Dec 31 2020

Review of the year: 2020

It’s been a bit of a year!

On the scale of things we were pretty well situated, my wife and I both have jobs which can be done online effectively although Sharon’s university employers, in common with many universities, had an unwarranted enthusiasm for maintaining some face to face student contact and getting students on site.

We have a moderate sized garden where Thomas (now nearly 9) and I played a lot of football, touchingly (and rather naively) he thinks I should be a professional football player! Thomas and I also did quite a lot of baking together. Home-schooling was a battle of attrition, Sharon took the lead on this, for which I am eternally grateful. My part was largely the baking which we passed off as "maths". Thomas took the philosophical view that home was not school and we were not teachers therefore there could be no home-schooling. By the end, and in common with many parents, he was spending most of his time watching videos and playing games on a tablet but we made it through and he is now really happy to be back to school.

me_and_thomas

We live next door to a supermarket which was handy particularly in the early days of lockdown when there were shortages of random food items, and often queuing to get into the shop. As a result of covid, and the forthcoming final exit of the UK from the EU, we now have a second freezer and a moderate stockpile of food.

We are on the edge of Chester, so we can walk from our front door into the countryside. I also discovered cycling for leisure again, and found the routes out along the Greenway and back along the River Dee were rather good – car-free, well-paved and almost entirely flat. I also cycled out to Ness Gardens as part of my company’s annual "challenge", any "challenge" that involves coffee and cake at the mid-point is fine by me!

This years blogging has been thin but rather more varied than usual, I found I had less time for reading than normal. The traffic to my website has increased this year though, presumably because people have more time on their hands.

I wrote a couple of technology blog posts (Type annotations in Python and Unit testing in Python), these are pretty popular – I guess people are often googling for just the problem I have been seeking to fix.

I attending some counselling sessions for anxiety earlier in the year, so obviously blogged about that. Coronavirus has not been a problem from an anxiety point of view (other than the normal anxieties everyone else has!): I have been largely forbidden from doing the things that made me anxious!

Since I was spending more time in the conservatory, playing drums and guitar, I gave it a bit of an upgrade. I also wrote a rare "Gear review" post about the Boss RC-3 Loop station – it’s a guitar thing!

On the book front You look like a thing and I love you by Janelle Shane had me sniggering quietly to myself reading it on the train, it’s an overview to machine learning mainly focussed on the often hysterical results of machine learning. I read How the states got their shapes by Mark Stein, followed by 1491 by Charles C.Mann about pre-Columbian civilisation in the Americas. The Black Lives Matter movement reached the UK, and I was rather proud to see the residents of Bristol (one of my home cities) chuck a statue of the slaver, Edward Colston, into the harbour. My actions on BLM were modest, I deliberately started followed people who weren’t like me on social media, and read Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga – this has helped me think differently about British history. Also by David Olusoga (and Melanie Backe-Hanson) I read A House Through Time and related to houses, I read The Address Book by Deirdre Mask.

Along the lines of my more usual reading in the history of science I read The Egg and Sperm Race by Matthew Cobb – which is about how we came to understand reproduction in animals (and humans). The Pope of Physics by Gino Segrè and Bettina Hoerlin – about Enrico Fermi, Science City by Alexandra Rose and Jane Desborough – about science in London, The clock and the camshaft by John Farrell – about technology in the medieval period, who would have thought hammering was so important! Finally, and a little unclassifiable were  Sea monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps by Chet van Duzer and Your voice speaks volumes by Jane Setter.

We didn’t really manage a holiday away this year, we visited my father-in-law in Malvern for a few days but various restrictions and our caution made anything more an impossibility. Here we are climbing up to British Camp on the Malvern Hills

IMG_20200817_144221114

Thomas learned to ride a bike! He’s not shown much interest until now, we bought a cheap second hand bike from Bren Bikes and he was riding without support within a couple of hours.

