Quilty Secret

I have been working from home for almost a year now and trying very hard to balance time spent at the computer with other creative things. My most recent exploit in this regard, has become a bit of an obsession. The video below tells the story. It lasts just over a minute.

Quilty orders

The material cost of the single (150 x 230cm) Indian block printed blue quilt featured in the video (front, back, wadding and thread) came to £80. It took me 9 hours to make.


If you would like to own or to gift a lovely quilt to a friend or family member, then please make me an offer that covers the material costs and something for my time.

If I recieve more than 4 orders I will buy backing, wadding and thread in bulk which will cut the costs. I have not yet found another supplier of such fine block printed cloths,  but I am thinking of branching out into other beautiful fabrics and even printing some myself. The obsession grows!

Email or drop by to discuss your quilty order!



The single blue Indian block printed quilt laid out on a double bed:


A year on…almost

A couple of weekends ago, before my eldest and my sister’s older two dispersed for university, our families gathered, and together with Colin and our mother Zerin, went to visit Bastien’s grave at the South Downs Natural Burial Site. Part of our mission was to put up the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bird box that Colin had made in Bastien’s workshop.

Last time

This visit was in stark contrast to our previous one. Last time was a cold, wet November day when around sixty of us travelled down the A3 to see the wicker basket that carried my father gently lowered into the chalk. Friends and family spoke warmly, Bastien’s youngest grandson played the fiddle, his oldest sang. Peter Lloyd Jones has kindly made his heart felt eulogy available and you can read it here.

Tears flowed and mixed in with the rain. We cheered up afterwards in a pub. The journey back was bad for most and appalling for others. There was a pile up on the A3; some of our party did not get back to London until well after midnight. IMG_0955DSC_1699_2IMG_5584_2

This time

This time was a gloriously warm and sunny day in September. Our visit started with a fabulous lunch in the South Downs Sustainability Centre’s cafe. The young chef did us proud and whipped up a selection of lovely dishes – caramelised onion tarts, stilton and chutney sandwiches and delicious vegetable quiche – washed down with local ale and followed by coffee and home made cakes. Of course there were were feelings of sadness and loss, but the overwhelming, clawing, anxiety that had gripped me before did not surface. DSCF5446 IMG_9886

Finding the spot

The Sustainability Centre offered us the use of their mind-of-its-own electric wheel chair providing Zerin with the means to get down the valley and the rest of us with no end of laughs. The battery, needless to say, did not last the course. The machine had to cross the best part of a couple of kilometres over quite rough terrain. On arrival at the end of the path, our youngest was dispatched up a tree to survey the land and identify the position of Bastien’s plot. DSCF5504We found him and set about clearing the weeds and decorating his grave. Bastien acquired a new spine, a good, strong one fashioned out of flints. No more crumbling bones for this man!DSCF5494As the day turned to evening, we pushed Zerin back up the hill, clambered into the cars and  headed home.

Final resting place

I feel a great sense of ownership of the forest where Bastien lies. Zerin will join him in time, right on top of him as it happens. Dementia prevents her from understanding quite what this means, but I think she would be happy with the knowledge if only it would stick. Perhaps I will book a place for myself. It does not matter that it is so far from home. What matters is that the family will have a lovely place to gather and to play. Hey kids, come dance on my grave!


For Bastien by Peter Lloyd Jones

8th November 2013, South Downs.

When you are middle aged (say 40) your mentors are usually about 60. And they tell you, ‘the worst thing about growing old is you begin to lose your friends.’ ‘Yeh, yeh, yeh’, you say and get on with your life. And then you wake up as it seems the next day, and you yourself are 60. You see your first friends begin to die and you realise that what you’d been told all those years before was true. And then in another flash you yourself are eighty… and only one or two are left. Bastien was one of those.

A friend since the Sixties Bastien was for me one of the very last surviving compagnons de la route’ Not quite ‘one of the men who were boys when I was a boy’ but jolly near it. And this is my slender qualification for speaking these words. Because of course for Zerin and the children, Bastien was not ‘one of the last’ but something far more profound: ‘the only’ – the only lover, husband, father. So I speak for them with humility.

I shall remember first his unflinching courage in adversity. Not just in the way he bore personal tragedy but also in the way he faced an illness that had dragged him down for years. How lovingly he cared for Zerin when he himself was weakening by the day!

He faced his adversity with unflagging curiosity too, especially curiosity about his medical condition. ‘I’d love to have been there in the operating theatre looking down. Fantastic!’ This about his (to me terrifying) spinal surgery.

We will all remember his generosity. He was lucky to have more than most but he was unstinting to those with less. However there are gifts more precious than anything that can be weighed in money. Even when he must have known his own time was short, he spent many days in painstaking work on the proofs of another man’s books, a task he did better than any paid professional.

