If you’ve been up late, you may have heard the shipping forecast on BBC Radio.
This is a litany of strange place-names, with weather conditions, announced for the benefit of mariners and lighthouse keepers. If you’re at sea, it’s a practical lifesaver; if you’re on land, it provides for a moment of quiet psychogeographical romanticism…
Like a lot of BBC Radio, it provides a consistent backdrop to everyday life.
This is a handy cotton hanky with the map of the shipping forecast divisions
Obviously, I find the same kinds of associations and escape in the imagery of trains, travel posters and so-on. It’s a short step from trains to boats. Speaking of which, it was great to find a whole box of ship models, including a couple of hearty tug boats. On closer inspection, it turned out these were “waterline” models, scratch-built from cardboard and toothpicks.
A quick look on the interweb thingy and it seems they might even be Bassett Lowke models. Bassett Lowke models were world famous in their day and are a staple of collectors. Bassett Lowke was quite a personality in his own right too. He had a house designed for himself by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The house is in Northampton.
I’m not sure the ship models are quite good enough, but we’ll keep checking.
In addition to the bigger ships, there were two submarines. Great, I can play out the battles of the Atlantic – think of the films In Which We Serve (1942), The Cruel Sea (1953), and Das Boot (1981). In winter, I can even wear my Royal Navy duffel coat.
My favourite models are those of the tugs. These simple boat shapes reminded me of the famous tug in Cassandre’s shipping poster (see header above), with a nod to the primitive painter Alfred Wallis.
Wallis was a retried seafarer who was discovered, living on the beach at St Ives, by Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood. They recognised him as an authentic and unspoiled genius. His false perspectives were especially appealing to these proto-modernists.
You can see lots of Alfred Wallis pictures at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.
Once you’ve figured out where all this comes from, you get back to the source – Alfred Wallis (not Picasso).
By a strange coincidence, the connection between boats, submarines and trains will also be evident at Chatham Historic Dockyard, Kent. They have a gallery show of artists who specialise in railway engines…It’s just opened and will be on for a while. They also have pictures from the National Maritime Museum too. Ship ahoy!