As an end to a poor year my dad passed away a week before Christmas. He’d moved to a care home in January this year following the death of my stepmother a little over a year ago. Initially rather ill, and a little confused, his health improved as the year progressed. By lockdown he had started making short trips out on the train. In lockdown he engaged with the social life of the care home, and was making daily walks around the garden but towards the end of the year his health was declining. He died rather suddenly on Thursday 17th December, my brother had seen him the previous Saturday. We are grateful for his mercifully quick end, and the final year he had. I wrote an eulogy which you can find here. The funeral was held on 30th December with most attending online, as many have done through this year – I posted the Order of Service here which includes the music, readings, eulogy and photos.

A picture of dad with Thomas and Sharon

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My winter gloom is not so bad this year because I’m not cycling to and from work in the dark, obviously circumstances have made it a rather sad end to the year.

I guess all that can be said now is "Here’s to a better 2021!".

Dec 30 2020

Order of service

A Service of Celebration for the life of

Andrew Hopkinson

11th August 1939 ~ 17th December 2020

Christchurch Ceremony Hall

Wednesday 30th December 2020 at 11:00am

Service conducted by Anna Wildeman

Order of Service

PROCESSIONAL MUSIC

‘The Elements Song’ – Tom Lehrer

WELCOME WORDS

READING

‘You want a Physicist to speak at your Funeral’ – Aaron Freeman

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him/her that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let him/her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her/his eyes, that those photons created within her/him constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.

THE EULOGY

by Ian and Paul

The eulogy is here

MUSIC FOR REFLECTION with PHOTOGRAPHS

‘New World Symphony – Largo’ – Dvořák

An album of photographs of Andrew Hopkinson on Google Photos

READING

‘Miss me, but let me go’ by Christina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

THE COMMITTAL

A TOAST TO ANDY

CLOSING WORDS

‘As we look back’ by Clare Jones

As we look back over time
We find ourselves wondering
Did we remember to thank you enough
For all you have done for us?
For all the times you were by our sides
To help and support us
To celebrate our successes
To understand our problems
And accept our defeats?
Or for teaching us by your example,
The value of hard work, good judgement,
Courage and integrity?
We wonder if we ever thanked you
For the sacrifices you made.
To let us have the very best?
And for the simple things
Like laughter, smiles and times we shared?
If we have forgotten to show our
Gratitude enough for all the things you did,
We’re thanking you now.
And we are hoping you knew all along,
How much you meant to us.

RECESSIONAL MUSIC

‘Coronation Scot’ – Vivian Ellis

A recording of the funeral service

Thank you for attending this service in loving memory of Andy

Donations, if desired, for

Sustrans – the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle

may be made online by visiting www.tapperfuneralservice.co.uk

or sent to Tapper Funeral Service

89~91 Barrack Road, Christchurch BH23 2AJ

Tel: 01202 478887

Dec 23 2020

Eulogy for Andrew Hopkinson

My dad, Andrew Hopkinson, died in Bournemouth Hospital at about 11:45am on Thursday 17th December 2020. He was born 11th August 1939.

Dad grew up in Yorkshire with his brothers David, Barry and John. He attended Bradford Grammar School, we still have his school reports and his passion for maths was obvious even then.

David remembers:

Andy and I were avid readers from quite a young age with similar tastes.  To avoid friction we had a rule that whoever brought a book home had absolute right to it, and could demand it to be handed over even when the other was engrossed in it.  This agreement  worked very well though we did have occasional problems to persuade our father to abide by it.

Barry remembers:

Most of my memories of my brother Andy go back to our teenage years when we were particularly close.


We were in the scouts together at Baildon (6th Shipley Baildon Methodists Group) where we would meet weekly. We were a very active troop, one of our contemporaries being Ian Clough, who went on to be the first British climber (together with Chris Bonnington) to make the ascent of the North Wall of the Eiger. We did not aspire to such great things but we did go on together to gain the “Queen’s Scout Award” which was no mean achievement. I think we were the only ones to do so from Baildon in our era. We enjoyed annual scout camps together in Nidderdale and Borrowdale in the Lake District.


