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.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Another Airport Another Bit of Gear Goes Missing

Our seats were at a bulkhead. The first row in economy, tantalisingly close to business class and no curtain to prevent us seeing our fellow travellers quaffing champagne and stretching their legs. The girl at the check-in probably thought that she was doing us a favour by giving us these seats. Sadly it was not because I was not able to straighten my legs. The result was that for the full duration of this night flight I could not sleep a wink.

I was somewhat jaded when we went to get the gear from the baggage belt in Terminal 3. Yijan looked wiped out even although she had managed a few hours sleep. So when the tripod did not come off we could have cried. It got worse when I pointed out that it was part of my Carnet. There was a bit of head scratching and discussion at Customs about what to do. In the end I had to leave the Carnet with the Agent for American Airlines to get it stamped when the tripod turns up. 

I said goodbye to Yiljan and headed off on my next mission. I had said that I would get my colleague Nick a copy of a magazine that is difficult to get in the UK, Entertainment Weekly. Some of the few places are certain WH Smiths stores at Heathrow T5. After I went up to the top floor for departures, checked in the gear and paid the excess baggage, which was a little less than when I arrived, I went back down to the ground floor to begin my quest. 

Nick had been very specific about where I would find the magazine and what would be on the cover. So, I had the perfect excuse to peruse the women's lifestyle magazines with the famous and attractive on the cover. I had a quick scan followed by a closer inspection. Aah! So many potential fantasies, so little time. Breaking my reverie I noticed a white shirted employee leaning in to a delivery cage up to his armpits in boxes of shortbread. Maybe it wasn’t the best time for me to say excuse me a few inches away from his ear. He stood up slightly startled bringing out a few boxes of Petticoat Tails which were instantly arranged in an attractive abstract form on the floor. I apologised and helped put them back in to the cage. He turned his bespectacled spiky haired  attention to me. I asked about the mag’. He looked in the section that I had already comprehensively searched and confirmed there were none left. He certainly gave me confidence that he knew his stock because when he replied in a slightly high pitched monotone I  was instantly convinced that he could recite the ISBN or whatever the magazine equivalent is for every mag printed. He told me that there were another 5 stores in the terminal and my best bet would be airside. 

I checked out the one on the departure level before security. No luck. In the departure lounge another helpful member of staff called around the other branches. Still no luck. I had to call Nick and tell him the bad news.

At the end of an eventful flight and a short taxi ride I got home at 11am Jamaica time, a total day with no sleep of around 27 hours.

Losing it in Miami!

Wednesday 28th January (pm)

We had timed our arrival at the airport to take into account of the time we would spend at customs. Sure enough as I expected all the equipment that I had just packed had to be taken back out to be checked. The young Customs Officer took a little while to find our list from the office. When she came back we went through each item one by one. It took a bit longer than it should because as well as checking my stuff she was talking to colleagues, taking phone calls and handing bits of paper to various people that came to the hatch. We then had to be escorted to the check in desk by two other Customs Officers. They waited until all our bags had disappeared on the belt and they had taken a note of the tags put on them by American Airlines.

All Yiljan and I did then was wait for the flight which started off being delayed by 40 mins, then 1hr 15mins.

The delay in the flight meant that our turn around in Miami was reduced from 3 to 2 hours. I could see it being touch and go as to whether we would make the connection. The crazy thing when you transit through the US is that you have to go through Immigration and Customs. My dread was the hassle when it came the Customs part.

It was as if the doors had just opened for the January sales when we got off the ‘plane. There were lots of people like use trying to make connections. It was a bit of a walk/run following the signs for Immigration. The amount of humanity filling the Immigration hall made Moses and his mates look like a small gathering of gentle folk from the WRVS. Most of the rest of the world appeared to be wanting to get into Miami or again like us just go through it.

As I was filling out my Visa Waiver Form I overheard an airline employee tell someone to go to line 28 as it was the quickest. I pointed Yiljan in that direction. Good move. That line went round a corner and became five or six other shorter lines. We were at least a lot further on than if we had joined the lines straight ahead but it was still really busy with an obvious long wait. 

There was an old Italian man behind me talking on his phone. I thought that he had finished his conversation but I could still hear him yabbering away. I was also aware that I was being mildly jostled. I turned around. He was gibbering and pointing in front of me and motioning me to move up. I gave him a look. The only way I could move any further forward was to get very intimate with a large black guy with questionable personal hygiene. My Italian friend continued to quietly mutter and gently push and prod me. I ignored him as best I could. 

