My kit ready to be packed.
The journey started as with most Journeys, a drive to Edinburgh airport then a flight to Heathrow and then a taxi.
The taxi took Grainne, who had flown in to Heathrow at the same time as me and me to Oxford Castle in Oxford, not to York as Gladstone, the driver had thought. Glad I checked that he knew where he was going to.
Oxford Castle is home to one of the coolest hotels that I have ever stayed in. It is an old prison with a lot of the rooms made out of the cells, retaining original features like the doors with their spy holes now for looking out rather than peering in and the small high windows with the bars removed.
The prison wing.
My bedroom cell door.
My room was three basic spartan cells knocked into one quite luxurious bedroom.
Glad I was not a prisoner. Not much of a view.
Cool room though.
Luke the producer on this trip had checked in just a little while before Grianne and me. We met him in the dinning room.
It was a pity that our time spent in such pleasantly strange surroundings was going to be short. We checked in at around 7 pm and by midnight we were being picked up by a taxi to take us to RAF Brize Norton for the main part of the journey to Camp Bastion in Helmand Province southern Afghanistan.
The meal was good and the short time in bed, less than two hours, a must for what was going to be a long haul both in distance and time.
At the witching hour the taxi arrived. Luke and I put our kit onboard.
Grainne had not come down at the agreed time so Luke gave her a quick call.
Slightly dazed with sleep she answered the call.
When very quickly she came to join us she was full of apologies.
Schoolgirl error on her part. She had set her alarm for 11:45 am rather than pm.
It was no sweat because we would still get to Brize in plenty of time to check in for the flight, particularly when our enthusiastic driver drove as if we had to get to the airfield as fast as possible to catch a flight to save the world.
The kit at the Brize Norton gatehouse.
It was approaching 1 am when we arrived at the Brize Norton passenger terminal after going through the rigmarole of booking in at security and transferring the gear to a van.
It was heaving with soldiers in dessert camouflage kit and a few civilians clutching dark blue helmets and body armour along with bags and boxes of kit.
The Brize departure lounge.
There were four flights showing on the departures screen going to various destinations in and around the middle east.
We joined the long queue and began a series of waiting events of the next day of so.
Once the wait to check-in was over we waited to go through to the departure lounge. Then we waited in the departure lounge for the bus to take us to our Omni Air charter flight to Minhad, a military base in the United Arab Emirates not far from the playground of Dubai.
I was disappointed that the flight was pretty busy. Often on these military flights there is enough room to really spread out and get a bit of a semi proper kip.
Seven hours after taking off from a very cold rainy blighty we were on the final approach to land in a rainy and windy, but much warmer middle east.
The screens above our heads showed the details of the trip.
The speed was less that 200 mph and the height was reducing, passing the 1000 ft mark.
We could see the sandy terrain below with the odd tree dotted around as the pilot steadied the aircraft on its final approach.
Suddenly there was a loud roar of power being applied and the numbers on the screen started to increase rapidly.
We were in a go-around.
The pilot made a few turns and once again steadied the aircraft in a tight turn on to another final approach, this time in the opposite direction.
When we were on the ground and had come to a halt his American voice came over the loud speaker and told us that there had been a very sudden shift of 180 degrees in wind direction as we were on the way down on the first approach.
It would have caused him lots of problems so he quickly did the sensible thing and landed in the other direction.
On disembarking the aircraft we were ushered in to a large portacabin with sort of comfortable seats, tea and coffee making facilities along with cans of chilled fizzy juice, playstation games consoles, a couple of computers and a big, but not state of the art TV.
This was going to be our home for the next period of waiting, five hours.
Just before we landed we had each been given a snack box and bottle of water, good old Highland Spring, to keep us going on the wait.
The first thing that took place was a briefing about a briefing that would take place in ten minutes time.
This main briefing was a safety video on the next aircraft we would be getting on to, one of the RAF’s biggest a C17.
The last time I had been on one of those it was snuggled up beside a Chinook helicopter that was being taken out to Kandahar.
Another part of the briefing that was rather annoying from my point of view was that the host country had put on a few restrictions. The one that irked me was the “No Photography Under Any Circumstances!”
Then there was another check-in for that aircraft where we were given little returnable boarding cards.
The Minhad boarding card.
