streets and the commodification of adventure
- Eric Clapton’s banjo busking
- Swinging sixties in The Scotch of St. James
- The roundabout story of how Bob arrived in the Welsh borders via Kabul
- Afgan tales: Bumps in the night (and yes, it also involves firearms)
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