A Brit Excellent

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.

It was my darling boyfriend’s birthday last month, which was nice. It also meant I got to spend some time in the menswear department at Liberty’s and time spent at Liberty’s is always good. In fact I must say a special thank you to the chaps who work there for being so patient with my ridiculous questions and letting me hold things up against them to see what they looked like.

As we staggered home from the birthday family curry I carried the gorgeous chopping board Jon has been given by his sister. I had suffered bad present envy when he opened it and had to stop myself reaching over to seize it from his lap. It’s all the colours in one giant checkered grid thing and it’s glass so you can use it for chopping, presenting a cheeseboard or walk round with it pretending it’s a giant clutch bag you can’t actually keep anything in. It also boasts a proud little sticker saying “Made in the UK” which always gives me a thrill. I really did fall for it on that walk home and drifted off to a time in the future when Jon and I had moved in together and it was legitimately mine. A sure a sign of being in your early 30s is that your object of desire isn’t a bottle of Grey Goose or Chris Hemsworth but a glass chopping board. I also really like The Archers.

I always assumed Joseph Joseph was Scandinavian whilst lusting over their coloured nest of bowls in John Lewis. I have also admired the eight piece measuring spoon set all neatly stacking from purple up through orange into yellow. I can’t imagine making anything which involved such excessive measuring but just knowing I could is enough. I do love a nest of anything because you’ve always got just the right size of vessel and it all fits in the cupboard. Not that I would shove any of these in the cupboard. I would more likely design a kitchen to match them and point them out to visitors as part of a small tour.

Joseph Joseph are twin brothers, sadly not both called Joseph but Antony and Richard. Grandad Joseph started his business in England in 1936 and made everything from fridges to wing mirrors before settling on chopping boards with various rustic scenes. The lads are both trained in product design and when their father asked them to have a go at reinventing the boards they went for it. In 2003 they went it alone and created Joseph Joseph making the boards but also kitchen utensils, storage products and tableware. Their thing is to not only make products that look good on the side but also include clever little design things which mean they work a lot better.

I’ve since learnt that what Jon was given is a worktop saver, so you can do anything you want on it to save your marble and all of their worktop savers are made in the UK. Their chopping boards are in fact those brilliant plastic ones that fold up so you can go straight from board to pan without your onion going everywhere. There’s also lunch boxes with various compartments and things that mean you can poach perfect eggs in the microwave. My personal favourite is the spaghetti measurer as I’m someone who always cooks far too little or, more often, too much spaghetti. The other day I made enough for an Italian wedding.

The boys are now expanding into the heady world of recycling, creating units that mean we don’t have to find eight new bins to accommodate the glass, cardboard, plastic, tins etc. Looking at the website I became more excited than I should about an expandable dish drainer and though I should probably get out more, the thought of one day coming home to that work top saver makes me very happy.

xxox

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.

At some point we’ve all owned a pair of Clarks. Whether it was school shoes or sandals when you were little or a smart court shoe to wear to job interviews. My first experience of Clarks was being taken at the age of two to have my feet measured. I fell asleep in the car on the way and refused to wake up on arrival or during the fitting so no one knew if I could walk in them. In the end Dad had to give up and take me home. Eventually I did make it there awake and, like every child in the 90s, I had those T bar sandals. My feet were measured with the electronic robot plates that hugged round your foot to get an exact size. That was terribly exciting back then (and still would be now to be honest.)

Clarks is the shorter version of C & J Clark International Ltd named after the Quaker brothers Cyrus and James Clark who founded their business in the early 1820s in Somerset. The Clarks’ headquarters are still based there, which I love.

Cyrus started making sheepskin rugs in 1825. His younger brother James was meant to become a chemist’s apprentice but after pleading with his parents he became Cyrus’ apprentice in 1828. James decided the off cuts from the rugs would make good slippers and set up a little system where workers would collect materials, make the slippers at home and then collect payment for them. This became quite the enterprise and James became an equal partner to the business in 1833. The Clarks boys started trading nationally and then in Ireland and Canada and were as far as Australia by the 1850s. One of my favourite facts about this time is Clarks won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851 for their “gutta percha elongated galosh.”

Upholding Quaker values, the boys wanted to give back to the community so opened a school for their factory workers as well as a theatre, a library, a town hall as well as an open-air swimming pool. There was also low cost housing and playing fields that anyone could go and knock a ball around on.

By the 1940s people started to realise that having bad feet was probably a lot to do with having bad shoes so, after analysing thousands of measurements from local school children, Clarks developed a new fitting system. In 1945 they launched the “footgauge” which is that scientific slidey thing with all the measurements which you’d play with while you were waiting as a kid.

