How better to honour Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet, novelist and total lush, than to savour tea named after him in a gilded room just around the corner from Piccadilly circus in the heart of London’s West End. In his old haunt you’ll find some of the fanciest tea snacks and opulent walls in the city known for its love of afternoon tea.Read More
(and also ramen and Oxford)
After traveling to Windsor the week before for the Queen’s 90th birthday, I prepared for Week 5 to take a backseat and be a little less exciting. What’s better than a cheery old lady promenading from her castle to thousands of adoring fans?
Oh Mel, you silly Canadian.
Tuesday brought Robert to London. All of a sudden, I had someone to do all the romantic-y fun London tourist things that I’d neglected, like going on the London Eye:
Going on ramen dates:
And strolling around the pastoral academia that is Oxford University:
Oh yeah, CBC. Right. Focus.
I did feel a bit guilty at having to work 10am-6pm as he was here throughout the week, but he occupied himself by doing fun tourist stuff and then we met up every night when I finished at the CBC and we’d rendezvous near Oxford Circus.
My brain was in a bit of a haze as my pitch to do a story on FGM education in the U.K. had been accepted and I was in the midst of lining up interviews and finding people to talk to for the story, so sometimes when I was with Rob I’d suddenly zoom in on a thought and then have to reel myself back in to the present (sorry, babe!).
It was a good week at CBC. On Wednesday the Royal College of Physicians released a recommendation that e-cigarettes be offered to smokers trying to quit, including the statistics that vaping is 95% safer than smoking (although in the same breath the report said that they still don’t know all the long term side effects of e-cigarettes).
Off to report the news, I headed out with Thom to find a vape shop we could shoot in front of. We landed out in front of a place called Vaperz near the British Library where we stayed until 4pm, doing live hits for CBC News Network. At one point Rob stopped by and dropped off some sandwiches and coffee, which was nice.
In between hits we shot and sent (via Dejero) a teaser for Thom’s piece on Leicester City soccer which was airing that night on the National, and during our last hit, we were visited by a woman who very much wanted to be on T.V.
Luckily, Twitter was there to capture the moment for us:
CBC's Thomas Daigle photo-bombed by dancing woman in London pic.twitter.com/kNp7jV7aUT
— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) April 28, 2016
Thank you, Twitter.
The next day, we were on the train up to Leicester to report on the Leicester City foxes soccer story. To sum it up: Premier League soccer in Europe is usually won by big teams with lots of money who then get more money by winning more games, in this very ouroboros cycle. This year, Leicester City, a tiny team with no money who finished 14th in the league last year ended up winning the league on Monday, May 2, beating 5000-1 odds. Definitely a family channel movie-in-the-making. Every time the story gets told, the phrase ‘Cinderella story’, ‘underdogs’ or ‘fairytale in the making’ gets thrown in.
We headed up to Leicester on April 29 (my birthday!), pre-win. It so happened to be blue day (totally planned) and everyone in town was sporting the team’s colours.
It was a really fun day. There were lots of fun people to talk to, lots of run things to shoot and a live interview by a Leicester Shop owner who is the sole printer of Leicester City merchandise. Not a bad way to spend a birthday. Plus, I got to ride the train and it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that trains are awesome.
When we headed back to town I headed off to Covent Garden to meet with Rob and our friend Matt at the MEATMarket for beers, burgers and birthday milkshakes. My batteries were dead, so there are no photo, but there are lots of stomach memories.
Matt also may or may not have accidentally tossed his glasses in the garbage along with our food trays. We may never know (Matt – did you find your glasses?).
Responses also started trickling in for my FGM story, so all in all, a really good week.
This was by far the most fun and most tiring week I’ve had at the bureau.
Before I get to the Queen, I want to mention another great story we got to do on Tuesday. I had made a pitch to cover the unveiling of Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph in Trafalgar Square. The original arch in the ancient UNESCO world heritage site city of Palmyra was destroyed by ISIS during their 10-month siege of the city which ended in March.
I wasn’t the only one with the idea.
When we showed up Tuesday morning, the square quickly filled with media. Having at least two people on site is great because (for example) as the organizers moved the media barricades forward one person could run up and claim a good spot while the other stayed with the gear and brought it up after.
The day went well. I talked to lots of Syrians (from Aleppo, Latikia, Damascus and Palmyra) who were now living in London. The guy from Palmyra was who I wanted to talk to most – I found him on Facebook a few days before the unveiling and asked whether he was going. He wrote passionately about the arches:
“I’m happy to see Triumph arch again in London after six years of leaving my home city, Palmyra. I feel I regain part of my body again. The Triumph arch represents the identity of Palmyrenes because we have to pass it when we go to our farms at sunrise and then we have to take some rest under it before going back to our homes at sunset. Thanks for London and all world to return our identity to us.”
I really wanted to interview this guy in person. He seemed perfect! A local who could connect with why this was important. The only problem? He said he wasn’t going to be at the square the day the arches were unveiled. The day I’d need to talk to him in person to get the news story.
