This month’s Plus 40 Fabulous theme is what really makes us excited, happy and feel amazing. For me, there is one thing that makes me feel this way more than anything which is wild swimming. For me, this means swimming outdoors in a completely informal setting with no lifeguards and if possible no crowds of people.
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I have always been a complete water baby, I can’t remember not being able to swim and I have never felt uncomfortable in the water. As a child, family holidays generally involved staying with my grandparents who lived near the Kent coast where we would go for proper windbreak-sandcastle-icecream-picnic lunch-shrimping days out at Sandwich Bay or Dymchurch or Westgate. As a teen we moved to my grandparents’ village and we sometimes used to swim after school or at weekends at Deal or Walmer.
I would also take every opportunity I could to swim in rivers, swimming pools and the sea. Wherever we went I would want to find somewhere to swim and often goaded friends into swimming in possibly slightly unsuitable places. I swam through Durdle Door on the Dorset coast aged 14 a truly amazing experience.
I was lucky enough to go to a school that had an outdoor 25m pool, and this would open in the summer term. One summer term I had a timetable on a Wednesday where I would swim during PE in the morning, swim at lunchtime, swim in Wednesday afternoon games lesson and then after school. I was obviously slightly obsessed, but I felt that the pool was the only place that I could feel comfortable in my body. Bizarrely considering how much body shame I lived with as a teenager I never felt ashamed of my body in a swimming costume, probably because swimming was the one exercise I did well and I felt totally at home in the water.
One of my most amazing swimming memories as a teen is a holiday to the Greek island of Paxos. The family hired a small boat and we went over to a tiny island to the south called Anti Paxos. Here we found the most beautiful cove of tiny white pebbles and water so clear that you could hardly see it. There were fish to look at, and caves to explore. I wanted to stay there forever and I cried when I left. I have never been back, but it’s still stuck in my memory thirty years later.
As a student at Lancaster, I was able to visit the Lake District and I was lucky enough to have some amazing swims here in the early 90s. In 1995 I moved to the central Lakes. 1995 was possibly the best summer since 1976. From May until September it was hot and sunny, and I was living right on the shores of Windermere. Sometimes I swam two or three times a day and me and a group of friends explored the gills, tarns and lakes finding some amazing places. One weekend we camped in Langstrath and walked and swam up the river all the way to Angle Tarn which we then swam across. It was incredible. I also have some wonderful memories of skinny dipping with friends after a couple of beers on a moonlit night in August (warning, this is not sensible!!).
I was lucky that Dave is also a keen swimmer. We have had so many swimming adventures in our 19 years together, and the past few years we have spent holidays exploring the amazing rivers, lakes and coasts of France and Spain as well as impromptu after work swims in our favourite local lakes, Rydal and Coniston.
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The advent of waterproof cameras has meant that we have been able to document our swimming adventures, and the publication of three books; Wild Swim, Wild Swim Coast and Wild Swim France has fed our desire to discover amazing new swimming holes. What was most gratifying is that we had already swum in many of the places in the books.
We are also lucky enough to have a camper van and this has given us the freedom to tour around the UK and France finding amazing places to stop and swim. In France, campervans are allowed to park up overnight, and this has meant that we’ve just turned up at places and had the most fantastic swims in the middle of nowhere at sunset or have got up for a sunrise swim.
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When I am swimming outdoors in a beautiful lake or river, with eagles or red kites or alpine swifts flying overhead (yes, this has happened on a number of occasions in France) I forget about myself as someone that doesn’t quite fit in, I forget about physical discomfort of medical conditions or the mental pain of depression and anxiety and I actually feel like I belong in the world. Sometimes it’s almost a meditation or possibly it’s sort of unmindful, without effort mindfulness. I am allowing myself to just be, to savour the sensations of water and air and sunshine. The silence of a lake or the rushing water of a river. There is just something about being in or near water which makes me whole, it reincorporates me and I feel wonderful.
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Other times, it’s like the most fun thing in the whole world. Dave and I find rocks to jump and dive from, we wear goggles so we can look at the fish, we dive down, do handstands, chase each other or find a rapid and ride it down the river time after time. It just makes me feel so HAPPY, a childlike uncomplicated delight in just physically being in the water. Yes we act like children, and no we don’t care. This is why there are so many photos of me in rivers and lakes grinning from ear to ear like some sort of lunatic. It’s because I’m besotted by the water.
Don’t forget to check out the other fabulous ladies also taking part
As you’ll have seen from my previous post about the death of my dog Bella, I’ve had other things on my mind than clothes and blogging the past ten days. However in an attempt to try and make me feel a little bit more normal, I have been taking some outfit photos. This post today is some of the outfits from the past two weeks, the first three were taken before Bella died, so I’m looking a lot happier in these than I do in the rest….
