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, 3 February 2011

Live in Cairo and riding with a Tahrir Square horseman

Thursday 3rd

Richard and I went up to the location that we scouted last night.

There would be some palm trees and the control tower of the airport as a backdrop for Richard’s live broadcasts.

We had minimum kit and had geared up with the talkback when we were in the room so as to look as inconspicuous as possible.

We did not want to alert the any of the many security guys wandering around just in case they decided to make a call to the authorities.

Richard at work before the trouble with the BGAN.

We fired up the BGAN and the mac.

The BGAN would not connect to the satellite. This was a problem that we had been warned about and had been lucky enough to avoid over the previous days broadcasting.

The computer showing the BGAN not playing ball.

There were a couple of things that could be preventing us getting on the bird.

It could simply be that there were too many people trying to broadcast. It was prime time for the Japanese networks to be up and running and as far as we were aware they had lots and lots of BGAN terminals in use sending pictures back to Japan along with doing live broadcasts.

The other more sinister reason was that there were powers sending up a strong signal to overload the transponders on the satellite.

This was similar to what the US reportedly did during the early days of the last gulf war.

We missed our first broadcast into the news bulletin at 6 am, the first one we had missed since we arrived in Egypt.

The remedy was to use the cabled internet from one of our rooms.

Mine was on the ground floor so we dashed back to set up.

We had around ten minutes before we were due to be on air in the main part of the programme.

Richard dashed to his room to get an ethernet cable long enough to allow us to get the mac out in to the garden at the back of the hotel.

I took the rest of the kit to start rigging it up.

I got to the room door and shoved the key card in the slot.

Perfect timing for the card not to work.

I then had to run to the reception and get the card reprogrammed.

It was a relief that the woman on the desk was more efficient and quicker than the guys that checked us in last night.

I hurtled back to the room and we got the kit cabled up and through the window as fast as we could.

We made it just in time.

We had not been out on the grass for long when a couple of security guards sauntered up and had a look at what we were doing and had a quiet chat but, thankfully did not seem to be too bothered, even though we were leaping in and out of my bedroom window.

One thing that one of them said, tied in with what the driver of the bus that brought us to the hotel last night had said, they were both very keen that Mubarak should stay.

They both said that he was a good man and a great president.

Richard outside in our second location with the cable coming out of my window.

On the phone to London.

After our morning’s work we had to work out if it would be possible to get into the square safely to be able to both shoot there later today and do live broadcasts from there tomorrow.

The Hilton hotel in Tahrir Square would have been our preferred destination because that was where the majority of our media colleagues were staying.

However, that was not going to be an option because we had been told by the guys in the hotel that it was far to dangerous to try to go there.

Journalists were being targeted and we were hearing horrific stories of gear being smashed and guys rather brutally roughed up.

Also the police were taking crews off to jail for a while and confiscating their camera kits and mobile phones.

The suggestion was that the Sofitel on the other side of the river but still with a view of he square was the best second option.

So we found a friendly and seemingly trustworthy driver with a nice car who was willing to take us into town.

He told us that under the circumstances the best and safest way to get there was not directly through the city but going around the ring road and approaching the hotel from the opposite direction.

He added that if we went that way there was an added bonus for us because on the way we would pass the pyramids and it was very safe there to stop and have a quick look.

We agreed a price and a time to depart.

Cairo's ring road in the midday sun.

Adel, our driver drove through the streets from the airport and along the ring road as if he was in an action movie.

He wove at great speed in and out of the lines of fast moving cars on the three lane highway.

His hand was constantly on the horn and the headlight flashing lever.

A blue light would not have gone amiss.

He'd give Michael Schumacher a run for his money.

Our fast driver Adel.

On the frantic trip we saw lots of tanks and armoured cars on the side of the road.

A tank on a trailer in the Cairo traffic.

On wide bridge crossing the Nile he pulled into the side and insisted that we get out the car and have our photographs taken with the river in the background.

He asked for my stills camera and took a couple of photographs of Richard and me smiling but looking slightly bemused.

Back on our thrill ride we came off the highway and started to head down a normal Cairo city street.

We went passed some buildings and over to our right in the distance we could see the pyramids.

Our first glimpse of the Pyramids.

Up ahead we could see some sort of roadblock and a queue of cars moving past.

Before Richard or I could voice our concerns Adel executed a u-turn and then with another blare on the horn nipped right into a narrow street.

After another few turns in the dusty back streets we he pulled up outside a perfume shop.

It was clear then that our “drive past the pyramids” was in fact a tourist trip.

