So here we are then, I’m on a plane to Moscow after probably the most hectic, stressful, and emotional weekend I think I’ve ever had.
Only a few days ago, I was filming Star Trek fanatics as they try to teach the world to speak Klingon. Backpacks and mosquito nets were a million miles out of my mind – partly because somebody was trying to teach me how to say hello in a made-up Trekkie language.
It was soon Friday, and it didn’t feel real saying goodbye to colleagues and good friends in the Look North newsroom. My day-to day life, the normality that I love, the routine of pottering along Spring Bank to the BBC and arriving late for the morning meeting. Of publishing a story far too close to its slot, driving producers and directors crazy. Of stopping by at Tesco to pick up something for tea. Watching the series-linked Coronation Street (yes, im sure this blog will turn out to be revealing!) Everything I have known for my six years in Hull was about to come to a clattering halt. Life on hold…for now.
So I set my out of office on the emails – felt weird writing that I wouldn’t be back until next summer. I wheeled my camera kit into the outside broadcast store and said farewell to it –any video journalist will tell you how attached you can become to the kit. After all, it’s been everywhere with me – Africa, Iceland, Antons Gout (Google it, its near Boston – the Lincolnshire one!)
Today was a sad day too – my best mate, former housemate and all round good badger Matt was also leaving the BBC, but unlike me, he wasn’t returning anytime soon. Bagged himself a well-deserved gig at Sky News didn’t he, and quite strange –but quite fitting – how it worked out our last day would also be together.
With formalities over, it was across to the Rugby Tavern for a drink with those who couldn’t make our leaving meal, and then on to the Bengal Lounge on Princes Avenue for curry and beer. There were 23 people who thought we were worthy enough of a send-off – either that, or to make sure we actually went, one of the two. Oh, and I know the exact figure as I had to work out the bill at the end.
The plan had been to go to Pave and then on to Sugar Mill. That plan changed when my mate Rich Mcelvanney helpfully declared my house as a venue for drinks – as if I didn’t have enough to do, let alone clearing up after a party!! However, it was a great night, good to chill, have a laugh with some good friends and ponder as to how I was going to wake up at 6.30am to complete one of the first major parts of bringing life to a stop – taking my car back to the finance company.
I love my car. I bought it three years ago – an Audi A3 S-Line. It was always a bit of a tip inside, but show me a reporters’ car that isn’t! I prefer to think of it as a working car- that the waders in the rear passenger footwell was an essential bit of kit. Almost as much as the scrunched up McDonalds wrappers, coffee cups and empty bottles of Coke which would roll around. It was sporty red, went like stink and looked the business on the odd occasion I got round to washing it. I’d almost lost it on my last day at work – some homeless guys found my keys in Queens Gardens and held it to ransom demanding a reward. I ended up paying them a tenner to get my keys back – partly as I was relieved they’d been found, partly because, as they rightly said ‘we could have just nicked it’
I found myself talking to it as I drove along the M62 to Leeds at 8.30am, reminiscing about our journeys together as if it was an old friend. The highlight for me – and im sure the car – was a tour around Europe and France last year, a trip taking in Paris, the Alps and the Normandy beaches. Yet today, stripped bare of all my belongings and rubbish which made it my car, I was abandoning it at a car auction site off the M1. In a sea of cars, mostly heading back to financing companies for what I imagine are whole variety of reasons (and im sure many wont be happy stories) there was mine. It needed a whole load of work doing to it if I’m honest, but it had looked after me and kept me safe. The only tell-tale sign of its past, getting me from story to story? A BBC Radio Humberside car sticker in the back window!
Now things had changed. Without a car, and on a train back to Hull, life had started to change. The house needed sorting out so my new housemates had somewhere to live, packing needed to be started, insurance needed finalising. And then I was hit with what’s likely to prove a major issue for me – my iPhone died.
I decided to upgrade to the new i0S 5 operating system through iTunes, except it wiped out all my phone coverage. I had been trying for weeks to get o2 to unlock the handset so I could use foreign sim cards inside it, but for one reason or another, they couldn’t do it. Apple were being most unhelpful too, saying I had to pay as it was out of warranty. To cut a long story short, I was advised by o2 to ‘jailbreak’ the handset online, and unlock it from the network that way, especially now it was unusable anyway on their own network.
With time already against me, I spent the entire Saturday night, the day before departure, frantically learning how to hack my phone in a desperate attempt to make it work. Getting to bed at 1am, then back up at 6am to have another go, there was a glimmer of hope. It detected a network, and it was unlocked – except I’d lost wifi capability. So I tried the process again, following instructions on the web, and promptly lost the entire contents of the phone. It overwrote my contacts in the iTunes backup file, all my texts, notes, apps, music – the whole lot.
