Attention All Shipping Audio Cassette
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The forebears of English author Charlie Connelly, a sportswriter of several books chiefly about European soccer, led lives touched by the sea. Yet, beyond a few ferry trips, Connelly, to his self-admitted embarrassment, was notably landlocked. Thus, to make up for his landlubberliness, he vowed to visit all thirty-one of the shipping forecast areas, or at least those that had peripheral or inclusive terra firma to stand upon, in a calendar year. In ATTENTION ALL SHIPPING, he tells us all about it via a congenial and humorous narrative.
Obviously, the book is more about interesting and/or out of the way places than the Shipping Forecast itself, though, by the end of chapter two, one has learned all that's necessary about the history, evolution, and value to sailors of the forecast, which dates, in its current form, back to 1924. In the eleven chapters that follow, Connelly makes landfall in twenty-five of the areas. Five (Viking, Forties, Dogger, Bailey, Rockall) he only flys or sails over. One, Trafalgar, down off the southwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula, he almost entirely neglects for no other reason than it's mentioned in only the 0048 bulletin. Otherwise, his meandering journey takes him to:
North and South Utsire: Utsira Island (Norway)
Cromarty: Cromarty (Scotland)
Forth: Arbroath (Scotland)
Tyne: Whitby (England)
Fisher: Hanstholm (Denmark)
German Bight: Sylt Island (Germany)
Humber: Cromer (England)
Thames: the Principality of Sealand
Dover: Dover and the White Cliffs (England)
Wight: the Isle of Wight (England)
Portland: Portland peninsula (England)
Plymouth: Plymouth (England)
Biscay: St-Jean-de-Luz (France) and Bilbao (Spain)
FitzRoy: Finisterre (Spain)
Sole: St. Mary's, St. Agnes, Tresco, and Bryher islands (Isles of Scilly, England)
Lundy: Lundy Island (England)
Fastnet: Cork and Cobh (Ireland)
Irish Sea: the Isle of Man
Shannon: Kilrush (Ireland)
Malin: Malin Head (Ireland)
Hebrides: Barra and Eriskay islands (Outer Hebrides, Scotland)
Fair Isle: Mainland and Fair Isle islands (Shetland Islands, Scotland)
Faeroes: Torshavn (Faeroe Islands, Denmark)
South-east Iceland: Heimay (Vestmannaeyjar, aka the Westman Islands, Iceland)
Charlie succeeds in making all his destinations interesting by sharing facets of each locale's history, events, or famous residents. For instance, Whitby was the hometown of Captain James Cook and Cromer that of Henry Blogg, renowned as the greatest lifeboatman who ever lived. Heimay was evacuated during a volcanic eruption. The oddest place is perhaps the Principality of Sealand, which was originally one of four World War II heavy gun platforms constructed in the Thames Estuary. After being abandoned by the British military, it was purchased by a private citizen who subsequently proclaimed it a sovereign state, a claim that, surprisingly, has been upheld by British courts. At the other extreme of novelty is Hanstholm, the Danish ferry port so excruciatingly boring that it's Connelly's account of fending off tedium for two days that is in itself droll. Even area Rockall, an expanse of open sea which Charlie doesn't visit for obvious reasons, contains Rockall "island", a mid-ocean protrusion of rock 89 feet in diameter and 72 in height that occupies a place of honor in the pantheon of the world's ludicrous territorial and political squabbles.
The author's commentary is so engaging that he can be forgiven the occasional factual misstatement. Charlie asserts that the lighthouse on Spain's Cape Finisterre is at "the end of the finger of land that is continental Europe's westernmost landfall", when, in fact, that honor belongs to Portugal's Cape Roca. Later, Connelly writes that "Fair Isle is actually Britain's remotest island community" when, actually, Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic is not only the most isolated British island community but also the most far-flung archipelago in the world. Regarding Fair Isle, I suspect that the author meant to say that it's the remotest community within territorial waters contiguous with the home islands.
ATTENTION ALL SHIPPING deserves 5 stars because it transports me in fine style to places that I shall likely never visit but, after reading this fascinating travelogue, wish I could some day. Then perhaps, I could express something similar to Charlie's experience:
"I was sorry to leave Scilly, a special part of the United Kingdom. Sit on the front at Hugh Town and look out beyond the palm trees across the clear azure water to the white sandy beaches of Tresco beyond and it's hard to believe that you're less than thirty miles from the English mainland ... when I think of that Hugh Town vista and then look out of my window at my south-east London Victorian terraced beehive of a street as I write this, I know where I'd rather be."
Perhaps a quick look at the actual service would be helpful as a starter for non-Brits ([...]) and would explain the intent and purpose of the forecast, if not the alluring mystique. The author recollects his own, near Pavlovin reaction, to hearing the signature tune as a boy, because it signified his tea-time. He later decides to visit each region named in the forecast that shared at least on boundary line with an accessible point - and he took his celebrated humour with him.
A delightful book is the result of his journey, and brings gems to our reading from the sea-regions such as the actual history of the invention of shipping news to save lives by Robert Fitzroy, the ex-Captain of the Darwin voyage in HMS (Her Majesty's Ship) the Beagle. During one of the periodic adjustments of the sea-regions,150 years later, Fitzroy was honored by naming the southernmost region as Fitzroy - it was formally Biscay - after his contribution.
Connelly's trip is full of Irish wit and fully explains the allure and mystery of why this broadcast is of heavy significance to those who depended on it for livelihood and to those who just listened to the sonorous announcements whilst shivering under the bedclothes at home, in gratitude for not having to weather it.
This book came into my life at a particularly dark point--both literally and figuratively (I was holidaying in Co. Donegal in 2009 and it poured buckets every day), and it was a great help when I desperately needed something. I have never laughed so hard over a book. The story of Charlie's journey through the shipping forecast is by turns hysterical and oddly moving. His sense of humor absolutely hits the spot, and I still grab this one off the shelf when I'm having a down day. Charlie's other books are all worth reading, but this one is far and away the best (I say that not yet having finished the latest one, about the weather). Part travel book, part memoir, all laugh-out-loud funny. Don't miss this one!