Evans Litchfield Cushion

20160927_085150We have been lucky enough to have recently been sent a beautiful British made cushion from Evans Litchfield. Utilising the the work of a talented stable of British artists, Litchfield Evans specialise in fabric cushions that would feature wonderfully in any country house.

The company currently employ 50+ people in their West Midlands factory and create a product of outstanding quality (especially considering the price). Their cushions seem to me to be within a pretty reasonable price bracket – between £10 – £20.

The sample we were sent is made from 60% cotton and 40% linen and comes filled with a fibre-filled inner. It is a perfect sofa-size measuring in at 40cmX60cm and features large pink, purple and blue flowers printed to one side. Rather spookily they decided to send us a cushion that seems to fit our home decor pretty well. However, I am unable to find the same design on their website so am unable to tell you the artist.

While on the subject of their website, Litchfield Evans suffer from one of our pet hates – a great British made product underpinned by a poor online offering. Thier own website does not allow you to buy online but after some further investigation I was able to find an Amazon account for them which appears to stock much of their range (click here).

While there range might not suit all tastes, if you are going for a classic British country house look their cushions could be just the thing to finish off your living room.

  • Emily
Editor's Rating
Quality
Value for Money
Functionality
Design
Satisfaction
Total British Family Rating60/100

A fully British watch movement is ‘weeks away’

I just had a quick email from Robert Loomes who informed me that his ultimate ambition of creating an entirely British made watch movement is close to fruition. This is certainly exiting news for anyone with a serious passion for watchmaking.

More details will be unveiled soon. But in the meantime here is a fabulous video about Robert and his passion for British made watches.

 

 

 

 

A Comprehensive Islay Distilleries Review

Late last month a friend and I set off on a 1500 mile pilgrimage, in a Reliant Robin, to the home of Scottish whisky – Islay. Having managed to visit all 8 distilleries on the island, here is a brief account of our adventures plus a personal reflection on the best Islay has to offer.

Your first question might be… why a Reliant Robin. M20160823_152655y response would be ‘why not’. If your travelling the length of Britain on a road trip then why not choose a classic icon of British motoring.

Tony and I had (somehow) negotiated a week away from the wives and children to fulfil a real bucket-list ambition. We set off on the Friday evening with the plan of wild camping the whole week (wild camping being in a tent without organised campsites and other such luxuries).

We gave ourselves plenty of time, in case the 30 year old car struggled with the mileage, as our ferry left from the port of Kennacraig at 6pm on the Saturday. We made great progress, slept briefly in some guys field and were awoken to the sound of shotgun fire at around 6am. Not wishing to pick buckshot from Tony’s behind for the remainder of our journey we decided to scratch our camp in a hurry and scarper. Luckily, when on the island, people were far happier for us to camp wherever we wanted.20160821_115743

The second leg of our route saw us pass Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne both of which feature some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed.

We made the ferry in excellent time and took the two and a half hour crossing in comfort. I have to say that the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries are rather nice and the customer service is exceptional. Being from the South East of England I am always taken aback, when venturing beyond the Watford Gap, by how pleasant people can be.

The island itself is just 25 miles long by 15 miles wide and so it is somewhat interesting to think of there being no less than 8 whisky producers in such close proximity to each other. We arrived on the island at around 8pm. It was still light and so we set off to find our first camp. Having no local knowledge we naively scanned a map on the ferry and decided that we would head to a large stretch of wilderness called The Oa. This whole area turned out to be a bog requiring the Robin to undertake some serious off-roading. We headed back to civilisation.  Darkness quickly engulfed us and we drove around aimlessly for 2 hours before, more by luck than judgement, we stumbled across a place at which a number of caravans had pulled up. That was good enough for us. We pitched our tents in the dark, set a quick fire, wolfed down down some barely cooked burgers and slept like babies.

20160822_121830When morning came I peered out of my tent to see that we had stopped by a small stony beach with a red sun rising over the water. What a wonderful way to wake up. Over the coming days we got to grips with the terrain on the island and set to camping close to a number distilleries and then walking to them. We quickly got into a rhythm of seeking a new camp in the morning and visiting distilleries in the afternoon before cooking on an open fire and watching the stars in the evening.

Here is my personal view of the distilleries and their general hospitality. I have tried to put them in order from my favourite to my least favourite…because in reality I enjoyed them all.