Hopefully normal blogging will be resumed shortly when I’m feeling a bit better.
This blog post is very image heavy and <trigger warning> also includes an account of the death of my beautiful dog Bella.
This isn’t a blog piece about clothes or consumerism; it’s a blog about the joy of spending 12 years with, and then the devastation of the loss of a beloved dog. On Friday we had to have our beautiful black Bella-dog put to sleep because she’d lost the use of her back legs. I am absolutely devastated by her death, so much so that I don’t know what to do with myself. Despite the fact that we have another dog, the house seems so empty. Bella was a noisy little dog who made her presence felt in so many different ways. Now she’s gone, it’s just not right.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours going through all the photos from the last 12 years and picking out pictures of Bella; this has eased my heart slightly, but then I resurface from the good memories and realise that she is gone forever. To lose a beloved dog we have cared for, for over 12 years who loved us completely unconditionally has left an enormous hole in our lives and hearts. Nothing will ever be the same again.
I need to write down how much she meant to me and express all my feelings about her, some of which are conflicted as maybe I didn’t love her as much as I could have done especially when she first came to us. But what I do know is that overall she brought immense joy into my life and I hope Dave and I brought love, care and a happy, stable home to hers.
Bella came into our lives in October 2003. I was walking Marley our border collie in a local field in town when I noticed a little black dog slinking along by a dry stone wall. I sent Marley over to say hello to her, and she took one look at me, and rushed over and started whining and crying at me. She was so thin, and her coat was matted and full of dreadlocks. I phoned Dave and asked him to come and meet me with a spare lead so that we could take her to the police station.
Bella was such a skinny little dog when she came to us
We really thought she was a whippet cross!
Two weeks after she joined us looking shiny and happy
The police kept her over night, but phoned the next day to ask if we wanted to foster her for a few weeks. She had no collar and tag and no microchip. No-one ever came forward to claim her, and a few weeks turned into more than 12 years.
Bella was a difficult dog for the first few years. As we never knew her background, we had to cope as best we could with her issues and insecurities without knowing her past. She had physical issues to start with, her right hind leg and tail had been damaged at some point and she kept coming up lame for the first six months. He tail was always crooked having been broken, but didn’t appear to pain her. She had a real fear of traffic for a long time and would jump and cower when vehicles went past. We assumed that she’d been knocked over by a car.
She had obviously also been mistreated by people. She would sometimes duck away from a hand when we tried to stroke her head. She was frightened of plastic bags being shaken out, and a rolled up newspaper would completely terrify her. She was on a hair trigger at first and would bark at people walking past the house, at random noises or for no apparent reason at all that we could work out. She would also bark to find out where we were as then she’d come trotting up the stairs to find us when we told her to stop barking!
For understandable reasons she also had very bad separation anxiety and the doors in our house show the scars of a number of years of her scratching at them to get into the bedroom where we were sleeping, or to get out of the kitchen where she was put to stop her scratching at the bedroom door. She was very hard work at times. But, she was so, so worth it.
Summer 2004 Elterwater
Bella in a field of flowers
December 2004, Grange over Sands
Tug of war in the snow
Bella up Loughrigg
She taught my dog-fearing mother in law and also my niece and nephew and a number of other children that dogs could be friendly and loving. My niece was scared by Marley, our border collie because he was boisterous and bouncy whereas Bella showed immense patience with small children and would allow them to hold onto her fur or explore her face and ears or stroke her the wrong way.
She was really good with most people, but she especially loved Dave. For some reason, Dave became her person, and out of choice she would always spend her time as close to Dave as possible, lying under his feet when we were out at the pub, or sitting next to him in the evenings when we were away camping. She was also terribly protective of him, and would fight other dogs who came too close. This was an issue at times as we have lots of friends with dogs, and Bella was renowned for fighting them because they came too close to us. She ended up with nicknames like Bellazebub, Alien-teeth and Betty/Bete Noir (black beast) because of her habits of getting her teeth out or even fighting other dogs. She would often end up put in the car or camper van at parties where there were other dogs to remove her from the situation and reduce her stress (and ours!)
Bella loves Dave
She really does
Sitting as close as possible
Lying on Dave’s feet
Sledging was not a favourite
But she was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character as she also made a lot of human friends and was definitely a favourite dog amongst people who liked quiet, calm, and people-friendly dogs. She loved being fussed by people and was so responsive to kindness, making friends with so many.
