Sunday, July 05, 2015

'The Diet Myth' - Tim Spector

'The Diet Myth' is full of good, solid advice. The author, Tim Spector, is Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, London and a geneticist. If anyone can do solid science without the 'blank slate' agenda, surely it is he.

Here's what The Daily Mail had to say (apologies for the breathless gushing):
"Calorie-controlled diets don’t work. Many of us may have suspected as much for years — but now there’s compelling evidence in a new book by Professor Tim Spector, a leading genetics expert at King’s College London. What’s more, he’s offering a tantalising new theory about what really makes us fat — which could revolutionise our approach to weight loss.

As one of the scientists leading worldwide research into the trillions of bacteria living in our stomachs, Professor Spector believes they hold an amazing power over our health and moods — and that our modern diet may be having a negative effect on them. His specialist area is twins. For more than two decades, he has been scientifically following 11,000 identical twins, examining information on their health, lifestyles and diet habits to discover the role of environmental and genetic factors in disease. And one of his key findings will come as a shock to anyone who puts their faith in calorie-controlled dieting and the idea that the current obesity epidemic is simply down to people taking in more calories, and burning fewer through exercise, than previous generations did.

In fact, suggests Professor Spector, if you put identical twins on high-calorie diets, where they eat an extra 1,000 calories every day, after six weeks they’ll have completely different changes in weight. Some will have gained as much as 13 kg, others as little as 4 kg — all on identical diets. Clearly, calories aren't the only factor. So what’s going on? Professor Spector believes it’s down to the bacteria in our gut. He has found that the type and variety of our gut bugs have an astonishing influence on many aspects of our health.

‘Microbes are not only essential to how we digest food,’ he says.  ‘They also control the calories we absorb and provide vital enzymes and vitamins, as well as keeping our immune system healthy.’

Our gut microbes are also linked to cardiovascular health, risk of diabetes and mental wellbeing. In a book published this week, The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat, Professor Spector argues that, with the right regimen of diet and exercise, we can change our personal mix of gut bacteria to become one that keeps us happy, healthy — and lean. For he also believes bacteria are likely to be responsible for much of our obesity epidemic. The root of the problem, he says, may be our modern diet and its effect on our gut bugs.

Compared with our ancestors, we have only a fraction of the diversity of microbial species living in our guts. Fifteen thousand years ago, man regularly ate around 150 ingredients in a week. Nowadays, most people consume fewer than 20 separate food items, and many — if not most — of these are artificially refined, says Professor Spector.

To test what a modern-day junk food diet does to our gut bacteria, he enlisted the help of his 22-year-old son, Tom. For ten days, Tom, a student, went on a diet exclusively of Chicken McNuggets and Big Macs, washed down with McFlurry ice cream desserts and regular Cokes.  By the sixth day, he reported feeling bloated and sluggish. On the eighth, he’d started to sweat after the meals.

‘Tom found that his [university] assignments took even longer than usual,’ says Professor Spector. ‘Friends remarked that his skin seemed to have a yellow tinge and he looked unwell.’

Hardly surprisingly, by the end of the experiment, Tom had put on 4 lb. But what was telling were the results of the tests on his gut bacteria, which found that just three days in, 40 per cent of the bugs had died. The bacteria that remained in Tom’s gut showed a worrying profile. Levels of health-promoting bugs had plummeted, while dangerous bacteria had thrived. Tom’s levels of firmicutes, for example — which create chemicals that fuel our cells with sugars, fatty acids, proteins and vitamins, enabling the body’s myriad systems to communicate with one other properly — had halved. Meanwhile, he had higher levels of bacteria associated with inflammation, which is linked to cancer and heart disease, and with damage to the immune system.

Professor Spector found that several rare bacteria species flourished on the diet, including one called Lautropia. This, he explains, is ‘usually only noticed in immune-deficient patients’. Tom’s mix of gut bugs was still unhealthy a week later but, thankfully, slowly began to return to normal after he began eating properly again. But what about the weight he’d gained?

