You've checked in the requisite couple of decades early, courtesy of the IRA and ETA, and now you have time to kill. McDonald's is full of depressed-looking people in vest T-shirts, baseball caps and bum bags. The amusement arcade is full of drunks, as is the English-style pub. All the plastic bucket seats are occupied by angry families. Once you've exhausted the pile of Jeffrey Archers and copies of Bravo Two Zero in the newsagent, swallowed some Nurofen in the chemist, tried out the lipsalves in the Body Shop, there is only one alternative open to you: travel accessories.
The thing about travel accessories is that they prove just how deeply ingrained is the human urge to shop. Travel, however much you like it, is unsettling: it is an experience that contains the seeds of chaos and is one of those times when you have virtually no control over your environment, like being in hospital or signing on at the DHSS. Shopping is a way of re-exerting that sense of control. And the fact that a group of smart companies has tapped into that primeval urge to rip you off hardly matters.
A good travel accessory has to have the following characteristics: it must be easily made in grey or white plastic; it must make people go "ooh, that's a good idea" when they see it; it must be firmly packaged in card stapled to plastic so the consumer can't get it out and feel the quality until after they have laid over their money; its 300 per cent mark-up must make it fall within the price range of pounds 6.95 to pounds 8.95 so that the consumer buys more than one object; and it either never quite fulfils its purpose or breaks the second time it's used.
Face it: if you haven't already bought an adaptor plug before you get to the airport, that probably means you don't have any need for it. And what about those handy ways of carrying your money to avoid the notorious pickpockets that infest every town that's not the one you live in? They either show under your clothes, are impossible to get to without completely disrobing, or made of a material that causes sweat rash. Those pots of mosquito-repellent wipes lose their tops in your handbag and turn into extremely high-priced hankies. Neck pillows, which in themselves are a wonderful invention, are always constructed with seams that spring a leak when you deflate them.
We continue, none the less, to keep buying them. Gatwick Airport has a higher per capita consumer spend than Alton Towers. One should, of course, commend companies whose entrepreneurial spirit has risen to this challenge, but isn't it ironic that, if it weren't for the threat from terrorist groups whose main gripes include economic exploitation, there would be virtually no one in Europe who owned a handy folding toothbrush in a plastic case complete with a tiny tube of dentifrice?