Yiljan and I moaned to each other about the stupidity of the whole system as we waited for the folk away in front of us to get their finger scans done and photographs taken. Occasionally over the noise of uniformed US officials telling people what to do and where to go the sound of things being stamped was heard. That was the indication that in a few moments we would move forward a few inches. We got to within sight of the desk. One side just said visitors the other said Diplomats. People were being directed to both sides but the line was only at the visitors side. A while later Yiljan and I were at the front Yiljan went off to the guy at the visitors side. I was next to go through the Diplomatic line. Then a whole load of guys appeared and made a queue at that desk. I said that the our line had been splitting up and using that desk. The guy at the front who was an educated sounding Englishman pointed to the sign above the desk and said in a tone that reminded me of teachers at school, “That is a Diplomatic channel.”

In as sarcastic a voice as I could muster I said, “Well if your a Diplomat I am so sorry.”

The words were still coming out of my mouth when I noticed the light blue of a UN passport he had discretely held in his hand. The desk then became free. We both ushered each other forward. I won that one. I let him go before me. The Customs Officer who was dealing with Yiljan then broke off what he was doing and came round to tell us that no one should be in that line. In unison I, and about ten people behind me in a variety of European accents ejected the line, “We were told to come here!”.

Mr Customs man then said to us, “He can’t do that.”

Filled with exasperated frustration our united reply was, “Well he did!”

He turned his attention to his colleague at the desk and gave him a roasting. He went back to dealing with Yiljan and then proceeded to give her a bollocking because she had not done the online application thing. She had been told that because she had an ivisa she did not need to do it. He disagreed. Clutching an information leaflet he thrust in to her hand after venting his emotion on stamping her passport she headed to customs.

By the time I got to the desk manned by the Officer who looked very like one of the singers from Stepps I was coming to boiling point. I think after his rather public dressing down so was he. I handed him my passport along with the forms I’d filled in as politely as I could. He looked at the Waiver form and curtly asked where I was in transit to. I told him and he slapped the forms back on to the counter and told me to write that on them. I picked up the pen and scrawled UK on the parts he’d indicated. Then I did the hand and photo thing.

We collected our bags and boxes from the floor of the baggage hall. Next was the bit I was dreading, Customs and the Carnet. (That sounds like a good name for a media pub) I handed it to the guy I had been directed to, asking whether I needed to do the transit part or the importation part. He pleasantly asked me to wait while he checked. Off he went and I waited. Fairly soon another chap came out of a door with my Carnet in his hand and disappeared through another door. I was getting more edgy because the flight was due to leave in less that half an hour. He reappeared and put the Carnet down all filled in. All I needed to do was sign. After I had done it he said, “Your good to go.” 

I took the carnet complimenting him on the speed and efficiency with which he had dealt with it. Then the first guy asked which flight I had come in on. I told him. He asked me to wait a moment. He went behind a computer and started tapping away on the keyboard. It felt like he was typing out the complete works of stupid things that George Bush said when he was president. After coming down from boiling point when the Carnet process was apparently gone so well I was getting het up again. I did get my passport back shortly afterwards. My fuse was still ready to blow.

All I had to do now was get rid of the boxes, bag and get to the gate. There was loads of hustle and bustle at the connection belt. The woman there told me to get the bags over quickly and go to the gate as fast as I could. At the security check the queue was short. I had the laptop out, my bag and camera on the X-ray rollers like lightning. I was just about to go through the scanner when the security guy pointed at my feet and shouted, “shoes!” 

I went up to him, thrust my face in to his so we were nose to nose and  he could feel my hot breath on his face. I yelled, “Of course they are shoes! What the fuck do you put on your feet? Peanut Butter tubs?”

That was what I did in my head. What I did in reality was take a few steps back and put my shoes through the X-ray machine. When I got them of at the other end I toyed with the idea of slipping them on unlaced and running to the gate because by now it was well into last call. A vision flashed in my head. It was me tripping up over a loose lace, the camera ripping an Armani suite worn by a rich Frenchman as it falls on the floor, where it splits open scattering printed circuit boards all over the place and my nose splitting, pouring blood over the bits of electronics still in the camera. So I quickly tied my laces. I got to the gate to see   Yiljan patiently waiting. We were about the last to get on board. I was so so happy that we had not missed the flight.

Now The Sun Appears!

Wednesday 28th January (am)

I am getting used to the rain. It has become the sound accompaniment to waking up. No rush to get up as we will be leaving for the airport at 11am. 

Yiljan and I went for breakfast to see Derrick, Mr Motivator, sitting with a cup of coffee. He had come down from his Technicolor mansion in the hills to say a final good bye. 

