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.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Cockermouth Floods

Thursday 19th November

The Cockermouth Flood VT.

The call that I had been expecting came midmorning.

GMTV’s Chief Correspondent Richard Gaisford was jetting up to Glasgow and then driving to Dumfries.

The call told me that I should make my way south to meet him in preparation for the forecast heavy rain and potential floods.

I drove towards Dumfries under grey skies so heavy they were tipping out huge amounts of rain.

I had reach the halfway point to Dumfries when another call came from the GMTV office.

“There will be two locations for tomorrow. One will be in Cumbria, probably Cockermouth and the other will now be Hawick. Can you head there?” asked Carol the programme organiser.

I turned the car around and with a wake of spray drove in the direction of Hawick.

I called Richard. He was also now heading east.

On the way to the border town that had been the victim of pretty bad flooding a few years ago I was beginning to see the initial results of the lashing rain.

The river Teviot instead of its usual clear water flowing gently through the picturesque countryside was a torrent of angry brown broth.

The Fast Flowing River Teviot.

Darkness had fully descended when I arrived in Hawick. Richard still had quite a way to go.

Carol from the office called as I was approaching a road blocked by a wind and rain lashed policeman.

I asked him what was going on. 

He told me that the road, running along the banks of the river had been closed because there was a danger that the retaining wall might be breached.

He let me know where I could park the car and get to where I could see what was going on.

I thanked him and drove off.

Carol, who had been listening to the call told me that although that sounded exciting I might not be staying in Hawick.

There was a potential problem getting a truck to Hawick. The one from ITV North East/ Border that was going to come to Dumfries for us would not be coming because we were now off its patch.

STV were not able to provide us with the services of any of their trucks.

There was one last truck that might be able to get to the borders for live broadcasts in the morning and that was from a company called Solo and if it was available it would come up from Yorkshire, probably Sheffield.

We would have confirmation in a short while.

So until the call came I took up position near the endangered wall. By my side at the ready I had my little handycam just incase the wall suddenly succumbed to the rushing rising water.

I did not have long to wait to hear the news I did not really want to hear after already having spent three hours or so in the car.

No trucks were available. The two location idea had gone. Richard and I had to now make our way to Cockermouth.

As well as the two of us heading there GMTV had dispatched a reporter from ITV Wales, Duncan Golestani to Cumbria. He was on a months loan from the region and it was day four.

In Carlisle Richard and I rendezvoused and got some food in possible preparation for a long night. The reports of some flooding and closed roads were starting to come in.

Duncan was already in the thick of it by being hemmed in by roads that were closed by flood water.

In convoy Richard and I drove towards the hotel that had been booked for us near Cockermouth.

There were bits of trees and other debris strewn across the road. We drove through big puddles that were getting bigger. The rain was a constant travel companion.

The paradiddle on the roof and the flick flack of the wipers often drowned out the radio.

Picked out of the darkness by my headlights on a bend was a set of grand looking gates. As we got closer I could see the name of a hotel and a sign with four stars on it.

I was a tad disappointed when Richard drove past and I realised it was not the name of the hotel that we were heading for.

We were only just a little further up the road when up ahead I saw two dark figures highlighted by Richard's lights.

One of the figures was tall and thin. The other was stockier and much smaller. It was a man and woman. They were both dressed in walking gear complete with sturdy boots and hitech walking sticks.

Richard stopped level with them and I eased up behind him.

The slightly shaken up mild mannered pair told us that the road ahead was totally blocked and they had been forced to abandon their car in the fast rising waters and wade knee deep out of danger.

They got into Richard’s car and we took them to the hotel that we had just passed.

It was the very  imposing and pretty luxurious Armathwaite Hall Hotel. 

It would not be possible for us to get to the hotel that we had been booked into we would, along with our grateful new friends just have to book in to this one.

We were in luck. There were enough rooms for not only our little party but our colleague Duncan could be accommodated.

I was shown to my room. 

It was spectacular with a grand impressive four poster bed.

Richard’s was equally impressive but I won on the four poster front.

However, later we were both scooped by the newbie Duncan when he arrived. He was give the suite used by the Prime Minister when he stayed there.

