The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Groundhog Day …

Happy 2019!

I hope you had a fantastic time with loved ones.

I also hope 2019 is a very special year for you all, for all the right reasons.

While I’ve been back at work for 3 days already – which were spent in bloody Miami – I have to say I had a wonderful time, even if I didn’t get as many gadgets as I hoped I would.

That said, I’m not making any plans for the year ahead.

I’ve seen too many best intentions get ruined before the end of the first week of a new year to fall into that trap.

But it’s fair to say I do have some hopes for 2019.

Some are professional, but most are mainly personal.

More than that, they’re personal because it involves people I love rather than for myself.

I know … I know … who the hell am I?

The reality is I’m doing OK.

That doesn’t mean I don’t still have a huge drive to go further, but right now, my hopes are for others for the year ahead.

Of course the main people I’m focused on is Jill and Otis.

In September Otis will start ‘proper school’ and we just hope he gets into one that follows the values his Mum and I believe in. We never realized finding a school for him would be so hard … but when you don’t want to go private, don’t want religious associations and don’t want the focus to be so academic his creativity is impacted, I guess it was never going to be easy.

So we have our fingers crossed and will deal with whatever happens.

Which is why I am also focused on Jill.

As much as Otis has impacted my life in so many wonderful ways, it’s Jill who will experience the biggest change once he goes to school.

It’s Jill who has stayed with him throughout his formative years.

It’s Jill who has spent the days with him every week, playing and educating and just generally looking after him.

Their bond is a beautiful thing to witness and I know she feels being a mother has been the most fulfilling thing she has done in her life.

So now what does she do when she leads him to the next stage of his life?

Of course there will still be loads they do together, but I want to give her the backing to find something that fulfills her, whatever that may be.

I know it won’t be the same as helping raise our bundle of energetic joy 24/7, but I am excited to see what she will do.

She is extremely talented, creative and compassionate – and while I know she doesn’t want to start her amazing cake company again – we have discussed some things that she is excited by and I’ll be backing her all the way for whatever she chooses.

I say this because I recently saw the photo at the top of this post.

It’s a photo of Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, looking at the Freddie Mercury statue he has at the bottom of his garden.

The statue that was on top of the London theatre when their musical, We Will Rock You, was performing.

I have to say, I found the photo very poignant.

Apart from the fact it’s wonderful he wanted to keep the statue of his old friend – I can’t imagine what it must be like to see it every day.

Does he look at it and think about all the amazing things they did together?

Does he look at it and mourn the loss of someone he loved like a brother?

Does he look at it and feel the sadness of memories he will never experience again?

Growing old has many benefits – including not giving a damn what others think of you – but it can also act as a bitter pill when the things around you … the things you brought into this world … start taking on a life of their own.

At these points you can either sit back and focus on the change or lean in and explore the possibilities.

For the past 30 years of my professional life, I’ve been fortunate to always embrace leaning in to the possibilities – possibilities that has seen me live around the World and meet an endless stream of wonderful, creative individuals.

While I have no intention of stopping that approach to living, I do want to make sure that in 2019, Jill gets the drivers seat because apart from her generosity in letting me do so much of the steering, the reality is she was the one who helped us navigate to where we currently are so I know by handing over the driving to her, she will go to somewhere wonderful and fulfilling and no one I know deserves it more.

She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.

So happy 2019 to all … I’m excited to see where we all end up in the next 12 months, even if my blog posts will continue to bring the excitement of possibility down to a slow, painful crawl.

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Nature Still Has It …

So we swapped living next to the beach in LA to living next to a park in London … and because of that, we spend a huge amount of our time there … hanging out while he goes off to explore.

Watching him is awesome.

The way he throws his entire energy and enthusiasm into everything.

From the swings and slides to the way he interacts with the other kids … bonding over nothing but the fact they’re around the same age and want to play.

Recently I caught him at the top of the slide with a couple of kids he had just met.

They weren’t talking.

They were just staring.

At a leaf …

Sure it didn’t last a long time, but for a moment, that single leaf held the attention and wonder of 3 kids …studying its shape, it’s colour and guessing which tree it had fallen from.

No electronics.

No lights.

No sounds.

Just nature showing she still has it … exemplified by Otis looking at it like I look at gadgets.

Long may that continue.

Thank you park.



Making Sure They Know They Matter Even When You Leave …

Yes I know today is the day where all the ghosts and ghouls are supposed to come out and play, but I thought I’d inject a bit of love and positivity into the World.

I know … who the hell am I?

Unsurprisingly, this new side of me is connected to my past life in LA.

While we are absolutely loving being in England and London, there are things about LA we miss.

One of them is Otis’ amazing preschool.

As I have written before, it’s an amazing, creative, inclusive place of learning and we were so happy he was there.

But leaving was always going to be hard – especially given we were leaving the country – so we asked the school if we could buy a piece of furniture for them on behalf of Otis.