Last night the plan was to go for a quick dip either in the pool or sea to get a few rays in the hour or so before we departed. Best laid plans and all that, the rain had stopped but it was still very cloudy, although starting to break up slowly. 

We had three days of heavy grey skies and dodging torrential rain showers. Now, in a taxi to the airport listening to reggae and Ladysmith Blackmambazo there was a clear blue sky and hot bright sun overhead. Out of the whole trip the longest continuous period we had out in the sun was the walk from the Customs Office along to the airport terminal.

No Wonder Jamaica is so Green!

27th January

Once again I woke up a little early to the noise of the lashing rain. It had eased a bit by the time I got up and Yiljan and I had gone to reception to meet Adrian our Tourist Board friend for the short drive to the hotel next door. He’s a tall hadsome guy with a thin well cropped beard and as my mother might say a twinlke in his eye. He seemed to be on very friendly terms with every attractive woman of girl we saw. There was a lot of body language going on!

Adrian "The Man"

Breezes is much bigger with a nicer beach for filmng. Derrick arrived at the same time as us followed a short time later by a very wet and exhausted Sandra his wife. She had run to us and about 2ks away got caught in one of the numerous really heavy showers.

The hotel had organised for me to us their PA system for Mr M’s workout. After waiting for a lull in the weather with the help of a couple of the hotel staff we lugged the amp, mixing desk and speaker out on to the beach. I rigged all my cables and made sure it was all working. I went back to put the mic’on Mr M. I noticed that three large guys from the hotel entertainment staff were taking the equipment off the beach. I was just about to ask what was going on when I overheard one them  rather angrily say to the PR girl who was looking after us that taking the gear in when the rain started was too late. He said pointedly with more than a hint of exaspiration that you have to look for the weather not wait to feel it. He then pointed out to sea where there was a huge grey black cloud in the distance. Within a few moments it was right over us tipping out a huge quantity of rain. The rest of the morning was like that. We would see a break in the clouds, rush out with all the equipment only to rush back in with it before I shot a frame. Prior to a pretty horrible lunch of cold chicken from one of the hotel’s restaurants all we managed to get done were two short workouts.

In the afternoon the weather got a little better. Well at least it stopped raining. However, the sky was still really cloudy. The wind had picked up, that helped break up the clouds but, on the other hand it was a pain for sound. There were just enough little windows of sun for us to get quite a lot done on the afternoon without any major mishap. There was one really annoying thing. When we were sheltering from the rain suddenly a spectacular full rainbow appeared in the sky over the sea. Immediatly grabbing the camera and tripod I ran to the edge of the beach to get an unobstructed shot. I had a quick look in the viewfinder and pressed record. Derrick had come behind me and after giving a few seconds for me to get a clean shot he stepped in front of camera and delivered a line with reference to the rainbow. As he finished I noticed to my total horror that there was a big sploge of water on the lens. I wiped it off but the colours of the rainbow were fading fast. The rain must have hit the lens as I ran down to get the shot. It totally ruined what would otherwise have been a terrific image. 


Back at our hotel I prepared to feed. None of the feeds had been straight forward and this one was no exeption. Firstly, the computer froze when I was putting the first bit of footage in to it. Then at one particular it just kept stopping. After I tried about four times and the same thing happened and the same point each time I investigated a little further and noticed a tiny glitch on the tape but it was enough to make it stop the computer. I was glad that that bit was not needed ‘til after the tape would be back in London. It would be possile to sort out the little fault. Once I did get the stuff away I relaxed.

Adrian suggested we go out to eat that evening. We were more than happy to leave the confines of our fully inclusive hotel. He took us to a great restaurant above Ocho Rios called Evita’s. It is run by a small round jolly woman called Eva. She was there in all her slightly over the top red outfit complete with wide brimmed red hat. She greeted us warmly and recommended a couple of dishes. I took her up on one of them, Runaway Shrimp. It was superb, shrimp with spaghetti in a coconut sauce. It might not sound great but it was really good.

As well as the owner with the larger than life personality the restaurant has a great view looking down on Ocho Rios and a wall with photos of the rich and famous that have eaten there.

The drive back was a little more relaxed than the drive there because the traffic had quietened down. The prime time for a Jamaican driver to overtake is when there is a line of traffic coming the other way and the gap between is marginaly wider than the space a bicycle courier in London would think twice about squeezing through. At one point Adrian said in a slow Jamaican drawl, “Here comes another madman.”

