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

A Conversation About Living. And Failing.

A few weeks ago, my friend – Philippa White, the founder of TIE – spoke to me about my life.

While many would say that is the single worst idea anyone could have, Philippa – for reasons that still escape me – thought differently.

TIE – or The International Exchange – is an amazing thing.

They link people from the commercial world [from big organisations to people from BBH and W+K] with social initiatives around the world, providing unique opportunities that will transform the lives of both parties.

It’s an absolutely amazing organisation and the people who have done it talk about how it has had a profound affect on their lives – for the experience they had, the realisation that their skills can benefit people in different ways that they ever imagined and the lessons they learnt about what they’re good at, what they want to be good at and the future they can now envision for themselves.

I have not done TIE, but Philippa and I bonded when we met over the power of overseas experiences and learning and for some reason she wanted to talk about my journey.

We cover a whole lot of topics, from family to friendship to failure and while it may only be interesting to those looking for a cure for insomnia, if you’re looking for development, growth and having more meaning and value from your life … I can assure you TIE is definitely going to be of interest to you.

Thank you Philippa. Thank you TIE.

You can be disappointed by it here.

One Of My Favourite Pictures …

Yep that’s Jill playing Otis’ Ben 10 game.

Yes, that’s a Macca’s breakfast on the table.

And yes, that’s Rosie and our rocking-horse sheep watching on.

In fact, the only person not in this photo is Otis … who is a bit miffed his Mum has taken over his game.

Of course, Jill claims she’s just wanting to help him past a difficult bit.

But I know that face of concentration.

She’s in deep competition mode … determined to win at all costs … resistant to surrender regardless what she faces.

And right here, is a moment of my family I love.

Doing something [kinda] together and enjoying the ridiculousness of it all.

I love this.

I love that COVID has enabled me to have more of this with my family.

Which is why while I acknowledge the devastating impact it has had – and continues to have – on so many, what it has given to me is an opportunity to embrace and celebrate how precious my family are and how much I love being with them.

Even if Otis feels he’s being ‘game denied’ by his Mum.

Nature’s Prozac …

When I was growing up, our back garden was a disaster.


Tall grass.



Beautiful mayhem.

As a kid, I thought it was amazing.

Me and Paul would run in there and it felt like we were in the jungle.

From playing hide and seek to pretending we were soldiers, it could all happen there.

Then around the age of 5, Mum and Dad had an extension put onto the house and because the loan they took out for it was a bit more than they needed to have it built, they spent the rest on the garden.

Oh how they loved it.

They spent hours there.

Creating it. Cultivating it. Nurturing it. Admiring it.

My god, the way my dad treated his ‘sweet peas’ was enough to make me think he loved them more than me sometimes.

And while I still could play softball tennis with Mum on the patio, I always felt I had had something robbed from me – despite the fact there was a massive park down the road and huge fields of nothingness around the house.

So from there on in, while I could appreciate a nice garden, I always saw them as something that pushed me away rather than welcomed me in.

Until now.

I readily admit I had nothing to do with the garden we have in the home we have just bought.

I readily admit part of its appeal is that it’s mature, so feels natural rather than contrived.

And I readily admit I am still as shit and unenthusiastic about gardening as I ever was.

But my god, I am shocked at how much I love it.

I can stare at it for hours.

Sit in it for days.

Doing nothing but looking at it’s beautiful vibrancy and shades.

Seeing Rosie the cat stretch out on the deck like she has just hit ‘peak cat life’.

Watching Otis play on the swing hanging from the tree then looking at Jill picking up all the apples that have fallen from Otis’ adventure. Turning them into pies that we scoff or give to the neighbours in an blatant attempt to mitigate the mayhem we’ve caused in the first few months of living here with huge moving trucks blocking the road and electrical blackouts that we absolutely, definitely did not cause.

The idea of all this is about as foreign to me as you could get.

I’m a city person.

I like noise and bustle not nature and quiet.

Yet … yet … this is something very special.

Something I feel a real privilege to experience, which I acknowledge is only possible because of the privileged position I am in.

And while all these feelings could all be because of my age or because this house is our family home – regardless of the incoming NZ adventure – the impact of a simple garden has been far more than I ever imagined.

Which makes me think it could also have something to do with making me feel closer to Mum and Dad.

You see while our little garden at home was nothing like this, it was incredibly special to them.

