Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sleepers Sleep

The UK is an island (if you haven't noticed). Wherever you are, you're never more than about 70 miles from the sea. Most people are considerably closer. For all that, the sea plays a pretty insignificant part in the lives of most of our primarily urban population. This hasn't stopped a small number of people becoming secretly addicted to a rather unusual radio broadcast called The Shipping Forecast.

Transmitted four times daily on a national radio station it is a very technical bulletin which lists all the main shipping areas around the UK and the weather conditions that can be expected for the next twenty four hours in those areas. These areas have wonderfuly arcane but rather poetic names such as Fisher, Dogger, German Bight, Lundy, Fastnet, Rockall, Viking. It's not like a TV weather forecast which these days seems mostly  to contain advice about what type of clothes the presenter thinks you should wear tomorrow.  It's a technical forecast aimed exclusively for those at sea or those about to go to sea. It has no value to landlubbers, most of whom do not even understand it.

People however have become addicted to the poetry of the  Shipping Forecast. The way in which it is read by the radio presenter and the images it conjures up in the imagination somehow draws people in - a typical bulletin will go something like this...

"Low South West Iceland nine nine eight moving steadily away north east losing its identity. New low expected west south east Iceland nine eight five by one eight double oh Tuesday. Low one hundred and fifty miles west of Sole nine nine eight expected south west Iberia one thousand and four by same time....Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, south or south west four increasing six or seven...Forties, Cromarty, Forth, southerly veering south westerly four or five increasing five to seven, fair, moderate or good. Tyne, Dogger, southerly four or five...."

And so it goes on for several minutes. Many people find it reassuring to listen to, others say the midnight broadcast helps them go to sleep at night. Books have been written about it. People have tried putting music to it. My favourite shipping area which sadly no longer exists is the rather prosaically titled Channel Light Vessel Automatic.

Here's a typical example of The Shipping Forecast - jump to two minutes to hear the broadcast....

I was listening to the Shipping Forecast in the car this evening and shortly afterwards I switched stations and a London traffic bulletin came on. It occurred to me these also have their own peculiar qualities. London traffic reports are full of equally unusual names. Names familiar to tourists rarely feature. You listen closely for an area you might know and the traffic you might be about to meet but most of the areas are actually unknown to you. Here are a few London traffic blackspots that everyone hears about almost every day yet few Londoners (except possibly taxi drivers) actually know where most of them are...
  • Canning Town flyover
  • Rochester Way Relief Road
  • Stirling Corner
  • Beckton Alps
  • Blackwall Tunnel
  • Polish War Memorial
  • Charlie Brown's 
  • The Limehouse Link
  • The Sun in the Sands
This got me thinking about a song I've known since I was a child. It's called The Slow Train and it's about the many minor railway stations that no longer exist. As the song suggests, they were only ever visited by The Slow Train. Again, evocative sounding names of places most of us have never heard of but with a poetry and music all of their own.


nursemyra said...

I like the NZ version of I've Been Everywhere Man

Featherston Palmerston Woolston Te Awamutu
Riverton Queenstown Picton Ohinemutu
Morere Korere Rotorua Kaikoura
Matamata Ruakura Ikamatua Papakura
Waitaki Pukaki Taranaki Te Kauwhata
Ropata Ikowai Waitemata what's the matter.

I've been everywhere, man.
'Cross the deserts bare, man;
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere.

Ruatoki Matahura Taupiri Maketu
Kyeburn Sowburn Wedderburn Mossburn
Washdyke Arawhata Paparoa Kaponga
Teraha Thames Kerikeri Kokoma
Tapanui Porinui Tawanui Otahuhu
Ruatapu Mosgiel Whareroa that's for sure.

Nota Bene said...

I remember the shipping forecast from my childhood...even now it can resonate around my head...I used to wonder where all those alien places were. I'm none the wiser now

King of Scurf said...

nursemyra: Ahah...I've been to Picton...but I guess not the same one as you describe.

King of Scurf said...

NB: And I had you down as a Radio 4 man.

Terra Shield said...

Some of the places have really nice names.

We don't have a shipping report here, but our traffic reports usually mention the highways in the city. It's dead boring.

Terra Shield said...

Just swinging by to inform you that you've been listed as a recipient of an award at my blog.

King of Scurf said...

Terra: I think with all that coastline Malaysia must have something like the Shiping Forecast but it's probably hidden away on a secret short wave radio frequency. The odd thing about it here is that it is broadcast on a national radio station with millions of listeners.

Thank you for the award. It's very kind of you to choose my intermittent little blog.