In the summer of 1958 we spent about 5 weeks together cycling around Europe. Our expedition took us down to Dover to make the channel crossing to Boulogne then across northern France to Strasbourg, through the Black Forest of western Germany and onward to Munich and Innsbruck before heading back through Austria, Switzerland and France. We were pulled in by the police near Innsbruck for not dismounting on the descent of a steep hill. I had done a bit of German at school and pleaded ignorance, repeatedly saying “Ich verstehe nicht, ich bin ein Englander”. The police simply shrugged their shoulders and muttered “Englanders, hah hah hah”. Just as I thought I was getting somewhere Andy says “Oh, Ich verstehe” and got us landed with an on the spot fine. We didn’t have any of the electronic gismos available today that provide a myriad of statistics and I don’t even have a record of the actual mileage covered, but I would guess at getting on for 3,000 miles (a few years ago I cycled to Rome to raise funds for the local hospice and covered 1,535 miles (I didn’t return home by bike on that occasion). We did all this with full camping gear and cooked all our own meals of course.


One Easter in the very early sixties Andy went to the Isle of Arran with me and two friends from the Bradford Pothole Club. While there we made the traverse of the whole of the Arran ridge plus Goat Fell in a day. From the summit of Goat Fell two of us dashed down to Brodick to get some beer while Andy and our other friend cooked the evening meal. It was a Sunday and although we managed to convince the barman we were bona fide travellers we were not permitted any “carry outs” so we downed a quick couple of pints before returning to our camp in Glen Rosa to break the sad news to the others.


Andy also joined us on at least one of our Bradford Pothole Club camps in the Lake District but I never managed to get him underground in any of the many caves in our beloved Yorkshire Dales.


Then Andy went to work and live in Dorset!

“Cheerio Andy, we had some happy times together before our paths parted all those years ago”

He went up to Jesus College, Cambridge where he gained a 1st in Mathematics. He was cox of the Jesus College boat in the River Cam Bumps races. Here he felt he was with like-minded people, and he kept in touch with the College throughout his life, and would always tell stories of his time there.

He moved to Dorset to work at the UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Winfrith. A job he kept for his whole working life. He wrote computer code to simulate nuclear reactors; this is where he met my mum, Sylvia.

From a former colleague:

I was sorry to hear about Andrew – I’ve probably mentioned in the past that his work on drum dynamics – AEEW M 1123 – ‘A New Model for the Dynamics of Steam Drums’, is quoted in connection with water/steam separation in ‘Simulation and Control of Electrical Power Stations’, J. B. Knowles , John Wiley – a collection of papers produced from UKAEA and CEGB.

I can’t recall ever meeting him but I do remember borrowing his copy of Pippard on thermodynamics for many years.

In the early days Andy was an enthusiastic rock climber as well as a keen walker, Eric C. remembers:

As you probably know, I shared a flat with Andy at Sutton Poyntz near Weymouth for about 4-5 years, and it was an agreeable time. Andy was a gentleman with a fine temperament, and I think we enjoyed each other’s company. I’m enclosing a photo of Andy when we were camped in Easter 1963 in the Lake District at Wasdale. We were all trying to traverse round Wasdale before going back for dinner! I’m also enclosing a composite picture of Andy, Anth, Sheila and Tony George together with other members and friends of Wessex [Mountaineering Club] members in the Christmas 1962 camp at Wasdale – proof that in those days – 58 years ago we were still capable of climbing moderate sized mountains!

My younger brother, Paul, and I were born in the early seventies. We lived in Wool on Colliers Lane until we successively left for university. Dad was a stickler for safety, and would often tell the story of how, when we were returning home from the hospital after my birth, he had strapped my cot into the backseat of the car – the nurse had said it was customary for the mother to hold the baby in her arms! And so throughout our childhood Paul and I wore seatbelts in the back of the car, long before it was a legal requirement. This saved our lives exactly once.

Dad was a quiet, methodical DIYer. His most memorable project was a large stone fireplace/sideboard which he made from carefully labelled Portland stone, taking great care to hide wires for the stereo and TV that sat upon it – he despised visible wires.

