The best thing since sliced bread is the turbo brush for my henry vacuum cleaner

I have to confess to being rather late in discovering the BBC Radio 4 show The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. Now into its second series where, “Greg Foot and his guests look for the facts behind the fads and search for the scientific evidence behind a product’s bold claims”. I haven’t listened to them all yet, but greatly enjoyed the episode on Noise Cancelling Headphones.

I was looking forward to a future episode on vacuum cleaners that can cope with pet hair. Why – because I have spent far too much time researching the best one to buy to deal with the masses of hair our border collie Misty sheds.

As you can see from this review of specialist cleaners, the recommended models were the Miele Complete C3 Cat and Dog PowerLine at £250, the Shark Corded Stick at £269, and the Dyson Ball Animal 2 at £300. The one thing they have in common is that they are pretty expensive.

I was reluctant to spend that much money, and actually am still quite attached to my old Henry hoover. I’ve had a Henry for around 20 years and found it pretty much indestructible. As well as standard house cleaning duties over the years, he has cleared out several lofts. And on one occasion was pressed into service by our local tennis club to hoover up dead moss from the courts.

So imagine my delight when I discovered by chance the Airo (or in full, the Universal Airo Turbo Brush Floor Tool for Numatic Henry Vacuum Cleaners). At just £11.99 including free delivery it seemed to good to be true. But it had 4.3 stars from over one thousand reviewers with many raving about how great it was at removing pet hair.

A few days later it  arrived, and has certainly lived up to its billing. Not only does it pick up Misty’s hair from the carpet, it has sped up my house cleaning significantly as well as taking a lot of the effort out of it. As you can imagine I am now a big fan of the Airo. I love the fact that it just uses the sucking power of the Henry to drive the brushes. So there aren’t any cables or electrics involved to add unwanted complications.

The turbo part of the name reminded me of the time in the early 1980’s when the big four Japanese motorbike manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki), briefly jumped onto the turbo bandwagon (Factory Turbocharged Motorcycles). All four bikes were something of a disaster. They were too complicated making them unreliable. More significantly they didn’t add any benefits that just having a bigger engine would offer. So they weren’t at all popular with the bikers of the day, and disappeared after a couple of years.

The companies were lured in by the idea that they could magically boost the power of the bikes by the ‘simple’ step of just bolting on a turbocharger. As they discovered things are rarely that straightforward. Perhaps they would have been better off going down the Nitrous Oxide injection route instead.

Six years on my Brompton and I’m still riding along

Brompton on wallSix years ago this month I made the switch from hiring Boris Bikes to my very own Brompton (Farewell Boris Bikes – hello to the Brompton folding-bike experience).

And after quite literally a shaky start (any bike with such small wheels is going to be wobbly), I have come to love my navy blue Brompton. The fact that I can cycle to almost any part of London within an hour is incredibly liberating. No longer do I have to crowd onto the underground or buses to get around town. But what about when it’s raining I hear you ask. With relatively a small expense on decent waterproof, but breathable kit, I can cycle in all but the heaviest downpour without getting wet. The latest clothing is surprisingly light and compact whilst still maintaining effective weather-proofing. So I always have a full set of water-proofs neatly folded in my backpack.

To be honest, when I first started riding in London I felt unsafe quite a lot of the time. The main cause was having to share the road with larger forms of transport such as four, six, eight and sixteen wheeled vehicles. Taxis, buses and lorries were the most worrying. Either not noticing me, and and squeezing me into the kerb, or in the case of several taxis I encountered, appearing to deliberately cut in front of me.

Bicycle traffic lightsBut these last six years have seen a big change, with two main causes:
One, the development of safer routes for cycles. These include dedicated cycle lanes that completely separate bikes from other forms of transport, plus cycle boxes at junctions, and even special traffic lights giving riders a precious few seconds lead on the rest of the traffic.
Two, there has been a massive increase in the number of cyclists commuting to work in London. On some days my route can actually get quite congested, just with other two-wheelers. And what a range of cyclists, from hard-core MAMIL’s (middle aged men in lycra) on their £8,000 racers, to whole families on riding to school and work (sometimes with toddlers strapped to the front and rear of the same bike). There are even few people dressed for work in smart suits and shiny shoes – that’s where I come in 😉

The proliferation of bikes has forced those hostile tin box owners to adapt their driving habits. They can no longer pretend they aren’t sharing the road with us pedaling commuters. In the past they would only come across the occasional cyclist, now we are everywhere they are. When cycles are literally filling up those cycle boxes the cars and lorries behind have no choice but to wait and follow.
cycle juntion box

Source: The Evening Standard Amazing new maps show huge demand for cycle lanes across London

Over the past couple of years the sheer number of riders have increased so much that the majority of my few near-misses have been with other cyclists, not cars.

