...And now the Shipping Forecast
It’s a blustery, rainy day on Brighton’s seafront. The waves dash themselves on the pebbles, sending spray across the promenade. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’m the only person foolish enough to be there. I’d rather not be, but I have a job to do. As I walk, I repeat the words of the shipping forecast - a litany, a rosary - until I settle on the word I need. Lundy. Lundy is a finding word. A friend’s brother has vanished, possibly lost at sea, and she has asked me to find him.
Did you know that the shipping forecast is magic? The main thing about magic is finding a system. Some people use the tarot, or the 72 demons of the goetia. You just need something that works. It can be the trees in your neighbourhood, the menu in Starbucks. I use the 31 areas of the shipping forecast. The names of the shipping areas have always felt powerful to me, from listening to the late night broadcasts as a teenager and falling in love with those names. Viking, Northutsire, Southutsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne.
Fitzroy is a healing word. Like what happened to Dog. I never gave him a proper name, because I never meant to keep a pet. But he was hungry and sad and if I didn’t feed him no-one would. He was also poorly, and I repeated the word Fitzroy to heal him. Of course, we don’t get to keep anyone from the reaper forever, but I could tell he was grateful. He still died, but we had a happy few months and he went peacefully at the end, rather than whimpering in pain. These words work.
Each day, I walk the full seafront, repeating the names. A magician needs to know their patch. Sometimes I’m just keeping myself open, to see what I find. Today I’m looking for Frank, seeing if I can summon him ashore, in case he has been taken by the sea. In my backpack is a jumper that he often wore. His sister wants to know what has happened, even if the news is bad. I whisper the word, I call it out, I shout it when the wind is high. Lundy. Come ashore, I urge, let the waves give you up.
Irishsea is a harsh word, not quite a curse, but it will sour someone’s milk between the time they sniff it and when they pour it on their cornflakes. It will set bad news onto someone. ‘Irish Sea’ might sound mundane, but it’s all about getting the intonation right - Irishsea. Try it. Have you ever repeated a word so often that it loses all meaning? Repeat Irish Sea. You can do it with your own name, but you need to be careful of that. I’ve seen people mumbling along the street who used to be decent magicians, but lost track of their own name.
A couple of joggers pass, and I admire their dedication. I look to the pier gates, which will be shut all day, even though it’s the weekend. I repeat Lundy - Lundy; Lundy. Maybe Frank is in those waves, maybe not, but if he is I will call him.
Biscay is for safety. I was walking the seafront on a drab winter morning when two men started following. I knew they planned to rob me. I hid beside a lamppost, not even daring to say the word aloud, just moved my lips, but Biscay protected me. They walked right past, looking around, but not seeing me. Biscay is a word for safety.
I’ve been repeating Lundy all the way to the West Pier when I turn back and see that it has worked - but not in the way that I planned. A line of shadows has come to shore. I’ve been meaning to find one lost person, but have drawn a crowd of them. I pause my incantation. The shadows are approaching.
I could repeat Biscay for safety, but I am not sure that would work. It’s fine for people, sometimes for security cameras, but ghosts are always different. I could try to outwalk them, but they’d catch up in the end. Ghosts don’t mean any harm, but they can overwhelm you with hunger. And then I think of the best place to take them.
It’s a short distance to the shopping center. It’s a few weeks from Christmas, so the place is crowded. I go into the main entrance, and when I turn back, the ghosts are not longer chasing me, but have become distracted by the bright lights and warmth. For the ones who’ve been in the waves the longest, this must seem like a glimpse of heaven.
I do a long loop of the mall and by the time I’m back at the entrance, none of the ghosts pay me any mind. A few wander about, and the living customers avoid them, stepping out of their way without knowing why. I sneak out, figuring the ghosts will drift back to the sea in time.
As I walk back along the rainy streets, I see that one ghost is still behind me. I take the jumper out of my backpack and hold it out, and the spirit reaches for it. I have some bad news for my client. I have found Frank.
I’ve long tried to write a story about the Shipping Forecast that I was happy with. This came to me while trying to prepare something for my writing group and I quite like how it has turned out. It links to another section of the South Downs Way stories that I’ve yet to start writing, about magicians and walking magic. There is also more to say about those ghosts in the sea.
I was sure that the line “A magician needs to know their patch” was a direct quote from Where The Buddleia Grows, a piece by my local cunning-man Cat Vincent. Looking online, this is apparently not from the piece, but this story is very much influenced by Cat’s discussions of magic.
I could imagine writing an entire book about this character - one of the responses in the workshop was that this story could be the basis of an entire series of urban fantasies. But I prefer this sort of compressed storytelling to writing an entire novel. It’s fun to dip into a world like this, and then look for the next one.
The social network formerly known as Twitter changed my life. But that’s in the past now, and social media these days is pretty much a drag. There is one social media site that I currently love, however, and that is Letterboxd.
I joined letterboxd as my friend Mr Spratt was reviewing the movies he watched on there. I set up an RSS feed and, for a long time, Letterboxd was just something that told me what one friend last watched. (The other week I actually messaged James as he’d gone 10 days without watching a film and I was worried).
I recently set up my own account, and I enjoy rating and reviewing each film I watch. The site has a wonderful web2.0 vibe, where you can break films down in lots of different ways (here are the horror films I’ve watched since joining, ordered by my rating). It also has some wonderfully snarky reviews.
I’ve now started following other people on the site, so send me a friend request.