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


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.


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The Heartbreaking Beauty Of How Kids See The World …

I’ve written a lot about how amazing I am finding fatherhood.

It is beyond my expectations in every sense of the word.

Of course, a big part of that is my son is a wonderful, kind, considerate and caring little boy.

But there’s something more … and that’s witnessing his development at every stage.

As much as I want him to stay my little boy forever, each stage of his growth reveals new and wonderful traits … which helps me deal with the fact he is growing up way too fast.

One of the big changes is his vocabulary.

I remember how much I loved it when he could only use sounds to communicate.

It was so pure and innocent and yet he could convey so much of his feelings through those little sounds.

Then came the words.

At first they were a hybrid of mumble and language … but over time, he could say Dada and Mama and it melted our hearts.

But now, his language is developing at a rapid rate and while so much of what he says is his brain connecting what he communicate with the context he [so far] understands, it leads to expressions of such beauty – and sadness – that you are left breathless for hearing it.

Don’t believe me?

Look at this SMS I got from Jill a while back …

Sure, when he say’s, “the drips of my sadness” he is being literal with what they are, in the context of the words he knows … but my god, the emotions those words ignite is incredible.

Maybe we are educating the emotional expression out of children like Sir Ken Robinson said we are doing with creativity.

Either way, I love that kid more and more.



The Best Thing To Happen To America Since The Invention Of The Hamburger. Probably.

For all the shit America is going through and – let’s not forget – creating for itself, it’s still a pretty awesome country.

The warmth we have receieved from people has been amazing.

Kindness. Consideration. Welcoming.

To be honest, it’s more than we’ve experienced in any of the other countries we’ve lived in – at least in terms of the speed we got it – and so once I got over my initial skepticism, I really started to embrace it.

Of course there’s some things I’ll never get used to.

Not using a ‘u’ in so many of their words.

Calling it soccer instead of football.

Actually using the word “Y’all”.

High-Fiving.

But in most cases I’ve been able to get past it mainly because I’ve chosen to ignore it.

A big part of my ability to do that has been due to the amazing lifestyle LA has given my family.

I have to say, living near the beach, with almost daily sun and cleanish air is an amazing thing to have.

It’s probably as close to paradise as you can get.

However there is one thing I can’t deal with.

One thing I cannot ignore.

That’s right, it’s Otis developing an American accent.

Worse, a Californian accent.

Saying “Mom” will never be acceptable.

Ending the alphabet with “zee” can never be tolerated.

Which is why at the end of August I’ll be leaving Deutsch and on the 5th September, we will be leaving America to go and start a new life in London.

No, that is not a joke.

OK, blaming it on Otis’ American twang is, but the reality of our impending move is not.

It’s definitely not been an easy decision …

The thought of taking my family away from paradise so soon after we got here is horrible.

The thought of moving Otis away from his beloved Elodie breaks my heart.

The thought of saying goodbye to so many people who I now regard as friends, is horrible.

But, for a whole host of reasons, it’s the right thing to do.

More than that, it’s something we’re looking forward to doing.

OK, I admit, when we were thinking about the idea, there were a few moments where I went through a range of emotions I didn’t know were there.

Or said another way, a whole range of emotions I’d obviously been doing a good job of keeping hidden deep down inside for years and years.

Part of it was a sense of guilt about moving ‘home’ after my parents had passed away.

I kept thinking that if I was going to go back, why didn’t I do it when they were alive?

Of course there were many reasons for it – reasons my parents both knew and encouraged – but underpinning them all was this belief I was never going to move back to the UK.

Except I am.

And while it’s been over 24 years since I last lived there – so it will probably feel like a totally new place – I’m excited about it, even though insane stuff like brexit is [allegedly] just around the corner.

Part of this is that I’ll be living in London for the first time in my life. [As opposed to just commuting there]

Part of this is because I’ll be physically closer to my beloved Paul and Shelly than I’ve been in over 2 decades.

Part of it is because it is another chapter of adventure for my wife, son and cat.

Part of it is because I will be closer to my Mum’s sister – my Aunt – in Italy.

And part of it is for what I’m going to be doing, which I’ll talk about another time.

But all that said, I’m incredibly grateful to Deutsch, my [new/old] colleagues and friends and Los Angeles for giving me an experience that has been an honour to experience and enjoy. I’ll write a proper goodbye to them all soon, but what they need to know is they made a huge impact on me and my family.

Both good and bad, hahahaha.

When Jill, Otis, Rosie and I came here, we never imagined we would leave so soon, as demonstrated by the acquisition of houses and cars and a whole host of electronics that will only ever work on US power supplies [the most epic garage sale will be happening soon], but – as we all know – sometimes life gets in the way of our best laid plans and when that happens, it’s better to embrace it than fight it.

So to everyone who has made our time here so memorable, thank you … we will miss you, even if you won’t miss us.

Or – more specifically – me.

London. I’ll see you soon.

Start making your excuses to avoid me now.



Remember My Name …

So recently I saw that the movie, Fame was 38 years old.

