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.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Tunisia, tear gas and refugees

Sunday 27th

It was six am when I met Gregg in the foyer of the Sofitel at Gatwick airport’s North Terminal.

My flight last night had been quiet and uneventful as was the short walk to the hotel and check in.

The bag with the body armour for Gregg, my fairly clean second passport and importantly an envelope with cash had been delivered to the hotel at the correct time.

We had breakfast after the easy and stress free check in and security.

The sun was starting to come up and the London sky was looking clear and blue.

It was looking like it would be a good day from a weather point of view.

Sunny morning on the quiet Gatwick North Terminal bridge to gate 106.

There had been a minor hiccup on my part.

When we arrived at the check in machines I had sudden realised that I was missing something.

The sealed envelope with the wad of cash was not in my bag.

I was glad that the hotel was just a short walk away because I thought and hoped I knew where it would be.

I had taken the white envelope out of the bag and laid it on the bed.

When I left the room and gave it a last quick look I had failed to spot the white envelope sitting on the white cover.

It was a huge relief to see it siting there when I got back.

My first job after breakfast was to change the british pounds in the envelope into US dollars as they are much better to deal with.

I also needed a few little bits of techie stuff like adaptor plugs and batteries.

Then it was time for us to board the flight to Tunis on the first proper leg of a journey that would hopefully end up in Tripoli, but not for a few days at least.

We were heading to the western border of Libya and at the moment it is still very volatile and dangerous there with pro Gadaffi elements still kind of in control.

The flight was not busy but, it was busier than I thought it would be given that there was still unrest in Tunisia.

Just yesterday three people had been shot dead.

Although the flight was by no means full the journey looked like it might have been a nightmare.

There was a little boy, maybe two years of age sitting on his mother’s lap as we taxied and prepared to take off.

He was screaming, kicking and generally thrashing around.

This rotund woman was to parenting skills what Gadaffi was to sanity and a grasp on reality.

Until the astute and clued up cabin staff sorted her and the lad out with a row to themselves up the back we were all looking at a dreadful journey.

The woman was quite clearly stressed by the boy's behaviour, but the only strategy she employed to get him to calm down involved a lot of shouting and shaking.

The only time he calmed down was when a girl in the seat infront of her started to distract the wee boy by playing with him.

Even up the back with all the space peace and quiet prevailed only for a part of the journey.

There are times when you are thankful for your own mother. This was surly one of those times.

I felt really sorry for the boy. He looked destined to grow up with a mother that did not understand or the ability to cope with the stages of childhood.

We arrived on Tunisian soil to the accompaniment of the wailing kid.

The first hurdle is always immigration. Even though I had a bag with me that was quite clearly a camera bag the officer never even paused for thought as he stamped my passport and waved me through.

In the baggage hall we did a little interview with a Libyan with dual Canadian citizenship. He was coming to Tunis to help get medical and food aid into the county when it was safe to do so, ideally when Gadaffi had gone.

In order not to draw too much attention to us before we had passed Customs with one or two things that are not allowed in Tunisia I shot the interview on my little Flip camera.

The sound was not the best when I listened to it back but it would be usable.

Whilst we were doing this a small smiling guy was trying to make eye contact with us and as soon it was clear that we had finished he came over to us.

He introduced himself. It was Chokra who would be our fixer for our time in Tunisia.

We piled the bags on to the trollies and headed in the direction of Customs.

I had my kit list ready to give the Customs officers and the contraband kit was as well hidden as it could be.

Chokra just walked straight through the green channel and we did the same.

Again no one gave us a second look. That was another hurdle, the main one, cleared.

There was then a choice of vehicles for the journey to our hotel near the Libyan border.

Chokra had been expecting a crew of four like most of the other broadcasters he deals with. He was a little surprised when we said that it was just Gregg and me.

There was a little minibus waiting in the car park for us but, since there was just the two of us and we did not have a massive amount of kit he suggested that we might prefer a more comfortable and faster 4x4.

We agreed.

