Grounded, by the sea

Hello again. How are you? Is this a good time of year for you? Like many, I struggle with the shorter days and lack of sunlight over the winter months, resulting in S.A.D. I know I've talked about this before, but for anyone out there who's new to the blog then this is my method of coping. Sea swimming truly keeps me grounded, helping me cope with the challenges of the season ahead.

It's over 8 years now since I started sea swimming and to be perfectly honest, it's been a lifesaver for me in more ways than one. The idea of taking a dip in the sea in the middle of winter may seem quite mad, but increasing numbers of the population here in the UK are turning to the ocean to help them with their mental well-being. I swear you never regret a sea swim. 

I was recently lucky enough to meet Olympic champion Keri-anne Payne while she was here on Tresco running a Triscape retreat. I had session in the pool along with a group of keen improvers like myself and came away with a few good pointers. Much as I'm a competent swimmer, my freestyle isn't my best stroke and I know needs attention. I've now got a few tips to help me become a more relaxed and smoother swimmer.

Hopefully next year I'll be able to attend the entire course and come away better armed for my swimming future. I have every intention to continue sea swimming into my dotage in an effort to keep a healthy body and mind regardless of the passage of time. I like the idea of being that eccentric old lady on Tresco who sea swims every day regardless of the weather.

Ear plugs, goggles and swimcap and it's time to go.

Swimming tall, holding that leading arm up until the following arm comes in line with the head. 

Concentration one moment and a lovely sense of flow the next; I'm slowly making progress. Swimming lends itself to a wonderful watery meditation which might account for the sense of well-being that follows.

And there it is, the joy of the afterglow. I love the sense of achievement after a swim, no matter how long or short. My Swim Secure tow float gives me confidence as I know I'm always visible even in low light like today.

I've bought two new swimsuits for this winter. The white one above is by Roxy and the green is by Animal

Thanks for dropping by and I hope you have a great week!

Anna x


Fins and face masks

Another Friday, another feature.

Thanks for swinging by again! Yes, Friday's are looking a bit different now that Dress Up Friday is over, but never mind, here's a dose of beach therapy for you instead. This shot was taken on Wednesday when I was trying out my new toys. Look a bit harder and you'll see them.

But before we talk about these glove fins, I thought I'd just mention that jazzy swimsuit of mine, bought from the Wiggle website. I buy all my swimwear from there as well as goggles, swimcap and anything else you can imagine. Here's the link to the same one

I tend to wear this longer kneeskin suit in the evenings when the beaches are a bit more busy. I'm not keen on flashing too much flesh and love the way this accentuates the positive while covering up the negative. Fiona and I are enjoying our after work swims, often challenging ourselves to swim further and faster than if we swam alone.

A fellow swimmer introduced me to these hand fins recently, raving about the difference they can make to both the speed and power of stroke. I bought mine on Amazon, but I suppose you could find them elsewhere. In fact, I don't know why I didn't look for them on Wiggle! Anyway, as Fiona can testify, they do make for a much more powerful stroke and have also helped me improve the pitch of entry for my hands on freestyle. Every time I wear them they improve my speed which in turn means that she too improves her speed as she works to keep up with me. The tables will be turned next week when hers arrive and I have to try even harder to catch up with her speedy gonzalez stroke!

This was taken on Pentle Bay when we swam from the south end to the north and back again. We reward our efforts with a hot flask of tea or in my case fresh lemon and honey - yum! It's a good way to wind down at the end of the day, giving us the chance to take in the view and congratulate ourselves on both the swim and the lifestyle we have here.

Yes, today it's Mask-up Friday and for me, although I've been wearing these at work since the 6th of July, this means another daily challenge to find the right mask to compliment the outfit of the day. I've been making my own for some time in both the snout shape and the pleated one. I won't pretend that they're comfortable, but as someone recently pointed out, if you don't like wearing a mask then you'll hate wearing a ventilator.

Initially I really struggled wearing the face covering, but the more I do, the more I have become acclimatised. My customers are wearing them, some in fabric and some are the disposable kind, but whichever, I'm grateful that they are. Together we're doing our bit to keep each other safe and with the other measures I take, hopefully my workplace has become a sanitary space for everyone. I had a visit from our local Environmental Health Officer today and felt very reassured that everything I'm doing is right and appropriate for this type of retail opportunity. 