Then I had a stroke of amazing luck. Somehow, on the day of the unveiling, in a sea of civilians and media people, I heard someone call my name. It was the Palmyra guy! He recognized me from behind the barricades and called me over. He had cancelled everything last minute and decided to drive in to London from Uxbridge where he’s doing his PhD to see the unveiling. So I got to talk to him, and he was lovely.
The Queen’s 90th Birthday
Thursday, April 21st was the first of the Queen’s many birthdays this year. April 21 is her actual birthday, while traditionally monarch birthday celebrations are held in June. This June birthday tradition was started by King Edward VII, because he worried his November birthday might not have good weather.
Last week on said birthday the Queen turned 90 years old. Liz is breaking all traditions this past year. In fall 2015 she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, having reigned 63 years. Now she’s the first monarch to make it into their 90s. Good for her. Go Liz!
She’s also the source of much near-religious fervour throughout the country. They say that liking something is a consequence of its familiarity. If that’s true, maybe Liz’s long reign and life explains just how much people love the Queen. They’ve had a long time to get to know her. I’ve heard it over and over again that hers is the most documented life, ever.
Our CBC team covered three days in Windsor: The Queen’s birthday eve, the day of her birthday, and the day after her birthday where she had President Obama over for lunch.
I was there for birthday eve and her Majesty’s birthday.
One thing I learned from the experience was just how important logistics are. Lots of reporters, lots of gear, lots of people on the ground. I drove up with our team on day one, then took the train back, up and back again. It’s a nice train ride, about 40 minutes from Paddington station and £14 for a return ticket.
Here’s a glimpse of our behind-the-scenes media tent setup.
My next two days were a fever dream framed by union jacks and filled with people dressed in all variations of Brittanica costumes singing ‘Happy Birthday Your Majesty.’
For my part, I helped haul gear, did whatever the correspondents needed me to do, found and arranged two interviews with Royal Watchers (people’s whose jobs it is to basically observe the monarchy and comment on their doings), ran around doing streeters with people in crazy costumes/cute children/a dog named Camilla, sent my photos with captions back to the CBC desk in Toronto, and freehand held an iPhone for a live hit while holding the iPhone in one hand, reflector in the other, and bracing myself between a rail and a tripod on a tiny media platform with about 20 people. We shall never speak of it again.
In other news: we learned Windsor is a bit of a signal dead spot for our Dejero and MiFi. We were fine once we got to our media spot at Windsor Castle though because we had a satellite dish.
The day of the Queen’s birthday she walked down from the castle and around the block into the town’s Guildhall where she was presented with a cake. On the way back she drove right past us in her roofless Rolls Royce and it was amazing because she was so close.
After the birthday excitement was over, we needed to do some more logistical coordination. Half of our people and gear had to stay in Windsor to cover Obama’s visit the next day, and half our people and gear had to come home to London. This resulted in Pascal and I hauling an incredible amount of gear on the train, like little CBC sherpas.
All in all, a great week. My body was sore from hauling gear, but giddy that I got to shoot her Majesty. I mean, seriously, I got pretty lucky that my internship just happened to coincide with all this cool stuff. I’ve gotten to go out with the crew and do quite a bit of shooting and fieldwork. There’s also been a lot of opportunity to learn from the correspondents, cameramen and producers. All in all, a really great gig.
There are still two weeks left to go. I feel like this is probably the natural climax of my time here, but who knows? Here’s looking forward to two more great weeks with the CBC in London.
It was quieter in the newsroom this week, which worked out great for me since it afforded me a chance to practice a bit more with iNews, Avid, MOG, Aspire, and all the technical stuff that might seem second to practicing journalism, but actually is what journalists rely on to make their stories happen. I also learned how to contact the Toronto resource desk for help. Possibly my most important lesson this week.
Next week is the Queen’s birthday (90 years old! Way to go, Liz!), so the team has been preparing for how we’re going to cover that. There are civil wars, a migrant crisis, people working every day in poverty and looming food shortages throughout eastern African countries, but hey, people love a good birthday party, amirite? The coverage we produce in the bureau is a compromise between stories the correspondents pitch and want to be told, and what Toronto HQ tells us the audience wants covered.
In any case, we’re headed to Windsor so I was trying to find Canadians who might be living there and attending festivities who we could interview. This is where Facebook’s friends search filtering functions are a great boon to journalists! I searched for people whose hometowns were in Canada but were currently living in Windsor. From that I made contact with a few different families who’ll be attending the birthday festivities and might make good characters for a Canadian audience to relate to.
On Tuesday I went out with cameraman Ed to shoot a bunch of stock footage of Buckingham Palace to use for the Queen’s birthday as b-roll. This is where I learned the power of the amazing media pass. It’s really hard to film around Buckingham Palace. Even if you have a media pass, but a bit of Canadian charm and luck with police officers, we managed to score a perfect spot right by the gate of the palace during the changing of the guard. We celebrated afterwards with proper British fish and chips.
