Thursday, March 25, 2004

We spend millions of pounds on satellite dishes and trucks, on cameras, edit packs and equipment and on flying journalists around the world to cover the news.

But there are times when we only manage to get on air by the very slimmest sliver of skin from our teeth.

Yesterday was one such day.

Wherever I go, I always take what I call my "magic bag." It's a case full of every wire, cable, tape and connector I'll ever need in the field. It's absolutely essential. It holds every single thing I need to do my job.

I checked the Magic Bag in at Heathrow....and more than 24 hours later its whereabouts is still is the whereabouts of my flak jacket, my suitcase and everything except the clothes I'm standing up in.

I watched the carousel at Lisbon Airport go round and round but my kit never appeared. I had nothing.

With Tony Blair set to give a press conference in Lisbon just a few hours after my arrival, this was a major crisis.

The problem we had was that most of the cables we use are specialist ones you can't buy over the counter at Radio Shack. I had a few wires with my laptop, which I'd carried onto the plane, and one of my colleagues had a few more. We dashed into an electrical store and bought whatever cables we could find along with a roll of insulating tape and a pair of wire strippers.

An hour before Blair was due to set out his strategy on defeating global terrorism, we were frantically stripping cables and trying to patch them back together so that we could broadcast. It felt like an episode of the A-Team, where BA takes a Ford Cortina and welds it together to make a Sherman tank.

It wasn't pretty, but amazingly it worked. Our tangle of wires and insulating tape enabled us to connect our mics and minidisc recorders to the satellite equipment and broadcast. We got on air and -- more importantly -- stayed on air.

In the midst of this, I received a call from the bureau chief in Jerusalem telling me things had gone quiet and I didn't need to go. This was a huge relief. I didn't even have a clean pair of underpants, let alone body armour.

So now I'm at Lisbon Airport, heading back to London to stock up with a completely new set of equipment and clothes. Whether I ever see my bags again is anyone's guess. If I don't I'll be putting in a compensation claim for the box of Montecristo Number 4's I was carrying to share with my colleagues in the Jerusalem bureau.


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