Nowadays, we naturally associate junk food diets with weight gain. But is it the food itself that causes the pounds to pile on — or could it be a result of the damage it causes to our diversity of gut bacteria? To find out, Professor Spector, who is head of the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, turned to his area of expertise. Professor Spector’s work has revealed a number of significant findings in relation to bacteria. A study of four pairs of twins where one was obese and the other was not found notable differences between their gut microbes — with the leaner twin in each pair ‘having a richer and healthier set, and the fatter twin having a less diverse, inflammatory-looking profile’. Stool samples were then taken from the twins and transplanted into the guts of mice.

‘The results were surprisingly clear-cut,’ says Professor Spector. ‘The mice receiving the fat twins’ stool samples quickly became 16 per cent fatter. ‘This was clear proof that fat-associated microbes are really toxic and can be transmitted like an infection. The toxic microbes are more likely to grow rapidly in our guts and be a problem if other microbes are suppressed or if there is a lack of diversity.’


"When researchers fed rats artificial sweeteners at the recommended human doses for three months, they found that their levels of bacteria and diversity dropped significantly. And this particularly harmed the health-enhancing microbes, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Tests on mice by Israeli researchers suggested that artificial sweeteners can alter the balance of gut bacteria, so that the bugs, in turn, release chemicals that, ironically, raise blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of weight gain and diabetes.

But chocolate’s fine... as long as it’s dark

When participants in a study at the University of Reading were given cocoa extracts for four weeks, their levels of beneficial stomach bacteria rose significantly. Meanwhile, levels of potentially harmful bugs and bodily inflammation fell, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported in 2011. It seems microbes enjoy chocolate as much as we do. In the gut, they play a major role turning chemicals from cocoa into substances that lower the level of potentially harmful fat and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in our bloodstream. To get the benefits without piling on the pounds, the darker the chocolate, the better. Milk chocolate contains only one-fifth of the cocoa of dark chocolate, so you would have to eat five times as much to get the same bacterial benefits — which would mean a lot more sugar and fat, too."
So a well-written, interesting and insightful book, full of good advice. I have two problems with it. Firstly, Professor Spector has a particular kind of hammer (the gut biome) and therefore everything looks rather like a nail (thus the gut biome is implicated in every kind of food type). This makes the book rather one-sided - I'm not saying he's not right, he has plenty of evidence - but it can't be the whole story.

Secondly, the book isn't really paradigm-busting, it's a long collection of gut-biome-related facts made a little more palatable by telling anecdotes. This just about retains interest, but makes the book hard to summarise. Eat the Mediterranean diet is my best attempt.

In the interests of science I was semi-tempted to enroll in Professor Spector's British Gut Project which would sequence my gut population. But at a cost of around £75 for a relatively opaque report I couldn't summon up the enthusiasm; an anaemic version of 23andMe.

Read the book if someone lends it to you.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Price is no object

We were talking about inheritance tax and our finances as we get older. My mother, I said, lives parsimoniously on a fixed income and still manages to save some money. Clare looked askance at this life of prudence.

"If I see something of great value," she said, "money is no object."

My stomach dropped: behind a neutral smile my thoughts turned to this picture.

Pink Diamonds
"Care to give an example?" I asked nervously.

"Well, yesterday in the Co-Op I saw this delicious croissant for 70p. I could have just bought a packet for £1.36 but no, this freshly-baked croissant was just about perfect. So I got it."

I commended her free-wheeling approach to life.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Beryl Seel meets Daisy

You may remember Daisy, the animatronic cat who demonstrated her repertoire a few days ago (here). Well today, she finally got to meet my mother - they seemed to get on.

If these animals could only talk - I'd buy ... .

Dyrham Park

We visited Dyrham Park today. The entire building is covered in scaffolding, which the National Trust has turned into a feature. You can get up to roof level (75 feet) where you get an overview of the extensive restoration work plus a novel look at the grounds. Pictures below.

Clare on the roof - a vision in Hi-Vis

Your author overlooking the Park

Part of the formal gardens at NT Dyrham Park, nr. Bath

We ambled down from the entrance car park, amazed at the semi-tameness of the deer while keeping a wary eye on the cows before arriving at the house and our favourite attraction, the tea rooms.