Friday was rainy, in typical London fashion, but me and intrepid cameraman Nick set out anyway to do a bunch of streeters about ‘Brexit’ (that’s the upcoming June referendum about whether or not Britain should exit the EU. The first official day of the campaign was on Friday). Fun fact: streeters in Britain are called “vox pops”. Despite the rain, it was great fun. I really love when they send me out with a cameraman. Because you get to act not only like a journalist, talking to people, but a bit like a producer as well (let’s get this shot! Did we get enough B roll?). The streeters were used in Brexit coverage on CBC News Network and one of them even got put into Nahlah Ayed’s package for the National, so that was a bonus for me! Cut to me texting home to my grandparents, really excited that this small thing I did got included in the National.
Moving up the ladder, one tiny rung at a time!
I also pitched a story next week to do on my own about the recreation of Palmyra’s Triumphal Arch happening in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday. Palmyra is an ancient city that was pretty much destroyed by a 10-month occupation by ISIS, and the Digital Institute of Archaeology is trying to save importance cultural sites throughout the middle east by scanning and databasing them so they can be reconstructed (essentially 3d printed). Whether or not I get to do it it looks like depends on whether or not I’m needed at the studio on Tuesday. It’s the day before we all pack up and head to Windsor for the Queen’s birthday so things might get a little crazy. Fingers crossed though!
As I mentioned in my Sunday Sundries, I found out I’ll be going to the Idomeni refugee camp in May with an NGO. And we’ll be staying in tents. One Medecins du Monde doctor interviewed by the BBC called the place “disgusting” and “unhygienic”, so it should be a really good time. I’m putting together some pitches for Idomeni right now, but do you have any ideas for what I should ask people living in Idomeni?
What do you want to know? Put your suggestions below!
p.s. WE GOT MARGARET ON INSTAGRAM!!! I can go back to Canada a happy intern.
I knew my intern luck couldn’t last. I seemed to have caught the flu. Posters on the tube stating, “British flu season is longer than usual this year” mocked me.
Our bureau producer told me to stay home so I don’t infect the others. In a small office, maintaining everyone’s health is even more important.
I wandered out out of my building once to go to the post office and pick up my Biometric Residence Permit to go with my visa (yay). But other than that, just stayed in bed, read, took ibuprofen, ate bananas and drank tea.
I did do some research though. I was looking for experts we could interview on the Queen’s upcoming 90th birthday. I also watched All the Presidents Men and Spotlight back to back. That counts as work, right?
Back in action! Feeling a lot better, I practically skipped into the office.
The Panama Papers story had just broke so Thom and I headed over to the British parliament for some live hits to CBC News Network.
In between hits, we’re often outside, waiting around and answering emails until the next hit (roughly one per hour, unless it’s something really grabbing, then it might be more). So in the interim, finding coffee and washrooms is key. I heartily recommend the Flush app.
The area where we set our gear up across from parliament is called the Queen’s Walk. It’s also right next to St. Thomas’ Hospital. Perhaps that has some bearing on the characters we encountered that day.
During our second hit, I was facing towards parliament and the river when seemingly out of nowhere this man jumped off the street, into the frame (during our LIVE hit) and starting yelling that, “Everything is a lie”.
So, yes. That happened.
The heckler didn’t stay long. He kind of wandered off after five seconds of harassment, and Thom played it cool. When we watched the playback the network had actually filled that part of the screen with a graphic so you can’t even see the heckler that well. Yay.
Now during live hits, I watch the crowds like a bouncer. Move along, folks, move along.
A couple hours later, in between hits a middle-aged woman with a walker wearing this big blue face mask wanders over and stops maybe two feet away, staring at us.
She sees I’ve caught her eye. “I like listening to people.” She says. Very good. She was a bit odd, but nice. She told me that sometimes people tell her to go away and not bother them. She also told me, “Don’t let men get you down.” (very wise) and then after listening to Thom and I for a bit, gave a nice laugh and said, “I like your conversation! I found it quite funny.” And then she wandered back in to the ether.
Fun assignment this morning! This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the Arts unit in Toronto has asked us to film a short segment of a walking tour taking place near the Globe.
So I meet the energetic Akhilesh Patel, one of the CBC’s freelance cameramen here. He’s also got loads of good stories, and freelances for Al Jazeera as well as a few other networks. He recommends I check out Sarandë when I head to Albania in May, if I can (passing along the knowledge to you – he says it’s beautiful!)
So Akhilesh and I shadow this tour guide. I also get lucky because there’s a couple Canadians on the tour, so I do some streeters with them and they’re great talkers. The sun comes out. It’s a good day.
That only takes a bit of the morning, so on the way back to the studio (we use black cabs here – the Hailo app is the way to go!) I get dropped off outside Buckingham Palace where Thom’s set up the gear to do live hits about the Canadian soprano who snuck her instruments in to the Queen’s Gallery for an illegal concert.
It’s raining sideways (but also sunny, at the same time) when I get there, so you have to wipe the camera lens as much as possible before starting your live hit. Unfortunately, the direction of the rain was right in to the camera so for viewers at home it looked like we were standing in a torrential downpour, instead of a heavy drizzle.
Shooting live with the weather is always interesting, whether you’re wiping the lens twenty seconds before you go live, or sherpa-ing the gear out of a shadowy spot into sunlight (or vice versa), you’re always checking the skies.