My sister Dianne made four of this style of masks to start me off and I've been copying her template to make more. I'm also making the oblong, pleated version as some days it feels less restrictive, but maybe that also means less effective. Mask-Up Friday is headline news today, but soon it'll be the norm. 

Now I have masks as my newest accessory I'm finding the daily outfit choice is being led by the mask rather than the other way around. This weekend I hope to make a few more which might mean no matter what I wear, I'll always have the right mask to wear. 

And talking about matching ... Did you notice how beautifully my new fins matched my swimming cossie?

I'll be back on Monday with our end of month style challenge, so please don't miss it!

Anna x


My skin cancer journey

Hi there!

Today's feature has been written to coincide with Skin Cancer Awareness Month 2020 which runs from the 1st to 31st of May. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and educate the public about the ways to help prevent skin cancer. UV exposure from the sun is one of the main causes of skin cancer and also one of the most preventable. This campaign hopes to reduce instances of skin cancer and increase the likelihood of early detection through education. 

During the month, people who have been affected by skin cancer are encouraged to get involved by sharing their stories on all forms of social media using the hashtag #MySkinCancerJourney, and everyone is invited to share information about sun safety, skin cancer prevention and early detection with friends and family. 

These photos are taken from my trip to Cape Town in January 2019 when I was oblivious of the dangers of skin cancer. I'm an every day sea swimmer and have always thought that my half hour in the ocean would be helping me to not only keep fit, but also get my daily dose of vitamin D. Oh what a healthy bunny I thought I was!

Fast forward 6 months and I had been referred to a skin specialist as a result of some patches which I thought were eczema. The itchy, flaky sores had been quietly growing and spreading across an area of my upper back for what may have been months if not years. I was questioned about my sun exposure, in particular about sun bathing, which I rarely do. On further questioning it turned out that my daily swim affording me of my dose of vitamin D was in fact far too much for my fair skin. Ten minutes maximum is all I ought to subject myself to and even then, just showing my forearms for that length of time would be perfectly adequate. Instead, the sun's rays hitting my skin through the water were effectively intensifying the sun damage. The diagnosis was Basal Cell Carcinoma, the least dangerous form of skin cancer, but it can still be disfiguring if left untreated. In November I travelled to the mainland to have the two deeper lesions cut out.

By December the wounds had already started to heal nicely and 6 weeks after the surgery the stiches were removed. The other patches were being treated at home with a chemical cream.

Another month down the line and both kinds of treatment were looking similar and healing well. I had been banned from the sea after surgery and missed almost 16 weeks of swimming thereafter. Staying out of the water ensured that I didn't pick up any bacteria in these open wounds. During that time I resorted to lunchtime beachside walks to get my daily dose of ozone.

Another month later and the wounds had healed and the skin was settling down again.

And now this is how the area has mended. The excision has left me with little mounds of skin that are prone to itching, but I can only think that's still part of the healing journey.

This was my pre-cancer norm as far as swimwear was concerned. A swimsuit and not a jot of suncream. Pah, half an hour in the early morning sun was no risk at all - oh what a fool I was!

And now for me, cover-up is the name of the game. I've invested in some swimwear to protect the vulnerable areas where I've had treatment. I use factor 30 suncream on my legs, but I'm not confident that I could reach all of my back and get full sun protection. If you're a regular sea swimmer or any other outdoor swimmer, then do think about your own skin type and if you're doing enough to keep yourself sun-safe. The past six months have made me reconsider if it's more important to wear a natty little cossie or to guard my skin from further damage.

What I hope you may take away from this is that even in the UK we can get skin cancer. My daily sun exposure is what accelerated my own condition, but I would advise anyone who exercises outdoors to take note of any moles or skin blemishes that become a permanent feature. Take photos so that you can monitor any changes in size, shape or condition of the area and if you notice anything different I would urge you to visit your GP. I know of two friends who had moles on their legs that turned out to be melanomas. One of them had surgery and has fully recovered and the other is still undergoing treatment two years after diagnosis. 

