Caroline Newsletter

The second issue of the ‘Caroline Newsletter’.

‘Life Aboard’ by Stuart Russell

In 1977 Radio Caroline began publishing a magazine, the Caroline Newsletter.
 
The second issue contained this article by DJ Stuart Russell in which he described life aboard the radio ship.


LIFE ABOARD                                                                                                                                  STUART RUSSELL

I know from the many listeners' letters I receive that they try to imagine what it is like to live and work aboard Mi Amigo. To satisfy many requests I'll do my best to describe it. When you first climb aboard, our ‘Pirate’ seems to be a very large ship. But that illusion soon crumbles. ln no time Mi Amigo shrinks to a tiny man-made island to which you are confined for weeks at a time. The ship is about 140 feet long; which means that 50 or 60 long strides will take you from the bows to the stern. The width is about 15 strides. The total deck area would be large enough for us DJs to play a good game of handball, except that almost all this area is occupied by what is called the ‘superstructure’; this means the deckhouses where we live and work. These reduce the open-deck area to a narrow corridor running all around the ship. At the stern of the ship is the bridge. This houses the steering wheel and has a dominating view of the entire vessel. The rest of the superstructure, amidships, provides ten cabins, two studios, a large mess-room, a galley, washroom and toilets. The records library is conveniently situated next to the studios. The living accommodation caters for the captain and his crew of four, and all of us DJs. We all share the mess-room for food and recreation, and there is always a lively, happy atmosphere aboard. Anybody who feels moody and unsociable can retire to his cabin with the assurance that nobody will violate his privacy.
 
Life aboard is very much living in community. We have no Commanding Officer striding around, twirling his moustaches and barking orders. Instead, each of us knows his job and gets on with it. Furthermore, all of us are willing to help others when needed. This spirit of community responsibility is essential. Those who lack it simply can't fit in aboard. Luckily, we've had only a few misfits. The only notable example was a cook who had a natural disinclination to work at all. During an emergency, when the ship was dragging anchor and almost on a sandbar, he made no effort to throw in with everyone else and try to save the ship. Instead he locked himself up in his galley. That was his first time aboard ... and his last!
 
Twenty-four hours a day and nowhere to go! So how do we spend our time and ease our boredom? The happy truth is that we're never bored. There's always something interesting to do. For recreation we've got television and radio. Any TV script-writer could get good ideas for a script based on the chitty-catty comments made by us off-duty while watching a musical programme. We argue a great deal and sharpen our minds on each other, and the personality jokes we make about each other keep us in fits of laughter. We play draughts, cards and darts and anybody feeling in need for physical exercise can always run around the deck a dozen times. But in the summer we prefer to laze about in deck-chairs, cultivating a nice sun-tan we proudly display to anybody ashore who happens to be interested in it. Which brings me to a question asked so often by so many listeners.
 
No. There are no girls aboard. So what do we do about it? Almost everybody wants to know. Our listeners regard this as one of our most pressing problems. Some picture us like caged lions, drooling hungrily, twitching our tails viciously and poised to launch our-selves overboard at the mere glimpse of a pretty girl approaching in a small boat. Others picture us as some kind of castrated saints, denying our beastly passions and embracing sexless, idealistic uplift. Sorry, Boys and Girls. It's not like that at all. We're all normal and healthy. But when the time comes to do without, we tighten our belts and take it in our stride, as do sailors, serving soldiers, lighthouse keepers, convicts and astronauts. Going without doesn't transform us into rapacious cavemen, or blue-eyed angels wearing halos. Naturally, sex is a personal problem. Each of us handles it in his own way. Some of the boys like to dream and stimulate their imaginations with pin-ups of luscious females. Others simply put sex right out of their minds, so long as it is impracticable. And with all, it is no tremendously insurmountable problem, because it is rare any of us spends more than three weeks aboard without a break. I must correct a misconception some listeners seem to nourish. When Samantha is aboard she is one of our community, enjoying equal rights and privileges and neither expecting nor receiving favours. She is another of the Mi Amigo staff, her contribution being made at the microphone. All aboard bear for her the respect she bears for us. Never does her sex intrude into our social relationships. We have a common objective: to give pleasure to our listeners. All of us pursue it wholeheartedly. Those listeners who unjustifiably assume that the presence of a woman aboard must entail unleashed sex orgies are completely mistaken. They have totally failed to understand the spirit of co-operation among those aboard.
 