When we get back to the office, I work on some more transcriptions from Ethiopia and then help to find a security expert to speak to the case of the soprano (bureau producer Erin seems to know everyone and anyone you’d want to have speak on camera, but her usual security guy is out of town).
We find another security guy, and then I transcribe the audio from a phone interview Thom has with the soprano.
I spent the rest of the afternoon working on secret project that has me scouring the city for tree seeds.
This was a pretty quiet day, news-wise. Mostly just more Panama Papers “revelations”. Some of the headlines were ludicrous. Talking about the law firms “secret” transactions. Like, have you ever been to a law firm where client privacy wasn’t a priority? If not mandatory by law?
Panama is such a can of worms. Because most of what’s being ‘revealed’ in the press isn’t illegal. It’s just status quo for the super-rich. The attention it’s getting is more fuelled by people’s emotional response to money and their ideas of fairness, than anything legal. One of the law-firm founders, Ramon Fonseca, even said his company was hacked, and that’s how the files got leaked. For me personally, I’m more interested in how the papers got out than what they’ve revealed (so far, anyway).
I did my morning media analysis, checking in on our competitions’ foreign correspondents (Where are they? What stories are they doing?) and transcribed a couple more interviews Margaret did in Ethiopia.
It’s pretty amazing, what you can do with a team. For example, Margaret was interviewing two mothers who spoke Somali in a health clinic. The interview went:
Margaret – Translator 1 (English – ?) – Translator 2 (? – Somali) – Interviewee
So first Margaret’s question would go down the chain, then the woman’s response would come back up. It was pretty cool. Because we have to make sure what our translators on the ground say is correct, we have all their on-the-ground translations double-checked with another translator back in London.
I’m also trying to get Margaret on Instagram. We’ll see how that goes.
This was also a relatively quiet news day.
Nahlah asked me to do some research and create a timeline of nuclear detonations and missile launches from North Korea, as well as all the statements they’ve issued so far this year.
Right now in North Korea there’s a jailed 60-year-old Canadian pastor, Hyeon Soo Lim. He stands accused of trying to use religion to overthrow the atheistic North Korean regime. His punishment? Working 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, digging holes for the prison’s apple orchard.
There’s also an American student tourist-turned-prisoner who was arrested there and was sentenced in March to 15 years in prison for stealing a political banner from a staff area of the hotel he was staying at. It’s unclear yet what will happen to him.
And then there’s stories like this (from This American Life):
Kim Jong-Il loved movies – but hated all the movies made in North Korea. So he kidnapped a famous South Korean director and his ex-wife, a South Korean film star, locked them up in a villa in North Korea, and forced them to make movies for him. Nancy Updike tells the story. (21 minutes)
To paraphrase Mark Twain: Fiction has to make sense. Reality doesn’t.
On my weekends here I like to go for a long walk in a new part of the city and do errands.
I had just completed the very important task of picking up a rather expensive bottle of cognac (for my professor/journalist Puddicombe – prepaid by him – I’m just the messenger) from Berry Bros. and Rudd in the part of town I can’t afford – and was buying a SIM card when I heard the shouts.
And then the pig signs.
The anti-Cameron rally was upon me.
As luck would have it, I had my camera with me and I knew a rally of its size would be in the news, so I followed them down to Downing Street and took some photos. Then I sent a few of them to CBC News and they got added to their coverage of the protest. Woo!
Although it was a relatively peaceful protest, a few people got hauled off by police and part of me was concerned someone would knock my bag in such a way that Puddicombe’s expensive (i.e., I could not replace it) cognac would get smashed, and with it, my future journalism career. Luckily, both me and the cognac survived.
During the fourth week of September, a meeting was held for students in my journalism program in the alumni hall auditorium to talk about internships – these vague things that happened months down the road in April.
A bunch of faculty got up and spoke, including a Mr. Doug Kirkaldy, who I didn’t know very well yet, having not taken the radio workshop (oh, how much I had to learn). After the talk was over and everyone was filing out I went over and tapped his arm.
“Are there CBC offices abroad we can go to?”
Because he is very kind he mentioned some further places in Canada, and then said, “Well there is the bureau in London.”
I fixated. “I want to go. How do I make that happen?”
He essentially said to check back in with him down the road. Doug didn’t know me very well because I hadn’t taken his radio workshop (yet), but I really liked him. I was in the middle of a shorter broadcast class that he taught with another professor and he said something in the first class that really won me over:
“Write for one person. Choose a person in your mind who listens to you, who you like to tell things to — not a lover. Choose that person in your mind and write everything like you’re writing to them.”
I mean, poetry, right? Between that and the CBC Radio Style Guide (a surprisingly good read), I was hooked on radio. So I took the radio workshop later in the fall and I kept bugging Doug about London every so often.
Much like a dog who pees on their favourite fire hydrant, I think I told everyone at the school who asked that I was trying for the London internship. My territory, mine!
It’s lucky that I ended up getting it. There would have been a lot of explaining to do otherwise.
