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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.