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


Close, Even When They’re Gone …
October 1, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment, Emotion, Empathy, Family, Home, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad

When we were getting ready to move to our new house, we prepared for the big day by going through cupboards to help the removal guys with the packing.

In one of these cupboards we found some of Mum’s belongings that I’d not seen since she died in 2015.

One of the items in there was her handbag and one of the items in it was this necklace.

To give you an idea of how important it is, I can’t remember a time Mum wasn’t wearing it.

I certainly can’t find a photograph without her having it on.

So to see it again, after so long, felt like a wonderful, wonderful gift.

But there was something even more impactful than that and it was the smell of her handbag.

Because we had placed it inside a box, it still had the gentle, sweet fragrance of my dear Mum’s perfume on it.

A smell I thought I would never experience again.

Without any overstatement, I can honestly tell you it took my breath away … and as I held it tight, tight, tight against my chest … it felt like I was getting a final hug from her.

It was something I had wanted for each day since she passed … and while it let out a flood of emotions and tears, it was such a wonderful feeling.

Moving house – even after all the moves I’ve done – is a pain in the ass.

But occasionally, it is a gift.

Not just for where you’re going to, but for what it makes sure you don’t forget.

Thank you Mum. For everything.

Rx



Don’t Just Do It …

To people outside of the UK, the title of this post might sound like a diss to NIKE.

But it’s not.

It’s part of a well known tagline by UK hardware giants, B&Q.

Originally the whole expression was ‘Don’t just do it, B&Q it’ however it’s recently had an evolution … which is my excuse for talking about their new ad campaign.

A campaign by – in my opinion – the best agency in the UK right now and one of the best in the World.

Uncommon.

I’ve written about how much I love them – and Nils in particular – and this campaign is another reason for that.

DIY often gets promoted by ‘salt of the earth men and women’ making, fixing or changing stuff.

Or ‘cheeky chappy’, blue-collar cliches … having a giggle as they saw some wood.

It’s all very practical, rational and very before/after.

But Uncommon have done something different.

For a start they are trying to bring more people into the DIY world rather than just appeal to the people already there. It’s smart, because with COVID, we’re having to rely more and more on our own abilities than those of a specialist.

But they’ve done something more than that.

They’ve tapped into the emotions of what DIY does for us.

Not in the terms of a new shelf or a better shed … but in terms of crafting the place we live and turning it into our home.

A place that reflects us not just shelters us.

The quirks, the tweaks, the creativity, the failures.

The stuff we will always remember when we see it.

The stuff that makes it OURS.

The stuff we built … literally and figuretavely.

And it’s this premise that Uncommon tapped into with the thought, “you don’t buy a life, you build one”.

It’s always been true, but in these times where we try to outsource everything for a generic perfection, it is even more pertinent.

Doesn’t matter what you make.

Doesn’t matter how good you are.

All that matters is you make something that makes it yours.

I love everything about this campaign.

The idea. The craft. The writing.

I love that they’ve evolved the line from ‘Don’t just do it’ to ‘You can do it’.

It’s the right thing to do.

Not just because it is more inclusive, emotional and personal … but because it has a positive, encouraging energy to it. Something that conveys confidence for whatever you’re going to do rather than judgement and doubt.

But one thing I like in particular is the poster campaign.

As I wrote previously, Uncommon are seemingly single-handedly bringing the beauty and value of posters back into the ad world.

The work they’ve done for B&Q is a perfect example of that.

Simple. Clear. And each expressing a different attribute of the brand idea.

No bought in stock shots with some throwaway, meaningless copy dropped on it …, oh no … they’re all individually and beautiful art directed to within an inch of their life.

This is what advertising can be. Should be.

This is how we build the industry again.

This is how we turn it into a home people want to live in again.



Sacrifice Is Love …

Before I start, I need to warn you this post is long.

It may be the longest post I’ve ever written, so there’s a TL;DR at the very end.

Anyway, this post is about my Mum. And my wife.

Two amazing people who provided the foundation that allowed their husbands to go all over the place.

I’ve written about how my Dad had a bunch of radically different careers.