1. Laphroaig

We took the basic tour at Laphroaig which, like all of the distilleries, this consisted of a walk around the facilities, looking at the stills and a talk about their history. The basic cost at Laphroaig was £6. We arrived at around 12pm, the tour was 45 minutes and we left just after 4pm. Needless to say while the lady behind the bar was plying us with free samples we were going nowhere. I contest that that day I spent the best £6 of my life. However, when we were given a bottle of water each and told to come back tomorrow we felt our welcome had been worn out.

For me, Laphroaig make the best whisky and strangely, having sampled the whole range,  their standard 10 year old is still my favourate.

2. Bruichladdich

Again, we did the tour at a cost of £5 and spend the whole afternoon there. There visitors centre is extremely comfortable and informal and has by far the nicest atmosphere. Again, after ‘sampling’ their whole range a couple of times we were politely told ‘gentlemen, this is not a pub’ and so we took our leave.

A real highlight of of this distillery, and possibly the whole trip, were their range of super peaty whiskies called Oxtomore. At nearly 64% it is a fiery tipple but absolutely fantastic. In my weakened state I very nearly parted with the hefty £300 for a bottle but thankfully Tony pulled me away before I could get my credit card out.

3. Kilchoman

If there is one distillery that you are likely to miss it would be Kilchoman. It is a bit off the beaten track but to my mind, it is the most honest. It is not as glitzy and not as well set up for visitors as some of the others but still well worth a visit. It is the only distillery on the island still owned by islanders and not a big corporation. In fact, we happened to bump into one of the of sons of the owners who was kind enough to give us a personal tour.

4. Ardbeg

Ardbeg is located on a massive site and very accommodating. However, they seem to have put their focus into creating a restaurant feel, which is a little off-putting. However, their whiskies are fantastic and they remain well worth a visit.

5. Bowmore

Located in the small town of Bowmore the visitor centre is very slick. A modern white-walled and glass affair with a modernist water feature in the entrance. It was a little too polished for me but the staff were wonderful.

20160824_1623286. Caol Ila

Caol Ila has a tiny visitor centre which is distinctly uncomfortable. Situated in an 1970’s monstrosity of the building the tour shows an operation more industrial in nature that the rest. However, if you look beyond the building, it is set (like a bond villains layer) in a stunning cove on a beach overlooking a wonderful view.

Surprisingly I found the whisky to be a tad disappointing but then I suppose we had been spoilt over the preceding few days.

7. Bunnahabhain

This distillery is a real trek and when you arrive is very different from the others. It feels like a Victorian prison/workhouse with it’s imposing grey buildings encircling a large courtyard. It felt like the visitor experience was very much an afterthought and the whiskey was, to my taste, pretty awful.

8. Lagavaulin

Along with Laphroaig and Ardbeg, Lagavaulin are on a recently constructed distillery walking route. This makes access to and from the sites extremely easy. The whole route is about a 5 mile round trip with the final mile feeling like reaching the summit of Everest. However, Lagavaulin provided a very disappointing visitor experience. While their visitor centre is decorated in a charming colonial style, the staff seem tainted by disillusionment.  Without exception, all of the other distillery staff had been welcoming and extremely passionate about the product but here it felt the fire had long been exhausted. While Lagavaulin might be one of the best known brands, their whiskey was also not up to the standard of the others. We arrived in their 200 anniversary year expecting a jubilant atmosphere and were sorely disappointed.  We were also given a sample of their special anniversary bottling… which was awful.

So, after 5 days, 8 distilleries and countless drams it was time to leave the island. We were welcome, we saw some of the most stunning views possible anywhere in the world and were truly spent. Our journey back in our trusty Reliant was less eventful that our arrival, our mission to simply eat up the miles. We pushed the Robin to it’s limits and made home in less than 9 hours of almost solid driving.

We had a absolutely wonderful time but the real star of the show was the trusty Robin Reliant who defied it’s doubters to make the whole journey without missing a beat. Everywhere we went the plucky little car was met with smiles and waves. We attained, by virtue of the car, celebrity status on the island and I am sure that contributed to peoples pleasantness to us.  It is however telling that, as soon as we reached Essex we were immediately met by, on more than one occasion, a number of white van men hanging out of their windows imitating the milking of cows and calling us bankers (or something to that effect). Welcome home, I though to myself.

  • James

 

 

Is the reputation of British business being sullied by a greedy few?

philipgreenbhs

The bogeyman of British business?

It is clear that Britain currently holds a special place in the international consumer market. By many countries we are seen as the gold standard in quality and business leadership. However, it has been a challenging time for British business in recent months and it makes me wonder if the actions of a greedy few might be tarnishing the once sparking gilt of Brand Britannia?