As he was saying it our car lurched over to the side just staying on tarmac as a small car with a big noise and a blue glow round the registration plate roared past us and several of the cars in front. It was forced back into the left hand side by a combimation of a fairly tight bend and a huge American tuck bearing down on it. There was no flashing of lights, hooting of horns or gestures made. That is just the way they drive here. Adrian was saying how mad the driving was and how you really have to have your wits about you and he spent as much time looking for the nutters in the rear view mirror as out to the front. He did drive in a kind of sensible manner. Although, every time we started off the tyres skreached as we left a quantity of rubber on the road.  In the couple of days we’ve been here and the short drives we’ve been on I have seen at least four cars in various states of near total destruction in ditches at the side of the road. Oh and surprisingly two or three Police speed traps.

So by the time we got to the restaurant, what with the journey and Adrian’s stories about his time working at Hedonism II, and the antics of the guests Yiljan and I were slightly less chilled out than we would have liked. 

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Dunns River Falls and Jerk Chicken

Bloody body clock! I thought that I had reset it on the plane with lots of best Colombian and with something  herbal that night.  People I know keep telling me they get their herbal stuff under the counter or in some little back street places I never seem to be able to find. I get mine from Boots. Anyway,  I was wide awake hours before I needed to be despite the coffee and the sleeping tablets. So I was just about to get back to that imminent intimate moment between me, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and one of the flight attendants that was on the flight that brought us here when I was jolted into full consciousness again by a text message from David at GMTV in London. After lengthy text exchanges, phone conversations and a few e-mails about yesterday’s debacle I just got ready for breakfast. The rain was still battering down. 

Adrian from the Jamaican Tourist Board met us at the hotel. We had borrowed a set of pa speakers and amplifier for Mr Motivators workouts. Sheldon the driver loaded them into the little mini bus. Then we went along the road to Dolphin Cove. We wanted to shoot a workout and a couple of pieces to camera. Michelle greeted us with the usual pr trained smile and patter. She was very helpful and organised a power cable etc’. After a bit of a discussion about where we were going to do the workout I started setting up the speakers and testing the mix. As I was scurrying about with cables and bits  of kit I was aware that Yiljan and Derrick were in and earnest discussion about when he should be wearing his Lycra outfits and when he should not wear it. Once I had set up we then had a discussion with the folk at Dolphin Cove confirming what the Dolphins do and when they do it. As a result of that brief conversation we changed the location of the workout. I went off to move all the stuff to another position. 

I shot the workout and a few other pieces to camera. Some of them were even in a tiny little bit of sun. The rain had kind of stopped. There were a few, very few gaps in the cloud.

Next stop was just a two  minute drive over the road to Dunns River Falls. It is regarded as the number one tourist attraction in Jamaica. Sheldon, our driver took us up to the security gate. Slowly and very suspiciously the guard came over to the Adrian’s open window. As Adrian calmly explained who we were, what we wanted to do and that we were expected because he had spoken to one of the people in charge and been exchanging e-mails about our shoot the guard looked at us as if we were about to come in to blow the place up. He then mad a call and said that we would need to wait at the normal front gate until various people were contacted to let us in. We stood outside for about twenty minutes before we got the go ahead to go in. The plan was to do a  workout on the beach at the bottom of the falls. We all went down to have a  look. It’s a fair old trek down loads of steps to get there. Although the sun was still hiding away behind pretty thick clouds the place was busy with people from all over the world din all colours shapes and sizes. A lot of the women were in bikinis. Not one of them should have even have considered the bikini as their swim wear item of choice.

Mr M. and me in the gloom before I changed the angle of the shot.

I was glad that we had not dragged the kit the all the way down the steps beside the falls. The electric power that we had been told was there had been taken away years ago. That scuppered the idea of the workout being done. We did do some more pieces to camera and shots of Mr Motivator doing various separate exercises. I shot quite close to the falls. That caused me a couple of problems. The easiest one to solve was sound. the falls are very noisy. Derrick then just talked a bit louder to compensate. The second one was more annoying because there were a few shots of him I wanted to do but couldn’t because we were under a gloomy canopy of trees under a gloomy canopy of cloud. That meant it was fairly dark. Shooting someone with Derrick’s skin colour against white foaming water needs to be lit other wise he becomes a silhouette. I had no lights. I got round it by turning him the other way, but that compromised the quality of the shot.