While I didn’t see the film, the memory of the TV show is burned into my mind.

I remember seeing trailers for it on TV earlier that week and wanting to watch it … however when it aired, I was out with my friends playing football – it was summer – so when I finally walked into the house [via the back garden, as I’d gone to talk to my Mum and Dad who were enjoying the late evening sun] the show was half way through the episode.

But I was hooked from the beginning.

The idea of a school that taught creativity in a way that wasn’t stuffy was infectious to me.

Previous to that, I didn’t even know those things could exist but the fact there was a TV show about it, meant it must do. Somewhere.

To be honest, at that point in my life – 1982 – I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it’s now obvious to me that part of the appeal of the show was because I wanted to go down that path, I just didn’t know it before then.

It might sound a bit of a leap, but the show might be one of the reasons I picked up the guitar about a year later and went on to spend a big chunk of my life between the ages of 17-24 making, earning and traveling because of music.

I always wonder if I’d have tried to get into a school of the arts if there had been one available in the UK at that time.

There were acting schools, but nothing like the one in Fame.

Of course, the school on Fame was fictitious, but the schools it was based on represented a very different feel and place of learning that the UK equivalent.

I personally think these schools are incredibly important.

At a time where education seems universally focused on academic subjects, the value of ‘the arts’ seems to have slipped down in importance.

I get why, but I can tell you, if Otis wanted to go to one when he is older – I’d be thrilled.

Sure, you could argue a degree in dance or music or acting is going to be harder to turn into a good income down the line, but apart from the fact you could say that about most degrees in general these days … the role of education is not just to better the individual, but for that individual to help better the country they live in.

It’s for this reason I’m so vehemently opposed to education-for-profit.

Not just because it has resulted in universities lowering their qualification standards to increase admission, but because a highly educated population adds huge commercial value to a country.

Smart people do smart things.

Whether that is creating things or attracting things, a highly educated workforce creates more opportunities for others … be that people, communities, companies or countries … and it’s for this reason I passionately believe governments should keep standards insanely high but the cost of insanely low.

But sadly few look at it that way – preferring to take the money rather than make the investment – resulting in too many people going to university in the hope of getting a great future but finding out they got sold a great lie.

Education is an amazing thing – regardless what you study – but with degrees fast becoming worth less than the paper they’re written on, I hope if Otis does choose to advance his education, he follows the path that leads him to emotional fulfillment.

I don’t care what that is … art, music, accountancy or tech … but for me the key is he does it for his happiness, not purely for his career because in a World where everyone seems to do stuff to get ahead, there’s something amazing in following a path for the sheer joy that you enjoy it and that’s something I would love for him to do.

As my parents taught me, at the end of the day, feeling fulfilled is more important than simply being content.

Wow, this is quite a leap from a 1982 TV show about kids dancing in the streets of NY isn’t it.



One Of The Best Things In The World Was Born This Day In 1976 …

I’m writing this from Berlin where it is already the 15th June.

This is important because today and tomorrow are the birthday’s of 2 of the most important people in my life.

My beloved wife, Jill.

My beloved best mate, Paul.

While I’m sure they’re happy I’m in Europe on their special day, I know I cannot imagine my life with either of them not in it, which is why I want to mark the occasion with this post.

[Which is also cheaper than a present, despite the fact I’m sure being away from them on their birthdays is the best present of all]

Paul has been there since 4 days after I was born.

Causing me trouble, mischief and immense amounts of laughter.

Literally pretty much every memory I have in my life involves him.

Every. Single. One.

From first days at pre-school, school and college.

Concerts, booze and accidents.

Girls, games and gigs.

You name it, we have shared – and been there for each other – at every significant high and low in life.

Whether that’s being a shoulder to cry on or a person to point at and laugh ourselves stupid at.

Plus he is the only other person I knew when I was growing up that had a Philips G7000.

Paul is, quite simply, someone I absolutely and wholeheartedly regard as family.

Truly.

I am a better and happier person for him [and the wonderful Shelly] being in my life.

So to my dear, wonderful idiot of a friend, I wish you an amazingly brilliant and immature birthday tomorrow. May it be filled to the brim with immaturity and stupidity, which – let’s be honest – we both know it will.

And then there’s my Jilly.

My wonderful, kind, considerate, beautiful, funny, smart Jilly.

What she is doing with me is anyone’s guess.

From the moment I met her 14 years ago, she has been the one.

More than that, she has been my support system … holding my hand and giving encouraging words of support as we have embarked on a ridiculous journey together.

Different countries. Different challenges. Different adventures.

She’s never complained.

Never demanded anything.

She’s embraced every situation and made it something we can look back on with happiness.

Even those points where I was convinced I’d led us astray, she has backed us to come out the other side and we have.

She is insanely talented, creative and just plain wonderful.

And while everyone who meets her recognises how special she is, they often misunderstand one thing.

She is strong.

Stronger than most people I know.

Not just because she puts up with me, but because there’s not many people who would move countries to be with someone they had only met a 6 weeks earlier.

