Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Two Years...

Today is Tom's second Angel Anniversary. Two long years that have flown by. Does that make any sense?

Two years since I have felt his soft little hands in mine, squeezing gently and showing me, subtly, that he shared a bond with me that would be unbroken in spirit forever. Two years since I have breathed in the smell of his hair. Two years since I have looked into the biggest brown eyes - brown like Minstrels - and seen a twinkle in them despite everything...

And so, today, I thought I would post about his memorial stone in more detail...

Weirdly, a couple of months before Tom passed away, there was an article in a Sunday magazine about an organization called Memorials by Artists that specialised in making bespoke memorials, particularly for children. A sixth sense made me tear out the article and stash it away.

After 3 or 4 months of burying Tom, I decided that I would start looking into finding a suitable headstone for his grave and digging out the article, I contacted Memorials by Artists and made arrangements to go and visit and set the wheel in motion. No2 and I drove up to Snape in Suffolk to find the most amazing house and garden which served as an office. Examples of headstones were scattered gently around the grounds, blending into the natural setting beautifully. I knew straightaway that I was on the right path. I discussed my ideas with Harriet, the founder of the company, and I left it with her to find a suitable stone-mason to commission the work.

I knew I would like to use a stone that was found naturally in Britain and we opted on slate for its colouring and texture. I was looking for something that would look very natural and have an unfinished look to it.

I was soon put in touch with Robin Golden-Hann and I drove down to meet him at his studio in Hampshire. We talked about the look of the stone and the wording. He had thoughtfully set up a little carving job for No2 to have a go at while we were talking and encouraged him to add his personal ideas to the finished stone design. He felt that slate would be a good option and I left with the promise of drawings and quarry appointments to follow shortly. Robin was fantastic in interpreting my ideas into a working drawing and although we had a couple of attempts at getting the wording right, I was thrilled with final sketches.

By November we were ready to set off for Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales to the quarry to select the stone. I have never seen such a grey place. In a bizarre twist of fate, I had visited Ffestiniog on a school journey 30-odd years before - another sign that it was the right thing. Everywhere we looked, there were piles of greyness reaching up to the grey skies of a cold and wet November morning. No2 climbed up heaps of slate, collecting interestingly shaped bits of slate to bring home and copious amounts of quartz crystal that forms naturally alongside the slate deep in the earth. I still have lumps of it around the house as doorstops and suchlike. Our car was laden on the journey home! Having left the copies of the drawings with the quarry we left hopeful that they would find a piece of slate that would be suitable. We also selected a small piece of slate that I wanted carved to keep at home, a portable memorial.

The star is picked out with palladium leaf - silver in colour but won't tarnish like silver and is next to platinum on the periodic table.

The slate delivery seemed to take forever and by February I was getting nervous that it wouldn't arrive in time to be laid on Tom's first anniversary. The cemetery regulations stipulated that you couldn't install a permanant headstone for a whole year after the burial as you had to allow the ground to settle. Robin assured me that all would be on schedule and I was hugely relieved to hear that the slate was finally delivered to his workshop in the middle of March.

He sent me photos of the slate with the wording pencilled on and it looked exactly as I had imagined.

At the end of that month, we spent a few days on holiday in Wiltshire and on the way home, I called in to see Robin and the finished stone. It was perfect. No2 and I had asked Robin to carve a secret message on the part of the stone that would be underground and I often smile at the thought of that part, that is completely private and just ours.

Robin's letter-cutting is exquisite...

Tom's big love of dinosaurs and all things prehistoric fits in perfectly with the dragonfly - a primitive creature, around long before the dinosaurs, and also one that symbolises change and courage. There is a wonderful little book called Water Bugs and Dragonflies that explains death to children. I also remember being out walking with the boys in a forest at an RSPB site and the biggest, emerald green dragonfly landed on my leg as I was walking. It just seemed happy to be there.

Can you guess No2's input? Yep, he wanted Pippin's tail on the stone and so it curls round it at the bottom...

So, as planned, the stone was installed in time for Tom's first Angel Anniversary last year. I arranged a small service to be carried out by the minister at our church, who had conducted his funeral and who I have become good friends with. No2 had been inspired by the service at GOSH that we had attended the day before, to do a short reading and it felt as though the world fell silent to hear his words. This is what he read out:

We cannot judge a biography by its length,

by the number of pages in it:

We must judge it by the richness of the content.

Sometimes the 'unfinished' is among the most

beautiful of symphonies.

Victor Frankl

Along with the natural look of the stone, this feeling of unfinished summed up how I felt about Tom's short life. The stone stands out in the cemetery, as he stood out in his short life, and hopefully leaves a lasting impression on those who cast their eyes on it.

So, there is the whole story. A journey, if you like. In search of perfection and knowing all the while that there was only going to be one opportunity to do the right thing. I think I achieved all I set out to do. I am always surprised by the warmth of the stone, even in the depths of winter it seems to retain something that you just have to touch and gain comfort from.

I have taken the day off work and I have gained permission for an authorised absence for No2 from school. We are going to the zoo...

Friday, 25 April 2008

Syd Rabbit...

