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, 15 March 2011

Time to get out!

Tuesday 15th

It might not have been warm but, it had been fairly comfortable and we almost had a full night’s sleep.

My bed for the night with kit beside me.

Arata's family home in Sendai.

During the night Cordelia and I had been woken by the long slow sound of a siren.

We were not quite sure what it meant. Beside us Arata was snoring gently on his futon.

That was until there was a bit of a shake. That woke him up. We looked at each other, stood up, went out into the entrance area of the small house and put our shoes on.

Arata, rather befuddled with sleep followed along.

When we stepped outside there was no movement either under our feet or anywhere else.

No lights in the surrounding homes were glowing.

There was not a soul to be seen or sound to be heard.

If none of the locals were panicking then why should we?

We wandered back inside and got back in our beds.

After that as expected I slept rather fitfully.

In the morning Arata’s mum and sister prepared a breakfast of pancakes cooked over the heating stove.

Arata's sister cooking on the kerosine heater....

....typical Japanese photo pose!

Arata's sister and his really cool mother.

We had been asked to go and find a British teacher who worked in a school that had been badly affected by the quake.

We set out with the intention of finding him but when we saw the state of the traffic heading in his direction and all the closed roads that we were not able to get through another plan had to swing into action.

Cordelia keeping in touch with London.

The obvious one was that the shortages were now starting to hit quite badly.

So, at a filling station I did some shots of the two pumps out of ten that were working, the very long queue of traffic waiting to get in and a piece to camera with Cordelia.

We went on to a supermarket where I filmed the customers trying to buy what was available. I was actually surprised to see some fresh fruit and vegetables.

We were keen to see how the people that had lost their houses were coping and what facilities had been provided for them.

The main refuge places were schools so off we went to find one of the schools.

The main gym hall had been turned into a dormitory. Permission had been given for us to go and film.

The floor was covered in large rectangular plastic sheets with blankets on top of them.

A few oldish men were rather stereotypically gathered around a glowing stove.

Old women sat, their faces hidden by the now familiar white surgical face masks, reading or just thinking.

A couple of kids were running around enjoying the fun of the situation.

I had mentally mapped out a few of the shots that I wanted to get and started on the job of getting them as Cordelia thought about a piece to camera.

I had only done three shots or so when my phone rang.

Cordelia was busy talking to someone about the headline in the local newspaper she was going to show during the piece to camera.

Andy the programme organiser got straight to the point, “you’ve got to pull out. Sky, ITN, the BBC and all the American networks are pulling all their crews out of the area. You can come straight out or you can finish the job. Lucy the news editor would like to speak to Cordelia.”

I was stunned. I got Cordelia’s attention and handed her the phone.

During the short conversation I managed to take maybe one more shot.

The head quarters of the various big media organisations over the world were getting worried about the potential for another explosion at the Daiichi Nuclear Plant and the sudden ejection of very dangerous radioactive material.

They wanted to get everyone to get out of the affected zone and in fact were talking about a mass media evacuation.

There were serious discussions about a media charted plane airlifting us all out of Japan as soon as possible. Such was the fear in the minds of our collective bosses.

“Let’s do the piece to camera and go,” said Cordelia.

Arata and I agreed.

The plan that all the media had appeared to be following at that point was to get all of us to Akita, in the north west of Japan, with a view to getting us out of the country from there.

When the bosses of so many institutions that by nature would want the closest shot of the reactor as it blew and an interview with a worker in the middle of the atomic pile glowing with radiation like an effect on a poor cartoon make a decision like that, almost unprecedented there must have been some basis in truth.

We got straight into the car and discussed options for routes to take us north to Akita and a place we could stop that was deemed far enough away for us to be able to do our live broadcasts.

Arata at the wheel.

A city called Yamagata looked like the sort of place that would fit the bill.

As soon as he started driving Arata got on the phone to his mum.

He was getting frustrated, panicked and angry trying to persuade his family to leave Sendai as soon as possible.

I filmed part of the conversation and after it was over Cordelia did a little interview with him as we continued the drive to where it was deemed safe for us to stop and do our live broadcasts.