But on top of it all, I remember his sparkling, probing intelligence. Loose thinking didn’t last long in his company! But he was also a rigorous empiricist, an experimenter ‘putting nature to the question’; satisfied only with what he could demonstrate as fact.


As it happens I had another friend in many ways similar to Bastien.

Both were Jewish yet both were strictly secular. Each was a scientist. In fact they worked in adjacent fields of biology and knew of each other’s work. Both were unswerving materialists yet each was passionate about the arts, especially music. Both were tremendous talkers.

Now that other scientist happened to be married to a poet. And poetry like no other art captures the depth and complexity of our emotions – especially our bewilderment at loss.

When that other scientist died his widow found the courage to create poetry that stared her situation in the face. Though addressed to the shade of a different husband and father, her verses speak to all who mourn. So I’d like to read one of her poems here as we, in our turn, face life without friend or loved one.

‘Immortality’ by Elaine Feinstein †

If I believed in an old-fashioned Paradise,

then you my love would still be talking in it.

There would be blue sky and a few clouds

seen through stone arches, as in

Raphael’s School of Athens, with Diogenes

sprawled on the steps, and Plato in the likeness of da Vinci.

You could pursue them with your eager questions –

as once you challenged speakers at LSE

It’s not that I hope to find you there

myself, more that I cannot bear

it should be true, as once you said

We think. And understand a bit.

And then we’re dead.

But bear it we must. As Bastien did.


Bastien thought hard and understood much, above all in the scientific work that made his name, though of course he too knew how small it was when faced with what we’ve yet to understand.

In fact his favourite teaching was his First Year course on ‘The origins of life’, that deeply obscure primal chemistry that billions of years later was to bring us to his graveside. And now for him a different chemistry will carry on that endless process of becoming and in doing so provide the vital substrate for new life.

When he requested this style of funeral I’m sure he derived some wry satisfaction from the notion although I’m also sure he’d want to correct my words. I can almost hear his voice.

“What do mean ‘different’ chemistry? What’s so different about it? We’re only oxidation and reduction after all”!

Religions have had several thousand years to perfect the rhetoric with which they hope to salve our grief – those promises of immortality they know they’ll never have to keep. As one unbeliever speaking to another it would be quite improper for me to imitate those biblical cadences, haunting though they are. Instead on behalf of us all I shall express our sentiments in the plainest English possible:

“Goodbye dear friend. Goodbye!”


But let me end with a happy memory, one that will be familiar to you all. I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you ring the bell at number 31 Bastien opens the door and greets you, not with the conventional ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ but with an enthusiastic, embracing “Yes!” And then he turns and calls over his shoulder to Zerin,

“It’s Jenny and Peter”, (or whoever it might be).

I like to think of this greeting as expressive of his attitude to life, right to its uncomfortable, even distressing end – a joyful affirmative, a great big “Yes!”

And so, even though his animating presence is no longer here to help us, we can honour his memory by keeping our network of love and friendship – love and friendship that began with him – in good repair. This will be our affirmation, our way of saying, ‘Yes!’

† ‘Immortality’ is included here by permission of the author and the publisher.

See www. Carcarnet.co.uk

Peter LLoyd Jones 04/11/13

Life behind a camera

Something my sister said last weekend got my goat.  We were hosting a combined celebration, our mothers 80th birthday and our father’s memorial. We were talking about our parental legacy. Amongst other things, the list included home made meringues, mayonnaise, marmalade and strawberry jam, long distance walking and, here we go, photography.

First camera

I got my first camera in 1972 for my eighth birthday. To my shame, I cannot recall what make it was, but my father picked it up second hand from a shop on Tottenham Court Road. It had a fixed lens and came in a leather case that had a lovely smell. I still have the black and white prints somewhere. I am intrigued to find them and see what caught my 8 year old eye.

That first camera was relatively short lived; it broke. I don’t think I was irresponsible with it. It was an old apparatus and my father was cautious not buy a more expensive piece of kit that I might lose interest in. However, I did not and it was quickly replaced. He next got me a second hand AGFA Silette, which had an orange shooting button. With this camera I moved to colour. It came with me  on a family trip to my mothers birthplace in Madagascar, in 1976 (note to self – scan the prints!)

First SLR

When I was 16 my father took my sister and I to Tecno’s on Tottenham Court Road and bought us both AV1s, semi automatics. He had been invited to attend a scientific conference in Hawaii. He planned to take us with him and walk Kalalau Cliff path. For that we needed cameras (note to self, find these shots). She got a zoom, I got a 50mm and a couple of years later, a 24mm.

The 24mm was a particularly special present. I had been sailing on the fated square riggers, Marques and Inca. We were due to sail through Tower Bridge at the beginning of a circumnavigation of the British Isles and my father had planned to cycle over to see me before we set sail.

Time and tide wait for no man and this unfortunately was the case that day. We were already mid Thames by the time my father arrived and our chance of a farewell or bon voyage was dashed. What I did not know was that he was carrying the gift of a wide angle lens. Having missed the boat, he packaged it up and sent it to me  c/o The Harbour Master, Portsmouth. We docked there a few days later and the parcel was duly delivered.

Below is a selection of photos I took on that voyage. I used Kodak slide film and enlarged and printed (using Cibachrome) in the down stairs loo at home which doubled as a dark room.

It took a little while but I got quite used to being aloft. We did not use harnesses. One of my tasks was to paint the button, the very top most part of the mast, without spilling a drop. It was another kind of recklessness that destroyed the dream that these boats engendered. The sad story of the demise of these two extraordinary vessels can be found in Tall Ships Down, The last Voyages of the Pamir, Albatross, Marques, Pride of Baltimore, and Maria Asumpta by Daniel Sargent Parrott.

Square rigger 17

039 copy

040 copy

016 copy

045 copy 034 copy

Square rigger 20


A violin maker’s studio

When I was a kid I wanted to become a luthier (a maker of stringed instruments). I loved the idea of working with wood and transforming it into something beautiful, tactile and functional. I put this somewhat romantic idea down when I passed A levels in science and opted for a degree in biochemistry. Many years down the line, 1999 ish, I attended yoga classes in Cambridge. No one ever talked to each other at these classes; we just arrived focussed on the breathing, stretching and  strengthening exercises and then buggered off to the mayhem of home.


One day the teacher announced she was leaving and by way of farewell we took her out for a drink. I found myself sitting opposite Jonathan Woolston, a luthier. A few weeks later I went to visit him at his family home. A table tennis table occupied the greater part of his back room and on it, on its side, was a violin. ‘That one’s for sale’ Jonathan jokingly said as I picked it up. ‘You just sold it!’ I responded, astonishing myself as much as him. That was the biggest impulse purchase I have ever made, but my god was it was a good one. My children were still small; I had no idea whether either would have an interest in music let alone play the violin.  I was a cellist! But now I was also the proud owner of Jonathan’s 5th violin. He had made it 20 years earlier but had left it ‘in the white’ unvarnished, as his mother had liked it that way. He had given the instrument to her and it had hung on her wall for many years and had only recently made its way back to him, to finish, after she  had died.

Lord Wilton

In time I took up the violin myself. By now, my son Fabian, was playing and he quickly progressed to the full sized Woolston instrument which we had to share. In 2010, I found myself between jobs and so for 6 months I played intensively. By the time summer arrived, I decided I needed an instrument of my own. My father suggested that I sell a pair of leather bound horn duet manuscripts that I had inherited from my grandmother, and use the proceeds to purchase another violin.  Mine, like Fabian’s is a model of the Guarneri del Gesu ‘Lord Wilton’ made in Cremona in 1742. The original was owned and played by Yehudi Menhuin from 1978 until he died in 1999 when it was sold for a mere $6million. Fortunately, copies made today have a more affordable price tag.

Returning to its maker

Once in a while, I take my fiddle back to its maker. This tends to happen at the time of year when I put the heating on and again at the other end of the year, when I turn the heating off. It is at these times, with changes in temperature and humidity that the instrument needs the TLC that only Jonathan can supply. This year I went to see him at the beginning of April and I decided to bring a picnic lunch with me. This I purchased at the truly fabulous Alamin shop on Mill Road. I bought samosa’s, rice and a spinach curry, oranges and chocolates for afters. Quite a feast. After lunch, while Jonathan worked, I took some photos of his studio.

DSCF0988 Violin makers studio DSCF0975 DSCF0950 DSCF0982



Full circle 

In his penultimate year at school, my son had to undertake an ‘extended’ project. Being a practical and creative lad, he decided he wanted to make a violin. Jonathan recommended that Fabian talk to Chris Beament, who runs the Cambridge Violin Workshop, located a few minutes away from Fabian’s VIth form college. Just over a year later, Fabian completed his first violin, and the price tag? It’s priceless needless to say!  IMG_5825

Good intentions…

The desk I sometimes sit atI had wanted to update my blog regularly but so much gets in the way of getting on with it. So here is my good intention list:

Story on visit to see Jonathan’s violin studio
Story on parking in W London
Story on Easter hols trip to Scotland
Story on attaining the grand age of 50 and how I celebrated it
Story on Absolution and how 2 lawyers got it wrong (thank god for my financial advisor)
Story on my work with the FitzQtet
Story on travels with my mum (who has dementia)

That is quite a lot of stories to tell. Give it time 🙂