It was not until I was quite old that I discovered that not all people keep a little book in the glove box of their car where they record every time they buy petrol, how much it cost and the car mileage at that point. Dad was always a methodical record keeper.

At Christmas I like to remember him for the time he heated a spoon to warm up brandy to set the Christmas pudding on fire, and tested the temperature of the spoon on his trousers, only to discover that polyester melts!

Dad did a lot of cycling and camping as a child; he kept cycling through most of his life but only as a way of getting around. Our holidays revolved around camping and walking, often in the New Forest, Scotland or Devon but also in great tours around Europe – a bigger organisational challenge in the days before the internet. Our final holiday with dad as a family was a road trip around the West Coast of the United States, starting in Calgary and going all the way down to the Grand Canyon and then back up through San Francisco and along the Pacific Coast crossing back through the Rockies. He told us glacial meltwater was a milky blue and too cold to swim in.

Dad kept an allotment on and off through much of his life, a passion he had inherited from his father. He was still worrying about harvesting and storing the apples from the trees in the garden shortly before he moved into the care home.

Trains were a constant through his life, I can remember his subscription to Modern Railways magazine arriving every month, and when he came to visit us in Chester from Christchurch the engineering works he saw on the way were often the first topic of conversation. He was happy to sit down and just read the national railway timetable. He had hoped to live to travel on the first leg of HS2, and see his first great-grandchild – I’m not sure what the priority was there!

Dad met Susan, my stepmother, on a night walk with the Ramblers Association, she was impressed by his ability to cook a full breakfast on a Primus stove after walking through the night. With Susan, my stepbrothers Kevin and Dominic joined the family.

Following his retirement, Susan and dad went on many walking trips, both around the United Kingdom and further afield in Italy, France, Tenerife and New Zealand. For their four month trip to Australia and New Zealand, my brother Paul was shocked to discover that all they took with them was a small rucksack each – the sort of size most of us would use as a day bag. After staying in bothies in New Zealand they looked to do similar in the Highlands.

Dad and Susan also attended many concerts together, joined the University of the Third Age which they enjoyed almost to the ends of their lives. Dad never lost his enthusiasm for learning new things. They were frequent users of the local library.

Dad was delighted when Sharon and I got married, after many years of “living in sin”. He was an enthusiastic grandparent when our son Thomas, now 8, was born. As he was for his other grandchildren, Chloe and Zach, Jamie and Alex.

From Margaret K., one of his friends at the Ramblers:

Andy was one of the first people I chatted with when I joined the Ramblers in early 2003 and from then on talking with him was always interesting.  I learnt a great deal more from him than he did from me.  He and Susan were enthusiastic users of public libraries and he found intriguing books to read on a wide variety of subjects.  I found that reading some of his recommendations led me to all sorts of interesting information.   His love of navigation and the countryside, especially the New Forest, made him a much appreciated leader of Ramblers’ walks and he was one of the leaders I observed in learning to lead walks myself.  

He was an efficient secretary of the East Dorset Group of the Ramblers for a couple of long stints up to 2003 and soon after that became a careful chairman of the group for a few years, at that time helping to develop the group’s involvement in the Purbeck Plod, a 25 mile challenge walk.  He volunteered at White Mill, which is on the River Stour near Blandford and at the visitor centre at Hengistbury Head.  

Susan was still walking when I joined the Ramblers but her health problems made her pull out as time went on.  My husband Bernie and I exchanged some dinner dates with the two of them, the last one in autumn 2019 when Susan was already very ill but she and Andy pulled out all the stops to get her out to the pub where we met.  

In the last few years dad and Susan had both been seriously ill but they looked after each other. Following Susan’s death at the end of 2019, dad spent his final year in the Sunrise of Southbourne care home. He had a propensity to hoard things (plastic bags) and liked to save a few pennies – over 10,000 tooth picks were cleared from the house when he moved into the care home.

Initially rather ill, his health improved through the first few months, and he started taking extended trips out. Then the coronavirus came and he was confined to the home, but took full opportunity of the social opportunities it presented.

