Part of the fun of a self-catering holiday is getting your hands on all that wonderful, local fresh produce that food writers keep banging on about. If Russian Roulette is your idea of fun, that is, because having bought the produce there is no way of knowing quite what you are going to find in the way of kitchen equipment.

Frankly, trying to prepare a family dinner with one sorry, serrated knife circa 1970 and a decorative chopping board shaped like a pig is no fun at all. Most holiday properties contain only a bare minimum of second- rate kitchen equipment, so it makes sense to take a survival kit.

Back in my days as a wannabe chef, I used to think it rather pretentious that colleagues always arrived on the scene with a long canvas wallet containing their knives tucked under their arms, in much the same fashion that students will strut around a university campus flashing a copy of Schopenhauer. But these days if I am cooking in someone else's kitchen then I don't leave home without my knives. No electricity supply is surmountable and with a bucket and a freshwater pump, I can live without running water; but no knives - no dinner.

As well as a bread knife and a good fish filleting knife, I also take my own potato peeler, kitchen scissors and, if I'm going to the coast, an oyster knife or special opener. Next on my list is a decent chopping board, and sieves. And you can bet your life there won't be any rubber gloves or Clingfilm.

To make the difference between thriving and surviving, there is also a handful of ingredients that I prefer not to leave to chance. I remember having lunch at Le Caprice in Mayfair with Camellia Punjabi, author of 50 Great Curries of India. As she placed her order for roast lamb with gravy she delved into her handbag and surreptitiously pulled out a green chilli, handed it to the waiter and said "ask the chef to chop this into my gravy will you?". It is a case of horses for courses. The Outer Hebrides require a very different list than the Mediterranean, where there is little you cannot do without. But wherever I go, saffron filaments are a must, and perhaps a decent curry powder, fennel seeds, cumin and paprika. Vanilla pods, lemon grass, ginger root and bay leaves are useful, as are fresh chillies and dried wild mushrooms, sesame seeds, pine-nuts, tinned anchovies and a jar of capers. Depending on the destination, I might cram in some olive oil, sesame oil, a red wine vinegar and hunk of Parmesan.

Beyond this we are dealing with those wierd people like myself who actually enjoy cooking on holiday and take their pasta machine and the appropriate flour. This is not as daft as it might sound - what could be more enjoyable during the few hours between leaving the big sunny outdoors and sitting down for dinner than knocking up a few ravioli?

However, I have one friend who took the whole business too far. He thought his holiday in France a good opportunity to test out his new ice-cream maker on the assembled mob of children, but was in such a relaxed frame of mind that he omitted to read the instruction leaflet. The motor burnt out on the inaugural batch