Two of the nation’s most prominent retail bosses, in a relatively short space of time, have been the subject of a very public flogging by Select Committees for their mis-conducts, putting the spotlight firmly on business standards in Britain.

Firstly, Sports Direct’s boss Mike Ashley (a seeming unlikable character) was hauled before the Business Innovation and Skills Committee under accusations of abusive practices in their Derby Warehouse. With their treatment of staff being described as ‘Dickensian’ by some, the standards Sports Direct seemly employ clearly fall short of what British business is known for. Much is made of the abhorrent working standards commonly seen in the Far East and this is often cited as a reason to ‘Buy British’. However, when we uncover these similar practices on our own shores by well-known businesses, then one cannot help but feel damaged by it.

Then we have Sir Philip Green, who has been roasted by both the Work and Pensions and BIS Select Committees for his shameful mismanagement of, long-standing High Street stalwart, BHS. Once hailed as the ‘King of Retail’, Green’s fall from grace could not have been further. You cannot help but to consider how much thought the billionaire is genuinely giving to the 11,000 workers whose livelihoods are at risk and the 22,000 more pensioners whose future is up in the air. It perhaps seems now inevitable that Phillip Green will be judged by history alongside the likes of Robert Maxwell.

Both of Ashley and Green represent the unacceptable face of capitalism but worse –  they also represent Britain in an international business market. Brand Britain must be seen as one of our most valuable commodities and everyone that does business from the UK has a responsibly to uphold the standards we have become renowned for. Failure to do so further chips away at the brand of every British business.

The British Family have a British made classic car… sort of.

So we have recently invested in a British made car and I suspect you will be surprised by our choice. If I say that it is a much loved British classic, an undeniable an icon of UK motoring and regularly featured in TV and film your thoughts might immediately got to a Aston Martin DB8, a Jaguar E-Type or perhaps even a Lotus Elise.  However, our sights were set somewhat lower.

Yes – I am now the very proud owner of a MII Reliant Robin.

At this point, dear reader, you might be thinking that I have lost my mind. This is indeed a view shared by Mrs B (who has adamantly said that she will not be seen dead in it) but there is method to the apparent madness.

First things first, the Robin is not our main family car. The ‘plastic pig’ is admittedly not an ideal family run-around and it’s zero N-cap rating suggest that transporting a new baby might not be a wise move. But, it really is a lot of fun… and that’s the point.

I have wanted one for years and recall a time when you could pick them up in good nick for around £300. Those days are long gone. Good/rare examples are now changing hands for as much as £8,000. Years of trike conversions and banger racing has meant that they are very much an appreciating classic.

You might be glad to know that my example is neither in the extremely rare nor very good condition category and set me back a little over £1000. So, as a folly is it not a massive investment.

So, why did I buy it? Well, being a biker with only a motorcycle licence it is the only car I can drive without going for a full driving licence- which, even to me, seems like a crazy loophole. I also wanted something that myself and Lucan can go on fun outing in and on this score the Robin is already paying dividends.

$_12Anyway, I thought it might be fun to do a quick review of the much maligned Robin:

My particular Mk2 Reliant Robin as built in Tamworth in 1994 featuring the second of 3 body shapes to over it’s over 30 year production run. It is the SLX model which was the higher spec-ed of the range when it was released. It has a 850cc engine, 4 seats and 3 doors under a completely fibreglass body shell.

The ride:

The engine is actually pretty pokey. Weighing less than 500kg it pulls away from the lights faster than most modern cars. The 4 speed gearbox is clean and precise but you need to be careful to change down on hills or you will eventually start rolling backwards. On one of the rare motorway jaunts in the car all I can say is that it got to 70MPH and (everso slightly) beyond with not struggle at all. It also felt very planted.

The main question I have been asked about owning a Robin is “will it flip over”. The short answer is – no. The slightly longer answer is – if there are a unique set of circumstances where you are doing 50MPH around a hairpin bend on a 10% camber then possibly. Otherwise, it feels really stable.

The trim and accessories:

The SLX comes with cassette radio, heated rear windscreen and internal heater (powered by the heat of the engine). I might change the radio but I must say that it does the basics pretty well. The interior trim and overall quality of the plastics inside are pretty appalling. The wafer thin dash and door cards and dash are all let the experience down.

