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Things I Have Learned

Steve Ignorant On Saving Lives With The Sea Palling Lifeboat
Luke Turner , November 15th, 2011 06:10

Steve Ignorant now lives in North Norfolk and volunteers as a crew member on the independent Sea Palling lifeboat. Here, he tells Luke Turner about his work on the choppy grey waters. Photo thanks to Damon Allen Davison

I don't like doing benefits and not knowing where the money goes

But every gig I do has to be a benefit. I'm in the pub in Sea Palling before the last Shepherd's Bush Empire gig, and the lifeboat crew used to come in every Thursday. I thought, 'There you go, I'll donate money to them, I'll know where it goes.' They bought tip-top life jackets, and last year they saved 19 lives. I gave this money and they said, 'Why don't you join?'

I thought it was going to be like the fire brigade, all standing to attention

But the way we work is different. If you want to volunteer, you can come down, give 15 minutes, sweep the floor, make coffee, that's fine, whatever you can give, we can go around you. If you want to go on a boat, well you've got three months where we'll put you in a dry suit, take you out to sea, see if you're scared, that kind of thing. The lifeboat crew are going to be there at Shepherd's Bush, rattling cans.

Sea Palling Lifeboat has a proud history

It was started in 18-something by a bloke from the village, but for some reason the RNLI decommissioned it. Back then they used to drag the lifeboat out with six horses, and apparently when they let off the rockets for a launch, the horses would come running from two miles away, they used to pelt over fences, that sort of thing. To think that I am now part of that makes me feel right dobby.

Margaret Thatcher, I'm sorry, but I've got to pull her out the water

…but what happens afterwards is neither here nor there. After the Shepherd's Bush Empire gig some bloke was on Facebook or Twitter or the Crass forum saying, 'Well Steve will be quite happy saving Tory farmers.' And I'm like, well, surely it don't matter who it is? I'd rescue my worst enemy.

Your pager can go any time

There I was, sat watching On The Buses on telly with my beans on toast, all of a sudden my pager went, and from being on the sofa with my feet up all of a sudden I'm seven miles out in the North Sea with my backside, that little orifice, the size of a shirt button.

And you never know what the call will be for

A few weeks ago the pagers went, belted down there, 'Right, what's the shout?' 'It's a three-year-old girl gone missing.' 'How long has she been missing?' 'This is going to sound really fucking horrible.' 'She's been missing 20 minutes'. 'Right, now we know either we're going to find her or we're looking for a corpse, because that's the nature of little kids because of the tides round there.' It's like OOOOF. Thankfully she was found in a café.

You can't relax for one moment

And there's a lot to learn. All the time we're getting the boat back on the trailer somebody has to be looking out to sea because there's going to be that one weird wave that's going to knock the bloody thing over. For people watching, it's just a ripple, but for us it could be your arm caught between the trailer and the boat.

The perfect summer would be when we don't get called out

Then we could just muck about on the boat.

But we get the most calls in summer

It tends to be people floating out on inflatables, things like that. If you come to Sea Palling and your little kid floats out to sea on a lilo, we're going to be the ones who are going to bring her back in, alright? We won't let her go.

You'd think people would learn to be safe, but they don't

People need to be more careful. People come to the North Norfolk coast and think they're looking North. If you come out of my back door, the first bit of land as the crow flies is Denmark. In between that you've got a tide that doesn't go north to south, it goes from say Walcott to Yarmouth, and when it ebbs it goes the other way. Round here is a very weird tide, you can swim as hard as you want but can you get back to shore? No you can't. There are funny little rip tides, and also a shelf, so suddenly you're out of your depth and then you're in trouble, and will get carried away down to Yarmouth. Don't stop your fun, you can still have a laugh, just be aware of it.

The sea does weird things round here

Alright so it's not bloody Cape Horn, but it's big enough. You'll be in the boat, surrounded by the huge green walls of water.

There are similarities between being in a band and a lifeboat crew

I'm not bullshitting either. Any band I've been in people have said, 'Steve, can I just say thank you for saving my life, or changing my life.' I see the lifeboat as an extension of that really. What else can I do? Sit on my arse and wait for the revolution to happen? I don't think it is going to happen, I don't mean that horribly. It's funny because I was in Belfast and there's a guy called Mickey who used to be in Stalag 17, he's a coxwain for the RNLI now. Most of the people who were into Crass or punk are doing something worthwhile. Sometimes I do wish I could sit on my arse and watch reruns of Minder or something, but I can't.

It's a weird feeling to think I've saved lives

This skinny little runt from Dagenham who goes to America, does all this stuff, used to be the lead singer in Crass, is now just number eight in the crew. When I'm on the boat, there's no Steve Ignorant. There's no airs and graces, you just do it.

It hits you in different ways

Andy T, a poet who did a record for Crass and is going to be at Shepherd's Bush, was going to visit. I waited and waited, he was late, so I said to Jona, 'Right I'm going down the pub.' Andy comes, we get pint and go to sit outside. Andy says, 'What's this lifeboat thing then?' At that moment the pager goes bipbipbipbip. Oh fuck it, I had to run down the road, flag down a car, get in my dry suit, and we go out and rescue these three blokes, they were freezing cold. We got them back to shore, the paramedics are there, I could go home. So I go back to find Andy T, we're talking and then all of a sudden after 20 minutes my mouth goes dry and it's like I'm on amphetamines or something. I said 'Sorry Andy, I've got to tell you. I've just pulled three people out of the sea,' and couldn't stop talking about it. He got so bored he fucked off.

I don't feel like a bloody hero or anything

But yes, I feel proud.

Steve Ignorant plays his final concert ever singing Crass songs at The Last Supper at Shepherd's Bush this Saturday, November 19th. For more information on the Sea Palling Independent Lifeboat, including information on how to donate to them via Paypal go here.