The other thing I've learnt through the Sun Awareness website is the danger of using sunbeds as they too can cause skin cancer. If you want to sunbathe, then do so safely using at least a factor 30 and reapply after swimming. Avoid the midday sun and don't allow yourself to get burnt. And follow the advice of Slip, slap, slop for young children - slip on a tee shirt, slap on a hat and slop on some sun cream. Our recent Stay Safe advice must surely extend to our sun awareness too, now that we're on the brink of summer. Last of all, please check out The Big See website to find out how you can protect yourself from this form of cancer which kills two people every hour.

One final link worth looking at is from the Skin Cancer Foundation. It dispels the myth of the healthy tan - it's a must read.

Thanks so much for joining me!

Anna x


My 4th year of blogging - what a busy year that was!

My blogging year runs from May to May and this time last year I was oblivious to what an exciting time I was about to experience. Island life couldn't prepare me for the whirlwind of three fashion campaigns for JD Williams and a beauty campaign for Look Fabulous Forever and all that those would entail. This is the visual whistle stop tour  overindulgent reprise of the year - I do hope you enjoy it half as much as I have! (You may want to make a cuppa and draw up a chair, this could take some time. Be warned, it's MEGA, the biggest post of my entire blogging career!)

In a couple of months I would leave the peace and serenity of the islands and step into the world of advertising to learn about the life of a fashion model, and all at the grand old age of 60!

This shot is from a feature I ran in May last year called "Fix her crown" - see it here if you missed it. 

My year on Tresco wouldn't be complete without a swimming shot of my friend Kate who comes at least twice or three times a year. These chat swims are great therapy for both of us as we exchange news and hatch plans together.

On the eve of the JD Williams casting session in London, here I am on the way to spend the night with another friend, Ann who acted as styling adviser, guide and confidante in those early days when the project was still at the fledgling stage and I was having to keep it quiet.

And this is post-casting and golly how relaxed I remember feeling once it was all over. (I look perfectly at home sitting on the Iron Throne too, don't I?) The actual casting was pretty much an adrenalin-charged blur of me talking nineteen to the dozen and then dancing (not unprompted I hasten to add) - oooo how I cringe when I recall that bit - but I was on a hopeful high as Ann and I sat having a drink before going to the cinema that evening. Dare I think that I would be good enough to make the cut? 

Home again and I'm wearing some of my spoils from that London trip.

July came along with the news that yes I was in! Time for me to swap boats for planes as I flew to Manchester for the filming of the new "I AM" campaign, to be released in September. As I arrived in the city, so did the raging heatwave that transformed our summer and memories thereof. Manchester in 30 degrees took a bit of getting used to without a sea breeze to help cool me down. 

The air con had broken down in the hotel room which served as hair and make-up department. A temporary system was hastily set up and we none of us melted. I do remember that between walking from the hotel to the film location I wasn't allowed to wear the heavy yellow sweater for fear that I might faint in the heat. I was given a runner to carry said sweater over his arm which was quite a novelty for me. I had to rein in my natural impulse to insist that I was able to carry my own sweater. The lad (young enough to be my son) surely had more important things to do?

My contribution - I AM Rocking 60!

I had to capture this for posterity. Evidence that we were indeed models and not just dreaming!

Little did we know that we were to be named as the five stars of the I AM campaign. What we did know however, was that we all loved larking about in front of the camera and that as a group we gelled, we had fun together and were very at ease with each other. What a great move by JD Williams to choose ordinary women to spearhead this new advertising campaign as it would resonate with ordinary women too. We were all thrilled to be part of this great marketing idea.

I'll be honest with you, I could hardly recognise myself in these shots. Make-up for TV is much heavier than your everyday make-up, well it has to be to counter the bright lights, but the dramatic look was still a bit of a surprise to me. The slash of red lipstick and those heavily made up eyes looked like someone else, someone doing glamour big time!

The editing suite where the experts wave a magic wand over the proceedings.

The photo shoots and filming over these few days were spent in haze of hairspray and laughter with these fabulous new found friends. I was a bundle of nerves most of the time resulting in me spouting even more gibberish than usual. As a newbie to this whole new world it was pretty exciting I have to say. (A note to my 10 year old self - have patience my dear, you will indeed get the chance to be a model before your time is out. That 10 year old girl had longed to take part in a mother and daughter fashion show in our local town hall sponsored by Smith's, the fashion shop at the top of the hill on the high street. Oh how I yearned to be up on that catwalk!)

