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


Happy Birthday Mum …

Yesterday would have been my Mum’s birthday.

My Mum’s 87th birthday.

That means she has been gone 4 years and frankly, that seems incredible.

So much has happened in that time …

From moving countries twice.

To changing jobs twice.

To selling our family home to buy a new one.

And while I am in a much better place than I was after the tragic days that she died, I still am prone to being hit by moments where her loss is almost overwhelming for me.

I wish she could have met Otis for real.

I still remember her words when I called her minutes after he was born.

I was incredibly emotional and she was so tender towards me.

Making sure I was OK, Jill was OK and Otis.

Asking if the baby crying in the background was her grandson.

Telling me how happy she was and how happy she was for us.

How she loved the name Otis.

And while she was alone in her home in Nottingham – wishing madly that she was with us – she still told me to go and be with Jill and my son because she was the most compassionate, thoughtful person I have ever known.

While Mum saw Otis on video chat, sent me countless emails/SMS’s about him and – for a brief while – was in the same room together [though sadly it was after she had passed away] … the fact is they never were together in the flesh and I would have loved to have seen that happen.

To see her face as he called her Nona.

To watch her smile he wrapped his arms around you and gave her a big hug and kiss.

To look at my Mum reading her first grandchild a story or walking him through the gardens and explaining the flowers or just watching him run around like a tsunami and then look at me with that look in her eye that tells me everything.

How he’s perfect.

How she loves him so much.

How she is so proud of me and Jill.

How happy she is right at that very moment.

That would be the best present for her – not to mention for me – and while none of those things will be able to happen for real, I will think about them tonight when I’m home and giving Otis a big hug and kiss, because while there are many things I can do a whole lot better at, my Mum [and Dad] taught me one thing I am very good at.

How to love.

Happy birthday Mum, I miss you so much.

Hope you and Dad are laughing and holding hands.

Rx



It’s Time To Say Goodbye …

So the time has come to close the door on the house I grew up in for one final time.

I’ve written the reasons for why this is happening in the past – as I have the reasons why the house was, and always will be, be so important to me – but it is the beginning of a new chapter for my family and my Mum and Dad would be so happy.

Anyway, we went to visit her one final time.

While the garden remained pretty much as my parents left it – thanks to us having a gardener visit every fortnight for the past 4 years [and we’ve taken a couple of things from there to plant in our new home so we will forever be connected] – going into the actual house was a very different feeling.

Part of it was because there was nothing in it.

No furniture.

No people.

No noise.

And so the overall effect was the house felt smaller … more fragile … and yet, as I walked through each room, there were so many emotions going through me.

As I watched my son run through the place holding his toys, I could see me – probably at his age – doing the same.

I saw where my Raleigh Grifter was waiting for me in 1989, on Christmas day.

I could see where my Dad – and then Mum – would sit in the lounge, on their rocking chair.

I could hear my Dad shouting ‘it’s ready’ from the kitchen our Saturday Beefburger was ready for scoffing down.

I could see my old clock radio when I was in the ‘small bedroom’ and my big stereo when I got ‘upgraded’ to the bigger room.

I could see the bed Mum and Dad slept in … where I would sit by them and chat throughout my time in the house.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom was especially poignant to me.

Regardless what happens in the future, it will always be ‘their room’ as they used for the entire time they were alive [and I was around].

Below is a photo of their empty bedroom that I took.

I’ve superimposed another photo of Otis that I took on the day after Mum died.

He’d just flown with his Mum overnight from Shanghai and he’s lying on the side Mum used to sleep on, looking at a painting of a mother and her child that hung above her bed.

He never got to meet her in person – he was supposed to a couple of weeks later when she recovered from her operation.

Alas it didn’t work out that way which is why this photo is so precious to me and why I feel, in a weird way, they did get to be together – hugging each other tight – if only for a second.

Another thing that got me, was when I went to the garage.

When we were having the house refurbished because we wanted to help a family live in a good area, we wrote a message on the wall about how much that house meant to us.

Well, when we checked at the weekend, we saw the tenants had left their own note and I have to say – it got to me because while my life is moving on, it was built in those 4 walls and I hope it does the same for anyone and everyone who lives there.

Thank you Mum.

Thank you Dad.

Thank you house … you will always be treasured.



Home Away From Home …

So I’m back.

I survived and no one died.

I have to say that while I love China, Beijing is not my favourite place in the World.

It’s also one of the most user-unfriendly … with everything located miles apart and the heat being utterly oppressive.

But that country still has my heart.

Every time I go there, I leave with an ache.

It will forever be a very special place to me.

Not just because Otis was born there.

Or that – in some ways – it changed my career forever.

Or my wife found a group of people that gave her a greater sense of community than she’d had in decades.

Nor even the fact I was there at one of the pivotal times in its modern history.

It’s just because in all the crazy of the country, I felt I found my spiritual home.

I appreciate that sounds mental.

Even my Chinese friends can’t work out why I love it so much.

But I do.

The people are warm, fascinating and interesting.

The culture is rich with history, modernity, complexity and beauty.

The hunger and ambition is unparalleled with anywhere I’ve been to prior or since.

I love the sense of connection and isolation that China makes me feel about myself.

That sense of returning to a place I truly felt was home for 7 wonderful years while also realizing that period might as well have been 10,000 years ago given how quick the country has changed.

And while I acknowledge there are some very questionable decisions being made by the leaders right now – decisions that undermine the potential of millions – the people within the country have been nothing but kind and compassionate to me and my family and for that, they will always have my heart.

Wherever my family are will always be the definition of home for me.

