In recent years, like many older people, I have become a big fan of cruise holidays. This applies especially since my partner Jayne passed away.
Cruises are great for solo travellers, as every day there are different places to see. There are also games and activities on the ship, so you never need be short of something to do.
And most cruise lines make a particular effort to support solo travellers and bring them together, so they have company (if they want it) and don’t feel left out.
Based on my experiences, here are my ten top tips for anyone, single or otherwise, who is considering booking a cruise for the first time…
Pack at least one smart suit or dress. Most cruises include one or more ‘formal’ nights, and you don’t want to miss out.
Plan in advance what excursions you would like to take. This information will generally be available online so you can assess trips carefully and decide which would appeal. You can book on the ship as well, but personally I think it’s better to do this in advance when you can peruse all the information carefully and take the time to make up your mind.
Think carefully about cruising if you think you may be prone to sea-sickness. Once you are on a ship at sea there is no easy way of getting off, and being stuck in your cabin with acute nausea is no fun at all. Cruises on the Med are unlikely to cause this, but cruises on the Atlantic or Pacific (where the sea can be rougher) might. If you’re unsure, start with a short ‘taster’ cruise offered by many of the cruise companies.
Once you are on board, look out for the daily newsletter. This will be put under your door every night and set out everything you need to know about the ship’s itinerary the next day and all the many entertainments on offer.
One thing you will have to do early in the cruise is the lifeboat drill. This involves putting on a life-jacket and assembling at your designated muster point. The drills are a necessary evil, so just do as you are told and ask for advice from the crew if you’re unsure. Remember that as soon as all the passengers are assembled and accounted for the drill is over and you can get on with enjoying the cruise, so try not to be the person who holds things up for everybody else!
One big attraction of cruising (for me) is the range of food on offer, and I especially enjoy the themed buffets. Use common-sense, however, and be wary of eating things such as cheese or seafood that have been left out for a long time.
You will probably be given a special card to show when you get off and on the ship at its various ports of call. Guard this with your life, as without it you could in theory be denied re-entry to the ship on your return.
Be wary of all-inclusive cruises where passengers can drink as much as they like. Some people inevitably overdo it and I saw some VERY drunk (stupefied) people on the one such cruise that I went on. The smell of beery breath in the theatre in the evenings was quite unpleasant as well. Obviously if you enjoy drinking heavily you may disregard this, but one such cruise was more than enough for me. And I would think long and hard before taking children or grandchildren on one either.
Remember that the sun’s rays are reflected off the sea, and in warmer latitudes especially it is very easy to burn. Put on a high-factor sunscreen every day, therefore, and don’t spend too long in direct sunlight. Drink plenty of fluids (non-alcoholic!) as well, to avoid dehydrating.
Throw yourself into the cruise experience. Keep an open mind and be prepared to try new things such as deck quoits and carpet bowls. These can be a lot of fun, and however bad you are at them, chances are someone else will be even worse! A few people approach these games very seriously and try to win as many as they can, but most just do them for the fun of it. It can also be a great way to meet fellow passengers and make friends.
I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any comments or queries, as always, do post them below. And likewise, if you have any tips for first-time cruisers of your own, please do share them.
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If you own a smartphone (Android or Apple), you can now download a free app that will show you the location of your nearest ATM anywhere in the UK.
The Link ATM Locator, which was launched this month, shows the location of all 70,000 Link ATMs, which is effectively every cash machine in the UK. It was developed with the support of the Thomas Pocklington Trust, a national sight loss charity who work to increase awareness and understanding of the needs of people with sight loss.
When you open the app, by default it shows a map of ATMs close to your current location. Free machines are shown in green and those that charge a fee in purple.
You can also search by town name or postcode if you want to know the location of ATMs there. As I prefer not to post my own address on this blog, here is a screen capture showing cash machine locations in the Tyseley area of Birmingham.
If you tap any of the coloured dots, it will show you more information about the machine in question, including how much (if anything) it charges for a withdrawal.