Then we were free to wait.
The time passed as every one did there thing, reading, sleeping, playing computer games, listening to iPods, eating, drinking, watching a movie on the big screen and some of the officers did some work.
A military snack. Edible, but only just.
As the time to board got closer we all had our hand luggage taken from us and put on a large pallet.
There was a very slight issue with my camera but after a few chats with a few sensible people it was deemed acceptable to take it on board with me.
When the flight was called we trooped out in rank order, very senior officers first, they were called by name, senior officers, officers including us, senior NCOs, NCOs and then other ranks.
The seating arrangement in the huge cargo aircraft was as basic as it gets,
Down the sides were fold down jump seats and in the main centre area a flat movable floor with what everyone would recognise as normal aircraft seats bolted to it.
The first to board and we were part of that were seated in the less comfortable looking jump seats and the lower ranks given the much more luxurious standard seats.
I wondered why that was the case, surly a Brigadier was entitled to a better seat than a Private.
During the obligatory pre-flight safety chat it became clear.
If there was a decompression emergency the side seats had oxygen masks that would pop out as in any other pressurised passenger aircraft but the seats in the middle only had a smoke hood under the seat with a small supply of oxygen.
We settled down as best we could, the green lights in the huge cave of an aircraft were switched on as the main lights were switched off bathing us in an erie dark green glow and we rolled noisily down the slightly bumpy runway eventually lifting off into the dark arabian sky.
After a flight of around two and a half hours the cabin lights were once again dimmed to a green glow, then a dim red to allow our night vision to start working.
Up on the flight deck the pilots were getting ready for the steep fast tactical approach.
The aircraft then did a few turns and speed changes on the way in to land at Camp Bastion.
On the ground after the obligatory “briefing”, one of many, which began with the amusing “Ladies, gents, sirs and maams” we were all ushered through a large tent where various bits of paperwork had to be sorted out.
We then had to await what ever was gong to happen to us next.
It was not long until a tall sophisticated looking chap with the shoulder patches that indicated he was a Royal Marines Commando and a smaller chap with a short beard that indicated he was a sailor came over to us.
Major Gil Duncan and Lieutenant Nick Southall were our Media Op’s minders and facilitators for our short stay in Afghanistan.
They helped get our kit and drove us in a battered white minibus to the Media Op’s area, a couple of the many big tents that make up a lot of Camp Bastion.
It was clear that the pair would be easy to work with and as helpful as they could be because it was not long before the good natured teasing and banter started.
The accommodation could in no way be described as luxury.
It was a basic bunk bed with a plastic mattress in a dusty tent with a noisy and inefficient air conditioning system.
Grainne had a whole section to herself separated from us by a green tarpaulin curtain.
Me on the bottom, Luke on top and Grainne behind the screen on the left.
By now it was well in to the early hours of Tuesday morning Afghan time and we had been travelling since Sunday night after our couple of hours in a bed.
Before we climbed in to our sleeping bags for a mammoth four hours sleep we discussed the programme of shooting and editing for tomorrow.
It was going to be a long and busy day. After a long journey and little sleep, lovely, just lovely.
It was bright and sunny but pretty nippy as I trudged to the cargo container that contained the toilets and shower facility.
It was going to be a long old day. After the long journey and very little sleep I was not looking forward to it.
By the look of Grainne and Luke they felt much the same.
Gil took us over to one of the big tents that is used as a canteen and we had a good breakfast.
Then it was time to start work.
Off on our tour of Camp Bastion.
A very important thing for the folk on the camp that makes life bearable is keeping in touch with home and getting little packages of goodies.
The post office is important in that respect, so our first stop was at the combined post and sorting office.
I did some shots of the guys sorting out the boxes and letters that are waited for with much anticipation and opened with much delight.
We then did an interview with the Sergeant Major in charge of the facility.
Grainne with Nick and Gil in the Post Office.
Feeding a large number of people is always a fascinating thing when quantities ramp up from tea spoons full and pinches of this and that to tons and gallons.
The lunch preparations were just underway and I captured some of that on tape along with another interview with another boss.
A big focus for the military is to get the Afghan army up to point where it can stand alone free from corruption and do an efficient job of keeping the country safe from itself and secure for the rest of the world.
