It was my first time in the grim city of Wolverhampton. The Novotel there must be one of the most awkward hotel entrances to find. I could see the hotel from the road but it took several circumnavigations of a couple of rather large roundabouts before I found the car park entrance. We had arrived a little before check in time. I left my gear in the car and set about exploring the dismal city streets. The others put their bags in a secure room in the hotel and also went walkabout. We collectively reached the conclusion that Wolverhampton would not necessarily be on our holiday lists.
After asking a lot of people in town the consensus was that the best restaurant in town was Chicittos at a retail park. We were sitting ready to order when the waitress asked if it was anyone of our birthdays. I pointed to Kristian and said, “Yes it’s his. He’s thirty one and a half today!”
The rest laughed and so did she.
At the end of a perfectly adequate meal she came to the table with a bowl containing a ball of ice cream and a small piece of cake topped with a little candle and insisted we sing happy birthday. Hugh, one of the quartet’s violinists was the star soloists after taking a bit suck on one of the helium balloons at the table.
Things took a rather less amusing turn when we got back to the hotel. The bags were retrieved from the secure room. At least some of them were. Jen’s bag was winging it’s way to Birmingham airport with a courier. Quite why this had happened was a bit of a mystery. The receptionists tried to get hold of the courier to get it brought back. We were lucky that one of the receptionists spoke Indian. A long and at times slightly heated conversation took place. Once the phone got put down Jen was told that the case would be safely back in an hour or so. Sadly for Jen this was not the end of her troubles. The room she had been given was not the best. It stank of both fresh and stale tobacco smoke, the sort that makes you retch instantly. She was told there were no other rooms. At this point Stuart let rip in a polite but firm way. Suddenly from the hotel being full a spare room magically appeared.
The mornings location was in a very nice school no far from the centre of the city. The staff were very welcoming, friendly and quite excited about the impending proposal. They had done a great job of getting some of the kids involved holding little banners and decorating the hall.
The cable run from the satellite truck to both my camera and the secret camera was a little bit complicated. Steve the Satellite engineer and I got it all sorted, including a separate cable for audio so that the quartet would be heard when Jason the sound recordist and I were away from them.
As yesterday we had a bit of a run between the hall where the proposal would be and the library where Claire would be working unaware of what was about to hit her.
I had checked that there was enough cable to get us there and back. All the doors were wedged open. There was no possibility torehearse the move because we did not have time and she would have seen us. So I briefed Yijan Stuart and Jen about what to do to clear the cable.
We had a couple of teases to do before the main hit. A minute to go before the first one and a battery on the camera just about to go flat I decided a fresh one was needed quickly. I let Simon the director know it was being changed so that there would be no panic when the picture disappeared. I clicked the fully charged battery on to the camera and flicked the switch to on. I then hoisted the camera on to my shoulder. I was putting my eye to the viewfinder expecting to see a nice clear black and white image of the hall I was pointing at. What I saw was a the sick retching site of nothing. The gallery was still able to hear me so I yelped out, “I’ve lost the camera”.
Rapidly I checked that the camera was switched on. It was, but it was still dead. I switched it to off and checked the battery was fully charged and properly seated on the back of the camera. It was. I tried switching it on again. I banged it, coaxed it and cursed it, under my breath of course. We were in a hall full of kids. It was still dead.
There were only a few seconds to us being on air. I heard Simon prepare to take another item. I grabbed the battery I had just taken off and put it back on. The camera burst into life. I put it on my shoulder and prepared to do the hit. The rhythmic fear inducing battery warning light started to flash. I gulped. “For fucks sake take us quick!” My thoughts sceamed out.
Then Simon said, “We’ve taken another item first. We’ll be with you in three minutes.”
There was no way that the battery would last that length of time. I had no option but to try the fully charged battery again.
At the first attempt to switch it on nothing happened apart from me feeling the red line of anger and frustration rise up my neck and prepare to envelop me in a hood of rage and desperation. The temptation to hurl the piece of useless electronics and glass full force against the wall subsided when after two further tries to get it to fire up it did. Steve then appeared with the camera from the satellite truck. I motioned that we should be OK.
Then I was aware of Kristian’s voice. We were on!
I heaved a great sigh of relief when the short hit ended. I am not quite sure what made the camera throw a wobbler. It behaved itself after that.
It was getting very close to the time for the main event. I then heard over talkback that the mic for the quartet was not working. I dashed over to check the cables. There was no time for me to tell Jason. As I was pulling connections apart and making them again and speaking to Steve in the truck. He said that the mic had come back.
I got back to the camera hoping that things would go as well as yesterday’s lives. Just before we went on air I wished Nigel good luck.
Claire was in the library where the gallery could see her on the hidden camera. We were all set.
Kristian lead into a little film about Nigel’s love for Claire. The next thing would be our little run out through a couple of open doors, across part of the playground and in through a couple of quite narrow doors that would be closed. We would then be in the library. All that was then left to so was to do was to retrace our steps with me going backwards. That was the plan.
Out of the film Kristian had a quick word with Nigel. We then set off on our dash to the library. Claire was suitably surprised when we burst in through the doors. “So far so good.” I thought.
Kristian started to bring Claire over. Jason skilfully steered me out of the narrow doors and pulled me on to the path we needed to follow. It was looking good. We were on track. Out of the corner of my eye I was aware that things were not going quite according to plan behind me. I caught a glimpse of a loop of cable flying though the air and bodies moving in a frenetic manner. The hairiest part of the journey was approaching very fast. I hoped that Jason could get me through the double doors then through the smaller interior doors. At that point Jason turned round to see Jen covered in cable as if she’d been caught in a pretty big spider’s web. Yiljan was behind her pulling as if her life depended on it and through the doors Stuart was trying to free a snagged cable at the same time as hauling cable in like a demented trawler man with a net full of prize fish.
At that very instant we were at what should have been a gap of two doors. In the tangled mayhem of cables one of the doors had closed. That was the one I hit at full tilt. The camera battered the thick wood of the door a milisecond before I did. I instantly knew what had happened. For a nanosecond I was sure that both doors were shut. So using all my brute force and stupidity I tried crashing through it. Thankfully Jason adroitly redirected my rearward barge to the gap left be the other half open door. I was through.
Kristian made a comment about me hitting the door. All the time I could hear the guffaws of the people in the gallery. I knew how funny it would look to them and would be good viewing. I just wished it was not happening to me.
Once we were through the doors the cats cradle of cable then played it’s mischievous part. Somehow a length of camera cable appeared just about level with Kristian’s head. Once again he made a comment as he pulled it down and both Claire and he skipped over it as if it was an everyday happening.
Our entry into the hall was dramatic, a mishmash of stumbling people snared in the million tentacles of the not so mythical camera cable beast, followed by a very sweaty red-faced cameraman and sound recordist.
The rest of the hit was excellent. Nigel played his part and got down on one knee to ask the lovely Claire to marry him. She said yes. The confetti cannons went off and I got a great shot of the happy couple in a really emotional hug.
We were off air. When all the congratulations had been said and it calmed down one of the teachers asked if I would like a coffee. “Only if it is 90% brandy!”
On the drive to the next location I could tell that Jen had been well and truly GMTVed because I had asked her to drive so that I could start to do this blog. After an hour in the driving seat going down the M1 she asked if I could take over again because she was about to fall asleep. We still had an hour and a half to drive before we got to our destination and recce’d for tomorrows proposal. Welcome to the whacky and weird world that is breakfast television.