The Shipping Forecast, which celebrated 150 years in 2017, is a radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of Ireland and the UK. I suspect that thousands of us lie awake in the early hours listening to the somniferous tones of the late-night reader’s rolling cadences break gently like waves on the shore. Very often it is what sends me to sleep. The 31 sea areas have long since slipped deep into my consciousness only to reappear in all sorts of strange guises. Here is a short monologue I have written inspired by all of those sea areas and their wonderful names. How many can you spot?
“Darling, now that you’re in your forties, don’t you think a Baileys is more suitable than a pint of, what do you call it, Tyne Ale? Oh, yes, Newcastle Brown. How am I to remember? Never touch it. I can’t know everything. Just the other night your father lost all patience with me when we were watching the Oscars, just because I’d never heard of Sam Rockall. He was sharp with me, has a bite like next door’s German Shepherd, ‘That’s the fourth time you’ve misnamed him.’ Who’s counting? It’s Rockwell, apparently. I wasn’t far off. It’s like the battle of Trafalgar living with your father. Every little thing sets him off like a marauding Viking sailing up the Humber. Do you remember going to the Viking museum in York one half-term? Not everything is lost on me; I have a fine memory for history. I keep hoping for Eighteenth Century Prime Ministers at the local pub quiz. The things you learn as a child never leave you: Portland, FitzRoy, Earl of Bute. Years in office? For goodness sake, I don’t know. They would hardly ask that, would they? Mary’s had the baby. What do you mean, ‘Mary who?’ Red haired Irish Mary. Her mother’s Patricia. Married to your dad’s cousin. We took the ferry to see them in 1986. You tossed your tuna sandwiches into the Irish Sea; after you’d eaten them. Yes, it was you. Anyway, it’s a girl. Shannon. Don’t you think it’s a silly name? Patricia told me that Mary told her that she was conceived on a cruise down the river Shannon. ‘TMI,’ I said to Patricia. She’d never heard TMI, imagine! I’ll send the Shirley Hughes book, ‘Dogger’ for the baby. A modern classic. You loved it when you were small. Your father says it’s ridiculous calling a book ‘Dogger’. I don’t know what he’s talking about. He has some foolish ideas. Do you like this place then? Wanted to spoil you on your birthday. You look nice. But darling, couldn’t you have made an effort, a dress instead of a jumper? It’s a little…. rustic. Hand knit, artisan – ah, I see. Those sweaters all look the same to me: Guernsey, Fair Isle, Faeroes – all well and good for the outdoors, but not for fine dining, dear. How about this menu? Go wild, order Dover Sole if you fancy. I slipped your father’s credit card into my wallet before I left. We’re not getting on very well. There, I’ve said it. Or maybe the Chablis said it. Had a huge row yesterday about redecorating. He wants everything white. I want colour. I’d rather throw myself into the Thames than live a colourless life. I know he’s your beloved father, but good God, he’s dull. Won’t switch the radio off until the end of the shipping news. That’s 1a-bloody-m. I whisper along to it, “North Utsire, South Utsire, don’t you dare come any nearer.” That part of our marriage is all over. I think I’d rather tether myself to the Fastnet rock that even try. Told me yesterday he wants to holiday in Plymouth. Kill me now, Plymouth! There’s a reason the pilgrims left it, darling, they couldn’t bear the depressing place. Don’t be shocked, but I’ve suggested we holiday separately this year. There’s a couple of men he’s become very thick with: Lundy and Fisher. Met them at the local historical society. They’ve been out shooting partridge together this winter. I knew you’d be shocked. I’m appalled. The only saving grace is Lundy’s dog. Gorgeous thing. Brittany Spaniel, called Malin. Maybe a dog would save our marriage? We could take it for walks together? Anyway, I need time alone. Somewhere peaceful to consider our future. You know how I like Ian Rankin? Well, apparently he has a bolt-hole up in Cromarty. East of Scotland, middle of nowhere. Read in an interview that he goes there to write. Quite fancy it. No, no, it’s not stalking, darling, but I’d be delighted were I to bump into him. I could try the west coast, I suppose. The Hebrides, so romantic, don’t you think? Cold? Not at all, I’m sure it would be balmy in the summer. I’d even try Iceland. Very trendy. There’s that volcano with the unpronounceable name on the Southeast of the Island. Southwest, is it indeed? Since when were you an expert on the geography of Iceland? Adeline says I can join her on a cruise across the Bay of Biscay and into the Med. Anything that rhymes with risqué can’t be bad!”