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


Society Is Growing Kids Faster Than Battery Hens …

One of the things that is a beautiful nightmare for parents is watching the speed of their children grow up.

At each stage of their development, you think they have reached ‘peak perfect’ and you want them to stay that way forever … but you can deal with their growth because they bring an even more delightful element into their behaviour and, as a byproduct, your relationship.

It’s utterly, utterly magical.

That said, it still doesn’t stop the fact it all happens in the blink of an eye, so while you want to always encourage their development, you just wish it would slow down a little.

The reason I say this is that I recently read about a graphic designer was so appalled at the cover of a young girls magazine, that they decided to release what they thought it should be.

Now I must admit, my first impression to this story was that the graphic designer was probably a self-righteous individual who wanted kids to grow up in the same conditions as they did.

That was until I saw this …

The original cover of the magazine is on the left, their version is on the right.

I’m going to ignore their cover – because you can read how it came about and the story behind their idea, here – however the magazine they redesigned is a real magazine and, according to their own website, supposedly stands for:

Girls’ Life (GL) magazine was founded in August 1994 (yes, we’re ancient, we know) by Karen Bokram. Since then, GL has grown from a 23-year-old’s pipe dream project to a best-selling and award-winning platform for tween and teen girls.

Tweens and teens.

An incredibly impressionable age.

Now look at that cover.

Look at those story headlines.

Now I appreciate I am an old, white male … but they seem to place huge subliminal pressure and expectations on young women.

Wake Up Pretty.

Dream Hair.

Fashion you need to own.

Boyfriends.

If young women want to explore any of those things, then that is wonderful, but I wonder how much of it is because they are being made to feel that way rather than being something they are naturally interested in. Of course, there is something wonderful about learning to develop and grow … but this seems less about personal growth and more about playing to stereotypes – and advertising dollars – so that they can then be judged by broader society.

Of course parents have a big role to play in managing the environment their children play in, but at a time where the World is finally waking up to fighting the prejudice, oppression and stereotypes women have had to face for centuries, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this when the World they are surrounded by continues to push an agenda of compliance … especially when they’re titles supposedly designed for the betterment of young women.

Of course this is not limited to content for young women, young boys also have stereotypes of behaviour and aspiration shoved down their throats that are unrealistic and add incredible pressure to their development.

I get children will always grow up too fast for parents, but it is scary how even that isn’t fast enough for media outlets.

What makes it worse is so many of them say their ‘purpose‘ is to inspire brilliance in their readership.

Girls Life specifically say their role is ‘dedicated to informing, inspiring and entertaining girls around the globe—and that includes everything from starting your business (we LOVE spotlighting smart, successful teens) to putting up with periods to styling a personal look you’ll love’.

Which is why I look at the Graphic Designer who screwed with their cover and say ‘well done’ … because I now realise what they did was not act like a judgmental parent, but simply show Girls Life how their cover should look if they are serious about what they claim they represent.

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The Role Of Products Is As Much Dependent On How We See The World As They Want Us To See It …

Dear Ring Doorbell marketing people …

If you want your product to have more emotion in your communication, stop talking about stopping thieves and start talking about how your product can capture spontaneous moments of family love and happiness.

This picture of me with my son is one of my all time favourites.

Caught by your product as we waited for his Mum to open the door.

Imagine the instagram account you could have of happiness, love and family …

A much nicer association than the fear-mongering you tend to peddle.

You’re welcome.



And So It Begins …

It seems literally a few months ago, since I wrote this post announcing Otis had come into the World, but this week, my little man starts school.

I’m not talking kindergarten – that he did in China, America and London – I mean proper school.

Reading … Writing … Arithmetic …

A journey that, in many ways, shapes and defines the future he is going to have.

I can’t believe it …

How did that happen so fast?

I’ve written it before, but seeing your kid grow up is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because they’re moments in their development where you just want them to stay exactly as they are.

When they are totally reliant on your love.

When they start using sounds to express how they’re feeling.

When you see them experience proper food for the first time.

When they start crawling and edge their way towards you.

Those first few words.

The first conversation.

The first steps.

At every stage, you want that moment to last forever but let it go because as they enter a new phase, there are even more new wonderful things you encounter.

It’s a fast moving train you both want to stop and to keep going exactly as it is.

And this week, the train finds another gear as Otis enters formal education.

I’ve written a lot about my views on this and how I am vehemently opposed to private education.

I don’t believe it should be a profit centre.

I do believe governments should be funding it because ultimately, it’s the foundation for the countries strength and health.

And while I know the school Otis starts tomorrow won’t be the school he finishes in – as we have bought our family home in a totally different area – I do know we intend to let him finally have a place he can feel settled in … a place where he can truly belong … because his Mum and I would like nothing more than him to meet friends that will be there throughout his life.

Like his Dad had with Paul, who are the kids in the picture at the top of this post.

So all that leaves me to say is this …

Enjoy your new adventure Otis.

Your Mum and Dad are so proud for the little boy you are.

And so excited for who you will become.

Love you.