By mid morning, and with a train at 4.40pm that afternoon, I still had little in the way of packing done, and my only means of communication with my parents was through Skype. An hour later, after sensing and seeing my panic, they were at my house to help out. I had to abandon the idea of fixing my iPhone, and face up to the fact I’ll have no music, no maps, no ability to call, no emails on the go, until I can get something sorted somewhere. Instead, Mum and Dad went out to the phone shop to get me a cheap handset, so I can at least make calls, and then in what was a mad four hours, helped blitz the house in one of the biggest clear-outs/tidy ups its ever had!
Cut off from friends, it was really nice to have a visit from Matt Richards and Andrew Billington who popped round to see how I was getting on. It was ten minutes before the taxi was due to arrive, and they were met with cardboard boxes and allsorts being thrown out of the front door and into an army of bins, one of which I’d had to borrow from my friends house down the road. If im honest, it was chaos at the time, but it was really thoughtful of them both to come and see how I was getting on, and I really appreciated it.
Setting my house alarm and locking the door to my house was one of those moments when I felt the nerves kick in again. It was another point of realisation that I’m stepping out of my routine and throwing myself into something completely different. I put the bins out –its bin day on Monday – which was probably one of my last chores for a while, then it was to the station. Mum and Dad’s TT can’t fit three people in, let alone all my backpack and luggage I’d manage to somehow gather together in time, so there was a taxi involved. When I got to the station, it began to dawn on my how much I needed the iPhone – I couldn’t get the ticket booking reference for my train, as it was on an email…on the phone. Thankfully, the lovely Samsung netbook im writing this on that the folks bought me began to prove its worth – although it involved a dash to the Royal Hotel to steal a wifi code!
Saying goodbye to mum and dad was sad. We’d had such a hectic day, I really wanted to spend a bit of time with them, but hadn’t. We had five minutes to wait before the train arrived to take me to Doncaster, and then London, and that’s when it started hitting home. I know they’re worried sick – and will be worried sick – until I arrive back home next year. However much I tell them I’ll be fine, I know it does little to help. We had a few photos together, to mark the official start of my travels, and that’s when I had to get on the train. It’s a weird feeling knowing you wont see each other for so long…and I’m not ashamed to say there were a couple of tears.
And that was it – I was on my way. The first leg around the world on a busy two-carriage Northern Rail service to Doncaster. A journey I have made so many times, but not always with such a distant destination. It was a beautiful early evening, the sun was setting and glinting off the water as we passed under the Humber Bridge. I looked up at the north tower, knowing it will be at least seven months before the sight of it welcomes me home again. The East Coast segment to Kings Cross was helped by my bargain £25 First Class ticket, and made full use of its free wifi thanks to Dad Skypeing me. He enjoyed his look out of the window at Stevenage, so much so as the train stopped and went quiet, he jokingly shouted ‘hello Stevenage’. I had some funny looks from the other passengers, who’d obviously paid substantially more to try and avoid that type of behaviour, as it boomed out of my laptop!
I was able to switch off a little in London, thanks to a trip to a restaurant in Chinatown and a few drinks watching a fantastic band in O’Neills in Leicester Square with my friend Robyn. They did loads of covers, but they were good covers – Franz Ferdinand, Oasis, Greenday, even a rock version of an Abba song. I great night, and good Guinness!
The next morning was when the iPhone loss delivered another problem – the cheap handset alarm didn’t go off at 8.45am like I asked it to. Instead, it was almost 10am, leaving less than three hours before my flight left Heathrow. I had planned to take the cheaper Piccadilly Line option to get there, but time meant the only way I had a chance was the £18 Heathrow Express from Paddington – and even then it was cutting it fine. The Tube was painfully slow, but somehow made the 11.50am train. Bearing in mind the flight was at 12.55am – and they usually start boarding half an hour before – I knew it was cutting it fine even by my standards.
I ran through Terminal 5, and a check in agent sent my backpack through. I sprinted to the queues of people waiting to get through security, waited my turn, and that’s when panic mode kicked in. Lots of red flashing lights, and asked to see the airline. So I did – and my bags were being unloaded.
I went back to the check in man, and he was brilliant. I’ve seen this sort of thing happen on the Airline or Airport programmes, and sat at home muttering how they should have got to the airport earlier etc.. A couple of phonecalls from his desk, and he punched his fist in the air. I presume it was a celebration, and not a bad aim at my chin, as quickly I was being rushed through security and to the gate. I was actually there in plenty of time in the end – but I was probably the biggest, sweatiest mess of a passenger on the flight!
And so there we are, I’m writing this on the British Airways flight to Moscow, wondering what on earth I’ve let myself in for. The question ‘what have I done’ has floated around in my head a few times now – leaving the Autumnal looking London and UK behind, I’m left wondering just what lies ahead before I hit the tarmac once again on home soill