Not degrees of change, whole fucking protractors worth.

And while my career has been more ‘stable’, in so much it has pretty much revolved around the same industry … the fact I’ve been able to live and work literally all around the World is as much down to my wife as it is to any opportunity I have been given.

Put simply, none of what Dad or I have done could happen if Mum or Jill hadn’t enabled it.

And enabled is the perfect word … because this is more than just ‘supporting’ someone’s quest for adventure.

They actively enabled it to happen by choosing a path that offered them – and the family – a greater level of stability and consistency so their partner could follow the path of curiosity.

What an amazing act of generosity and love.

It is something I have been aware of for a long time …

And while Jill has loved the adventure we have been on, it has come at some personal sacrifice.

She is far from her family.

She built her career as much around the environment she was in as the interest she had in a particular area.

And while she did brilliantly with all of it – especially with her cake design business in Shanghai – I am perfectly aware she could well have gone on to even more amazing things if we had just stayed in one place rather than moved all around the World.

She has never complained about this.

She has always embraced the journey and the countries we have lived in.

But the reality is I took her away from her family supposedly for a year, which turned into 16.

Or said another way, she has shown me a level of love and support that I find hard to fathom.

So now it’s time to pay things back a little. Kinda.

You see when I got made redundant, I was inundated with generosity.

Some of it was words of support.

Some of it was offers of projects.

Some of it was even offers of jobs – albeit all overseas in America, Europe, Asia and Australasia.

Frankly, it was overwhelming and wonderful.

And while all the gigs were amazing opportunities, our first reaction was to say no.

Part of it was because of the wonderful family home we had just bought. Part of it was our desire to set down real roots for the first time. And part of it was because two famous rock bands, a wonderfully eccentric Chinese billionaire, an amazing German home appliances brand and the World’s most notorious/desired video game company stupidly asked me to work with them on long-term creative projects, meaning I could continue to earn a good living in the country my family now considered home.

Hell, in the last 9 weeks I’ve done presentations to the boards of TikTok, Rockstar, a fashion superstar and a Silicon Valley VC while also helping some mates on 2 pitches … one in Australia, one in Italy … and we won both of them!!!

As weird as it is to say, unemployment – for me – has been amazing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know what I’m saying is the definition of privileged-as-fuck.

I absolutely acknowledge I’m in an extremely fortunate position and, if I’m being honest, I’ve found that hard to reconcile with, given how many people – many my mates – are having a hard time right now. To help deal with that, I’ve been finding ways to bring some of them into the projects I’m on because not only do I want to share the good fortune I’m experiencing, they all make me – and the work I do – so much better.

But it also revealed something I had forgotten.

As much as I love the work I’m doing and who I’m doing it for, I love it more when I’m doing it with a team. If I’m being honest, I suck when I’m on my own and given the personal projects I’m doing will never demand 8 hours a day – let alone 5 days a week – there’s a lot of ‘on my own’ time, I have to deal with.

I know, that sounds like the dream doesn’t it?

And it is. But while I absolutely love spending so much time with my family and adore working with Rock Stars and eccentric billionaires, I also love – and probably need – to collaborate with other creative people on other creative things … which led us back to the ‘real’ jobs people were talking to me about.

Frankly they all offered something unique, interesting and valuable to my career, my family and our overall future.

And, importantly, they all involved working with interesting, passionate, creative people.

Plus – in theory – I could still deal with the crazy ideas and needs of rock stars and billionaires.

So Jill and I discussed them again.

Some were pretty easy to decide …

Not because the job or the companies were bad – they were all wonderful – but they were based in the US and frankly, given all that’s going on there right now, that’s not somewhere we wanted to go back to at this time.

But there was one opportunity that caught Jill’s attention.

Not just because of the job, but because of the place.

Jill knew I was already excited by it because the company involved was one I had revered and raved about for years. In fact I had almost joined them a few years ago, but Mum had just died so I was in the wrong frame of mind to make any big changes in my life.

So why did this place catch Jill’s attention?

Because, in simple terms, it was nearer to her Mum, who lives in Australia.