With Doug’s help I put together a cover letter, portfolio and sent the whole thing off to CBC in early January. I heard back shortly after that I’d been accepted and could do my six weeks in April! Cue the trumpets!
The day I left was a day of eating. Eggs benedict on fish cakes with basil hollandaise sauce and chocolate milkshakes at The Armview with Rob for breakast, then fried chicken at home with Dad and my sister for lunch, then korean table barbecue at BiOne on Quinpool with friends for dinner before my 11:30pm redeye flight.
Clearly I was afraid there would be no food in London.
The day was sunny and light. A great day to leave. Rainy departures always feel sadder.
I also packed tea, which Rob quickly unpacked as he was saying, “You’re going to London. You don’t have to bring tea. They’re going to have lots of it there.”
Me: “Are you sure?”
He also eyed my choice to pack some incense and an incense holder and shook his head at me, disgustedly: “Real world travellers don’t pack incense.”
“Real world travellers don’t pack incense.”
He drove me out to the airport for 9:30pm. Meatloaf’s ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light’ was playing and he was singing along (one of his favourite albums). I was a bit in shock. Not because of his singing, but because I was going off to do something (two things, actually, Photographers Without Borders in Bosnia right after my London internship) that I totally dreamed of doing as a kid: working as a journalist abroad and doing photography for an NGO.
Then, I was nervous. What if I fuck it all up? Rob saw this and rubbed my leg. He’s the best. Interspersed with Meatloaf, he gave me some advice.
“All you have to do is be nice to people and work hard.”
Okay. He’s right. I can do that. That’s not so bad.
We said goodbye and took a pre-departure selfie (it’s tradition).
I rolled my bag into the terminal. Got my ticket, loaded my bag into the new, automated bag-taker thing.
Passenger Hattie, we have accepted your baggage.
Okay, well. I can’t turn back now. It has my bag.
After getting on the plane I realized I had a tiny piece of beef stuck in my back molar from the Korean barbecue earlier this evening. Crap. This is going to drive me insane. Note to self, typed into phone: ALWAYS BRING FLOSS ON THE PLANE.
The weather on my first day was strange. It hailed, rained, was sunny and warm, and hailed again within my first two hours. There was a hurricane off the coast.
I headed to my friend’s dorm room where I was staying for free while he was back in Halifax for spring break. As my friend Luke from England said, “A free place in London is ludicrous.” So I’m very lucky in this respect.
As I was lying in bed on Sunday night trying to get to sleep (midnight here is 8pm at home), I kept worrying about my first day at the bureau on Monday: What if Nahlah Ayed doesn’t like me? What if I’m not serious enough for ‘real’ news?
Rob’s words floated back to me: “All you have to do is be nice to people and work hard.”
Those are things I know I can do. If I can do that, I’ll be happy with myself.
First Day of CBC London Internship
Holiday. Is. Holiday.
The first day of my internship was listed as Monday, May 28. I arrived at the CBC bright and early at 9am, researched and ready, everyone at the office’s phone numbers entered into my phone.
Following all the good rules that Mr. Kirkaldy and the other professors had laid out for us: I knew that David Cameron was the UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson was mayor of London, that there was an upcoming mayoral election in May, that the big British news stories were Brexit and whether tariffs should be imposed on Chinese steel imports to save Britain’s suffering steel industry and had been listening to BBC4 every morning for the last week. So, I felt prepared.
I rang the buzzer. It looked a bit dark inside.
After a couple minutes of no response, I emailed bureau producer Erin Boudreau:
Re: Your King’s intern has landed!
Just arrived at the offices and looking forward to meeting everyone. I think I’m in the right place – at the second floor door with a CBC call box and I can spy a poster for the National inside, but it looks a bit dark. Are people coming in later today because of the holiday?
She responded within a couple minutes:
Hi Mel. No the office is closed today. It’s. Holiday. See you tomorrow!
My internship did not start today. The office was closed because it was a holiday.
Journalism school had not prepared me for this.
We never got holidays in j-school.
What a treat!
I headed out for a walk around the Oxford Circus neighbourhood where the bureau is located. Discovered a Carphone Warehouse was open and ran in to get a British SIM card, then went home, had a nap, got some groceries, did some reading. It was a good day.
A holiday. Journalism school had not prepared me for this.
Going to the CBC in the morning dissolved a lot of my nervousness. Seeing the familiar red logo inside the door was like a beacon in a strange land. I slept great and didn’t worry about my actual first day at the internship.
Actual First Day of CBC London Internship
As I was brushing my teeth in the morning I heard over the BBC4 morning show I was streaming that a situation was developing with an EgyptAir plane that had been hijacked and landed in Cyprus. Since we’re five hours ahead of Toronto, my day here doesn’t officially start until 10am, but I was so excited by this developing story that I headed in for 9am instead.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew that news of the hijacking meant something would be going on.
This time when I got to the office and rang the doorbell, someone answered. I met Tracy Seeley who’s the news producer in London and Tom Parry who usually reports from the parliamentary bureau in Ottawa (he’s also been to Afghanistan four times) who was filling in since our other TV news guy Tom Daigle had been in Brussels covering the bombing and its aftermath.
