Radio NorthSea Infiltration

April Anorak Kneeport from Harwich

The main reason for Chris and I deciding to visit RNI 2000 at Harwich on Sunday, April 16th, was to make a second attempt at a successful kneeunion with Tony Currie, the man so infamous North of the Border that we are assured that letters addressed only to 'Tony Currie, Scotland' will reach him. We had first met this superstar aboard the Yeoman Rose during Big L '97. To participate in RNI 2000, Tony had escaped the previous day from a barred institution in the Highlands known as 'The Beeb'. Mr Curried Knees was now installed on the Mebo III. Paul Graham had foolishly allowed him to stay aboard during the week of the full moon.

Above: John Sales stands 'preserved' for posterity

Those who have read the account of my 1999 RNI adventure will know that attempted kneeunions with Tony are not blessed with good fortune. During my last life-threatening trip to the red lightship, Tony had spent most of the short time I was aboard trying to hold me down. This was no rampant sex attack, merely a brave, but futile attempt to stop me from shaking. The violent juddering that beset me as a result of my hair-raising ride on (and nearly off) Doug's rigid inflatable had been in danger of wrenching the ship apart.

This time, no such access problems were anticipated. "Oh good," we thought, "The lightship isn't out at sea. We should have no trouble getting to her this time." Wrong! No matter where any radio ship is anchored, it's always going to be a case of 'so near, yet so far away'.

We rendezvoused with Pauline, CK and John Sales in the ideal meeting place – the East Coast Rock Cafe. Landlord Geoff, an Anorak of extreme good taste, has plastered the walls of the pub with offshore radio memorabilia and photocopies of Sixties press cuttings instead of wallpaper. He also advertised on RNI and had the station playing in his bar. What a hero!

We were all glad (so were the DJs) that for this broadcast, the idea of representing one particular month of the original RNI had been abandoned. After spending just one week aboard, most people who participated last summer, never wanted to hear anything from that particular playlist ever again! RNI 2000 contains much more variety, and the boxes of discs are being swapped regularly. There's plenty to remind us that the music of the early Seventies harboured some very weird extremes, veering wildly from novelties, teeny-bop and glitter, into prog rock and back. (Cynics might call it going from Chinnichap to pretentious claptrap.) Sampling a bit of everything typically played on the station in the Seventies, with revived 45s thrown in, RNI 2000 currently wears the crown as the ONLY radio station in the UK (probably the world) playing a mix of oldies and album tracks, a large percentage of which does not consist of ex-chart hits.

Back in the pub, having checked on the phone with Tony O'Neil, who was organising the tender trips, we discovered they were only scheduled to be running until 2.00pm. The time being past 1.30, we had to get down to the pier fast!

The dinghy was just leaving the Mebo III, and when it delivered its consignment of passengers to the pier, Pauline explained to the skipper that five of us needed to get to the ship. He told us that we'd only be able to spend around fifteen minutes on there, so she asked him if he was open to bribery. We were pleased to hear that, despite being desperate to get to the pub, he was. There wasn't room to take five people in the dinghy at once, and having gone to this much effort to pay a visit, we all wanted to be able to spend much longer than that on the ship.

Pauline and I, plus Chris and his recording gear were the first to take ourselves DOWN the inevitable long, rusty ladder from the pier to the dinghy. Not much later, we were taking ourselves UP the long rope ladder to the Mebo III. Once aboard, we peered through the porthole at Tony Currie, who was presenting the chart show. We were impressed by the 'on-air' lamp, which appeared to have been liberated from roadworks, circa 1965. Kneedless to say, it didn't work!

Tony was busily sorting through albums (all vinyl on RNI). Trying to ignore the copious hair sprouting from the palms of his hands, whilst suffering RF burns via the metal on his headphones, he didn't spot us. It was only when I remarked, "That's a very nice 12-inch Tony's got in his hand!" that the resulting laughter alerted the man to our presence. Once there was room to get into the studio, we went in to say hello properly. Tony was anxious to know, on-air, if I'd managed to stop shaking since nearly entering Davy Jones's Locker the previous August! I assured him that I had, but I still bore the scars. Meanwhile, Chris was busily recording every word spoken aboard the vessel, for the purpose of blackmail.