Additionally, by tapping the three-line options menu at the top left of the screen, you can set filters on the display. These include all the following:
Only free to use
There are a few other options you can set via this menu as well including Favourite ATMs. This lets you request alerts when you are near a particular ATM, in case you want to take the chance to withdraw some money. There are also hints and tips on staying safe when using ATMs.
The app is free to download from the Apple store and Google Play for Android. Just search for Link ATM locator.
I hope you find this app as useful as I do. As a keen smartphone user myself (I have a Samsung Galaxy J5) I plan to discuss other helpful apps in forthcoming posts on Pounds and Sense.
As ever, if you have any comments or questions arising from this post, please do post them below..
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I have just got back from a long weekend in North Wales. I stayed at the Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel in Talsarnau (near Harlech). It’s a place I’ve been visiting regularly for around twenty years now, and I always feel relaxed and reinvigorated after staying there.
Tremeifion is owned and run by a couple named Barbara and Kevin. Barbara is an amazing vegetarian cook. Even if (like me) you’re not a strict vegetarian, it is certainly no hardship to eat the delicious food she prepares, using many ingredients from the hotel’s own gardens.
Tremeifion has amazing views across the estuary towards the Italianate resort of Portmeirion (famously the location of cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner) and beyond that to the Lleyn Peninsula. There are often beautiful sunsets that you can watch from the conservatory or dining room in the evening. Here is a photo I took of one, although it’s hard to do justice to it with a mobile phone camera.
The hotel is in a quiet, peaceful location. It’s on a hill just above the village of Talsarnau. There is one pub in Talsarnau and not a lot else. It’s definitely not a place you would visit for the night life! But it’s a wonderful place for relaxing and chilling out.
Here are a few more interesting things about Tremeifion…
The owners have a dog themselves and welcome guests’ dogs, as long as they are well behaved.
They don’t have television (no reception) but guests are welcome to watch DVDs in the lounge if they wish.
It is a small hotel with only three rooms that are regularly used, so you do tend to get to know your fellow guests quite well. On my latest visit I met two ladies who I only discovered as I was leaving were former members of the England women’s cricket team. Hello, Laura and Lucy!
Although the village, Talsarnau, is small, it does have its own railway station, which is on the scenic Cambrian line. Trains run to Harlech, Barmouth and beyond in one direction, and to Criccieth and Pwllheli in the other. On my latest visit I bought a one-day ranger ticket using my Senior Railcard for around £8 and enjoyed wonderful views of the coast and countryside travelling up and down the line.
As from this year Barbara is only providing full evening meals at the weekend (Friday and Saturday nights), although guests can stay from Thursday and leave on Sunday if they wish. Full cooked breakfasts (different every day) are of course on offer every day during your stay.
If you arrive on Thursday you could always dine on Thursday night at Portmeirion, which is only 10-15 minutes away by car.
It is possible at certain times of year to book the whole hotel on a self-catering basis. The owners are also building a yurt in a secluded part of the three-acre gardens. This should be a stunning place to stay once it is open.
You can find out much more about Tremeifion on the hotel website. If you end up visiting yourself, do say hello to Barbara and Kevin from me. Check out the visitors book as well to get some idea how often I visit the place!
And of course, if there is anything you would like to ask me about Tremeifion, please do post it below.
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Today – February 4 2017 – is World Cancer Day, so to mark this I am doing a special post on the subject of cancer and specifically my experiences with it.
I say experiences, as cancer has touched my life in various ways. My father died from cancer of the neck and my partner Jayne passed away three years ago from breast cancer. These were clearly horrible and distressing periods in my life, but in this post I want to focus on my own personal experience.
In my case, the lottery of life gave me prostate cancer. This is of course a very common cancer among men, but due to its nature it is not widely discussed. I hope talking about it here, and being as open and honest as I can, may help other men who have this condition or are worried they might.
So here’s my story. I was 58 and living on my own after my partner had passed away a year or so earlier. I had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate some years earlier, but I started getting additional symptoms that concerned me (largely aches and pains in that region). One thing you often hear about prostate cancer is that an early symptom can be having to get up several times in the night to pee, but with an enlarged prostate that was old news to me, and I didn’t notice any particular changes anyway where that was concerned.