Other regular members of the office include Nahlah Ayed, foreign correspondent, who was out on my first day, Erin Boudreau who is the bureau producer, Margaret Evans, foreign correspondent, and Ellen Mauro, her producer, who were away in Ethiopia working on stories.
There’s also Anjuli Tchalikian who’s in charge of all the equipment and technical aspects of the operation, cameramen Peter and Pascal, and our accountant Emily, from Galway, who you can rely on to be in the bureau, since the other reporters and cameramen are frequently coming and going from London for stories. There was also Natalia Balcerzak, the outgoing intern, to show me the ropes.
The hijacker story was interesting. With hindsight we now know the hijacking ended up descending into farce, with his suicide belt being a fake, with the four-page letter to his estranged wife, the hijacker selfie and amazingly, no one being hurt. It was almost a nostalgic throwback to the 70s. Not a Brussels, not a Lahore, not a Paris. A tragic relief.
It was cool to see how Tom would do his live hits from the studio to give updates to CBC News Network in Toronto about the situation. I went out with Tracy and Pascal to interview an aviation security expert in front of the BBC, which is just a short walk from our office!
After Tracy was done her questions for the expert, she kindly let me ask any follow up questions. This was really cool! So I asked the expert to talk about the conversation around aviation security and mental health. Part of his answer ended up getting included in Derek Stoffel‘s piece on The National! It made me really happy, like: yeah, I can do this! Derek is our middle east bureau chief, but since Cyprus is kind of between Europe and the Middle East, the bureaus collaborate.
Altogether it was a very welcoming and exciting first day. And good timing! Not only did I get the lovesick hijacker, but it was also Tracy’s birthday, so after work we headed to the pub and shared some beers, ciders and later called for pizza (some pubs around here don’t serve pub food — it’s the oddest thing). The pub called The Kings Arms is conveniently right across the street and with its warm atmosphere and heavy-curtained windows, is satisfyingly how I pictured a British pub to be.
Everyone at the bureau has really great stories. I loved listening to them talk. The fact that I didn’t have to come in until 9:45 the next morning made staying at the pub much easier. I learned that if you want to cover the Pope’s death for broadcast, you have to book a hotel balcony to shoot from about a decade in advance. Who knew? The things you learn.
Anjuli also passed on some great wisdom, “This internship is your last chance to really fuck up and ask any dumb questions you want. Once they start paying you, you can’t get away with anything.”
Second Day of Internship
My main goal today was to finish transcribing a bunch of interviews that Nahlah and Tracy had just come back from India with.
One really cool thing about this bureau is that the correspondents are able to take a deeper dive into some of the erupting news stories in places like Ethiopia, India and Brussels.
News-wise as the leading story of the day was the man from Leeds who took a photo of himself with the EgyptAir hijacker. Then the following Twitter row that emerged after too many people called it a selfie.
A daily ritual for interns here is to peruse all the Canadian national news that aired for broadcast the evening before and see what other stations’ foreign correspondents are doing. Basically, we keep up with the competition. Then we crawl through the day’s British newspapers to see if there’s anything good stories starting that we should have our eye on. Did you know there’s a Cat Ripper in Croydon? I also watch the TV monitors above and beside me for breaking news, as well as monitor Twitter.
Today’s newspapers were full of the hijacker photo. The Sun’s none-too-forgiving headline read: HIJACKASS. So that’s what Tom Parry held up in the studio as he reported on News Network.
This is a pretty great job.
Third Day of Internship
More Toms! Tom Daigle returned to the office after reporting from Brussels. Tom’s 29 and he’s what you’d call a VJ, or videojournalist. He’s from St. John, New Brunswick. Another East Coaster! He’s extremely self-sufficient. A big part of his job is hauling the video equipment and Dejero (used for streaming live to TV networks) to locations around London and doing live hits about whatever the issue of the day is.
It’s pretty cool to be on site with someone and all of a sudden have them be reporting live back to headquarters in Toronto and knowing it’s appearing on air around the country.
The issue of the day in the morning was the Amnesty International released a report condemning FIFA for its poor use of migrant workers in building its 2022 World Cup stadium in Doha, Qatar.
I also note that Qatar on air is now pronounced “Kotter” and no longer “Ka-tar”. Kotter sounds more like the local dialect.
We packed up the gear, hailed a cab and headed off to Amnesty’s headquarters in London so that Tom can do hourly live hits for News Network from 10-2pm.
I’m leaving a note here for future interns: BRING WARM CLOTHES when going out to shoot with Tom! You can expect to be outdoors for a few hours, at least. If you happen to pack some coffee or tea in a thermos, that would also be very wise. It wasn’t a cold day, but being out for a few hours can leave you chilly anyway, especially if you’re in the shade.
So we’re setting up in front of Amnesty and realize immediately that this is not a great location to shoot live in. It’s really noisy, right in front of a bus stop, and the Amnesty logo is small so it’s not even that visible to the TV viewer. We vow never to shoot live from there again.
