Cameraman based in Edinburgh, employed by ITN, working for ITV's Good Morning Britain covering stories all over the UK and the world. War Zones, World Cups, Royal Tours and many other less exciting assignments, like interviewing current and ex Prime Ministers have kept me busy over the years working in Breakfast Television since GMTV came on the scene back in '93 and regional TV before that. In 2009 I began to record what it is like to work, the often strange and long hours needed to bring the hard news, human interest and fluffy fun to the UK's TV screens in the morning, mostly broadcasting live.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Yeah mon it's Jamaica!

I only ever seem to see airport hotels in the dark. This morning was no exception. I walked to the South Terminal to join all the other red eyed travellers either about to jet off to exotic locations or arriving from long haul flights from the other side of the globe. Airports ooze excitement and anticipation with a drizzle of stress to make them unique places. I love them. 

The main thing I needed to do was to get my carnet signed and stamped at Customs. This is a document that lists in great detail the equipment that is to. be taken out of the country and will be brought back. If it is in anyway not filled in correctly or any of the kit listed does not come back into the UK the company can lose a lot of dosh because a bond is lodged depending upon the value of the equipment. I am taking a different lens with me that is not listed but there is a place on the carnet for special remarks etc’. I wrote on the document the change giving the serial number of the lens I am taking. The Customs Officer said that strictly speaking it wasn’t possible to do that but it would not be a problem in the UK. However, he did say that US customs may view it differently. If they do I will be a bit pissed off to say the least because all we will be doing is transiting through Miami in our return trip. The annoying thing is that all our stuff has to go through US Customs even although all we will effectively doing is changing aircraft. Fingers crossed that they don’t get to anal about it as they sometimes can.

With the Carnet stamped we started to wander over to the check in area. A very nice lady who had been behind me during the Customs thing came running up to me and handed me my passport that I had left beside the Customs counter. Doh!!

The was a possibility that we could get a bit of an upgrade from our seats up the back to bigger seats nearer the front. The lady and her colleague at the check in were very nice and had a look but sadly all the good seats had been booked and paid for. She said that there were a couple of Premium Economy seats that had not yet been confirmed. We’d find out at the gate. By the time we got to the gate they were confirmed. So it was up the back for us. At least we got seats at an exit and a fast track through security.

We had time for some breakfast and a bit of light shopping for essential supplies like sunscreen and mossi repellent. I was annoyed with myself for not bringing the only stuff that repels the good old Scottish Midge, Avon Skin So Soft. Not only do you not get bitten you have lovely soft skin.   For years people have been trying to find out what the magic ingredient is that makes this stuff so good but Avon will not tell anyone. Rumour has it that the US Department of Defence wanted to buy the formula for their troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Again Avon said no but was happy to sell them lots of  Skin So Soft. So the next time you see a tough gung ho US Marine being butch and macho fighting the Taliban his skin will probably be doing it with perfectly moisturised skin.

In WH Smiths I saw my colleague Penny Smith’s book on the shelf. When I was at the GMTV Christmas Party she asked me if I had read it. I had to say no. She did not appear at all offended but she didn’t speak to me for the rest of the night. 

“Maybe it is worth a browse,” I thought. 

I picked it off the shelf and opened it at random and started to read. The section I read was about a character having a little incident on a flight to LA. Jings! (well I am a Scot) That actually happened. Although, I must say with all due respect to Penny the reality was much funnier but also a lot more unbelievable partly because it was on Concorde. Instantly I bought the book to see how many more little events are in there with the names changed to protect the guilty, or prevent litigation.

The flight was very slightly delayed but not by much. At around 10am Yiljan and sat in our extra leg room seats ready for a 10 hour journey to Montego Bay.

During the flight I did read a good part of Penny’s book. It was quite funny in a Nick Hornby sort of way. There were a couple of little incidents in it that were familiar. Someone at GMTV did end up with their car going down a big hole in the middle of the road on the way home. 

