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Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast by Charlie Connelly

21 October 2007

Not your usual travel book, for this book revew posting.

Attention All Shipping: A Journey Round the Shipping Forecast by Charlie Connelly

The Shipping Forecast, for those who’ve never heard of it before, is the maritime weather report for the British Isles. Broadcast four times per day, for many years it was essential to the safety of commercial shipping and fishermen, who would be out in freezing, dangerous seas with very little forewarning of changes in wind speed and direction or the possibility of severe weather beyond the horizon. There’s a very strict reporting pattern that must be followed — for example, the entire forecast must be read clearly and carefully at dictation speed, and it cannot exceed 350 words. Nowadays, with GPS systems and advanced weather-tracking techniques, the Shipping Forecast is not so much a matter of life-or-death as it was in years past. But Charlie Connelly, the author of Attention All Shipping, thought that this aspect of nautical history was worth a more in-depth exploration…and decided that within the space of a year, he would visit (or at least cross through) every single region mentioned in the broadcast.

Connelly breaks up his book into chapters by region, beginning with ‘Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire’ and ending with ‘Trafalgar’ (which until is only mentioned during the 0048 report). Since several of the regions are entirely water, the bulk of the book consists of Connelly’s experiences in icy Scandinavian coastal villages, where the weather is inhospitable and the cost of a beer is exorbitant. (Connelly’s complaints about the costs of alcohol grow a trifle irritating after a while, but then again you have to give him credit for travelling to a number of godforsaken locations where alcohol might’ve made things slightly more bearable.) There are some truly moving sections in the book, particularly one where Connelly visits a station of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, an entirely volunteer-funded and volunteer-run organisation that has saved countless lives in treacherous seas around Britain. And you can’t help but feel sorry for him (or savour a little schadenfreude) at his recollections of gut-wrenching seasickness as he attempts to travel through gale-force winds on his way from one region to another.

If you’ve grown up listening to the soporific drone of ‘Forties, Cromarty, Forth’, then you’ll enjoy reading about one man’s journey through a Radio 4 institution. And even if you’ve never heard the Shipping Forecast before, it’s still a good travel book that’s definitely off the beaten path.

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