But she did.

Because she felt it was worth it.

Which means she felt I was worth it … which is utterly incredible.

I’ve written before about her unbelievable levels of compassion, support and love.

How it took me some time to come to terms with the fact I had met someone who wanted to take away any pain or troubles I had in my life.

Not just say it, but actually want to do it.

And she did and does … whether it’s the way she gently consoled me as I tried to deal with the tragic loss of my Mum or simply being the person I turn to when I feel lost or unsettled.

As much as I always felt my life was pretty great, things became infinitely better when Jill came onto the scene.

Then she raised the game by giving birth to our beloved Otis.

I always knew Jill was going to be an amazing Mum, but she does it in ways that continues to inspire and blow my mind at the same time.

The way she focuses on what he needs not what others say he should need.

The way she is teaching him to be a good person, not just a good boy.

The way she fiercely protects who he is when others are quick to judge.

And the result is an amazing, cheeky, pink-adoring, kind, chinese-speaking, curious, creative, mischievous, broom-sweeping, loving, Bez-dancing little boy who I literally couldn’t love anymore.

Not a single milligram more.

Which ultimately means I couldn’t love Jill anymore.

Not a single bit.

She makes the best days better and the worst days, less dark … whether that’s a well timed moment of love or an act of Jillyism brilliance.

I don’t know what I have done to deserve her.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to describe how much I love her.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to do enough to show how much I adore her.

But I’ll keep trying, because as much as this was an amazing present … she’s the best gift I could ever receive.

Happy birthday my darling Jilly, I love you so much.

Rx


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What Agencies Can Learn From Otis’ Kindergarten …

So Otis goes to this amazing hippy kindergarten school near where we live.

It’s a co-parenting school which means that the parents have to help with the schooling of the kids, not just with the funding.

It follows a very specific philosophy defined by the founder and it’s a place where kids learn through expressing their creativity.

They even have a ‘mud room’ for the kids to cause mayhem when it rains.

Put simply, we love it.

A few weeks ago, we went there on the weekend to help decorate it during spring break when I came across these 2 signs in the school …

I love them.

It sums up everything we adore about the school.

It captures exactly why Otis feels it’s a safe and happy place for him to explore.

It also addresses something I have been looking into for a while, which is the lack of outlet American men have to express their feelings.

Everything is built on acting tough.

Crying is for wimps.

Hell, even the bars are full of sports TV’s basting out scores, which means people don’t have the quiet to talk to one another – something I had growing up in England that actually encouraged the sharing of feelings and emotions. Albeit often wrapped up in banter.

The macho pride that seems to underpin so much of American male society feels like it’s still the 1950’s … which is why I love that this school doesn’t tell kids to ‘stop crying’, but asks what is wrong and then sympathises with their predicament which remarkably, helps them stop crying far more quickly and in a more positive way than any shouting would ever do.

Now imagine if companies operated by the same ideals.

Listening.

Valuing.

Caring.

Developing.

Oh I know those words appear in a million mission statements, but we all know they’re often used more as an illusion than an action.

In the bid to build office ‘culture’, so many organizations forget it’s not just about what you say – or even what you do – it’s the practiced beliefs that defines what everyone values, which is why companies could learn even more from this school than my dear Otis.



The Happiest Place On Earth …

Following on from yesterday’s post, I’ve taken today off so I can take Otis for his first visit to Disneyland.

I can tell you right now he is going to absolutely bloody love it … and I have to tell you I’m glad he will because it has cost the equivalent of the GDP of a medium sized European nation and I’d be devastated to have to sell a kidney for something he won’t enjoy.

As much as I can be rather skeptical about Disney, I have to say they know how to capture kids imagination.

I still remember taking Otis to a hospital in Shanghai and – as soon as he clapped eyes on the TV showing Frozen – his pain and tears disappeared to be replaced with a hypnotic state.

So that’s where I’ll be today and then I’ll spend the weekend trying to recover from it as well as hope my beloved Nottingham Forest end the season on a high, which – given the position they were in last season – already feels like they’re playing in football Disneyland.

Now I know finishing mid-table in the Championship may not seem the sort of thing anyone should celebrate, but when you’ve had the turmoil we’ve had over the last 20 years – and especially the last 5 – it’s feels really good to have a team that is occasionally in the news for the way they’re playing football rather the way the terrible ex-CEO was playing with the club and it’s finances.

So in a way to honor Nottingham Forest being slightly less shit than they were last year [when they were super shit] I hereby reproduce my ‘everything for a £1’ shop version of one of my favourite Nike/Wieden ads ever.

Horrific isn’t it?

Especially compared to the original.

Putting aside the fact I’m wearing something ‘Adidas’, it’s a bit like comparing a pair of Hi-Tec trainers to a pair of NIKE’s, but then that’s like comparing the current Forest side to the team that dominated Europe in the early 80’s.

Or – said another way – how it feels to be a Forest fan for the last couple of decades.

So now I’ve ruined your weekend, I’m off … see you Monday.