After a brief look at the rooms Richard and I convened in the lounge to discuss our strategy for getting into Cockermouth as the access roads were quickly becoming unpassable and how we would cover the story.

From the information we were getting from various sources it was clear that the story was getting bigger.

Richard spoke to a resident of Cockermouth who told us that there was still a way in. The only problem was that we would have to make quite a long journey to get to the road.

We both got into my car prepared for the floods. I had put on my chest high neoprene waders and made sure that I had plenty of cloths to keep the lens as dry as possible.

I drove us away from the rich wood panelled warmth of the hotel.

There is a bit of  an equation that can be applied to over night stays on stories for GMTV. It goes like this: The quality and luxury of the room and hotel is in inverse proportion to the amount of  time spent in it.

Tonight was going to once again prove the equation to be true.

The Hotel in Daylight.

Now That's A Bed I Would Love to Have had Time to Get into!

When we arrived at a point as near to the centre of the Lake District town as we could get to the rain was falling heavily and being swirled round by wildly gusting winds.

Overhead we heard the sound of a large helicopter clearly over the noise of the wind and rain.

We both ran to where the sound was coming from. 

Above out the low dark sky bright lights pierced the blackness. The silver beams made large eddying rain drops sparkle and glisten.

As the lights moved from directly overhead passing the rooftops the bright yellow of a Sea King search and rescue helicopter was revealed.

I wanted to get shots of the chopper in relation to ground objects like chimney pots, lamp posts or whatever to show how low it was flying.

We ran around like maniacs stopping for a few seconds here and there to get  shots to indicate the frenetic madness of what was going on.

The town’s main street was now a rampaging mass of boiling brown water. 

The crew of a large inflatable rescue boat with a big powerful outboard engine were trying to get across what was the High Street but was now white water  rapids.

They got across and the pictures I got showed how difficult and dangerous it was.

Richard did a piece to camera encapsulating the drama of what was happening as it unfolded.

All the time the heavy rain was lashing down and my major job was keeping the lens dry. My cloths were fast becoming saturated with water. Rather than dry the water off they were starting to just spread and smear the water over the front glass.

Added to that was that even wearing a very capable all weather jacket my top half was getting soaked to the skin and the part of me that was encased in totally water proof waders was now also

completely saturated not with rain water but sweat brought on by all the running around.

The three of us, now accompanied by a helpful local chap called Jonathan went off getting more images of the action that was going on in the fight to make sure that as many people and as much property as possible was being saved from the destructive force of the water.

The thing that we needed to turn our minds to then was that we had to get the stuff that had been shot edited and back to GMTV in London.

There was just one more thing to shoot and that was a piece with Duncan at one of the evacuation centres to show what was happening to the people that had been rescued.

With Jonathan’s help and the kind co operation of the people in the Sheep and Wool Centre just outside the town we went in to shoot.

When I knew that we were going to have to go and film inside after having been outside in the cold and rain for quite a while I was filled with a minor bit of dread.

A warm or hot and probably slightly humid building is not the best place to take a cold very wet piece of camera equipment.

The very moment we went in my fears were realised. The lens and the viewfinder steamed up totally.

I was slightly concerned on two counts. We did not have a great deal of time to get the shooting done because of the need to get the  material back to London and although we had been welcomed into the makeshift rescue centre that welcome would not last for long. Experience was telling me that in these situations it does not take long for even the people that are happy for their plight to be broadcast to the nation and wider world to resent the presence of a camera and the questions accompanying it.

I asked one of the helpers at the centre if they had a hairdryer that I could borrow.

She looked at me incredulously and said that I could have a towel.

I realised that as at that moment I looked like I had just stepped out of a bath fully clothed, with water dripping off every part of me. The request for a hairdryer must have appeared somewhat vain.

I quickly explained it was for the camera and that I had already been to the toilets in a fruitless search for hot air hand dryers to do the job of demisting it.

I knew that even with a dryer it would take a while particularly when I could see the horrible sight of a ring of condensation inside the lens between the elements.