The senior Afghan officer had been lined up for us to interview.
When we arrived we needed to do the little interview quickly because the next thing on our tight agenda was a convoy that was going out on patrol. It had a specific time to leave and it was not going to wait for us.
The result was that once we had finished the interview we had to say no to some traditional Afghan hospitality in the form of tea. It is always nice to experience another culture but on this occasion we had to refuse.
I hope the refusal did not cause any offence.
Near one of the gates to the camp I filmed the convoy as it got ready to leave. There was a quick briefing to film and then the chaps loading and checking their machine guns as the slowly drove out into the now hot sun and dusty desert.
The pace slowed slightly then when we went up to the Camp Bastion control tower where I enjoyed getting shots of all manner of aircraft that were manoeuvring, taking off and landing.
To our surprise we had made up some time and the grab and eat on the go lunch that was planned was binned and we had time to head back to the canteen and quickly enjoy some of the food that we had seen being prepared earlier.
Then came fun time for Grainne. We went off to film some of the new bits of bit kit that had just arrived for the boys to play with.
I did a piece to camera with Grainne in a big armoured vehicle called a Wolf Hound. A fearsome looking thing with an almost go anywhere ability. I then filmed it doing its stuff on the driver training area.
Grainne inside the Wolf Hound.
The newest big boys toy was Warthog, a nippy, articulated tracked vehicle.
The crew were very keen to give Grainne the ride of her life. She was standing up in the turret of the versatile vehicle as the guys roared of into the distance to let Grainne see what their baby could do.
They were too far away for me to get any shots. Eventually they came back with a very happy Grainne who had clearly enjoyed the experience and I a got the shots that I needed.
Even taking Grainne’s mini kidnapping in to account we were once again slightly ahead of ourselves.
This meant that we could sample one of Camp Bastion’s legends, the Danish coffee shop.
A few years ago this had been set up by a Danish couple who wanted to give something to the boys out on the front line of the war.
So they came out to Afghanistan and set up a little coffee shop that served real coffee and home made cakes. They also provided soft drinks.
The soft drinks were the only thing priced, the coffee was offered free and only a donation was politely requested for the cakes.
Unfortunately when we arrived the cakes were gone and we were too thirsty to go straight for the coffee but didn’t have the time to have a cold drink and a coffee.
At least we had paid it a visit even if we just had Cokes.
Whilst we were lubricating our dusty throats Gil and Nick briefed us on the next venue.
We were going to see the working dog section, specifically the search dogs and the protection dogs.
The protection dogs are used to catch bad people and are trained to take someone down and hold on to them until told to let go by the handler.
Part of this training is done by someone dressing up in a thick black padded suit, running away and having the dog set on them.
Gil and Nick were very keen to get Grainne in the suit.
I added my enthusiastic support but Grainne was having none of it.
Even when Nick and Gil pointed out that David Beckham had donned the outfit and tried to out run one of the ferocious dogs she still could not be persuaded to step into Beckhams black pants.
The good news for me was that I would have to film it and with all the other staff from the dog section busy working the bad news for Luke was that if he wanted to get the dog in action on tape he would have to step in to the animals lair.
He was sporting enough to let the dog attack him twice so that I could get two different angles on the action.
Luke in the padded suit.
That's right Luke you are in David Beckham's padded pants.
Seeing the cute little spaniel search dogs working to try and find explosives and other potential nasty things was a joy to watch.
The whole thing is a game to the happy dogs and they clearly enjoy their job jumping up onto and into trucks and cars sniffing out hidden things that could cause a major problem if not found.
On the way to our final location of the day I did a nice tracking shot of the sun setting on the unceasing activity on the base.
One hundred and fifty meters under the camp is a source of fresh water.
To save having to bring bottled fresh water in by road it was deemed that this resource should be used.
Camp Bastion has its own bottling plant that runs twenty four hours per day.
Nick had been at his diplomatic best and managed to get us access to film in the plant.
Colin the plant manager was very knowledgeable about the whole water process and was more than happy to share that encyclopaedic knowledge with us.
Outside he explained how the water was extracted and filtered before being bottled in the building beside us.
By the time we were ready to go inside the daylight had gone totally and above us was a chill raven black sky dotted with pin pricks of light.
