A Brit Excellent

I was at heat towers last week and Hannah pointed to my bright pink jelly pumps and said “I used to wear jelly shoes when I was little!”

There is something brilliantly nostalgic about plastic jelly shoes. If you were born in the 80s PVC was fancy and exciting and alarmingly cheap. So cheap that anyone under 10 could easily get through 3 pairs of jellies in a summer. Sturdier than a flip flop and better for rock pooling, they were the ideal holiday shoe.

Jelly shoes were brilliant when you were little for the same reasons they are now, you can shove them on in all weathers and they don’t get wet. They’re good for puddles, beaches and fields. If you spill Ribena or a white wine spritzer on them, no problem! Simply remove, flap around a bit, pop it back on and carry on. In the late 90s jellies came back as a throwback back item and then they came back in the 00s as a 90s throwback item then again and again, so for the last 10 years they haven’t really gone away.

I bought my first pair of Juju “Vicky” mint green cut outs four years ago on an asos haul. I thought they would be “handy” to have as a back up shoe or for running to the shop in. They didn’t leave my feet for the whole summer and then into autumn and even winter for a dash across the road to get my nails done.

They have been a true friend, there for allsorts of capers. They’ve been to Glastonbury, survived seaside trips, British beach walks and actually very long city walks. They have been to brunches, cinema trips and one particular walk around an estuary. They have been strong and sturdy and shown love and tenacity in difficult times. Oddly they also seem to go with everything; dresses, shorts, harem pants, jeans and the most tailored of trousers all look outstanding with the Juju. I’m thinking of making them some sort of award.

But I knew it couldn’t last for forever, I knew they could only take so many train journeys, dog walks and trips to big Sainsbury’s. The other day I went to put them on and they felt different, sort of wonky and I looked down to see one of the cut out at the back had snapped. I wore them anyway.

You can imagine my concern when I saw they were no longer stocked on asos. Were they discontinued everywhere? A small brand that only saw one summer? What the hell would replace them? Thankfully though Office and Schuh both stock Juju Jellies and they of course have their own website. I bought a bright pink pair of Vicky’s as soon as I found out.

Juju Footwear is a family run business, started in 1986 and based in Northampton, which does make them something of A Brit Excellent. They are “exceptionally proud to call ourselves the creators of the the original British jelly shoe” and have been making shoes and wellies for over 25 years. Juju still use the traditional manufacturing method, in the same factory since they started. All their materials are sourced in England and are recyclable, so all the waste jellies are ground up to make new products which I LOVE. In 2012 they became involved in Project Jelly, making kid’s jelly shoes for charity and 20% of all their profits go to Great Ormond Street hospital.

I have just lost a full 40 minutes on jujufootwear.com and have a wishlist of about 18 pairs I want. They have every jelly shoe a person could ever need: heels, flats, cut outs, pastels, neons, monochrome, glitter, casual, smart, playful, high fashion, throwback and just good quality everyday sandals. I have genuine sorrow I missed out on their glittery jelly chelsea boots, making up for it with the glitter jellyboot. And a special mention has got to go to the Kigu parrot wellies. They also do amazing kids wellies for just £7.50.

In these times of changeable inclement weather, it’s good to have a true friend who will support you and be by your side. Or rather on your feet.

xxox

When I first moved to London, I was very much babe pig in the city. It was loud and crowded and shiny and there were beautiful things to buy. One of those things was a delicious velvet tub chair that sat in the window of Oliver Bonas.

Oliver Bonas was started by Olly Tress who opened his first shop in Fulham in 1993. His parents lived in Hong Kong and Olly would visit them and bring things back for his lucky lucky mates. This gifting was obviously very popular and he thought “there’s something in this” so started making a bit of money to get him through his Anthropology degree. A couple of years after he left uni he opened the shop, which was repainted by his mates and featured a second hand till Olly bought for £60.

He says they sold “a magpie collection of seemingly random lifestyle ‘things’ including furniture, gifts, jewellery, bags, accessories and homeware” and “that was pretty unusual for a shop at the time, some people were confused by it, others loved it” Of course they did. The name comes from Oliver’s girlfriend at the time, Anna Bonas who let him use her surname and “very kindly hasn’t demanded that I change it.” I think having a shop named after you by your dearly beloved is one of the greatest romantic gestures of our age.