We do one live hit in front of the Amnesty building before an overpass collapses in Kolkata, India, killing at least ten people (as of today the count is 24) and injuring many others. Tom gets an email from Toronto telling him they want him to do studio hits on that, so we head back to the bureau.
This is a great demonstration of the chaos effect: a bridge collapses in India and two Canadian journalists go scurrying across the city in London.
So, the bureau is Europe. And sometimes Asia. The day before Tom Parry had filed on the swearing in of a new President in Myanmar/Burma.
I loved being on location but was glad to head back to the studio because it gave me more time to finish transcribing the interview from India for Tracy and Nahlah. I enjoyed doing the transcription not just for the topic and content, which was very interesting, but from a technical standpoint, watching the raw footage gave me an opportunity to learn how Nahlah, Tracy and their cameraman (Rich) went about getting the material for piece. It also let me listen and learn Nahlah’s interviewing style.
CBC’s Thom Dinsmore also popped by the station today because he’s been in town making arrangements for our coverage of the Queen’s 90th birthday this summer.
So today we have Tom Dinsmore, Tom Parry and Tom Daigle. A regular rotation of Toms. Parry and Dinsmore are heading back to Canada tomorrow though, so it’s a temporary turnout of Toms.
We go out to the pub to celebrate their comings and goings. Dinsmore tells us a funny story about my professor/journalist Stephen Puddicombe involving a bathroom in Haiti (Puddicombe? Are you reading this?)
Fourth Day of Internship
In continuing my great luck of the first week of internship, today I get to go to Canada House at Trafalgar Square with reporter Tom Daigle and cameraman Peter. We’re covering Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s visit to the UK to give his spiel about the federal budget.
Morneau makes his speech, and then there’s a scrum. During the speech I was writing down questions to ask (it wasn’t my job, Tom’s the one doing the scrum, but it seemed like the right thing to do).
I showed Tom my questions to see if I was on the right track and he reminded me that because of where we’re interviewing him from, we need to ask questions relevant to our location.
I had some questions written down that weren’t bad, but I could ask him them in Canada, or at a pub down the street. They were good but generic – not UK-specific. Not foreign correspondent-y.
That’s one big thing I’m learning here: how to think of stories from the foreign correspondent angle. How to tell stories from the UK that are relevant to Canadians back home.
When I landed in the city I started looking around for stories. And there are lots. Interesting ones. But from a foreign correspondent perspective you need to think about how and why those stories would be relevant to people back home. Stories that you’d pitch if you were working for a daily local don’t work here. It’s a whole other ball game. It might not even be a ball game.
Getting to see Canada House was really lucky! They don’t shoot there all the time. There was also a pre-speech buffet, so, double-lucky. You could also see part of my head reflected in a mirror behind Morneau during a clip they used of his scrum during News Network.
And that was my first week. After the high commission I spent the rest of the day finishing my transcriptions of the interviews from India and left the office around 7pm. Time flies here.
I should also mention: it turns out that everyone in the office is really nice. Phew. (Okay, Margaret and Ellen were in Ethiopia all week and I haven’t met them yet but I’m willing to bet they’re status quo.)
One last note: My official CBC London job title is Researcher, but my purpose here is to help with anything as much as I can while learning the trade.
Thanks for sticking around through this extremely long post! Every week won’t be this long, I promise. I was just very excited for this week and I felt like there was a lot that I wanted to get down.
The Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa is essentially a working holiday visa for people aged 18-30 who want to travel or live in the UK for up to two years and work at the same time.
When I got confirmation I’d be able to do an internship with CBC London in April, the bureau producer suggested I look into one. It seemed like a good idea. Now that I have it, it means for the next two years I’m able to live and work in the UK (how convenient!).
Citizenship: Every year a number of youth from a few countries are eligible for a UK Youth Mobility Visa. You must be from:
- Canada (that’s us!)
- New Zealand
- Hong Kong
- Republic of Korea
Age: You must also be between 18-30 years old. Specifically, you need to have turned 18 by the time your visa begins and you can’t be older than 30 when you apply for the visa. You can apply when you’re 17 and enter the country at 18. You can apply when you’re 30 and enter the country at 31.
Money: You need at least £1,890 (about $3,540.92 CAD) in your bank account. You’ll provide a bank statement to that effect with your required documents.
You can’t apply if you have:
- children who live with you;
- children you’re financially responsible for; or,
- already been in the UK under the scheme or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category*
*This means you can only have the UK Youth Mobility Visa once in your life, so choose wisely as to when you want it.
Required documents: You’ll need to provide a few documents along with your application. You don’t need these to fill out the online form, but you’ll need them for your in-person meeting and to mail off with your application to the processing centre.
So you’re eligible? Splendid! Let’s do this.
First I recommend you take a look at the official guidance document, just so you know what you’re getting in to.
Then to get started: Fill out the online form.
What you need:
- Payment for the visa processing fee and user fee. Together they’re $427.00 USD / ~$618.24 CAD.
- Payment for the immigration health surcharge for an IHS reference number. £200 per year the visa is valid, £400 total. That’s USD $616 / ~$891.89 CAD.