Richard brought in the little camera that he uses if he is doing any shooting. Even that steamed up quite a bit but was demisted more quickly so I ended up having to use that.

I was not ideal because in the relative low light of the centre the camera did not cope as well as my larger camera and it is much more fiddly to use on anything apart from auto.

However we got it done and headed back to edit in the convivial surroundings of the lounge of the hotel.

We were busy editing when our colleagues from Sky arrived after their days work. They had a relaxed drink before retiring for a full night’s sleep.

We carried on with our work getting the material cut and sent to London. Then we went to bed.

Richard and I Edit in Temporary Cosy Comfort.

Richard and I managed to luxuriate for a full forty minutes on our excellent rooms before it was time to head back out to Cockermouth for the live broadcasts.

The rain had all but stopped. It was obvious that the water had started to ebb slowly away leaving bits of flotsam and a layer of thick sticky mud in its wake.

Pete the sound recordist brought along a  handy little pair of  battery powered water proof lamps to help with the lighting.

The Watery Scene in the High Street.

Pete Gets Sound Levels and Richard Chats to Rescued flood Victims.

Sky Start their Broadcasts.

There was still lots of water around so we decided to use the Digi Link on the back of the camera so that we did not have to use the cable from the truck to the camera.

This would have been  fine except Richard pointed out that GMTV wanted to have us on lots of times throughout the morning.

The problem was that the Digi Link uses lots of battery power and if prone to switching off suddenly without warning when the battery gets a little low on charge.

We did not to risk that so after the first broadcast we put the camera and sound on a cable to the truck.

It was cold and dark at the only bit of the main street that we were able to access.

The first few broadcasts were just with Richard telling the story of the events of the night. Then things started to get busy.

One of the first guests that we wanted to talk to was the fireman in charge of their operation.

It was getting very close to the time of our broadcast and he was still being interviewed on Sky.

The producers in London kept asking us over talkback if we would get him in time. We had no idea.

The time came for our broadcast. Instead of talking to the Fire Chief, Richard had to stand in and give an up date on what was going on. He kept one eye on the Fireman currently a beacon in a sea of black lit by the light on the top of the Sky camera.

As soon as it was obvious that the Sky broadcast was over Richard and I went towards the man and did our live interview with him.

One of the many businesses that had been devastated by the quantity and force of the water was a little restaurant.

Whilst we were setting up for our broadcasts the couple that own it came to inspect the damage. Instead of wellies the lady had bare feet. They must have been frozen but she said not.

The generosity of spirit of many people never ceases to astound. Her restaurant was in ruins, the only thing working was one gas ring in the kitchen yet she insisted on using that one gas ring to make us coffee. 

The Barefoot Angel with the Coffee.

Richard and Hilary Benn Just Before the Interview.

In very quick succession we did broadcasts with the one of the chief police officers, Chief Superintendent Steve Johnson and Hilary Benn the Minister for the Environment.

Just as we were about to go live with  the Chief Superintendent  one of the Sea Kings that had been buzzing about overhead came over very low and started to hover in preparation to winch yet more people to safety.

It made for very dramatic pictures but boy was it noisy. Standing only three or four feet away from Richard and the Chief Superintendent I could not hear a word that they were saying over the roar of the rotor blades as the pilot kept the helicopter in position.

Pete on sound did a great job because the sound of the interview was perfectly audible.

The Sea King Ready to Winch.

Richard Checks Wires as the Water recedes.

Windows Smashed by the Powerful Water.

The Water Starting to go Down.

At the end of the programme we were given some very nice comments from the bosses in London for a job they thought that we had done well.

I was particularly pleased when a cameraman colleague from Sky News complimented me on the filmed package that we had done during the night.

However, I felt more than a little uneasy about feeling pleasure with what we had done.

We had been a bit wet and uncomfortable and could look forward to going to our warm homes with our families.

There were many people who had lost most, if not all of there possessions, livelihoods and would not be able to live in their own homes again for months or even years.

There were four children left without a father, a wife left without a husband when policeman Bill Barker had been killed trying to keep members of his community safe when one of the bridges collapsed.

No comments:

Post a Comment