Alice-Azania Jarvis: 'There's just no cure for emergency shopping'

In The Red

So, I'm on my summer holiday. At least, I should be by the time you're reading this. There's no internet connection where I'm going, so I'm having to write this pre-emptively.

I'm sitting, laptop on lap, at Heathrow Terminal 3, trying my best to stay away from the shops. What is it about airports that so entice one to spend money? I used to think it was the boredom, but now I'm not so sure. After all, there are plenty of ways to occupy oneself that don't require spending money. I have, as mentioned, my laptop with me. Were I at home – or anywhere but here, for that matter – I could find endless entertainment in trawling Facebook and watching BBC iPlayer.

Not so now. I'm too distracted by the neon shop lights twinkling in the background. And, oh look, there's WH Smith, crammed full of paperbacks. I could do with one (or five) of those. And Boots! Hang on, I'm not sure I've packed any sun lotion. And some fake tan, seeing as I'm not planning on tanning naturally. Ooh, and while we're here there are a few other things: deodorant (roll-on; spray might explode), wet wipes and hand sanitiser (does anyone else feel permanently unclean the minute they step on to a plane?), and shampoo (why can I never remember to bring my own?). So far, I've clocked up a total airport expenditure of £35 – money I'd think very carefully about on the outside world, but which just seems to trickle out of my wallet as soon as a flight is imminent.

My theory is that flying brings with it a vague sense of emergency. It feels significant, stepping on board a vehicle that is going to take you to a whole new country, with a whole new set of scenery, rituals and cultures. The obligatory pre-flight splurge is a kind of advanced nesting process– made all the more intense by the inevitable discomfort of sitting on an aircraft for the next few hours. Suddenly, wet wipes seem essential, as do boiled sweets, mineral water and fashion magazines. Were I catching a train, I'd be perfectly content to spend the next few hours twiddling my thumbs. Hell, if I can tolerate four and a half hours of running in the London Marathon, four and a half hours of sitting still can't be that bad. But present me with an airport, and the prospect of mid-air travel, and I'll put the shopping skills of an Alex Curran to shame. Thank God I can afford only one holiday a year.

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