Wednesday, 7 March 2018

32. THE CAROLINES HIJACKED AND FEAR OF REVOLUTION

It was a cold and fairly somber Sunday when I got out of bed on March 3rd 1968. As always the first thing I did was switch on the radio. But all remained silent. Caroline was not there! It was only when I got downstairs and tried Caroline North on the big Saba receiver and found that her frequency too remained completely quiet, that a feeling of forboding set in. The next day my fearful apprehension was confirmed by the newspapers. In the early hours of Sunday both the Caroline and the Mi Amigo had been boarded by Dutch seamen in the pay of the suppliers Wijsmuller and towed to the Netherlands because of outstanding debts.

As a matter of principle I did not turn to Radio 1 for my music fix. In the months to come it was Radio Veronica that brought some solace, and sometimes also Radio Kuwait on shortwave. Few people remember this, but for a time Kuwait, with a stable and strong signal, was one of the best pop stations around. Truth be told, I had less time for music in those days, because my exams were drawing near...

In the wider world too it was a troublesome period. It began in May 1968 with a student revolt in Paris which turned into a general strike involving millions of workers and the worst rioting for decades. President Charles de Gaulle resorted to brutal police force to counter this attempt at revolution which immobilised most of France.

Subsequently also students in Belgium, especially in university cities like Ghent and Louvain, took to the streets. Suddenly that brought two plain clothes members of the secret police to my house. I was upstairs studying and unaware of the fact that these men threatened my mother not to let me join the protests, or “worse would follow”. The then Belgian prime minister Gaston Eyskens had just formed a coalition government with the help of the Christian Democrats (CVP) and the Socialists (BSP), two parties that had lost seats during the elections in March '68. Eyskens feared that if the protests continued they would bring down the government and revolution would ensue... With hindsight, it wàs the year that the Beatles brought out their hit “Revolution”, not that the Belgian prime minister would have been aware of that.

In the Netherlands all remained calm during the disruptive May days of 1968. It has been said that this was partly due to the existence of Radio Veronica. The station went some way in making the country a happier place and functioned as a valve to diffuse any pent up tension among students and workers alike.   

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