Insider View on the Trials & Tribulations of Travel

Lucy & Johnny MaddenThis month, Lucy Madden wonders why does the airport experience have to be so unpleasant ? But the trains are no better - and as for the experiences of overseas visitors over-70s wishing to hire a car…

Sometimes I wish we did not live on an island, because this necessitates negotiating airports or ferry ports in order to leave it. Two friends and I met by chance the other day at Dublin Airport. We were all taking different flights but, as two of us have arrived at a time in life when we are referred to as ‘the elderly’, we were both in states of extreme anxiety about negotiating the obstacle course to the departure gates. Had we left enough time (two hours?) Our younger friend, a more seasoned traveller calmed us down and suggested we go for a cup of coffee. My older friend and I exchanged panic-struck glances. Surely there was no time for this?

However, five minutes later I was ordering three Americanos when a voice from behind the counter shouted Name? Was she talking to me? I looked at the queue behind but clearly she was directing her question at me. Had I committed some airport misdemeanour (an undisclosed sachet of conditioner, my bus ticket in the wrong recycling container, complaining too loudly about delayed flights?). “Madden” I shouted back. “Margot?” she replied interrogatively. I let it go, better to be arrested under a pseudonym. Returning to my friends, I waited for the heavy hand of the law to arrive on my shoulder; this has happened to a friend of mine. Instead, the girl from the coffee counter arrived with a tray and placed in front of us three polystyrene cups. On each, in swirly writing could just be deciphered the word ‘Margot’.

Is anyone over the age of 13 impressed by such nonsense? Like so many bad ideas, it probably comes from across the pond and is most out of place at an airport where haste is paramount. Why does the airport experience have to be so unpleasant and your name on your disposable coffee cup does nothing to lessen that.

The security check is an ordeal and so erratic. The other day I was emptying out a suitcase that has been ferried for years through several different airports and found stuck into the lining a pair of scissors that had not been spotted when toothpaste tubes and innocent little jars from within have been confiscated.

Having one’s suitcase emptied in public is a humiliating experience at the best of times. The holiday returnee is likely to have bundles of unwashed garments that their owner is reluctant to see spilled out on an airport counter. I know, I know, it’s got to be done, but if there were international rules that could apply to all airports, it would make travelling less disturbing. The unwary traveller does not know what to expect.

There is another problem that is likely to arise these days in many situations but is more stressful when travelling. Having reached an age where watching television dramas involves asking younger people in the room “What are they saying? What’s happening?” every few minutes until a flying object puts a stop to it, understanding heavily accented speech is increasingly difficult.

At Hong Kong airport my sister found impenetrable some instructions given to her by the Chinese security officer until her increasing embarrassment was ended when a young woman explained that he was saying if she wanted to keep her nail file, she could go back and check it in. It was not without irony that she observed sitting next to her on the plane home was a woman wielding a crochet hook as she pulled wool back and forth.

The trains are no better. In our part of the country there are none, but travelling recently from London to Swansea with my short legs necessarily angled to fit in to the allotted space of my seat, I could see little but the back of the seat in front.

My neighbour, who had bagged the window seat ,at frequent intervals requested I stand to allow him to leave. This became mildly irritating until this Miss Marple noticed that each time he returned to his seat he was wearing a different item of clothing and by the end of our journey he had entirely swapped the garish sportswear with which he had boarded the train at Paddington for a dark suit and tie.

The days of brief encounters in the more glamorous setting of the traditional railway carriage may be gone, but even the more uncomfortable strictures of modern train travel are not without interest, even if you don’t have the panorama of the landscape.

Overseas visitors arriving here often moan loudly about their travel experiences. The most usual and upsetting complaint seems to be the shock for the over-70s of the inability on arrival to hire a car.

A person who holds a driving licence in their home country should surely be deemed fit to drive around our own. The spending power of the ‘elderly’ is something to be encouraged, particularly when the airport experience is likely to deter. Once here, this is one small way to get visitors to enjoy their stay and that’s what we all want, isn’t it?



Hilton ParkTogether with her husband Johnny & family, Lucy Madden runs their magnificent 18th century mansion, Hilton Park, Clones, Co Monaghan as a country house which is open to private guests, groups, small weddings and conferences. The restored formal gardens are also open by arrangement. Lucy is a keen organic gardener and also a member of the Irish Food Writers Guild.




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