You see while she talks to her daily, it’s obviously not nearly the same as seeing her a bunch of times a year.

I totally understood this, not just because I had been in a similar situation with my parents … but because now we were so close to my beloved best mate Paul and his epic wife Shelly, I felt an even deeper connection with them, simply because we got to hang out a shit load more than we had for the past 25 years.

And so this got us talking.

As I said, I absolutely adored the company. And I loved Jill could be closer to her Mum. And we loved the idea Otis could spend his primary school years in an environment that is safe, natural, liberal, creative and culturally diverse. Plus I loved I could do something that would – in a super small way – repay Jill for all the love, consideration and sacrifice she had given to allow me to keep us moving forward … not to mention I loved that I would have a whole new list of people I could make Facebook friends.

[OK, not that last bit, more like a whole new list of people I could be an instagram terrorist to]

Are you wondering what the fuck I’m going on about?

Well this is my very convoluted way of saying Jill, Otis, Rosie and I are all moving to Auckland in New Zealand, and I‘m pathetically happy to announce I’ll be the head of strategy for one of the most wonderful agencies in the World – in fact, one of the Cannes agencies of the decade – the utterly brilliant, beautifully ridiculous, infectiously creative … Colenso.

I have loved this agency for so long.

They’ve consistently made work that I’ve not just been insanely jealous of, but I’ve not seen anywhere else.

From creating a radio station for dogs … to stopping speeding by letting kids design the speed dial in the family car … to making drinking a beer the most romantic thing you can do on Valentine’s Day – or an alternative fuel for cars – they’re imaginative, audacious and wonderfully bonkers.

While saying ‘no’ to them 5 years ago was the right decision because of my state of mind after Mum died, I always felt I’d missed out on an opportunity that could be very special for me, so to be offered a second chance is … well, put it this way, it’s something I’ll always be eternally grateful to their idiocy for making happen.

Frankly, when I got made redundant, I never imagined something like this could happen … but, as I said at the time, the last time this happened to me, it led to one of the most creatively rewarding times of my life and in my post, I wondered out loud if lightning could strike twice.

Amazingly, it seems it can … but that’s the best thing about life, because if you’re open to everything, anything can happen.

That said, being in England has been amazing, far more than I imagined or hoped.

I don’t mind admitting when we came back I had a sense of trepidation.

Part of it was because I never thought we’d live in England again, part of it was because I didn’t want it to signify ‘the end’ of the adventure [and yet so many people thought it did] and part of it was that I felt guilt coming home after Mum and Dad died … because if I was going to do that, what didn’t I do it when they were both still here.

But as we spent more and more time in England, those concerns were replaced by feelings of belonging and connection that I thought I’d lost the ability to feel or experience, regardless where we lived … so while the UK may a complete basket-case of a nation, it’s my basket-case and I can take that newly formed sense of connection with me wherever we go.

But what about our new home?

The one I’d written so much about when we got it?

The one we moved into SEVENTEEN DAYS AGO!

Well, the fact of the matter is we’re in it and we love it and we don’t want to lose it … so while we will taking a detour via a wonderful adventure in New Zealand, I can categorically say we will be back living in it at some point. Don’t know when – we never make plans about timing – but we just know we will one day.

You see the reality is the house was always more to us than just an asset.

We wanted somewhere where we could settle … a place where our roots could grow and become established and entwined. It’s why I took the decision to sell Mum’s home, not just because it helped us be able to afford it, but because it was the sort of place Mum would want for us.

A family home rather than a house my family lived in.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that until we go.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy that when we eventually come back.

But when do we go?

Well, that’s an interesting question with COVID … but hopefully in the first part of 2021.

If you asked me if we would ever live in New Zealand in the first half of 2020, I would have laughed and said no … and then added., “not unless Colenso offer me a job again”. But here we are, about to do just that … and I have to admit we are all hugely excited about it.

Not just for the reasons I’ve mentioned, but because living in another country and culture is an amazing privilege and we’re excited that the journey we’ve been on for the last 25+ years, still has a few more chapters to be written.

