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!