To mark the one hundredth anniversary of the BBC’s ‘The Shipping Forecast’, Jeremy Boyce begins an occasional series of essays, each devoted to an anonymous region of the forecast.
Wild intensity and arctic chill, mountainous swell, Atlantic tempests and cavernous waves toe-to-toe with the rising currents of the North Sea, east winds blasting in from the Urals, blood-freezing polar floes thrusting their icy needles raw and deep. Intimidating, bewildering, chillingly deep. At best threatening, at worst, life-threatening. There was something in the air, in the water, in the beards, blood and steaming breath, and written, no, make that, engraved, in the runes. Maybe carved or hacked would describe better the rough, chipped edginess and menacing cracks. Frosted blood and broken bones, glacial discomfort, spume and flume spattering in all directions amid the Himalayan lumps and bumps. Troublingly-deep deeply-troubling under-currents dragging and ripping, random lashing gusts slashing icy diagonals. You had to admit, it was a rough old crowd that night.
You could have cut the atmosphere with an axe.
As predicted in the general synopsis and regional forecast, some Cnut, Forkbeard or other son-of-a-Godwin must have said or done something to set it all off. Before you knew it there was a gale warning, that came without warning, rising, veering in all directions, rising, becoming storm force later. It was anyone’s guess. Everything tumbling downwards and upwards, masts snapped, rigging wrecked, compass spinning, and who knows what bedlam beckoning. Unless you could read the signs, or runes, the fore-tellings and forecasts, like a Cnut. Some can, some c’nat.
When it’s lively like that you need the vision of Nostradamus just to steer through the Hokusais, never sure of what’s breaking over your head or coiling and sucking at your feet. Dragon-heads and long-ships ride it out where battleships, trawlers, entire Armadas have sunk with all hands lost. The wild conquering the wild, breaching the maelstrom then beaching silently as if from nowhere, dispensing chaos and parting with riches, slicing upstream straight and silent as a butchers knife, peeling flesh from bones, drinking from the skulls of the vanquished, castles raided and ransacked, chattles pillaged, wives and daughters….
Sometimes you just can’t tell how things will work out, how the story will unfold itself from the crumpled screwed up ball of destiny, how the action is likely to evolve, how the soothsaying will correspond. Gale force 5, to severe gale force 9 later ? Rain then wintery showers, good becoming poor later ? This was no exception, given the time of year. Given the dark intensity, the darker depths. Given the peaks, troughs and heavy pressure.
At that point, there’s a danger to all shipping in the vicinity, you’re better off keeping well away, unless you get sucked in like so many do, thinking they can succeed where thousands have perished in the attempt, thinking they can conquer the situation, ending broken and wrecked on the floor, to be discovered and looted later.
Sometimes it goes just so far but no further. Gale force 5, easing, becoming light to moderate later. The forecasters got that one right. And at that point you know you’re safe, the worst is gone and it was maybe nothing more than a bit of meteorological handbags after all. That’s the thing, round here things can be so unsettled, and the long, cold winter nights aren’t the easiest. It can be bruising when it all boils up, but it can just as easily boil down again with a bit of sun and warm water, and a little dab of witch hazel for the bruising. Then it’s all plain sailing. Off home to till the soil and milk the cows.
Locked in, just another night, like all the others.
Jeremy Boyce was born and brought up in rural England and now lives in the rural south of France. A half-life in London took in theatre studies, the music business, and opening then closing a kite shop.
Writing sales and promo copy for dodgy indie bands has given way to creative writing with plenty of pop art cut-up styling, and a one-man crusade to bring back concrete poetry. Jeremy has been previously published in Impspired Magazine, Paris Lit Up, Flash Fiction Day and Flash Flood.
Photograph by the author.