As we subsequently completed our walk around the gardens about sixty school kids ran onto the grass, shouting, jumping .. delirious with freedom. Five minutes later the heavens opened and we at least escaped the deluge in the bus.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Ham Woods/East Mendip Way

Clare wanted a walk in the woods this morning (the heat, you understand) so we drove to the adjacent village of Croscombe through the speed limits which walk you down from 40 to 30 to 20 mph and then deliver you to the mandatory police van with its speed cameras. We are wise - Clare has been caught here before - and so we passed at a crawl, safely.

The intrepid pair in the woods

Clare does that commune with nature thing

Once off the road our walk was nothing like as idyllic as you might imagine. We advanced along a thin, overgrown cutting tormented by nettles and flies - especially flies. After a hundred yards we met a lone colt semi-blocking our way. Its poor little head was covered with flies. Why, I mused to Clare, did evolution not equip the horse with two little arms so it could swat the wretched creatures off? We left the long-suffering animal and continued our climb through the woods.

Eventually we took a side path out of a deep cutting and sought the East Mendip Way. At last my Nexus 6 with its improved GPS and integrated Google Maps did its magic - after only two misleading detours we managed to find the road. How the SAS manage navigation is beyond comprehension.

Elaine en rose
Here's a bonus picture which the phone somehow dredged up from its filing system. Amazing, arguably, how chic close-cropping with poor lighting and poor image resolution can be.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Machine intelligence will eat us - right?

Currently reading Absolution Gap (Alastair Reynolds) on the Kindle and Greg Bear's 'The Forge of God' to Clare as her book after dinner. In both cases we're dealing with implacable, malevolent machine intelligences which destroy intelligent biological life. Worry about the existential threat of future AI systems seems very trendy recently.

The Inhibitors - Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space

Greg Bear's 'The Forge of God'

Here's the problem: to build a half-decent robot system currently needs a high-tech society of hundreds of millions of people; to build a person requires only untrained labour in a natural environment.

Everyone knows that living creatures are made up of cells (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen mostly). What is not commonly known is just how intricate a cell is - a tiny object capable of self-construction and self-replication. How does it do that, and how did this marvel of nano-engineering ever get started? I discussed Nick Lane's informed (and jaw-dropping) account a few weeks back.

The alleged dangers of future AIs comes about because of their faster learning, superior computational abilities and more powerful bodies. But does anyone know how to create an artificial analogue of cells with those desirable properties? I don't think so.

Absent that, our future machine overlords are going to look like a totally mechanised version of today's human societies: massive fully-automated fabs, battery factories, steel and aluminium smelters, and all the rest.

Sounds brittle and cumbersome to me - I feel sure we could take them down*.


* Bomb them back to the stone age and they're toast.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Slow news day

It's a wet Sunday - what can I tell you? The gym was pretty deserted this morning but, fuelled by massive over-indulgence in trifle last night, I did pretty well, especially on the resistance machines.

Later I started Lecture 2 on General Relativity by acclaimed Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind. Once of the best teachers in the world talking about one of the most tedious subjects (covariant and contravariant tensors, and transformations of the metric tensor): I literally fell asleep after 25 minutes.

And then this video. The setting is Marissal Road, Henbury, Bristol. Alex and Adrian, together with my sister Elaine, are visiting my mother (this was some years ago). I am my usual bumptious, overbearing self with a camera; my mother (with her robot cat, Cindy) is inveigled into the role of camera-person.

Despite everything, it's quite amusing.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I elected to be unsedated during my own procedure. There were a few gut-wrenching moments (I choose my words), one of which could conceivably have been the moment when the colonic chip was implanted. Now you mention it, I have had some strange experiences close to 'contactless' terminals recently ...

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Our very own synth, Daisy, arrived here today. It's destined to join Cindy (video here) as my mother's new animatronic pet. Here's a video of Daisy (Amazon link) showing off her repertoire.

We bought Cindy (below) for my mother seven years ago. I am amazed that so little progress has been made in the state of the art.

Cindy - my mother's robot pet

Family history note: Daisy was my mother's auntie. Oh, and here's Daisy's manual.