What I didn’t realise was how popular Clarks shoes were with Jamaican rude boys. In the 60s when Jamaica got it’s independence, the young lads adopted them as part a uniform. Al Fingers, who wrote a book called Clarks in Jamaica said “The original gangster rude boy dem, a Clarks dem wear.” Huge reggae and dancehall stars at the time even wrote songs about them.

In the 90s the Clarks Wallabees had a huge resurge when they were worn by members of the Wu-Tang Clan, which is unexpectedly brilliant. Raekwon and Method Man liked them because they looked good, they were comfy and no one else was wearing them. Ghostface Killah even called one one of his albums “The Wallabee Champ.” The Wallabees were also the choice of shoe for Walter White. Throughout Breaking Bad he wears his pork pie hat, sunglasses and his Wallabees. I do wonder what Cyrus and James would make of it all.

Last year Clarks celebrated 190 years of making shoes and there are some brilliant video installations. There’s also plans for exciting collaborations and no doubt a massive party somewhere.

There are so many things I love about Clarks. I love that it is 84% owned by the Clark family, with the remaining 16% held by employees (and related institutions) but mainly I love my own silver Glove Puppets because they’re so sodding comfy.

xxox

Grenson 4

Welcome to a new bit of my blog. It’s called A Brit Excellent, which is very clever isn’t it.

It’s because I bloody love Britain. I love our humour, our quirkiness and all the excellent things we make, so this is a little nod to those. A small celebration of British brands, foods, people and places that I love.

I decided 2016 is the year I stop wearing clothes usually kept for people on kid’s TV and grow up. And so I bought my first pair of Grensons.

Jon (my sweetheart) has a pair of beaten up oxblood Grenson brogues which always look brilliant and are part of the reason I fell for him. Lauren Laverne is a Grenson fan and Elly Pear (who is excellent and you should follow on Instagram immediately) is one of their pin up girls. Not only are they amazing shoes but the story of the brand is equally good.

Grenson 1

William Green started making shoes in a loft in Northamptonshire in 1866. His mother had taught him to make men’s boots and he opened one of the earliest shoemaking factories in 1874. They opened a bigger factory in Kensington in 1895 where they stayed making shoes and boots until 2013.

When William died, William and Sons was shortened to Grenson and became one of the first names ever to be registered in the UK. They made shoes and boots for the Armed Forces during both wars, including a clever zip which made the flying boot easier to run in.

I didn’t know that Grenson sales then started to decline in the 1970s and it was only in 2008 that the first shop was opened on Liverpool Street London. The first women’s collection for 30 years was launched in 2011 and this year is the 150th Anniversary. To mark it they are creating the “Archive Collection” to reproduce the original shoes and cover all decades of their shoemaking.

Now I can’t remember where I saw the Grenson brogues with neon panels but I fell in love with them. I went along to the shop on Meard Street, an almost Dickensian little road in Soho, where the lady who worked there told me it was probably part of the Grenson:LAB range. LAB launched at Libertys in 2013 and allows you to design your own shoes, choosing the specific colours and textures you want. I have vowed one day I WILL do this.

Grenson 2

Until then, I decided I would go for the silver brogues called “Emily” after finding them on the website. I love her brilliant white sole which makes them almost look like trainers. We trotted back down to Meard Street to the chocolate box of a shop with it’s little window panes and lovely rug, almost disappointed there wasn’t an open fire burning. There was however Tim from Corrie in a flat cap having a look at some brown lace ups so this more than made up for it.

I did that typical faux browsing you have to do when you already know what you came in for. The shop is sparse and dark with shoes on bookcases and a huge full length so it kind of felt I like I was in their front room as I sat on a chair in front of a locked door. Everything is perfectly placed, mis matching chairs and big lily display with little pots of wax and different coloured laces. Apart from shoes that’s pretty much it. Emily and I hit it off and after some debate between 4 and ½ or 5, I bought them.

Grenson 3

Advice from Grenson man Luke is to look after them, something historically I’ve never been very good at. He said to rub beeswax into them to make them soft, don’t wear them in the rain and resole them. Luke talked about how amazing they look all beaten up but then with a brand new sole. He said Grenson would always resole them but don’t take them anywhere else because then they can’t touch them. I asked how long until they would need new soles, thinking about 9 months seemed right. Luke gazed up thinking before saying “maybe, 10, 15 years?”

I love them so much I wore them out of the shop.

Grenson 5

xxox