Once the interview was finished I fired up the laptop and got the material into it whilst Cordelia thought about her voice over.

When she had written the script Arata pulled over.

I recorded Cordelia’s voice over in the car. It took a few takes because we had to stop when big trucks or noisy cars zoomed by.

Even given the retakes we were only stopped for a couple of moments before setting off again.

In Daybreak terms it was quite a long report that I was editing.

We were hoping to get as far as Yamagata to do the live broadcasts because I knew that with the length of the report that I was cutting the battery situation on the laptop would be critical before I even set up for the broadcasts.

Arata drove on through what at times were almost white out conditions.

I had the report edited with a little power left in the laptop as we pulled into a motorway junction heading north.

The good news was that the road was open to all traffic and that the people in the office had said that we could use their electrical supply.

They were all very kind and helpful but, Arata still had to fill in a long form, a beaurocrat’s dream.

It also doubled as permission to use the camera at the motorway junction.

The less good news was that from the position that the satellite dish could see the satellite there was no power.

Time was now pressing to get the edited piece back to London.

I set up the dish in the car park. The snow had turned to fairly heavy rain.

I got connected to ITN in London and started sending the piece. The battery on the laptop was showing nothing left on the meter.

Sure enough with one third of the report sent it all ground to a halt.

I ran to the power and connected the laptop to it.

Then whilst the thing was getting a bit of a boost, enough to get the rest of the report sent, I looked at how I could get the dish high enough to get over the little office building.

At the same time the office in London were concerned when Cordelia told them it was raining.

They told us that we should not be out in the rain and that unless we could find cover they would not allow us to do our live broadcasts.

Two things came together nicely on that front.

I had found some bits of concrete blocks that I could pile up to put the dish on and that would let us be under the canopy of the office door.

My satellite dish tower.

We were winning. The report had arrived and now we had power to see us through for the rest of the morning.

The camera position under the office canopy.

Preparing to go on air.

During our time at the junction Arata said that he had seen many cars filled with people that he took to be media. I suppose we do have a certain look.

However, rather surprisingly the traffic was fairly light and not the mad stream that we were expecting.

The longest the single queue of cars got when we were there.

As the light grey turned dark and then black we got back on the road.

The snow was getting steadily heavier, making driving conditions far from ideal.

We were heading north on route 13.

Since our pancake breakfast we had not eaten.

We spotted a nice looking noodle shop that was still open and decided that we really needed to eat.

Our noodle stop.

We were glad that we did stop because Arata was chatted a trio of locals who had been busy slurping away on their ramen noodles when we went in.

They told us that without snow tyres and four wheel drive carrying on up the 13 would be silly.

They gave Arata an alternative route that would take us west and then north up along the coast rather than over the mountains.

At this point we were getting concerned for Richard, Hannah and Kyle.

Neither the office nor us had heard from him for a while.

We did get a hold of him and he was heading in our direction but behind us by a couple of hours.

We ordered the quickest noodles and ate the delicious hot soup so fast that I got a couple of blisters in my mouth from the heat.

We arrived at our hotel around midnight.

Some of our ITV and Channel 4 colleagues were already there wandering about or, as in Ch4’s case busy editing.

Richard had called a few times on the journey.

Initially the calls were quite worrying because the snow had worsened and the road that we had taken was now not passable.

Eventually the three of them had managed to find a place to stay and were bedding down for the night in an onsen, a Japanese Spa hotel.

We were tired but at least we were in about as safe a place in Japan as it was possible to be.

We got some cans from one of the vending machines, sat down in the lounge and slowly wound down.

Arata had been talking to a young English chap when Cordelia and I had been putting our bags in our rooms.

He told Arata that he had been living a house that was the only building left standing in his town, Ofonato after the tsunami had struck.

When Arata told Cordelia this she asked if we could do an interview with him.

He was happy with that but the only time that he could do it would be in a few hours time before he was getting a flight to safety and his girlfriend. A rather ironic destination given the current circumstances, Hiroshima.

Another night with little sleep then.

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