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.

Friday, 28 September 2012

A week of floods

Monday 24th September

I thought that the news desk would leave me alone to get all the post trip things sorted out but the grey leaden skies that were relentlessly throwing down a huge amount of rain put paid to that.

I drove through the night and a constant deluge to the unimaginatively named Saltburn-by-the-Sea in Cleveland to meet Gregg Easteal.

We got nice and wet getting shots of the little town as the residents went into "baton down the hatches" mode.

There were already flood warnings coming out from the Met Office.

The forecast was predicting that a massive amount of rain would fall over the next few days.

The shoot did not take us too long to do but never the less the pair of us were soaked right through our supposedly waterproof bad weather gear.

As it approached midnight we got the job finished, at least the shooting part.

Gregg still had to edit the report and send it to Daybreak in London. I was lucky, there was a hotel bed with my name on it.

Gregg had also drawn the short straw in so much that he was also gong to have to get up early to do live broadcasts about the weather from Bishop Aukland in County Durham.

I would just need to get up when I woke up and head for home, or so I hoped.

Tuesday 25th September

The journey home from Saltburn ended before it really began. 

I was only just out of the hotel car park when the call came from Carol at Daybreak.

Live broadcasts tomorrow from Morpeth were going to be the order of the day.

I got sorted out with an hotel in Newcastle and planned a nice early dinner followed by a nice early night.

Both of those ideas got washed away by the need to do a little bit of shooting in Morpeth in the late evening.

Gregg Easteal and I did a bit of filming in a couple of houses that had been affected by the floods.

We met a very sprightly and posh couple, Angela and Cameron who's house had succumbed to a bit of damage.

The lively, good humoured, retired pair were happy to allow us to film in the house, as long as Angela was not referred to as elderly or senior in the report.

As floods go there was not really a great deal of damage. It was pretty much just their carpets that got the brunt of it.

They had been given enough warning to allow them, with the help of friends to get most of the furniture up the stairs.

In 2008 it had been a different story. The flood had been much worse. The water had come up to a height of about five feet in the house.

They had to be out of the house for eight months on that occasion whilst it dried out and some very extensive repair work was carried out.

It was a similar story with John a few doors along the road. In his case the newly installed kitchen had been slightly damaged along with the kitchen flooring.

The floor would need replaced and some of the kitchen units would likewise need replaced.

However, it was nothing like the devastation of four years ago.

Angela, Cameron and John all agreed to have us back in the morning for live broadcasts.

The material on tape was going to be sent to Daybreak from Tyne Tees Television down in Gateshead.

This caused a little bit of stress because of the time we finished shooting, the length of time Tyne Tees would still be manned and the number of other external feeds going into Daybreak.

It all came good in the end. By the time I rushed the rushes to Tyne Tees Carol at Daybreak had ironed out the logistical problems.

This time when I got to the hotel I knew that I was in for a short sleep.

I did not realise just how short it was going to be.

Wednesday 26th September
Newburn and Morpeth

My alarm still had a bit more than a couple of hours to run before it was due to wake me when the sleep shattering call came.

Last night, a while before I had managed to get to bed I saw a report by Dawn Thewlis, one of my colleagues from long ago during my time at Tyne Tees, running on the BBC's late bulletin.

It was a story about a new looking block of houses in Newburn just west of Newcastle that was almost about to fall down.

The flood waters had caused a lot of ground to be washed away. In the case of these town houses some of that ground was what they, until today, had been built on.

The report showed still images of the block of flats with a massive hole where the foundations should have been.

On the face of it this looked like a better story and location for our live broadcasts.

I was surprised that we had not been dispatched to cover it as well, or indeed instead of the Morpeth floods that, by the time we went on air would be "slightly olds" rather than breaking news.

This was the story that was behind the call.

I was tasked by the night editor to go to Newburn, get some shots of the teetering houses and if possible have a word with some of the evacuees who were in a nearby leisure centre before heading up to Morpeth for the live broadcasts.

It is a continual source of amusement combined with bewilderment that there is a genuine expectation by over night news desk staff that there will be a bevy of people up and about, and willing to be interviewed for television at 4 am.

If the people from the houses had not found temporary lodgings with friends or relatives they would be at Newburn's leisure centre a mile or so away from the flats.

Driving into the centre car park I could see lights on but no sign of life.

I had a quick look around. I saw a man in probably in his sixties who appeared to have a uniform sweatshirt on in an office.

I attracted his attention. He saw me, his face filled with a look of suspision and he walked slowly towards the door with an obvious reluctance.

When he opened the glass door a crack I told him that I was from ITV and asked if there was anyone from the flats around.

He said yes but that they were all sound asleep upstairs.

At which point a much younger sleepy looking bald head popped through a door as its disheveled owner looked quizzically at me.

I asked to speak to him. He was the leisure centre's duty manager and repeated what I had already heard, that everyone was, not unreasonably, fast asleep.
The Newburn Leisure Centre
I made two calls, one to Gregg to let him know that he did not need to come to the leisure centre as there was no one to talk to, the other to the news desk to alert them that there would be no interviews.

All through these calls that I made from the car in the car park the pair back in the leisure centre never took their wary eyes off me.

All the roads that led anywhere near the houses were cordoned off with police tape and the area was in almost total darkness.

This was strange because all of ten minutes ago when I had driven past on my way up to the leisure centre the place was awash with the bright piercing light from large portable arc lights and there was a swarm of people wearing hi-viz jackets buzzing around the place.

Now all I could see were a couple of cold, bored looking policemen waiting for their night shift to be over.

I asked one of them, who appeared to be grateful for the distraction, where I could go to get some shots of the flats.

He laughed.

"Got a night vision camera?" he asked with an amused Geordie twang.

He went on to tell me that, firstly, I was not allowed past the tapes and secondly, that even if I was, all that I would see from that angle was a perfectly normal looking very dark block of houses.

He continued to tell me that in the darkness it was far too dangerous to approach the flats from the other side, where the damage was visible, or at least would be visible when the light came up.

I called the office in London again to let them know what I had been told.

I was on my way to Morpeth having been up for a couple of hours when the alarm on my phone went off to tell me that it was time to wake up.

For all the material that I had to show for my two hours lost sleep I wished that it had been.