If A Lot Can Happen In 24 Hours, Imagine What Can Happen In A Year …

So it’s September.

SEPTEMBER.

What the hell …

That means, in a few days, it’s been a year since I moved back to England.

And in a month, a year since I joined R/GA.

A YEAR!

I have to be honest, I find it amazing how quick that time has passed.

New job.

New house.

New car.

New life.

It has been a lot and I am so happy and grateful for it.

It’s pretty obvious I didn’t really enjoy my time in LA.

I liked an incredible amount of people there and Manhattan Beach will – without doubt – be the most beautiful place I’ll ever live, but there was stuff there I found challenging, stuff that went against who I am. That said, I’m very glad I did it and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have done it, but I must admit I’m a happier person now I’m out of it.

That said, England still doesn’t feel like ‘home’.

It feels familiar … it feels nice … but having lived in so many countries over so many years, home for me is ultimately where Jill, Otis and Rosie are as opposed to a particular place, city or country.

In fact, I would say if I was made to choose a place where I feel I most ‘belong’, I would say Shanghai, that’s how much I love and loved that place.

That said, I’m incredibly excited we have just bought our first proper family home and I love being so close to my best friend – and Otis’ odd parents – Paul and Shelly, so while the country is acting in ways that are downright madness, I can honestly say I am in a happier, healthier place than I was a year ago and for that, I am grateful to everyone and everything that got me here.

Happy Monday.



Home Is A Place In The Mind …

As I wrote a while back, we are looking to buy a family home.

Well the good news is we have found one – and while we don’t move into it till December – we’re already getting excited about it.

But as I also wrote, to help us buy it, I was going to sell the house I inherited when Mum died.

The house that was my home for my entire childhood and early twenties.

Well, it has been sold and while I know my Mum would be incredibly happy the proceeds have helped her beloved son buy a home for his family, it’s still quite an emotional wrench.

I absolutely think I’ve done the right thing.

The street I grew up on all those years has changed beyond recognition.

Neighbours have gone.

The college at the end of the street has been knocked down.

My connection to the area is no longer what it once was.

But despite that, it will always hold a special place in my heart … a place that represents ‘childhood’ … a place where it was just Mum, Dad and me and I will treasure that forever.

Anyway, one of the things we have been doing while the purchase goes through has been to visit the house.

Part of this is my way of saying goodbye.

Part of this is to take some flowers so we can plant them in our new place and have a bit of my history in my present.

Part of this is just to let Otis feel a connection to a place that was so important to his Dad and – for a period of 3 weeks in 2015 – was where he also lived.

And while just spending a few minutes there every odd weekend may seem very small, I cannot tell you how much it has helped me reclaim some connection to my roots.

The picture at the top of this page, is one of those connections.

Seeing Otis in the garden I used to play in was wonderful.

The garden my parents absolutely treasured and loved.

It brought back all sorts of memories … from hiding under those fern trees playing ‘hide and seek’ through to running through a small gap that existed between the garden and the street [right behind where Otis is standing] that meant I could have a quick getaway when playing British bulldog or simply wanting to get to the ice cream van before anyone else.

That home will always be special to me.

That garden will always remind me of my parents.

The memories created in that house will always be previous.

And while I will soon say goodbye to it [though I have had it written into the contract I can visit it once every 5 years] I will forever be grateful for all it gave me … from a childhood home filled with happiness and love, through to giving me the chance to buy a house where my family can create the sort of memories that will be as precious to Otis as Nottingham was to me.

Thank you Mum and Dad, you keep on taking care of me.



The Best Part Of Me Isn’t Me …

A few weeks ago, Otis – my son – graduated from preschool.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t quite get the preschool graduation thing.

Yes it’s a sort-of school, but it’s basically long playtime where you get to piss about with your mates – which is a bit like working in adland, but with less alcohol. Hopefully.

Anyway, whatever it is, Otis graduated which means the next stage is him embarking on his journey of real education.

I can’t believe it.

It seems only 5 minutes ago he was born.

But there he was … graduating for the first time in his life.

I don’t mind telling you I look at my little boy with such pride and love.

He has gone through a lot …

Living in 3 radically different countries – exemplified by the above photo shows him born in Shanghai, starting preschool in LA and finishing it all in London – saying goodbye to people of huge significance in his life, having to start things over again and again, watching his Dad crumble after seeing his beloved mum die, going through an operation … and yet through it all, he has approached life with a sense of optimism, mischief, happiness and curiosity that would put many older people to shame.

Part of this is because he’s just a loving and compassionate kid. Part of this is because he has family who bloody adore him. But part of this is the insane kindness and generosity that people around the world have shown him simply because they have watched him grow through my billions of social media pics.

The reality is Otis has brought more to my life than I could ever have imagined.

Not just in terms of love and happiness … but also in terms of lessons for life.

He has made everything unquestionably richer for both his amazing Mum and me and so as I tried not to cry as I watched him get his significant – but utterly pointless – certificate, I felt insanely proud of him.

Not for what he has achieved, but for who he is.

Congratulations Otis, you’re an epic little boy.



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.