Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning

mesnip30716Have you ever wondered who dreamt up that curiously surreal attempt at suggesting some degree of science in weather forecasting? It definitely predates the Met Office, so for once they can be absolved from blame. But whoever the original Anon was, he or she was speaking out of the wrong bodily orifice.

For starters, if there are few if any clouds about, the sky will be just as red in the evening as it is in the morning. The degree of redness in the heavenly palette has knob-all to do with whether shepherds are delighted or sailors anxious.

And next up, what the blue blazes have shepherds got to do with sailors? I mean, let’s keep it simple: if there’s a red sky at the end of the evening, your shepherd is less likely to get pissed on during the night. Nobody says “Grey sky at night, Shepherds will be dry”. That would be bloody daft. But if there’s a red sky in the morning, it means the sun’s coming up and you can see the damned thing coming up because there are ‘few if any clouds about’ – see previous para for further confirmation of the blindingly obvious. So what is there for sailors to be warned about – ‘The Met Office has just issued the following warning for Dogger: clouds will be sparse’?

“Oh shit the bed,” says Number One, “sparse  clouds….now we’re for it”.

All I can say is, if ageing wives did dream this stuff up, they have a lot to answer for.

And while we’re at it, the shepherd/sailor relationship is – shall we say – somewhat random. If you were watching one of those quiz shows like Pointless, I wonder how many people would put the shepherding thing close to the fishing profession. Not many, I’d surmise.

Your shepherd is a land based bloke watching over future Sunday lunches in case wolves decide to have a crack before we do. According to the Christmas story, shepherds are easily filled with mighty dread when angels descend without warning. But not by red skies at night: red skies at night, on the whole, they’re allegedly relaxed about.

However, whereas the seafaring common or garden sailor gets worried about 50-foot waves and the boat-sinking propensities of giant squid, there is little or no evidence to support the idea that Captain Birds Eye wakes up of a morning, spies a red sunrise, and immediately has an uncontrollable panic attack.


It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the well-known saying about shepherds, sunsets, sailors and sunrises emerged originally from the vivid imagination of an old wife with too much time on her hands.

Such would not be permitted in this, our progressive age. Today, I fancy, the pinched goblins of correctness would come up with

Shepherd sunsets and Sailor sunrises are nothing more than examples of the rainbow of multicultural weather experiences

Radical Islam, on the other hand, would counter this with

Red sunsets are the obvious product of the Great Satan’s attempts to control our weather, and infidel whores produce sailors with red eyes in the morning

But one must give Bloomberg the definitive last word on the subject:

Only continued membership of the EU can produce red sunsets and dry nights for shepherds, whereas conclusive research shows that Brexit must inevitably result in all British sailors going blind as a result of looking at red sunrises.


Earlier at The Slog: The causes of lost causes