In Morpeth I teamed up with Dave on the satellite truck, Phil, the sound recordist and Gregg, for our morning of broadcasting.
Satellite truck beside the houses
The river Wansbeck full and fast
Sound recordist Phil taking in the view
Camera set up for a shot that was never actually taken
It was a busy old morning with a series of live shots and three main broadcasts, two from John's house and garden, where his damaged furniture and carpets were, and one from Cameron and Angela's home.

When we had finished they insisted that we have a cup of coffee or tea.

It never ceases to amaze that very often when we impose ourselves on people who are in the midst of a major trauma in there lives, for the purpose of broadcasting their plight, not only do they allow us to do it, they offer hospitality way beyond what should ever be expected.
Ruined carpets outside Angela and Cameron's house
As we were packing up I saw my fellow countryman James Cook the BBC's Scotland Correspondent.

Like me he had been pulled south to cover the story. In the midst of our very short conversation he took a call which meant he was going to be pulled even further south to York.

At that point I was planning my journey north.

I got as far as Alnwick, where I stopped for breakfast.

The toppling homes in Newburn was the reason for the need to stay south. The plan was that we would do live broadcasts tomorrow from there.

This gave Daybreak a whole day to negotiate access for the satellite truck and camera to the site.

We would not be the only media wanting that access. Sky, the BBC and Tyne Tees along with the local newspapers and radio would no doubt be coving the story.

The good news for me was that at least tonight I would get almost a full night's sleep.

Thursday 27th September

At 2 am my iPhone pinged, waking me from sleep to let me know that I had a voicemail message.

It was Ian from the Daybreak office. The story had changed. No longer were they interested in the block of flats in Newburn near Newcastle that were in danger of toppling over thanks to the flood water carrying off some of the foundations. 

Instead they wanted to do the story in York which might get some more bad flooding during our air time.

I threw my things back in my bag and set off under a clear starry sky down the A1, which was now open at least all the way to the York exit.

The satellite truck had already arrived at our location, a pub in the effected area.

The satellite truck in position
It was not a particularly dramatic scene that greeted us, more deep puddles than biblical flood.
The scene outside the Jubilee pub
A few streets away there was a fire brigade pump busy pumping water, which had bubbled up through the drains.
Fire Brigade high volume pump at work
I quickly knocked off a few shots and after recording a quick voice over from Katy Fawcett got them sent over to Daybreak.
Phil gets Katy wired up with mic and talkback
Running true to form things were getting close to transmission.

We did our first couple of broadcasts at the pub, which was not as badly flooded as we had been told.

The cellar was totally under water putting the pub out of action but the water had risen short of the public areas.

Publican Kelly Bailey talks to Katy outside her pub, the Jubilee
Dave watching a replay of one of the broadcasts
As the light came up along the road there was a bit of activity in the area that the pump was.
The high volume pump in daylight
In no time Dave, the satellite engineer had stowed the dish, driven the short distance along the road, re-deployed the dish and started transmitting. We were lucky that it was a manually operated dish because had it been one of the automatic dishes, called Upods, it would probably not have deployed itself and locked on the the satellite in time for the broadcast.
The sat' truck in the second location
We did another couple of broadcasts from there and then some interviews for Yorkshire's Calendar news programme.
The flood in the centre of the city of York..
..was much more dramatic

Qantas, surly the world's worst airline!

Thursday 20th to Saturday 22nd September.
Solomon Islands, Brisbane Australia, Singapore, London, Edinburgh.

The sweaty wait in the clammy enervating heat of the little time-warped Honiara airport terminal was a dream compared to the one and a half hour nightmare at the Qantas check in desk in the bright, ultra modern, air conditioned cool of Brisbane's international airport.

At least after the four hour flight from Solomon we had been able to take the time to eat a proper meal and even better, get a full night's sleep.

Had it not been for those blessings I may not have dealt so well with the ensuing nonsense.

First of all there was the debate about excess baggage and how much, if anything, should be charged because some might have been prepaid.

The small balding elderly check in chap, his glasses perched on his nose spent a lot of time fastidiously tapping away at his computer keyboard and talking to someone on the phone.

Then of course there was the ubiquitous scrap of paper on which he added up the weights of my six boxes.

After this total had been recorded, checked, re-checked, totaled up again and another batch of phone calls were made I was charged for five pieces, not weight, at $120 each.

That little scenario had probably taken about fifteen minutes.

On our way to the Solomon Islands on Solomon Airlines all of us with cameras and bags had to be given a note from the check in lady to say that they were OK to take on to the flight, because airport security weigh and check all hand luggage. If it is more than 7 kg they will not let you through.

Judging from their lack of ability to see common sense and act any initiative I found it a surprise that they could actually read the weights displayed on the scales that they were given command of.

One cameraman was allowed to go through with his camera but his small bag was a problem. At the same time dealing with the same security guy Luke, from ITN had exactly the same type of camera but in a bag. He was told he could not go through.

It was not until we all had written permission for our hand luggage on our boarding cards that we were allowed to pass.

Given that experience and knowing that the Qantas rule for spare camera batteries is that they should be hand carried I asked for a note on my boarding card or label to let me get past the sentinels of the scales.

I explained the Qantas ruling about the spare battery that I had.

The little professor like check-in man asked me to put my hand baggage on the scales.

"I can't authorize you to take that it is too heavy."

I explained again that the added weight was due mainly to the spare battery.

"Can you not put it in your hold baggage?"

I said that I would be more than happy to put it in the hold as I do on all the other airlines I fly with, adding, as patiently as I could, trying hard not to sound patronising that I was doing what I knew the Qantas rule was regarding the batteries.

Then he asked to see the battery.

I pointed to the one already attached to the camera and pulled the other out of my bag.

A very unprofessorial look of bafflement came over his face when he looked at and felt the weight of the black brick that is an Anton Bauer camera battery.

His slow fingers dabbed the keypad on the phone again.

Getting no reply he wandered up to another check in desk saying as he left that he needed to speak to a supervisor.

I could see their serious faces as the talked for a little while. From their grim expressions I could tell that the solution to their problem was not with them.

My man then lifted a phone at that desk and started to speak to someone.

He came back to me to ask if the battery was a Lithium Ion one. I told him it wasn't pointing to the label on the battery.