One of Colin’s proud boasts was that the floor in the plant was so clean that you could eat your dinner off it. He knew, he’d tested it.
The very clean water bottling plant.
To maintain that boast meant that we had to play dress up.
Were were all given blue overshoes, white hair nets and white coats.
Salty sea-dog Nick was given an extra accessory, a beard cover.
Nick and Luke all dressed up.
During the tour of the undoubtedly impressive factory the jolly banter between the five of us continued a pace as Colin went to pains of earnest detail explaining each step in the process of getting the water into the bottles.
Nick and Grainne between them took a lot of stick about the kit they were wearing.
I do have a photograph of Grainne in her outfit that would not have her look out of place behind the counter of Greggs serving pasties and beans.
Sadly when I showed her the photo she vetoed its use. So it will remain in our personal collections.
On the way back to commence the hard work of getting the material into the Avid then getting it back out after it had been edited we discussed the experience we just had and in particular Colin’s serious explanation about some of the faults that resulted in bottles coming out a little misshapen.
None of us had been able to look at each other as he talked about “full blows” and “partial blows”.
There was just one example of these imperfect bottles out of the many in Colin’s glass cabinet that we were all staring at and trying hard not to giggle.
It was two bits of clear plastic that had ended up in a shape that could easily be packaged and would sell by the million in Anne Summers shops.
Before the job of editing began we paid the canteen another quick visit for more good food.
There was also one other little bit of filming to be done.
Gil had been given a box of girlie goodies by Look magazine and was going to give it to a bunch of the ladies on the camp.
He invited Grainne down to have some womanly time with the girls.
There might be some nice shots to be had there as the relaxed for a while.
Rupert the army photographer thought the same and popped along to take some shots.
Rupert photographs the girls with the goodie box.
Grainne records the voice over for the report.
The girls with some of the magazines that came in the box.
Luke and I were pretty knackered but between us we got the report and the other bits and pieces we needed to edit almost done without Avid giving us grief.
It lulled us into a false sense of confidence that things would go without a hitch.
Grainne gets her clothes ready for next morning's broadcast.
Luke happily editing before!
Then it stuck its almost two fatal blows.
The first one was that the audio just vanished.
The pictures were there and the edit timeline said that the audio was there but, it did not show up on any of the meters or come through the speakers.
So once again I witnessed another Avid victim.
If the Warthog we saw earlier had been available I think that Luke would have quite happily ground the laptop under its heavy tracks until it was as indistinguishable from the dust in the desert.
The bad news was that the worst was yet to come.
We tied all the usual things like shutting the application down, starting it up again and doing the dame thing with the actual laptop.
It was not making any difference.
We looked at all the menus and help but found nothing.
Then the screens went black with just a bit of white type in the corner.
Luke had called the IT Gurus back at Daybreak but got no reply.
We carried out the sacred ritual of incantations of words that contain only four letters accompanied by banging and stamping.
Still the Avid produced silence and black.
At last one of the guys was available.
He talked Luke through various settings for a while. Nothing made any difference.
If our internet connection had been better he would have been able to take control from London and have a go himself at sorting the problem but the connection was just about good enough for e-mail and not much else.
As a last ditch attempt Luke was asked to try switching it off and on again.
As if it had just been teasing us Avid started back up and everything was as it should have been on hour or so previously.
The pair of us were happy and angry in equal measure.
At least we could get in to our sleeping bags now with the prospect of four hours sleep.
We would send the material back to London before the live broadcasts tomorrow morning.
The BBC were going to be doing a whole lot of live broadcasts on Remembrance Sunday and at other times during the week.
Daybreak had struck a deal to use their satellite dish for our broadcasts today and tomorrow.
Rob and James, the BBC engineers had the dish all set up on big army truck outside the Media Ops area beside the camp’s fire engines.
The BBC dish on the big army truck.
Before going down to our live location we joined the guys to feed the material to London.
After the skirmish with the mighty foe Avid last night it was a relief that the material all went without a hitch and arrived back at Daybreak in plenty of time for the programme.
We then had time to grab a bite of breakfast whilst the truck with the dish went down to the location, a vehicle park not that far away.
There was plenty of time before the live broadcasts to compose ourselves, or so we thought, or at least so I thought.