Click on image to make larger.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Francis Youell: 1946 - 2015

In Formby yesterday for my brother-in-law's funeral. Francis was well-respected as a senior police officer in Merseyside and the service was attended by hundreds of people including the chief constable.

Francis Youell as a young policeman

The reception at the St Jerome Parish Centre
When I first met Francis (on marrying Clare back in 1978) I was still somewhat associated with the International Marxist Group. Francis, who regularly drank me under the table, was a senior special branch officer. He seemed to know way too much about me. Perhaps because of this, he was always very friendly.

Here's another picture of Francis. I was told he was once tasked with infiltration of left-wing groups, which given that he always looked like that must have been quite challenging ... good luck with that, as they say.

Francis Youell

Monday, June 22, 2015

Life on the Saga Rose

Back in the year 2000, business for an Internet consultant was good. Knowing how much my mother loved boats and the sea, and how little of the world she had seen, we decided to buy the two of them a cruise.

In doing so, I lightly passed over the fact that my father was not good with rough water, and disregarded his social discomfort with having to cohabit with those he considered to be of higher social class - he correctly judged that the cruise we had selected would be populated by the retired officer class.

In the event his social fears were misplaced: their dining companions were pleasant. But then my mother had that terrible accident in Pompeii - and the worst storm for years hit the Bay of Biscay on the way home.

They secretly kept a diary: here are the highs and the lows (PDF here).


Fred and Beryl Seel’s Saga Rose Mediterranean Cruise

September 17th - October 2nd 2000

September 16th Saturday

Nigel arrived to fetch us mid-morning at our home [in Bristol]. After lunch we travelled to Maidenhead to spend the night at Clare and Nigel's home prior to joining the SS Saga Rose at Dover.

Day 1 Sunday

Clare and Nigel drove us to Dover and, after a lovely lunch in a hotel we boarded the ship. Our hand luggage was put through a scanner and we had to walk through another scanner. As Fred followed me through a bell sounded and he was called aside to empty his pockets. Having done so, he walked through again and the bell rang once again. This time he was "frisked” by the official standing there and he was then allowed through (I suspect they felt the truss he was wearing and realised he was no danger).

Day 2 Monday

Dull and dreary weather - drizzle and sea mist – we were warned to take care walking around the ship and to stay in cabin if feeling unwell. We sat on deck in the afternoon wrapped in heavy coats and in a sheltered corner. Super evening meal - cabaret show-time featuring Johnny Tudor, variety entertainer, old jokes and songs, impersonating Barry Manilow, Frankie Vaughan etc; corny!!! Ship was rocking madly throughout the night going through the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay; many passengers horizontal throughout day. Captain's Cocktail Party before dinner.

Day 3 Tuesday

Arrived at La Corunna, Northern Spain 8 a.m. We walked around the town in the morning, weather miserable, plastic macs and umbrellas. The temperature was 51 degrees F. and a transport strike was in progress. We were back on board at noon for a super four course lunch, with waiters to satisfy our every whim. Storms worsened p.m. after we left La Corunna and there were many empty chairs at dinner. We had taken some Stugeron anti seasickness tablets, but I felt very queasy after dinner. Had an early night.

Day 4 Wednesday

Another night of pitching and tossing, but the day dawned and we saw SUNSHINE for the first time. Attempting to wash in a still rocking bathroom, the ship lurched and I fell backwards into the empty bath, banging my head and grazing my ankles on the sink surround. Fred pulled me out and I went back to bed nursing a giant headache. By 10 a.m. brilliant sunshine; we make our way to the sundeck for a couple of hours —this is more like it!!!

Day 5 Thursday

Weather-wise things are improving; we now walk instead of stagger around the ship. Gibraltar today, we left the ship at 8.30 a.m. and were taken by taxi, first to the Spanish-Gibraltar frontier and then up to the Rock to visit St. Michael's Caves. The journey was short, through narrow streets, the buildings looking rather down-market, but it was a fascinating experience. We went into the caves, full of stalactites and stalagmites, we took several photographs. We saw the Barbary apes - more photographs. Many other interesting buildings and views were pointed out to us on our journey. We were dropped off in the town where Fred bought some booze - very cheap. We arrived back at the ship for lunch. We spent the afternoon on the sundeck. Dinner tonight was at 7 pm followed by dancing and cabaret as usual.

