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

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.


Happy At Home …

So it’s 2 months since we’ve been back in England and I have to say it’s been great.

Sure, the weather isn’t like LA.

Sure, finding a home and unpacking was a pain-in-the arse.

Sure, catching the tube is not like driving my beloved Audi to work.

Sure, I’m shocked at how bad the service is in restaurants and how many people smoke.

But all that aside, things are great.

There’s a bunch of reasons for that …

The first is my family are all together and well. Even Rosie, the moaning cat.

Seeing how brilliant Otis has adapted to his new environment [again] is inspiring, even though it has highlighted how much of an American twang he picked up in our time in the US.

To move home is a traumatic experience for anyone.

To move countries is often too much for people to even contemplate.

So to have moved home and country, 3 times when you’re only 3 years of age – and still be happy, positive and curious – is an incredible achievement and one that makes me even prouder of my wonderful little boy.

That said, we’re very mindful he is still trying to find where he belongs … find other kids he can form a connection with … so our job in these early months is to help him feel as settled and secure as we can, but so far, he’s handling it far better than we could ever hope, even though he did exactly the same when we landed in LA after Shanghai.

What a kid.

Another reason we’re enjoying things in England is that there’s an incredible familiarity to how things work.

Sure I’ve not lived here for 24 years and Jill is Australian … but we both have spent a huge amount of time here over the years so there’s a comfort in knowing how to make things happen. It’s allowed us to acclimatise to the new environment far quicker than we have in other nations while still feeling the buzz of excitement of being somewhere new.

Sure, there’s nervousness about some things we’ve never/rarely had to deal with before.

The school system and how insane that is here.

The inability to be confident a tradesman will turn up as promised.

The high price of public transport [which is still low, but comparatively high to say, China]

But all that is offset with the incredible culture that surrounds us, the friendliness of the people we’ve met and just being in a place where we can see ourselves for a good length of time.

Oh, and chips, mushy peas and gravy.

God, that’s magic right there.

But one other thing that has made things so great is work.

I’m really enjoying myself.

I have an incredible team full of smarts and opinions.

I have a huge array of colleagues full of creativity and provocation.

I have a bunch of clients full of fascinating challenges and ambitions.

I’m learning.

I’m being challenged.

I’m [hopefully] contributing.

There were a bunch of reasons why we moved countries – both personal and professional – and while no place will ever be perfect, I’m pretty shocked at how much I am enjoying being back in England given I never thought I’d ever move back.

I still wish I could nip up to Nottingham to see Mum and Dad.

I still wish Paul and Shelly lived down the street not 2 hours away.

But as much as I’ll always be a cynical bastard, I’m pretty happy right now and I’m sure that is as shocking to you as it is to me.

So on this bombshell of positivity, I wish you a good weekend and let you know that the APSOTW results will finally be out next week.


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.

Forever England …
November 5, 2015, 6:25 am
Filed under: England, Home

When you have lived away from the UK as long as I have – 20+ years – you’d think you would have got over missing certain things from ‘home’.

Of course missing family and friends will always be there, but I’m talking about the little things … from television shows to food to events.

I remember how shocked I was when I discovered the UK had launched a new – and smaller – 50 pence piece while I was living in Australia.

I know in the big scheme of things, it’s nothing … but it really brought it home to me how long I’d been away.

Now I know that I can watch the television shows thanks to the power of technology and I can get chips, mushy peas and gravy anywhere … but to replicate ‘events’ is much, much harder.

I’m not talking Birthdays or Christmas – even though they will never be the same as they were when I was living in Blighty – I’m talking about the events that are uniquely British, from the Nottingham Riverside Festival to Pancake Day to, as it is tonight, Bonfire Night.

Each of these events have a lasting impression on me.

Yes, I know the Riverside Festival is basically a poor-man’s Goose Fair … and I appreciate I can have Pancakes every day if I so wish … but there’s something about those days that truly connects me to home.