Allow me to introduce Syd Rabbit.

He is the first crochet project that I have completed that required me to learn how to read the pattern and find the confidence to tweak it when it didn't seem to be going right.

I'm not sure if I did it right in the end, but who cares? I'm very pleased with him...and I am struggling to wrap him up to give away.

I keep wondering if his face is a bit scary. His eyes are meant to be different sizes, by the way.

Likewise, so are his ears.

I've not made a pom-pom for probably 30 years! It took a huge amount of wool!

It is also the first time I have made some labels like the ones in this book. I bought some printable cotton from here, and made them on my PC. The cotton comes as an A4 sheet backed with paper that goes through my printer as usual. Then you peel the paper off and give the cotton a quick wash (I just used washing-up liquid in some warm water) and then leave it to dry. Cut the labels out and voila! On one A4 sheet I got 6 small labels and 4 bigger labels - perfect for personalising my quilt.

The pattern for Syd came from this book. It has some wonderful projects in it, including a cushion that I am in the middle of making, with some adjustments of my own. I think though, that I may have to make a Syd for myself as I have got very attached to him. I used Rowan Classic Baby Alpaca DK.

He will be delivered to his new owner on Sunday. Her name is Anna and she is the newly arrived daughter of a very special couple who I have met through my bereaved parents group at Helen House.

Helen House was the hospice that Tom was involved with. I say involved with because I am struggling to find the right word. I had not been that keen to get involved with a hospice because the very word sounded so awful, but a friend of mine managed to convince me it would be worth looking into, even if it was to be just for some respite care. After some soul-searching, I decided to go and have a look. My preconceptions evaporated as soon as I stepped through the door. It was such a warm, friendly place and the staff there were caring and mindful of my apprehension. I was given a tour of the building and was hugely impressed. There were facilities for No2 and I to stay in the building while Tom was being looked after, so that I could have a break and be taken care of too.

Being a charitable organisation, there were no waiting lists, funding applications or referral processes to go through and so I agreed that we would give it a go, purely for respite. They offer an end-of-life service, but I knew I would not be taking them up on that. I discussed it with No2 and he seemed very keen to go there - the hydrotherapy pool is a surefire hit with most children! One of the first things that he asked me after Tom had passed away was if that it meant that we wouldn't be able to go to the hospice.

As it happens, we never made it there. Time ran out for us. But in the months following Tom's passing, I had letter from the Bereavement Team and was invited to join a group of bereaved parents from Helen House for a series of workshops. To say I was nervous is possibly understatement of the year, but I took a deep breath and drove back to Oxford. That first workshop was called 'Do Men and Women Grieve Differently'. Hmmm, I was there on my own, so I guess the answer to that is Yes... I actually found it extremely difficult to witness other people's grief, particularly the fathers who were there.

The workshop was facilitated by the chaplain - a lovely man by the name of Mark. He made me feel very comfortable despite the circumstances and on the back of that first workshop I joined a group of parents who committed to meet 6 times over the next 8 months.

Our series of meetings has now come to an end but the bond we formed was so strong, we have decided to carry on meeting up and so, on Sunday we will come together again to draw support from each other by simply sharing the fact that the worst has happened to us all. We will welcome Anna into our group as a blessing. One of the things that we have all agreed on is that because we all lost sons, it has given the group a stronger bond for some reason.

Tomorrow I am going to the Annual Service of Remembrance at Great Ormond Street hospital. I shall be remembering my beautiful boy and the other boys from my group. I shall light a candle and shed some tears. It is uncanny that each year this service will fall on the weekend before Tom's anniversary, as though it was arranged just for us. Of course, it wasn't, it is just a coincidence...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Done and dusted...

My fortnight of entertaining visitors from overseas is over. I have missed my daily excursions around Blogland. I have missed making dinner every night. I have missed my own company of an evening. But I have enjoyed re-visiting some of England's finest places as I became a tour guide for a while.

Stonehenge is a constant source of fascination to me and No2. We have been there several times on our way to or from other destinations in that part of the world.

A new place for me to pay a visit was Salisbury, a few miles down the road from Stonehenge. Its cathedral, which has the tallest spire in Great Britain (123m to be precise), was breath-taking. The architecture both inside and out is just stunning. My neck ached from constant upward-gazing into the vaulted ceilings and at the magnificent stained glass windows.

I had a special reason for wanting to go there too. In the process of creating a memorial stone for Tom's grave, I was lucky enough to have met and commissioned Robin Golden-Hann, a lettercutter and stone mason. Together we worked on a suitable piece for Tom (this is a story in itself, which I will share in more detail at another time. I think it deserves a post of its own). Robin has been involved in some of the huge restoration project at Salisbury Cathedral and also made the memorial stone for Sir Edward Heath which can be found inside the cathedral. On finding it, I had another chance to admire Robin's beautiful work.

Our next destination was Warwick. I am lucky enough to know Warwick well, as one of my closest friends lived there for 10 years. I had forgotten how wonderful the castle was, steeped in history and dating back to William the Conqueror's reign.

The Royal Weekend Party exhibit is very atmospheric - I loved all the detail in each of the roomsets.

