- BY CHRISTINE TALBOT
It really hit me how all-consuming this new reality had become about ten days ago when I absentmindedly began typing “Coronavirus “into my computer as my email password. (yes, honestly!)
The next thing that brought it home was when I left ITV Yorkshire at 11pm after my late shift on Calendar last Wednesday. It was the second night of official lockdown and heading out to the car park, the silence was solid and eerie. I drove through Leeds city centre without seeing a single person or vehicle until I reached the outer ring road fifteen minutes later. All the traffic lights continued their usual routine to no visible audience and, as I sat waiting for one to change from red to green, it sunk in just how much the pattern of everything else in our lives had changed beyond recognition in just a few days.
We’re not on the NHS frontline or putting ourselves at risk, we’re not manufacturing or delivering essential supplies, but journalists and presenters have been named key workers – our role is to bring important information and to report on the often incredibly heart- warming, sometimes heart-breaking stories that we hear every day. Also, as familiar faces on the screen, we hope we can bring a sense of comfort and normality, particularly to people who feel trapped in their homes and alone in the months ahead.
However, to cut down the number of people spending time in our office, Calendar will have only one presenter for the foreseeable future who will be working with a skeleton staff as the rest of the team contribute from home.
For most of last week it was my turn to be in the studio – a strange experience as we got used to a new way of working. This includes regular hand sanitising, desks at least two metres apart, and as we get used to things, a few “oops sorries!” and dramatic swerves when we inadvertently get too close! In the Calendar studio itself Jon Mitchell and I kept to the designated distance as he stood at his weather screen.
It felt very surreal, particularly without Duncan co-presenting alongside. I’ve fronted many programmes solo in my 24 years at ITV Yorkshire, but Calendar is always what we call a “dual header”. On the first night I felt out of my comfort zone. This felt like a big deal.
Out in the office, the new norm is meetings by “Google hangout” – those of us in the newsroom watching curiously as our colleagues ping up daily on a video screen from their kitchens or living rooms.
It’s still quite a novelty seeing our workmates in their personal environments and being journalists with a slight, shall we say “off piste” sense of humour, we never waste the opportunity for a bit of stress-relieving banter as we eye up each other’s home décor. A surf board in the home office – really Jon Hill? And we’re all very jealous of Sports Correspondent Chris Dawkes’s gorgeous back garden. Families join in too – the debrief meeting often descending into mild hysterics when a producer’s toddler climbs onto Mum or Dad’s knee and takes over the proceedings.
Meanwhile, there are dilemmas on the home front too. Worries over how my elderly mother will cope in isolation. She’s stoically ordered herself five jigsaws and dusted down her Agatha Christie books bless her, but Facetime is still a challenge – we’ve not yet seen past the top of her head!
Also, where should our daughter base herself during lockdown, at home or at her boyfriend's? And, not exactly a world problem I accept, but what to do with no access to a weekly salon blow dry – a must for frizzy haired TV presenters everywhere?
* Frantically googles “YouTube hair tutorials” *
Seriously though, even for a freely- admit-it-technophobe like myself, the internet has been a godsend. Huge joy when my village hall Zumba class went on-line last Monday – our teacher Kayti suddenly finding herself with clients sweating it out in Australia and Dubai!
Even better when our local restaurants did the same (went online I mean – I don’t think they will deliver to Oz.) We want to try and support all of them as much as possible.
And who knew you could have a good gossip and a glass of wine with your girlfriends via an app? (Ok, I do know Pinot isn’t compulsory!)
Even going for a walk, on my once daily outing, is different. As we swerve strangers in the street, politely observing the social distancing protocol, nearly everyone says hello and smiles conspiratorially as if to say: we’re all in this together.
And, despite everything, it does feel there is some good in all this. Anyone else get “something in their eye” last Thursday when Boris Johnson announced that 405,000 thousand people had come forward as volunteers in just 24 hours – far exceeding initial expectations? That figure is 750,000 now and counting, with thousands of retired medics and police also coming out of retirement. I had another lump in my throat on Thursday night on the late shift as hundreds of images of people across our region “clapping for our NHS carers” came into the office for our late bulletin.
At Calendar we aren’t saving lives, but if everyone has to stay at home (and we all do as much as possible), I’m proud that we are doing our bit to tell you what is happening and we’ll continue to do it and be there for our viewers every night. Our team is working virtually round the clock to continue to bring stories of courage and kindness, in amongst the hardship and fear. We’ll report on the desperate battles by stranded travellers to get home, the people worried about their livelihoods, or lonely months in isolation – but also the heart-warming and positive stories too.
So this week, it’s my turn to work from home while Duncan is in the studio hot seat, with John or Gaynor at the helm on Friday.
I’ve been busy writing this and also practising how to Skype so I can beam live into the programme and talk to Duncan and Jon this evening (oh no, another dilemma, what DOES one wear for a kitchen broadcast? And headphones or no headphones?)
But before that you’ll have to excuse me – my first Google hangout from home is in half an hour and I really have to re-arrange my furniture!
Take care of yourselves and see you very soon (if the Skyping works!)