He wandered back up to the phone again.

Shortly afterwards he came back and noted down some of the things written on the battery.

He made the trip between me and my battery, and the phone on the distant desk perhaps four, maybe five times, noting more things down and staring at the battery turning it over in his hands.

After the best part of an hour he came back and said that I was indeed correct that the battery did have to go as hand luggage.

He then wrote a label for my bag to be allowed through security.

I then had to go through the process of paying for the excess baggage.

When I was doing it "the prof" came over and asked one of the girls to add notes to my booking.

She then, trying to conceal the raised eyes and slight shake of the head as I glanced round, began typing in the code numbers he gave her along with names and details of my hand luggage.

All these codes appeared to be peppered with the initials DG and the words "dangerous goods".

If this process gets rolled out with every TV crew traveling it is a wonder the Australian cameramen get anywhere at all, let alone quickly to a breaking news story.

At the security area the deep browed, wide necked security man insisted on weighing the bag even when I had shown him the label of authority from Qantas.

My patience had worn thin and it was with the utmost difficulty that through gritted teeth and the visible ripples of anger breaking the surface that I once again explained the battery situation.

When he said, "why should I believe you?"

I was on the verge of accepting that I was going to end up being dragged away in handcuffs for saying or doing something worthy of being featured on one of those airport reality shows.

However, I managed to restrain myself and told him that I could go and bring the Qantas man down to see him.

He then gave me a dismissive wave with one of the JCB shovels he was using as a hand.

As soon as I was in the departure lounge the rest of the journey became a breeze.

Up the back on the busy Qantas flight we had the eight hour jauntt to Singapore.

My loathing for Qantas had not abated any on this trip. They had stranded me in Perth for two days last year when without warning the numbskull of a Chief Executive Alan Joyce had grounded their entire fleet. 

Then by way of a buy off had issued me with a voucher for an internal flight which, when I tried to redeem it was told that the voucher number did not exist.

I love Australia and its people but, if I ever have to fly Qantas again it will be too soon.

The flight to Singapore was followed by a four hour wait for the very slightly less busy BA jumbo for the thirteen hour flight to Heathrow, where I said goodbye to Cordelia and hung around waiting for my short hour to Edinburgh.

At Edinburgh I got the carnet stamped by two very helpful officers from the Border Agency.

My final job was, after the taxi home to get the hired kit back to the facilities company.

I had hoped to do that on Monday once I'd sorted it out, but the kit was needed for the late afternoon.

So once Murray from Hammerhead had taken their black Pelicases back I could relax after a total journey time of 56 hours.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the Solomon islands

Sunday 16th September

The Solomon Islands

We had a night in a hotel last night. It was 6:40 am and we were on our way again.

Cordelia and I boarded the taxi to take us to Brisbane's small but bright and spacious international airport to join the rest of the media who would be on the flight to Honiara in the Solomon Islands.
ITN and Sky producers Georgina and Rose try to sort out the pooling arrangements for the Solomon Islands
It had been a long haul to get to Brisbane from Kuala Lumpur. 

After working all day Friday we took the 8 hour over night Air Asia flight to Sydney where we had three hours to get the kit, clear customs, change terminals and board another plane for the short, 1 hour, flight to Brisbane.

During our journey the Duke and Duchess had gone to Danum Valley rain forest in Malaysia's Sabah state on the island of Borneo.

Getting off the plane after the four hour flight we were hit by the fierce sticky heat.
When we got off the flight..
..the small crowd was already gathering..
..peering through the fence on the terminal roof
The small airport terminal building was a slight haven but not much, the air con' was on but not very effective.

All the TV crews were on this flight because there is not a flight to the island every day.
Honiara airport baggage reclaim
My kit's on that trailer on its way to the reclaim
As well as collectively paying Solomon Airlines a huge amount in excess baggage fees for all our kit the little baggage reclaim area soon ran out of trolleys there were so many black boxes.

It was one of the customs officers that went and collected some trolleys for us when I asked if there were any more. Can't see that ever happening in the UK, or many other places for that matter.

We were quickly through the immigration procedures.

Next came Customs and quarantine.

That was even quicker. When the official looked at my form declaring the gear, he just asked if I was taking it away again. Luxury, no carnet to be dealt with.

When I said yes he just waved me through with the trolley that I had managed to get piled high with my boxes of kit. Luxury, no carnet to be dealt with.

Hannah from St James' Palace was outside the airport building with a huge clump of media accreditation badges.

The Solomon Islands might not been the biggest or grandest of the places on the tour but they sure had the most impressive media badges, all big and shiny with quality photos and thickly laminated. A definite for the collection.
The passes for the tour
Solomon Islands         Malaysia         Singapore
Hannah pointed us in the direction of a fleet of white minibuses. They would be our transport to the main media hotel, the quite nice Mendana.
Loading up the minibuses..
..our gear in the back of one of them..
..some had organised their own transport
Right next door is the fairly plush Heritage Park where more of the media were staying, along with the Duke and Duchess.

Our hotel was a little more down market and a little bit away from the Mendana.

There was not time for us to go and check in before we needed to head out for the first of our two jobs with the royals. 

Once I had taken what I needed out of the boxes we got them and our suitcases stored so we could collect them later.

There was just time to do a short little interview with the legendary Arthur Edwards before heading out.

There was again a little bit of confusion about what buses were going where.

The first of the jobs was purely for Daybreak and not part of the pool at the airport for the Duke and Duchess's arrival.
Waiting to get airside at the airport
Solomon Islands policeman
Sky News getting organised
Arthur Edwards, always in the middle of things
The BBC setting up to do live broadcasts on the BGAN
We were more interested in the reactions of the local islanders to the royal visitors.

Hundreds had turned out at the airport, some with their faces pushed up against the boundary fence.

There were some great shots to be had particularly of the little kids.

Some of the folk had a strange mix of colours. They all had dark skin but some had quite light hair. Which to us appeared a little bit strange.

Many had a weird red tinge to their lips which was a result of chewing Betel Nut, which exudes a red juice which is slightly narcotic.

I also got some of our own shots of William and Kate wearing the garlands they'd been given during the ceremony that took place when they arrived.