[That said, our cat is not happy as this this will be her SIXTH country in 13 years]

I’m so grateful to Colenso for giving me – and my family – this opportunity.

I’m so grateful to Jill for thinking of me even when this is supposed to be more about her.

I’m so grateful to R/GA for giving me – and my family – this experience in England and, by making me redundant, opening the door to exciting and rewarding things I never imagined could happen.

I’m also so grateful to all the people who have been so kind with their generosity and support while I’ve been in England, especially when I was made redundant. There’s loads and I’ll write a post about them when we leave but quickly, a massive thanks to …

My old planning gang at R/GA. Nils, Lucy and the incredible team at Uncommon. Matt Tanter. The Brixton Finishing School. John Dodds. Joel Keene. Emma Clark. Jonathan Nwauzu. Phil Jacobson. Judd Caraway. Caroline Seifert. The delightful nightmares Mike and Sam. Claire Pickens. David Tiltman. Munraj Singh. Kay and the team at SMILE-ing Boys Project. Michael Roberts. Karrelle. Louise Jack. Nick Ellis. Paul C. Nick Hirst. Richard Greene. Jed Hallam. Ms Bloodworth [although technically she is now in PDX]. Trudie McNicholl. Omar at The London Business School. Larissa. Sam Clohesy. Hanan. Giles Edwards. Asher. Tom Roach. Tarik at On Road. Sara Tate. Stefano. My beloved Mr Weigel. Ally McKenzi. Vince Aidoo. Neil Perkin. Graeme Douglas. Nick Owen. Nic Owen. Sam Brookes. Dave Alberts. Ayo and Group Think.

There’s tons I’ve missed but as I said, I’ll write a proper thing about them closer to the time we go [even though I appreciate this is turning into a Ms World acceptance speech] but I would be wrong if I didn’t give a mention to my oldest, dearest friend – Paul – and his wonderful wife Shelly, who made – and are making – this chapter better than I dared imagine.

I can’t really put into words how wonderful it has been being close to them again. While it had been 25 years since we were in the same country, it never felt like it – though being so close definitely made things even better. [The photo above, taken in our new garden when they came to visit, is one I’ll always treasure]

The one really sad thing about going is not seeing them as much as we have been able to over the past 2 years … but I keep reminding myself we’ll be back and I know when that happens, it will be exactly like it has been – wonderful and silly – because that’s exactly what happened when we came back after a quarter of a bloody century.

I know this has been a super long post. Like, Gwyneth Paltrow Oscar-speech long.

And I know most of you won’t have read most of it.

Or you just skipped to the TL;DR at the bottom.

But that’s OK, because it’s not for you, it’s for me.

And for Otis. For when he’s older. So he can properly understand the reasons behind his childhood, family adventures.

However even I’m getting over it so with that I’ll leave you with this …

Once upon a time, Dan Wieden asked me if I would ever live in Portland.

My response resulted in him saying, “I should fire your ass” and repeating it every single time he saw me from there on in.

I never had anything against Portland.

It’s an absolutely lovely place, but for me – especially as I was living in Shanghai at the time – I felt it was too small, too quiet, too natural and just too nice.

Well, we’re going to find out who was right.

I’m pretty sure we’ll find Dan was. As usual.

TL;DR

Bought a house in England but moving to NZ.
Off to play at the wonderful Colenso and let my wife be closer to her Mum.



I’m Watching You …

When I was at R/GA, I hired this brilliant planner called Joel.

It was weird how we met because it all started at a Google Firestarter meeting I was talking at.

At the end of my presentation, it was opened up to the audience for questions.

I couldn’t see who was asking anything as the lights from the stage were shining straight into my eyes. Anyway, there was one question that shone out from the rest of the questions of the night – basically challenging the London bubble of planning – and while I didn’t know who asked it, I wanted to find who did to say I liked it.

Alas I never found out who did.

A few days later, I got a message on LinkedIn from the person who asked the question.

His name was Joel.

I invited him for a coffee later that week and suddenly the person who asked the best question of the night was asking the best questions of the day.

