Fine, It's Caroline!
By the late Jenni Baynton
I became a 'galley slave' and survived a close encounter with an IFO (Identified
(There's also a great story about the fantastic jacket Jenni's wearing in the pic!)
After 'rediscovering' pirate radio with the Summer 1997 Radio
London RSL, and having a simply 'Wonderful' time in January 1997, serving in
the shop on board the Ocean Defender during Big L's Winter 97/98 RSL, I couldn't
wait to repeat the experience in some form or another.
Some friends had spent a weekend as part of the working party on board the Radio Caroline ship, Ross Revenge and suggested this might be of interest to me. My telephone number was passed on to Dave Francis, co-ordinator for working parties on board the Ross, who left a message on my answerphone for me to ring him. Dave tried everything he could to put me off by describing the conditions on board ship, but I think he soon realised that I can be quite stubborn and refuse to be fazed by trivia. That first telephone conversation was rather a long one put it this way, by the time we had finished discussing things all the hundreds and thousands had sunk to the bottom of Dave's trifle! (He was eating his dinner at the time).
Dave and I discussed what my role (if any) would be on board the Ross. I explained that paintbrushes and myself are probably best left apart but I would be willing to have a stab at anything else. My hand was nearly bitten off when I said I would be willing to become 'Ship's Cook' evidently meals on the Ross up to then had consisted of sausages, more sausages, yet more sausages and (of course) the inevitable baked beans.
I had never seen the Ross Revenge, let alone visited her, so I was very excited when I met up with my friend Pauline and her husband Dave (other potential volunteers) at Queenborough, back in May. We spent what seemed to be hours helping to load up the tender with provisions, paint, tools and water before donning life jackets and making the short journey out to the ship. I then had the never-to-be-forgotten experience and privilege of stepping on board 'The Lady' truly a living legend.
'Stepping on board' sounds a lot easier than it actually is. The reality is clinging on for dear life while clambering up a steep ladder on the side of the ship from a tender which will just not stay still! After the ship's company have made their precarious journey without managing to fall in the drink, all the cargo has to be unloaded. It is a real eye-opener to see the vast quantities of water which have to be manhandled on board. Unless the Ross is berthed near to shore where it is possible to connect water pipes, all supplies are brought aboard in this way.
My first day on board the Ross was spent exploring and taking photographs. I was shown the cabins, which are below the waterline, windowless, airless, cramped and pitch black. I was warned that if the generator is switched off at night, the cabin lights (such as they are) are extinguished too. The 'water' situation was explained every drop is precious and cannot be wasted on 'luxuries' such as a daily wash, let alone (heaven forbid) a bath! For someone who cannot live without her daily shower this could have been the killer, but by now I was beginning to feel a great deal of affection for 'The Old Rustbucket'. Even more desperate than a sudden drop in the standards of personal hygiene is the state of the loos on board the Ross. Despite everyone's best efforts they are ancient, flushed with sea water (not always that efficiently either, I might add) and rather smelly!
By this time, after my 'warts and all' initiation to the delights of the Ross Revenge, I suspected that Dave half expected me to cry off. Even I wondered quite what I'd let myself in for when I agreed to spend a 'sample' weekend on board.
My first weekend on the ship was spent cleaning the galley and taking an inventory of food and kitchen equipment (and cooking meals, of course!). A quick count-up revealed that the store cupboard contained no less than 76 cans of baked beans (decidedly dodgy, to say the least!). Even the fact that these beans were not the 'leading brand' failed to put me off (I was already hooked on the Ross) and Pauline, Dave and myself became fully paid-up members of the Caroline Organisation.
This was just the beginning......
My work colleagues soon started to raise their eyebrows when I'd announce on Friday afternoons that I was off on yet another 'dirty weekend'. The simple fact is that weekends spent on the Ross are just that until recently the ship did not even have running hot water.
I soon discovered that being 'Ship's Cook' is not an easy task when half the kitchen equipment is nearly as old as the ship. The galley on the Ross has a Calor gas stove on which the grill and burners function quite well, albeit a little on the slow side. The oven is another matter it has a faulty thermostat and fails to come up to temperature, so it's a waste of time trying to cook anything in it unless you have several days to spare! As well as the gas stove there is a small, electric oven (which, frustratingly, burns everything) and a microwave. After several desperate attempts to cook inside the gas oven I gave up and concentrated on dishes that would cook on top of the stove.
Mealtimes on board the Ross Revenge tend to be fitted around whatever work is in progress at the time. I soon realised it was impractical to produce a large, cooked breakfast first thing in the morning, because most of the crew are quite happy to grab a coffee and slice of toast before disappearing to begin the day's work. It is also very difficult to pin everyone down to a single sitting at lunch time, but a large, cooked 'brunch', kept warm in the electric oven, is welcomed by all around midday, plus (of course) a constant, endless stream of tea and coffee. At Southend several visitors to the ship donated packs of teabags and jars of coffee, all of which were VERY much appreciated!
