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


It’s Time …

When Mum died, I inherited the family home.

Despite having not lived there for 20 years, it was still very important place to me.

Not just because Mum left it to me.

Not because my Mum still lived there.

But because it’s where I lived for all of my life – until I moved to Australia – and so the memories in those 4 walls were full of everything important to me from my first 25 years of life.

I have to be honest, the first reaction I had was to hire a security guard and keep things exactly as they were because the thought of selling it was just not going to happen.

Slowly I came round to the idea that a security guard was a bit extreme so I started – slowly – thinking about renting it out.

The thing was, when we had estate agents come check it out, they highlighted that having not been renovated for over 40 years, it needed some major work.

This was really hard for me because by saying it needed renovating, I heard it as ‘the house is not good enough’ … which I then interpreted as ‘the house my Mum loved and lived in, wasn’t good enough for others’.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but my emotions – and need to protect my Mum’s legacy – were very high at that point..

And if that was challenging for me, it got even harder when it got to clearing the house.

We spent a couple of weeks going through photos and possessions so we could identify everything we wanted to give to charity.

While Mum didn’t have expensive things, there were some lovely items which is why the worst thing – almost as bad as losing my Mum – was when I saw the charity people come by with bins and throw everything into them … no care, no consideration, no nothing.

And when I heard them literally smash my Mum and Dad’s wardrobes to smithereens – the things that had held their cliothes for 40 years – I had to leave the house as it was all too much.

But out of this darkness came an idea … an idea that I felt would honour my Mum in terms of the life she lived and the values she believed in.

We found a fantastic set of builders and had the house refurbished from top to bottom.

Removed all the wallpaper.
Plastering all the walls.
New paint everywhere.
New Kitchen.
New Bathroom.
New flooring.
New carpets.
New front door.
Some structural change in the house.

At the end, it was basically a new house and yet with the warmth and love of the old, as exemplified by this note that I wrote in the garage …

But that was only part of paying homage to Mum…

The next step was to find a young family who would love to live there, but couldn’t afford it.

You see our plan was to subsidize the rent – and maintain the gardens my parents loved so much – so a young family would have a chance to raise their kids in the beautiful environment my family gave me.

Of course, when my family bought the house – back in 1970 – the area was very different to what it is today, but zoom forward 40 years and it’s seen as very desirable. Not because it’s posh, but because it’s safe, has a strong community and great schools for all.

To this day, I’m so grateful my Mum and Dad were able to find £100 more than the other buyer or who knows where I would have ended up.

Anyway, by pure chance, we found a family who were sort-of connected to someone Mum once worked with. That was perfect, as it felt even more connected to her.

But what was even better was the mother of this family was Italian, like my Mum.

For the past 4 years we have had this arrangement and everyone has been happy.

But now it is time for a bit of a change.

Not because I want to become a bastard landlord, but because I’m now living in the UK and things are different.

You see part of the reason I wanted to keep the house – apart from the obvious – was that it gave me roots here. It meant I was still connected to where I grew up. That I mattered.

It’s kind-of similar to why we bought a bench for Otis at his school in LA.

Having spent the last 24 years out of England, the house represented a connection to my heritage and that was important.

But now I’m back … and while I don’t know how long for, I see it in terms of long-term rather than short.

On the day before Mum died, she told me she was sorry she wasn’t going to be able to leave me much.

I told her not to think like that and reminded her the love she and Dad gave me made me rich beyond my dreams.

But on top of that, I reminded her she was generously going to leave me her house … a house in a wonderful area … so she could relax knowing she had given her son more than he could ever have imagined.

And that’s why I am ready to let the house go.

Not – as you may think – because I am ready to move forward.

The truth is, I will always miss her and want her in my life.

The reason is because I see a way to use the house to reinforce the role my parents had – and have – in my life.

You see the one thing my parents would have loved to do is help me have a home of my own.

While I have been incredibly fortunate to do this without their assistance, I know that their dream would have been to contribute to that.

Of course they did with the love and support they gave me in life, but to them, providing some cash to do it would have made them feel so happy.

So that’s what they are going to do.

While we are happy in London, the truth is my wife and son need to be surrounded by nature.

Nothing reinforced this than our trip to the farm recently.

So we want to find a home a bit outside of London.

A home Otis can truly settle in.

A home that is our home.

Of course we don’t want to unsettle the tenants and will do all I can to help them – as well as give them as much time as they need to work out what’s next – but selling the house allows us to use that money to help my parents fulfill their dream.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in this position.

We are incredibly grateful to be in this position.

But the idea to have a place that is – for want of a better phrase – our forever home, is hugely enticing.

It will let us put down roots.

Connect to the community in ways we have never done previously.

Build rather than live.

This might sound dramatic and I am not saying we have had it tough in any of the other places we’ve lived or houses we’ve had … but we have also never been in a place where we saw ourselves for the long-term.

Because of that, we have always been looking to what’s next rather than maybe enjoying the moment as much as we could or should.