Not just because it’s a school where the lessons are conducted outdoors but because we wanted Otis to know that while he was in America for a short time, his presence mattered to the community and the community mattered to Otis.

I’m so grateful they said yes which is why, while we’re thousands of miles away in the cold of England, there is a bench in sunny Manhattan Beach that allows Otis to always be in a place he loved while also letting his friends – and future students – always enjoy being in the environment they find themselves in.

The point of this post also relates to the people I’ve been lucky enough to call colleagues around the World, but that’s a post for another day [and does not relate to leaving stickers and badges around the place] so with that, I just want to say a huge thank you to Manhattan Beach Nursery School, the kids and parents who go there and LA as a whole.

Take that Halloween.



Marketing To The Religious Right …

Over the years I’ve written about some strange beliefs some strange people have.

For strange people, read overly religious, bigoted individuals.

First there was the gum that claimed to stop you masturbating.

Then there was the soap that made you a virgin again.

Well if that wasn’t weird enough, I recently saw this …

Now that is some headline.

It’s a headline that commands your attention.

It’s a headline that demands you delve deeper.

And when I did, I discovered that – similar to TBWA’s current approach to disruption – I left feeling more repulsed than attracted to the cause or the topic. Have a read of this …

I have read this a few times.

And even now – as I read it again – I come away shaking my head in utter dismay and disarray.

Because while I appreciate the authors beliefs are her beliefs [even though I find them unbelievably condescending, patronizing and judgmental] I also think she is fundamentally wrong because I’m pretty sure the main thing young men look for in young women is a pulse.

I’m not saying that’s right but neither is this sort of blinkered bollocks.

But here’s the thing, as blinkered bollocks as this may be … there’s a bunch of people who not only believe this, but live by it. And our industry needs to acknowledge this reality, because while we can judge all we like in our personal opinions, we have to keep an open and curious mind to what’s going on in our professional lives, because real life is a damn sight more complex, twisted and confusing than the nicely curated versions of what’s going that we like to present to the World.

If great communication is about resonance rather than relevance, then knowing the weird is way more important than knowing the convention.



Never Apologise For Your Emotions …

I cry.

I cry a lot.

I cry at films.

I cry at memories.

I cry at just how much I love Otis.

Now I appreciate that’s not the sort of thing you should admit, but that’s what I want to change.

I get why it happens.

From the moment we are kids, we are told not to cry.

To be fair, it’s less to do with any sense of parental embarrassment and more to do with parents hating seeing their precious child being upset, but in my opinion, it’s still wrong.

But it gets worse.

Especially for little boys.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a Dad tell their little man who has fallen over …

“Big boys don’t cry”.

I totally appreciate they’re not saying it to be mean, but I can’t help but worry for what we are teaching the men of tomorrow.

Especially in America.

I was lucky, I was brought up in a household that didn’t try to hide emotions.

I was taught it was healthy and was encouraged to express how I felt.

Now I know that was pretty rare, but fortunately for everyone else, there was the local pub.

The pub was more than a place for drinking, it was a place for men to express their feelings.

Sure, they did it through banter and jokes, but it was where you could reveal your feelings and fears to other men in an environment that was, ironically, none threatening and none judgemental.

I have no idea if that’s still the case but I know in America it’s not.

Here, you don’t go to a bar to talk, you go to a bar to sit with other men and watch sports.

There appears little outlet for men to express their feelings which means either the pressure of situations add up to unbelievable levels or the response to situations is disproportionate or overly aggressive and confrontational.

OK, so not everyone is like that, but until we teach our children – and especially our little boys – that crying is actually the act of someone strong rather than weak, then we are going to continue stopping people knowing how to navigate the challenges and frustrations that fill our lives. Or said another way, we’ll be stopping our kids from being able to be as good as they can be … which is a crime no parent wants to ever be accused of doing.

Which is another thing we could all learn from the values taught at Otis’ school.




Where It All Began …
May 23, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Comment, Education

Following on from my sentimentally infused post of yesterday, one of my old school friends recently posted this photo on Facebook …

What you’re looking at are all the teachers at my primary school, Heymann.

Now to be honest, I don’t recognise all of the faces, but the others have all left an indelible mark on me.

I appreciate this is of absolutely no value or interest to you, but in the slight possibility that Otis will read this at some point in the future, I’m going to detail my memories of each one so Otis can have a glimpse into his old man’s past.

From the back row, on the right left hand side, we have Ms Clay.

She was – I think – a student teacher. I am pretty sure she was engaged to the guy 3rd from the left. She came with us on our school trip to Whitby [see pic below, with me in a bloody red cagoule] and someone bought some ‘X-Ray Specs’ from a joke shop, convinced we would be able to see her nude. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t.

Next to her was Mr Catchick. The overwhelming memories I have of him is when he made me mop up someone’s vomit in class. I can’t remember why, but I do remember thinking it was terrible. I also remember the rumour his breath smelt of alcohol despite the fact that at aged 7, we were unlikely to know what alcohol smelt like. Then there was the time he sent me to the Headmaster’s room, Mr Dewing, for shouting “Bollocks” very, very loudly in class … even though I didn’t know what the word meant and Mr Dewing had to explain it to me, much to his huge embarrassment.

