For those of us of a certain age to hear “VIKING. Southerly or southeasterly 5 to 7, occasionally variable 4 in north. Slight or moderate. Snow showers. Good occasionally poor” brings back memories of listening to the shipping forecast on the radio. What it meant nobody knows, when was it on, seemingly always. I’ve recently started reading a book about the iconic BBC shipping forecast, and first of all it’s apparent that there are people who do know exactly what the forecast means, those professional seafarers who need to know what they are heading out into. One of the attractions was the feeling that you were listening in to some private conversation, like listening to a foreign language conversation, that although you couldn’t understand it, the intonation spoke volumes and told you this was important. Something significant was happening out there. Reassuringly you were safe, and even if VIKING become “hurricane force 12 or more”, it was happening somewhere out there, to people who understood what it meant and where equipped to deal with it. More importantly it wasn’t suddenly going to come crashing through your radio loudspeaker and flood the house.
But with the advent of digital radio the shipping forecast is lost. No more four times daily broadcasts on the radio, unless you happen to be able to tune into Radio 4 Long-wave. If the latter then you can listen in to the arcane forecast and don your sou’wester. But along with digital comes web access, so actually you can listen to the shipping forecast as well as get access to it online. And if you don’t have a copy of the book you can even look up the shipping areas (Tyne, Dogger, German Bight) and find out what it all means.To do so, would it be like Mark Twain learning to navigate the Mississippi , would it dispel the mystery and magic. No. Somehow the shipping forecast is too ingrained, too much part of our national psyche to be so easily dispelled. That, plus the fact that there is too much majesty and exotic romance in Forties, Bailey, Rockall, Fisher; and to really understand it and penetrate the mystery you would have to be a child of albion brought up on the sea. So it is fitting that the only shipping area to be named after a person is FITZROY, which replaced Finnistere in 2002. Fitzroy founded the shipping forecast, along with the MET office, so it is to him we owe our thanks. Westerly, veering thankful to moderate.