7 Days Later - What Really Happened To Robbo?
A DIG 99.8 Re-PRINT
The first 'Battle Of Hastings' event had just wrapped up and I’d made plans to visit Robbo’s trails, ‘Villij’ while his teammate Dylan Lewis was over in the UK from Australia. I was actually looking forward to it for a while as the thought of a full day in the woods with those guys was more than appealing. We hung out and shot photos the whole time with Robbo ending the session pretty much riding in the dark as I got him kicking out over a hip for one last photo. It was pretty much a perfect day. We said our goodbyes and I left to drive back north to Scotland late that evening.
It was seven days later when I received a message from Gaz Sanders letting me know that something awful had happened. Details were sparse...
"We hung out and shot photos the whole time with Robbo ending the session pretty much riding in the dark as I got him kicking out over a hip for one last photo."
- Fred Murray
Over a year later and it’s just gone 9 pm somewhere in the Midlands and I’m sat in a tiny wooden shed in Robbo’s mum’s back garden, while the wind howls around it. Robbo is eating some homemade quiche that he nearly burnt. His girlfriend sits on my other side rolling a spliff while trying to usher in Robbo’s cat from the cold. I hadn’t seen Robbo since a week before his accident and I didn’t know what to expect other than a few Instagram posts and text messages. He’s perched on a woven wooden chair and refuses anymore cushions. He’s stoned and clearly a bit anxious about a normal chat turning into a recorded interview.
Maybe it was just me, I was certainly nervous asking about an event that has changed his life. I didn’t want it to feel forced but the fact I’d driven 250 miles to see him was already out of the ordinary. Trying to check if your laptop is actually recording without being detected is difficult. I was terrified of the double tap. Robbo offered me a beer and I began to question him about the night of the accident.
“I went to work then went to the trails. Dylan Lewis was there – he stayed an extra week after Battle Of Hastings so came up to Villij to film some more. We rode and then got a bit drunk. We just chilled really. There’s a quarry behind the trails, we go there all the time and just hang out. It’s a nice little spot. Well, we were chilling there – I was with two guys called Vanilla and Potter. I think we didn’t have a lighter so those two went off for one and I chilled at the quarry. I was like, ‘Ah, I’ll just stay here.’ I was there for a bit and then just stood up and slipped – I had no idea I was that close to the edge. I remember everything. Even the fall. It was really dark at the time. That was that.”
Robbo laughs and shrugs his shoulders. A thing I’ve learnt about him over the years is that he keeps things simple and to stream off into a self-indulgent monologue is not his style. I question him some more about the height of the fall. “My friend went down recently with a laser measuring thing and said it was about 70 feet to the top. I was hitting stuff on the way down. What is crazy is I remember my face grinding down the side of the drop.”
At this point I felt like some dickhead suit on the news mindlessly asking someone how they feel after some horrible trauma, but I need more. With a bit of coercion from his girlfriend he eased into the details. “I woke up on my own at the bottom of the cliff in the rain. I knew where I was. I tried moving about but I could only move my arms and a bit of my body. I checked my pockets and there was nothing in there but I looked up and I could see my iPod and my hat. I tried to get up and couldn’t. I was like ‘fucking hell man’. I just lay down for a while but I knew I had to try and ring someone. I just started crying. I thought I was fucked. I remember dragging myself over to reach my iPod and it was smashed, fucking smashed up. So I dragged myself a bit more and get to my shitty iPhone 4 and somehow it’s not got a scratch on it, not a mark. The battery on that thing was always shit and when I got over to it there was only 30% left. It was on its way out.”
In typical Robbo style not wanting to cause a scene, he didn’t even call 999 – he dialled up his friend Cambridge instead. “I thought he must be at the trails that night, he’s got to be there. I had to ring him two times. He couldn’t find me for ages but finally came running down the hill towards me. I asked him if my face was ok and he immediately went totally white. It was pretty weird seeing him like that, I’d never seen that before. He rang 999 and they wanted to airlift me out of there but I was like, ‘nah fuck that.’ It would have been such a drama - I didn’t want it to look bad on the trails either. They stretchered me out of there and in to the ambulance. When they put me in I remember they were cutting off my clothes and they went for my jacket.” Robbo laughs and waves his hands in the air. “I was like ‘No, no. You can get this off me! Don’t cut it up.’ They cut it. Weirdly a few months before the accident someone had mentioned in passing about the Nottingham hospital having amazing back specialists, so when the ambulance wanted to take me to Leicester I told them to go to Notts instead. I was right as well!”
