BBC RADIO 4 ADDICT
I’d been living in England for a year before I turned on the radio. For the next three years I never turned it off. Insomniac, I left it on while I slept, and it was on when I woke. Occasionally friendless, I thought of it as my best friend. Mostly single, I thought of it as my girlfriend. I thought of it as England itself, and I can’t say I loved it, only that it was what life was: rain falling outside the window, the fridge empty except for the ice trays, half a bottle of Irish whisky on the shelf, voices on the radio. I never changed the channel. The channel was BBC Radio 4.
By the end, I had come to believe the Shipping Forecast was fictional. Once in the morning and once at night (and once in the afternoon on weekends), the state of the seas around Great Britain is delivered in a code that mixes vague evaluations with arcane zone names. You hear of small and intimate drizzles and gales moving erratically southward. The zone names aren’t so arcane if you look at a map, which I never did until today, sitting across the Atlantic in Brooklyn: Southeast Iceland is where you’d imagine it; North Utsire and South Utsire are the fringe of Norway’s lower fjords; Viking is to their west; Biscay is off France’s west coast; FitzRoy expands from there into the middle of the ocean. Now that I know where these zones are I like the program less. I preferred imagining hardy mariners navigating stormy waters with visibility moderate or poor, becoming good, otherwise mainly fair or variable. The visibility forecasts are so vague any single one could stand in for all of Britain’s weather any of the time.