Gil came in with a quick last minute request. Would it be possible for me to shoot a short piece with some Welsh soldiers wishing their rugby team all the best for the game on Saturday against South Africa?
It was certainly possible so we dashed down to where the guys were and I very quickly set up a very short piece to camera by the three soldiers.
I was not sure how it was going to get to the Welsh Rugby Union who were seemingly the ones who had asked for it but at least it was done.
Gil and I then joined Grainne and Luke at the vehicle park with the satellite dish that was all set up and pretty much ready to go.
I would be using the BBC camera with a radio link on the back.
Things were looking good.
Gil chats to Grainne as Luke jots down a script.
We did not have a huge number of broadcasts to do but enough to keep us busy.
The first couple of them went off without a hitch with Grainne linking into the report that we had filmed yesterday and a report that had been filmed a few days ago back in London.
Grainne ready to broadcast in the vehicle park.
The only problem we had was that it was quite hot under the blazing Afghan sun.
That was until the gremlins got to work. Thankfully for us they decided that London would be their playground this time.
Daybreak lost our signal a couple of times. One of our broadcasts had to be pushed back.
The dish on the truck outside the vehicle park.
Doug the technical director in the Daybreak gallery thought that it looked like a typical bit of satellite break-up and asked us to check things out.
Rob and James at work.
The BBC in London said that the signal was perfect getting to them.
The fault ended up being a dodgy circuit between the BBC Television Centre and the London Television Centre on the South Bank.
The link was routed through the BT tower.
Doug organised another route for the signal and after a few moments we were fine again.
Luke goes through the script with Grainne.
Having had their fun on the other side of the world the gremlins joined us and started their nonsense. The radio link between the camera and the dish started to break up and not behave to the point that we had to ditch it and go back to using a cable.
This all went on between broadcasts luckily so none of the broadcasts were missed.
The only slight problem that it caused was that when I did the final broadcast with Grainne up on a high truck to get a bit of a view of the camp it was more difficult getting the camera and cable up than it would have been if the camera had the radio bit on the back.
The rest of the day was not going to be as busy as yesterday.
All that we had to do was a series of interviews with a number of soldiers and find out from them what the whole remembrance thing meant to them.
We had a location sorted that was suitably military with a lovely dappled light coming through camouflage netting yet quiet and intimate.
The people that had volunteered to give us their thoughts arrived in little groups.
I wired them up for sound and in a very sensitive and caring way Grainne drew out some very moving words from them.
Beneath the uniform and the military bearing that all soldiers have is a real person with the same sensitive thoughts that most of us have.
They all know that signing up for military service brings with it the chance to lose friends or see colleagues suffer horrific injury but that signature does not take away the common humanity that links us all.
This band of brothers and sisters in arms that Grainne spoke to certainly showed the real human side that lies not that far under the emotional surface.
It took us a little while to do the interviews and we all found it a moving experience and admitted to a bit of a wobble during some of the interviews.
There were just a couple of things left to do before the possibility of a proper night’s sleep.
The interviews needed to be edited and a short video blog for the Daybreak web site had to be done.
So after another hearty meal Luke set about the interviews and I went with Grainne to shoot the blog.
We did not have to go far at all because what was wanted was a little tour around showing what our accommodation was like and some of the other facilities on the base.
So starting outside Grainne gave the internet viewers a guided tour of our tent and then we went down to the EFI where the guys relax a bit when not on duty.
We were fortunate because the Army Air Corps band was playing there.
So we finished with the piece off to the tune of the Battle of Britain march.
When we got back Luke had almost done the editing of the remembrance interviews. When he was finished I edited the stuff that I had just shot.
At ten o’clock local time we sent the material back to Daybreak. That would give them plenty of time to put some nice images from the library over the voices from Afghanistan.
We had been on the go since seven am. It was great to be able to relax for a little while before crashing out for what could well be seven hours sleep.
A nighcap would have been nice but it is a dry camp in a dry country, hey ho there ye go, never mind.
With really only one problem with Avid last night, when it decided to change on of the main settings all by itself we got the material back to Daybreak nice and early.
Seven hours sleep was the reward.
At seven o’clock Afghan time we trudged to our shower facilities to prepare for the day ahead.
It was once again sunny but chilly.