Sure it was beautiful. Sure it was the fruits of their hard work and care. But it seemed to be a place that let them feel everything was going to be OK, regardless of the challenges.

And over the years, our wonderful little family faced many – but that garden always gave them comfort and joy.

A little piece of heaven.

Blossoming into radiant beauty and colour even after the harshest of winters.

Reminding them that the darkest times will always welcome a new spring.

And while as a kid I didn’t really like how that garden had robbed me of my jungle, I grew to appreciate it.

I saw what it did for my parents.

I still remember how my Dad stared in wonder at it after his stroke.

He’d been in hospital for months and was finally allowed home.

And while he needed a lot of care from Mum, that garden was like medicine for him. Helping him forget the pain he was in. Helping him forget the turmoil he was going through.

No longer able to talk.

No longer able to walk properly.

But here, facing the fruits of his love and labour, all was forgotten.

He was safe.

He felt nourished.

He was connected to something his body was not able to let him enjoy anymore.

He and Mum could transport themselves to a time and place where everything was OK.

And while I hope I never face the tragedy my Father suffered – and acknowledge this garden is from the toil of others hands – I feel I get what nature was able to do for Mum and Dad.

Because it isn’t just what grows in the garden, but what it helps blossom within yourself.

You Are Never Over Something, You Are Just Better At Managing The Pain …

So it’s 5am on the day of the US election.

The results are far too tight than anyone would hope – which means the US population have far too little empathy for their fellow humans, given Trump is still in with a good chance.

I know. The lying, cheating, bullshitting, racist, hate-monger is still adored by around 50% of the US population. Nothing shows how sick that country is than that.

So because of this, I thought I’d write something that may momentarily take our minds off hate. One that is inspired by the post I wrote yesterday for Mum’s birthday.

It’s about death.

Yes, I know that sounds a terrible thing to do, but it won’t be.

Or I hope it’s not.

[I’ve turned the comments off so I’ll just have to assume it’s the case]

You see death is utterly horrible.

There’s a chance it might even be worse for the people left behind.

I’ve written how long it took me to get over Dad dying.

10 years. TEN YEARS.

And part of that is because I had been denying Dad was ill for almost the entire duration of his illness. Thinking one more stroke would bring him back to ‘normal’, just as quickly as that one stroke had robbed him of it.

It is what led me to talking about the need to talk about death.

I get it’s not a subject anyone wants to talk about, but as we’re all going to be going through it – it’s better to have a healthy relationship with it rather than a bad one.

By doing it, I was able to deal with Mum dying with far greater balance.

Of course I was devastated and ripped apart …

It was not meant to happen at that time.

But because the door to discussing death had happened when Dad passed, it meant we were in a slightly better place to deal with it.

The problem with ageing is that it happens more around you.

It will force itself into your life, whether you like it or not … so talking about it, as uncomfortable as it may seem, actually helps everyone.

But … and there’s always a but … it doesn’t mean you are able to just move on after the event.

It helps you deal with the event with more clarity, but the emotions never really go.

Even if years have passed.

And it’s normal.

In fact, it’s beautiful … because it means the people who mattered most to you still matter.

How wonderful is that.

There’s been a number of times this has happened to me.

And while in the moment it is an emotional tsunami, it’s something you find yourself treasuring.

Because for a moment, you’re back together.

And that’s when you realise that while you thought you had everything in control, the reality is you’re just trying to control everything around you – so when something comes from left field, your walls are unable to hold anything back and the raw emotions come out with a force that takes your breath away.

I’ve had these situations with both Mum and Dad.

With Dad, it tends to be people who have eyes similar to his.

He had the most beautiful blue, expressive eyes I’ve ever seen.

I remember when I was living in Singapore, I was waiting for the lift in the lobby of the building I worked in.

Suddenly this man I’d never seen before came around the corner and waited at the other end of the lifts.

He was older, dressed smartly but his eyes were identical.

I kept looking at him – trying to remind myself it wasn’t actually my Dad while feeling it was.

And then, as quickly as he appeared, he was gone … never to be seen again.

I have a similar sensation when I see the actor Anthony Hopkins eyes … not just the colour, but the wrinkles around them.

Whenever he is on TV, I stare at him because it feels – even if for a moment – it’s like my Dad is starting back at me.

But the experience that got me the most was when I was living in LA.

I was at the local Thai restaurant in Manhattan Beach … waiting by the till to pick up my order.