Home again and time for a picnic with Steve on Samson island when I got the chance to share all of the crazy anecdotes from my trip away. These two lives could not be any more different. Thank goodness Steve always grounds me, but he also encouraged this new venture in my 60th year when "Why not?" had become my stock answer to the many things that came my way.

Our monthly Style Not Age challenges continued with the ladies of the group all in on my secret filming which was yet to be released.

Another trip to London, this time to join fellow fashion blogger Laurie of Vanity and Me where we were being used in the beauty campaign for Look Fabulous Forever. Laurie is a professional blogger and the list of her brand collaborations is as long as my arm. Actually, maybe longer.

The brand was launching a new face cream for day and night. We were gifted samples of these and I still use the brand now. 

Back on the home front and summer at the gallery means one exhibition every 10 days which is a pretty swift turnaround. The opening night parties are the highlight for all of the hard working artists and a real pleasure for us to showcase their work. Oh, and also a grand excuse for even more dressing up! Here I am with Flynn O'Reilly and Ramie Leahy, both of whom will be having shows with us again this summer.

By September I was back in Manchester filming the JD Williams Christmas advert. Pinch me, I kept thinking, is this really happening? Sworn to silence yet again, I bubbled with inner excitement at the prospect of me in my party outfit being seen on TV at Christmas.

We filmed in Blackpool at this indoor location as well as in the sand dunes on the beach. I find the whole behind-the-scenes life fascinating and can understand the appeal in making these kind of adverts. Bringing all of the creative threads together along with the the drive to get the perfect shot takes such a lot of expertise. I have a great respect for this art form. 

Home again. The view from my garden is an ever changing picture. As always, I count my blessings.

"Life's a ball" was my chosen theme for the September Style Not Age challenge. Very fitting when you consider the time I was having.

My best friend Bo lives in Portugal, but every so often she comes to the islands with her husband for a flying visit. On one of the days we took them off in our boat to Nornour, one of the uninhabited Eastern Isles for a picnic. This is what you really mean by getting away from it all. Happy days with friends - what more can you ask?

The wedding of Kate and Andy Lawson was a long awaited and a very special island occasion. See my blog post about the day here

January brought another call from JD Williams to take part in their spring campaign. I couldn't quite believe it! But pack my bags I did and off I went for the most amazing trip of my life - to Cape Town no less. This shot was of my meet up at Newquay airport with Laura aka The St Ives Mermaid which was equally exciting for both of us. If you missed that post you can see it here

Paulina and I were the last men standing from the original five faces of the I AM campaign way back in the summer. We congratulated each other on our luck when we met up for the Wardrobe Fitting. 10 days later and we were flying off to South Africa. Another huge pinch me moment!

The whole Cape Town experience was something that I'll never forget and to be perfectly honest, I'm so pleased to be able to go back to view the posts from that trip as I may not have catalogued them so well if I hadn't been a blogger. I often wonder if being a blogger played a part in my being chosen for this collaboration with JD Williams. Would I have made the grade otherwise? At the outset on the casting day in London I spoke to Annie and she assured me that they were already looking for certain types. If we fitted the prerequisites then we'd be in, if not then it's thank you and goodbye. I'm so grateful to have been given the chance to see the life of a model from the inside, but I was always going to feel a fraud. Goodness me, I only have to look in the mirror to know I'm no beauty, but for some reason - maybe they were casting a 60 year old bird with a big nose and wrinkles? - whatever, I made the grade for those three campaigns and goodness I'm so blooming lucky to have had that!

Winter swimming plays a massive part in my mental well being, so I was pleased to get back in the groove when I returned from the sunny climes of South Africa. The S.A.D. that normally plagues my winters was much less prominent, probably thanks to the sunlight I was able to soak up in January. My birthday month is usually much more of a struggle.

Mother's day lunch at the Ruin Beach Cafe.

Living up to my blogging motto of "Let's bin the beige and have fun with colour".

It seems apt to finish off the year of blogging with this photo from the post "I make no apologies for being me". As ever, I have this driving need to explain myself and hope that if you don't know me you'll take a look at this post alone if none of the others. I'll leave you with this link to the Christmas advert from JD Williams. (Fingers crossed that it still works!) I so loved this one, and am delighted to have this as part of my 60th year and 4th year of blogging - blimey, what a year that was!

Anna x

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