The only thing was that we would have to drive a short way to swap the vehicles. It would not take much time off the journey because we would be going that way anyway.

Also we would be going past the part of the city where the protests were taking place. We would be able to get a few shots from a safe area because the little post revolution aftershocks were still going on with the people not one hundred percent with some of the guys still in charge.

Chokra suggested a couple of minutes shooting and when we were doing that the driver would change the vehicles.

We pulled up at a roundabout and I picked the camera out of the bag.

There were a few policemen wandering around and a steady trickle of people heading towards a sizeable crowd outside the building that houses the Ministry of Interior.

A lot of them had scarves over their mouths and noses, others had collars pulled up in a similar way.

The first thing that welcomed us as we got out the minibus was the sound of some sort ot gunfire.

We could also smell the distractive aroma of tear gas.

The noise that we were hearing was the sound of the tear gas being fired towards the crowd

In the distance beyond the crowd line we could see small clouds of the gas.

I did some shots of the crowd in the distance and the helicopter buzzing overhead as well as the people in cars still going about their normal daily routine.

The car was taking a little more time than we expected and wanted, to come back and pick us up.

We did not want to get sucked in to covering these protests.

They were at times a violent and bloody series of demonstrations, only yesterday three people had been shot dead.

However, they had now become a bit more of a local problem with the make up of the regime. The main revolution had been won.

So we went into a scruffy filling station by the roundabout and had a drink to wait for the car to arrive.

As Chokra and I drank our coffees and Gregg drank his juice the tear gas wafted around us.

From time to time people would wander in obviously suffering from the full effects of the gas. Their eyes were puffed and stinging and we could see them trying to cope with the stinging in their noses and mouths.

At last the driver appeared with the car and we were on our way to our hotel not too far from the Libyan border.

Locals watch the protest from a distance as the smell of tear gas wafts down the road.

We were grateful for the added comfort on the journey of around eight hours with just a couple of pee stops and one stop as daylight faded to get a welcome bite to eat.

In the spartan restaurant we met a reporter from NHK who said that things were not great at the border.

There were a lot of Egyptians who were fleeing Libya but were not being allowed in to Tunisia.

Some had been stuck there for a few days now and the nights were getting pretty cold.

Tempers were getting a bit frayed. He told us that as far as he was aware at least one crew had felt the brunt of the anger and got their camera smashed.

The Harissa we had as a starter. Very nice.

We carried on to our hotel keen to get in and get to work on the piece that needed to be edited and sent to Daybreak in London.

Then there would be some sleep. When we arrived it was around ten thirty pm.

The good news was that we could have rooms until Friday but, the bad news was that it would be from tomorrow night, not tonight.

There was no record of our booking and the hotel was full.

The staff were reasonably helpful in trying to find the booking but, even with our help there was no sign of it.

Fixer Chokra, Gregg and the Duty Manager searching the computer for signs of our names.

We then went in search of a bed for the one night.

To cut a boring and frustrating story short a large number of the hotels that we tried were full.

Eventually we did find a place that looked quite nice, a big bright clean reception area.

The loud sound of a party on full swing out of sight was the only thing that might have been a problem.

Getting to sleep through the noise and the fact that we may not be able to find a quiet enough place to record a voice over for the report that needed to be edited.

In the event it did not cause a problem on either count because our rooms were far enough away for the sound to be hardly audible and we ended up with hardly any time to sleep.

The lack of any sleep was mainly due to the technical gremlins making a very unwelcome and unwanted return.

Gregg edited the material that I had shot at the riot in Tunis and the interview with the Libyan at the airport.

That was no problem.

The trouble came when we tried to send the short edited piece back to Daybreak in London.

As usual it was not just one little annoying problem but several that made it difficult to sort out.

The laptops would not talk to the satellite dish some of the time and when they did the satellite dish would not respond in the way it should, it randomly switched itself on and off for no apparent reason and at one frustrating point it just said pretty much that the bill had not been paid.