Day 6 Friday

Day at sea, beautiful weather, spent the morning on the sundeck. After lunch we went to a ballroom dancing class-the Cha-Cha-Cha, great fun. After dinner we watched the cabaret.

Day 7 Saturday

Arrived at Cagliari, Sardinia and spent the morning on deck – the sun very hot. After lunch we went ashore and boarded a coach to see the sights of Sardinia, a lovely little island in the Med. It was very dusty and everything was brown, the guide told us there had been no rain for months and water was severely rationed. We saw bananas growing but they were very sad and very small. We were taken to Poetto, with lovely beaches of white sand and the beach a deep turquoise. We then arrived at a Sardinian house and entered it through a gateway strewn with aromatic herbs which gave off a beautiful scent as we passed through. We entered into a large courtyard with chairs placed around it, in front of bushes of lovely flowers which gave some protection from the sun.

We were then entertained by local singers and dancers in traditional costume (very colourful), meanwhile we were each given a wine glass which the dancers filled with wine - again and again and again - also bringing around delicious cookies. This went on and on—the ship was due to sail at 5 pm and it was nearing 4.15 pm. We arrived back at the ship at 4.55 pm facing a worried Captain and crew. The tugs and pilot boat's crew were kicking up their heels - we didn't care - we had had a wonderful trip and the wine and cookies were fine.

Day 8 Sunday

Arrived at Civitavecchia at 7.30 a.m. and left for a tour of Rome and a visit to St. Peter's Basilica at 8.30 am, stopping just outside Rome at a Service station for toilets and to be issued with our packed lunch. After a whirlwind tour of Rome, seeing the Coliseum and many superb statues and buildings, we arrived at St. Peter's Square at approximately midday and had an hour to browse around and eat our packed lunch. We bought small gifts for Joyce and Maisie.

We joined a long queue to enter St. Peter's Basilica at 1 pm and entered through the Holy Door; this door is only opened every 25 years, On Christmas Eve, the Pope, according to a special ritual, makes a solemn procession to this door and after a triple genuflection and three strokes of a hammer, the wall barring the door is removed and the Pope is the first to cross the threshold and enter the Basilica. At the end of the Holy Year the door is re-closed with a solemn ceremony and the wall is re-built.

People wearing unsuitable clothing, e.g. shorts or sleeveless blouses are not allowed entry into the Basilica and several were turned away. It was very crowded with what appeared to be dozens and dozens of different guided tours, each tour leader carrying an identifying rod with a symbol on top as a focal point, ours was a minute Pinocchio model which in the gloom of St. Peters was quickly lost to sight if you glanced away. This made close examination of the wonderful exhibits, statues and paintings very difficult, but with so many visitors milling around it would have been almost impossible to organise and please everyone.

The tour lasted approx. one hour and we then made our way back to the tour bus, very hot and somewhat tired but extremely pleased at having had this opportunity to visit this wonderful building, so steeped in religious history. The journey back to the ship was uneventful and we arrived at about 3.45 pm in time for dinner at 7 pm.

Monday Day 9

Arrived at Sorrento at 8 am and went ashore by ship's tender as there is only a small harbour and the ship had to anchor in the bay. We joined the tour bus at approx. 10 am and after driving through the steep, narrow and very squalid streets we left Sorrento and continued on to Pompeii. The party was split into two groups of approx. 19 to each group, each with a local guide but only one Saga Rep to cover both groups, her name was Elaine.

After a very interesting tour of this ancient city, using the Red Tour which includes the most interesting relics and ruins, amongst which were the baths, shops, the forum and many more too numerous to mention, we eventually left the ruins at approx. 3.30 pm.