- Current and previous passports
- Dates of all international travel, including to the UK (this took me awhile)
- Your parents’ full names, birthdates and locations.
- An address for where you’ll be staying in the UK.
- Which Visa Application Centre you want your in-person interview at. Here’s a list of centres in Canada.
You’ll get emails confirming your payments and be able to download an appointment letter after choosing when and where your in-person meeting will take place.
Once you pay for the immigration health surcharge you will be covered by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) upon arrival in the UK and between the valid dates on your visa.
In-Person interview and biometric gathering
Before you go to your meeting, make sure you have all your supporting documents and passport photos that meet UK specifications. You’ll need them, so bring them with you!
Example of my documents: a statement of accounts from my bank, invitation letter from the CBC where I have my internship, the address I’ll be staying at in London, two copies of a UK passport photo, and my IHS number. Don’t forget to write down your IHS number! I thought it would be on the letter you bring to your appointment, but it’s not. I had to run out into the hall to check my cellphone and get it during the interview, which they kindly let me do.
My visa centre was in Halifax at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. They operate out of a conference room only once a month from 8:00am-2:00pm.
This is why it’s important to book early! They only have so many appointments, although I’ve been told the winter is apparently slower for them. You can see why it’s important to book early though, otherwise you risk not getting your visa back in time for your intended departure date.
My interview was very straightforward. After getting a DHL envelope from the security guard in front of the conference room and filling out my information, he gave me a quick scan with his metal detector and told me to leave all my electronics outside the room. He told me he’d watch my stuff so I left it on a chair just outside the door.
Inside were two men sitting at a large table. One of the men asked me some questions about my documents and made sure I had filled out all the forms correctly. Then he put all my things in the DHL envelope and passed it on to his partner along with me.
His partner took my photo on a white backdrop and collected my fingerprints on this little scanner machine about the size of a receipt printer. He then handed me my DHL envelope with everything in it, had me seal the envelope and drop it in the ‘mailbox’. The mailbox was a wooden dresser they’d cut a hole in the top of to use like a drop slot. The front of the dresser was padlocked and had a bunch of DHL stickers all over it. Kind of funny, but hey, you do what the visa man tells you.
I dropped it in and that was it! A couple days later I received an email saying my application had arrived at the processing centre in New York. Then I got another email update saying my visa application had been finished. And then…
Less than two weeks later
My passport was returned to me in the mail! I had to be home to sign for it upon arrival. It had this lovely UK Youth Mobility Visa fastened inside.
Your mileage my vary: the visa office strives to complete all visa applications within a three week window, but of course this depends on the volume they receive. There’s also the option to pay more for priority service, which I didn’t.
After you receive your visa
Woohoo! Do a happy dance to celebrate. But, it’s not over quite yet.
There’s still the Biometric Residence Permit
Once you arrive in the UK, you need to pick up your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP, that’s a mouthful).
If you apply for the Youth Mobility Visa after May 31, 2015, you get a sticker in your passport instead of the full 2-year visa granted. The sticker is valid for 30 days from the date the visa begins.
Update: A few days I arrived in the U.K. in March I headed over to the post office indicated in the correspondence I received. I queued up with the best of them (Brits are pro at queuing) and provided my passport and local address to the nice woman at the counter who went out back and returned with an envelope containing my beloved BRP!
Fun tip: When I arrived at the post office there was an option to take a ticket for either ‘Travel Services’ or ‘Counter Services’. I took one of each. It turns out the BRP is a ‘Counter Service’. Just to save you some time in the queue.
Your BRP must be collected from the post office within 10 days of your arrival in the UK. The BRP is your proof of your right to work in the UK and you should always keep it on you during your stay. The BRP is your ‘real’ visa that allows you to work and live in the UK.
During the initial online application you’ll be told a specific post office branch in the UK where you can pick up your biometric residence permit (BRP). The post office you get is based off the UK postal code you enter during your online application. That post office branch address will also be with your passport when it’s returned in the mail with your visa.
Once you’ve picked up your BRP, it’s done and you’re officially in the UK on a 2-year Youth Mobility Visa. Congratulations!!! Pour yourself a beer or champagne.
Cost of a UK youth mobility visa
Visa and user fee (together): $427 USD / $618.24 CAD
Immigrant Health Surcharge: $616 USD / $891.89 CAD
Total Cost: $1,043 USD / $1,510.13 CAD
The charges were processed in USD to my Canadian credit card. The reason everything is in USD is because the visa processing centre is in New York (yeah, phooey). With currency fluctuations those CAD numbers could change. They loonie was really weak when I was doing my application, so the exchange rate wasn’t in my favour.
You’ll also need to have at least £1,890 (about $3,540.92 CAD) in your bank account to provide documentation that you have adequate funds to travel/live in the UK. It doesn’t cost you anything, but the money needs to be there.
A note on timelines
The UK government website says the earliest you apply for your Youth Mobility Visa is six months before you arrive in the U.K. They don’t want you applying a year or two ahead of time because it clogs up the system. They may reject you if you do.
Make sure that your passport is valid for the whole time you’ll be in the UK. This will save you some trouble.
And that’s it! Have fun in England!