We then had to leave before the pair departed in a kind of motorised boat thing so that I could get into position to honour my pool commitments by getting a shot of the motorcade with this boat thing in the middle.

As we drove away from the airport towards the cathedral, the location of the couple's next engagement the roads were lined with people.

They were just in single lines but the whole of the journey of several miles there were people waiting patiently.

We stopped at a point where I could get a good long shot of both the boat coming towards me, going away and also gave a good passing shot.

There was an ideal spot where there was a little kink in a very straight bit of road and some people holding a nice colourful banner.

I asked the driver if he would mind if I stood on the roof of the van to get a bit of height on the shot.

He said yes. So up I went, after we had manoeuvred in to the position I thought worked best and kept the lovely police lady happy.

I got up on to the minibus roof just in time.
Shooting from the minibus roof..
.. as the boat/car approaches in the distance
Way in the distance round the bend in the road I could see flashing lights flickering past lines of people and trees as the motorcade was about to come into view.

I rolled the camera and asked people to keep clear of the minibus to prevent it rocking, even slightly.

Then I focused on the boat behind a stack of bright headlights in the middle of the motorcade.

It was an amazing sight, as much for the lack of the almost obligatory crowd control barriers that you see on virtually all of these sorts of events these days as well as the slightly humorous vision of the Duke and Duchess in this strange hybrid vehicle that would not have looked out of place in a small town's gala day parade back home.

The locals loved it. They cheered and waved as the couple passed, retuning many of the waves. This afternoon they both had smiles on their faces as they went by.

I panned the camera around following the float as it went.

It carried on up the road away from us. I zoomed right in. It was a lovely shot, there was the boat sailing through a slight heat shimmer into a heaving wave of people.

I was pleased with the shot.

We got back in the minibus as quickly as we could and joined the now very busy road towards the cathedral

If we ever got there it was going to take some time the traffic was so bad. There were no alternative routes to take to leap ahead of the motorcade to get another shot or get to the cathedral more quickly.

As we got closer it was starting to get dark. We decided that it was time to call it a day and head to the Mendana, we had done our work for the day.

The swiftly darkening evening prompted a thought. If we were to do a live broadcast into the Lorraine programme tomorrow it would be at about that time.

The broadcast would need to be lit and I had no lights with me.

Our friends from Ch 7, Edwina and Mark, who were sharing the satellite dish with us came to the rescue when we saw them at the hotel.

They would allow me to borrow one of their lights.

At the Mendana we retrieved our bags and kit. Jack, the driver of the minibus then took us up to our hotel on the hill.

We were looking forwards to a trio of things, food, drink and sleep. It had been a long day with no food since breakfast and once again probably, no definitely, not enough to drink.

The rooms of the hotel are up the hill quite a way from the reception.

Jack took us to the reception to check in, waiting to take us up the hill.

Check in complete we jumped back in the minibus, Jack turned the key.

The engine gave lazy grunt rather than bursting into life.

It sounded very much like a flat battery, although all the electrics seemed to be working. 

The exit from the reception was down a short slight incline.

I suggested to Jack that he tried to bump start the minibus.

He said that he did not know how to do it and anyway was not keen. He asked me to do it.

I got into the unfamiliar front seat, turned the ignition on, put it in gear with my foot firmly on the clutch, released the hand brake and let the minibus roll forwards.

It gathered enough speed for me to ease the clutch pedal up. To my joy the engine turned over and came to life. The only thing was that there was no hotel driveway left.

All that was in front of me was a line of nose to tail traffic in the narrow road.

I stabbed for the brake with my right foot and jammed my left back on to the clutch pedal bringing the minibus to an abrupt halt a foot or two from the road.

Relieved that I had not gone careering in to the static queue of traffic I took a deep breath and released the clutch instantly stalling the beast I had just got running.

When the traffic started moving there was a small gap and a small incline. A couple of guys from the hotel helped by giving the minibus a push but there was not sufficient  space or incline to get up enough speed the get the diesel engine going again.

The hotel flatbed van was called out. We put the bags and boxes onto the back. Cordelia also climbed up for the short ride up the hill to the tiny car park area sort of near our rooms.

A small posse of helpers took the kit up to mine along with Cordelia's case.
The flatbed arrives to get loaded up
Cordelia perched on the gear on the flatbed truck
There were signs and banners all over the hotel welcoming William and Kate. One of their engagements would be here, a lunch.
One of the banners
At the entrance to the restaurant where the meal would be held had an ornamental fountain with a brightly coloured statue in it.

Given the story that had now erupted about the topless photographs, if there was a possibility of a shot of the Duchess walking past it there would be riot of photographers going for it. It would be the news shot of the day.
The Statue, a topless mermaid
The rooms were somewhat basic and rather battered but essentially clean, or so mine looked until I pulled back my top sheet. The sheets had obviously been laundered and ironed but there were a few stains of an indeterminate nature on them.

I was so tired I sort of didn't care, but I did not feel too relaxed under the slightly grimy thin cotton cover. Needless to say that the much needed quality sleep evaded me.
At least the room was a reasonable size..
..with a desk to work from..
.. a wardrobe, it did have doors at one time..
 .. and a basic bathroom

Monday 17th September
Solomon Islands

It had not been the best night's sleep I've ever had under those dubious bed sheets.
It was not my favourite bed
The view from the window's not too bad though
When I got into the taxi I was already sweating as if I had done a hard session in the gym.

It took me three trips up and down the gazillion steep steps from my room to reception with the kit.

I had tried to ring and get a porter to help but, there was no reply.

The Duke and Duchess were due at the hotel for their lunch. So, the place was manic with all the staff working to get the place ready.
The fountain and statue in daylight
Although, manic might be putting it a bit strongly. There was no rushing around, no shouting, no waving of arms or any of the other signs that would usually surround such setting up in the UK.

The guys just got on with the job.

The room being set for the royal lunch..
..a chance it might appear on CNN
Our little white van fleet was waiting for us and the rest of the media pack to board.
Trooping out to the minibuses
We were all going to the same place, a cultural village where the Duke and Duchess would see some traditional crafts, music, singing and of course dancing.

There we would all kind of split up and do various positions and I would be doing the pool with the Duke playing football with some kids.

The first part in the village would be just for Daybreak and ITN.