She was a great dog for going on adventures with us and took to mountain climbing like a pro. Two months after she came to live with us, we took her and Marley to Scotland where she climbed her first Munro Stob Coire a Chairn in the Mamores. She was brilliant at mountain climbing and could do hard scrambles without any fear at all, compared to poor Marley who never really had a head for heights.
Asby Scar in 2013
Jumping for snowballs up Mam Tor
Bella was a far more chilled boat passenger than Marley
Rock climbing Bella, Pembrokeshire
Bella and my Dad going to Kentmere in the snow
She came almost everywhere with us, and we had lovely holidays away in Scotland, Wales and England with both dogs. She swam and walked with us so many times, and would fearlessly jump into water to fetch a toy, and was a really good swimmer until she got too arthritic.
Swimming in Rydal
Bella, Marley and Me in Coniston
Making sure Dave is OK after a March dip in the sea off Durness
She would “frill up” in excitement when something was going on. If you asked her whether she wanted to go for a walk, she would cock her head to one side and look at you as if to say come on then. She had a very distinctive “I’m excited, I’m going for a walk” bark which was very different to her “someone has come near my house” bark. She was actually a really vocal little dog and would always yowl with what appeared to be relief when we got home.
She injured herself one holiday when we’d gone up Stac Pollaidh, a hill in the remote north west of Scotland. She and Marley were playing around near the summit in the snow and she put her foot into a hole and twisted her shoulder really badly. This meant a 120 mile round trip to the nearest vets in Inverness. Thankfully, she hadn’t broken anything, but I’m fairly sure that this is when her problems with arthritis started.
She was the most accomplished snoozer I have ever met – anywhere that might possibly be warm and comfortable was a good candidate for having a kip.
At the allotment
On a mountainside in Scotland
On a Pennine mountainside
Lake District mountainside
Taking a relaxing break whilst the humans swim
She was a real scavenger which I put down to her being a stray; she’d been surviving on her own for at least a few weeks before she found me. She raided bins and was caught out on a number of occasions eating stuff off the table or the worksurface in the kitchen. One year we brought a tupperware box full of homemade mince pies home from Dave’s Mum and stupidly left them on the kitchen table. When we came back in it was to find the box with the lid off and the greaseproof paper neatly put to one side and empty of pies. There wasn’t a single toothmark anywhere. I don’t know how she did it.
In the last couple of years when she’d not been able to walk too far, she had some fun by raiding the waste paper bins in the house. We’d come home from work to find shredded tissues, wrappings and paper all over the floor. She even learnt how to get into the pedal bin in the bathroom, I think she took great delight in it. Last time Dave was away, Bella slept in the bedroom with me (a rare treat) and I woke to find her delicately taking things out of the bedroom bin at 3:30am.
In around 2010 she started losing her hearing, and rather than this being awful for her, I think it made her life a lot easier as she was no longer on a hair-trigger and so nervous about unexplained noises. She stopped barking so much and seemed to sleep better and be happier. Her door scratching also reduced significantly and it seemed that her separation anxiety was a lot less.
The last six years with Bella have mainly been incredibly rewarding. She became slower as her arthritis became worse, and was on Metacam (an anti-inflammatory) for the last five years. But up until two years ago she was still pretty active. Unfortunately one evening two years ago Marley knocked her down the stairs and her back was quite badly hurt by the way she twisted and fell trapping a nerve and slipping a disk. Since then she was not able to do the big walks any more and spent a lot more time at home whilst Dave and Marley have been walking. This is a real regret as she loved being outside so much and it was sad to see her reaction when they went off on a walk whilst she stayed at home with me.
The last long-ish walk she did at Easter 2014, we had to turn back early and she needed to be carried back to the car. We knew that the time had come for no more long walks. We still took Bella out with us as much as we could, but tailored our activities to suit her capacity like taking her up to the allotment on a sunny day or a short flat walk very near home.
She was managing fine up until last Thursday evening when she suddenly became very, very unsteady on her back legs. She hardly managed to go outside to do a wee. We hoped that it was something temporary, but unfortunately on Friday morning she was no better had to be lifted out of her bed and could hardly stand up and then kept falling over. The way she looked at us was heartrending. Dog owning friends had told us that we’d know when she’d had enough and whilst not wanting to acknowledge it, we both knew that she didn’t want to go on.
Dave had to go to work for a meeting Friday morning, so I spent the morning with Bella in our bed because it was the only place I could make her comfortable. I cried and kissed her and told her what a good dog she was and how much I loved her. I stroked her beautiful frilly, expressive ears and kissed her lovely black velvety nose. She relaxed against me and slept a little.