From Lana W. at Sunrise Care Home:

Thank you for putting your trust in us and for letting us look after Andy over the past year. He was a true gentleman who will always hold a special place in all of our hearts. I am going to miss his stories and seeing him complete his laps around the garden. He is already greatly missed by all especially the residents in mind gym.

My brother, Paul, was able to visit him on the Saturday before he died, he was a little down having been unwell for a couple of months but brightened up showing Paul around the pictures at the home. Kevin was able to visit him briefly in hospital on the morning he died.

Choosing music for dad’s funeral was hard, he was not really a musical person. From my childhood I remember The Hippopotamus Song by Flanders and Swann, Littles Boxes by Pete Seeger, Morningtown Ride by The Seekers, and The Elements by Tom Lehrer (actually a lot of Tom Lehrer, mostly entirely inappropriate for a funeral!). We thought of two solid funeral favourites, The Enigma Variations by Elgar – dad was interested in early computing and cryptography, visiting Bletchley Park where the German Enigma code was cracked. And Dvorak’s New World Symphony (better known as the Hovis advert music). It seems appropriate for dad to use music featuring a Yorkshireman providing a voice-over for a boy pushing a bicycle up a hill in Dorset, cycling, hills, Dorset and Yorkshire all being things he loved. We finished with Coronation Scot by Vivian Ellis – Coronation Scot was a famous locomotive inaugurated in the 1930s and the music has a steam-train theme to it.

We collected some photos of dad, they are here.

There is a lot of dad in me.

Rest in peace.

May 22 2020

Home improvements: Conservatory edition

In a break from my usual service I thought I’d write about some DIY I have been doing during the covid-19 movement restrictions which have meant we have been confined to the home for a large part of the time. The idea of this blog post is to remind me what I have done, and perhaps provide a guide to others.

The Problem

Our house has a small conservatory at the back which opens into the dining room and looks out onto the back garden which is rather pleasant. It contains a large collection of toys, mainly Lego which lives on and in  Ikea Trofast storage units around the perimeter. There is a bespoke storage unit which holds more toys, including mounts for my son’s substantial collection of nerf guns. More recently it has gained an electric drum kit, and my guitar amplifier. It is where I practice playing, slightly detached from the rest of the family but vaguely audible and visible. It is also the cat’s dining room.

Below is a "before" picture, taken nearly 10 years ago to illustrate our new patio. It serves to shows the context of the conservatory rather than illustrate the problems:

IMG_1115

The Problem is that the conservatory faces west and this means for a substantial part of the year it gets unbearably hot in the afternoon, and very bright. Before the movement restrictions there were no blinds or window covers of any sort. Along with the issues of heat, it is also a little unattractive to look into and the view to one side looks into an odd space outside our kitchen door, facing onto our neighbour’s kitchen extension. So some decorative interest would not go amiss.

I have a vague plan to replace the conservatory with an extension running across the back of the house, so I don’t want to spend a huge amount of money for something that will be torn down in a few years time.

Some solutions

The deluxe solution to this problem is to get in someone like Hilary’s blinds who do a bespoke installation. It’s not quite clear what the price would be but it looks like well over £1000 possibly approaching £2000. Also they cover off the blinds side of the problem well but not any sort of decorative elements and the flexibility around what to do with the roof is limited.

I also looked at these clip fit blinds (and here), they are made to measure and have a spring fitting that sticks under the double glazing seal to hold them in place. They would be rather cheaper than the Hilary’s blinds option – probably a couple of hundred pounds for the four windows I’d like to install them on – the big ones looking down the garden. I looked at a few options like this but held off since I wasn’t confident of delivery under the circumstances. I also wasn’t too sure about whether the anchoring mechanism would work on my windows and under the current circumstances sorting out issues would be a pain.

As it turns out there is a very cheap blinds solution: Stick-on paper blinds! You can get a pack of six here on Amazon for less than £25. I liked this option because it was really cheap and, following a comment on the Q&A on Amazon I thought I could use the paper blinds as a try out for style and if I liked them go for some of the clip fit ones.

