true gripes: the shipping forecast

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There are few more agonizing moments in modern life than those caused by the Shipping Forecast. Just ask any BBC announcer.

The job of reading out the daily five-minute reports on live radio is rumoured to be one of the most stressful occupations going.

Anyone who listens to the wireless regularly will know that the forecast has to be finished just before the Greenwich Time Signal. On no account must it over-run.

On the other hand, it must not finish too soon either or it leaves an awkward gap when there is nothing to say. Usually they get it right; after all, they've been doing it for years.

I have been fascinated by the roll-call of strangely named sea areas ever since I was a child. Dogger, Fisher and German Bight were much more interesting than the entertainment offered by George Dixon and Daphne Oxenford on Listen With Mother (the programme that preceded the forecast). I especially liked the bit when the announcer said: "Rain at times. Good." I always assumed that he must have something against sailors and was pleased they were out in the rain. It was years before I found out that "good" referred to visibility.

I have heard the Shipping Forecast so many times that, like many other people, I know the exact running order of all the sea areas followed by the reports from coastal stations. And this is where the problem arises. I can't relax properly until the announcer has got to Jersey which "concludes" the forecast. They usually get it right, but sometimes it is a close run thing.

People waiting for the news bulletin listen idly to the stately progress round the British coastline and are suddenly aware that the normally cool BBC voice has taken on a slight note of anguish.

Listeners glance at their watches. Throughout the land people stop what they are doing and listen in horror as the voice begins racing through the final few reports like a sports commentator.

At last it is all over and the nation breathes again. On land, we listen to the news. Meanwhile, out at sea, ships' captains try to decipher what they have just written in shorthand.