The seats are tiny. In fact the whole drivers space is tiny. It requires you to put the key in the ignition and  wind the window down before you get in as both of these tasks are difficult one in the drivers seat. Also, the pedals are really close together, which means that if you wear big boots you can be stepping on 2 peddles at the same time. It really is quite tight in there. Saying that though, the boot space (especially when the 2 back seats are down) is massive. I could get 2 full size bikes in there if pushed and still have space for the picnic basket.

Fun factor:

There is something about this car that perhaps no other car has, and that is a specific place in the British psyche. The Robin makes people smile, wave, run along side.

The downside:

People, after a few drinks, find it amusing to lift it up and put it on it’s roof. This has already happened to my Robin under my brief ownership.

 

So, where next for the trusty Reliant? Well, me and a friend of mine are planning to drive the trusty Robin the length of Britain in August on a pilgrimage to the distilleries of Islay. The plan will be to video our adventures along the way and the results will be presented on this very site shortly after.

James

Do UK manufacturers want Brexit?

brexit-trade-605917With the clock ticking down towards the EU referendum, a recent survey seems to suggest that UK manufacturers anre leaning toward escaping Europe.

Leeds-based Manufacturing Futures have recently conducted a poll of business leaders from across the full spectrum of UK manufacturing companies and asked if they felt they would be better served by the UK remaining in the European Union.

The results are quite interesting – of the 900 businesses surveyed around 55% believe that they would be better off outside of the EU. That being said, 14% suggested that they could still be persuaded to change their minds either way.

Arguably, these results seem to reflect the general populations current feelings on the subject.

The UK is now the 11th largest manufacturing nation in the world and there has been much debate, from both sides, as to what leaving the EU might do to our manufacturing sector. The argument from the Remain campaign that Brixit will ultimately stifle free trade with Europe and so hinder our already fragile manufacturing output does not, it appears, seem to be concerning the sector too much at this point.

However, with just one week to go it is clear that many in manufacturing, like the rest of the population, can still be pushed either way.

Share your views on this debate in our comments section.

British Wine versus English Wine: The Potential PR Disaster

biddendenBritish wine is a distinct and very different product to English wine. If you have tried ‘British’ wine it tends to be sweet, sickly and (even to a wine philistine like me) quite clearly a poor quality product. By contrast, English wine is now being hailed as some of the finest being produced in the world and the sparkling wine is being seen to consistently outstrip Champagne in international competitions.

I was reading an article this morning from a New Zealand news site with the headline ‘The ‘British’ wine made from imported grapes’. It took the view that there is widespread confusion between the two products, especially in the international market. I tend to agree but would go further and say that this confusion, as the popularity of English wine grows,  is likely to be extremely damaging.

British wine is made from imported grapes, or worse, a sort of grape syrup, which is then fermented in the UK, it is not made from the grapes that are grown in British vineyards.  The practice is legal and widespread in the £240m discount wine industry, and cheap wine brands have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Tesco, Asda and Lidl are among those selling ‘British’ wines made from cheap grapes grown and pressed abroad. They are then labeled as being a British product. I suppose, in reality, this process is no different to importing cotton and making a T-shirt in the UK so it is hard to call this labeling disingenuous, as some suggest. However, the result is that English wine is very likely to get tarred with the same brush as British wine in the minds of many.

So, in short, the English wine industry, in my opinion face a ticking time bomb of a PR problem here. My advice to the English wine industry would not be at attacking the ‘British’ wine makers, as some have taken to doing. But rather attempting to rebrand their own product to make it clearly more distinct. They should get together and as a collective invest in the future of thier industry.

– James

 

New Made in Britain Mark proposed for Jewellery

The National Association of Jewellers (NAJ) has proposed plans to launch a ‘Made in Britain’ mark, what they say, is an initiative to drive jewellery sales.

Hallmarking item made of gold and silver is a common practice and has been since around 1300. It is currently undertaken by the 4 British assay offices in Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh and London.

AssayOfficeMark

                               The 4 British Assay Hallmarks In use today.

However, this practice of Hallmarking is an effort to determine the metal content of the product rather than, as many believe, a verification of where the product was made.

The NAJ hope that a ‘Made in Britain’ mark will not only help to boost sales to overseas markets, but it will also provide provenance to jewellery pieces in the future.

If the plans go ahead, the mark will be owned by the NAJ and then licenced to its members at which point they will have an entitlement to utelise the stamp. There are, as yet, no suggestions of how the final mark might look.