All of us must be self-disciplined. Aboard, there is no shortage of food and we can eat like kings. Our menus are rich and varied. We also have an abundance of beer and spirits. We could spend our days in a bloated, drunken stupor. But are we men, or beasts? I'm pleased to report that all of us, perhaps because we have no supervision, have developed a very keen sense of communal responsibility. We enjoy our food but we don't stuff ourselves like pigs. We drink beer to quench our thirst, but not to get sloshed. And we drink spirits only on an ‘occasion’; usually when one of us is departing on shore leave. If we didn't exercise a disciplined sense of responsibility, Mi Amigo could become a ship staffed by drink-sodden incompetents. Aboard we never let our hair down ... whatever we might be expected to do once we get ashore!
 
Many listeners seem to think a DJs job is a pleasing and relaxing way of passing the time and earning money. But the relaxed and easy-going image we put out over the mike is like the last glossy coat of enamel paint given to a new ship. That last coat only looks so good because of all the other coats of paints and undercoats, the sanding and the rubbing down that have preceded it. Without long preliminary work and preparation we couldn't be relaxed. We DJs are relaxed, self-assured and confident before the mike because we've steeped ourselves in the programmes we put out. We know all there is to be known about them and can present them with all the confidence that knowledge provides. My usual 12-3 programme is the climax of many hours of thought and preparation. I don't say we never make mistakes. We're human and it's not always possible for us to get hold of information we'd dearly like to have. There's no phone we can pick up and dial. We can't stroll along to the nearest record shop and check our facts. So simply putting out a daily programme is a full time job for any DJ. And aboard we have other chores too. At the moment our all-important Records Library is undergoing a massive reshuffle. We have at least 4,000 albums we're trying to sort out into an easy-to-get-at system. Not infrequently a DJ has inspiration during a programme and makes a dive for the Records Library, desperately hoping to find what he wants in a few seconds and get back to the studio before the needle runs dry. This isn't inefficiency. It's the DJ ‘feeling’ the way his programme is going out, and sensing how it can be improved. It's all part of what makes our programmes relaxed and natural. If we were tied down in advance to a list of prepared records we'd lose all spontaneity and become robot DJs. Additionally, of course, we have to devote time to making up promotions, and by hook or by crook we also have to get hold of the up-to-date music press to keep abreast of the music scene. One of our big disadvantages is that taking our shore leave on foreign soil, as we must, deprives us of the opportunity of going to hear ‘live’ performances.
 
Life aboard is very enjoyable and fulfilling and to some-extent becomes routine. We're always at sea, remember. Our ‘Pirate’ has two hundred tons of cement set fast in her bilges and this makes her very solid and stable. But when a strong wind blows and those great North Sea waves thunder down upon us, she's obliged to rise up to them and roll with them. You soon learn that everything that isn't nailed down can move. The unwary find themselves eating their dinner off of their laps instead of off the table, the glass you set down a moment ago skids to the far end of the table and when you get up to retrieve it you find yourself walking on rolling beer bottles. Unless you brace yourself in a chair and roll with it while watching television, you have to swivel your head like crazy to keep the screen lined up straight. lf you stick your head outside the hatch to inspect the weather, the chances are you'll be soaked by spray as though doused with a bucket of cold water. A 20-yard stroll along the deck to the bridge isn't to be thought of unless you huddle up in oilskins and knee boots. The cabin bunks have rails to prevent you falling out of bed when the ship rolls. But you roll back and forth between the bunk-rail and the bulkhead. That makes it tough to get in forty-winks, and gives you hip-bruises. But the weather is something we've all learned to take in our stride. If it didn't blow-up rough from time to time we'd even miss the excitement and vaguely feel we'd been cheated.
 
We're always pleased to take our leave, get ashore, stretch our legs, wink at the pretty girls and order a pint in the local. But when our time comes round again, we're just as pleased to huddle in the bows of the tender and scan the horizon expectantly, waiting for our beloved ‘Pirate’ to appear. We feel then that we're ‘coming home’.


Back to Radio Caroline in the Seventies, part eight


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