A sad morning. A friend I’d met online in the wild world of football message boards has died. Melanoma. Age 51. The spread of his illness was confirmed at the same time as my lung cancer was diagnosed. Joel’s sense of humour appealed. His fears for his young family (wife and three kids) stood out, as he knew the inevitable was coming. I’m so glad my kids are older. I feel so desperately sad that somebody I’ve never actually met has gone.

And then on with my day. Almost forgetting that cancer is my reason for waking in Milan after three weeks in South America. And suddenly feeling guilty for just getting on with things.  Then feeling guilty that it’s him and not me.  Yet.

The final flight of the dozen booked for this holiday. No frills Flybe. My attempt to use airport special assistance in Milan was more trouble than it was worth. So we reverted to plan A and ditched the helpers before the assistance desk could summon them. Bag drop was simple if slow. Negotiating our way through the Schengen passport control checks took two minutes rather than the four hours claimed by certain newspapers. And reassuringly those nice Italian’s have placed a convenient lounge in their bit of “outside Schengen” territory.

Beer. Sandwiches. Peanuts. Sneaky Coca Cola bagged for the plane. And eventually a gate number. “Plane on time” proclaimed the board. “Plane hasn’t even landed yet and won’t do for twenty minutes” said Google. The latter was right, although by the time we’d negotiated the never ending walk from lounge to gate they were just about to start loading passengers.

A bus from terminal departure gate to runway. No sign of our hold luggage being loaded to the flight. Lots of other people’s though. I bound up the stairs to my seat at the front of the place, leaving Chris in my wake. I assume “special assistance” won’t come looking for me now! Somehow I’m about first on board and Chris is last. Mr Very Large sits in front of me pressuring my knees. Fortunately these seats don’t recline.

The plane departs 36 minutes late. Flybe fly eventually again. I’ve sent my message to Mark, who’s successfully appointed himself as my official Manchester Airport taxi driver. A screaming child in the background. Overpriced refreshments trolley. I sip my cola and fade out into the afternoon turbulence ready to land just in time for rush hour. Not having driven in over three weeks this could be fun!

Ultimately, it’s been a fabulous trip. Chile is an extraordinary country and while Santiago isn’t exactly an exotic paradise we’ve loved our time in San Pedro de Atacama, Easter Island and Patagonia. Collected an unexpected BA airline status each (by flying Iberia and LATAM). Witnessed geothermal magic, seen the ultimate clear night sky, rainforest beauty and stone men who really are awesome on an island in the middle of nowhere. And managed to do so with no significant medical hiccups for the uninsured Dave.

We land in Manchester. It’s raining. Quelle surprise. Mark’s not just kept my car on the drive. He’s hoovered it too! And maybe a wax? What a guy!

Now, where do I go between now and November’s Southern Hemisphere return for the Ashes?

The Hotel With the Sensible Shower Controls