No2 has an on-going fascination with all things armour and swords, so there was plenty to tick his boxes.

It was bitterly cold and we froze at the top of the tower despite a climb of a few hundred steps to get us there. We had a giggle on the ghost tour...well, actually, we screamed...quite alot! It was hard to tell the difference between the live actors and the wax models in the dark and with the smoke! They insisted on jumping out on you from behind doors...

Had it been warmer, I would have spent more time in the peacock garden taking in the views and marvelling at the colours of the peacock's tail feathers, but it got to the point where we really just wanted to be warm again.

Our final destination was Stratford-upon-Avon, with all things Shakespeare. After booking into a hotel for the night, we ate a delicious dinner in Carluccio's - thank you, Anna, for the recommendation! I left my visitors to do their own thing the next morning before coming back home thoroughly exhausted.

And so, now back to real life. I have gardening to do, yarn to use and fabric waiting in the wings to be transformed into another quilt.

Oh yes, I also made a deal with myself that once the spring holiday is over, I would start studying in preparation for my course in September...maybe next week...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Saving Grace...

I have a tree in my garden. It is not a particularly nice looking tree because over the years its previous owners have chopped bits of it off leaving it lop-sided. But for 2 short weeks in April it saves itself from the final chop from the tree surgeon.

Its delicate white blossom is its saving grace...

Come the autumn, I will be cursing its annual leaf-drop all over my lawn. But I have discovered that they make lovely brown leaf mould for my flower beds and so the circle continues...

In other beds around the garden, this is what is cheering me up on my daily wanderings:

The acid green of the euphorbias almost hurts your eyes...the wallflowers, I grew from seed last June...the dicentra grows almost before your very eyes...the tulips are a bit of a surprise - they were meant to be pink and green!

I love the clumps of forget-me-nots that spread like mad and make a blue carpet...the winter pansies always perk up just when you're thinking of replacing them with summer bedding plants...the amalanchier has what the gardening books describe as year round interest, with its pretty white flowers, then gleaming black berries and the most impressive autumn colour.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Cookies and Sightseeing...

Last week I received an email from friends in Florida, who arrived to stay with me on Wednesday, asking if there was anything we would like them to bring over with them.

There was only one thing on the list as far as No2 and myself were concerned...

...not just one pack either...

...and not just the usual amount of stuf...

We eased them in slowly on their first visit to the UK with an afternoon trip to our nearest shopping mall and then on Friday we hit London full in the face with The Big Red Bus sightseeing experience.

Piccadilly Circus

Having borrowed warm coats (Floridians, evidently don't own puffa jackets!) we braved the elements on the open-top bus and drank in the best of the sights. In spite of being a born and bred Londoner, and having lived here all my life, I'm still impressed with what we have to offer.

The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square

Big Ben

The London Eye

Despite a dodgy weather forecast, we managed to stay dry - the only time it rained was when we were on the London Eye, which got me a dramatic photo of The Houses of Parliament using the black and white setting on my camera.

The Houses of Parliament

Pods on The London Eye

We got off the bus to go on the London Eye and then jumped on the river boat to travel down the Thames to the Tower of London.

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

The Tower of London

Then it was back on the bus to complete the loop via St Paul's Cathedral.

It's a great way to see all the major landmarks and the tour guides are full of knowledge and have a great sense of humour, making it fun and interesting. You can hop off and on to keep nicely topped up with coffee and pastries...

Yesterday, they braved the London Underground by themselves and this morning they have flown off to Amsterdam for 3 days. I can get my breath back ready for an action-packed week when they return on Tuesday. Stonehenge, Salisbury, Southwold and Stratford-upon-Avon beckon...

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


It is done! It has been a joy! I love it! May I present: My First Quilt.

I took the colour inspiration from the loopy cushion I made last year and which resides on the sofa in my conservatory. In spite of being very different, they sit together cosily.

I am particularly pleased with the corners, they have mitred very neatly - it has been a long time since I used binding on anything...

It perches on the arm of my sofa getting admiring glances and compliments.

As usual, someone takes advantage of his home comforts. I really don't want dog-slob on it, but he did look handsome...

I have missed working with fabric. In what seems like another life, fabrics played a big part in my day to day work. I would spend hours studying fabric swatches, putting together schemes for displays and room-sets. I would trawl the fabric shops of the Kings Road and Chelsea Harbour Design Centre looking for exciting new additions to show off. I would order samples, sometimes to just have a tiny piece to keep! If only I'd kept them! I would have enough for a dozen quilts...

After having the boys, I honed my sewing skills and did soft-furnishings for private clients. That was probably the last time I used binding - something probably peach and green on the edge of some curtain tie-backs! I used to really struggle making things that I wouldn't have myself - why did everyone always want peach?

I have truly caught the bug though - this is what is currently sitting patiently on my desk...

...to be turned into an Urban Garden quilt to snuggle under in the garden once things get warmed up! Hey ho!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Just for the record...

In spite of being forecast, I seemed naively unprepared for the sight of this on waking this morning.

I hope my lovely spring flowers will recover...

(The perfection of a fresh fall has been duly trashed by 2 dogs + one excited boy)