THERE are only a handful of occasions on which it feels acceptable to have a drink before the sun has reached the yard-arm. Christmas, weddings and funerals, and the Test match are all fine. So too, for some reason, is an airport.

I have never been entirely sure why the last one should count. Probably people think a quick snifter a legitimate way to calm pre-flight jitters. But there is also something stasis-like about airports; time feels suspended in the terminal building. Perhaps it is because everyone is either adjusting from, or waiting to adjust to, another time zone. Or maybe everyone is mentally preparing for a situation in which they will be stuck with nowhere to go, whether in the airport or on the plane, for hour upon hour. Whatever it is, the only purpose of an airport clock is to make sure you reach your gate with five minutes to spare.

On a recent trip to Russia, arriving bleary-eyed at the airport before seven in the morning, I found the duty-free shop carrying out a vodka-tasting session. The airport-headed Gulliver saw nothing strange about wee nip before breakfast. The normal-headed Gulliver would have found that...Continue reading