The sea is tentacular today, the kraken stretching his arms in restful joy out towards the Farnes as hardly a breeze moves above the surface. And thus it was predicted and thus, it is predicted, it will remain for the next few days. Things are settled, and high pressure apparently reigns in Dogger (where under the sea, a forest shows there once was land). How reassuring; like a blessing!
Every morning, at 5.20, we listen to the Shipping Forecast on BBC Radio 4. There is something almost prayerful about this routine. Overnight, the boffins at the Met Office have prepared detailed information about the waters surrounding the British Isles and, as the day’s broadcasting begins on Radio 4 proper, the listening nation looks out from the land towards the sea and, in its imagination at least, considers those who must contend with the vicissitudes of the sea.
The endless miles of the watery main are divided into shipping areas, with names like Bailey, Trafalgar, Malin, North and South Utsire, Fitzroy. You can learn a lot from them not just about the wind you’re likely to be battling on the beach, and how far out you will be likely to see to the tankers advancing towards Norway but also about the geography and history of these islands and, with a little bit of extra work, the history of our relationship to the places just beyond our shores. We all attend to this daily liturgy with especial interest, particularly when it comes to Cromerty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger: for there we find our little coastal community on the cusp of Forth and Tyne, once so heavily fished by massive fleets but now mostly the preserve of the lobster pot brigade.
The Shipping Forecast is a national treasure, often selected by castaways on Desert Island Discs; its ritualistic rhythms, as well as its inherent importance to the thousands who must go to sea, is both homely and reassuring on the one hand and curiously thrilling, on the other, particularly when gales are predicted and our minds race to those who must decide whether to turn for home or stick it out in the hope of a bigger profit and more food on the table. For us, today will be settled, with a variable low wind, mainly from the warm south and visibility is set fair. Who could object to that?
If you would like to hear the forecast broadcast this morning, when it was still dark up here in Northumberland, please go to this Radio 4 web page: