I expect you’re wondering whether the SSF and I have been on any outings lately, it being school holiday time and all. The short answer is yes, we have, and quite honestly two more contrasting excursions would be difficult to arrange intentionally.

The first involved a gentle drive through the countryside into deepest Hampshire. (Well, actually, just west of Basingstoke but I don’t want to spoil the illusion). SSF elected to drive on the basis that, as my passenger, she’d likely experience motion sickness and also that she knew roughly where we were heading whereas Basingstoke and its environs are undiscovered territory for me. All I’ve known about the place to this point is that we have frequently by-passed it on the M3 on route to the West Country and the fact that it commandeers several exits along the motorway suggests that the town has evolved into a large, urban sprawl. So I was pleasantly surprised as we passed through Old Basing to discover a small, quintessentially English village with very old cottages surrounded by much greenery. There is even an historically important ruin in the form of Basing House, once the largest private house in Tudor England. Sadly closed the day we ambled by, but worth a return visit, I’m sure.

Driving on through glorious farm land and speeding by the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery (crikey – it all happens in Hampshire, doesn’t it), we were headed for Whitchurch, a sleepy little village (and not quite as picturesque as Old Basing, it has to be said), to have a look at their Silk Mill.

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Whitchurch Silk Mill is the oldest silk mill in Britain still in its original building. It was built in 1815 and production there, which included weaving for Burberry and Ede and Ravenscroft London’s oldest tailor and robes-maker, continued right up until 1985 when the mill was weaving fabric for legal and academic gowns.

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After this time, work at the mill slowed and there were plans for buildings on the front lawn which caused a bit of local unrest. The charity, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust stepped in, injected some cash and set about restoring it.

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The Winding Room

Now, with added Heritage Lottery Funding, the Mill continues to weave fabulous silks still using the original 19th century machinery and is open for all to view. The admission is only £4.50 and for this you watch a short video on the history of silk before being allowed to wander at your will around this magnificent building.

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And herein lays the weakest link. We wandered through the workshops and the winding room before looking through glass to see the silk being woven but weren’t really sure how the process actually worked because there were no volunteers or otherwise to tell us. The place was virtually deserted which was astonishing as in the winding room there were items that could have been easily slipped into a handbag and flogged as authentic at a Surrey antiques fair.

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Beautiful old reels

There is a quirky little cafe on the first floor with wonderful views over the gardens and the River Test but the counter service was laboured to put it mildly and a bit of confusion ensued over a black coffee and a cappuccino. We patiently waited for this to be sorted, ignored the delicious looking home-made cakes and opted for fruit scones instead. We couldn’t help thinking that a concession (I do not mean Starbucks) might help bring in the punters.

So although we felt that more could be made of the Silk Mill Experience – the Gift Shop was selling silk items but on closer inspection, these were all made in China – we had a good day out wending our way around the by-ways of Hampshire while we planned our next outing.

If we needed to prove that our tastes are nothing if not eclectic then our second trip provides testament. We went to the Saatchi Gallery in West London to view the Rolling Stones Exhibition, aptly entitled Exhibitionism.

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For anyone who has grown up with The Stones – and that’s probably everyone on the planet – this show is a fun way to spend an hour or so, waltzing through the band’s fifty year career from the early days of obscurity to the stadium tours. There are nine themed galleries at the Saatchi combining over 500 original Stones’ artefacts peppered with cinematic archive and contributions from an array of contemporary artists (Warhol, for instance), musicians, designers and writers.

I particularly enjoyed the reconstruction of their first flat. They lived together in Edith Grove, Chelsea, when they were barely out of their teens and this reconstruction apparently has been created with careful reference to each of the remaining Stones. It was worthy of a Tracey Emin installation and depicts the abject squalor Mick and the boys lived in and where they began writing the songs that have since passed into popular culture.

There is also a room full of mannequins sporting the stage clothes worn on their various tours and what is most striking is how tiny these garments are. SSF observed darkly that the drugs were probably responsible. Close inspection of the clothes reveal the exquisite tailoring, the like of which I remember seeing several years ago at the Valentino retrospective.

Other rooms are filled with instruments from various decades as well as the art work for all the album covers, video footage of concerts and an interview with Martin Scorsese.

The exhibition culminates in another reconstruction – this time a generic example of the band’s dressing room and backstage space after which we are ushered through the ‘stage door’ to watch a video of their last London Hyde Park Gig. We all had to don 3D specs to watch the finale of ‘Satisfaction.’ It was possibly the next best thing to being there.

After all that excitement we stepped, blinking, into the sunshine, crossed the King’s Road and hurried into Peter Jones for a cup of tea.

Back in the real world.

Exhibitionism runs until 4th September at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s Square, Chelsea.

 

I had a bizarre experience a couple of weeks ago. While visiting Mum, we decided to take a trip to the local supermarket so she could stock up on provisions. However, once we got there, Mum decided that, on account of a dodgy knee, she’d rather sit in the car while I whizzed round with her list. Which I did. In double quick time.

I decanted the shopping from trolley to conveyor belt in frenzied fashion, mindful of Mum waiting in the car on an unusually hot day, thinking of those stickers you see in windows about dogs being left in sizzling cars reasoning, well, it’s only her leg she’s having trouble with, surely she could open the door in case of emergency. But you must have experienced this type of scenario: the angst just increases with every minute…

“Do you need a bag?” asked the sales assistant.

“No thanks, I have one here,” I said breezily in my I’m saving-the-planet-single-handedly voice, smugly rummaging around for my trusty fold-up carrier. (Eco-friendly or what?)

And then, without changing tone and whilst swiping the barcode on a loaf of bread, she said, “Are you Jennifer?”

I looked at her incomprehensibly for what felt like hours but was probably a nano-second or so. She looked at me and waited. I squinted at her name badge. Tina. Ah, a clue. Tina…Tina Perkins. Tina Perkins. Yes, right, got it. I’m there, back in time aged about nine at our local primary school. Tina Perkins was in the year below me. It was all coming back to me now…

Tina and her friend Gillian spent much of their time giggling at the back of the classroom not doing as they were told. To be fair, Tina was probably led by Gillian – the only girl in a large family of feisty brothers well able to look after themselves. You definitely wouldn’t cross Gillian – it was probably a sensible move to make her your friend. Gillian had decimated Dad’s coconut shie at our school’s annual June Fair one year, being an ace shot with a wooden ball, knocking the fruits off the wobbly wooden poles. She and Tina left the stall with armfuls of the things.

Anyway, I learned that Tina had moved away for a while and lived ‘Up North’ but she returned recently to the village where some of her family are still living to discover that the place had changed substantially in the half century since we were children and it just wasn’t the same. (I didn’t say anything here, I promise). The sweet shop that we all used to make a bee-line for after school – Miss Knight’s, we called it, had closed years ago.

Miss Knight’s sweet shop could easily have been the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s ‘Grubber.’ Essentially it was the front room of her house, a stone’s throw (well, for Gillian, at least), from the school gates. Shelves were lined with huge dusty glass jars of sweets – lemon drops, fizzers, liquorice twists, fruit salads, cough candies, black jacks – you remember them, they’d be there. You’d be able to fill a little white paper bag for four-a-penny and then ruin your teeth on the walk home. There was a malevolent ginger cat who sat on Miss Knight’s makeshift counter next to her scales, scowling in a feline way at all the children waiting in line to be served. In the summer you’d be able to purchase a home-made penny lolly – iced water that Miss Knight had attached sticks to and added various shades of dubious food colouring. We’d end up with lips stained bright blue or poisonous green. Health and Safety being a thing of the future, we all managed to survive somehow.

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As I finished loading the shopping I asked Tina how on earth she had recognised me in the first place, whereupon she replied that I didn’t look any different. Which I suppose I could have taken as a huge compliment had I been comfortable with my nine year old appearance (I was often mistaken for a boy), but since she reckoned the last time she saw me I was dressed as Tufty the road-safety squirrel, I don’t think it was. Tufty – remember him? ROSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents introduced Tufty and his chums as far back as 1953 to encourage children to learn how to cross a road safely and I was in costume, taking part in the village carnival.

Every year, there was a fancy dress parade for us children and this particular year, a Tufty costume (in my size, unfortunately), had become available. We borrowed it from another student who attended my swimming lessons at a nearby pool – his mother and mine had become pals in the viewing gallery while we all floundered away below with our polystyrene floats, choking on the chlorine as we attempted a width without drowning. Tina and I reminisced away, but that latest swimming pool memory had nagged something in the back of my mind.

Lordy! I’d forgotten about Mum, cooking away in my car. Much to the relief of the queues that had built up behind me, I bade Tina a hasty goodbye and hot-footed it out of there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here as promised are details of the artworks featured in my last post. Because I drifted around snapping only the pieces that immediately appealed to me without taking much notice at the time  of pricing, this year’s selection has turned out to be rather over the top from a financial point of view.  Apart from a couple. But there is art available at the Royal Academy that wouldn’t break the bank…so if you get the chance to see for yourself, then I’d recommend getting a ticket.

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“ALL THE FISH IN THE SEA” by David Mach, RA £56,000

 

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“MIGRATION” by Cathy de Monchaux £35,000

 

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“GOLDENGROVE” by Christopher le Brun £168,000

 

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“SATCHEL” and “LIBERTY BODICE” by Valerie Bradbury £500 each

 

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“VENICE TRIPTYCH” by Ken Howard RA £20,000

 

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“SPRING GARDEN, UNDER FROST” by Frederick Cuming RA £25,000

 

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“SNOW IN HYDE PARK” By Ken Howard RA £38,000

 

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“AVOCADO COCONUT EGG (ACE) by El Anatsui Hon RA Price on application!

 

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“KOZANJI: WINTER FIRE” by Ian MacKenzie Smith £4,000

Now, since I went to the exhibition and made my selection and with the Olympics about to burst forth, I settled down the other night and watched an interesting documentary about Tom Daley, Britain’s high-diving medal hope. When I next looked at that last painting, above, all I can see now are a pair of blue Speedo’s and some yellow legs behind a wafting scarlet scarf. Funny how perceptions can be changed, isn’t it?

Oh, and if I were to make a choice and money was no object, then from the above selection I’d probably go for Frederick Cuming’s ‘Spring Garden, Under Frost.’ (I like the colours which remind me slightly of a Patrick Procktor painting a friend once owned).  I discounted the bottle top wall-hanging on account of its size and also because I imagine it would need dusting. Ever practical when it comes to housework avoidance, you see!

The Summer Exhibition  runs until 21 August. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

 

 

 

 

 

The People’s Art

And with ever increasing speed, so the years whizz around. It certainly doesn’t feel like twelve months ago that I visited the Royal Academy in London’s Piccadilly for its annual Summer Exhibition. I returned this week to check out this year’s selection.

As I explained in my post last year, the Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition in the world and provides a platform for both well-known and emerging artists to display and sell their work. The work of the hopeful is put through an arduous submission process, the final say being had by a select panel of established Royal Academicians.

I arrived at my allotted time – 1.30pm – and discovered that this was an excellent time to have chosen. The gallery wasn’t crowded! I was able to move easily around the rooms, take pictures without folk getting in the way (or me getting in the way of them), and generally have a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I do, of course, start backwards. I traversed the thirteen rooms in an anti-clockwise manner and I think a few others were doing the same. Perhaps we were all left-handers, I don’t know, but there was no sense of a shuffling queue which so often happens at big events when you are shepherded along in a continuous and aggravated line.

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Look! Whoopee! A relatively empty gallery!

So once again, I’ve taken snaps of artworks that caught my eye for one reason or another. Most of the exhibits are for sale. I’ll leave the prices and artist’s names out of the description and leave you guessing. See if you can pick out the most and least expensive. As last year, I’ll reveal the answers in my next post.

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I thought this display of vase-shaped sculptures was rather fun – set against a mirrored background they have been created using foam and coloured pins.

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This next work has been made using copper wire, bandages, silk and pigment. Set in a black frame it’s about ten feet wide and perhaps eighteen inches high. It is very striking and looks somehow ancient.

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I’m not really sure what drew me to this oil on canvas other than the size – it’s enormous, commanding a central position in gallery six. I like the depth and choice of colours.

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These two works are independent of each other but obviously by the same artist. Worked in corroded pewter, I wondered why these specific items had been chosen.

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This oil triptych caught my eye as it depicts a view I know well.  I like the way the panels are disjointed; how they don’t quite match up.

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Another oil painting. The colours of a suburban frosty morning appealed for some reason. Odd really, because in reality I don’t like being cold and much prefer the countryside.

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How very odd – another cold scene – again in oil and depicting Hyde Park. Definitely a Christmas card in the making…

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This was the most astonishing exhibit I saw. Hung in the small, dimly lit number two gallery this had several people gasping.  Close-ups below (look closely!) will reveal that this has been created using all sorts of different bottle tops and wire closures from everyday products. Amazing.  It puts me in mind of a ceremonial tribal cloak.

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You can see in these details how painstaking the making of this piece must have been.

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This is a watercolour. There’s something about this that I find restful although the colours used would probably suggest otherwise.

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And lastly, here is the eye-catching piece that greets the visitor on arrival through the gates of Burlington House on Piccadilly. Entitled ‘Spyre’ it is a 16 metre tall Cor-Ten steel kinetic sculpture by Ron Arad who is a Royal Academician architect, designer and sculptor. It moves slowly round, its segments also twisting and turning at varying speeds. On the head there is an ‘eye’ – which is a camera, recording whatever it sees in the courtyard below. This is then beamed onto the huge screen hung behind it on the front of the building. Visitors are filmed entering and walking across the courtyard thereby becoming part of the artwork. If people should object to this, they are guided around the perimeter, out of range of the Spyre’s eye. It’s actually quite fascinating to watch and reminded me of a charmed snake.

So there we have it: this year’s Summer Exhibition which runs until 21 August. Worth a look, definitely. Galleries open at 10.00am until 6.00pm, late evenings till 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Ta-dah!

Here I am, not fallen off the blogosphere, just jogging along not doing very much at all other than follow the shenanigans going on in Westminster with a zeal not experienced since the turbulent days of Thatcher and Kinnock. If the current situation wasn’t so seriously damaging then each day brings forth material worthy of a script for Yes Minister or Spitting Image. I’ve been enjoying things immensely.

So we now have Teresa May (or May-Nott) as Prime Minister who looks like a former head girl and bears a grey sort of resemblance to a previous incumbent – John Major. Still, at least she can string a sentence together – unlike her unlikely leadership rival Andrea Loathsome who peppered everything she said with ‘you know.’

(No love, actually I don’t and that’s why you’ve put yourself in the running, because you think you do know). She was far too blingy and wore her skirts too short. Not suitable at all. Not a chance.

Still, let’s be grateful for small mercies: the ghastly Gove has gone – and the nefarious Farage seems to have disappeared. All we can hope for now is that Boris will end up in a hostage situation in some far off country while doing his Foreign Secretary duties and no-one will bother to negotiate his release.

I suppose we’ll have to not mind that the horrible ‘Brexit’ word has wormed its way into the nation’s lexicon and will no doubt wind up in the Oxford dictionary. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what transpires with the whole damn mess and whether the Labour Party can stop their in-fighting and put together a decent opposition.  Nothing anyone can do now. The country has apparently spoken.

Meanwhile – it’s the summer break and I’m off to a gallery or two. At least no-one’s touched the art.

Stay tuned – I’ll be back…

The SSF (Sea-Sick Friend) and I were well overdue an excursion which we rectified this week by taking a trip into London by train, for old time’s sake. Long suffering readers will recall that SSF and I met years ago during our commuting days whilst stuck one evening on a stationary train going nowhere out of Waterloo Station. We struck up a conversation bemoaning the appalling service and haven’t stopped chatting since.

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The Walkie Talkie Building, centre.

This week’s outing would not be involving water other than looking down on the Thames from a great height, which SSF assured me, was fine, although I think vertigo was mentioned. We were making for the Sky Garden – an innovative use of the top floor of one of the city’s less than attractive new buildings, known locally as the “Walkie Talkie.” This unwieldy looking skyscraper hit the London headlines in the summer of 2013 when the sun’s reflection beamed intensely off its mainly glass structure into the street below and melted part of a car as well as setting a shop doormat alight.

Undeterred, as our weather was positively chilly – even for early April, we decanted ourselves from the tube at Monument Station and hoofed the short distance to 20 Fenchurch Street. The lobby security was akin to any airport rigmarole – everything and everybody screened – this was dealt with deftly and provided a natural filter for the two available lifts. Whizzing ear-poppingly to the 36th floor in cramped conditions isn’t my most favourite thing in the world but it was over with so speedily there was hardly time to wonder about a staircase option.

The lift opens to reveal another lobby – tiled in black slate and containing state-of-the-art unisex toilet facilities. Now, if there’s one fear greater than getting stuck between floors in a lift, it’s becoming imprisoned in a public lavatory. Which, for what seemed like hours but was actually less than a minute, happened to me when the lock mechanism failed to release. After moments of sweaty trauma I was able to join SSF and step into the glass domed conservatory that is the Sky Garden.

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The audible gasps are justified: this space definitely has the wow factor. The views over our capital city are amazing. The first area reached is the Cafe-Bar  which is completely free to access although booking a time slot is necessary.

 

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The mezzanine contains the Darwin Brasserie (For which SSF had booked a table) and above that, at the very top of the dome, is the Fenchurch Restaurant. Tumbling down the two sloped sides next to the staircases are cascades of tropical greenery. The air temperature is surprisingly cool but this is catered for with colourful throws and blankets provided in the seating areas.

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Here is a great view looking east towards the Tower of London and Tower Bridge with the towers of the Canary Wharf business district in the far distance. (Best place for it…).

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And here, looking west. The Post Office Tower, once one of the capital’s tallest structures can just be seen, top right while the London Eye to the left (or south of the river) and near to Waterloo Station is one of the city’s newest landmarks.

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Looking directly south, The Shard towers over everything else. HMS Belfast can just be seen in the foreground. (Or should that be fore-river?) The outside viewing platform was sadly closed during our visit due to inclement weather. Surely a reason for another trip?

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And finally, looking northwards – the “Cheese Grater” on the left and the “Gherkin” on the right. London certainly has its fair share of odd looking buildings – and judging by the amount of cranes dotted about everywhere, we are destined for many more.

So…the verdict: well worth a visit. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the Brasserie with a prime table by the window overlooking the Thames. After lunch we had a sneak peek up at the restaurant and decided that the Brasserie looked much the best option. The tables in the restaurant are too far back to take advantage of the views so we wondered what the point of eating there would be. Although there seemed to be a steady stream of people coming and going, there was no feeling anywhere that the place was overcrowded and I suspect that for health and safety reasons only a certain number are allowed in at any one time.

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Leadenhall Market

We left the building to stretch our legs around the city, taking in Leadenhall Market, Bishopsgate and Spitalfields before returning to the Underground at Bank via the Royal Exchange. This is SSF’s old stamping ground but for me, fairly unchartered territory – so a good day was had by all. With any luck there will not be such a long gap between this and our next outing –  just deciding where to go is tricky – so much to see, so little time!

 

 

I’m not a great one for self promotion (it’s a terribly British affliction), but I can, nevertheless, unashamedly do it on behalf of others, especially if those others are family. Long standing readers of this blog may recall my arty niece’s Christmas card range. Well, said creative niece, Hattie, and her not much less creative Mama have recently joined forces to produce a range of crafts and illustrations worthy of any bijou home interiors boutique.

A few weeks ago I accompanied my sister on a fabric buying foray. We went to her local town where there is a wonderful arts and crafts shop, stuffed full of everything you could ever need if you are wont to a bit of crafting. Or knitting. Or quilting. Sis has been an avid quilter for many years now – I have some intricate cushion covers to prove it – and now she’s branching out into making all sorts of things – spectacle cases, iPad covers, cosmetic purses to name just a few. We spent a fascinating half hour or so choosing pretty printed cottons and wadding, buying lengths of cloth called fat quarters (a quilting technical term, apparently. You learn something every day, don’t you?). Armed with a weighty bagful, Sis set to and began producing her merchandise, sitting in her kitchen with her trusty sewing machine and copious cups of coffee.

Yesterday she and Hattie took their first leap into the Craft Fair market to test the water. I popped along to lend support and see what they have been up to.

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Here is their stall at start of business. They were in a chilly hall at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey.

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These baby padders are adorable…shame I don’t know any babies that could benefit.

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Hattie’s nursery illustrations

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Hattie has sold her own exclusive designs online for a while now. She produces cards for all occasions, nursery illustrations and sells items such as mugs, spectacle cases and cushion covers printed with her own inimitable style. She is currently working on a fabric range as well as accepting commissions for book illustrations. You can view her merchandise here or check out her website here. She’s a busy bunny!

Their collaboration has spawned “House of Hyder” which has its own  online shop over at Etsy where you can see samples of the whole range. Check out the logo and business cards – designed in house, of course.

 

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