Walking behind Robbo earlier on the way to his mum’s shed I noticed a slight twist to his body and one of his legs seemed to be stronger than the other. I quizzed him about what damage he’d actually done. “Part of my vertebrae got smashed – just like a biscuit…” Robbo slams his hands together. “I must have just arsed the floor. I totally smashed it. The doctors collected what they could of my vertebrae and put it back together with twelve screws and three plates at the bottom of my back. The first while I was in the hospital, for ages I didn’t know what was going on.” Robbo becomes increasingly more serious as he continues his story. His joint has been lit a few times but still sits un-smoked. “For a moment I thought I’d fucking jumped. I was on some really heavy painkillers. I was hallucinating half the time. It was crazy. I didn’t know what was going on for about two weeks. I didn’t really sleep much. It’s actually funny some of the stuff I remember, it makes me laugh. Two days after I had the operation on my back, my friend Steve came in to see me and always talks about how I was trying to move and itch my legs. The people in there said I’d never walk again but he always said I’d be ok. Funnily enough I was itching so much because of all the morphine and medication. You get the itches. Man, I couldn’t shit for like two weeks.” Robbo laughs. “It backed me up bad. When I did go it was fucking savage. I had to have enemas in the hospital – I lost all my dignity but I didn’t give a fuck. They were helping me out. I was just bed ridden. They said I wasn’t going anywhere and probably wouldn’t walk again. I was trying to walk with a zimmer frame two weeks later.” Robbo’s girlfriend gazes at him admiringly and tells him how amazing he is. “Man I was just in a room bored. It was well funny, I stayed in the room Prince Charles stayed in when he was there. I think they were whacking that ball around on the horse, you know… polo. He must have fallen off. One of the nurses was there when he was staying and she told me I had much better manners than he did. She said he was a bit of an arsehole. The room was pretty nice, with windows all around. I remember waking up one night high off my tits on meds and thinking I was stuck on the wall. It was like I was looking down through the windows below me. I was in there for three months. In Nottingham hospital for two weeks then transferred to Leicester rehabilitation for the rest.”
"I just started crying. I thought I was fucked."
Robbo isn’t the kind of guy to talk unnecessarily but he’ll be the first one to give you the biggest smile in the room and ask you how it’s going. It seemed that this personality trait extended to his stay in hospital and may have made his time easier. “I got fully involved with the other patients around me. There were people in there who had strokes and stuff. I was the youngest person in there. I actually quite liked it, it was fun. Egging each other on to do better was good. I’m still friends with some of them on Facebook. I actually give one of them weed edibles now!” He bursts out in laughter. “She busted me while I was in there. It’s really hard to sleep in there, there’s lights on all the time so I needed to do something. At first I was going out in my wheel chair bombing around the outside of the hospital trying to smoke a spliff and I’d just get so paranoid coming back stinking of weed. It’s kind of shit for everyone else and it felt totally bait. I was going straight back to my bed, in, head under the covers. I was not about all that. My friend said he could sort me out with some edibles – weedy fudge is really good. I was banging those and it definitely helped. I watched a lot of seasons of TV shows. I killed Breaking Bad. I’d never really watched TV before – that was pretty cool. I have to say, I didn’t really watch much BMX. I’ve started watching more now. That Rich Forne edit was the shit. I’ve been shooting a lot more photos too since the accident. What else am I going to do?”
It’s probably thirty minutes in and I’ve noticed Robbo squirming in his seat slightly like he was getting uncomfortable. “I’m in pain all the time. Always. You just kind of get used to it. It’s been a year and I’m not doing bad, it’s got a bit easier. I can ride around you know. I never thought about not being able to ride again. The doctors said I wouldn’t walk again but I just thought ‘Fuck them. They don’t know me.’ I started walking when I was eight months old, I’m not about to stop now. I’ve always said, if you want to do something that bad, you can do it. Whatever you put your mind to. Who knows what will happen with the riding – I don’t care. We made one of the small lines at Villij into rollers and tabletops so you could just roll through it. I went through and I thought I could have definitely jumped them. It was nice to just flow through the woods. It’s just time, that’s all. It sucks that I can’t build down there, I fucking hate it. You just don’t know what’s going to happen though. I could barely move my feet and now I can walk around and ride a bit. I think I could have jumped the first few at Villij this year but I just don’t want it to feel like shit – what’s the point? I know how it should feel. It did kind of worry me, you know, the balance and stuff, but I know how to ride. It’s actually easier for me to ride a bike than walk down the street. It’s so much easier. What I do need to say though is the hospital were so good. People moan about the NHS but fuck that man. Full on, it’s fucking awesome. Don’t ever diss that shit. If I lived in the states I’d be fucked right now. Thousands. I’ve got no debt – nothing. It’s fucking crazy, I totally appreciate all that.”
Robbo began to twist in his chair as he noticeably became more and more uncomfortable. The thought of the plates and screws deep within his back were enough of a cue to tie things up. His honest and lackadaisical attitude to his whole experience left me with a sense of motivation and admiration, despite ever being able to imagine waking up in his position that fateful day. He didn’t seem too bothered about talking about it in the end, he just wanted to eat more quiche. - FM
Editor’s Note: Since this article was written Robbo is back on his bike and tearing things up more each day. Follow his progress (and his great 35mm photography) on Insta @villijrobbo
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