Whether it’s the fact I would always see my friends, past and present, at the Riverside – normally while I’m stuffing an overpriced hotdog that had been heated to the surface area of the sun down my gob – or that Pancake Day would see Mum go into a mild panic as she looked around the house for the ingredients to make them [including orange juice, because I preferred that on my pancakes than Jif Lemon] … they were always very special days.

Which leads me to today. Bonfire Night.

While we never had fireworks at home – maybe a few sprinklers – the fact is we never needed any because we could stand outside our little garden and watch everyone else’s magical displays.

OK, so the reality is they were never that impressive – especially when compared to the organised stuff down at Trent Bridge Cricket Ground – but as a young kid, it didn’t really matter, because however bad the neighbours fireworks were, they were colourful and loud and that added something very different to my surroundings which, 99% of the time, would be quieter than a cemetery by 7pm.

Mind you, that lovely image is destroyed by the memory of Steven Stanley firing a huge ‘rocket’ up Greythorn Drive that – to our horror and relief – flew right underneath a car coming down the hill, only for it to explode seconds after passing the vehicle.

To say we got bollocked that night is a vast understatement.

But that aside, Bonfire Night is one of those nights that will be forever England for me which is why I’ll be watching this video and thinking of all of you later.

April 1: Where Life Shows It Has A Dark Sense Of Humour …
April 1, 2015, 8:24 pm
Filed under: Death, Family, Home, Mum, Mum & Dad

The house is now empty.

44 years of life removed in little over 5 hours.

It hasn’t been this exposed since 1971, when my parents bought it to be their family home.

We had a good send off on Monday night by having dinner with Paul and Shelly, but now we have entered the phase between history and future.

As I now walk around the familiar rooms, it seems like another place. From another time. From another life with only the beautiful gardens – that remain intact – reminding me this was a place where so many happy memories were created and cherished.

Soon everything will be renovated. The house will be given an injection of love and life from both the builders we have asked to undertake the project and the family we will be welcoming into the home.

And while that is wonderful and exciting, I can’t help be reminded of why this is all happening.

It’s only 3 weeks since my beloved Mum died and yet the World seems to have moved on at a frantic pace … only applying the brakes when the impossible-to-ignore takes place.

Her death.
Her funeral.
Collecting her ashes.

And even I am being swept along with the progression … consumed by the expectations and needs of the law, the time I have available to do everything and the desire I have to honour my Mum in the best way possible.

But every now and then, moments arrive where I am smashed in the face with the pain and sadness of her loss.

Of course things like her death, her funeral and collecting her ashes are natural spotlights of grief but it’s the other things that really bring home how much you miss her and how much she loved you.

Today, as we walked around the empty house, there were two rooms that reiterated all the love my Mum had for me.

Her bedroom looked tired. Old. In need of some love and care. Sure it has just had new heating which meant it was in need of some decoration and sure, a empty room always reveals the bumps and bruises of the years lived within, but this room felt almost desolate – with only the indentations where my Mum’s bed had once sat … where my Mum had once lay – to remind me it was once one of the most important rooms in my World.

Then I walked into my bedroom.

Sure she had just had it decorated in preparation for her grandsons visit. But even with everything removed, it looked clean. Fresh. Full of life.

The contrast between hers and mine could not have been more distinct and in that moment I saw how my wonderful Mum put me before her.

That is both a beautiful gift and incredibly sad.

Beautiful: because it means she loved me without limit. Sad: because she deserved – and I always wanted to give her – the best.

Today I brought her ashes home.

My beloved Mum now in a relatively small, tubular container.

I’ve been hugging it for ages. I can’t believe it’s her and yet at the same time it’s quietly comforting. Being able to put my arms around her. Being able to kiss it. Being able to just hold it close to me.

I miss her. I miss her so much.