We had time to get washed and have breakfast without having to rush because we did not need to get to our location until around nine o’clock.
I needed to do a little work on the piece I shot yesterday for the Welsh rugby match against South Africa. So that kept me slightly busy until it was time to drive the short distance to the Merlin Helicopter Detachment on the Flight Line at the airfield.
With the efficiency expected by the military there was an Apache attack helicopter and a Merlin helicopter parked exactly where I had asked them to be parked yesterday.
The little cherry-picker lift I had hopefully asked to use was also in pretty much the precise place I wanted it.
The day was off to a great start.
We knew that it was going to be a fairly hectic one because there was a lot planned for us to do.
We were not wrong.
The gremlins decided to indulge in in some sport to increase our sense of stress.
The satellite truck was all set up and the signal was being received in the Daybreak gallery in London.
The camera and sound was all rigged and getting back to the truck.
Grainne, Luke, James, one of the two BBC engineers and I had our talkback units on and working.
The start of the programme was getting close.
The servicemen and women would assemble in front of the two helicopters, taking two minutes out of their working day to remember colleagues, friends and who had paid the ultimate price in conflicts past and present.
The padre had set up a cross and box from which he would conduct the short ceremony.
Grainne and I rehearsed a short piece beside the cross for the opening of the programme and one in the news bulletin a few moments later.
It was going to look good.
With the programme about to start we were expecting to hear the talkback .
It is not that unusual not to get the line established until near the beginning of the show, particularly when it is a busy one, so I was not too worried, but mildly concerned.
Then Rob the engineer on the satellite truck told us over local talkback that there was problem in London getting the programme talkback to us.
None of us wanted to miss any of the broadcasts, we had come to far and had put in too much work for them not to happen.
Our watches told us that the programme was about to kick off.
We would certainly not be able to do the first little tease.
The frustrating thing was that the mobile phone signal is so poor that between the three of us and our six phones there was only one that had any kind of signal, Luke’s Blackberry.
So, quickly he dialled the gallery in London in time to be able to give Grainne the cue for the first news bulletin report.
Simon the Director in the Daybreak gallery gave him the timings and cue.
Grainne took it perfectly and off she went into the report.
The first one was done but we still did not have talkback.
The guys and girls were starting to gather now for the act of remembrance.
Our next broadcast was coming up.
Suddenly the Daybreak programme burst into our ears. The quality was not great but at least we could hear something.
Grainne and I clambered up into the mini cherry-picker to get ready for the broadcast before the two minutes silence was due to begin.
A Lynx in its tented hanger.
One of the busiest helicopters in use in Helmand is the Chinook, a huge monster of a thing with a pair of equally monstrous rotors, one at the front and one at the back.
The amount of power to get these massive beasts off the ground is equally huge.
When they start up you certainly know that they are around.
There were four of them parked not far from our camera position.
Merlins, Apaches, American Black Hawks, and Lynx helicopters along with Hercules fixed wing aircraft, Ospreys with their large tilting propellors and sundry other flying machines were taxiing, taking off and landing constantly, making a busy day at Heathrow look like a sleepy grass airstrip on a misty November morning.
An Apache buzzes off.
All this activity made the talkback difficult to hear. When two of the Chinooks fired up it was almost impossible.
James gave Grainne another talkback unit so that she could have the programme sound in both ears.
This did help a little.
She was just able to hear the cue from the studio and do the next broadcast as the gathering grew and the helicopters roared beside us.
Next thing on the agenda was the actual two minutes silence, which was going to happen imminently.
The pair of giant whirling bears lumbered into the air and departed on their mission.
The timing was perfect. The base became a little quieter as the Padre started to speak to introduce the massed mark of respect and remembrance.
In my ear I heard Adrian Chiles talk about Camp Bastion. Simon the studio director then told me that my shot was on air.
He had just said it when the last post was sounded by the single bugle player on the airfield below.
In the distance British and American aircraft were still moving on the runway and in the air. The bugle call pierced through the noise of engines and rotors.
Slowly I started to zoom in wondering how long that the studio would stay on my shot.
I crept the shot in from a wide including the helicopters, men and the large cross to a group shot of men, some looking straight ahead, others heads bowed and some with their eyes closed.