As I mentioned earlier, the person next to him is – I think – Ms Clay’s fiance, but next to him, like a member of some BritPop band, was sports teacher Mr Fletcher. He never taught me directly, but everyone knew him and when he retired from the school a few years ago, he was inundated with goodbye messages – me included.

Next to him is Mrs Crowe. She was my teacher when I turned 8 and the two overwhelming memories I have of her are that we did a class project on Australia and Canada – which, spookily, is where Jill is from – and that my Mum once came to collect me early and I remember thinking she looked the most beautiful Mum in the World. In another bizarre coincidence, we were flying from Shanghai to London a few years ago and we got talking to the people near us, only to discover they were Mrs Crowe’s nieces.

Last – but not least – on the top row, far right, is Mrs Cohen. She never taught me and I’m so glad because she used to hit people on the knuckles with a wooden ruler. Mind you, Mr Aspinal – who did teach me, but isn’t in this photo for some reason – used to hit people with a slipper, but he was far nicer than Mrs Cohen so I remember feeling a massive sense of relief when I was put in his class rather than hers.

Below her, now going right-to-left, is Mrs Berry – my first ever teacher. She drove a dark purple MGB GT … as cool a car as you could get back then … and was brilliant. She was also my teacher when the school got vandalised, where some kids broke all our pencils, spray painted our playground and killed the school rabbit. Oh, she also is the teacher who decided at the last minute that I should give Rebecca Baldwin my jumper during the school nativity play [where we were both playing animals] resulting in me watching my parents watching Rebecca thinking it was me until the very end. To say they were shocked when we removed our masks is quite the understatement.

Then comes Mrs Terry … the teachers teacher. She was firm but fair though I once caused her to almost have a meltdown with my inability to understand fractions [I’m still rubbish at it]. The other memory I have is that when it was parent/teacher night, she wanted everyone to have their ‘gold star/black mark’ chart updated and because she was so inundated with kids asking her questions, I kept going up to her with a piece of my work that she had graded with a ‘gold star’, and basically managed to get her to give me 5 stars when it should have been 1. This is maybe where my blagging abilities began.

Next to her was Mrs Staples. She taught me after Mrs Berry and was the deputy head. I remember thinking she was the most elegant woman I’d ever seen but that could also be because she didn’t go mad when she found I had decided – at age 6 – the questions in the back of the school books weren’t grammatically correct so I’d used a pen to change them. Before you call me a cheeky bastard, I did it because Paul, my best mate, was having reading issues and I didn’t want him to feel bad so blamed it on the school.

I have no idea who the other 2 teachers were, but these people – along with Mr Roberts, the school caretaker who lived in a house by the school entrance – were my introduction to education, so we can blame them for why I didn’t go to university.



Everything Good Starts At Home …

As I’ve mentioned many, many times, my parents drilled into me the importance of living a life of fulfillment not contentment.

It took me a long time to truly understand what they meant by that, but when I did, it was a revelation.

It is behind so many of the decisions I’ve made in my life.

From moving to so many different countries.

Starting cynic and Sunshine.

Right through to – hopefully – being the father and husband my wife and son thoroughly deserve.

This last one is especially important.

Not just because I love them and want them to know my love, but because at the end of the day – if the things I’m doing away from them doesn’t ultimately benefit them, it’s a waste of time.

When I was a child, my Dad would tell me why it was so important to love the work you did.

His basic premise was that if you’re going to be away from your family so much because of work, you better be doing something you love because nothing would be so insulting than to be away from them doing a job you hated.

That has stuck with me and while I’ve never hated any of the companies I’ve worked for – I’m always aware that once I have more bad days than good [or, in the case of Wieden, more bad polluted Shanghai days, than good] it’s probably time to start exploring what is out there that intrigues me.

Now, through a bunch of luck, these changes have come with greater titles and responsibilities … and I’ve never minded that, but it’s also never been my core motivation. Not because I don’t have ambitions, but I’ve always found the greatest joy being part of something that creates something.

I used to say that if I was to come back again, I’d love to be an architect because that way I could do work that outlived me … then I had my son.

Being a Dad has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.

I’m ashamed to admit this was not something I was truly aware of, initially.

But now, thanks to the brilliance of my wife, I am able to see that I have helped bring something into the World that will outlive me. Something that can [hopefully] be testimony to the values we value and the things we love but with a life all of its own … a life that can grow and be shaped by the possibilities in the future we may never get to witness.

Which is why as much as I want a career that continues to creatively challenge and excite me at the highest level, my most important ambition is to be a husband and Dad that is present, engaged and full of love and support for the people at home.

It might have taken my wife and son to help me truly appreciate that, but I know my parents would be happy that I finally got there.