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Falling for London
Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

“This … is London.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was the prototype for a foreign correspondent. From a distance, his heyday during the war seems hopelessly romantic. Under fire with the rest of London, living intensely, drinking, smoking, working all hours. He drank with Churchill and romanced the PM’s daughter-in-law. His resonant voice and powerful words evoked all the life-and-death drama of a struggle for existence. His brow seemed permanently furrowed in passionate commitment to his calling.

What young broadcast reporter would not want to be Murrow?

Many apply, but few are called.

After more than twenty years of local and national TV reporting in Canada, I had thought my time had passed. Overlooked several times for foreign postings, I was resigned to a comfortable and largely satisfying job covering the Ontario legislature, complete with my own modest, no-budget, political affairs talk show, which had won a few awards.

As I approached my midfifties, it seemed that my next move would be into public relations — perhaps making a bit more money than my journalism career had ever offered.

I would think sometimes that maybe it was time to grow up and get a real job before some new boss young enough to be my kid called me into his office to advise that he did not like my face on TV anymore and was calling security to escort me to the door.

Then the lightning bolt struck.

In early 2011 our London correspondent departed in favour of an anchor job back home. Do I apply one more time, I wondered?

“Go ahead,” said Isabella. “Don’t let me stop you.”

For as long as we had been together she had known I wanted to live and report from abroad, with London my top choice. She had never liked it, never wanted it, but equally did not wish to be my obstacle.

When I announced that I was going to Kosovo for a week in 1999 to report on the aftermath of the war, she wept fearful tears when I left for the airport.

When it seemed I was headed to Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11, she was inconsolable. As it turned out I never went anyway.

That was all before we had Julia. She was now in Grade 1, attached to her friends and her nanny. We had a circle of close friends and relatives. Isabella had a job she loved, producing and directing an online design show. We had just committed to a major kitchen renovation, adding enormously to our debt, but finally finishing off our house.

Life was pretty good.

I sat at my desk at Queen’s Park, staring off through the window. My stomach contracted.

Should I do this? If I get it, how will we do it? Am I just too old for this? Time to grow up and get a real job? Fuck it. Not going to get it anyway. Give it one more chance and then give it up.

I applied, pouring my heart into the email to the show’s producers, just as I had for so many other jobs before where I came close but missed.

The job interview was by phone, with me sitting in a deserted hallway of the legislature on a quiet day when most of the politicians were away. They asked me how I would get into Libya to cover the civil war.

“Well, I would just go to the border and start asking people for advice,” I said confidently.

I had absolutely no bloody idea how I would ever get into Libya if the time ever came. And Isabella would certainly hit the roof if I ever tried.

The producers were kind and genial. I respected and liked them both. But this felt different from all the job interviews I had had before — all those times when I knew I came close but was not the choice.

They clearly wanted someone younger, more ready to go into war zones. Someone more conversant with Twitter (I would tweet once a week to a tiny list of followers to advise them of the subject of my talk show). That’s it, game over, I thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least I tried.

***

A federal election was looming and I was angling to turn my provincial program into a national talk show during the campaign. But I was about to be banished to an early morning Sunday time slot that would make it impractical.

The producer who did the London job interview was among the executives I was lobbying to win a Saturday evening time. He sent an email asking me to give him a call. It was mid-March 2011.

“Hi. So, do you think we can find a time for this show?” I asked when he picked up.

“Well, we’re going to take it off your hands because I want to send you to London.”

A beat. I was the speechless broadcaster.

“Well … uh … good thing I’m sitting down,” I finally mumbled.

“I feel really good about this decision,” he said. “I’ve advised the vice-president and your boss that I’m making the offer and frankly they were both surprised, but also happy for you.”

Naturally they were surprised. I’m the one who never got these jobs.

My head was spinning. I looked out the window that overlooked the front lawn of the legislature from our fourth-floor perch. The red-tailed hawk that nested in the tree at our level was ripping apart a small animal that had made the mistake of straying into its territory.

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