Apr. 11 2016

Shooting a protest with really expensive cognac in my backpack


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.