Friday 30 May 2014

The Missing Forecast

These light mornings, I am often drifting in and out of sleep - or, sometimes, annoyingly wide awake - in the early hours, so I frequently catch that glorious incantation, the Shipping Forecast, on Radio 4 at 5.20am. Or at least the start of it, for this recitation of sea areas and meteorological formulas ('falling slowly', 'fair becoming poor', 'backing westerly', 'losing its identity') is notoriously soporific. This morning I must have been sound asleep, so I missed a national calamity - at 5.20am Radio 4 listeners heard not the Shipping Forecast but the continuing World Service, which carried on until 5.40am before the BBC was able to repair matters - too late, too late. There was the inevitable Twitter mini-storm, some listeners inquiring if this was a sign of imminent nuclear armageddon (there's a vague urban myth to the effect that not broadcasting the Shipping Forecast will be a secret signal to our nuclear submarines to fire their missiles). Well, it is all a sign of how deeply entrenched the Shipping Forecast is in our national culture. For most of us, of course, it serves no useful purpose and is largely incomprehensible, but it operates at some deeper level as a quasi-liturgical celebration of our maritime heritage and our status as a sea-girt island afloat on mysterious waters, storm-prone but somehow ordered.
  I have posted the Shipping Forecast poems of Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy often enough - here they both are, with a Larkin thrown in - so instead, as a service to readers, I have topped this post with a handy, cut-out-and-keep chart of all those sea areas whose names we love to hear.

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