Well, what a terrific and successful summer it was for the Ross Revenge at Southend, an event my other half Dave and I felt proud and privileged to be a part of. As I had experience of keeping the Big L shop on board the Ocean Defender 18 months previously, it seemed a good idea to put my shopkeeping skills to good use on board the Ross during various weekends. Meanwhile, Dave became a tour guide and, on one occasion, the loo repairer!
The first weekend we were there, unfortunately, the gangplank was not in place and so we couldn't invite visitors aboard, but where there's a will there's a way when it comes to shopkeeping: wait for high tide and sell the merchandise over the side. Several T-shirts were sold this way. However, we soon were able to have people aboard for guided tours and, these, of course, ended with victims being brought into the shop, which was set up in the chart room behind the bridge.
I met some really super people over the months, plenty of girls named Caroline but, strangely, no boys named Mi Amigo. Lots of folk came for the nostalgia, many were surprised to see we were still around and several of the kids that had been dragged aboard by nostalgic parents became fascinated with the whole thing. They thought it was "really cool" to have a radio station on board a ship - how little they know of their radio history, eh?
There were some real gems of remarks and questions along the way, such as the one from the old dear sitting on the back deck waiting for the next guided tour: "Is this the boat that takes us out to the Caroline ship?" Or the chap who asked: "When are you bringing the Ross to Birmingham?" Someone else asked if we were legal now and one person, when shown the studio, remarked: "So this is where Tony used to sit"! Another person asked if Tony Blackburn still worked for Caroline and where was he? My favourite question, though, was the frequently asked: "Is this the boat that sank?"
(Picture: Many rivers to cross? Pauline with ex-Laser DJ, Tommy
Then there was the day that ex-Radio London DJ Mark Roman visited with his wife and a couple of friends. As I hadn't seen them in the flesh, so to speak, for nearly a year it was really good to catch up with them all. It was Mark's very first visit to the Ross and so my friend Alan gave them the guided tour - yes, they did pay, the money was going towards a good cause, after all. Even Alan wasn't immune to asking strange questions, as he asked Mark if he was one of the original DJs on the Caroline ship in the sixties. He must have been thinking of an Emperor other than the Roman variety... Mark, like everyone else, finished up in the treasure trove behind the bridge and enjoyed a bit of a chinwag with another of my friends, Linda, who was minding the shop for me whilst I joined the Roman Rulers on their tour; we weren't able to persuade Mark to buy a Caroline T-shirt, though. Can't think why.
Looking after the shop was a really interesting experience, one or two people nearly bought the entire stock in one go, while others purchased smaller items. Many gave donations, and the words: "Keep the change", as spoken by several customers, is something I've always wanted to hear. I met people from all age groups and walks of life, made lots of new friends in fellow shop keepers, tour guides and crew generally. I was especially thankful to those who made me coffee and sandwiches when I was busy serving. It did get a bit hectic at times and though at other times it was a little more relaxed.
Whilst I was busy keeping shop, there was an occasion when Dave Foster, of 'weekend-on-the-satellite' and RSL fame, and a fellow crew member, Mike, decided to do their own bit of shopping. As there were several of us on board at the time, the amount of food to be purchased was a fair bit, so Dave and Mike went to the supermarket. Obviously the goodies weighed a fair bit, so it was decided the trolley should be brought back to the ship, but not without a visit to the local hostelry first. It caused a bit of a stir in the pub when they wheeled the trolley full of food through the door and straight up to the bar, had a couple of pints and then wheeled it on to the pier train. I'm pleased to report all the food arrived safely at its destination after all that, but goodness knows what happened to the trolley, I presume it made its way back to the right supermarket eventually.
(Picture: Some of those odd people encountered by Pauline on
the Ross 'Little' Andy Riley and 'Large' Sietse Brouwer)
I can't finish this tale without mentioning the yacht that, very late one Saturday evening, asked if it could moor alongside us as the crew weren't able to find a buoy. Of course we said 'yes', and they then asked who we were. To say they were amazed when we told them we were Radio Caroline is a bit of an understatement! They were completely bowled over by it, confessing to having listened under the bedclothes during their schooldays (something most people seem to have done). We all introduced ourselves, gave them a look round and it wasn't long before six bottles of Chardonnay were making their way aboard, and it turned into a very civilised evening, I opened up the shop to sell them all T-shirts, and they went away very happy rabbits, saying they would probably never stop talking about the experience, still amazed at the way things had turned out.
Weekends on board the Ross were a busy and exhausting time, with very little sleep, but extremely rewarding for us in all. Such a shame it had to come to an end but, as with all things Caroline, you never know quite what to expect next, so I'm hopeful of repeating the experience some time in the future.