For the roof I felt there should be some sort of billowy sail like drapings which I thought would be rather good but I couldn’t find just I what I was looking for – again there seemed to be bespoke options but the route to DIY installation was not so clear. There are "conservatory sails" but these are sails which you use as a sun shade rather than install in a conservatory. I worried about fixings for such things too – I would need to screw mountings into the UPVC frame of the conservatory which didn’t seem ideal. In the end I went with this high reflective film for the roof, I think it had come up as I searched for blinds and the like. It cuts out about 90% of the light which is fine for a sunny spot. I spent about £140 on the reflective film.

Finally the decorative part to go on the windows looking towards the back door. It took me a while to hit the right such term for this, I ended up with this "privacy film" with a bird pattern – I spent about £40 on this.

Installation

I installed in three stages. The patterned film was a couple of evenings after dinner. The paper blinds similarly a couple of short evenings. The reflective film was an evening, and three weekend mornings – a rather bigger job. I wish I’d installed the paper blinds last because they didn’t like having water dripped on them and installing the films required quite a lot of water

The paper blinds are the simplest to install – you cut them to width with a pair of scissors and then stick them to the window at the top with a sticky strip. I found cutting them neatly tricky because they are pleated, and sufficiently thick that you can only cut them a couple of folds at a time. They come supplied with some little alcohol wipes so you can make sure the window you stick to is really clean. Each blind comes with a couple of plastic clips which you can use to hold the folds of the blind up. The inadequacies of my cutting and installation are not too obvious, these blinds work quite well. I found it necessary to cut them to length in order that the clips were able to old the folded part. They could do with a stiffening rod along the bottom edge.

The decorative film was relatively easy to install, you cut to size then peel off a backing film, wet the window thoroughly then squeegee them into place to remove the bubbles. My Stanley knife blade was feeling its age so I ended up scoring the film with the blade then cutting it with the scissors which occasionally left untidy edges. If I did this again I’d use more water on the window – a lesson I learnt from the final piece to be installed.

I left installing the reflective film for last since it involved working overhead and looked the most difficult. The length of the roof panes in the conservatory is nearly 3 metres, I decided wrangling that length of wet, sticky, thin film above my head was a step too far. So after a bit of experimentation I went for installing 150 centimetre strips, this worked pretty well. Installation was similar to the decorative film, except the instructions suggested spraying the window with water spraying the film with water and then spraying the exposed surface of the film with water once it was in place. This was a lot of water, most of which dribbled down my arms as I squeeged the film into place but it actually worked really well. Initially the film has lots of bubbles under it but one pass of the squeegee sorts most of that out. You need to clean the windows properly before putting the film on since any dirt leaves pimples in the film. I never quite cracked cutting the film to exactly the right size, if you cut slightly to big then I found it impossible to cut neatly down to size once in place (perhaps a sharper Stanley knife would have helped), so I ended up undersizing slightly – this isn’t too noticeable though. Similarly butting the edges of the film together was a bit tricky but mistakes here only show if you stand staring at the roof. Finding a corner to peel off the backing takes a knack, I found the best way was to pare away a corner.

The picture below captures the decorative film, the blinds and the reflective film once installed. The narrow windows at the top also have the reflective film on them.

finished

Close inspection shows the installation is not perfect but imperfections are only really noticeable to me when I go looking for them. This second picture shows a bit more context, it is full sun outside and the conservatory is not overheating!

finished2

I wondered about putting some modesty panel style film on the lower half of the patio doors.

Conclusions and further work

I am quite pleased with the results, the conservatory no longer gets unbearable hot in the sun. The reflective film is perhaps a little too reflective in the morning making the dining room a little dim. I’m not sure what the solution is here, the conservatory is quite small and I worry more substantial blinds, and their control mechanisms would be too bulky. You can get electrically switchable window/films but they cost about £40 for an A4 sized panel. The blinds look like pleated paper which is exactly what they are – I will replace them with proper fitted ones in due course.