The second part, the football, was for the UK pool.

That was the plan.

The couple had not even arrived when it was clear that things probably were not going to go according to that plan.

Some of the locals, local photographers and of course a few of the security people were wandering in the front of the Duke and Duchess.

That opened the gates for the pool/fixed point distinctions to effectively disappear.

Every one was just doing their own thing, although officially Joe, from the BBC was pool on the event.

So, not being pool might allow me to try and get some more risky shots.

In the event it was such a free for all that I could not really get any "arty" shots or anything that was in any way different or special.

It was just a case of keeping up with the action as the Duke and Duchess went from one exhibit to another seeing some craftsman at work, listening politely and patiently to some music and being amused by some, at times, fairly scary dancing.

During their wander around the plethora of native activities we were treated to a massive but mercifully short tropical down pour.

The Duke and Duchess' aids quickly got out the brollies to keep the royal heads dry.

Most of us got soaked.

It was in the midst of this deluge I had to go to the area where the Duke would be playing football with some kids after he had made a speech.

I also had to shoot the speech. Georgina from ITN and I got into the dingy room where the speech was being made just before the Duke was about to walk in.

Apart from getting the camera on the tripod and trying to get some kind of colour balance for the camera I needed to get a sound feed to make sure that I could record the best possible audio.

There was a rather flustered guy at a small sound desk. I asked if he could give me a feed from the desk.

He pointed to two outputs on the desk. Mark from Channel 7 was already using one.

I dashed back to my run bag and hastily pulled out a length of cable.

Georgina took one end of it and put it in the empty socket. I shoved the other end onto the camera.

The audio levels were all over the place. The lady who was about to do the introductory speech then started to test the PA.

As she was doing it the Duke arrived and came up onto the small stage to be introduced to the important people in the room.

Those introductions were accompanied by a combination of loud feedback squeals and the lady saying, rather bizzarly, as quietly as she could, "test test test", which were coming quite loud out of the PA.

The look on the Duke and Duchess' Private Secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton's face was a picture I wish I had been able to capture.

The sound feed from the desk was not working.

There was no time to do anything else to try and fix it. So Georgina took one of my mics and held it near one of the PA speakers.

The quality of the sound would be rubbish but at least it would be covered. Chances are that it would not be the sort of speech that would make air anyway given all the other things that the pair would be up to today.

I rather hoped that would be the case because not only was the audio poor so was the lighting in the room.

It was pretty gloomy, lit by a few flourecent tubes and daylight coming in the through slatted sides of the building and to make matters worse the Duke was standing in front of some of those slats.

After the Duke had given out some Duke of Edinburgh awards and the short and frankly boring speech was over we once again dashed outside before he did to get in position for the football event.

I filmed the prince as he was given a baseball cap, took three penalty kicks against a little kid in goals and then had a very short kick about with some other kids on the football field.

During this little bit of shooting the sound level meter in the viewfinder did not appear to be bouncing around as much as I thought it should. I had a quick glance to check that all the switches on the back of the camera were where they should be, front mic selected and on auto. They were as they should have been.

There was a problem though, probably due to that heavy dump of rain. No time to sort it now. I'd have to do it later.

Once the Duke disappeared off Cordelia, Georgina and I nipped on to the field to do some quick interviews with the little goalie and some of the kids that the Duke had spoken to.

Cordelia had just asked one little girl a question when Georgina shouted, "Shot,shot,shot! Garland on head!"

I looked up. The Duke and Duchess were walking across the other side of the field. The Duchess had a beautiful red and white garland on her head.

Without any word to the poor kid who was just about to speak I quickly moved away from her, zoomed in on Kate and focused up. I held the shot for a few seconds.

Then I ran towards the Duke and Duchess, and small band of snappers who had also spotted  the shot and were forming a moving maul in front of the couple, dragging Cordelia who was clutching the cabled mic with me.

I joined in the fun. There was the usual jostling for position and because I had come the furthest there was no space left for me. So I hoisted the camera over my head to look over the photographers and various others who were crowded round.

It was a good shot shot showing the Duchess and her garland along with the crowd that was enjoying seeing her.

Once both she and the Duke had shaken a few more hands they got in to the car and off it went.

A very wide angle shot of what went on when the Duchess arrived wearing the garland on her head from a little camera on top of my camera.

They were off to their other engagements like lunch at our hotel and then a reception for the media.

It would have been our chance to meet the Duke and Duchess again along with our other colleagues. Unfortunately on this occasion we would not be able to make it. There was a bit of  dubbing, ingesting, editing, sending and broadcasting to be done. All in that order.

The good thing was that we did not have to go far. Our live broadcasts would be from a satellite dish set up in the cultural village.

Firstly I copied my pool material so that Georgina could take it and pass it on to the rest of the broadcasters then ingested the material into the computer.
Edit suite Solomon Island style
Waiting whilst the material gets into the computer
Once that was done we selected a few of the best shots, a piece to camera that I had done with Cordelia and recorded a voice track.
Cordelia writing her script
I set the BGAN up and got the material winging its way to London.

Then I switched my mind to getting the technical side of things for the live broadcasts set up and working
The satellite dish behind the truck
Engineers Jean Luc and Dave top up the generator
The cultural village which had been absolutely thronged with people was now like the proverbial ghost town.

There were very few people around. There were one or two families still kicking around. We asked one of them if they would be in the background of the shot when we were broadcasting live.
Part of the family that we had in shot..
..a bit of a poser
She's been on the betel nut
All the broadcasts went off without a hitch. Our last one in the Lorraine programme was the one we had worried about yesterday because it would be dark and I had no lights with me.

There was no need to worry on two counts. Number one, Edwina and Mark from Channel 7 arrived just in time and as promised let me use one of their lights. Number two the trees in the village were had very pretty lights in the trees that simulated fireflies. The guys running the village were only too happy to switch them on for us.

It was when we were in a taxi on the way back to the hotel that I realised that once again I had eaten nothing and drunk very little since breakfast.

When we got back to the hotel the main dining rooms were closed. We had to go to the Chinese restaurant that was attached to the hotel. There we had a very welcome meal.

Tuesday 18th September
Solomon Islands

At 6:30 am when I lugged half my kit down the north face of the Eiger that are the long steep steps to reception I was surprised to see that my taxi was already waiting.