Out of my eye, I saw an elderly woman sitting down waiting for her food as well.

It’s not that she really looked like my Mum, but there was something about her energy that felt like she was there.

Like the situation in Singapore, I found myself stealing glances while telling myself it’s not her.

And as much as I knew it wasn’t, it felt like it was and as much as I tried to stop looking, I craved that chance to be close to Mum again.

It was such a powerful sensation that I felt tears in my eyes. It was both a mix of the sadness she was gone and the happiness she felt like she was there.

This lovely lady noticed and asked if I was OK.

I apologised and said I didn’t mean to make her feel uncomfortable, but she reminded me so much of my Mum and I miss her.

And that’s when she said something I’ll remember forever.

“Would you like a hug?”

Oh my god, I did … but I also didn’t want to look like a total weirdo so I thanked her for her kind offer but said no.

As I said that, her food came and as she left, she told me it was so lovely to see someone love their Mum as much as I did.

And she walked out.

And I watched her.

And then I went outside and said …

“Excuse me, would it be possible to have that hug after all?”

She put her food down and opened her arms and I rested my head on her shoulder and she hugged me and I cried my eyes out.

Seriously, I think about it now and I’m amazed the restaurant owners didn’t call the Police.

We were like that for a minute, but it felt like hours and it was liberating for me … a release of all the situations I had try to control to ensure I didn’t lose control.

And like the man in Singapore, I never saw her again, but I’ll remember her – and him – forever. Because while they weren’t my parents, they let me feel – for a second – they were still here and that was the best feeling in the World.

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Ciao Mamma …
November 3, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Parents

Today would have been Mum’s 88th birthday.

Oh how I wish she was here for it.

I’d have gone to pick her up to bring her to our house.

I’d have a chair set up just for her so she could look at the garden.

I can see and hear her now.

Her face lit up, gently shaking her head as she said, “Oh Robert, it’s so beautiful”

We would sit and chat and she would tell me how happy she is that we are now in the same country.

Around 3pm, Otis would come bouncing in the house.

He would see Mum and shout, “Nona!!!” and run into her outstretched arms.

She would envelop him into a big hug and kiss his cheeks and tell him how much she had missed him.

Then they would chat and I’d see Mum’s eyes shine bright while worrying she may be distracting him from things he wanted to do.

But he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but with her. Nattering. Talking. Explaining what he had for lunch at school that day.

Eventually he would get on to Roblox and ask Mum if she would like to play it with him.

Mum would gently explain she doesn’t know how and then he would say she could watch him instead … if she liked.

And she would.

And I’d watch my Mum and my son have the sort of moment together I always dreamt about.

Eventually it would be time for presents and cake.

We would start with the gift Otis got her.

God knows what it would be … maybe a mug that he chose from Sainsbury’s or something and a home made card … and she would treat them as if she had been bathed in jewels.

Eventually it would be time for the cake.

She would tell Jill she shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble. Jill would respond by telling her not to be so silly.

And we’d have a load of candles and she would ask Otis to help her blow them out.

Then, as we cut it up, she would ask for a small piece and then proceed to tell us how delicious it was and how wonderful a baker Jill is.

Then ask for a little more.

Because – well – it is her birthday.

And as the day turned to night, the lights in the garden would start to shine and Mum would treat it like it’s an encore performance – marvelling at it’s beauty while I told her that it was because she left me our family home, that we were able to do this.

To have a place that was so perfect for who we are and who we will become.

To tell her to stop worrying that she wasn’t going to leave me much.

Because the love I was given and the encouragement I received was more than I could ever hope for.

But for her and Dad to leave me our family home as well …

Well, that’s an abundance of generosity and love.

And I’d kiss Mum and thank her for everything and say I hoped she understood why I had to sell her house.

There would be a moments pause before she would break into a smile and say, “of course and I am so happy it has helped you have this beautiful home” and I would kiss her cheek and tell her how much I loved her and missed her and how I wished she would stay the night.

And she would look at me.

Right in the eyes.

Her bottom lip would slowly curl into her mouth and I would see her gently biting down on it in an attempt to try and control her emotions.

Her beautiful brown eyes would gently glisten and say everything without speaking a word.

And I would be doing the exact same back to her.

Because we both know she can’t.

That she has to go. To return to Dad.

To hold his hand and feel safe in her other place.

A place I wish I could visit to see the parents I miss so much.

Happy 88th birthday Mum.

I love you so much.


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