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.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Waiting on Stornoway.

I had hoped to be able to publish the next two entries in my blog with a happier heart but that is not the case.

This part of the blog has not been published until now, Saturday 9th October at a request from the Foreign Office not to report anything about the name or location of an aid worker taken hostage in Afghanistan.

They felt that any publicity about where she came from or her name being in the public domain could prejudice the attempts being made to secure her release.

Her name and where she came from are now firmly in the public domain in the most tragic of circumstances.

Linda Norgrove was killed yesterday when an attempt was made to rescue her from her Afghan warlord captors.

My thoughts are with her parents on the Isle of Lewis.

They are a dignified and couple who must have been going through all kinds of hell over the past couple of weeks.

Tuesday 28th

The Foreign Office had not released the woman’s name but the big wigs at Daybreak wanted us to do something to show that we were covering the story.

So in the pitch black of the hotel car park I started to set up our humble equipment.

Gregg at the computer in the morning darkness.

We were not too far away from the actual hotel building so that I could pick up the WiFi signal on the lap top.

We did have the little satellite transmitting dish with us but the upload speeds were slower with that than the hotels broadband.

The faster the speed the better the pictures and sound.

The best quality needs a bit more time to do all it’s encoding and compressing and decompressing and decoding than it takes to do it live.

So the plan was to record the first little report and send it back to Daybreak to be played out during the 6 am news bulletin.

That was the plan but the temperamental demon that is Avid decided that was not the way it was going to go.

The Avid would not power up to start with. When it did as far as it was concerned the camera with the tape of material in it did not exist.

With an increasing sense of frantic frustration we tried all the options of shutting down and restarting the application and the actual laptop.

At last we managed to get it going but, by this time we were almost up to transmission time.

At least there was a standby option. Daybreak’s Chief Correspondent was outside the Foreign Office in London all ready and waiting to do his thing.

He then did the reports at 6 and 6:30.

We had been good to go for the 6:30 but the producer in the gallery decided to use Richard, which was a tad frustrating for us at our little tabletop set up.

The set up in the hotel car park.

At 7 am Gregg did his short report in which he was able to say where the yet unnamed aid worker came from and that he had spoken to her parents.

Gregg ready to broadcast.

It went quite well. Doug the technical director said that the pictures looked very good for an internet connected broadcast.

We did the same for the next two broadcasts at 7:30 and 8.

There was a slight bit of scurrying around when the internet link was not the best and the laptop needed to be connected to the mains, which was not close by.

We were asked to be on standby until the end of the Lorraine programme just in case something on the story broke.

That is normally a horrible thing to have to do, hang around with nothing to do for an hour and a half.

This morning it was far from that because we were in the car park of the hotel.

I parked the kit in a little corner of the reception. We then settled down in the restaurant to have breakfast.

After tidying the kit away we settled down to get some rest to make up for the early rise.

We then got a call from Calum the ITN producer to ask if we would be able to do a live broadcast into the ITV lunchtime news.

I started to get set up.

I had only just started when Gregg called to say that it might not be happening.

The Foreign Office had sent out an e-mail requesting all media not only to maintain the news blackout of the name but also now stop making any reference to which part of Scotland she came from.

As a result of that I stopped and put the kit away again.

The rest of the week became a very boring waiting game of asking the Foreign Office to allow the name to be put in the public domain.

We, in mini pack form went out to the parent’s house and politely asked if they had any news.

"The Pack" opposite the family home.

Producer Calum's red hire van near the Norgrove's house.

Calum and Gregg walk up the road to speak to Mrs and Mrs Norgrove.

They were equally polite when they said that they had nothing to say and that when they did it would be in the form of a video statement which we discovered had already been recorded by a local cameraman that they trusted.

They would keep a hold of the tape and release it to the Foreign Office to distribute when the appropriate time came.

There was nothing for us to do.

We spent time in Uig at the local community shop where there was internet access and the staff were friendly providing us with freshly made rolls.

This little shop in a remote part of an island had a very good coffee vending machine offering all types of coffee from hazelnut roast to cappuccino swirl.

The Community Shop in UIg.

All the signs were that whatever was going on in Afghanistan was not going to come to a speedy end.

Each of the branches of the media, Sky, ITN, The BBC and the host of newspapers covering the story made calls to their various experts on Afghan terrorism and called in favours from friends in the shady world of spooks and spys.