Left: Tony handles the North Sea's grooviest twelve-incher

I'd brought with me a new ship's mascot – Eight Knees the Octopus. A fine, green friend, kitted-out by me with a fetching piratical eyepatch, Eight Knees had survived the boat ride and trips up and down ladders, by hiding in my Big L anorak pocket. Tony naturally required me to explain to the RNI listener exactly what it was I'd had in my pocket, which I gladly did. I then took the opportunity of formally rechristening the lightship the 'Kneebo III'.

Tony tried sitting Eight Knees atop the microphone, but although he was only a slip of a squid, (that's Eight Knees – not Tony) he completely weighed it down. Eventually, the octopus found a new home, clinging to the top of the not-terribly-accurate RNI studio clock. Yes, he's a Klingon octopus!

Many photos were taken for the archives, with everyone attempting to obtain that elusive shot to enter in the 'Get a Pic of Paul Graham Smiling' competition. (First prize, a luxury week washing-up in the galley of the Kneebo III.)

Shortly before the end of the Chart Show, a familiar rickety posterior was spotted descending from the rickety pier via the crew-only access ladder. Ray Anderson was aboard! While he stood around yacking outside, I was required to shout, "Have you brought your theme tune, dear?" at him through the porthole. Like the superstar that he is, 30 secs before 3.00pm, Ray swept past the throngs (or should that be 'thongs?) of adoring fans outside the studio, pausing to bestow kisses upon Pauline and me as he went. With a deft pirouette, he alighted in the presenter's chair in front of the ex-Communicator desk, just in time to slide his theme tune ('Ponteo' by Woody Herman, in case you were wondering) into the cart machine and press 'go'. What a showman!

Right: Mary and Pauline take the superstar firmly in hand

Chris and I could now enjoy the on-deck reunion with Curried Knees which we'd failed to achieve since our close encounter on the Yeoman Rose in July 1997. We stood beside the RNI garden – there not being sufficient room inside it. This grassy little patch ensures that nobody aboard the Mebo III suffers from scurvy, in the event of an offshore stranding. I made a mental note to contact Alan Titchmarsh, as the garden was in dire need of a water feature and some old railway sleepers.

Also aboard today were Sharon and Mark, both of whom we'd met on the Yeoman Rose on that same, fateful July day as our first Currie encounter. The April temperature was decidedly chillier, so we soon descended the stairs to the Mess Room to make hot drinks.

Chris and I presented Paul with a print of Keefers' photo depicting feeding time aboard the Mi Amigo, which was proudly attached to the Mess Room wall.

Discussing the current problems being caused by RF, we wondered whether our old pal Ghostly Jack (didn't Steve Garlick record a song about him?) might have had a bony hand in it. (This was pure spectrelation, of course.) Suddenly, we noticed that Jack's locker was the only one with no number still attached to it. Spooky, huh? As Jack's had been locker number six, Mark suggested that the label was likely to reappear at some stage as '666'.

Left: A whole mess of Anoraks – Pauline, Mary, Tony, Sharon, Mark and Paul 'Smiley' Graham. Ghostly Jack is standing beside photographer Chris

Our ferryman having long since retired to the pub, the job of rowing everyone ashore in the dinghy was delegated to Sharon and Mark. Carefully enfolded in lifejackets, Pauline (who can't swim) and I went first. Bearing in mind that Paul Graham had already taken a dip in the harbour along with his mobile phone, we were thankful that the water was flat calm as the tide came in. It soon became apparent that the two Sea Cadet stalwarts had not earned their King Neptune Rowing Badges, as all we were doing was going around in circles. Finally, the boat seemed to be moving roughly in the right direction, but before anyone could grasp the ladder, the current pushed us straight under the pier. Eventually, with much uttering of profanities, the dinghy was navigated into the correct position, and Pauline and I were able to grasp the rusty, barnacle-encrusted rungs and clamber to the safety of the pier. We even managed to hand back our lifejackets without dropping them in the sea.

Right: Watch out for your rowlocks - we're heading for the pier via the circular route!

Chris and CK were next to leave the lightship. This time, the outboard motor was fitted to the dinghy, which meant that the craft arrived rather too suddenly at the pier, and succeeded in ramming a strut, nearly catapulting the anxious occupants into the briny. By the time the men got up the ladder, we were all feeling too cold to hang about any longer, and we arranged to meet John back at the pub, where a few bevvies soon thawed us out.

The five of us chalked up another memorable offshore day in the Anorak Annuls, and decided that next time, we'd borrow Dave Windsor's li-lo. Then we parted with the view that, for the time being, we'd probably had our fill of lockers - both Jack's and Davy Jones's.

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