The next bit of the day was the best. Derrick took us to a place nearby called Scotchies for genuine Jerk Chicken. It was fantastic food. The seasoned chickens are cooked on a huge rack of  wooden poles over a charcoal fire. They are covered with a sheet of corrugated steel. When you order either a quarter or half a chicken it is taken from under the sheet to a chopping block where it is simply chopped up in to bite sized pieces. One of the things to have with the chicken is a sort of long fairly thin cross between dumpling and bread called festival. We had a great meal. It was rushed very slightly because we had to be at the next location The jamaican Grand Hotel at exactly 2:30 to shoot another workout. the time was important because where we were allowed to shoot was being prepared for a wedding that was happening at 3:30. It was a tiny bit after 2:30 when we arrived but I got everything set up quickly. Derrick had found some willing and eager volunteers to do the workout with him. We got it done very quickly. The route back to our hotel took us past a Bob Marley souvenir shop and a Hard Rock Cafe. We did a very quick bit of shopping before getting back to the hotel to feed the material to London. Also on the drive we regained a GPRS signal. Then all the e-mails started flooding about what the programme wanted for tomorrow. It was not quite what we had shot and there was no time to reshoot. Luckily there were ways round the problem by careful editing back at base. I was pleased about that because by the time I got the shots fed to GMTV it looked like being a normal length working day.

Cooking Jerk Chicken the traditional way.

Yiljan and I felt we deserved a quick break with a dip in the pool before sending the stuff back. So we braved the slightly chilly pool to refresh us. There were a couple of hardy kids from New Jersey in the pool. The insisted that we played a game of ball with them. We lasted about 10 mins before we called it a day and got out.

Back at the apartment I ingested the footage in to the computer in preparation for sending it over the internet. It was all in and the encoding procedure was almost finished when the computer crashed producing one of those really annoying blue screens. I was gutted because I would have to sit and do it all again. I did and by that time it was time for food. The restaurant in the hotel that was serving dinner had internet Wi Fi, so over dinner I managed to get the material to London. I was gobsmacked again because by then it was after 9pm. The bloody computer crash meant a normal day stretching out to an abnormal day again.  


Monday, 26 January 2009

Jamaicans on Firewire Hunt!!

It was still dark when I got up. The light was just coming up when Yiljan and I had our breakfast in the lonely gloom. The dark sky was not just because the sun was not up. It had something to do with the rain bouncing off the tin roof over the the little dining patio. It was not looking good for showing Jamaica in it’s best light. 

After breakfast we asked the lady at reception about the Wi Fi internet that we were told was available. She told us very cheerfully  that yes, internet was available, but not Wi Fi and only on Monday afternoons when the manager came in. Oh dear, looks like I might have to feed over the satellite. Long story short. Derrick (Mr Motivator) organised another hotel for us that definitely has good internet access and generally better facilities.

We went up to Derrick’s house way up in the hills. The weather was not looking good as we drove up through the clouds and the water cascading down from the mountains. He proudly showed us his little estate and the fun things like zip lines and paintball areas. The sky was still heavy and very grey. We had a plan  to shoot some material to show Derrick’s family in their colourful home but the weather was just horrible. His place is 2ooo feet up in the hills. Often down on the coast the weather can be a bit better. So we went down to our new hotel on the coast to try to get the shots done. The rain on the drive down was just horrid. 

Why do we get to places for the worst rain in months!!!!

At our new hotel FDR (Franklin D Resort)(don’t you love the Jamaican sense of humour?), we checked in to the nice two bedroom apartment. I got the gear set up and we waited for a break in the rain. 

Waiting for a hint of blue sky!!

There was a chink in the clouds so we dashed out on to the board walk with a table that was quickly set for breakfast. Thankfully Derrick got the piece to camera introducing his family done without too many takes because the rain did not stop for long. I then had several more very short pieces to camera to shoot. Once again in between the often very heavy rain showers we got them done. The good people from the GM.TV website wanted a couple of full workouts to put on the site. I got some help from the hotel setting speakers and giving me a separate audio feed which I needed for editing reasons. We did this with the equipment covered with towels and sunbeds so it did not get wet. There were a couple of lulls in the rain, it never stopped completely. A few of the staff and a couple of willing American tourists were enlisted to join in with Mr Motivator on the beach. The persistence of the rain meant that we had to do both the workouts in one take. 


It can sure rain!

The shooting completed we retreated to the shelter of the hotel to start the process of getting the material to GMTV in London. That was when a fairly normal length working day ended up stretching out to a marathon. All I needed to do was connect the camera to a mac, hit a few keys, wait a little while and after a lot of electronic computer wizardry the shots would be back in London where an eager Producer and Editor were waiting to chop it in to a bit of watchable telly. 

