I’ve been an AP for over eight years. Before that I was a researcher, prior to that, a runner, and long long ago I worked nights changing toilet rolls and delivering Pizza Express and Thai green curries in Soho’s deepest darkest edit suits. I’ve filmed in the Nepalese jungle, a landfill site in Croydon, and on a trawler in the English Channel. I’ve worked in development, on prime time flagship shows, on charity promos, on location, and caught a live mouse in the studio seconds before TX while welcoming the controller of BBC One with my free hand to watch the show go out from the side-lines. So, all in all, I’ve gained quite a bit of experience and knowledge, and felt pretty confident in my role. In all that time it never crossed my mind that having a baby might put a whole new spin on that.
After Oliver was born I couldn’t imagine how it would be possible to even attempt working. Life had changed beyond all recognition, we moved to just outside London when Oliver was only a few weeks old, and he was certainly my most challenging project yet! How would it work? Are there any part time AP jobs? Is that ridiculous? And if not, how could I afford childcare and a train fare…. would it be worth it? What about career progression? What if I needed to go to Edinburgh in the middle of the night to collect a contributor who’d failed to get on the right train, or what if the scientist who’d promised to call me back half an hour ago still hasn’t or what if the camera kit still hasn’t arrived at the end of the day, the prospect of missing bed time seemed inconceivable. In fact, the prospect of missing a minute of Oliver’s little life seemed inconceivable.
But over time I noticed that I approached learning about bringing up a baby much like I might approach researching a new development project desperate to get commissioned. I read various books, went to groups – (we did it all, singing, signing, story time, swimming) spoke to experts and then decided to do it my own way anyway. The children’s centre must have dreaded my visits, – “but why exactly should my son have supplementary vitamins ‘til he’s five, what is the scientific basis, is this government advice or independent research or funded by a pharmaceutical company?”. And when the health visitor showed us a video about weaning, all I could see was the poor camera work, mute contributors, monotonous voice over and shocking music.
I realised that I had to return, at least for part of my time, or all those years of learning about anaerobic digestion, making friends with the head of national pig association, freezing at midnight filming men fix a hole in the road, and listening to the most hilarious “creative discussions” late into the evening would be wasted and all for nothing. I would not give Creative Skillset the pleasure of swelling its stat of 5000 plus women who’ve exited TV in the last 3 years, compared to just 750 men. (Creative skillset 2010) There must be a way for it to work; the television industry cannot shut out a whole section of its workforce that has a wealth of experience, passion and desire to remain part of it.
So to keep in touch with the industry while I was still breastfeeding and when the maternity pay ran out I set up a transcribing service from home. I could do it while Oliver was asleep and in the evenings and the faster I got at typing the more I could do. Before I knew it I’d branched out into post production scripts and was filling every sleeping hour of Oliver’s with frantic typing. It taught me a lot, it was like working with many different directors in a very short space of time. It was an alternative way of learning to shoot for sequences without actually doing the shooting. What I started for just a bit of extra cash and to keep my hand in, turned out to be quite a learning experience. I then did a couple of charity films with the Media Trust, and sent myself on a sound/camera refresher course. Oliver could go to his grandparents and I could get my head out of “Rabbit’s Nap” and row, row, rowing my boat for a few days.
And now, finally, after fifteen months I feel like I really need to get my teeth into a proper project. Who knows if it will work, if I will be able to afford the train fare and if I will be able to bear missing bed time, but if I don’t give it a go the children’s centre will ban me from all future visits as I’ve definitely over stayed my welcome there!