So I asked my doctor for a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test. Although by no means 100% reliable as a test for prostate cancer, this can indicate when further investigation may be needed. When the day after my test I got a phone call from my doctor asking me to come and see him directly after afternoon surgery, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be good news.
Anyway, he told me my test result was 8.0. That’s not massively high but above the normal maximum of 4.0, so he wanted to perform a physical (rectal) examination. Initially at least he was quite reassuring, saying that my raised reading could be due to something as simple as sitting down for a long period, but he wanted to rule out anything more serious. A rectal examination is not the pleasantest of experiences, as any man who has had one will tell you, but as the prostate is situated directly beside the rectum this is the only way to access it physically.
Anyway, after doing this my doctor’s demeanour changed noticeably. I guess he felt a lump or something else that didn’t feel right. He didn’t say anything but immediately started writing out a referral form to the hospital. I could see the word ‘cancer’ at the top and that sent a bit of a shiver down my spine, although I had of course suspected it.
So off I went to see a urologist at Stafford Hospital, and he repeated the examination and referred me for more tests. One of these was an MRI scan, which was straightforward enough. Another was a bone scan. This likewise was no big deal, apart from the fact that it involved being injected with a small amount of radioactive isotope. It was therefore done in the bowels of the hospital behind various scary-looking warning signs.
The other diagnostic test, however, was the dreaded transrectal biopsy. I’ll say a bit more about that here, as I know it’s the one thing many men fear more than any other, and I’ve also seen a lot of misinformation about it in the media.
My Prostate Biopsy
A biopsy involves taking samples of tissue from your prostate. It is really the only way they can be certain that you have prostate cancer, and also gives an indication of how aggressive it is.
The procedure is performed by an ultrasound expert using a special piece of equipment. It is actually not as painful as you might think, partly because a local anaesthetic is used, and partly because (I was told) there are no pain receptors in the rectum itself. Nonetheless, it is uncomfortable and does hurt for a few hours afterwards. If you need to have a transrectal biopsy, definitely get someone else to drive you home and be sure to take some paracetamol with you.
In my case I was fortunate to have my lovely sister Annie to accompany me and drive me to the hospital and back (a 40-minute journey). I didn’t bring any paracetamol with me, though, and found I couldn’t buy any at the hospital, so I had to get her to stop at Superdrug on the way back. Don’t make my mistake!
There is a risk of going down with an infection after any biopsy, especially (for obvious reasons) in the rectal area, but I have seen some ridiculous claims about this. You are given a shot of antibiotics directly before the procedure and have a short course of oral antibiotics to take before and after as well. The reality is that only a small proportion of people (about 3 percent) contract an infection, but the medics do like you to have someone in the house with you for at least one night afterwards just in case it happens. Again, my sister Annie stepped up to the plate. And no, I didn’t get an infection myself.
To no surprise, the biopsy and scans confirmed that I had prostate cancer. After discussing the options with a urologist (surgery would have been a possibility but he didn’t recommend it in my case) I was referred to a radiotherapy oncologist.
She (I was quite pleased it was a woman) told me I would need a standard treatment regime of hormone therapy combined with 37 sessions of radiotherapy. More about the latter shortly; I’ll talk about the hormone therapy first.
Hormone therapy for men involves taking a drug or drugs that stop your body producing testosterone. This doesn’t kill the cancer on its own, but as prostate cancer feeds on testosterone (that’s not a scientific way of expressing it but I think sums it up), it starves the cancer and shrinks it. She wanted me to go on hormone therapy for about six months before radiotherapy, in order to shrink the cancer first.
I started off on tablets then switched to three-monthly injections of a hormone therapy drug called Prostap. As mentioned, this effectively shuts down your body’s production of testosterone. As you might expect, this has side effects 🙁
One very common result is that you get hot flushes. Somewhat surprisingly I have never had this, although talking to other patients I consider myself fortunate in that regard. I did though find that it made me tire more easily and reduced my stamina, and I also put on some weight around the midriff especially. The most noticeable effect, however, was that it effectively switched off my libido.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about this here, as I’m sure you’ll understand, but I will say that there are various things you can do or take if this is a concern for you. Drugs like Viagra and Cialis will assist with the physical aspects, but won’t do anything about your sex drive. There are also various other options, including injections into the penis and a vacuum pump device. Suffice to say, some of these options are less appealing than others. Even if you are not currently in a relationship, though, it is still important to pay some attention to this bodily function. ‘Use it or lose it’ is an apt expression here. And that is all I will say on this subject!
