August 8th saw me loading my car on a glorious, sunny morning to make my return
pilgrimage to Walton. As I don't enjoy driving very much, I was anxious to reach
the other end of this journey, where Lil awaited me, as soon as possible. Butterflies
with hobnailed boots were stomping on my stomach and I longed for the loan of
the starship Enterprise's handy transporter.
As it transpired, the journey was remarkably straightforward and uneventful. Within four hours of leaving Stoke Mandeville at 10.15am, I was once more setting-up my faithful trannie in a hotel room in Wix. It was all I could do to restrain myself from dumping everything on the floor and heading straight for Walton pier. I showered, changed, drank tea and conducted myself in an adult, civilised manner. Then I rushed off to the pier!
When I arrived at the shop, I enquired of Caroline and Abbie about my chances of getting a space on the tender. Some of the DJs were also there, waiting to return to the ship. They immediately decided it was imperative that I accompanied them because I had uttered the magic words, "I have brought cakes". This phrase, I quickly discovered, would unlock more doors than "Open Sesame".
During the journey to the end of the pier on the little train, Paul Graham explained to me about the unforeseen problem that had reared its ugly head since my first visit, and which was causing everyone tremendous grief.
A safety inspection had forced the introduction of a regulation that only twelve persons were allowed to be aboard the Yeoman Rose at any one time. Because this low head count included the crew of Captain and First Mate, plus all the Big L personnel, life became extremely difficult. Nobody could have anticipated the instigation of such a restriction, or the headaches that would ensue from attempting to alleviate the resulting problems. To allow visitors on board, an equal number of people were required to get off (stand down). By now, the two dirtiest words in the English language as far as the Big L team was concerned had become 'stand' and 'down'. Anyone not actually broadcasting, engineering or conducting tours had to go. People who should have been aboard the Yeoman Rose were frequently finding themselves in No Man's Land, travelling back and forth to the pier on the Lady Gwen. The Yeoman Rose wasn't exactly in dangerous waters. She was anchored within spitting distance of the pier, and consequently the Lifeboat Station, in a depth of less than twenty feet of water. Had the ship sunk, nobody standing on her deck would have as much as got their feet wet, but safety rules must be obeyed.
Possibly the quote of the month on the subject came from Pete MacFarlane:
"If you can wait for ten minutes I don't mind standing down," he told Captain Pete, "But I have to read the news first!"
(Picture - Pete MacFarlane tries to read the news very quickly...)
Once aboard the Lady Gwen, I was teasing the guys about a mystery gift secreted in my rucksack which I suspected would be greeted with much greater excitement than the cake.
What I bore within my rucksack was a CD, but no ordinary commercially-available recording. After my first visit, I had decided that when I returned to the ship, I wanted to bring a selection of my own singles which I had acquired because they were particular Big Lil favourites. It would have been a risk, not to mention cumbersome, to have to transport the original precious pieces of vinyl. During my temporary absence from the Walton Time-warp, however, I had availed myself of 1997 technology. I selected around 30 singles, twenty-seven of which fitted snugly onto a CD, digitally recorded and mastered by Fluff. He used the latest computer software to remove the crackles and scratches accumulated by years of ill-treatment from auto-change record players with blunt styli. The accompanying sleeve-notes were written by me, and we christened the compilation Anorax Trax - Big Lil's Climbers. Making the CD was seen simply as a method of cleaning-up a pile of singles and putting them together in a convenient form for me to transport them to the ship. However, I had not bargained for the incredible response the recording generated.
After giving me the Spanish Inquisition, the jocks had established that the exciting mystery item I carried was neither edible nor alcoholic, nor did it require inflation with a bicycle pump. Yet, I assured them, it was something that was going to delight them more than the promised cake. They were intrigued as to what it could be. I told them they would find out soon enough.