Attention All Shipping

Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connelly

Received as a birthday present last year this was an ideal “train” book as it’s automatically broken into chunks for, as it says on the front cover, this book is “a journey round the shipping forecast”. It also holds a tiny bit of extra importance for me as the journey in question starts and ends on my birthday! (I’m certain my Dad knew that when he bought the book.. right Dad??)

Before I continue, I’ll ask you to stop reading and name as many areas in the shipping forecast as you can. Malin, Dogger, Fastnet, Trafalgar…. um …. Irish Sea?… erm… harder than it sounds, isn’t it. Well it was for me having never actually (knowingly) heard the shipping forecast itself. I did know of it mind you, although I’m not sure how. Osmosis is a wonderful thing. It was with this slightly befuddled, and somewhat sketchy, knowledge that I started reading.

The opening chapter of the book outlines a little of the history of the forecast, and the place it holds in the hearts of those who grew up with its weird and wonderful language. Of course the forecast is crucial for many but for us landlubbers.. well it’s all a bit odd, isn’t it, I mean what does “south-westerly veering north five or six, decreasing four” actually mean? Well, having read the book, I COULD tell you but that’d spoil all the fun.

The format of the book is fairly straightforward and has the author, Charlie Connelly, endeavouring to travel to each zone of the forecast within one calendar year. He takes us with him on a Bryson-esque look at the people and cultures that lie within the various shipping zones. From Spain to Iceland, from uninhabited rocks to inhabited metal turrets in the sea, he reveals the large variety of life held within the forecast area as he flits his away around it armed with little else than a dogged determination and the canny knack of always arriving at the airport several hours before his flight. Ohhh, he also travels on boats, which is just as well as it would have been a bit of a cheat, given the title of the book, to do it all by air.

Connelly comes across a likeable sole soul with a nice turn of phrase, he peppers the pages with an excellent mix of history, anthropology, and snippets of wonderfully quirky information; with historical names that include Chatsworth Musters and Sir Cloudesley Shovell he has plenty of “quirk” from which to choose. In fact, whilst we are on the topic of history, I’d like to apologise to the people of Barra for the way Lieutenant-Colonel John Gordon (for I presume he is related) manhandled them out of their homes. Appalling behaviour. I do hope his actions don’t preclude me from ever visiting Barra, although I’m pretty sure he is related on the ‘other’ side of the family, and distantly at that (hopefully my surname will throw them off the scent).

Attention All Shipping was a wonderful book to dip into, never failing to offer the reader something to ponder, and written in a welcoming, homely, style. Any man who can use the phrase “royster-doystering”, not once but twice, in a book surely deserves a glance, if not a thorough reading. He even manages to impart a lot of wisdom without ever patronising or boring, quite a talent indeed.

Comparisons with Bill Bryson are obvious – this is a travel journal, and Connelly has a similar gentle wit and easy way with words – so I’ll avoid them. Suffice to say that this is a well written, informative book that managed to illicit several chuckles from me (which in turn brought a few inquisitive looks from my fellow commuters).

Attention All Shipping, heartily recommended if you are looking for a change of pace, a change of scenery and change from a tenner.