The guy at the reception desk came dashing over, down the short flight of steps to the car park, saying as he passed me, "taxi here. Me just wake up driver."

He then banged on the scratched back window of the scruffy white car that was my taxi.

By the time I had returned laden like a Sherpa from my mountain top trek to get the rest of my kit the bleary eyed driver was dragging himself out of the car.

He drove me to the ITN hotel, the Heritage Park, where I would be doing the live broadcast in to News at Ten on my BGAN.

The journey was short, a blessing since the aroma of sleeping driver filled the car. Even when the window was open the air was so calm, sticky and still that the almost edible flavour remained.

It was not until the car moved that the air began to circulate. By the time I arrived I could almost breathe freely again.

I met Tim Ewart the ITN Royal Corresspondent in reception. He had sorted out a location down by the sea.

There was no stress yet, it was still well over an hour until the time of the live, 11 minutes past 10.

We had a quick cup of coffee and then went down to the place Tim had scouted.

It was ideal, a nice bit of sea, headland and some faint hills in the hazy distance.
Not a bad place to be setting up for a live broadcast 
I broke out the bits and pieces required for the broadcast.

It was a nice relaxed, if somewhat sweaty rig in the sweltering but strong sun.

The exciting, if somewhat geeky thing for me, apart of course from the location and the company was that the BGAN was about as close the the satellite as it could be on land on the planet.

The result was that being so close and having a clear blue the signal was at 70%. Normally a perfectly acceptable and expected one would be in the mid 50s, as much as 60 on a good day.
All set up BGAN pointing almost straight up
I had plenty of time to get ready and sort out an little problems before I needed to panic about whether it would work or not.

I was pleased that I had built that time in because there were a couple of annoying little things to deal with like, the computer no recognising the camera and talkback disappearing.

These were all sorted before I hit the panic deadline.

I had been roped in to do the broadcast because Mark was going to be the lucky cameraman heading on the flight with the Duke and Duchess to Tuvalu later this morning.

He had to pack up his kit to head to the airport.

The time came for the broadcast. At the end of the report Mark Austin asked Tim a prearranged question.

Like the Erron the Daybreak director had been doing with Cordelia, the News at Ten director also keyed over talk back three seconds before Mark stopped asking the question.
Tim gathering his thoughts
This would mean that when he stopped talking Tim would immediately start talking. This was because the satellite delay between us and London was three seconds.
Almost air time, Georgina ready with the reflector 
The broadcast went off without a hitch.

Tim and Georgina helped me carry my kit to the Mendana hotel a few hundred meters away.

I grabbed a take away breakfast from the hotel dinning room and joined my colleagues on another minibus ride. This time it was back along the airport road to shoot the couple departing the Solomon Islands bound for Tuvalu.

We lens-men formed a nice neat line along the edge of the apron.

Then there was the obligatory wait.
The press gathered in a neat line, for now at least
One way to shelter from the blistering heat..
..others stood in he shade to wait
Cameras stake a claim for the spot in the line in front of the royal plane
The only other UK cameraman there was Sky News' Mostyn Pryce.
Sky's Paul Harrison interviewing royal snapper Ian Jones
Lonely lookout
We were going to do our own thing until one of the Solomon Island media minders said that a small pool of a couple of stills photographers and one cameraman would be able to go onto the apron to get some closer shots.

Rose the Sky producer and I had a quick chat and decided that we would form the UK pool again for the departure shots. 

Sky were also shooting some unilateral stuff, interviews and a piece to camera. I was only there to get the departure stuff.

It therefore made sense for me to go and be the cameraman actually on the Tarmac.

So, once the flight bringing the royal party back from the private island of Tavanipupu had taxied into its parking space our little group went out to get closer to the aircraft to see the couple get off.

Things were starting to go a little awry with the pool plan already.

I took my tripod out on to the Tarmac and set the camera on it.

I was close enough to get the shot but not too close to be intrusive. Suddenly as the baggage doors of the small aircraft were opened there was a small group of, mainly airport workers and a few local photographers in front of me.

There was also the customary welcoming committee doing their job of masking things.

So, the steady shot from the tripod would have to be sacrificed for just getting the shot.

I moved round with the camera on my shoulder and got the shot of William and Catherine getting out of the small aircraft that had brought them from Tavanipupu.

That was not too bad. Things calmed down again as the Duke went off to inspect the police guard of honour once again.

I was able to stick the camera back on the tripod and get a few shots of the Duchess chatting to the ladies around her.
The Duchess having a polite chat..
..whilst, on the left the Duke inspects the Guard of Honour
The Duke then came over to join her for the walk to the aircraft that would take them to Tuvalu.

I got a lovely walking shot with the Duchess waving to the small crowd that were filling the viewing gallery, some clinging to the fence to get a view.

Then the plan totally fell apart. As soon as the couple reached the bottom of the aircraft steps a hoard of snappers and locals started to go past my tripod.

I quickly unclipped the camera, hoisted it on to my shoulder. It was every man for himself now!

The pack of media and locals formed a tight horseshoe around the pair as they said goodbye, shaking hands with lots of folk.

Things all got a bit pushy shovey as we all jostled for position for the best shot.

Of course, because of all the pushing and shoving no one gets a good shot. We get barely acceptable ones.

That was the category that mine fell into. The shot of them going up the short steps was a bit wider than I would have liked but acceptable.

As they disappeared from view that was it. There was just the take off shot to do and that was the end of my involvement directly with the royal party.

There was still plenty of work to do to keep me going for the rest of the day.

On the way back to Honiara Mostyn and I swapped our material, copying the P2 cards in our respective cameras.

When I got to the hotel I was able to get lunch today, albeit a working lunch.

As I edited down the material to send to London I ate some food. My first lunch since leaving the UK!

Once I'd edited the material and sent it to Daybreak in London it was almost time to get in a cab with Cordelia and head back to the airport to do our live broadcasts.

This afternoon's broadcasting agenda was not too arduous, just one short broadcast at the end of the main news bulletins every hour and one slightly longer one in the Lorraine programme.