[Ed. note: at this point my father, Fred, takes over the writing]

The coach was parked about 500 yards away so after a short wait to re-unite with the other party we started off in crocodile formation to the coach-park along the very dusty and uneven pavements. Because of the close crocodile formation, Beb did not see a steel ring embedded in the pavement that is used to surround trees. In this case the tree had been removed but not the ring which now surrounded a hole about 10 inches deep. Catching her left foot against the ring Beb was thrown forward, her right foot going down into the hole and her face violently hitting the pavement, breaking her nose, injuring her jaw and chin, and damaging the tendons of the right leg. There was considerable bleeding from her nose and she was in pain from her right leg. I knelt by her and treated the injuries with help from the other tour members using tissues and wet-wipes. There was no sign of the Saga Rep and the local guide wasn't interested, only urging us to re-join the coach quickly, no offer to drive the coach to us.

Beb had to be assisted by myself to the coach-park. Once on the coach and leaving the city I called the Saga Rose Rep and asked her if she was aware of Beb's injuries and she said she had heard something about it. I brought her to Beb and she was quite shocked. I insisted she use her mobile phone and contact the Ship's Officer on the quay for assistance. This she did and we were met at Sorrento main square and transferred to a taxi which drove quickly to the landing stage where a Ship's Nurse was waiting.

As soon as the tender arrived Beb was transferred aboard with other passengers and it sped out to the ship where she was transferred on board first with the help of two burly crew members. A wheelchair was waiting on deck and we were taken straight to the sick-bay where the Ship's Doctor and another Nurse were waiting. After an examination and being cleaned up they applied five steri-strips to a very deep wound at the bridge of her nose but only gave us a cold pack and towel to take back to our cabin to apply to her right leg, which by now was non-weight bearing. The Nurse also administered an anti-tetanus booster.

Beb saw the Doctor again at 9.30 am the next day (Tuesday) when he was non-committal whether the nose was broken but said there wasn't any treatment for that anyway. He re-examined the right leg when Beb complained she could not support her weight upon it and diagnosed possible ligament and tendon damage, a tubular grip bandage was applied by the Nurse and a walking stick loaned. He advised Beb to see him Sunday morning and he would decide if the steri-strips should be removed. We received the Bill for this service this morning (Tuesday) for £110.95. I don't know if he will charge for removing the steri-strips next Sunday if needed.

Tuesday Day 10 at sea

The above entry accounts for this morning’s events. We had yesterday evening’s and today’s meals delivered by Room Service as Beb has problems walking but she feels much better now and we hope to resume normal cruising and meals in the restaurant tomorrow (Wednesday). I have cancelled the tour to Cadiz as she will not be well enough for that, but we may walk into town as we dock within the city.

Wednesday Day 11 at sea

Lazy day sunbathing on the stern sundeck, we had breakfast at Lido Café and stayed put until 12.20 pm. We had lunch in the restaurant for the first time since Beb's accident. Filipino waiters, especially Jonathan, made a big fuss of her. We spent another hour or so on deck, this time on the starboard side in shade; it was about 75 degrees F. in the sun.

Went back to the cabin for a while and then to the ballroom where a "Chocolate Afternoon Tea" was held at 4.15 pm. Visited gift shop and bought a couple of presents. After Dinner again visited the gift shops to buy deck shoes for Beb as hers were in a dangerous state. Beb still very groggy so we retired to the cabin again at 9.20 pm and prepared for bed.

During the day I visited the Purser to sort out the payment system and check ETA for Dover. Passengers using own transport or being collected by private transport will disembark at 8 am next Monday morning October 2nd. Phoned Clare and Nigel with information and they will pick us up at Dover as arranged.

[Ed. note: at this point my mother, Beryl (Beb), resumes writing]

Thursday Day 12

Arrived late at Cadiz, we had to dock at a different berth because another ship arrived just before us and had taken our place. As we had cancelled our tour on the Doctor's advice it made no difference to our plans which were to take a leisurely stroll around the shops near the harbour and maybe do some last minute shopping. I'm glad we did because we found some lovely Spanish dolls to give to Jenny and Sarah, also a model Bull for Christopher. It was a nice morning, nippy to start with but getting hotter as the sun came up. I am walking easier now and the swelling on my face is gradually disappearing. We arrived back on the ship for lunch, after which I went off to the Hair Salon to have a wash and blow dry, (£15 - daylight robbery). At 4.15 we went off for our usual afternoon tea, gooey cakes and scones with jam and cream, as much as you can eat.

