Remembrances for Peter Roberts

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Peter Roberts, London 1980s

From The Flower Raj Encyclopaedia

Peter Norman Roberts (aka 'Pete the Rat', born UK - died Moline, USA).

  • Nico Morrison wrote:
Oxford:
First meeting - Peter Roberts cleaned me out of my entire grant in one evening at stud poker my first term at Oxford, autumn 1962; he had already graduated with an MA in History (citation Oxford Uni? College?).
London:
In London he shared a flat with Steve Abrams, anarchic para-psychological researcher and bon vivant, and researched & traded in the then totally legal LSD. Pete may have supplied the (in)famous 'BBC Acid Party' (citation, date??).
In this pre-India period, experiments were conducted informally on friends, including myself, with stroboscopic lights aided by the ingestion of various substances. The results may have been unquantifiable.
India:
Peter came out to India in 1966 and met Jasper Newsome and myself in Banaras; while in India, he continued various financial endeavours and always had a rupee or two to hand, unlike most of the rest of us.
Richard Alpert (pre Baba Ram Das) & David Padwa funded our house 'Sursari Niwas' after meeting Mata Dharam Dasi, Jasper and myself on a Banaras houseboat during evening puja and giving Jasper US$200.
Peter joined us - and Pete, Jasper and myself occupied the three large mansion rooms of the lovely house by the Ganga at Lanka, with many transient friends camping in the extensive and otherwise unoccupied servants quarters.
When Acid Michael arrived from San Francisco with Owsley product (LSD, STP & THC colour-coded, embossed) the festivities were extensive and regularly upset our mainly Hindu neighbours.
By this time I had discovered the opium houses of Banaras and acquired my first habit; one day I met a Swami near the burning ghats. He was interested in the 'different' foreigners, came with me to Sursari Niwas and met Pete, Jasper and others.
Pete became the very first shishya (disciple) of Swami Damodaranand Bharati and they went together up to the Himalayan foothills (Almora - where?) & Swamiji persuaded Pete to give him Rupees 1000 (a large sum in those days) for "the rehabilitation of Nick" and leaving Pete in the hills, Swamiji came down to Banaras and took me in hand ("If you wish it ...... I WILL RESCUE YOU!"). Oh yeah ..... I got rescued.
Subsequently, Pete and I lived in an earthen village house in Ram Nagar for several months with a couple of other disciples while Swamiji went down to Kerala to prepare his old mother for our arrival into their 300 year old Nambishan Brahmin house in Nareekamvalli, North Kerala.
Pete lived there in Kerala with us and his epilepsy (grand mal - citation?) was successfully treated by an Ayurvedic Vaidya (Doctor), a story in itself.
Other disciples were Bobby Sutter & Ruth Martin (both ex Wisconsin University - College year In India programme at Banaras Hindu University), and Peter Branch, perhaps there was another boy. Many stories could be told of those days and nights in the remote Kerala countryside.
London:
Pete decided to go back to the UK in 1968 and never, as far as I know, returned to India.
Living with his (Czech? Hungarian?) mother in Kew, he started a business selling old clothes under the motorway arches on the Portobello Road Market in London and did well. For a time I assisted him in the acquisition of collarless shirts and Army/Navy overcoats from the scrap cloth merchants he knew in the East End of London; this was always on Thursdays and the clothes were laundered on the Fridays and sold on racks during the Saturday market. He moved out of his mothers house & rented a flat nearby the 'Bello' in Quentin Avenue.
When Andrew Somerville began importing and exporting (which?) second-hand pianos from (or to?) Europe (and/or Ireland? Dates?) Pete saw a business opportunity and though virtually tone-deaf set up "The Piano House", first in (???) in Kilburn and then in the more upmarket (??) in South Hampstead.
Moline, Illinois, USA:
He later sold the piano business, maybe married before then, but certainly did marry a lady from the USA and moved to Moline with her. She had a son, so he acquired a step-son. Pete continued in business with later a Head Shop or two. He may have befriended Howard Marks who was languishing in nearby Joliet Prison at the time.
In 1996 (confirm ??) he visited the UK and made the rounds of his friends, giving some of them each £100, which was jolly useful to me I can say. His rationale for this was obscure, but in retrospect perhaps he knew he was near death, as he died soon after his return to the USA.
He was a complex and odd character, generous and miserly, loyal to his friends and a bad enemy. I loved him for enabling my relationship with my Guru and for many small kindnesses & generosities over decades of friendship and trust. RIP Rat!
  • Andrew Somerville wrote:
"I first encountered Pete the Rat in Benares 1967 - he dropped by on us at the Sanskrit University hot foot from the fleshpots of Calcutta with a girl on either arm."
"Years later I helped out sometimes with his market stall in Portobello Rd & Gloucester Green (Oxford). He called it "The Retreat from Moscow". He was still playing poker regularly every week. He viewed me mainly as a rather unworldly old fuddy duddy."
"Then he got wind of my exploits in the used piano trade between London & West Germany and thought he'd like a go at it too. I showed him the ropes, loading up as usual at Jimmy Reid's in Tottenham and driving over to Giessen. He still had relations on his mother's side in Germany and used the opportunity to look them up."
"Instead, he set up a proper bricks & mortar shop where he learned more than I ever did about the insides of pianos, though that's not saying much. But he prospered, married an American lady, acquired a step son & moved to Moline, Illinois. I believe that he & the wife, a devout Christian, parted company, but that he & the boy remained firm friends."
"He came by my place, too, on his last trip to London & stayed the night before heading off to the airport. He looked frail but had a benign air about him, quite contemplative. The old edgy bravado was lacking. I expect you're right that he knew this was the last time he'd see any of us from the old days. He didn't give me £100, but I don't hold it against him. How did the news of his death reach us? Was it through Jasper?"
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