Channel 7 had used the dish at the airport this morning for the Australian equivalent to Daybreak, called Sunrise.
Cameraman Mark and reporter Edwina from Channel 7..
.. with Dave, the big Fijian shielding Edwina from the scorching sun
The Duke and Duchess' departure fell perfectly into their air time, so they had taken virtually all of the proceedings live.
Outside Honiara airport
Our broadcasts would be from outside the airport. After the Duke and Duchess had gone we were not allowed airside again.
Our dish, hired truck and flatbed with the generator to power it up
Big Dave from Fiji brought the cable over to where we did our live broadcasts, just at the gate.

It was an ideal spot offering everything I needed in the shot, an exotic palm tree, an aircraft, distant hills and a sky filled with an amazing display of clouds, not forgetting the sunlight before it quickly dipped away for the evening and our later broadcasts.
Cordelia in broadcasting position
Dave doing the same for Cordelia as he had for Edwina
Long shadows of a Solomon evening
Cordelia and I were looking forwards to a bit of down time after the last broadcast and catching up on some of the lost sleep and embarking on eating some proper meals at the proper times to put back some of the weight we'd lost, judging from how loose certainly my clothes felt.

Perhaps covering Royal Visits could be the new weight loss fad!

When a text from Georgina, the ITN producer popped up after one of our broadcasts asking me to call her when we were off air.

There was only one thing that I thought she would want to talk to me about, doing some more live broadcasts for ITV news.

The big down side of that was the time difference. The evening news would be at 4:30 am local time.

Our Daybreak working day finished slightly earlier than we though when the Lorraine programme cancelled their broadcast.

After packing away all the kit, saying goodbye to Dave and Jean Luc, the satellite engineers and jumping in a taxi I made the call to Georgina.

As I had thought it was indeed lives into both the Evening News and the News at Ten again.

To make things a little easier in the morning Georgina tried to get me a room in their hotel or the Mendana next door.

Both were full, but another hotel, the King Solomon just over the road had a room.

So it was pack up time. Our hotel was a little bit if a drive from the other hotels. I hastily filled my boxes and bags and took a taxi through the dark streets of down town Honiara to the hotel.

The evening air was full of the smell of burning, little fires were popping up all along the side of the road.

One of the reasons people build these, often smokey fires is to keep the mosquitos away.

There are posters warning about the risk of Malaria dotted around Honaria.

We had been taking anti malarial medication whilst we were here, finishing the course of tablets a week or so after we get home.

In the early evening as the sun starts its decent and the air is still you can feel the mossis coming out to feast.

Along with the medication we had been smothering ourselves in DEET spray.

It is pretty powerful stuff. The face of my watch is now a bit a bit cloudy after a bit of an application of the spray.

We were not going to stop using it though. Barbara one of the American journalists was exhibiting the initial symptoms of Malaria.

It still had to be confirmed that she indeed had the disease but, it was still enough of a warning.

By around 9 pm I had finished my hotel swap and was able to sit down and have some food.

Realistically I would probably get to bed at around 11 pm, giving me in the region of three and a half to four hours sleep. 

Wednesday 19th September
Solomon Islands

I got about three hours sleep prior to the marimbas on my iPhone alarm waking me. It was 3 am.

I had sacrificed personal hygiene for sleep. I only had time to throw on the shirt and shorts that I had worn yesterday, take the batteries that I needed off charge and shove them in the box.

So, rather unkempt I took the little cable car down the hill to reception and got in my waiting taxi, the driver a bit confused at why we were only going a short distance, but less confused when he took the small, yet heavy orange Peli case from me that contained the computer and BGAN.
The hotel's cable car instead of a lift..
.. because the rooms are on a steep hill and on stilts
In the darkness I got the kit rigged and called in to ITN.

There was a slight problem with the return programme talk back on the BGAN system. So, I used the mobile phone option.

Our story was well down the running order. There had been a shooting in an area of Manchester. Two police officers had been killed.

The ITV news was, in part, the Alistair Stuart part, coming live from the scene.

Tim was all wired up with talk back and microphone.
Tim preparing for the Evening News ..
.. in the darkness at 4:30 am our time
We waited patiently for our slot.

Georgina was speaking to one of the guys in ITN MCR about something that needed to be recorded by them when he said that the satellite signal from us had gone.

I looked at the computer. Sure enough the call had dropped.

We were still a few minutes away from the 50 second broadcast.

I re-initiated the call. It took a few seconds for the call to hook up.

Then we were back in action. Our patient waiting re-started.

I was listening to the gallery things were very busy with the Manchester live broadcasts going on.

The time came for our broadcast. Off Tim went into his live report.

I hoped that the technical quality was as good as the one that I had done yesterday morning for News at Ten.

The quality had been so good that not long after the broadcast had gone out the BBC were on the phone asking if ITN had decided to use a proper big dish after all and if so where was it located.

They thought that depending on cost that they might use it as well.

Before I had gone for my little sleep last night there had been a plan to do the News at Ten again.

When I had arrived and was setting up this was looking less likely.

By the time the broadcast was over and my kit had been derigged and packed away so had the the News at Ten broadcast.

I wasn't too unhappy about that. I had another short trip in a taxi to my hotel to sleep for as long as I could.

When the trip was planned the plan did not include any broadcasts for Daybreak today as the couple would be well on their way home by then live broadcasts did not seem necessary.

Also the big dish had gone. If there were going to be live broadcasts it would have to be on the BGAN.

When I got up after another four hours sleep my hope was that I would get some down time and have an hour or two beside one of the pools that I kept walking past dripping in sweat, wishing that I could just dive in one of them to cool off. 

I kind of had the feeling that it might not happen.

I was correct. I had just sat down to my late breakfast/early lunch when the text from Cordelia came pinging in confirming my fears.

Apart from actually working or sleeping I would have a break of two hours, my first since the trip started, before I needed to hump the kit back over the road.

This time to the Mendana where I would do the Daybreak live broadcasts with Cordelia.

When I arrived to set up the sun was beating down a temperature of over 40 degrees Celsius, the sky was blue, a couple of boats were sitting perfectly still on the mirror that was the sea.

Behind me inland there were dark grey blue, foreboding clouds hanging in the still air over the green hills.

As I had come through the reception I had bumped into Nick Witchell, Annie, the producer and Joe, the cameraman from the BBC. They were off to spend the afternoon on a beach.