Dinner at 7 pm after which we will go off to the ballroom to watch flamenco dancing (dancing for me is impossible with my damaged leg; I am still using a walking stick).We sail at 11 pm - the last lap of our Journey. Today’s weather forecast is for rough weather ahead, we are quite worried about what awaits us in the Bay of Biscay. Before we retire, an announcement from the Captain warns us that there are heavy swells ahead and advises us that all breakables, e.g. bottles of booze, should be placed on the floor. Also, we were warned to be careful moving around the ship: all is doom and gloom.

Friday Day 13

The ship rocked all night, but we had taken our Stugeron so didn't suffer too much. Wow!!! Things got a lot worse as the day progressed, impossible to walk properly. I am still using a stick and am hoping the Doctor won't need it back for his ever growing list of patients. Stayed in cabin all afternoon, more announcements from the Bridge warning of bad weather conditions and need for caution moving around the decks. After Dinner went back to cabin and found drawers and various commodities lying on the floor, Thought, Gosh! We’ve been burgled! .. but it was the heavy rolling of the ship.

Saturday Day 14

What a night! We are still off the coast of Portugal. The 9 o'clock announcement from the Bridge tells us that yesterday’s waves were 5 metres high and that it would be the same today. We didn't know whether we were on our head or heels while lying in bed, I've never experienced anything like it before. Fred went down to breakfast but I let the lovely Filipino waiter bring me tea and croissants to the cabin.

It's now 11.15 am, we have been told we reach the Bay of Biscay about noon and that one of the restaurants would be closed and some of the activities would be cancelled because of the weather. Oh well, let’s sit back and see what the afternoon brings.

Afternoon: weather worsening, waves now 6 metres and the ship rolling and pitching violently, I guess we are in for another rough night.

Sunday Day 15

We awoke to a calmer sea, much easier to walk about. More people having breakfast in the restaurant but at 9 am the message came through from the Bridge that we were heading for force 8 winds which I think are gale force. Groans all over the tea and toast, this will be the worse conditions yet. Apparently all these lows are coming down the English Channel.

We started packing straight after breakfast - where did all this stuff come from? At 11.15 everyone has to attend a disembarkation meeting so that all will go smoothly tomorrow. Breakfast is at 6.15 am tomorrow, we are number 2 so expect to leave the ship early. The last group leaves at about 10.15 am while the ship departs for its next cruise at 5 pm.

We go for lunch at 12.45 pm then more packing. Afternoon tea at 4.15 pm then to the ship's sick-bay to return the walking stick and enquire about further treatment when reaching home. The nurse advised me to hang on to the stick until tomorrow morning because of the approaching storms.

Just finished packing at 5.45 p.m. must remember to put our watches back one hour before going to bed. Going back to Saturday evening, I almost forgot to mention the Captain's Disembarkation Cocktail Party. It was held then because all our glad rags would be packed on Sunday. The cocktail party started at 6.15 pm with photographs taken - I dodged that, not looking my best with stitches decorating my nose. Jean Slater did not come to the party, she wasn't feeling too well.

It was a very good dinner, very lively and lots of fun, ending with a Baked Alaska Parade with all the waiters descending the staircase at the end of the restaurant holding aloft their trays with the Baked Alaskas decorated with sparklers down through the tables with the lights turned low, a very impressive sight. The evening closed with all the passengers standing to sing Auld Lang Syne.

Monday Day 16

Early rising with breakfast scheduled for 6.15 am. We arrived in the restaurant at 6.30 to see some strange faces, Susan and I suspect that these people spent most of the voyage in their cabins. We were in group 2 so were due to leave the ship a little after 8 am. As we were disembarking Nigel called us on his mobile phone to say he was waiting outside so, with a porter pushing our suitcases on a trolley, we met up with him outside the gate. With great relief we settled down in his car and he drove us to his home at Maidenhead. We were greeted by Clare with a very welcome cup of tea, and then Nigel carried on with his work and Clare drove us back to Bristol.

Home Again

It was a lovely holiday and I enjoyed every moment of it - except of course my accident at Pompeii, but even that had its bright side, I was a celebrity and the loving care I had from so many people was something I shall always remember, when the bruises and scars hopefully disappear.