Saturday, August 15, 2009

Harry Patch (in memory of) Radiohead

One of my favourite bands has written a song in honour of Harry Patch, the last surviving world war one veteran who died at the age of 111. Thom Yorke, who wrote the lyrics to the song, simply sang what Harry said. He quoted him word for word, inspired by him.

I've always displayed a slightly higher level of curiosity for the second world war more than any other. I'm not really sure why. My grandad had to stay at home; Ivor Blake-Lobb was an electrician and the local council deemed him too valuable to be sent away to fight. My great uncle Frank on my mother's side died while he was driving a tank somewhere in France. But these things don't inspire me to pay more attention. I'm not quite sure what it is. Maybe it's a subconscious awareness of debt, repaid by remembrance of so many men who knew life not as I will ever know it, living brief lives against a recongized evil alongside other nations under horrendous conditions. To coin a terribly over-used phrase, "heroes" that died way too young. I owe my freedom to men I'll never meet. And they never sat in parliament. Or planned wars. Or sought money, or power.

Here are the lyrics;

"i am the only one that got through
the others died where ever they fell
it was an ambush
they came up from all sides
give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
i've seen devils coming up from the ground
i've seen hell upon this earth
the next will be chemical but they will never learn"

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Dolomite trek

Last week I worked for a new client and was very enthusiastic about it. In all my time as a freelancer with my three languages I've never had the opportunity to use my Italian, until I was asked to film the Dolomites with a geologist. I was given two warnings; it was going to be an early start to the morning, and we were going to have to trek for an hour with all of the equipment to get there. They didn't sound like warnings to me, they painted the picture of a mini adventure!

And so it turned out to be. We drove through the valleys on the Austrian Italian border where the locals' accents are Germanic. We wondered how we could possibly be in Italy, it looked more like we were on the set of the Sound of Music. I was sorry Rosario wasn't with me to see it. We rolled through the valleys in awe at the views, and picked up Florian, our mountain guide. We drove off road onto rough tracks until we got to a fallen tree, uprooted by nature not man.

The walk was seperated in three parts. The first continued uphill until reaching a grassy point. Then steeply zigzagged downhill sharply to reach the foot of what appeared to be a rocky, dried up river. This was the longest part of the walk. We slowly made our way over the rocks to the foot of the dolomites, which were an amazing site. We filmed the geologist interview between periods of rain, which we'd expected, who indicated a layer which revealed the near extinction of every species on earth well before the dinosaurs existed.

Then came a third period of rain. We were motivated before knowing that it would stop, along with the young confidence of our guide. But the third hit didn't look like it wanted to pass over us soon. My director told me to quickly film the rock face. We werent due to come back again, so I had to suddenly race against the weather to get the shots we needed. Then as I was filming one part, I saw with one eye through my viewfinder a great grey mist come in so fast I tried to pan away from it, however the movement of my tripod's pan was not quick enough. I looked up in fear to see this great mist not only occupied the framing in my lens view but the entire valley's end we were stood in. I heard something from below. It was Florian with three members of our group.
"We've got to get out of here NOW! Look at you all, you're all wet through!" I looked round and sure enough we were. My shorts didn't have a dry spot on them. "Leave all of the equipment, we must travel light!"

My first instinct was to follow his advice. Wet-through and demoralised at not completing what we needed to do, I sighed at the kit and gathered my strength to pack it away in some sort of water proof pile. I turned around to see the 'dry' river bed flowing with three different muddy streams pushing fast over the big stones. How were we going to get out of here? "Hurry up we've got to go, now!" I packed the camera, closed the lens case, and carelessly shoved the director's monitor in my small back pack. Then I thought about it; I can't leave thousands of pounds worth of equipment on this hill. I felt my adrenaline kick in and I distributed small bags to the two remaining people with me - Kate the director and Paul the geologist. I left the two heaviest items; the tripod and a minijib, both weighing at least 15kg each. I swung the camera on my back, holding it with one arm. "Ok let's go!" I shouted.

We clambered down the hill to the verge of the stoney rock bed, on the edge of these frightening brown rivers turning the rocks over. And followed the exact path Florian decided to take. I remember considering every step I took, because a loose rock could turn you over into the water, or worse into another rock risking injury. We all carefully followed Florian.

As we carried on, I spoke to the assistant we had with us, and was impressed by her spirits. She was only young, but was actually quite enjoying it. Through the rain she told us of difficult hikes she had done with her parents in Borneo when she was just a child, and made this look quite relaxed in comparison. I believe that helped not only myself, but the whole group's morale lift. If I had let the rain get to me, felt annoyed, uncomfortable and depressed by the rain sticking the clothes to my skin I think it would have taken a lot longer to climb through. We would all have been at greater risk of accident due to fatigue. So as I calculated my step from rock to rock, avoided the gushing water, holding the camera awkwardly to my back so I could balance better between steps, I realized I was actually enjoying the challenge.

That evening the director asked us to stay another day not just to get the remaining kit on the mountain but to film what we had left out, so we returned under much sunnier skies. What an adventure!

Sunday, July 05, 2009


On the 7th July 2005 at around 9am I was driving with my colleague to Suffolk to film at somebody's house. We were listening to the radio in the van and at 9.30am there was breaking news that four bombs had exploded around London. I immediately thought of my family who didn't know where I was, and let them all know I was ok. My colleague's sister was working near a London tube station that suffered a bombing, and was soon on the phone with her to see if she was fine.

