I’ve recently become engrossed, absorbed, consumed, entranced by a four times daily, 370 word broadcast on BBC Radio 4 that goes by the name of THE SHIPPING FORECAST.
I love the universality of it; the idea that shipping lanes transcend geographical borders, that the seas are non-territorised, vast expanses of nothingness, blackness at night, void of artificial lighting or any trace of mankind’s lasting footprint: eery, ghostly plains dissected only occasionally by the passing of fleeting ships.
This sense of mystery is made all the more engrossing by the names of the areas that are referenced each time: Malin and Shannon incorrigibly Irish; Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Humber, Thames - the rivers running down the mainland’s back; then the brilliantly curious - Dogger, German Bight, Fisher, FitzRoy, Sole. Each sound so unique. The way these naming units are then stitched to bizarre combinations of adjectives, numbers and wind types has an alomst hypnotic quality, with the pauses between the portions of forecast creating an aural ebb and flow, simulating the seas’s own tidal pull.
Perhaps what I enjoy most, however, is its terseness and cohesion. There’s something very satisfying about order and consistency, and the forecast embodies it, from the never-changing opening of “And now the Shipping Forecast…”, through to the fixed, clockwise fashion in which the regions are listed.
Finally, as someone who enjoys and studies poetry, I find concision to be one of the most important and attractive traits. Every word choice and each scrap of punctuation matters; everything should add to the narrative. With its length limited to 370 words, coupled with the gravity of its subject, it’s clear that every syllable of sound and every half second of silence within the broadcast really do matter. Succinct, weighty, evocative: the Shipping Forecast is its own kind of poem. And one I like very much, particularly around teatime.