The project is currently in the early stages of development, with the NAJ currently researching regulatory restrictions and feasibility of the mark. Mush will also depend on the markets appetite for such a service and their ability to see the potential it could offer in boosted sales.

In our opinion, for what it is worth, any effort to clearly mark goods as made in Britain can only been a good thing.

British Charcoal party with Tregothnan

On a lovely sunny Thursday morning I was invited by Jonathan Jones from Tregothnan to come with other food writers and local producers to see how Tregothnan make their super British charcoal. As we are heading towards BBQ season it seemed a perfect opportunity to go and see how this vital ingredient of the British summer is made.

The charcoal is made in Mereworth, Kent which is great news for me as it is a mere hop skip and jump down the road. Here they coppice around 50 acres of woodland a year and use some of that to create their charcoal with the rest being sold off as logs or into the timber trade for furniture.The wood in the charcoal is all hardwood (mainly a mixture of oak, chestnut and birch) and has absolutely no chemicals or additives, giving a clean BBQ experience. Once felled it is seasoned (left to dry out naturally) for about 18 months depending on the wood variety and is then packed into one of two huge retorts. They are sealed and then heated to push out the moisture in the wood, leaving you with high quality charcoal. Once it is cooled it is graded and packed with nothing going to waste. These guys have a use for every last part of the tree and show great respect and care for their surroundings and the product they make.

To give us a demonstration of just how good the charcoal was we were treated to a lovely lunch cooked by the Charcoal Champion Chef – Mark Parr from the London Log Company using beef from Phillip Warren, which I must admit was possibly the best beef I have ever eaten from a grill. He explained to us that almost all of the charcoal which is used in the UK is imported from South America and is normally left quite hard so that it travels the long distance well without breaking into chunks too small to use. This means that you have to burn it for much longer before it is ready to cook on and inevitably need to use some sort of chemical firelighter to get it going. The benefit therefore of UK made charcoal is that they can create a slightly more brittle product but one that then doesn’t need anything more than a match to get it going, giving a purer flavour and no danger of putting firelighter chemicals into the food.

We were introduced to the Head Collier, Jamie Sutton who explained that the wood used was coppiced from the surrounding woodland. This is essence is planting maiden trees, leaving them for up to 10 years and then felling them in a certain way to leave a stump from which multiple new trunks can grow. The new trunks are left for anything up to 20 years (depending on the variety of wood) and then felled to allow the process to start again. This gives really good yield for the ground space used and also creates great habitats to support the local wildlife.

Although it is unlikely that we could ever be completely self sufficient for our charcoal needs, British made charcoal should be something which everyone tries to look out for. You can find the Tregothnan bags available online here or you may find it in your local supermarket if you search hard but check that it really has been produced here and doesn’t just carry the union flag! There are lots of people up and down the country doing this so if you can’t get hold of Tregothnan please try to find your own local charcoal producer. It can make all the difference in the flavour of your BBQ and what’s more you will be supporting local industry as well as protecting habitats for local wildlife.

-Emily

British manufacturing worst in the world – says report

osborneGeorge Osborne certainly has a lot to answer for – UK manufacturing has shrunk twice as fast as other other developed nations since 2000, with more than 100,000 jobs lost.

In a wake of a further budget, a report by the respected think-tank, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) exposed the steep decline of UK manufacturing by announcing that Britain’s manufacturing base is one of the worst performing of the world’s developed countries.

Output in our once world leading Steel and chemical industries have stagnated during the economic recovery and have seen at least 100,000 jobs disappear in recent years.

The stagnation of ‘foundation industries’ like basic metals, chemicals, wood and pharmaceuticals also threatens the success of the governments plans for a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, with many of those sectors are concentrated in the North, Midlands and Wales.

Some 90% of domestic demand for chemicals and metals come from imports – some of them subsidised by the British taxpayer, up from 40% in the 1990s.

The report suggests that an increase in these core manufacturing sectors of just 1% in UK production would add an extra £2.3 billion to gross output and create 19,000 jobs. So it is clear that there needs to be renewed calls for government action to stop the dumping of steel and other metals on British and European markets by China and Russia.

The report goes on to suggest a number of, seemingly sensible, options to help recovery; The provision of reduced energy costs for steel-makers and other firms, a regional growth fund underspend should be used to boost struggling industries such as aerospace, automobile and pharmaceutical manufacturing and a new ‘right to buy’ for employees to take over firms that are about to close or be sold off.

The later, to my mind, is perhaps the most interesting of these.

You can read the full report here.

 

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