Sandwiched between Sailing By and the national anthem as the station closes down each night – as well as in three other slots across FM and LW – the forecasts are one of the network’s self-defining gems, and one of its best-loved slots for urban listeners like me, who’ve only ever been to sea on a holiday pedalo. Especially at night, these forecasts, with their place names, terms (veering, backing) and weatherly detail you never hear in the rest of life, and their hypnotically formulaic progression (area, wind direction, strength, precipitation, sea conditions, visibility), have a talismanic, haunting power.
This is especially the case if you’re listening on land, warm and safe, with a hot-water bottle tucked under your feet. From here, the segments of each forecast are like haiku poems: intense, compressed, full of something living and changing, but so still in their composure: “Viking, North Utsire, westerly, backing southerly, or south-westerly five to seven, perhaps gale 8 later, wintry showers, good occasionally poor.”
Once upon a time I used to listen to Radio 4 from the moment I awoke to the moment I fell asleep. I remember drifting away to the late night shipping forecast. In fact, I am getting a little nostalgic for it. I may have to stay up late and tune in tonight.