In an interview with London Loves Business, Olly says he found opening a second shop “much, much harder.” He admits he didn’t have many business skills and his “execution skills were very poor and it just meant it was very stressful… I should think the business grew much less efficiently than it could have done.” I always assume anyone with a phenomenally successful business knew exactly what they were doing all along, so  I think it’s inspiring to know Olly learnt as he went along.

Now Oliver Bonas have 60 stores throughout the country selling clothes, homeware and quirky gifts like Cat Bingo, just the sort of thing The Museum of Sarah loves. What’s interesting is whereas they used to just sell things from other designers, they now have a whole in house design team. One of whom drew my portrait last week at their Christmas press day.

At that press day I fell upon their gifty bits and realised I was wearing a dress that matched the whole range perfectly. They also had a drinks trolley, sushi and afternoon tea. I could have happily stayed there for the rest of the day.

These designs are based around a speed sketching session done by the design team, drawing portraits of the everyone in the company. The designs were simplified, dreamy colours were added and they created this heavenly range of glasses, makeup bags, phone covers and my favourite, trinket dishes. It’s the first time I can say honestly be thrilled to get a laundry bag for Christmas.

I also love their “Confident” enamel pins, which have messages like “looking good” and “fairest of them all” instead of the usual “sorry not sorry” they seem to be selling everywhere else. The 2018 diary come workbook is to die for and emblazoned on the cover is the Oliver Bonas motto “Work Hard, Play Hard & Be Kind” which I think says it all.

xxox

This week Nadiya Hussain chose Marmite as her luxury item on Desert Island Discs. She said she could eat it directly from the jar on it’s own and I know exactly how she feels. Growing up, my sister would always have lemon curd and I would have Bovril. My Bovril later became Marmite as it was decided our household should “give up” Bovril for health purposes. The theory behind this I’m still not clear on but it meant a lifelong love of the brown salty little wonder.

I usually have at least two jars on the go at once. One that’s very nearly gone but still scrappable and another that’s almost new for when I can’t be bothered to scrape. On Christmas morning June gave me a personalised jar with my name on it. It sits proudly on my shelf and is an unofficial “emergency” jar if things get really desperate. A couple of weeks ago I was at Nan’s having the compulsory “dippy egg” which my sister and I have always eaten when we visit. Nan produced a Marmite eggcup to go with my Marmite soldiers, which now also sits proudly on the shelf.

“Marmite” is actually a French word for an earthenware cooking pot, in which Marmite was originally sold. Imagine that, a whole clay pot full of it on the side. A devil to cart home but worth it. There’s actually the picture of one on the actual label if you want a reference.

What I didn’t know is there are two versions of Marmite. There is the one we know and love and a different Marmite which is made and sold in New Zealand. Initially I reared up to protest “who is this imposter?!” but now I’m quite intrigued. One thing to be very clear on though is, Vegemite is NOT the same. It’s odd and not right and I shall never order it again when I’m down under, though well done to them for trying.

Welcome to A Brit Excellent, a small celebration of British brands, foods, people and places that I love. Every week I give a little nod to our humour, our quirkiness and all the excellent things we make.

I have always loved the radio. The jaunty music from The Archers would waft from the kitchen where June had it on and we would fall asleep in the car as Dad listened to the football scores coming in. I remember hearing Zoe Ball on the school bus in the mornings and scribbling “M&M” on my revision the first time I heard Eminem being played. I fell in love with Sara Cox and would wait in the car after school to hear Comedy Dave’s tedious link. I grew up with Radio 1 but being up north I listened to The Revolution, Key 103 and XFM all the time as well. I went university in Aberystwyth where there wasn’t much in the way of hearing new music, so Jo Whiley was a lifeline to my beloved indie. I once impressed a lad in the student union by knowing all the words to Golden Touch by Razorlight, something I do owe to Jo.

My first Roberts Radio was baby pink and had DAB, which was terribly advanced then. Like contactless payment or going to Pluto might be now. DAB or “dab” as parents took to calling it, was new and exciting and it’s weird to think now that I work on a completely digital station compared to how foreign it was then. I had the baby pink leather one, June had the red one and had it again in cream for the summer house. I think there was one Christmas in particular when the only thing The Powells seemed to give each other was DAB radios.