But China is the one place where that rule has some flexibility in it.

Which is the greatest compliment I could ever give a country, though if I still dislike Beijing.



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.



They’re Always Close To You …
February 22, 2019, 6:16 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Attitude & Aptitude, Emotion, Empathy, Family, Happiness, Home, Love, Mum

A few days ago, I received this.

I say ‘I’, but it was addressed to my Mum.

It was an election notice from the Italian Government.

Now I know it’s a bit weird that they are sending something to my Mum, to her old house in England, when she died almost 4 years ago, but it feels so lovely to get it.

Especially given the terribly sad situation regarding my Mum’s sister that occurred this week.

While I’m not a huge believer in ‘signs’, I can’t help but think this is a sign …

Thanks for reminding me you’re always watching out for me Mum.

I’m glad you and your sister can be together again.

Love you. Miss you.



Till Next Year …

So this is the final post of the year.

It’s been a big year for me and the family.

Then again, it was a big year for the family last year too.

However, whereas 2017 saw us leave Shanghai and Wieden+Kennedy – something that was truly emotional for all of us – 2018 has seen us go from sunny LA, working at Deutsch, living in a house by the beach and driving a custom made Audi to being citizens of cold and rainy London, living in a much smaller house in Fulham, working at R/GA [with some sprinkles of Metallica madness in-between] and traveling by tube to and from everywhere.

And we haven’t been this happy in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we definitely miss from our life in the US – people, the weather, Otis’ school, free soda refills and bacon mainly – but this move was right for us for a whole host of reasons, personal and professional, and we enter 2019 with the full expectation we’ll still be here when 2020 comes around.

I hope.

It’s funny, when I read the final post I wrote for last year, it is apparent that change was in our minds. We didn’t think that openly, but it seems it was there.

Of course, moving to a country and then leaving in just over a year is not the best thing.

It’s financial stupidity for one.

But these things happen and we are very happy for the amazing experience, though I must admit I’m even happier my wife, son and cat are still talking to me.

Fools.

But while our environment has changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.

Your ability to trash everything I write on here, for one.

And to you all, I say a huge thank you.

Sure, being told I’m a bad dressing, musically ignorant, gadget tosser every-single-day can get a bit tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because amongst the insults, there’s often pearls of gold in there.

Stuff that makes me think about things a different way.

Stuff that influences how I think about things I never thought about.

Stuff that just keeps me on my toes and interested about stuff.

And I love it.

I love that people come here and share a bit of their time and opinion with me.

Yes, I appreciate moving to the UK and still posting at 6am is screwing up the flow of the comments given the East Coast of America is asleep and can’t insult/join-in until much later … but the fact so many people still write makes me feel very fortunate.

While I have loved the ability to move countries and cultures so many times – and hope to continue doing it, just not for a bit – the reality is that is makes your friendship network difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fortunate we have technology to keep me in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met in every country we’ve lived [whether they like it or not] and this year I got to catch up with people I’ve not seen in years – from Freddie to Paula – but there is something about having a level of constancy that makes you feel settled.

Bizarrely, this blog has provided me with a bit of that.

Even with people I have still yet to meet.

[Though I met Marcus and Neil Perkin this year and that made me so happy]

While I would never suggest I am your friend, you have been to me – in many ways and at many times, both at moments of darkness and happiness – and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

To all of you.

Even you Andy.

When I started this blog way back in May 2006, I never expected anyone to read it, let alone comment so the fact some of you still are – regardless that many Police officers would call it abuse – I’m grateful.

I’m excited about next year.

It will be big.

Not because we’ll be moving … or I’ll changing job … but new things will be entering my life.

From my beloved Otis starting proper school – which literally is screwing with my head – to the much-talked-about-but-not-much-actually-done Weigel/Campbell officially doing its thing in addition to the exciting adventures and exploits my wonderfully beautiful family, my bloody amazing friends and fantastic new planning team will get up to that will make me feel even luckier than I do already.

Being back in England has had a much bigger effect on me than I ever imagined it would.

I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for all I have.

I hope this holiday season and 2019 is one that is wonderful for you all too.

See you in a few weeks. [Yeah, don’t think you get so lucky to not have me come back]



Here We Go …

So here we are, the last month of 2018, and what a year it has been for me.

Started out in the sunny life that is Los Angeles and end it in the rainy life that is London.

From Deutsch to R/GA.

From Audi’s to the Tube.

From LA Din Tai Fung to the new London Din Tai Fung.

[Let’s be honest, I’d never of come if they weren’t here]

But I’m happy – very happy.

Sure, there’s a bunch of things I miss, but apart from the fact many of them will remain in my life for ever, the rest I can look back on as experiences I am fortunate to have had so I’m grateful I got to have them rather than sad I’ve lost them.

I know, who am I?

But all that is for a an even more boring post sometime in the next few weeks, so I’ll end this far-too-positive post with one of my new favorite songs, ‘Love Can Only Heal’, by Altered Bridge and the Slash band, Myles Kennedy.

I know you will think it’s bollocks – but apart from the fact that means you’re all a bunch of musical heathens who can’t appreciate the brilliance of a melancholy melody that’s orchestrated with a slowly building pulse of drama – you’re forgetting the alternative would be suggesting you listen to Queen.

Suddenly not so bad it is?

And it gets better … because for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, I’m going to be on my way to the US again by the time you read this. Which means you’re free from my blog rubbish till Thursday and given the following week is the final week of blog posts from me for 2018, you are exactly 7 posts away from ending the year on a positive.

If that doesn’t make you enjoy today, then nothing will.

Happy Monday.