The reports coming back all agreed that it looked like it was gong to be a long drawn out affair with no news for some time.

We were all keen to come off the island because we were sure that there would be nothing for us to report for quite a while.

It was clear that there were things going on in the dusty mountains along way away to try and initially locate and then free the aid worker.

Historically these activities do not happen quickly.

However, with the general news agenda being quiet and a collective news desk paranoia we stayed until the end of the week.

The pack began to thin out on Thursday but it was not until Friday lunchtime that we said farewell to Lewis hoping that when we come back it will be to see a happy family reunited.

Our flight out on the tarmac of Stornoway airport.

Climbing into the grey as we leave Stornoway behind.

When we arrived back in Edinburgh the final part of my journey home was curtailed a little bit because my car would not start.

The battery was flat.

I had left the invertor on after using it when we were testing the satellite kit before we rushed to the airport on Monday.

Jump starting the car.

I was glad Gregg’s Land Rover had been fitted with a big battery!

Linda Norgrove (killed in Afghanistan)

Monday 27th

“We need to be on standby.”, Gregg said when he called me at mid morning, “The aid worker taken hostage in Afghanistan comes from somewhere in Scotland.”

Before long I had packed my kit, we had quickly tested that the small portable satellite equipment was working and we were on our way to the airport to catch a flight to the Western Isles.

On the tarmac at Edinburgh airport.

We were joined by James and Ronnie the Sky News crew from Edinburgh on the bus that took us out to the aircraft that would take us across the Minch to the island of Lewis.

The hint of sun as we climb above the thick clouds.

We say good-bye to the sun as we start to descend.

Down through the clouds to gloomy Stornoway.

When we arrived we jumped into our hire cars and set off across the island to where the parents of the aid worker lived.

The hire car industry on the island is not large and does not have a huge fleet of vehicles. We piled the kit into our Fiesta.

The light was starting to fade as we drove an hour along country roads that often came down to single track with passing places to get to the small cluster of houses that were now in the pitch black where the family of the woman lived.

We were not sure which house it was so Gregg went and knocked on a door to ask.

Gregg in the lights of the headlamps talks to a neighbour.

He was very politely told which house the family lived in but, that all the locals had been asked by the Foreign Office to say nothing to the press and make no comment at all.

So we went over to the house where Gregg knocked on the door and spoke to the woman’s father.

He was very relaxed and had a courteous but brief conversation with Gregg saying that the family would not be speaking on camera but might, just might issue a statement.

He also said that he had spoken to his daughter just a couple of days before the horrible incident in the north of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.

ITN had sent Calum, a producer up from London. He arrived in his little old red van. It had been the only vehicle lest on the island when he landed at the airport.

We thought that we were having it rough in our five year old Fiesta.

There was not much more we could do until the Foreign Office officially released the name of the woman.

So after a chat with Calum we headed back to the hotel to grab some food and as usual much needed sleep before getting up early to do some live broadcasts using the hotel’s internet system.

Gymnastics on a horse!

Thursday 23rd

A night in a hotel with the luxury of not having to lever myself out of bed when it appears that most of the rest of the civilised world has just slipped under their warm fluffy quilts is always good.

There was no great rush to get back south. The job that we had been sent on in Clackmannanshire would not start until the very late afternoon.

So with the weather very much improved over yesterday Gregg and I enjoyed the drive back down the A9.

It was to another farm we were heading for today's assignment but the story was somewhat removed from dead animals adorning the groin area of kilted Scotsmen.

Young women and ponies always conjure up all sorts of visions for lots of hot bloodied men. When you add in gymnastics it goes off the scale.

That was what was going on on this particular farm.

It is called Equine Vaulting.

The two girls we were about to film with were about to go off to the world championships in Cincinnati.

John, Joanne and Hannah’s dad and coach, showed us in to the farm kitchen where the girls made us a cup of tea and showed us ignorant pair, a video of what this vaulting lark was all about.

It is to say the least impressive. Individuals and teams doing all sorts of heart stopping gymnastic antics on a horse that is cantering in a wide circle.

We then went into the large barn where the horses are kept and the training is done.

After warming up Joanne and Hannah then proceeded to show their skills.

It was a very exciting display. The only thing from the point of view of filming was that the barn was not all that well lit either with artificial light or daylight.

There were very yellowy red sodium lights hanging from the roof and daylight filtering in from around a few gaps in the walls as well as sky lights in the roof.