For the next seven hours the Island of Jamaica was being scoured for a 6pin to 6pin Firewire cable.That was the one not in the kit. I use no journalistic hyperbole when I say that people were taking rowing boats across lakes, driving for hours on dodgy roads and tipping out boxes that might contain anything related to computers. Others were trying to download software from various internet sites to enable their computers to recognise my camera via a different connection. Others were ripping television sets off brackets to use monitors so that I could get the audio and video on to a format that could then go easily on to my mac. Every business with anything in its’ name that sounded or looked like computer, internet, pc, mac, technology or electronic was called on the telephone by either Yiljan me or Frank.

This all happened when I asked Frank the owner of the hotel if I might be able to buy or borrow such a cable. Although a jolly laid back sort of a guy as most Jamaicans are, he’s the kind of person that makes things happen. 

The buy option was a non-starter because it was Sunday. Of course Jamaicans being Jamaicans they need a day of rest so everything is closed. The only answer was going to be getting a loan of one. The other ways of trying to transfer the pictures and sound all failed for so many reasons; the incompatibility between PAL and NTSC, camcorders not being able to record from a external input, computers not recognising a professional camera and on and on.

After a couple of hours Mark the hotels IT man arrived a bit breathless. He had twice taken a rowing boat out to where he though there might be a cable. He went twice because he had not looked in the right place the first time. He was clutching various video and audio cables along with a cable he handed to me triumphantly. Straight away I had to say that his was the same as the one I already had with the wrong end. He looked at the cables  shrugged his shoulders in apology, then joined Christian, the owner of  several scuba diving shops, and me in trying to work out why Christian’s pc would not recognise my camera when we managed to connect the camera to it.

In the middle of all this stress my wife called to ask for help. She had been working on some important documents on our computer at home for five hours solid. The compter had suddenly shut down on her. When she restarted it the file had been corrupted and would not open. Isn’t technology great. I am not sure if I was as sympathetic as I should have been. I did try.

At around 2am London time, a charming, shy and very wet guy called Lindon came in and quietly asked if this was the cable we needed. Without thinking about any reward other than a thank you he had driven for miles and miles through torrential rain over rough potholed roads  to bring us the cable that would save the day. After saying a very grateful thanks and reinforcing it with greenbacks I set to work getting the material to a couple of tired folk far away in sleepy London. As the shots were being encoded and sent Lindon enjoyed a well earned bite to eat and dried off. 

At last we got the call from the office to say it was all there but the sky looked a bit grey!!!!

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

Friday, 23 January 2009

Back Over the Sea to Sanquhar

I was pleasantly surprised when I got to George Best Airport to get the flight because I did not have to pay any excess baggage. That was because I had been booked on Premium Economy with Flybe thus upping my baggage allowance to cover the full 30kgs I had with me. The other good thing was that I was allowed into the Executive Lounge upstairs. Pity I only had time to grab an orange juice and make a few calls about what’s happening next week.

The flight across the water to Edinburgh was uneventful but not pleasant because I was desperate for a pee and there was a little bit of turbulence. Anyway I made it to the terminal building without mishap!!

Once you leave the motorway and head across country in to deepest Dumfries and Galloway the scenery is beautiful. Not rugged and spectacular like the mountains farther north but, softer with many sheep using the roads as extensions of their fields. I saw none of it because it was well dark. All I was aware of were the twisting bends on the road and the huge puddles made by the melt water flowing off the hills. 

I arrived a very pleasant looking tiny Country house hotel called Blackaddie. When I went to open the door it was locked. I was a little surprised as it was only around 9pm. As I tried the door for a second time, thinking that perhaps it was stuck. A small stocky lady arrived and let me in. She greeted me with a good Scottish Borders welcome by saying, “If your wanting food you’ll need to think about ordering it now!” As I was quite hungry I did. Then I saw my two colleagues, Nick the Reporter and Minty from Visit Scotland laughing from the small dining room at my first encounter with the hotel staff. 

The food was, I have to say, quite superb and the room very comfortable. It should have been it was their Bridal Suite.

After the great food we all went off to bed, separately of course, life in telly’s not all grabbing shagging and leaving, I sometimes wish it was.

I managed about 5 hours kip. We left the hotel at 5am. There was a lot to do when we arrived at Sanquhar Primary  School. There was Skerryvore, a great band with drums, a fiddle, guitars and naturally, bagpipes, loads of  kids with lanterns they had made for a big parade in a few days, the school choir and the vital thing, a haggis. There was a bit of mad dashing about because as the band were half way through setting up the rain started to fall. So we had to quickly get them a position under some cover. Then a lamp I was lighting the action with decided to blow. These lights have an inbuilt mechanism that makes sure they go out with just not enough time to repair them before the live broadcast starts. So the first little piece started at a rush. Fair play to all those that took part, they were great.

