The Shipping Forecast by Sandra Horn

I may have mentioned before that I’m a sad nut about the sounds of words. They can make me shiver, dance, laugh with sheer joy – and none more so than those issued by the Met Office at regular intervals throughout my life.
I, a total landlubber, have loved listening to the Shipping Forecast ever since I can remember, and long before I had a clue about what it meant. It was like a mysterious poem. First, the quietly authoritative, beautifully modulated voice: Attention all shipping! I was stilled by that. Then the anticipation of the thrilling litany of names: Dogger, Fisher, German Bight (Bite? Whaa!), Viking, Forties, Cromarty, Ross... Oh, Heligoland! There were no Utsires then and I remember the irritation when I first heard the interlopers. Where had THEY come from, blast it? Funny-sounding, and how on earth do you spell them? And Finisterre (lovely!) becoming Fitzroy (not lovely at all). How dare anyone change my poem? 

It doesn’t end with the names, of course; there’s more: Westerly backing southwesterly 3 or 4. Rain later. Good. I didn’t understand the numbers – didn’t know about the Beaufort Scale and wind speed until years later.  I didn’t know that the ‘good’ at the end was visibility, and puzzled over why it could follow wintry or thundery showers. Why were they ‘good’? My total ignorance, then, about what I was hearing, did nothing to diminish the pleasure of listening to it. It was, and is, a joy.

I now know that I’m not alone – far from it! Thanks to Peter Collyer’s remarkable illustrated book,’Rain Later, Good: painting the shipping forecast’, I find that there are people like me all over the place listening in on the land, sometimes far from the sea. It has been mentioned in poems by the likes of Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy. It has been set to music by Cecelia MacDowell. It has been chosen on Desert Island Discs! It was featured in the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games as part of the hand-over to London, and in the opening ceremony of the 2012 games in London. 

It is, of course, read beautifully. Three minutes, at dictation speed. This is achieved by leaving out unnecessary qualifying words like ‘weather’, ‘wind’, visibility’, so that the essential information can be given at a speed permitting comprehension and note-taking if need be.  What a contrast to the weather forecasts on the telly! Too much information to take in, gabbled frantically by people with rictus (why grin?) and no poetry at all. Yuk.   Just think if it could be modelled on the Shipping Forecast instead: Southwest, southerly, 2 or 3, showers, moderate; southeast...central, northeast, etc. I’d listen to that! I’d probably even remember it after it had finished, unlike now.  BBC and Met Office, please take note. Use the Power of Words and spaces!
And here they are:
Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties,
Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger,
Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames,
Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth,
Biscay, Trafalgar, Finisterre (poetic licence),
Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea,
Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides,
Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes,
South East Iceland.

Rain later Good: painting the shipping forecast, by Peter Collyer, Bloomsbury, 2013. Wonderful 
pictures too!

Sea pictures by Niall Horn 

The Stormteller ebook - no Shipping Forecast in this story - weather changes are predicted by a piece of mysterious wood!


Wendy H. Jones said…
Now that I think about it there is something rather poetic about that voice. For me the shipping forecast makes me think of all those at sea facing horrendous conditions. I,moo enjoy listening to it
Dennis Hamley said…
It's shocking -I haven't listened to - or even thought of - the shipping forecast for I should think about fifty years. Yet as soon as I started reading your blog, Sandra, I heard again that distinctive voice, those hypnotic names, those gnomic statements, as if they had been endlessly playing in some strange region just below my consciousness. I never knew they had changed Finisterre to Fitzroy. Shame on them. I shall have to write to someone about it.
Jan Needle said…
Do you remember Eccles auditioning for the job in the Goon Show? His practice script was 'winds light to variable.' (A nonsense, of course) He failed, after innumerable attempts.

But at least he didn't fall in the water. Aaah...
Sandra Horn said…
I must have missed that one, Jan! (How?). My favourite Eccles moment: What are you doing down there, Eccles?
Eccles: Everybody got to be somewhere...
Bill Kirton said…
Wonderful, Sandra. Every single word of it. That poetry had (has) the same effect on me, and the bonus of that final, sonorous list - what a joy. (We also share that favourite Eccles moment.) The only time the poetry came second to its content for me was when I was listening to it while sailing off Cornwall, out of sight of land on sparkling water with a clear blue sky and the voice told me that in sea area Plymouth visibility was poor.
I love it too. And 'Sailing By' always makes me feel nostalgic, reminds me of when we were first married, snuggled up in the captain's cabin of a 50 ft catamaran called Simba - listening to the shipping forecast.
Lydia Bennet said…
I love it too. So romantic, as is anything to do with the sea as a workplace, to me. I still get a thrill from seeing the 'Port of Tyne' signs locally - why it's so much more romantic than eg 'Tyne Port' I don't quite know. It's the specialist vocab that's so entrancing about the Shipping Forecast I think. And the names are ancient. You can also imagine those on ships at sea, trawlers on stormy waves, listening in and getting ready for a hurricane or moving somewhere 'good'. I think the first poem based on the shipping forecast was by Julia Darling. Also for those who love sea novels, there's E Annie Proulx's fabulous The Shipping News, about Newfoundland. Thank you Sandra for sharing this with us.
JO said…
Oh yes, I, too, love the shipping forecast. There must be thousands of us landlubbers who find it deeply soothing. I think Les Barker has done a lovely poem about it - it may be on YouTube - I can't check from here or I'd give the link,
Susan Price said…
Yes, I think one of the tests of 'Britishness' is whether or not you love the Shipping Forecast. I remember my father listening to it, though I don't think he ever went to sea in a ship in his life, not even mackerel fishing in a bay. Like everyone, he just loved the romance and sound of the words.

Interesting that the sailors among us - for whom it has a practical purpose - enjoy the poetry just as much.

Great idea, btw, to base the TV weather forecasts on it. You could get resting Shakespearean actors to read it, for quality. What would the land-bound equivalent of the names be? Caithness, Argyll, Humber, Solway...
Nick Green said…
It is indeed sublimely beautiful. I think it also helps that most people hear it very late at night, if at all, so it appears like a benign ghost out of the darkness, when you may be in a half-awake state anyway.

It's been praised so much it's almost a cliche to say you love it... it's like loving the Beatles. But the fact that people love it says something very profound, I think. Imagine, for an awful moment, if Chris Evans or Alan Carr were to be given the job of making the Shipping Forecast into a manic late-night show... The horror, the horror.

But I do love this gentle parody poem:
Mari Biella said…
I've always loved it too, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that I barely understand a word of it. The mystery, the romance, the suggestion of far-off places and wild weather ... just beautiful. And I love the Carol Ann Duffy poem too.
glitter noir said…
Lovely post, Sandra. Clearly, the forecast evokes the same sense of magic for you that the two words "Allll aboarrrrrrd!" do for me.

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