I WAS recently surveyed by a women's magazine, which wondered which item I am always sure to pack before travelling abroad. I always take a Swiss Army penknife, but I can honestly say it's never been of any use. I keep hoping that one day some Bedouin prince will reward me with the services of his harem for removing a stone from his camel's hoof, but it hasn't happened yet.

The only thing I always take that is guaranteed to offer daily delight is my short-wave radio. When I was in Argentina, for example, one of the sweetest moments each night was to tune in to the BBC World Service. Tossing and turning through the night in a remote part of Patagonia, the pleasure of tuning in to Round the Horne was one that I shall never forget.

But it seems to be a World Service rule that reception remains clear for no more than half an hour. Then you have to decide whether you can tolerate the news sounding like 'John Major said whoooshh after his meeting with wheesssh . . .'. If you head off down the waveband in search of a stronger signal, you run the risk of losing even this fragile link with home.