Wednesday 23 February

It is snowing as we touch down in Madrid. There is a long delay getting the doors open, but with a six hour transit, I don’t really care. Once inside the terminal we discover that we can’t get our boarding cards for the final leg to Heathrow in the transit area, so we are forced to pass through customs. No joy either at the BMI check-in desk, which is closed. It’s 8.30 am Madrid time.

Sit in the cafeteria until noon when the BMI desk opens. As we join the queue, a rep tells us that the snow has caused a two and a half hour delay. We can check in anyway and we will get a voucher for lunch in an hour and a half, then updates on the situation every fifteen minutes. We check in and proceed to gate B30.

After a couple of hours there is no sign of the promised lunch vouchers or any information about what has happened to our flight. The gate changes to B22, then again to B28. The departures board is littered with cancellations. Someone at the information point helpfully explains that they cannot tell me anything. I will have to leave the airport to find the BMI desk. Forget it.

Meet Steve again. His flight too is delayed/cancelled/whatever. There is a great deal of disturbance around the information point. There is shouting, then we hear the sound of hands banging on the glass, and then applause and cheering, followed by more shouting.

4 pm and we have another new gate, B27. We finally start taxiing at ten past six after nearly nine hours in the airport. As we climb into the sky there is an orange horizon over a sea of clouds and a beautiful full moon against a translucent deep blue sky. We land at London Heathrow just before eight and quickly retrieve our luggage.

Don is fretting about missing the last coach up to Chesterfield as we say goodbye to Ron, Ian, and Celia, and I’m not keen on a post-midnight arrival in Nottingham, so I try telephoning my parents to see if we can stay over the night. But there’s only the answer phone.

I realise that if I run, I might just be able to make it to St Pancras for the 2100 train, so I bid Don a hasty goodbye and hurtle off, rucksack bouncing on my back. But it is too tight and I am further thwarted at Heathrow underground where the sign tells me that the left-hand train is leaving first, and I’m therefore rather miffed to see the other one slide out empty, while the station staff look on blankly at the passengers still waiting in the first train.

My fortune turns when I meet Janet Stickley, a friend from church, on the 2200 train who offers me a lift to my house at the other end. The other piece of good news is that the guard, clearly moved by my tale of travelling woe, permits me to use my ticket for the 1855 on his train.