When Dave came home at lunchtime we made the decision to phone the vet and ask them to come to our house. Bella hated going to the vets, it stressed her out so much that I couldn’t bear to take her there. We had two hours between the phonecall and the vets arrival and spent it with Bella giving her as much love as we could, calling her all her silly pet names and remembering the good times we had with her, stroking her and making sure she knew that we were there with her.
When Liz the vet came, Dave brought Bella downstairs and put her on the floor. She staggered around and tried to get into her bed and had to be helped to do this. She then curled up. It was so obvious that she didn’t want to go on. Liz told us what would happen and explained about how the anaesthetic used was a massive overdose which would send her to sleep and then stop her heart. She said that this was the last and greatest thing that we could do for Bella as it would happen quickly and without pain. She wouldn’t suffer.
We gave consent and then cuddled Bella as the injection was given, telling her all the time how much we loved her, how we appreciated the time that she’d spent with us so much and that she’d been the best and most loving of little black dogs. She looked at us and then put her head on her paws in a tired way and life left her.
The vet had said beforehand that she may gasp or twitch, but she did none of these things. It seems her body was ready to go. It was very peaceful, her transition between life and death. She really did look like she was asleep, curled up in her bed like she had been every night for 12 years. I kept waiting for her to wake up.
We buried her on a hillside overlooking Scout Scar on some land belonging to kind friends of ours. We laid her in a nest of bracken, she looked like she was asleep. Covering her with the earth and leaving her behind was so, so incredibly hard. Leaving her behind because her time is finished whilst our lives continue, emptier and sadder without her.
Bella, my beautiful, funny, frilly, demanding, affectionate little black dog I will remember you and love you for the rest of my life. You brought such joy and love to our lives that I know that in the end this terrible pain I feel right now will be worth it and that Dave and I will eventually look back on your life without feeling the acute pain that we do now at its ending and see that you blessed us with uncomplicated, unconditional love and huge amounts of joy.
I went through my wardrobe this weekend and pulled out some clothes to sell on Ebay, and a lot more to take to a charity shop. Things I haven’t worn for YEARS like some bright pink linen baggy combat-style trousers and some nasty cropped cargo-pants. Ugh. What was I thinking?
In his TED talk The Paradox of Choice Barry Schwartz talks about how the the conventional wisdom of capitalism that the more options we have, the happier we’ll be, is almost entirely wrong. More often than not, the proliferation of choices leads to people being less satisfied, and we regret our decisions more. Fewer options means we are happier because it’s less likely we could have done better.
I can’t be the only person who has agonised for hours over a purchase to make sure I get the best deal for my money, especially online. For example, my hair straighteners are broken. No means of getting them fixed in our throwaway society so I would now like a new set. Looking at the options, there are hundreds of different makes and models, everything from the most basic set in Argos for under a tenner to a set of GHD “limited edition” straighteners for £300. On Amazon there are 1598 different sets of straighteners for sale; how on earth do I chose which is best for me? Are the GHD set really 30 times better than the £9.99 Argos set? A cost benefit analysis of the straighteners on Amazon is like a giant quadratic equation and it makes my brain hurt.
So it would appear that I am doomed to be dissatisfied with my choice of straighteners because the equation is impossible to solve and therefore I don’t know whether I will be buying the best straighteners at the best price. This then takes the shine off the purchase. Will I see a better pair and have buyers remorse that I didn’t get them instead? That is of course if I ever get round to buying them because I am currently paralysed by indecision!
I think this constant feeling that we could have got something better or cheaper when it comes to purchasing stuff is beginning to wear on people. There is perhaps starting to be an acknowledgement that there is too much stuff in (some, certainly not all) peoples’ lives and instead of more stuff bringing pleasure, it brings anxiety and dissatisfaction and doesn’t satisfy the cravings that we are trying to fulfill by aquisition. It’s an addiction, this desire to buy more because we are never satisfied with what we’ve got, and we are looking for the next thing to buy even before what we bought on the internet arrives in the post (I’m oh so guilty of this).
So I need an attitude adjustment. I need to change my current mindset which is that having more clothes/makeup/boots/perfume/gadgets/art/trinkets will make me happier. I need to believe this deep down emotionally as well as rationally as my purchasing behaviour is definitely not rational despite the fact I constantly justify it to myself on the basis of need.
I need to concentrate on the things that make me happiest for the longest time. These are things like swimming outdoors, playing the ukulele, festivals, meeting up with friends to play cards, France in the campervan, collecting pretty stones, watching birds, going to the beach, cycling and reading books. Looking at this list, it is doing things rather than having things that makes me happiest and I need to concentrate on facilitating happiness or at least contentment in my life rather than chasing after more stuff.
These are a few of my favourite experiences. I don’t need to buy any more stuff to do them.