It was far too big a space to be able to light with my small lighting kit so I would just have to go with it.

Even blurred it looks spectacular.

I filmed them from various angles and we did an interview with John.

Joanne and Hannah on Henry with dad holding the reins.

The request from the producers of Daybreak was that the interview with the girls be done with both of them and Gregg to be on horseback.

Gregg mounted up given a helping hand by John and the girls leapt up on to Henry, their horse.

I got John to manoeuvre them into position. I scrambled up on to my mount. It was a horse but of the vaulting kind.

The interview set up.

Once we had done that little interview the job was done.

Our hosts were quite keen that we have a short ride on on of the horses.

Gregg was first, and despite his self confessed slight fear if horses he enjoyed his short ride, as did I.

Gregg ready to ride.

Gregg at the canter.

My turn with Hannah at the reins.

John, Henry, Joanne and Hannah.

Although the girls and Henry the horse were flying out to Cincinnati they would be on different flights.

Next time I am on a flight I am going to try the “well it was OK as hand baggage for my horse!”

A horse's hand baggage.

I hope they do well and come back with medals.

No seal for sporrans.

Wednesday 22nd

It was not the best of days to be heading on a long journey north.

We were stuck in a long and frustrating traffic jam that lasted over an hour as we approached the Forth Road Bridge.

The cause of the long delay.

On the north side the sky was heavier than Adrian Chile’s pay packet and rain fell thicker than a footballer with a hooker that charges an extra ugly tax.

As we got nearer the highlands the weather cleared a little and the sky brightened occasionally.

I was once more proud of my country as Gregg made all the right noises about how magical the Scottish scenery was even when the clouds shroud the hills as if to to try and hide their beauty and only reveal it to the lucky few.

We arrived at Ian Chisholm’s kilt shop in the centre of Inverness much later than we had wanted.

Ian, a jolly ruddy faced man in a colourful kilt and matching red shirt met us once he had dealt with a customer.

The story we were doing was that one of the main materials for making sporrans, seal skin was being banned by the EU, but the Inuits in northern Canada were challenging the ban because they claim that they are being prevented from selling one of the biggest by products of their seal meat trade.

Ian’s shop was perfect for what we wanted and he was an excellent interviewee. Not only did he look the part but he spoke very eloquently with that great Scottish trait of using understated passion.

I filmed the many sporrans hanging around the shop and a few of the kilts

The next part of the journey was to see what an alternative to seal skin could be.

Kate Macpherson at a farm near Beauly out of Inverness has a picturesque little workshop where she puts her taxidermist’s training to good use by making sporrans out of road kill.

The favourites appear to be foxes and badgers.

The Sporrans.

Although she is not allowed to solicit or pay for any of the beasts that she makes into rather wonderful looking sporrans she manages to get enough to keep her business afloat.

Once a fortnight or so a local will appear with an animal that has met its demise at the front end of a car, van or lorry.

If it is not too badly damaged she is able to transform it into a kilt accessory to be worn with pride.

It was a very easy piece for me to shoot and although a bit nervous and self conscious Kate gave Gregg a very good interview.

Gregg interviewing Kate.

It had been one of those good days when things came together well.

That included the vox pops we did in Inverness town centre asking what people thought about the use of seal skin.

One of the first people we stopped to talk to was from one of the areas in Canada where seal skin is produced.

The day had been long but it was far from over. The report still had to be edited and sent to Daybreak in London.

I was looking forward to that because it meant that my day was coming to a close. Gregg would edit the piece and send it over an internet connection to the boys down south.

I joined Gregg in his hotel room to record his commentary and put the material into the Avid laptop to allow him to edit.

The vision of me getting to bed nice and early faded quicker than Wayne Rooney’s hope of a quiet weekend of domestic bliss.

A vital cable and a part for Gregg’s computer was missing. It would not be possible to get the material from my camera into the laptop.

Once again my mac came to the rescue. Unfortunately it meant that I was also needed because Gregg, a dab hand with the Avid was not au fait with the Final Cut system.

So I set to work and we got a nice two minute piece done.

The mac that works, again.

Then the fun and games started.

The technical details are pretty boring but in a nutshell it took a bit of frustrating fiddling and jiggery pockery to get the report sent down to Daybreak when it should have been very straight forward.

Praying that it works Gregg?

Then the day finally ended about four hours after I had been hoping that it would.