Of course this isn’t going to happen overnight, but to come to this point of decision represents a landmark for my family and for my grief which is why I am so happy to be home and so happy to look forwards with more security, regardless what the future may bring.

Given my birthday is tomorrow, that’s possibly the best present anyone could have.

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Consolation Prize …

I have talked about my love of Martin Parr before, which is why you can imagine my excitement when I thought I was going to pull off the ultimate collaboration between him and my side project with the masters of metal.

For absolutely fair reason, it sadly didn’t come off, but I did get a nice gift as a way of thanks … which ironically, makes me only wish it had worked out even more.

When I pitched the idea, I was asked why I thought it was a good idea.

I said I didn’t, I just thought it was interesting and sometimes, that’s all we have to go on.

The best thing with working with people who only think creatively is they totally get that … that sometimes, the intrigue of an idea is more important than the actual outcome – even if it ends up not being what you quite hoped.

I get why we all look for certainty in what we do. There’s a lot riding on it … money, employment, business … but the problem with certainty is that it is built on compromise and convenience, where the outcome is safe rather than alive.

It’s why Martin’s Weigel’s wonderful case for chaos is such an important read.

I have long been an advocate of this approach.

While it can scare people, the reality is chaos can create what order can’t and when we are all looking for ways to infect, infiltrate and shape culture, the best way to do it is to offer them something they find interesting and resonant, rather than boring and right.



Be Interested In What Others Are Interested In …

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to speak at a couple of conferences – in Hamburg, for the APG, and at ‘Closeness’ in London.

In both cases, I was asked to talk about the importance about empathy – something I’ve been banging on about for centuries.

And in both cases, I felt the best way to do it was to talk through the lens my Mum had taught me … which is the title of this post.

For an industry that is supposed to understand people, I’m surprised how few seem to really understand what that means.

Rather than understand hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and contradictions … it seems we prefer to focus on the bits that are relevant to our business needs, without seemingly realizing the important role context plays in shaping how we live.

If you don’t get context, you don’t get people … and you don’t get context without investing time.

Not focus groups.

Not ethnographic studies.

But an on-going commitment to going down the rabbit hole of people’s lives to understand how they live and the nuances that separate each and every one of us.

You can’t do this if you want to ‘fast forward’ to the bits you have pre-determined will be useful to you.

You can’t do this if you want convenient answers to ‘sell your campaign’.

You can’t do this if you want answers rather than understanding.

This last point is especially important.

Frankly, understanding is becoming a lost art.

Understanding is built on emotional connection, not intellectual.

Where you leave your prejudices, barriers, filters, expectations and hopes at the door and focus. Asking questions to understand more about what someone is saying than to get the answers you want to your specific challenge.

It’s hard.

It takes real practice.

Because while you may appreciate every person has a story … it can only truly be revealed if you let them do it in their own way, in their own time, in their own words. Which means you might end up hearing things that makes no sense to you, even though it makes perfect sense to them … and while that might not initially seem valuable, you’ll soon realise it’s immense.

But all this takes time.

And takes a real commitment.

However it lets you go back with knowledge that enables you to make work that feels like it was born from inside the culture rather than from a bunch of observers.

Work that is filled with the nuances that makes the audience take notice.

Care.

React to.

Feel respect towards because it shows respect to them.

Or said another way …

Work that is resonant to culture rather than just relevant.

And it all starts by being interested in what others are interested in.

Not for commercial gain, but because you are interested in who people are.

It’s why my Mum is still teaching me how to live, 4 years after she has gone.

And now she is teaching others too.

Thank you Mum.



Signs You Know You’re In Italy …

So as you all know, I recently lost my Aunt and so travelled to Italy for her funeral.

On my return back to England – now with an ability to see through the tears – I realized there were many things in Italian cultural context that really reflected some of the unique values of the place.

From the signage that appeared on the aircraft hangers at Milan airport …

[yes, a bloody aircraft hanger]

… through to the stylish [at least comparatively to the UK equivalent, on the left] of their toy ‘play people’.

There is something so effortlessly stylish over there, proven by the fact things that shouldn’t work on paper, somehow do.

Now many would say that is the power of confidence, but I think it’s more than that.

I think the beauty of the Italian culture is their ability to be comfortable with being authentic.

Of course there’s exceptions … and yes, I’m definitely being generalistic … but there’s a wonderfulness in how much people seem to believe a successful life is more about how you live rather than what you have.

Or how something makes you feel rather than what it makes someone think about you.

Which is why I find Italian beaches are the happiest beaches because the undercurrent of competitiveness and social judgement that often infiltrates other countries sand and sea just isn’t there. Instead, there feels a common spirit of ‘happy contentedness’ … where the simple act of being in a place with people you love is embraced and enjoyed by all.

And when everyone loves and respects everyone else for living with that authenticity, then things like body shape and beach fashion just don’t really come into it … because at the end of the day, you’re not trying to impress others, you’re just comfortable being yourself.




Where You Leave Your Heart Is Never Up To You …

I recently was in LA for work.