But what made them extra good was he wasn’t doing it to show off or stand out, he was doing it because he was interested in the topics and interested to hear my perspective.

We talked about his background, his ambitions and then he did the one thing that almost guaranteed I wanted to hire him.

He called comprehensive school, ‘big school’.

BIG SCHOOL.

I hadn’t heard that since I was a kid in Nottingham and immediately I loved Joel for it. Because for all the time he had spent in London, he had not lost his Bradford realness … and then it became clear why he asked the question about the London bubble, why he was asking questions why culture rarely reflected how marketing department express it and why was the ad industry more interested in convenience than authenticity.

How could I not hire someone like that?

So I did.

And he never disappointed because apart from being culturally, creatively and strategically talented – with an obsessive focus on what life is really like for people, especially outside of London rather than the cliched, London bullshit a lot of marketing likes to portray – his greatest trait was he always wanted to learn.

Always.

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t always the model student … he would push back, he would challenge, he would question … but what he doesn’t know is that was when I was the happiest working with him, because it meant he was believing his words rather than just following others.

And while we always have to be careful we don’t blindly think whatever we believe is the right answer, having confidence and conviction in your gut and your talent is an often underplayed, undervalued, under-encouraged skill in a strategist … which is why I was so happy to see when I left R/GA, Joel had a mug made with my face and my words on it.

Not because he missed my ugly face and lack of vocabulary, but to remind him to trust his smarts, his instincts and his authenticity … but never to be a prick about it.

If I was proud of him before. I am even prouder of him now.



Roots …

Nothing says privileged like an unemployed, 50 year old man moving to a new house in the country.

And I am that privileged prick, because today, we’re doing just that.

Given the terrible times people are going through, I appreciate how shit that sounds … and it is … but it’s also something my wife and I have been working towards for the last 15 years and why I sold the family home I grew up in, loved and inherited when Mum died so we could one day have this moment.

I don’t mean that just in terms of being able to afford the house – though that was a big part of it – but also because it meant my parents could feel they helped their only son create the family environment they always wished for me.

The reality is my Mum – my wonderful, beautiful, kind and compassionate Mum – told me the day before she died, that she wished she could leave more to me.

As I told her, she had given me the most amazing thing … a loving, supportive, encouraging family life and childhood.

When I was young, I didn’t know how special it was … but as I got older, I realised the upbringing I enjoyed with my parents was very different to many.

So to have that AND a house is like winning the jackpot.

I am not sure if Mum ever understood that, but I hope she did.

I hope she also understands that the wonderful family home I lived in for the first 25 years of my life and that she kindly and generously left to me, directly allowed my family to buy the home we’re moving into today.

So she gave me so, so, so much.

Plus the house has a stellar garden which would make Mum and Dad ecstatic … though I’m pretty sure they’d feel less happy about it when they see their son will have inadvertently killed everything within a month.

This is an important move for us.

Previously we knew we were only in places for a period of time, so while we settled there and enjoyed everywhere, there was something that stopped us truly connecting. Even if we bought the place we were living in, we knew we would be gone at some point so it was our temporary house … our temporary home … but this is different.

Not just because it’s in the countryside rather than the city, but because this is where we want our roots to grow. Where we want the walls to hold stories from our past and future. Where we want to be part of – and add to – the local community.

Now this doesn’t mean we will stay here forever, neither does it mean we will never move countries again … but what I can tell you is we buy this house with the view of it being our real family home.

Somewhere for the long term, not the short.

Somewhere we will always return, wherever we go.

Somewhere where Otis can blossom and connect.

And the fact we are moving into it on Jill and my 13th wedding anniversary just makes it feel even more special. At least to us.

Because of this, there will be no more blog posts till next Tuesday … we need to move, unpack and help Otis settle into his village school … another thing he’s never really had a chance to be a part of.

I have loved living in London.

I will always be a city person.

But I’m excited to experience what our first proper home, deep in the countryside, will do for my wonderful family, especially as the first thing my nature loving [and needing] Australian wife said as we got out the car to check the house out for the first time was …

“Listen, it’s so preciously quiet”.

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