I must admit there is a part of me who still thinks someone will come out soon and tell me it’s all a joke. A mean, horrible joke, but a joke all the same. But with each phase of death, I become more and more aware it’s not a joke, it’s real and the pain hits me all over again.

Of course there is a tragic irony that this is all happening on April Fools Day.

Not just because this is a day where silly jokes are supposed to happen, but it is a year to the day that we found out we were going to have Otis.

A year where so much has changed and happened.

A year where every good and bad thing that could happen, seems to have happened.

But back to the house.

With nothing now in it, we are now staying in a hotel. But I’m still coming in and driving past all the time. Part of that is because I am well aware I won’t be able to pop in or stay here any more. Part of that is because of what it means and represents to me.

This is the house where love lived.

This is the house where happiness resided.

This is the house where the memories and values that guide me were born.

In just 21 days, my World has turned upside down and while I am letting another family start their journey within these 4 beautiful walls, I am glad this house is still mine – still my families – and I’ve ensured that’s the case by writing this in the garage.

Comments Off on April 1: Where Life Shows It Has A Dark Sense Of Humour …

The Sound Of Silence …
March 16, 2015, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Comment, Death, Family, Home, Mum, Mum & Dad

I am sitting in my Mum’s house. I say ‘Mum’s’, but really it is now mine. But I don’t want to think of it that way, at least not yet.

A lot has happened in the past week and I have already entered the horrible cycle of comparison.

It started yesterday, as it was a week to the day that my Mum had her last full day alive.

And now we have today … the first week anniversary of her death.

I’ve been awake reliving every moment of 7 days ago.

How I got woken up by a phonecall from some random Chinese number at 1am.

How I got up at 5am to ensure I was at the hospital in time.

How I stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast as I was going to get to the hospital too early and they wouldn’t let me in.

How my Mum said, “I heard your voice talking to the nurses as you came in, it’s so nice to hear it” as I walked up to her bed at 6:45am.

How she told the surgeon “she was a bit anxious” when he came to see her.

How we had a wonderful chat about so many things.

How she saw her grandson on Wechat video chat.

How she said the hairdryer she’d been given was so powerful.

How the hospital orderlies came to get her at 11am.

How I walked with her to the operating theatre.

How I cried as she was wheeled through the doors.

How I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Till I got the news around 6pm.

Things had gone well, but there had been “a complication” in which her heart leaked in a place they hadn’t touched and required 4 bags of blood and the surgeons steady hand to get it back under control.

How I was taken to her around 6:20pm and saw her attached to a multitude of machines.

How I spoke to her and held her hand even though she was heavily sedated.

How one of the machines started bleeping at around 6:40pm – which was the exact moment I was told I should go home and get some sleep because Mum was going to stay sedated till the morning.

How I said I was staying and rang my wife to say how scared I was.

How a nurse told me to just go to the waiting room while they “sorted Mum out”.

How the same nurse came and visited me to explaim they originally thought the bleeping was a loose connection but it was actually because my Mum’s heart had stopped and they were going to reopen her frail, little frame to see if there had been another leak.

How my best friend arrived and I fell into his arms and cried because I knew the truth.

How I held my fist to my mouth as a surgeon and nurse came to confirm the worst possible news imaginable at 7:12pm.

How everything changed forever.

In that 7 days, I have been trying to grapple between grieving and sorting things out.

I’ve been blessed with incredible support and acts of friendship but there are still so many things to do … legal things, emotional things, irrational things … all underpinned by my desire to make sure I honour my Mum in the best way possible.

And while I only have a limited amount of time to do it all, I find myself with 20 minutes to myself.



Not ‘Shanghai quiet’ … but true silence with only the faint sound of the radiators churning out heat, the gentle snoring of my son fast asleep and the odd bird chirping for company.

And this gives me the time to express what I’d really like to say to my Mum.

Because as much as I am gut wrenchingly sad, I am also incredibly sorry.

I’m sorry this operation didn’t work.