Early on in my Brompton ownership I joined the London Brompton Club and Brompton Hacks groups on Facebook. I rapidly discovered there are many people out there with a serious addiction to these engineering wonders. Some have as many as 10 different models, often shown off in Ikea Kallax storage walls, which are the perfect size to fit a folded Brompton.

Bike Gang on Instagram_ “My #brompton wall. IKEA Kallax

Bike Gang on Instagram_ “My #brompton wall. IKEA Kallax

Fortunately I have a garage at home, so although I do fold my bike and tuck it neatly under my desk at work, I can leave it unfolded and ready to go at home.

As well as providing excellent advice for Brompton owners, these groups exposed me to the wide range of accessories available. There are endless debates on the pros and cons of replacing the factory fitted saddle with a Brooks. I admit they look beautiful with their polished leather and brass, but my bottom has been quite happy to save the £100 or so they cost.
Brooks saddle

I must confess to having made a few changes to my bike over the years. In particular a mirror so I can see who is coming up behind me (The safest thing on my bicycle is my Mirrycle). I also installed an ingenious device to improve the fiddly latches (Speeding up my Brompton folding with SpedDial). And I replaced the soft foam handle bar grips with Ergons which really helped on my London to Brighton charity ride.
Ergon grips

One issue I have become slightly obsessed with is visibility, both at night and in the day. I always wear a bright orange gilet, which I can see pedestrians notice when they are about to step out in front of me. For the night time I have a very bright rear light (My new Blazing Saddle ignited by my Burner light ), and two front lights (one to be seen, and one to show the way). I have also spent / wasted many hours experimenting with range of ideas, including luminescent paint on my tires, which literally glows in the dark.
luminous wheels

Although they looked great, sadly they just weren’t bright enough, and the paint didn’t last. So I switched to reflective stickers instead. I think you will agree they are really much brighter.
Brompton at night

So everything about my Brompton is great… except that for the last seven weeks it has been languishing in my garage due to coronavirus lock-down.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can start riding it again. But I heard on the news today I’m likely to have a lot of company on the roads for my daily commute. According to the BBC, fear of catching coronavirus on public transport has helped lead to a boom in cycle-to-work schemes. With a 200% increase in bicycle orders from people working for emergency services.   Coronavirus: Boom time for bikes as virus changes lifestyles.

If this means less cars on the roads and more cycle-ways, I will be quite happy wobbling along on my Brompton together with these new converts to the joy of two wheeled transport.

Update:
Just a couple of days after publishing this post the Observer newspaper had the headline, Coronavirus cycling boom makes a good bike hard to find – Would-be cyclists keen to exercise during the lockdown have cleared stores of their stock.

London cyclists

How Deborah Sim is turning our sexual history into objects for your home

Sex+Objects_logoI met Deborah Sim a few months ago in BIPC St Pancras, researching the market for sex objects. Not having come across this concept before, I wanted to know more.

After studying the history of sex for a masters degree, using the British Library’s vast collection which I wrote about in 2013, (Private Case – Public Scandal – The secret books in the British Library), Deborah wanted to bring some of the amazing stories to life.

Gabriel Lawrence figurineA perfect example is this Rococo style figurine of Gabriel Lawrence. For  £550 you can purchase a 27cm high, hand decorated figurine of the famous cross-dressing milkman hanged for sodomy in 1726.

“This traditional figurine depicts Gabriel Lawrence, a burly milkman, who frequented the infamous molly houses of London in the early 1700s.

He was arrested during the infamous raid on Mother Clapp’s in Field Lane, as part of a movement by The Society of the Reformation of Manners to eradicate lewd, profane and immoral activities throughout the city.

Gabriel, and two companions, William Griffin and Thomas Wright, were convicted of sodomy and sentenced to death. All three were hanged on the gallows at Tyburn in the spring of 1726.”

Other opportunities to “Buy curious” on Deborah’s Sex Objects website include lampshades and cushions in her Soho Illuminations collection which document the iconic neon signs. I remember some of these garish lights from visits to 1970’s London, trying to lure in ‘punters’ from the Soho streets.Soho-neon

Or, how about this set of napkins sure to start a dinner party conversation…

“Based on an original design from London’s infamous Thélème Club the map is a thinly disguised guide to cottaging in 1930’s London. On them, public lavatories are marked alongside popular tourist attractions, such as London Zoo and Westminster Abbey. The toilets are charmingly represented by what appears to be jousting tents, perhaps intended to invoke a suggestion of two knights coming together wielding their erect lances. Mirroring this theme, two lavatory attendants, brandishing toilet brushes, can be seen reclining in the foreground.”

napkins

 

I was curious about how Deborah was going to test out the market for these intriguing gifts. Following the Lean Start-Up approach we are so keen on in the BIPC, she turned her flat into a museum shop. For the two weeks of the annual Heritage Open Days event in September she welcomed visitors into her home and tested the market for her Sex Objects.

