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