Roberts began when a group of chaps started making portable radios from a little shop in London.  The company was founded in 1932 by Harry Roberts and Leslie Bidmead, who sold his motorbike to pay for their factory. At first they could make only three radios a week but in 1940 they got a letter saying The Queen had bought a Roberts radio in Harrods. It turns out it was her second and she’s been buying them ever since.

There’s a lovely story of Stan, who remembers Harry coming up the stairs in the factory with a tray of champagne for everyone and saying Roberts Radio had been appointed as radio manufacturer to Queen Elizabeth II. Roberts now have two Royal Warrants, still to Liz and also The Prince of Wales.

In 1956 they created the first Revival radios, which are the rectangular ones covered in leather with the grill across the front that June and I have. Harry had been inspired by the design of his wife’s handbag for it. In the 1980s Roberts went through a bit of a low but when the R200 radio appeared in Martini advert, suddenly everyone wanted one again. Now they make the Revival radio in over sixteen colours, including baby pink.

In 1999 they created their first DAB radio and then began to sell BBC World Service branded radios for when you’re on holiday or if you really like the BBC World Service. Apparently, for many years only Roberts radios were permitted in UK prisons, but I don’t know what the set up is in there anymore.

Roberts say they are proud to make radios that last and I still have baby pink one, splattered with pasta sauce and marmite from living in the kitchen. I moved it to next to my bed earlier this year when my boyfriend bought me a hot pink Revival Mini, which I am completely in love with. The hot pink I think was limited edition and the sale of it made a contribution to Breast Cancer Care, which makes me feel proud to have the little guy next to the bread bin. Roberts still sell the most portable radios in the UK and I am delighted that I can cart around my little radio from bathroom to bedroom to kitchen.

I love is how iconic they are, you can spot them a mile off and everyone knows exactly what you mean when you mention one. To the point that June rang me the other day yelling “There’s a rat in the cat shed!! It’s the size of a Robert’s Radio!!”


Welcome to A Brit Excellent, a small celebration of British brands, foods, people and places that I love. Every week I give a little nod to our humour, our quirkiness and all the excellent things we make.

I first came across Chatty Feet socks last Christmas on a late night browse on Not on The High Street. It was one of those fraught searches for something, anything to give Dad/ brothers for Christmas. I can’t remember why I didn’t but I can only assume I got distracted by a personalised cheese board and may even have been drunk at the time of online shopping.

I have always said that life is too short to wear black socks. They’re bleak and show up all the dust. I remember black school socks drying by the boiler, hanging like massive knackered slugs . Black socks and white socks, life is just too short to wear either all the time.

Gil and Humberto have taken it to a new level and created socks you can be friends with. Socks that look like faces and people and famous people. Apparently, it began one night a few years ago when someone asked, what if our socks could talk? They drew the a face with an excellent moustache in pen on a pair of white socks. Whereas most of us would wake up the next day with a banging head and say “remember last night when we started drawing on our socks?! I’m not drinking that spiced gin again…” the boys did something productive and created Chatty Feet.

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They took it to factories but no one was keen to make such little quantities, not even for the joy of socks. Eventually they found someone lovely who made their very first batch and the boys started selling them down the market. Obviously people loved them so they took it online to get socks to all. The first socks included a pirate, a criminal genius called Murdoc and the excellent “Professor Brian Sox.” There are now over 30 Chatty Feet designs, my personal favourite being “Kate Middletoe” and it never ceases to amaze me how much they do look like her.

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They have just launch the Artist Sock Collection, which features Andy Sock-Hole, Feetasso, Frida Callus and Vincent Van Toe, amazing… and I’m someone who hates puns. They’ve even made it to the Tate Modern where they will be on sale because who wouldn’t want Frida on a sock? There’s also now ChattyPillows, which have excited me A LOT.

I love that they’re printed on both sides to give joy to the wearer and anyone looking over when you’ve got your feet up. You can also buy every design in kids sizes, which is super cute or super twee but either way I love it. They’re gorgeously soft and actually look like who they’re supposed to. There is nothing here not to love and life is too short not to have socks to chat to.

xxox