When I drove to Sussex University to start my BA journalism course in September 2018, in my mind’s eye I saw a heady montage of hypothetical events and experiences that would fill my three years in Brighton. My imagination did not stretch to wondering what it would be like to do half my degree during a pandemic.
I think it’s fair to say that reporting for Newsround is a job like no other in journalism. I know John Craven and all those who’ve followed in his footsteps would agree. This week alone, I’ve gone from explaining the situation in Myanmar to revealing which celebrity was behind the sausage costume on ITV’s The Masked Singer. In case you were wondering, it was Joss Stone… all in a day’s work for a Newsround presenter.
Almost every minute of every day used to be very different. Now, what I’m doing might still vary all the time, but each day starts pretty much the same as they have done since last March: heading to my home office after wrangling the kids to start their home schooling.
This week heralds the final week of lockdown two, a week that would normally be the start of the Christmas party season. But this year’s end is eerily quiet. Quiet, assuming you don’t count the dulcet tones of my WFH co-workers: a six-month-old, a three-year-old and my wonderful (but very loud) husband. So far, so 2020.
It’s been an unusually domestic and turbulent month. Covid-19 wiped out the idea of piggy-backing on my wife’s work trip to Tokyo, the family holiday in Greece and travelling to Edinburgh for the TV festival.
But it’s not been quiet, as the reverberations of the death in May of George Floyd, under the knee of an American cop, are still being felt in August.
It’s the end of an era. The country is slowly easing out of lockdown. Against the odds, we’ve delivered a show to the BBC and become surprising best mates with the Bank of England, and I’m leaving the Beano for new adventures.
Our brilliant Beano team adapted to lockdown at lightning speed, despite some becoming quite poorly with Covid-19 symptoms. We mobilised everyone to work from home early and we’ve kept all content production across TV, digital and the comic on track. Endless innovation, creativity and cheer has shone through.
Lockdown begins five weeks early for me. Not due to Covid-19 but because, on 18 February, I become a dad. Welcome, Roscoe. I plan to avoid looking at email for the first month.
Three weeks later, on 11 March, I give in. Louisa Compton, editor of Channel 4’s Dispatches, wants quick ideas on coronavirus. I send her a barmy notion about shooting a film in one day, editing it in a week, and broadcasting seven days after filming.
Saturday morning, 7:00am. Heading into the weekend shift on my motorbike. A small bonus of returning to the NHS is having permission to ride to and from work.
I scoot past a small herd of red deer grazing by the side of the road, tempted down from the hill by the empty roads and the promise of sweet verge grass. An almost perfect post-apocalyptic visual.
As a rural motorcyclist, I fear deer more than anything else, convinced my ultimate fate is to be speared by a stray antler as I whizz around a blind corner at full lean. Thinking of the NHS, I slow down a bit.
Preparations to celebrate the life of Harriet, my wife, at a memorial service in West Oxfordshire dominated the first half of March. Peritoneum cancer. Aged 58, Harriet died at Christmas.
Honest eulogies, festoons of flowers, elaborate afternoon tea, and the wonderful choir from St Bride’s, the journalists’ church, were all sharply halted with only five days to go when the chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, made clear that all gatherings, “big or small”, should not go ahead.
A mid-March morning. Outside the boardroom window there’s rain and a howling wind. Lights flicker briefly as the meeting of STV News managers gets started. We’re not socially distanced – not yet.
News of the coronavirus has been rising in everyone’s consciousness, even though the outbreak still seems far away. The situation is serious in Italy, and the news from Spain is also grim. Scots consider unrestricted access to Spanish islands their vacation birthright. Things are closing in.