I continued the shot slowly panning along the groups and stopping at a group on the left.
Up until that point there was silence in my ear. Then I heard Adrian talk about Keith McGrath, who had lost his older brother in Garesh just a year ago. He had lain a wreath at the base of the cross before the silence.
We would be talking to him live shortly after the end of the silence.
When the silence came to an end with the sounding of reveille the troops marched of a few paces and then dispersed back to their jobs.
The two minutes silence.
Simon and Abi the producer in the gallery both asked over talk back if we would be ready with the interview. They would be coming to us in less than one minute, a little sooner than we had thought.
I pressed the valve to let the lift down. Grainne and I quickly clambered out. Keith was on his way over to us.
Simon and Abi once again with an increasing sense of urgency asked if we would be ready.
I nodded the camera as we moved. Then it struck me. I had not given Grainne a hand held microphone to do the interview and Keith did not have a microphone on.
There was no time to sort it. I would have to hope that the personal mic that Grainne had on would do the job.
I got Grainne to stand as close to Keith as possible. Then I saw another thing that perhaps I should have prepared a contingency for.
He was way taller than Grainne. Given time I would have put Grainne on a little box so that they looked around the same height.
No time for that either London was just about to come to us.
Grainne picked up the cue and started to speak to Keith.
He was a bit more quietly spoken that I had hoped but he was clearly audible and if I lifted the level when he spoke it helped.
When Grainne spoke to him the viewers would not have been aware of the frantic activity that had just gone on, She spoke to him in a tone etched with tenderness. His interview was very touching in a typically British, sensitive, yet still stiff upper lipped sort of way.
I think I got away with the sound.
The next thing we had to do was a series of little pieces into the news bulletins and live shots of the airfield.
For all these shots and pieces the up until then perfect timing ran out.
I set Grainne up with a backdrop of moving helicopters, troops moving around and other aircraft taxiing and taking off.
Both right before and immediately after the broadcasts this activity looked fantastic but, on each and every occasion the activity moved out of shot seconds before we went on air and entered shot very shortly after we came off air.
The shot still looked good, never the less I was frustrated that it had not looked as exciting as it could have.
There were then two other big live broadcasts to do.
One was with the Officer Commanding the Merlin helicopters, Matt Tandy.
He was going to be linked up with his wife and young children back at RAF Benson in England.
Rob and James had rigged a monitor in one of the hangers that had a Merlin in it being serviced so that Mark would be able to not just speak to and hear his wife but see her and the kids as well.
We were told that Grainne’s broadcasts were finished.
Matt needed to be wired for sound with both a microphone and talkback.
James and I took the microphone and talkback from Grainne and put them on Matt.
James sorts Matt's earpiece.
We were getting close to the time for next news bulletin.
On talkback we were told to standby with a live from Grainne.
There was no time to either mic her up or get a talkback unit on to her.
I quickly grabbed a gun mic and swapped the plugs at the back of the camera at the same time as telling London that it would have to be a cue from either me or producer Luke because Grainne would not be on talkback.
We were in position with Grainne composed ready to go.
Then we heard that she was not needed and we had to get Matt in front of the camera as soon as possible.
We dashed back to the place the monitor was rigged and I clicked the camera on to the tripod.
Matt was in position, looking a little nervous holding a letter that he had received yesterday from his family.
Adrian started to talk to introduce Matt, his wife Lizzy and his daughters Ellie and Lotte.
In the monitor beside me Matt saw Lizzy and the girls.
Adrian had a chat with Matt, then Lizzy.
It was quite moving for us when Matt’s 4 year old daughter Lotte spoke to him. It was the first time that she had actually spoken to him. Normally on the phone she would refuse because she was angry at daddy being away from home.
He was clearly emotional yet held it together. I don’t know how he managed to do it.
It had been a very frenetic, stressful and draining few moments but once more we got away with it.
Just a couple of live shots of the airfield to do and a down the line interview with Ester & Hasel two female Apache helicopter technicians who would be talking to Lorraine Kelly in her programme, which starts as soon as Daybreak ends.
The timing theme continued. Lots of things going on before and directly after the live shots but when I was on air the only thing I was able to do was zoom out from a static Chinook helicopter to show what for a brief moment appeared to be a quiet airfield, although there was always the noise of aircraft somewhere.