Selling out almost all of her stock, it is safe to say the results were positive. Now she needs to move on to promoting her website sexobjectslondon.com to interested customers across the country.

Christmas is a time for giving… to dogs and cats

Sainsbury_Dog_Jumper

Christmas Family Dressing Red Santa Dog Jumper

With Christmas 2019 almost upon us, it’s time to think about presents for our loved ones.

No, I don’t mean our nearest and dearest friends and relatives. I mean creatures who we often put higher up the pecking order, our pets.

According to a study by Mars Petcare, pet owners will spend an average of £44 on treats and toys this Christmas. This adds up to over half a billion pounds in the UK over the festive season.

When asked why, 92% of respondents said they did not want their pets to feel left out.

This follows a trend of owners buying similar products for their dogs and cats as they buy for themselves. Examples include Christmas stockings, jumpers, Advent calendars and even pet friendly wine, beer and mince pies.

Tesco_mince_pies_for_dogs

Lily’s Kitchen is credited with introducing Advent calendar for pets in 2014 with a run of 5,000. But since then sales have grown to more than 50,000.

Lilys_Kitchen_Advent_Calendar_for_Dogs

Lilys Kitchen first Advent calendar containing dog biscuits

But when you are considering what tasty treats to buy for your loved ones, do remember their health should come first. The UK is currently in the midst of a dog and cat obesity epidemic, with 52% of pets obese or overweight, and with vets telling owners not to overindulge their pets or feed them inappropriately over Christmas. You have been warned.

Nutcase crash helmet

What’s the perfect name for a funky cycle helmet?

I’ve been greatly enjoying the Netflix television series Sex Education recently. It’s a brilliantly funny and rude evocation of the traumas of teenage coming of age.

Sex Education poster

It is also a very odd mix of English teenagers, who appear to be studying in an American High School, set in the present day, but driving around in cars from the 1970’s. Including the infamous Austin Allegro, allegedly the worst car ever made.

Austin Allegro

The final episode of the first series is about the main character Otis Milburn trying to let-go of his hangups about sex. In his role as an amateur teenage sex-therapist he advises his client Lily Iglehart, who has similar issues, to ride her bike down a steep field as a way of ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’. He ends up he following her down the hill and flies over the handlebars.

But the point of this blog is the perfect product placement that follows. Lily who is something of an eccentric teen with a predilection for writing alien erotica, comforts our hero’s cut head and bruised ego, with her perfectly matched Nutcase crash helmet in full view.

Nutcase crash helmet

Nutcase have even collated images of their helmets spotted on celebrities, TV and movies on Pinterest.

Nutcase on the screen

 

 

 

Jump electric hire bike

The future of cycle hire is bright – really bright

This morning on my daily commute to work, pedaling hard on my Brompton bike, with its muted shade of blue, I spotted a really bright red bike across the road.

BlueBrompton

My ‘boring blue’ Brompton.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a brand new Jump electric cycle from innovative taxi company Uber.

Jump electric hire bike

A Jump bike in all its red glory.

As my eyeballs started to recover from the searingly bright red colour, I started thinking about how business like these really need to stand-out in order to be noticed by their potential customers. A rival to Jump is the Lime E electric hire bike scheme which started in San Francisco and launched here late last year.

lime-e-bike

The Lime E bike is also very eye-catching.

Based on non-scientific observations during my commute, I would say the lime green colour is slightly less noticeable than the red of Jump. And I wonder if potential hirers might be put off by the unfortunate similarity to Limey, the term of insult historically used by Americans about Brits.

The bright yellow Ofo bikes although very visible, failed after just a few months proving that although the market is growing it is also unstable.

ofo-bikeBright yellow, but not successful in the UK.

The original bike hire scheme in London is now called the Santander Cycle Scheme. And I first experienced it nearly ten years ago My first ride on a ‘Boris Bike’. Luckily for them they don’t need to be as noticeable as they can only be hired from fixed locations, unlike their ‘free roaming’ competitors above.

Santander hire bike scheme

The first bike hire scheme in London, incorrectly known as Boris Bike.

Update:
I was interested to read a comparison of Jump and Lime E in the Evening Standard on my way home last night, Uber vs Lime: London’s dockless electric bikes are put to the test.

Vurger

What do you call a vegetarian beef burger?

Regular readers of this blog will know I am somewhat obsessed with the names of companies, products and services.