With about an hour to go before landing an announcement came over the PA system asking for any medically trained person onboard to make themselves known to a member of the crew. There was a little toddler a few rows behind us showing some symptoms that were of concern to the family and cabin staff. Fortunately there was a doctor available. He came and had a look and said that it may just be an allergic reaction but when the family got off the ‘plane they should go and get the little one checked out at a hospital just to be sure.

When we landed we were met by a quiet lady from the Tourist Board of Jamaica. She took our landing cards, checked them over and the whisked us through immigration. I have been through Jamaica before so I was sort of prepared for what came next. To get the camera equipment in to the country we needed to produce a duplicate list. This is similar to a Carnet and serves the same purpose but is less official and there is no need for a bond or any money to change hands in the UK. It lists all the equipment being taken in with the relevant serial numbers so that Customs can check that it has been taken back out when leaving the country.

The small unsmiling Customs lady spent a lot of time studying the list, which had been all printed out in an official letter from the Tourist Board.

“Whe’s ya equipment?”, she said.

We opened the bag from London. “Show me it aal”.

The first thing she took was a radio mic hired for the shoot. The only thing was that it was not on the list. So, I had to explain what it was, how we would us it and how much it cost. After I had given her a full explanation in as charming a way as I could she added it to the list. A few of the other things like microphones and mac Powerbook were fine with the serial numbers all matching and duly ticked off on the list. We then came to batteries for the little satellite transmission terminal. One of them did not have the serial number as listed. Then we had to hunt for a couple of things that were on the list but not there.

After going through every item and emptying the bag completely, twice these items were struck off the list. The kit I had brought was a little quicker because I knew exactly where everything was and where to find the numbers. After she was happy with every item of kit and also had a good look through all our personal stuff  she said “Ya know ‘bout da processin’ fee?” 

I looked at Yiljan. She looked at me and shook her head. We both then looked at the Customs lady and shook our heads. 

With a slightly furrowed brow Yiljan said, “What’s that for?”.

“Ya don’t pay. Ya don’t bring da tings in da coontri.” came a rather laconic reply.

“How much will it be?” enquired Yiljan.

“one tousand two hoondrad dollaars.”

Yiljan’s face suddenly lost it’s usual healthy hue!

The colour in her cheeks returned when we realised that it was Jamaican Dollars with an exchange rate of about 150 to the pound not US.

At the cashiers desk Yiljan paid the fee to a girl who spent the time listening to music on her earphones.

Once the formalities had been done we got into a rather battered minibus that had come to pick us up to take us to the hotel just over an hours drive. It may have been a bit careworn and scruffy but it did have some mod cons, like a DVD player. There were two screens one behind the front seats that I could watch and one on the dashboard that Alistair the driver could watch as he drove.

Now that's what I call a road movie!

It took a little over an hour to get to our pretty basic hotel. I used the time to do this typing and occasionally watching some crap American comedy film about three guys getting their girlfriends pregnant. By this time it was starting to get dark. As for us we were pretty knackered because by our body clocks it was after midnight. We were also starving. The chef said he’d make us some Jerk Chicken and rice. We would have to wait around 25mins for it. So we went to my room to have a look at the London gear and make sure that it was working OK. I hunted and hunted through the bag with increasing tired frustration but it wasn’t there. The Firewire cable that connects the camera to the laptop was missing. I just hope that somewhere in Jamaica there is a place I can find one because without it the game's, as we say in Scotland a boggie! The other thing is because our schedule is so tight as usual I will have to entrust that duty to some kind volunteer.

When we got dinner it was basic but absolutely fab!

By our time it was after 1am and we were both really on our last legs. I almost fell asleep as I was typing this. My head kept falling forward and as it did it jerked back up as my eyes opened. The screen had a single letter marching across and down the page like a hungry Space Invader at the end of a particularly high scoring game. I desperately needed a good night’s sleep

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