Being a sentimental sod, I couldn’t help find the time to go visit some of the places that became so important to me – and us – when we lived there.

Hell, I even went to the house of the man who bought my car just so I could see it again.

But of all the places I’ve revisited in LA, visiting Otis’ preschool is the one that made me the most emotional.

This is a place he loved.

Where he met his beloved Elodie.

Where his Mum connected to people who will be life long friends.

Where they were both made to feel they mattered from the second they arrived.

Leaving LA was hard. Not for professional reasons, but for personal.

Yes I was sad to leave people I’d met who had grown to become very important to me, but hardest was taking my wife and son away from a place they had thrived in.

Even though we were only there for approx 18 months, we wanted Otis to always know there was a time this was his home … that leaving didn’t mean he’d disappeared. So we wanted to do a few things for the school of which one of them was ask if we could donate a park bench in Otis’ name, so generations of future kids could play on it and – in some way – get to know the little boy who loved that place so much over 2017/18.

By pure chance, when I was driving past the school – it was a Saturday – I saw they had an event on, so being a cheeky sod, I went in hoping they’d let me see the bench we made.

They welcomed me with absolute open arms and as they let me see the seat we left for Otis, I realized – for the first time – that I’d also left a bit of myself here as well.



We’re All Going On A [Almost] Summer Holiday …

Well this is the last post for another week except this time I’m not going away for business, I’m going away with the family for a holiday.

Believe it or not, this is the first family holiday we’ve had in almost 3 years.

Part of that is because we have moved countries twice in the last 3 years … the other part is that when we lived in Manhattan Beach, it felt like we were on holiday whenever we were together.

So this weekend we all go – including Rosie the cat – to a farm for a week.

If I’m honest, I never ever dreamed of going to stay at a farm for a holiday.

Only staying in a tent would be worse.

But whether it’s because I’ve been on a plane so much over the past 6 months or whether it’s because I’m a Dad to a kid who absolutely loves animals … I’m genuinely looking forward to it.

Evolving opinions are a wonderful thing.

While we might think our points of view on life remain fairly static, I love that they can grow or shift.

One of the reasons I’ve kept this blog up for so long is that it’s a reference point for how I have looked at the World over time. Looking back at some old posts reveal how much my opinion on certain subjects has changed.

I love that.

It means an old dog can be taught some new tricks.

Maybe this is because having lived in so many different countries, I’ve always had to be open to how things work … but whatever the reason, I’m happy I’m going to be spending a week feeding cows even if a version of me from the past would rather be a Derby County supporter.

See you in a week.



Viagra By People Who Are Massive Dicks …

As you read this, I’ll be on a plane to America – again.

Given I’m not back till Friday – and then there’s a long-weekend in the UK for Easter – that means there won’t be any posts till Tuesday. Hopefully I will have digested all the chocolate I intend to eat by then. Not to mention have got over the excitement of having my new car – which, is exactly the same as my old car – but that’s a post for another day.

Till then, I leave you with this …

So I recently saw this ad for a viagra type product on the tube …

How horrifying is that eh?

OK, it’s not quite as bad as the Eddie viagra ad I wrote about a while back … but it’s close.

From the terrible ‘When Harry Met Sally’ reference to the racially questionable ‘erect dreadlocks’, it’s the sort of rubbish you’d expect to see in a first year ad students book.

And I’m probably being unfair to first year ad students.

But even worse than that is that it comes from a company called manual.

Maybe it’s just me, but the words ‘manual’ and ‘viagra’ seem to be polar opposites.

I don’t know why, but when I see the word manual – in the context of intercourse – I think more of masturbation than copulation … and yet that is what they decided to call their company.

Weird.

At one point I was going to say that even that wasn’t as weird as ending the body copy of the ad with the words ‘Good News, Man’ … because I initially thought it another racist slur towards the guy with the dreadlocks … however having seen a few more of their executions, I see they say this in ALL their ads, even when it features a man without long hair.

Though I note none of them show their hairstyles pointing up.

Everything about this campaign smacks of a company that doesn’t know what erectile disfunction means.

From their ads communicating the effect of the product rather than the emotional benefit for the user, through to the fact the opening line on their website is, Hard Isn’t Always Easy.

I appreciate its an ad on the tube.

I appreciate most ads on the tube are even worse.

But this overly simplistic approach to communication is not building long term business, just a short-term transaction.

Maybe that’s fine for the founders … maybe they’re in it for a good time rather than a long time … but if you think how a strong brand can command a price premium and disproportionate audience loyalty, it blows my mind how few companies seem to care about this.

Oh they will claim they will.

They’ll say all the right things about thinking for the long term.

But the reality is to do that, you have to plant seeds [excuse the pun] for the future and many of these new companies are simply in continuous harvest mode.

Maybe they’re adopting the old saying of ‘make hay while the shines’ … I just hope they realize the other side of that is ‘prepare for your demise, because it’s coming’.

Happy Easter everyone …