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I've been in worse places. Unquestionably I shall be in worse places quite soon. But just for the next couple of hours, until it's time to go in for a shower, a change of clothes and dinner, let me look out at the prospect in front of me and savour it
I'm lying on a four-poster with white curtains around it. Only it isn't in a bedroom, it's on a beach: a Caribbean beach, with water the colour of a particularly fine aquamarine and sand like gold. And there's a charming bloke in butler's costume hovering within earshot for those important moments when a beer or a soft drink is urgently required. My wife is lying beside me on the bed, and our six-year-old son is fooling about on it or beside it and occasionally getting sand on the sheets. When he's not spotting pelicans, that is. Or singing. I'd tell you the name of the hotel, except that it isn't fantastic and we've got a notably rubbish room with a road running close beside it through the vegetation. Still, we booked it all at the last moment — and the beach, together with the four-poster bed, is fantastic.
One of the best things is that I've brought a huge collection of music, books, films and plays with me, plus a selection of the most gorgeous companions you can imagine: Renée Fleming, Laura Marling, Kiri Te Kanawa, Cleo Laine, Adele, Kate Royal, Stacey Kent, a superb trio called the Dixie Chicks, and a 1930s character I really recommend called Whispering Jack Smith, whose voice was badly affected (to the huge benefit of his fans) when he was gassed in WWI. Like the bloke in butler's costume, all these people are clustered round the four-poster waiting. All I have to do is reach out a lazy hand and select them on my MP3 player, a thing smaller than a cigarette packet.
Actually, just to put this cultural idyll into context, the work of art I'm actually about to select is not Whispering Jack singing There Ain't No Maybe In My Baby's Eyes, or Renée Fleming singing Richard Strauss, it's a wholly unseasonable song by Spike Jones called All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth. This is because my little boy Rafe is currently deficient in the dental department. He looks like Nobby Stiles in the 1966 World Cup final after he'd taken out his false teeth. We like the song a lot, Rafe and I; my wife Dee less so. But the wonder of the MP3 is that Rafe can listen on one earplug and I can have the other, and we can belt out the song without disturbing anyone else on this magical beach. Especially Dee.
Until the mid-1970s anything like this was wholly unthinkable, unless you fulfilled the now long out-of-date fantasy premise of the eternal BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs, and fetched up on a beach with a wind-up gramophone and eight fragile monster discs of shellac. (When I went on the programme I pushed the boundaries a bit with my choices of music, and the producers disapproved. Nor was I allowed to take a satellite phone with me as my luxury item; I was forced to settle for a flute instead.)
It was 1977, in a hotel room in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia, that the future was revealed to me. A friend of mine had got hold of a cassette tape recorder the size of a brick, and had managed to copy his records by placing the microphone of the tape recorder close to the loudspeaker of his hi-fi set. It wasn't too bad, except when someone audibly came in with a cup of tea during the Rolling Stones and said sorry. 'You should patent this,' I said; but soon afterwards Mr Sony got sick of being forced to listen to his grandchildren's music and ordered someone to invent the Walkman.
In those days you couldn't easily get rid of the tracks you didn't like, and it was hard to skip them accurately by fast-forwarding; so a lot of the time you found yourself waiting for something else when you listened. I bought my first Walkman on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1980 during a visit by Margaret Thatcher, but it was a rip-off and ran out of battery power after every eight tracks. Still, like the first mobile phones, things improved fast. (The first mobile phone I had was during the 1987 general election; the battery weighed 15lb and had to be carried over your shoulder. It was a minor triumph every time you succeeded in getting a call through. 'Hello, it's John Simpson here.' 'No, sorry, John Simpson's out covering the election. Call back later.')
All I Want For Christmas has run its course, and Rafe and I need something else. He's going through a militaristic phase, and would like the soundtrack from The Battle of Britain. I've had more than enough warfare, and propose a bit of Flanders and Swann instead. Rafe is probably the only boy in his entire school whose father is old enough to remember Flanders and Swann, though that's their loss, not mine, and not Rafe's either. But he doesn't want to hear A Transport of Delight again — and anyway London buses don't seem right for a Caribbean beach. We settle on the Marx Brothers' Lydia the Tattooed Lady. This certainly is suitable; a lot of the people on our beach are sporting tattoos of one kind or another. 'When her robe is unfurled, she will show you the world/If you step up and tell her where/For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree/Or Washington crossing the Delaware.' Or of course you can simply lie here and ask the charming bloke for another rum cocktail.
John Simpson is the BBC's world affairs editor and can be seen around the globe on BBC World News, available in 200 countries and territories worldwide, and on selected British Airways flights.