I’m sorry you didn’t get the new lease of life you deserved.

I’m sorry you didn’t get to hold your grandson in your arms.

I know the operation had to be done. I know if it hadn’t, your life would have been made slowly worse, but I’m still so, so, so, so sorry it didn’t work out for you Mum.

I know you had your suspicions, despite being told you were the ‘perfect candidate’ for the operation.

Finding you had re-done your will, written down all your commitments and put aside all your favourite verses for me to find, tells me that.

And I am grateful to you.

What you did shows you didn’t want me to have to contend with the complexities of death. It shows a level of love I can’t even comprehend … but it also shows me you were anxious and while that makes perfect sense, I am so sorry you had to contend with that as well.

You were – and are – an amazing, inspirational person.

I cannot tell you how much I am going to miss you.

The pain of your loss is incredible and will not be something that fades anytime soon. I know you wouldn’t want me to feel this way, but I would respond by saying it would be horrible if I didn’t feel such sadness.

I am just so, so, grateful I was there, you knew I was there and you didn’t suffer. If there is anything good I can take away from the painfully dark day, it’s that.

There is one last thing you should know.

We moved into the house on Saturday.

I use ‘moved in’ very specifically because while we will be moving back to Shanghai in a few weeks, we wanted the final chapter of our home to be one of family.

I know how much you wanted to hold Otis in your arms and while we didn’t manage to make that happen, the fact we are all here – living as a family – is something, I hope, you would love.

We’ve taken Otis all around the house and told him various stories about what went on here. We’ve shown him photos and paintings and even put him in your bed for a moment so I could feel you were giving him the cuddle you so desperately wanted to give him.

We’re all sleeping in my old bedroom – the one you recently redecorated because you wanted it to be “just right” – and it’s lovely.

We’ve turned the top of one of my Marshall amps into a change table. We’ve bought a special contraption to make sure Otis can’t fall out the bed and we’ve filled the fridge with food. It’s wonderful.

I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve said to Jill how much you would have loved to see this scene. And while that makes me feel incredibly sad, I can tell you that a 3 month old baby smiling and gurgling is the best way to lift the cloud of darkness.

He might be small, but he is literally filling the house with happiness and life and I know that would please you immensely.

We would have moved in sooner, but Angelo was fixing the new central heating I’d ordered so the house was a mess all last week.

The good news is he finished on time [surprise, surprise] and the house is warm and wonderful. The bad news is the [new] shower now doesn’t work so you were right when you said that “sometimes he is a bit sloppy”.

Oh Mum, I miss you so much and the next few weeks will be one of even greater turmoil but I promise you I will do everything I can to honour your views and beliefs.

I will always be eternally grateful for everything you showed me, gave me and said to me … you were and will continue to be, an enormous influence in my life and I will ensure Otis always knows how much he was adored by you.

If there is anything beautiful to come out of all this, it’s that you have given me 5 uninterupted weeks with my son … a chance to spend every minute with him while surrounded by the people I love. That is a wonderful gift and I will remember it and treasure it forever.

I love you my dear Mum.

Thank you for everything.

Especially the love.


Comments Off on The Sound Of Silence …

A Home Should Never Be Allowed To Just Become A House …
March 15, 2015, 4:15 am
Filed under: Death, Home, Mum & Dad

I’ve been part of this house for 44 years and seen this view tens of thousands of times and yet only now, as I enter the last few weeks of belonging here, do I truly see its beauty and can honestly say I will miss it with all my heart.

For the record, I’m not going to sell the family home, instead I’m going to rent it at a low cost to a young family who would otherwise not be able to afford to live in the area so they – like my parents – can raise their child in a place that can help them have a better chance in life … with the only stipulation being they must care for my parents garden with the same adoration they gave it.

I hope my Mum & Dad would approve … the reality is this view, this house and my memories are too strong for me to just let go.

Comments Off on A Home Should Never Be Allowed To Just Become A House …