After six months I started my radiotherapy at the Royal Stoke University Hospital Cancer Centre (pictured). As mentioned earlier, this involved 37 sessions, with only weekends off. In effect, it became my day job for two months in the summer of 2015. Every day I had an hour’s drive to the hospital, including at least 20 minutes on the M6.
I had to arrive about three hours before my appointment time to complete what is euphemistically referred to as ‘prep’. This involves various preparatory tasks including drinking a lot of water to ensure your bladder is full and taking a self-administered enema. This all helps improve the targeting of the beam and ensure that other tissues are affected as little as possible, but of course it doesn’t make it a very joyous experience.
That summer was clearly a test of endurance, and I am forever indebted to various friends and relatives who willingly gave up their time to give me lifts, either part or all of the way, depending on where they lived. It was also great to have their company. Most weeks there were at least two days when I had someone with me. On the odd week when I didn’t, it definitely felt more of a grind. On the right you will see a picture of me and my sister Annie taken in the small garden within the treatment centre. As you can see, she is a lot more photogenic than I am!
Radiotherapy itself is non-invasive and painless (although I did get mild radiation burns towards the end of the treatment period). I did get tired and fed up, though, and the worst period was about a fortnight in, when I contracted some sort of virus. I didn’t want to stop my treatment, but I felt wretched for a week or so. I got over that eventually, however, and after that things went a little better.
I did get some urinary tract symptoms, including difficulty peeing at night, for which I was put on a drug called Tamsulosin. This is very common with radiotherapy patients, as the radiation causes a certain amount of collateral damage. The symptoms do ease gradually after treatment ends, but I still have to take Tamsulosin today and may have to for the rest of my life.
Going through two months of radiotherapy (or radiation therapy as the Americans call it) is an interesting experience, though not one I would wish to repeat. You get to know some of the staff quite well, and your fellow cancer patients even better. When you are finding it a hard slog their support and comradeship is very much appreciated, and of course a certain amount of black humour gets shared. “You only know you’ve been cured of cancer when you die of something else” is one gem somebody came out with…
Thirty-seven sessions seems like an eternity initially, but once you get past the half-way mark it seems to go a lot faster. I should like to place on record here my deepest gratitude to all the staff at the radiotherapy department of the Royal Stoke University Hospital for their kindness and consideration, and to my oncologist, Dr Bhana, for whose support and and professional expertise I owe more than words can say.
So Where Am I Now?
It is now around 18 months since I finished radiotherapy. I am still on hormone therapy as a precautionary measure to try to reduce the chances of a recurrence, but that will hopefully end this summer, or failing that (and it is partly my decision) summer 2018.
I have regular PSA tests every few months to monitor my health, and with these tests the general rule is the lower the figure, the better. Thankfully all my results so far have been very low indeed. Fingers crossed, that will continue to be the case.
Final Thoughts and Advice
Having been through the prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment process myself, I thought I would close by sharing some thoughts on it for anyone else who may be in the position I was…
If you are at all concerned about prostate-related symptoms, ask your doctor for a PSA test. Prostate cancer is much easier to treat if it hasn’t spread, so don’t delay. Personally I think every man over 50 should have PSA tests regularly, but I am aware that this is somewhat controversial. Better to be safe than sorry, though.
Don’t be put off by scare stories in the media. I have been staggered to read some of the ‘facts’ about prostate cancer promulgated in national newspapers. Prostate cancer CAN be treated and cured if caught early enough, so take action at the earliest opportunity, and take all the tests and treatments that are recommended for you.
In particular, don’t be put off by scare stories about the biopsy. It is unpleasant and somewhat painful, but entirely endurable. And as long as you take your antibiotics as directed it is unlikely you will go down with an infection afterwards.
