Ever since I was a lad, I've wanted to read the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4. Which is why I'm now an engineer. But there remains a great charm and poetry to the forecast which, since its first broadcast in 1911, has become a fixture of British radio. For me, there's the comfort of shutting up the shop, drawing in the curtains, as the announcer makes his (or her) way around this island and its territorial waters, starting in the north-east and working clockwise to Iceland. At twelve minutes to one in the morning, it's comforting; a precise definition of all of the land, and sea, that Britain encompasses. As I've grown older, the coastal reports mean more to me, as I recognise places I've been, headlands I've stood upon. As sleep rushes over me, I try to picture the island and tick the places off - Channel Light Vessel Automatic; Aberporth; Sangette Automatic; and so on.
Charlie Connelly's book is like a manifesto for Shipping Forecast Aholics Anonymous. He starts with the same love of the thing and attempts to visit all of the areas, to better make the mental pictures in later life. It's a fantastic piece of scheduling to have this as the Late Book on Radio 4 - how post-modern! A book reading about the very next programme!
Connelly's book has kinsmen in the Tony Hawks triology, Pete McCarthy's books, and others like 'Tilting at Windmills' but, for me, it is so much better than those. He explores the areas wittily, and there's a fair amount of personal experience built into his tales, but there's also a real care and passion in the histories he tells of each area. In short, it's great fun but really interesting too - highly recommended.
Two very minor quibbles. First, why no photographs? In the chapter about the Isle of Man, Connelly talks about having a photographer with him - a few plates would be excellent. Second, twice, when quoting the forecast in reported speech, Connelly writes '...And now the shipping forecast as issued by the Met Office at 0048...'. But, as all afficianados know, 0048 is when the forecast starts; never when it's been prepared - that's usually around midnight. Gr.
But overall, a really good book - it rattles along, it's good fun, and it's about something that matters. What more could you want?