James got the girls wired up with talkback and I got them in front of the camera.
Lorraine wanted to talk to the girls during the commercial break before their live broadcast.
For people not used to having a disembodied voice in their ear the down the line experience is far from an easy one. When that voice is not crystal clear and there is a lot of ambient noise from let’s say aircraft it becomes a nightmare.
During the commercial break what felt like an armada of gunships took off or landed and Chinooks roared in and out.
For a seasoned professional it would have taken a lot of skill and experience to make sense and comprehend the questions Lorraine was trying to ask.
For the two nervous girls it was an understandably impossible task.
At the end of the break Lorraine had to give up and we all hoped that the activity might ease off when we came to do the broadcast.
Unfortunately that did not happen. So we ended the morning’s broadcasts on a bit of a downer because the interview mainly consisted of the girls saying, “I’m sorry could you repeat the question we can’t hear you.”
Straight after and in fact during the manic morning of live transmissions we needed to do some messages to friends and families from soldiers that would be staying in Afghanistan over Christmas.
We did some of those with ground and aircrew on the flight line and then stopped for a much needed break and bite to eat.
The complete Daybreak crew with Nick, Gil and driver Darren.
There was not much time to get a few of these messages done because we had to get our kit packed away to check it in for our evening flight to Kandahar on a C130 Hercules.
Nick our bearded sailor Media Op’s officer took us for a quick tour of areas of the sprawling camp where we might get folk keen to give their nearest and dearest back home a Christmas wish.
Out of all the people we spoke to there were very few that were not going to be home at Christmas and out of those only three that were interested in sending a message home.
When we got back to the big tent to pack Nick found out some good news. The late night flight and overnight stay in Kandahar to wait for a flight back to Brize Norton later tomorrow had changed.
We were to be on an earlier flight to Kandahar and then have a relatively short wait for the flight out to the UK with a short stop at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Whilst we were packing Gil had disappeared only to return and give Grainne a memento of her visit to the base and the bottling plant in particular.
He presented her with a white coat emblazoned on the shoulders with the Royal Marines Commando badge.
At the departures area in Camp Bastion we said a fond farewell to Nick and Gil. They had been a great help to us, with great good humour and wicked banter they had made our busy days enjoyable and easy, well easier.
Camp Bastion departure lounge.
Flying on a darkened C130 in the utilitarian webbing seats wearing full body armour and helmets is not one of life’s most pleasurable experiences. At least the flight was not too long.
Grainne and Luke on the C130.
When we arrived in Kandahar the kit that had been off loaded from the C130 had to be taken and put on a pallet to be transferred to the Tristar that would take us home.
Transferring the kit to the Tristar pallet.
Grainne at Kandahar.
Tristar boarding card.
When we got into the lounge which still has breeze block blast walls dividing it into sections it was full of soldiers ready to go home.
The snack that we were all served on the Tristar was accompanied by a can of beer provided by a charity “Beer for the Boys”.
Luke and Grainne with the free beer.
I am sure for the guys ending a long dusty tour it would be very much appreciated.
The 11th had become the 12th as we waited to get on the Tristar back to the UK with a brief stop at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
Tristar on the ground at RAF Akrotiri Cyprus.
All being well we would be back in Brize Norton at 9 am UK time which would be 4:30 am our Afghan time.
When we got to Cyprus things were far from well with the weather in the UK.
The high winds and gales blowing across the country meant that our time on the ground in Cyprus became over six hours instead of two.
At least we were all taken to the junior ranks mess on the air base and given a breakfast to help pass the time.
I was deeply frustrated because the heavily advertised free internet WiFi was not working. I was keen to get a few tweets out and file this blog.
Getting back on board after the six hour delay.
It would just have to wait until I was back in the UK.
Pretty mountains out the widow on the way to the UK.
The way things were shaping up it looked like I would have a long time to wait at Heathrow.
When Uniglobe, the ITV travel company checked what flights were available for me they were all full.
So they wait listed me for a couple.
I arrived at Heathrow to have to wait until the busy flight closed to find out if I had a seat or not.
The good news was that I did. The bad news was that it was also delayed.
More hanging around.
If the flight took off at the new time it said it would I would have been on the go for 46 hours.