Enlist as much support as you can from friends and family – both practical and emotional – to help get you through the treatment process. It really does make a massive difference.
Don’t be put off talking about your condition. There is nothing shameful about getting prostate cancer (or any other cancer for that matter). It is not your fault, and has no bearing on who you are as a person.
Don’t assume that a prostate cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. The plain fact is that most men who are diagnosed with this condition don’t die from it. But I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having it diagnosed and treated early.
More World Cancer Day Blog Posts
Please check out also these articles by my blogging colleagues on other types of cancer.
For various reasons in the last few months (including being diagnosed prediabetic) I decided I needed to start eating more healthily.
Not that I had been on an especially unhealthy diet, but when you live on your own (as I do now) it’s easy to get into the habit of buying ready-made meals (probably full of salt, sugar and other unhealthy additives) and sticking them in the microwave.
I read about the benefits of making your own soup, but decided it sounded too much like hard work. Then, while browsing the internet, I learned about dedicated soup-making machines and how they claim to make soup-making a doddle. I decided this was clearly what I needed in my life.
For the last few weeks I’ve been merrily trying this out. I thought you might be interested to hear about my first five soups, so here we go…
Soup 1 – Mushroom
This was the first soup I made, using a recipe that came in the booklet with the soup-maker. I can honestly say that it was disgusting. It came out a pale beige colour, and looked, smelled and tasted like waste water from the washing machine. It was also unappetizingly thin. I had one spoonful and all the rest went down the drain. At this point I was seriously thinking I might have made a mistake buying a soup-maker.
I haven’t tried making mushroom soup again, but if I do I will definitely add some other ingredients to improve its flavour and thicken it – cream or creme fraiche, possibly. And I will try using mushrooms with a bit more flavour than Waitrose Essentials. 1/10
Soup 2 – Tomato
I got the recipe for this off the internet. Thankfully it was a lot more successful. It involved chopping up some tomatoes and adding them to the soup maker along with a few other ingredients. The flavour of this one was good. The only problem with it was that there were little bits of tomato skin rolled up like tiny cigars in it. Next time I will skin the tomatoes before making the soup or maybe use tinned toms with their skins removed. 7/10
Soup 3 – French Onion
By this point I decided I needed a recipe book, and so I bought Soup Maker Recipe Book by Liana Green on the basis of the good reviews it had received on Amazon. It contains over 100 soup maker recipes, mainly vegetable but some including meat. As an added bonus the author uses the same soup-making machine as the one I bought.
For this recipe I bought some large, French-looking white onions. It also involved the addition of a large dollop of French mustard and some Parmesan cheese at the end. This was also the first (and so far only) soup I made using the Chunky setting on the machine (all the rest used Smooth).
This soup was pungent from the French mustard. Despite having been chopped and sauteed, however, it was still a bit ‘al dente’ for my palate. I did eat some of it (on two occasions) but got rather bored chewing undercooked onion in mustard. This was another one that mostly went down the drain. If I were to try this recipe again, I would be tempted to use the tinned and partly pre-cooked ‘easy onion’ you can sometimes get in supermarkets (I believe it was recommended by Delia at some point). I think this would make a much nicer soup. In any event, I would saute the onion for longer before starting the soup-making process. I’d be tempted to use the Smooth setting as well, although that’s not really in the spirit of a proper French onion soup, I know. 3/10
Soup 4 – Broccoli and Other Greens
This soup was based around a rather sad looking bag of prepared broccoli, courgettes and curly kale (I think) that I had bought for some other purpose from Morrisons but never used. I adapted a recipe from Liana Green’s book that also included green pesto. It was unexpectedly delicious and I ate it all and froze some for later. It was an eye-opener to discover how a bag of unexciting mixed veg that I bought more from a feeling that it would be “good for me” rather than any real enthusiasm could be turned into something so tasty. 9/10
Soup 5 – Courgette and Spinach
Another recipe from the book. I had a left-over courgette in the fridge and the only other ingredient I had to buy was the spinach (the other ingredients I had already included onion, a potato and a few other odds and ends from the store cupboard). This was very tasty as well, and I have put a photo on the right. That bowl had a couple of croutons in it, but the next time I put a swirl of creme fraiche instead, which was even nicer. 8/10
Lessons Learned So Far
As you may gather, I wasn’t an instant convert to soup-makers. But now I’ve used mine a few times I am definitely a fan and can see I will be using it a lot in future. It’s quick and easy to prepare the ingredients, especially if you have a food processor for chopping up the vegetables. The actual soup-making process takes half an hour or just under, and you can leave the machine alone to do its work during this time.