Today I filmed an interview with one woman who was in a carriage near to one which was blown up by a terrorist bomber on the northern line. She said her life is clearly defined as a before and after July 7 08.50. It was fascinating. Firstly because of her account of what happened. Secondly, how she coped with the trauma.

She was on her way to work reading the newspaper. She said she remembered a big expolsion, and she felt as if someone had pushed her really hard on the shoulder. The air became incredibly thick. Glass shattered everywhere and all the shards glimmered for a split second as they flew through the air. She covered her face with the newspaper. Then a panel in the floor disappeared and she could see the moving parts of the engine below. The train was still moving but the engine had stopped working. There was a moment of silence, then everyone started screaming. She tried to wipe the heavy grime off her face with her jacket, but her jacket was covered in it too so she used her hands. Everyone saw two men trying to kick the end door down to get out, and when it came off everyone hurried out the door. She remembers when she got out she saw a man lying on the floor outside the opposite carriage and wanting to help him; he had no legs and was screaming in pain. One of his legs was above the carriage suspended on a cable. She stood still and wanted to help him, but wasn't sure if she'd be in the way. She remembered a clear moment of absolute indecision. As she stood there staring someone else ran to his aid, and another lady told her to keep moving. They walked by the carriage that the bomb went off in and saw some people looking through the door and then quickly moving on, crying. She knew she shouldn't have, but she couldn't help looking in. There were bits of bodies and blood everywhere. She could see no survivors.

Days afterwards she had trouble dealing with mundane things in real life. She knew she should put her seatbelt on in the car, but she had forgotten how. She knew she needed to make a phone call, but she forgot how to use the phone. She went back to work after a couple of weeks and when a colleague asked her to do a quality control report she couldn't understand its relevance at all. Why was it important? At first she thought that no-one understood her. She was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. She subsequently received different types of therapy to recognize the symptoms, and often met up with fellow survivors that were on the same carriage. At first she would have frequent lapses of sadness, but the more time goes by the less it occurs.

I think what moved me most was how she now looks at life. To start with, she didn't want this man that detonated the bomb on his chest in the carriage to influence her life. Why should I stop working, stop seeing my friends because of this man? But she didn't say 'this man', she said his name. That shocked me. She said Sidique Kahn and to me it almost sounded as if she was swearing. What inner courage she must have to name the man casually mid sentence that caused her and people around her such incredible harm.

Her proirities changed. She said she values her family and friends even more now. She felt guilty that she had put them through the trauma of her possible death. She avoids people she considers nasty without hesitation. In life we experience moments of happiness, with our children, birdsong, sunsets. Before 7th July she had never appreciated these things as much. Now she cherishes them. As if all happy moments have more meaning. That's what I found most inspiring. She had a Buddha-like inner calm which I found bewitching. As if she knew how to appreciate life a little more than you or I. So on the train on the way home I found a text my cousin in Spain had sent me days before my first born arrived, over four years ago now, and smiled at how sweet it was. And I called my cousin there and then just to hear her voice.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TV gold

You've got to see this, it's quite remarkable. I think I was even drawn to tears at one point....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tom Pinch

If it were ever possible to digest a particular piece of literature and be changed by it, I wish I could have done so many years ago, then I may have gone forward much sooner than I had without all the melodrama that I often relished in applying to my situation. Had I read those last words of Tom Pinch, and related to them, I am curious to know if it would have bettered my typical teenage circumstance, where I was living proof of the quote "only unfulfilled love can be romantic".

Had I read Tom Pinch's conclusions at the end of the underrated novel by Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit, 'I cannot not grieve the impossible' then I would have perhaps attempted to put that understanding in practice... Hindsight is the least merciful of wisdoms, the most unforgiving. Perhaps I should not be so critical of my younger self. After all, if I could live my life all over again I'm sure I would make the same mistakes, only sooner.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Tunis bar

I filmed in the Tunisian capital Tunis a few weeks back. It was for an arabic football show, the end of the 'federation cup'. We didn't go out often because the hotel was good, an unadventurous conclusion, I know. So after two days we decided (only me and one other colleague were working there) to go round the back streets looking for typical bars that tourists wouldn't go to. This one was funny. It reminded me of the Spanish bars in a way, dirty but lively, everyone happy. Although the odd thing was that there were no women there. In fact we barely saw women in any bar at night. In the corner of this one bar, two guys had amassed a shocking amount of beer bottles, a proud display of their acheivements that evening. My colleague Alex informed me (it wasn't his first time there) the beer was quite low in alcohol, but still. What was funnier was that they often just sat there not talking, staring into their bottles.

The evening didn't get any better. We got approached several times for being white Europeans, and they'd say they just wanted to be friends. I've never heard the same expression so many times in one evening; "a friend in need is a friend indeed". When did we look like we were in need?! Sat in one nice wine bar (I spotted two women out of fifty men) Alex and I were fenjoying a full flowing conversation and this guy just started talking to us. He never got the hint so Alex started getting mildly irritated, the guy sensed this and got agressive. We left soon after.

Another guy at a doorway chatting to a bouncer spotted us entering and said "hey! Let's go out together, I've just finished my shift!" He was dressed casually and as pissed as a fart.
"No thanks, we're going back to our hotel" we replied laughing.
"..but a friend in need is a friend indeed, my friend!"