The evening meal is the main meal of the day and this is sometimes eaten as late as 10pm. Anything and everything is devoured by what is then a very hungry crew. This meal is always a very relaxed, jolly, social occasion and is usually followed up with a few beers/glasses of wine, often into the early hours of the next morning. Occasionally, these drinks are taken up to the Record Library and accompanied by whatever takes the crew's fancy from the selection of 17,000 vinyl records. There are no neighbours to disturb when you are out at sea!
Sometimes, other people would exercise their culinary skills on board ship. On one hilarious occasion, my friend Linda and I were promised pancakes with tinned peaches for breakfast. These treats duly arrived and to our dismay the pancakes were gigantic things, as big as cartwheels, inches thick, soggy and half-cooked. What was worse, they were stone cold and there were TWO each! Linda and I both suddenly got a fit of the giggles and found it very hard to keep a straight face when J, the pancake chef, bless him, asked us if we were enjoying our breakfast. J would just NOT go away and hovered around for ages, waiting to see us sampling his culinary delights. Linda and I grew more and more desperate and as soon as J's back was turned we flew out onto the deck and ditched the whole lot over the side. Undetected crime, we thought. The next weekend, I was busy in the galley when I heard Linda, who could barely speak for laughing, calling me to "Come quickly, Jenni!". She pointed over the side, where, to my horror, I spied a pancake floating past the ship! It seems that even the fish had rejected J's best efforts!
On 21st June, the Ross Revenge was moved to the end of Southend Pier, where she would spend the summer months. I must confess, I felt very proud when I first saw the ship in her new berth. The Queenborough painting party had done a beautiful job, making dramatic improvements to her cosmetically. John Knight, Dave Francis and John Boak had worked very hard to convert the old Chart Room behind the Bridge into a shop selling a wide range of Caroline merchandise. A gangplank, water pipes and electricity cables were duly laid on and the Ross was ready to play 'host' to the 4,000 visitors who would make the train journey to the end of the pier especially to see her.
At this point I must also mention the people who worked so hard behind the scenes, doing the 101 (very) dirty, sometimes unpleasant, engineering, electrical and mechanical jobs, most of which are not always immediately apparent to the casual visitor. A huge THANK YOU must go to Peter Clayton (2nd Engineer), Tommy the Welder and others too numerous to mention.
The days at Southend with the Ross on public view were very hectic ones, with constant streams of visitors turning up for guided tours, coupled with the excitement of a 28-day RSL. All visitors to the ship were greeted most admirably by the lovely Peter Smith, who soon earned himself the nickname 'Peter the Plank'. Peter was on gangplank duty each and every day without fail whilst the ship was at Southend, at times standing in blazing sunshine, without complaint.
A poignant memory which I shall keep close to my heart forever is of August 14th, yes, THAT day. Caroline had adopted a special 'Sixties' format that weekend to celebrate her continuation and to pay tribute to Radio London and other pirate radio stations which were forced to close down because of The Marine Offences, etc. Act of 1967. The sheer nostalgia of hearing all that fabulous music, coupled with original Caroline jingles and advertisements and not only that, ACTUALLY coming from 'The Lady' herself, was too much for me. I am not ashamed to confess that I disappeared into my cabin and had a little cry.
Another unforgettable moment from that weekend was when 'Peter the Plank' came into the galley, tears in his eyes, to announce that visitors to the pier were dancing and singing along to the music. Many, many positive comments were made by everyone, old and young by all accounts, the crowd loved it!
I feel very honoured to be one of the few women to have actually stayed on board the Ross Revenge. Sometimes I have been the only woman on board (don't all rush at once, girls!). Quite seriously, all women on board the Ross are treated with the greatest respect.
It is very difficult to sum up the reason why I cannot wait to spend my weekends on board a rusty old fishing trawler. The charisma which Radio Caroline holds for me is hard to define in a few words, but I will do my best. Radio Caroline IS 'The Lady', but the essence and spirit of Caroline is so much more. It is the studios, the record library, the music, the DJ's, the crew, the camaraderie, the listeners, the visitors to the ship...in short, EVERYTHING that makes Britain's last surviving pirate radio ship so special, magical and unique.
Here is Jenny's great story surrounding the picture at the top of the article.
"The jacket used to belong to Graham
L Hall, who presents the Caroline Country show on Saturday
evenings. I'd much admired the embroidered Caroline logo you can see
on the top pocket, which Graham had had done specially for him. When
I asked Graham if he could get one of my jeans jackets embroidered for
me, he said he could do even better than that he would swop the
jacket for my Radio London jacket. He desperately wanted a Big L jacket,
but had been unable to get one. I said, 'No way!', 'cos I knew I'd probably
never be able to replace my Radio London jacket.
As you can guess, I really love my Caroline jacket, and the fact that it belonged to Graham makes it doubly precious.
Jenni and Graham at Caroline's Maidstone Studios.