Grief is a strange beast. It fogs your mind, grabs your throat and strangles your heart. But through all the pain, strands of memory push towards you and start to join together until they begin to form cogent wholes. All my strands, every single one of them, remind me of what a rare man was Rob Poulton – a lovely, loveable man, and I, like so many others, genuinely loved him. He was a rare constant. It didn’t matter if I saw him or didn’t see him; I knew that – if I could get hold of the bugger – he would be a friend in good times and bad.
I can echo what so many others have said; if Rob was on the cast list, a production switched from something that you didn’t fancy much to something you couldn’t wait to do. No question. Henry Waddington mentioned the other day that Rob was going to be in a show we’re doing soon, and both us were instantly thrilled at the prospect. No disrespect to Wadders, but it’s just not going to be the same any more.
Laughing. We were always laughing. If I said that I remember “laughter”, that wouldn’t begin to convey the half of it. Laughing with Rob was a physical, unfettered, joyous thing. There’d be corpsing (usually triggered by one of us passing the other during a highly charged, serious and sombre moment and whispering a filthy insult at the other) and there’d be wheezy giggling. But most of the time there’d be laughing that would render you incapable of doing anything else but crying. This could happen anywhere; over a pint, in the canteen or in the Rotterdam branch of HEMA, where we once spent nearly a whole day. We would do whole dialogues in cod Dutch accents, imitating various directors (Richard Jones to Rob: “It’s a bit damp”) and conductors, pissing ourselves with absurd flights of imagination. One conductor he likened to the SS officer in “Where Eagles Dare” and it just took the line “I zort zat in Dusseldorf ze trams ran on ze uzzer zide off ze sqvare” to have us chortling helplessly like children.
God he was funny.
Other memories come back. Cycling from the rehearsal studio in Antwerp back to our digs… I say cycling; I was on a bike while he was on a tiny folding push-scooter that looked like it belonged to one of his beloved boys. He looked like an idiot but he didn’t care. That same job, my laptop was playing up and would only switch on if I smacked it on the side as it booted up. On a Eurostar back home for the weekend, he asked if he could have a look at it. Whereupon he laid his hands on the laptop and shut his eyes, willing it to get better. It didn’t work but I loved him for thinking it might.
As a singer he was simply magnificent. I never heard him sing anything that he hadn’t mastered and he was a fearless, wonderful actor. He was also a genuinely supportive and generous colleague while being self-deprecating when it came to his own abilities. Anyone who heard him mucking about, doing Sherrill Milnes-esque “baritone singing” will know what I mean.
To say there’s now a massive Rob-shaped hole in our lives is an under-statement. I can’t imagine anyone making me laugh like that again.
I’d like to sign off as if ending an email to Rob. It may offend some, but I know he’d get it. And he’d laugh.
Nobby, you wanker. Big moist ones, The Helmet xxx