Apr 06 2020

Strategies for dealing with anxiety

These are some strategies for coping with anxiety which I have been learning about in counselling sessions which I have been doing over the last few weeks. For me anxiety manifests itself as a tightness in the chest, disturbed sleep – typically waking very early, and repetitive thoughts. The repetitive thoughts can be benign, aside from keeping me awake all night, or they can be about how I’m going to fail to do something and let people down. These thoughts become more and more consuming. The current covid-19 pandemic actually helps me with my normal anxiety since the things that usually make me anxious are forbidden! It turns out this is not unique – see this article.

    • Mindfulness – this is a general strategy which is about focussing on doing one thing at a time, being engaged in that one thing exclusively. It can be applied to many activities but often it is used with a breathing exercise – focussing on counting breathes. For me a good start is not looking at my mobile phone when I am doing something else! That said the Headspace phone app provides some useful exercises in mindfulness;
    • Worry time – this is a strategy for dealing with underlying anxiety. The idea is that you set aside a time for worrying, and if you find you are worrying outside that time you can put off worrying until later. My strategy involved deferring worrying but then not scheduling worry time. I’m not sure whether this is how it is supposed to work but it is effective to a degree! There are some more notes on this here;
    • Safe space – this a strategy for dealing with anxiety in the moment. It involves focusing the mind on a “safe space”, a place where you feel safe and relaxed. It’s best not to include people in your safe space since they can be unpredictable and stressful. I use a place where I go walking, I also use the feeling of sitting on my train reading my book after it has pulled away from the station although this one isn’t so good since the train may stop unexpectedly or get busy. There is an exercise of safe spaces here;
    • Narration – this is a strategy for dealing with anxiety in the moment. It involves narrating what you are doing as you feel anxious thoughts arising. It always makes me think of the Pulp track, I Spy. It is a form of distraction;
    • Empty bowl meditation – breathing exercise with focus on endpoints and the flow. The breathing exercises I’ve done in the past tend to focus on counting breaths rather than observing individual breaths in detail.Instructions for this are here. I keep reading this as “Empty Bowel”…;
    • Willing hands – different posture for anxiety reduction. Looks like the “classic” mediation/yoga pose with palms upwards. The idea is that it prepares you for acceptance. Instructions for this are here – page 175;
    • Radical acceptance skills – this is a general strategy about accepting things as they are not as you wish them to be. The radical here just means ‘complete’. One difficulty with anxiety is the feeling that you should somehow be able to think yourself better, that an act of will will cure you. This reminds me of the lyric from Frozen “Let it go, let it go…” Instructions for this are here, they are oriented around dealing with past painful events;
    • Compassion mindfulness – this is a general strategy about feeling compassion towards yourself. It fits in with the acceptance exercise and starts with feeling compassion towards someone else (the exercise uses the Sanskrit word metta which means compassion or loving kindness). Instructions for this are here;
    • Relaxation – muscle relaxation is a common strategy in mindfulness. I see it more as a focus on the body and bodily sensations rather than muscle relaxation per se. There are some instructions here;
    • Effective rethinking and paired relaxation – this combines the relaxation step above with “rethinking”, that is taking a stressful situation and replacing the thoughts causing distress with alternative less stressful interpretations. Instructions for this are here (on page 332);
    • Body scan meditation – this is another mindfulness technique, I get hung up on the fact that it asks me to imagine my breathe flowing to my toes – which is not how respiration works! I should work out a suitable modification. Instructions for this are here (on page 335);
    • Wise mind: states of mind – this is more background than a skill as such. It talks about the combination of the logical “reasonable mind” and the “emotion mind”. The handout for this is here (on page 50);

Obviously, it doesn’t really work to only try these things only once you are having a bit of a crisis. I have struggled to find a quiet time to practice, we have an early rising 8 year old around the house the whole time at the moment. I’m working on practising when I wake up before I get up, this is usually a guaranteed quiet time.

These strategies come from the Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) family which is related to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. (dialectical means relating to the logical discussion of ideas or opinions, or concerned with or acting through opposing forces).

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