The Burns poetry was done well, the little choir sang perfectly and Skerryvore were the consummate professionals hitting every note spot on even with fingers numb and blue from the bitter cold.

The rest of the mornings broadcast went well, even the Mr Motivator work out that was thrown in at the last minute involving the whole school. TV reception is not great. To allow the kids and teachers to be able to see GMTV so that they could join in. I had to get a lovely little girl to hold the TV ariel in a certain position to keep the fuzzy picture as steady as possible. It made a fantastic shot for the workout. Then of course there were the little primary 1 and nursery kids in their tiny kilts and sporrans not quite sure what all the madness was but joining in anyway and looking very cute.  The staff at the school had obviously put a lot of hard work into it all.

The kids loved joining in with Motivator even if he was a bit fuzzy.

I then drove home via the airport to drop Nick off so he could get back to London. We had said goodbye and thanks to the lovely Minty (Short for Lavinia ??) from Visit Scotland and were on a bit of a high as the feedback from the studio in London about our hard work this morning was very positive.

At last I got to see the lovely countryside in the bright clear sunlight. One or two sheep did try to graze on the tarmac, but without success. There wasn’t enough room to drive round them. Thankfully they had just enough road sense to move before I claimed them as road kill.

When I got home I had some domestic things to do before getting packed for the first leg of the trip to Jamaica. There was so much I needed to do to get ready and there were the obligatory calls from the office with final details about the kit I was and wasn’t taking so that the various vital but boring bits of official paperwork could get done that I got to the airport check-in with my four cases just as the flight was closing. I duly paid the excess baggage and heaved yet another sigh of relief that I had made the flight.

The flight was to Heathrow but I would be leaving at 9:40am from Gatwick. That meant a car to take me to the hotel at Gatwick. I arrived there at 10:45pm. I will need to be up again pretty early to give me enough time to do all the customs paperwork and get checked in for the flight to Montego Bay.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Flashing Blues and a Bit of Excitement

It was 6am when Sarah the Producer and I arrived at the Sitting Room, the hairdressing salon we were going to do our Motivator lives from. Ballymena was like a ghost town at that time in the morning. In most other places that I have driven around at such horribly early hours there are usually one or two hardy souls tramping the streets either working or on their way to work. I think the sensible people of Northern Ireland regard  this time of the day as a time still to be tucked up in bed!!

Apart from not being able to light the salon because I had no lights with me on account of trying to keep the excess baggage costs down there were no major technical issues to deal with. Sarah had brought some radio comms kit so that there would be no cables restricting the workout.

We only had on hit at around 8:10 and a little live shot just before 8. The live shot although very quick, maybe 10 seconds of so was quite fun. I had all the hairdressers working out with everything from hair straighteners and shampoo bottles to doing leg raises whilst holding on to one of those hairdryers that looks like a brain scanner from a Sci Fi movie. They were all well up for it and it was fun to shoot and judging from the titters coming over Directors talkback in London, fun to watch.

The main hit went very well with the very lively Julienne doing a fantastic job of being enthusiastic at that time in the morning.

Sarah and I managed to get back to the hotel in time to get  a bit of breakfast. I then even had time to go to the little gym and do some work on my calf muscle. Then as I was about to leave I received the call from Yiljan another Producer to confirm that the trip to the Caribbean was confirmed. The downside is that I need to go to Gatwick on Friday night because the flight to Jamaica is early on Saturday morning. It is doubly annoying because my wife and I were due to go out for dinner with friends. We had been trying to get a date to suit for ages. I am not going to be a popular man. 

The drive from Ballymena to drop Sarah off at the airport was quite eventful. I thought that  the need for police check points had pretty much gone away but, a little way into the journey there was a low key check point on the motorway. A couple of cars in front of us were stopped but we were waved through. Then on the opposite carriageway we witnessed the first rolling roadblock I have ever seen for real. As we got level with a lot of flashing blue lights, four police cars were bringing a car to a halt. The driver got out and was quickly held by a couple of policemen. Then we were past it and on our way to the City airport.

I dropped Sarah off and went to Belfast City centre to get some lunch and wait for my flight that does not leave until 17:00. When I get to Edinburgh I will have to drive to Sanquhar near Dumfries for a live about Rabbie Burns

Over to Belfast!!!

I woke up after a slightly less restful sleep than I would have liked. The satellite problem was not something that I was consciously worried about but I assume that my subconscious was having a bit of a hard time. Anyway time to meet the guys in reception at a quarter to six. Dave and Bob had arrived last night after I was in bed but not sleeping. Michelle had come up from the metropolis, no not Glasgow, London. We had been together on a couple of the Motivator workouts last week.

