1 Nov 2011

Don’t forget your passport

Chief Correspondent

A sewing kit, sleeping bag and don’t forget your passport. Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson on his essential kit as he returns to Japan’s tsunami zone eight months after the disaster.

Alex Thomson in the tsunami-hit town of Minamisanriku in March 2011.

Sadly, in my experience, there ain’t no such thing as a neat little, must-pack, check-list for foreign reporting. The reason is, it all depends on the kind of story commissioned.

A long-planned embed with soldiers in Helmand in southern Afghanistan clearly means helmet, body-armour, keffeyeh scarf to deal with dust and chafing from your flak vest, as well as goggles for eye-protection, knee protectors and even, recently, anti-blast underwear (I kid you not…).

Sleeping bag, anti-mosquito and anti flea stuff, all your communications and laptop (none of which will work in all likelihood in Helmand) and you’re ready for the off with the usual array of boots and clothing you don’t mind getting wrecked.

Equally a trip to interview a foreign president, prime minister or similar is easy – suit and that’s that. But this is news. You will in all likelihood do your PM interview and then the desk will call: “Hey – you’re in Nairobi – that’s near Pakistan – can you do the earthquake – there’s a flight tonight.”

I exaggerate – but only very slightly. So the short answer is that you end up taking everything from rough clothing and boots for trudging about in the rubble of the tsunami wreckage – through to the suit for possible prime ministerial interview. Planned or not, being prepared is all.

For obvious reasons the tsunami zone, even eight months on, will not be the kind of place to make assumptions about either food or water.

There are a few other things that always seem to come. One of those portable tool kits that slip onto a belt or Swiss army knife is essential. So too a sewing kit – nothing like needles for everything from cleaning grit from cameras, to splinters or even sewing repairs. And always with me, my trusty little Ricoh camera – I’ve built up quite an archive of stills from trips to non-tourist locations around this world.

These days of Blackberries and iPhones mean any means of charging and any adaptors you can lay hands on are essential. Blackberry batteries are pathetic – iPhone batteries even worse. You’ll need all the adaptors known to man and at least something like a Power-Monkey instant charger for when you can’t access mains.

Photo gallery: Channel 4 News team in Japan in March 2011
A page of a yearbook is seen among the debris at an area destroyed by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma town (Reuters)

It being TV and online – you need everything for your laptop through to an earpiece for live shots. It’s not yet clear if the newsdesk will want to take us live – 7pm UK but horrible o’clock in Japan, of course.

One more thing – and I haven’t yet asked the team this yet – but sometimes it’s a good plan to ask for some favourite tracks to burn to CD – there will be long, long hours on the road this time as last – and having some shared toons (as opposed to everyone plugged into their own world of sound) is good for morale!

My finest hour was a trip to Holland where I completely forgot my passport.

Once we are on site – plenty to drink and snacks to keep you going; for obvious reasons the tsunami zone – even eight months on, will not be the kind of place to make assumptions about either food or water.

I will also pack in a lightweight sleeping bag, just in case. If we have to bed down somewhere for whatever unforeseen reason, it’s kind of sensible to have something to bed down into.

That’s about it. I am useless at all this. Never get any better. I will – for sure – forget something of vital importance, even after writing to you about its vital importance. My finest hour was a trip to Holland where I completely forgot my passport. Still got there and back (long story though and a great deal of paperwork and phone-calls).

Do as I say, not as I do!