So often during my advice clinics I ‘help’ my clients discover the name they had chosen for their business has already been registered as a trade mark at the UK Intellectual Property Office. At this point some of them say they will no longer be able to start their business without the name they had their heart set on.

I explain that any name can work for a business. As long as it is legal, available and memorable. For example who would have thought these names based on fruit would have become associated with successful ventures (including the most valuable brand in the world).

fruit

 

logos

But, if you can come up with a great name for a business then so much the better. For instance what would you call a vegetarian beef burger? A Vurger of course. And that is exactly what The Vurger Co has done.

Vurger

 

You can read their story in detail here, but it is interesting to see that the idea started with health issues in a similar way to Deliciously Ella. And they way they initially tested the concept with a market stall. The best way to get feedback on a new edible product. I’m looking forward to finding out if they taste as good as they look.

Now I think about it, perhaps Vurger is too good a name, and they risk committing ‘Genericide’ in the long-term. This BBC website article explains how some brands that became household names lost the rights to their very own trade mark. ‘Genericide’: Brands destroyed by their own success. Maybe they will need to follow Google’s example and publish “rules for proper usage” of all its trademarks.

 

The coolest names are the best

Regular readers of this blog will know I live in Eastbourne, basking in the delights of the  ‘Sunshine Coast‘.

However our weather doesn’t always live up to expectations…

Sunshine Coast

As residents of Eastbourne we are very aware of our much cooler and trendier neighbouring town of Lewes. There are too many hip aspects to list in full, but here are a few:

  • Lewes is probably most famous for its anarchic Bonfire Night. Held every November 5th, with five competing bonfire societies marching noisily through the town, and the burning of controversial effigies.
  • It has had its own brewery since 1790 in shape of Harveys Brewery. They produce a beer in honour of Tom Pain their local celebrity revolutionary and founding father of the United States.
  • They print their own currency in the form of the Lewes Pound, designed to help support the local economy.
  • It has an internationally recognised opera house nearby at Glyndebourne.
  • The local football team founded in 1885 is now owned by the fans, and in 2017 became the first in the world to introduce equal pay to the mens’ and womens’ teams.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when the logs I needed for my wood burning stove turned out to come from a Lewes company called Just Log It.

JustLogIt

Which on further investigation turns out to be a subsidiary of Just Cool It.

Just-Cool-It-Logo

Which on goes to reinforce Lewes’s status as the King of Cool.

Lewes
The town is so pretty, old and curious – all tile-hung cottages with the whiff of hops on the air from Harvey’s Brewery – it could be an exhibit on Antiques Roadshow. But don’t be fooled. The town is full of Marxist lecturers from Sussex University. They like to burn effigies of David Cameron at their famous/infamous Bonfire bight. The Headstrong Club has been revived. And they still print Tom Paine’s scorching pamphlets at a press on the High Street. The revolution may still come.
Let’s move to Lewes, East Sussex: ‘Once a hotbed of radicalism’  From the Guardian Newspaper

Bonfire night Lewes

Putin_effigy

Lewes Pound

Tom Paine Ale

 

British Library fashion

There’s sustainable fashion and then there’s Tom Cridland and his clothes guaranteed to last 30 years

tomcridlandlogoLast Tuesday on my way to get my early morning coffee, I stumbled across our own little bit of London Fashion Week at the British Library.

British Library fashion

It got me thinking about this year’s event, and how the media had picked up on the theme of sustainability in fashion. The London Fashion Week events putting sustainability in the spotlight.

But none of the stories mentioned Tom Cridland and his clothes that are guaranteed to last 30 years. What might have remained a tiny niche business started with a £6,000 loan four years ago, has grown to £3 million turnover with a long list of celebrity customers.

His approach is certainly the opposite of high street brands such as Primark, who are known for their very low prices and disposable approach to fashion.

My only concern is whether his clothes can really last that long. I guess time will tell.

30-year-t

My new favourite brand name is Ugly

Triple BerryIf you read this blog, you will know I am slightly obsessed with brand names.

And I seem to spend quite a bit of my time at work trying to persuade people not to obsess about their trade mark. As long as the name is legal (check here for the UK) and not owned by someone else in your area of business (search here to check), the only thing that matters is how memorable it is.

And you can’t get much more memorable than Ugly. This big and bold name certainly caught my eye as I browsed the drinks available in our restaurant at the British Library yesterday.

Ugly flavours

On visiting the Ugly Drinks website, I was glad to see a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section explaining their unusual name.

Ugly Drinks FAQ

I haven’t yet managed to taste one of their range of drinks, but I’m looking forward to asking for an Ugly Drink.

Ugly Drinks