We tried to say that we did not have time but Adel was very keen for us to meet his friends.

Reluctantly, because we knew that this would end up costing us we went into the shop.

We were the first customers that had set foot in this area fro ten days they said.

We were shown in to a room, offered a comfortable seat and given a glass of tea. It was the usual north african sales technique that we were familiar with.

As the characteristics of the various types of perfume were being explained to us Richard was getting a flurry of calls and e-mails from the Daybreak news desk.

After we were told the virtues of essential oils we were introduced to a big bubbly lady with a warm hand shake named Hwyta but called Heidi for ease.

We had been trying to away and back on the road to the hotel until Richard read one of the e-mails that was requesting a report about how the troubles were affecting normal Egyptians.

Heidi, a single mother looking after her sick mother would be an ideal candidate.

I filmed her talking to Richard and we did an interview where she told us how difficult things had become and how even affording food was hard with none of the vital tourist income she and her family depended on.

Then another good story presented itself. We were offered a ride on a camel out to have a look at the pyramids from the dessert.

It appeared like a frivolous thing to do until we found out that our guide, who would be on horseback had been one of the riders that had been in Tahrir square on Wednesday.

So off we went on a rather surreal journey through the scruffy streets leading to the dessert and up to a view point to see the pyramids.

Richard on his camel.

On the way Mahmood told us that he had been in the square with seventy people from the stables in the area around the pyramids and that some had been beaten up and one of his friends was killed.

They were waiting to get his body back from the hospital to bury him in a cemetery that we passed on our camel ride.

With the pyramids in the background we did and interview with Mahmood and I filmed him riding on his horse.


Mahmood on his horse.

Our camels and handler take a rest whilst we interview Mahmood.

Richard and I were pleased that not only did we have a story but we had seen the tourist things we never though that we would get a chance to see on this trip.

Guys around the stables area playing games as life goes on as normal.

On the way back to join Adel for the final bit of the trip to the hotel there were a couple of unnerving moments.

The first was when we heard several unmistakable gun shots.

Mahmood smiled reassuring us that there was nothing to worry about.

The second was when we were about to turn into one of the narrow streets and a quad bike suddenly came out.

My camel was very spooked and reared up kicking its legs.

I grabbed the pommel on the saddle and hung on.

Mahmood and a few of the men we were passing yelled and tried to get hold of the reigns to calm my frisky mount down.

When the camel did stop and I was still on its back Mahmood was full of complements on my riding skills.

In fact all I did was cling on and hope for the best.

I didn’t even drop the camera.

We said good bye to our grateful friends who had taken a bit of money from us in return for perfume, papyrus and pyramid tour but, it had been well worth it for the story we had.

Adel was keen to get back on the road to the hotel because by the time we got to the city centre it would be near to curfew time.

We were getting near to the bridge we had to go over to get to the Sofitel when we saw a huge throng of people and cars all jammed up.

Instantly Richard and my danger antennae were twitching.

We did not want to get caught up in a large crowd with no way out.

On twitter and e-mails from colleagues we were being told of journalists and westerners being roughed up by mobs in and around the square.

We got Adel to get past the crowd as quickly as he could.

Then we looked for another route to the hotel but even going up and down roads the wrong way and making several u-turns all the roads were blocked.

There was no way that getting out the car with our bags and walking would be a good idea.

So we decided to head back to the relative safety of the hotels at the airport.

On the way out of the main part of the city we had another very dodgy moment.

There was an improvised roadblock that we got stopped at.

A few sinister looking characters with small truncheons tucked under there arms came over to the car and had a good look at us and spoke to Adel in arabic.

There was a bit of a discussion and a few more men appeared and looked at us through the windows.

One of them was opening the boot and having a good look at my suitcase which was unlocked after I had taken the camera out back at the pyramids.

The pair of us were getting a little concerned, particularly Richard as this scenario was similar to the lead up to him and a GMTV producer being kidnapped in Beirut a few years ago.

I was glad that I had put the camera in the bag at my feet and that my Nikon stills camera was tucked away in another bag.

What I was worried about was the the kit scattered around in my suitcase which, along with my covert body armour would be in plain sight if the case was opened.

The boot was then thudded shut and with a few uttered sorrys from the men we were waved on our way.

To say that we heaved a sigh of relief would be a large understatement.

When we got to our hotel for the night we we hearing reports of journalists and westerners were being pulled out of their hotels.

We would need to be vigilant.

In one of our hotel rooms Richard edited the report and sent it to London.

The TV was on the news channels that were all covering the Cairo story constantly.

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