With spring on the way, this feels like a good time to sort out my wardrobe. Despite my policy of giving away one garment whenever I get a new one, I have too many clothes and some of them no longer seem suitable.
Circumstances, priorities and bodies change with advancing age, often calling for adaptations in dress style. Some older women become more adventurous and frivolous, following the latest fashion trends or putting purple highlights in their hair. Some stick to a safe formula such as wearing only black, white or navy blue. Some have clearly lost all interest in their appearance, and opt for the comfort and convenience of old tracksuits. Personally I have become rather more conservative, aspiring to a simple practical and classic look, and hoping to avoid any impression of “mutton dressed as lamb”. So all my shorts and jeans, and anything too brightly coloured, will be going to the charity shop.
But other superfluous garments are hard to part with. Some have sentimental value because they were given to me by someone I care about, or bring back memories of a special occasion. Some that were quite expensive to buy have become faded and out of date, having languished too long in the cupboard being “saved for best” and hardly ever worn. Some are old favourites that I still wear a lot, but probably shouldn’t because they look awful if I happen to see them in a photo of myself. Others simply “might come in”. I suppose it is an exercise in letting go of the past and I could apply Marie Kondo’s advice to “keep only clothes that bring you joy”, as described in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
My long-held ideal is having a wardrobe planned according to a logical system: a certain number of clothes of each type for each season, all colour-coordinated of course. Despite many attempts over the years I have never quite managed to achieve this. Fashion – and life – is always changing, and can never be perfect.
Inspired by Floating, Joe Minihane’s memoir about swimming in seas, rivers and lidos around the UK, I plan to do more outdoor swimming this year. I have ample opportunity here in New Zealand, being lucky enough to live in a house with a pool in the garden and ten minutes walk from the sea. I already swim most days during the hot summer months but intend to try extending the season.
Swimming, especially in cold water and sea water, seems to confer mental and physical health benefits over and above those to be gained from exercise in general. Mechanisms for this include the physiological stimulation of being in cold water, the meditative state induced by rhythmic movement and deep breathing, being surrounded by nature, and absorption of the minerals present in the sea. Many people feel an immediate uplift of mood and energy when they go for a swim. Regular swimming over a period of several months appears to reduce stress, helps to regulate the immune and endocrine systems, and reduces inflammation. Regular swimmers catch fewer colds, and there is preliminary evidence that swimming can help in the management of numerous medical disorders including anxiety and depression, eczema and psoriasis, hypertension and diabetes. However it takes time for the body to adapt to the demands of cold water swimming and reap these health benefits. So it is important to build up the practice gradually, and to be aware of the potential hazards as outlined below.
The shock of getting into cold water can throw all body systems out of balance, causing the sudden onset of breathing difficulties, muscle spasms, raised blood pressure and disordered heart rhythm. Cold water shock can be fatal. Hypothermia can ensue after more prolonged immersion and is manifest by shaking, weakness and confusion. To avoid hypothermia it is important to wrap up and warm up after the swim. Individual tolerance to cold varies but my understanding from various websites is that water temperatures below 15C are always dangerous, and that beginners should probably not start below 20C. Wild swimming in rivers or seas carries the risks of infections, injuries, and drownings due to powerful currents or tides.
Being a person who gets cold easily I considered buying a wetsuit, but after a trial fitting decided against it. I found the suit so cumbersome to take on and off, and so constricting to wear, that I felt it would detract from the pleasure and benefit of swimming. Perhaps a wetsuit jacket would be a better alternative and enable me to stay in the water for longer. But I am going to wait till the weather gets better before I start my regime, and however much I manage to improve my resilience I cannot see myself ever joining the hardy souls who take part in the midwinter swim in our local harbour.
Good fortune can come about in the most unexpected ways: coincidence and synchronicity that seem too remarkable to be due to chance, “lucky mistakes” that seem devastating at first but work out for the best. Evidence for a higher intelligence orchestrating our lives, or just random quirks of fate? These examples from my own experience range from the trivial to the life-changing.
The car ferry
Last week we visited the Bay of Islands, some hours’ drive north of our home in Auckland, and took the car ferry between Russell and Opua. I was parked at the front of the side row. Although I thought I had followed the attendant’s guidance, she warned me I was too close to a metal bar on the boat and would probably scrape against it on the way out, because with other cars packed so close I would not be able to reverse. I felt increasingly upset and anxious as the voyage progressed. But then, at the end of the crossing, the car next to mine failed to start. The vehicles behind had to reverse to get round it, giving me room to get clear of the obstruction. Meanwhile, shore staff had come on board with jump leads and restarted the stalled car.
The Italian jug
A few years ago, when I was preparing to publish my first novel Carmen’s Roses, I came home to find an unfamiliar jug being washed in the kitchen sink. My husband had picked it up from the pile of rubbish awaiting the annual “inorganic collection” from the pavement of our street. It was white, decorated with swirls of blue and orange, and had Made in Italy written on the bottom. I was delighted and amazed, because a similar jug plays a key part in the plot of my novel, and unknown to my husband I had been searching for a relevant image for the cover. A photo of the jug now features in both the two versions of the cover, on Amazon and Smashwords.
My last example is more significant. Last year, after my mother died, I felt free to seek information about the father I never knew. A friend with an interest in genealogy posted an online inquiry on my behalf. The synchronicity was that a member of my father’s “other” family was searching the same website at the same time. The lucky mistake was that my friend had got my mother’s name wrong and, for reasons too complicated to explain here, it was only because of this that the connection was made. Though my father himself is long dead, I have since found out about his life, and had successful meetings with my “new” relatives in the UK.