Extract from "The Guardian", Thursday August 3, 1995:
PASS NOTES No. 665: The Shipping Forecast.
Function for seafarers:
Essential weather warning: gales in south Finisterre, head for nearest cove.
Function for Radio 4-loving land-lubbers:
Essential narcotic: Gail's in bed, yawn, yawn, time I nodded off too.
But what is it?
Don't be so obtuse. It was an essential part of your childhood and you can recite it by heart. Repeat with me: Viking, easterly seven, becoming variable; North Utsire, South Utsire, variable six; Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, south westerly backing southeasterly, four or five, thundery showers.... etc, etc on through Portland, Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, not forgetting the poetic apotheosis, Channel Light Vessel Automatic.
Ah, it all comes back to me. But what's happening - riots in Ronaldsway, bloodletting in Biscay?
Much, much worse. The BBC are moving the late-night forecast.
Is that big news?
Suffice it to say it is no coincidence that they've slipped it out while parliament is in recess to avoid a wave of early day motions.
Why the fuss?
We are a sea farming nation and the shipping forecast has always gone out at 12:33am.
Is it a big change?
Twelve minutes to be precise: from October it will be on at 12:45am
Doesn't seem a big change:
Try telling that to a drowning man.
There's been a storm then?
Force 10. "The BBC has totally lost sight of the concept of public service broadcasting," thundered Rachel Mawhood of listeners group Radio 4 Watch. "Surely the shipping forecast is more important than stimulating reading."
Yes, that's what will occupy the crucial 12 minutes - readings from contemporary literature that will offer more challenging fare than the earlier book at bedtime slot.
Challenging? You mean erotic?
The mean spirited have christened it Bonk at bedtime, but the Beeb says it is showcasing genius not sleaze.
And the geniuses on offer?
Martin Amis, Jay MacInerney, Salman Rushdie, Peter Hoeg, Banana Yoshimoto.
Did you say Banana Yoshimoto?
You mean you're unacquainted with her mould-breaking novel, Kitchen?
A penetrating study of Japanese cookery, presumably:
Not exactly - a Gothic fantasy which juxtaposes two tales about mothers, transsexuals, bereavement, love and tragedy. Oh, and kitchens.
I see. It will be a bit of a culture shock to people tuning in to hear Sailing by.
Indeed, though Banana could yet prove appealing.
"It's enough to give Dogger a bad name."
"I can't wait for the Nicholson Baker."
- Note, 29/04/02 Since this article was first published, "Finisterre" has been renamed
"Fitzroy", as "Finisterre" was used by different countries to refer to
differing regions. Wow! Was that perhaps the first entirely accurate
statement to appear in this encylopedia?! :-)