Big L '97 – The Walton Time-warp

A knee-jerking account by Mary Payne

Part 7 – August 15th – a strange day with the Yeoman Rose gone.
August 16th, the Reunion Dinner and Summer of Love Party


Dateline Friday, August 15th

How strange it was waking up without the company of either Lil or Chris Elliot's Breakfast Show. With no necessity to speed off in my car down the country lanes to Walton, I was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast for a change. How excruciatingly boring!

Back in my room, I rang Fluff, who was at home, busily packing to come down and join me. He gave me the wavelength for Radio Caroline, which I figured would be the only other station I could bear listening to at present. Reception wasn't brilliant, but I managed to tune in. Shortly afterwards, at approximately 10.40am, the station played A Day In the Life as a tribute to Radio London. It marked the moment the Yeoman Rose came sailing past the Ross Revenge on her journey home to Kent. Two stations that had been operating as pirates on ships anchored miles apart from each other thirty years ago, were for a brief time reunited. In 1997 both stations were legal broadcasters, both commemorating the anniversary of the Marine Offences Bill. Now, as had never occurred in the 'Sixties, the two ships were only a few breakers (or maybe 'a short wave'?) away from each other. It was a reunion that nobody had ever expected to happen, but thanks to Ray, it had. It was such a moving moment that I was obliged to dive for the man-size tissues again.

Having recovered, it was time for me to change residence, and move my gear into a double room in preparation for Fluff's arrival.

There were many local places I could have visited, and indeed, would have liked to, but where else could I go except Walton pier? The shop was open, Caroline and Abbie were poised for action and Chris was there to sign books. However, the sight of the empty stretch of sea where the Yeoman Rose had been was heartbreaking.

'General' Jim, the train driver, was very sad we were going. He had really got into the swing of the RSL and was now in the habit of stopping outside the shop, to announce over his PA system:

"This is the Radio London shop, where famous disc jockey, Chris Elliot is here today signing copies of his book." Definitely a candidate to be considered for having his own show on Big L, I'd say.

Right: Shopkeeper supreme, Maxine

We met Phil Mitchell and his family from Clacton. Phil had been the lead singer with the Style, a group promoted by Radio London. Apparently, his daughter had thought Big L was boring at first, because the music was unfamiliar to her, her mother told us. Within a day or two, though, she loved it, and was joining in and singing all the jingles!

I went on a little shopping expedition to Walton. I'd brought one of my flower power ensembles with me to wear to the Saturday 'Summer of Love' do, and I was in search of some artificial blooms to carry, to complete the look. I was hoping to find some tall ones, such as gladioli, at prices cheap enough for me to give away. My main plan was that they should be used as distress flares. (My own outfit, incidentally, already included trousers fitting that description). The idea was to hand tall flowers out to mob-prone celebrities such as Mr Skues, then, if a rabid Skuesmaniac went on the rampage, he would only need to wave his floral accessory aloft and Superhugo could rush in and rescue him.

A charity shop yielded some small, white roses. They were hardly what I had in mind, but they were cheap, and better than nothing, so I bought up their entire stock. In the 'pirate money-box' shop, I discovered a long-stemmed (Yeoman) rose, which was more in line with the size of flower I wanted, but the roses were too expensive for bulk purchase and I had to settle for just one. Finally, in another shop, I came across the ultimate hippie accessory a giant windmill in the shape of a sunflower. It's great striding down the street with a huge grin radiating from your face and your sunflower swirling merrily in the breeze, I tell you! Especially when you're forty-seven, and on the 'high' of a lifetime. In fact, on the off-chance that anyone reading this hasn't tried the swirling sunflower experience, I can strongly recommend it to children of all ages. It's extremely therapeutic and stress-relieving, and it's worth doing just to see the expression on the faces of people coming towards you. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to enjoy this for very long as I had to go and stash all my exciting booty in my car booty and keep it hidden till tomorrow night.

There were still a few die-hard Anoraks about, but not much was happening. Chris and I went to the Victory for a lunchtime drink with a chap called Richard. His wife and family, weary of all the Big L talk, had abandoned him, arranging to meet him later. I deeply sympathise with those whose partners are unafflicted with anoraxia. (Just what do you people see in these heretics?) We should definitely organise a dating agency for match-making the lonely knees of the hooded hordes! We could call it 'Patella Partners', 'Happy Hairies' or 'Touching Caps' but we might have to draw the line at 'Knocking Together'.

Late that afternoon, Fluff rang to say he had arrived at Wix, and was very thirsty, so we arranged to meet there in the local pub. I told Chris we would see him later in the Victory. It occurred to me that, at last, I would have someone else to chauffeur me. I could allow my patellas to become inKNEEbriated!