Here are a few other conclusions I have drawn so far…
I bought a soup-maker with a built-in saute function. Based on what I know now, I don’t know if I would bother with this again. Yes, it simplifies matters a bit to do all the cooking in the soup-maker and there is one less item at the end to wash up. On the other hand, you can’t control the level of heat used in the soup-maker, whereas if you do your saute-ing on the stove you can set any temperature you want. It’s also easier to see what’s going on and stir the ingredients in a pan than in a tall, slim soup-making machine.
Definitely don’t rely on the recipes provided by the manufacturer. You can search for soup-maker recipes online, or even better buy a recipe book such as the one by Liana Green that I bought. You soon get a good general idea of how the process works and can experiment as much as you like.
A soup-maker is great for using up left-over odds and ends that would otherwise probably end up in the bin or the compost. By this means it can also save you quite a bit of money.
And of course it’s healthy as well, and a great way of getting one or two of your ‘five a day’. Plus in home-made soup you don’t need to include all the salt, sugar and other additives that go into many shop-bought soups.
In my opinion anyway most soups need something to thicken them and make them more palatable. That could be something like cream or creme fraiche, a spoonful of plain flour, or even a potato chopped up small.
The minimum quantity you can make in a soup-maker like mine is enough for four quite generous portions. If you live on your own (like me) you can keep some in the fridge for a day or two, or it should freeze without any problem.
The Morphy Richards soup-maker I bought also has a setting for making your own smoothies. I haven’t tried this yet, but probably will in the warmer weather.
I do hope 2017 is a good year for you, and the year you achieve (or at least start to achieve) some of your financial and other ambitions.
Thank you also for visiting my blog. If you haven’t already, I do hope you will sign up to receive notifications when it is updated using the box in the right-hand column.
You can also follow Pounds and Sense on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. And I also recently added PAS to the popular Bloglovin platform. If you are a member of this free service you can get all my latest posts delivered to you with your updates (and updates on any other blogs you follow as well, of course). Just click through this link to sign up.
Finally, if your interests also extend to writing, you might also like to check out my Entrepreneur Writer blog. I regularly share tips, advice and market information for writers and aspiring writers here. It would be great to see you there as well 🙂
Once again, I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
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Just wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of you a happy and peaceful Christmas, and a fulfilling and prosperous new year.
Even if you don’t celebrate the religious festival, I hope you enjoy the festive period. Thank you for your interest in Pounds and Sense. Without you, I really would be whistling in the wind!
Pounds and Sense is of course still very new, so I thought it might be helpful to list the posts I have made so far, in case you want to catch up with them over the holiday period. They are as follows:
Save Money with Cashback Sites – You can save a lot of money on your online shopping with cashback sites, and even make money as well. Find out about the top two UK cashback sites in this post.
Get Money Off Gift Vouchers with Zeek – Zeek is an online platform for buying and selling gift vouchers. Right now they are running a special Christmas promotion where you get 10 percent cashback for every £100 worth of vouchers you buy (In addition to the discount of 4-15% on the face value of the vouchers themselves). Plus you can get an additional £5 off your first voucherpurchase by signing up via the link in the post. What’s not to love?!
There will, of course, be many more posts to come on Pounds and Sense in the coming months, and I don’t want you to miss out! So please do sign up in the box on the right to receive notifications any time the blog is updated or when I have urgent and valuable information to pass on. You can also follow Pounds and Sense on Facebook, Twitter and other social media (again, click on the relevant icons in the right-hand column).
It only remains once again to wish you a wonderful Christmas. I will hope very much to see you regularly on Pounds and Sense in the new year.