Tuesday 1 February

It is a crisp February morning as I step out of my house, hoist my rucksack onto my back, and set off on foot for the railway station.

There are a few people ahead of me in the Gatwick check-in queue for Aerolineas Argentinas flight AR1133. The young woman who joins the queue shortly after me is, like me, wearing walking boots, and I hazard a guess that we might be on the same trip. Her name is Helen and she is a horticulturalist from Leeds. At present, she tells me, she is between jobs and is looking forward to taking up a new post with the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley, Surrey. While we are talking, another member of our group turns up, a retired school teacher called Pam.

I check in ahead of Helen without giving it any thought but as I am handed my boarding cards for the two legs of the journey Helen suggests that we could ask for adjacent seats. The check-in clerk is happy to oblige and takes my cards back to change the seating number. Our flight is due to leave at 1740 but is delayed by 50 minutes.

At Madrid there’s a change of plane. We spill out of the airport bus into a large foyer where already a small crowd has formed around two airport officials. It’s not clear what is happening, but eventually it transpires that they are collecting in boarding cards and giving out new ones. After more confusion, we further ascertain that one is doing surnames A to L and the other M to Z. The new boarding card seems in every way identical to the first one, but it is at this point that we discover that Madrid has out-manouevered us in the transit two-step. Helen, Pam, and I are no-longer in adjacent seats. Helen is several rows in front, Pam is near a window and I’m somewhere in the centre block.

What with our late departure from Gatwick, we don’t have long to wait for boarding (which at Madrid is something of a bonus). Once we are on the plane, there commences a somewhat complex three-way swap which results in Helen getting a seat next to mine. Madrid, you are foiled this time!

There is considerably more legroom on this plane than on the previous one, but it is still an uncomfortable twelve and a half hour flight.