I think Chris had been rather concerned about my well-being up to this point, erroneously believing me to be a tee-totaller. I simply hadn't been able to consume any alcohol all week because I always had to drive back to Wix. The three of us had a great evening in the company of Ian Fletcher, one of the lads who ran the tender, his father, and Eddie the Anorak. Chris was staying at the Barnard Lee, Eddie's guest house. We had often encountered him, either on the pier, or rushing off it to do a quick-change of cassette in his perpetually-operating recording machine. Eddie was also a committed flasher, so the Barnard Lee, being on the front, provided a useful site for this purpose.

Ian's Dad, who had served with the Walton and Frinton lifeboat crew during the heyday of the pirates, entertained us with tales of rushing to the assistance of the off-shore stations in various crises. Contrary to what the Government would have had us believe at the time, not all lifeboatmen considered the pirates a nuisance. The crews were mostly young men who were listeners to the stations themselves and proud to be a part of the whole adventure. Interestingly enough, the plaque on the lifeboat station commemorating services rendered by the Walton and Frinton lifeboats refers to the pirate radio stations by their air-signs, rather than by the names of the ships or forts housing them. Big L is listed as 'Wireless transmitting station Radio London'. Although, by another of those weird 'non-coincidences', the plaque revealed that in July of 1964, the Elizabeth Elsun lifeboat had gone to the aid of a yacht named Galaxy.

By the time the Victory closed, my knees were, indeed, fairly 'briated'! Fluff and I departed for Wix, while the intrepid Eddie and Chris staggered off to another venue.



Dateline Saturday August 16th

This morning was even stranger than yesterday. Not only did I wake up without the company of either Lil or Chris Elliot's Breakfast Show, but I discovered an vaguely familiar-looking man sharing my bed!

We decided to go to Harwich to look around the Vintage Wireless Museum. The only problem was, we couldn't find it. Enquiries at the local library drew a blank, which did not bode well, so we went walkabout to see if we could spot it. Eventually, by asking at another museum, we did discover the location of the one we wanted, in a former lighthouse, but were disappointed to find the place shut. As there was no sign outside to identify the building as the museum, and no opening times were displayed, we didn't imagine it got many visitors.

We headed back to Wix in the early afternoon, allowing plenty of time for my transformation. My persona was to be switched from its regular 'dippy' into 'trippy hippy' for the Reunion Dinner and Summer of Love Party. I dressed in a swirling-patterned, multi-coloured, psychedelic two-piece, with a tie-around bra top and flared trousers trimmed with an orange fringe. Favouring the understated look, I bedecked my body with face paint, bells, sparkly stars and moons and a mass of love beads, whilst sporting a mini horticultural show in my hair.

Meanwhile Fluff, who tends not to go in for dressing-up to the same extent as me, was sorting out Stuart's DAT machine in preparation for recording the evening's speeches. He opted to wear his new Radio London t-shirt.

The evening started early, in order to fit in the dinner and the party, but it went far too fast. I made my grand entrance at the restaurant in Clacton, the picture of 1967 hippie chic, with my windmill and rose held aloft, ready to hang out with all my heroes, man. Well, I gave everyone a laugh, if nothing else.

The two guys who had the misfortune of having to sit either side of me for the meal were John Cooper (on my right) and Chris E (on my left). Fluff only had to suffer sitting opposite – and he's used to me anyway. I think I behaved myself very well really.

The Roman Emperor was to preside over proceedings. Having forgotten the toga again, he had donned an emperor penguin outfit to deliver his after-dinner speech via a megaphone. Mark paid emotional tribute to our heroine, Big Lil and also to the memory of those greatly-missed individuals who had loved her as much as everyone present. They were surely there with us in spirit that night.

Left side of table: The Emperor Penguin and daughter Debbie. Opposite: Tom Danaher and Roman Empress, Jan

Although Mark was the only designated speaker, many others were impelled to rise to their feet to add their own eulogies and anecdotes. As mentioned at the beginning of this story, I made my own impromptu contribution as self-appointed representative of the listeners. I simply had to use that word 'wonderful' again to describe what an incredible, life-changing event Big L '97 had been. I offered my appreciation to Ray and the guys and implored them to bring Lil back IMMEDIATELY!

The speeches went on much longer than had been intended originally, and our arrival at the Prince's Theatre was overdue. Fluff and I gave a lift from the restaurant to the theatre to John 'Purpleknees' Edward, (member 17) a man with whom I had exchanged a number of missives on the subject of patellas during his sojourn on the Galaxy.
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