Sandy, the jolly round janitor greeted us at the school and was very helpful by doing the important thing of getting the kettle on and coming up with the coffee. Sadly by the time I got around to even looking at mine it was pretty cold.

The TV gods were on my side for once. The GP room that we were going to use for the workout faced out in to a little quadrangle but at least it was in the rough direction of where the Astra satellite should be. So clambering out the window I started to wave the dish about a bit and after a short while found a signal. I was just a bit relieved. The only problem was that it was all german channels. I had found the wrong Astra. The one I needed was just a little way off, only ten degrees. Yippee! Found it! Now another little problem, I really didn’t want to spend the rest ot the morning perched out on the window ledge with a satellite dish held above my head. A step ladder and the roof above the classroom came to my rescue and after a little more fiddling with the satellite receiver box and a crash course in German we found ITV. Then I started to breathe a little more easily.

By then it was getting very close to the time of our first little tease and the first workout. I turned my attention to getting some lighting done and making sure that the camera was ok. Once I was happy with that there was time to have a quick run through of what we were about to do. The plan was for the presenters in the studio to talk to Louise Smith, the teacher and Rachel, one of the kids. Then they would all follow Mr Motivator in his workout routine. It all went off according to plan. Louise and Rachel were great. I often have to marvel at how people cope with a strange disembodied voice in their ear asking questions when they know that several million people will be watching.

We did two bits into the GMTV programme one at ten past eight and one nearly on hour later. Time to catch another breath you might think. Oh no because I had to feed some material to London that I had filmed on Sunday. That took up all the time in between the live broadcasts.

Once we had finished we all had to get on the road straight away. So getting the stuff derigged as quickly as we could we said goodbye to the teachers and Sandy the Janny.

I needed to get back to Edinburgh for an appointment with my Physiotherapist at The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. I had torn my calf muscle on the Sunday before New Year and I an still getting rehab treatment on it. I also had to get Michelle to Edinburgh airport to catch a flight to London. We did manage to grab a coffee and bacon roll to go in Aviemore on the drive down. It was a beautiful bright sunny day, perfect for the spectacular snow scenes on the A9 through the Scottish Highlands. It is a magical sight even thrashing down the road, legally of course, with a deadline to meet. Enroute we were both taking calls, me hands free of course, about various things going on. I was to go to Belfast on  another Motivator live broadcast and then at the weekend jet off to the Caribbean for a few days shooting. It was shaping up to be a busy few days ahead what with Rabbie Burns’ 250th Anniversary on Friday and a possible live broadcast for me in Alloway near Ayr.

I got Michelle to the airport in time to wolf down a quick snack lunch before she left and I carried on to the Physio’. The car park queue at the hospital was huge and I sid not have time to wait in it. So I found a space where there is some building work being done. Along with about half a dozen other cars I parked up and went in for my session with Jade. I was there getting my leg sorted out with various exercises for about half an hour. When I got back to the car I had been given a ticket!! I was rather pissed off to say the least. I could go on and on and develop this in to a real rant about the state of traffic mismanagement in and around Edinburgh. Something best kept for another time I think. 

I just had a little time at home to organise the minimal kit to take over to Belfast for tomorrows live. I got it down to the minimum possible to do the job to reduce the chance of having to pay a crazy amount of excess baggage. I then headed for the airport. I was almost there when  a vision came into my mind. It was of a television camera sitting on my lounge floor waiting patiently to be put back into it’s cosy little box in the back of the car. I rang home and organised my son to get the camera to me at the airport. I checked in with my two bags. Even although I had rationalised my kit it was still 30kg. The allowance was 20kg. I had to pay £10 per kilo!! The budget flight was no longer much of a budget at another £100 plus £3 for paying by credit card. Gone are the days when the airlines gave a bit of flexibility in charging regular flyers excess baggage. After I reluctantly but with a smile paid my excess the camera arrived and another sigh was heaved. In the lounge I had time for a sandwich, a fruit juice and a coffee.

The flight was uneventful except it was quite windy on the approach to Belfast City airport, but nothing major. As I was getting my expensive bags off the belt my wife Anne called to say that there was a problem with the Sky box and remote at home. I offered some suggestions as to how that could be solved. 

I met Sarah the Producer and after getting the little hire car I drove us to Ballymena. We met Julien, a very bubbly hairdresser at her salon above a trendy furniture shop in the town. We had a quick look around to see if things would work for tomorrow. It all looked great. We got back into the car and got to our hotel at around nine thirty pm. 

Just another day in the life of a cameraman on GMTV.