It was a busy night for the technical guys in London so it took a while for one of them to be able to have a chat with me.

The hotel had an internet connection in the main lobby, a long walk from the rooms.

So as I wrestled with the satellite Gregg went to send the material from the lobby. That did not work.

There was a 3G signal on the phone network and Gregg had a 3G broadband dongle.

Using this it would be both expensive, because of the file size and slow for similar reasons.

The piece started the trudge through cyber space to Daybreak like an elephant in diving boots wading through molten tar.

The elephant would probably have had more staying power that the material. It gave up about half way through.

When John from the Technical department in London did get the chance to talk to me some of the problems were new to him.

However, by simplly trying to connect things again and again it came good and the rest of the piece made it through and we also managed to test the system for the live broadcasts.

Our next little episode of frustration was that we needed to record and send a voice track to cover some pictures that had come in to Daybreak during the night.

The SAS and RAF had come to the rescue of the oil workers that were trapped in the Libyan dessert.

The script was going to be e-mailed to Gregg for him to read, record and send.

A combination of the internet playing up and the e-mail not being sent we were much later leaving the hotel to go to the border with Libya than we had planned.

The length of yesterday’s drive and the time we arrived had meant that our comfortable car was low on fuel.

More than half way on the drive to the border we would pass the last chance to get fuel.

Like the ones we had passed last night and this morning it was closed.

Luckily it opened a few moments after we had pulled in and Hasan our driver had gone in search of the owner.

We did not end up at the border because we came upon a much more interesting place to do the live broadcasts from a few miles before it.

It was one of the temporary camps set up by the Tunisian army to help some of the 20000 or so Egyptian refugees that had, and were still pouring over the border from Libya to Tunisia.

Egyptian migrant workers flee Libya and gather at the camp.

They just kept coming.

Once again a double dose of problems meant that we missed the first planned broadcast at six am by a couple of moments.

Our later than intended departure and short wait for fuel mixed with the now standard difficulty in making the the connection on the satellite were the causes.

As soon as we did make the connection and contact Gregg recorded a one minute piece to camera that could run if the connection failed later in the morning, which of course it did, during our seven o’clock broadcast.

At least it had the decency to wait until almost the end.

Gregg ready to broadcast.

Just before the eight o’clock broadcast we could hear the sound of chanting and shouting coming from deep inside the 12000 strong camp.

A few moments later a large group the men marched out on to the road making lots of noise and shaking their fists in the air.

Chokra, our fixer said that they were protesting about the lack of action by their government in coming to their aid to get them home to Egypt unlike the other countries that had put a lot of resources in to getting their people home.

Making their feelings heard.

Gregg mentioned it in his broadcast.

After we had finished with the live broadcasts we went over to the camp and did a bit of filming with the surprisingly polite, good humoured yet angry men.

Around the camp in groups of twenty or thirty upwards they would spontaneously start chanting and generally making their feelings of abandonment felt.

At no time did they show any antagonisation, anger or disrespect to us which was contrary to what we had been told to expect.

Once we had finished the filming it was time to head back to our hotel to get the rest of our kit and move to the other hotel that we should have been in to start with.

As we got in the car for the forty five minute journey Gregg and I had been on the go for twenty seven hours without a great deal to eat and drink.

Not a Gadaffi fan!

On the way back to Zarzis we stopped for a coffee to top up our diet of the last day that consisted of caffeine, sugar, from bags of Jelly Babies, Sports MIxtures and adrenaline.

A scene on the drive back. Baby camels grazing.

We got back to the hotel, checked out, checked in to the other one and after dumping the kit in the rooms we went to get food.

Of course the checking in to the hotel was not as simple as it sounds.

At the end of a long day there is nothing like a problem with sorting out the bill to top things off.

There was a jumble of calls between me, Raj the production manager at Daybreak, Uniglobe the ITV travel people and the hotel before we were finally given the keys to the rooms.

The summit of our thirty hour day had been reached. It was finally time to eat and sleep, at least for a while.

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