I also saw Sky's Mostyn. He had spent the morning getting some GVs for their documentary. His plan then was also to get to a beach for a few hours.

Tim and Georgina from ITN were catching up on some of their lost sleep under the shade by their hotel pool.

Mark, having done the shots in Tuvalu and sent them back to the UK was on the first leg of his journey home.

Some of the American journalists were off on a little expedition to check out the World War Two sites dotted around the island.

Some of the Brit hacks were off on a snorkeling safari.

The remainder of the media pack were similarly chilling or exploring.

It appeared that we were the only ones working.

But, hey, there are worse places to be stuck setting up a BGAN live broadcast.
Pity there was no time to enjoy a dip in the pool
When Cordelia arrived we had to do a quick voice over to send to London.

All the places around the hotel were far too noisy and any of the function areas either similarly noisy or full of reverberation.

I thought of the ideal place, the little baggage room where we had stored our bags was small, had no humming air conditioning and just beside us in reception.

Up until this point the helpfulness, kindness and the pleasant way the locals had met and dealt with all the strange and immediate requests made upon them by the collective media was exemplary.

It appeared that this courtesy and service had departed along with royalty.

We were met with obstinate blank faces and a reluctance to even look as if they would help.

We saw Rose, the Sky producer on her way out to the beach. She offered us the use of her room. We gratefully accepted.

There was the usual reverberation problems, but once I had built a little sound dampening area with the pillows from the bed and cushions from the chairs we got the short voice over recorded.

I then got it sent to London.

It was time for the first live broadcast. The great shot over the blue sea had disappeared to be replaced with a white overcast sky.

Looking at the shot over towards the land it was not great but would have to do. In fact when I looked through the viewfinder what looked pretty scruffy to the naked eye looked not too bad on camera.

Cordelia was ready to go in the nice shot.
Cordelia doing that scripting thing again
Cordelia ready to go for the first broadcast
We could not believe the words of introduction to her. They said that we were in Tuvalu, a mere 1200 miles or so from our actual location here on the Solomon islands.

As soon as we came off air Cordelia was straight on the phone to get the fact put right for the next broadcast.

Then we had our first real technical issues within Daybreak system on this trip.

The first one was that the phone system in the gallery in London would not latch the programme talk back.

When I was on the phone to Dave the technical director sorting it out the satellite signal went. It looked OK at my end but Dave said that it had gone at the London end.

I immediately re-initiated the call but by the time all the electronics had thought about it the moment had passed.

Apart from the problems on the first day in Malaysia with the satellite signal we had  missed our first broadcast of the trip.

Then it was over, at least our broadcasting and recording were over. I still had the boring grunts job of once more packing the kit for the long haul home.

It was getting dark when I de-rigged the gear and schlepped it back to my hotel where I grabbed some food.

I got a pleasing phone call from Raj, Daybreak's production manager.

He said, "You were using the BGAN this morning weren't you?"

The reason for his question was that he and Darren the head of cameras at the Daybreak studio were looking at a recording of the programme and like the BBC yesterday were finding it difficult to work out if the live broadcasts had been from the small BGAN or a larger "proper" satellite dish.

When I got back to my room a bag with my dirty washing that was sitting on the floor had disappeared. I had not done a laundry list and the bag was not not one of this hotel's.

I was rather mystified and worried it contained a couple of my favourite shirts.

When I called reception to find out what had happened the girl said that she would try and find out.

After a shower and freshen up I went to join the majority of the UK media group, a fair number of Australians that were still around and the Americans in the Japanese restaurant of the Mendana.

We had a good meal and talk about all sorts of things, mostly not royal related. We had had our fill of that over the past few days.

I thought that I had a fairly hard time in terms of working nonstop but even during the end of tour meal the Channel 5 guys had to bale out early to go and edit a report that they then needed to send to London.
Let the merriment begin as the tour comes to an end
The good news that we heard at the meal was the Barbara was not suffering from Malaria. She had contracted a bad throat infection.

The night was probably going to descend into a bit of a party later on but I was knackered. So, I made the unusual decision to head to bed.

With a slight twinge of regret I left the guys and girls to it and headed to my hotel and bed.
When I arrived in reception one of the maids came rushing out with my shirts all washed, ironed and folded and apologised for taking them away.

Thursday 20th September

I had enjoyed a good night's sleep. The mystery of disappearing clothes had been solved.

I knew that in leaving when I did last night I would miss any post tour hi-jinx.

Indeed I had.

There would be a few sore heads on the earlier of the two flights leaving this afternoon. Most of the media contingent were booked on that one.

Drink was taken. Swimming was done in the hotel pool without the benefit of swimwear. Mad Aussies jumped off balconies into the pool.

It had all wound down around 3 am.

Most of the participants were on that 1 pm  flight.

Along with the guys from the American ABC and CNN we were on the later flight at 3 pm.

My taxi took me along the now familiar road to the airport.
The country's flag on a roadside stall..
..more signs of British royalty..
.. and locals enjoying life 
In the very hot and sticky terminal we got checked in.
Checking in
Even after the staff had dealt with all the crews that had just taken off the amount of kit came as a bit of a surprise.

There were lots of calculations done with the weights, allowances and what had been prepaid.

I was expecting to have to pay a little bit but, the happy guy on the desk said it would all be fine.

That used to happen all the time when flying. It is a rare occurrence now.

Then came an issue with my passport and visa for Australia. The Australian visa is an electronic one tagged to the passport. There is no physical stamp or label stuck in it.

I had been in Australia a few times recently both for work and pleasure. For each trip I had a visa, including this one.

When the check in guy typed in my passport number the visas were all still valid in terms of the dates but had notes against them for me not to be allowed to board an aircraft heading to Australia.

The most recent one issued, the one for this trip, was fine.

However, a call had to be made to Canberra to sort it out before I was allowed to get my hands on a boarding card.
My passport disappeared behind the security door
After a little while the guy came back and handed the passport back to me with another of his broad smiles.

Next stop Brisbane for a night in a hotel. Then on to Singapore, then London, then Edinburgh.

We left the Solomon Islands on Thursday. I would eventually get home on Saturday.
Bye bye Solomon..
..hello Brisbane