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


It’s Not Just Phil Collins Who Survived Against All Odds …

A year ago today, Jill, Otis, Rosie and I left our beautiful family home – that we only had bought and moved into 6 months earlier – to get on a plane for the first time in over a year and fly to the other side of the planet to start a new life in New Zealand.

Now of course, because Kiwiland is so fucking far away from everywhere, it took us 2 days to get here which means we’ve not officially been here a year … but if you will excuse the early anniversary, it still something I wish to celebrate.

Despite having moved countries more times than anyone should be allowed to … the build up to this move was the most stressful we’d ever had.

Of course, the reason for that was bloody COVID … but with changing rules, changing flights and changing timelines, it felt like an impossible dream when we boarded the plane 12 months ago today.

Then there was the 2 weeks of quarantine we had in Hamilton.

While it was restrictive, it was actually an amazing way to settle in a country because whether we liked it or not, we were not allowed to do anything.

Normally when we land in a country, it’s mayhem trying to learn the areas, find a house, buy a car. But this time it was easy, mainly because – in a moment of madness – we had bought a house and a car when we were in England.

While that might sound mad, the car was easy because it was simply the latest version of the car I bought in the UK. Which was the same as I bought in the US. Even down to the colour.

As for the house … OK, that was bonkers, but sadly for our bank manager, that wasn’t the first time we’d done it.

But it all worked out.

Not just in terms of house and car, but life.

We’re settled.

Otis loves his school.
Jill loves we live in the trees.
Rosie loves she can watch birds all day.
I love the talented mob I get to work with each day.

Colenso has done some lovely stuff – but it’s only the start – but we’ve won some global business, awards and a bunch of friends [not to mention the odd bitter enemy] but even more importantly, is that I’ve lucked in with the people I get to work with each day.

What a top bunch they are … with a special mention for my wonderful team who are a bunch of beautifully opinionated, creative and interesting assholes.

Just as I like them. [Most of the time, hahaha]

In fact the only thing that has been horrible has been the timezone … which means when I’m doing my Metallica duty or Gentle Monster duty, it ends up being so early or late I could cry.

Actually, for the first few weeks I probably did in shock … but now it’s second nature and they’ve all been ace. Hell, even the 4+ months of lockdown didn’t dampen our spirit.

Sure, we had travelled half way around the World to end up back where we started … but COVID here was very different to COVID in the UK.

Here there was a plan with clarity and communication.

And while people here say there’s a bunch of stuff the government could have done better – which, in some cases, is fair – compared to what we experienced in the UK, it’s all A+.

While we know we won’t be in NZ forever, we do love it here.

We are so appreciative of the chance we have been given … even more so when so many Kiwi’s have found it so hard to come back. NZ has been generous, supportive, open and encouraging. Hell, not only did they let me meet Noel Edmonds, James Cameron and brilliant Jacinda, they even looked after us when we all individually found ourselves having to go into hospital. In terms of ensuring you can deal with the sadness of not seeing friends and loved ones, NZ did it with absolute bloody panache.

I hope in our time here, we are seen as contributing to the nation. We want to do that so much. Celebrate it. Honour it. And – where possible – help it. Not just so we can learn and know more about this special place, but so we can say thank you for letting us be here.

Happy [almost] anniversary NZ.

You might wish it hadn’t happened, but we’re glad it did.



Just Bung It In The Oven …

Hello there.

I hope you all had a wonderful festive season.

I hope 2022 rewards us with all the opportunities and possibilities that the past 2 years took away.

I hope we can see our friends.

See our families.

Be healthy.

Be happy.

Live with hope and optimism.

Now I said this blog wasn’t going to be back until Jan 31st … and it isn’t.

And frankly, after the December I had – which included the death of a dear friend, an unexpected hospital visit for me and an emergency operation for Otis [who is fully recovered, thank god] – I need all the time I can get to recuperate.

However on Sunday, it is 23 years since my Dad died.

In just 6 years time, he will be gone as long as he was in my life.

And in 9 years time, I will be the age he was when he died.

They will be two very significant moments in my life and – if I’m being honest – I’m nervous of one and scared of the other.

Nervous because it just seems impossible he will have been out of my life more than he was in it.

Of course he is still in my life, but you know what I mean.

Scared because the reality of death comes ever nearer.

Now I know no one knows when someone is going to die – but the idea that it could be when I’m 60 – like he was – is an irrational thought that just sits there. Coming out when I least expect it.

And when it’s quiet, another ridiculous idea enters my mind.

Because Mum died at 83 and Dad died at 60 … I can also convince myself I’ll die between those 2 ages.

So 72.

Now I get 72 is quite a way a way, but it feels a fuckload closer when you’re 51 and your son is only 7.

But all this could be the melancholy of this being Dad’s anniversary, because the reality is I’m happier in my life than I’ve been for a long time.

Not that I was unhappy, but there were moments … but right now, I am in a truly good place and my parents would be so happy to know that.

Which is why I want this post to be about something that would make Dad smile.

A few weeks ago, Jill and I were talking about books that made us laugh to the point of pain.

While we both had a few, her major one was Catch 22 and mine was the first Adrian Mole book – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾.

Adrian Mole’s ‘diary’ came out in 1982 but I got it in the summer of 1983 … which means I read it at the same age as Adrian was.

I loved it. It was hilarious, poignant, tragic and uplifting.

It covered so many issues so many kids were going through.

Family. Friendship, Girls. Sex. Arguments. Parent and Grandparent arguments.

It was, in some ways, the diary of every kids aged 13.

I loved it and still love it when I revisit it every 5 years or so.

But the reason I’m telling you this is because of when my Dad read it.

I think Mum had told him how much I enjoyed it so he decided to check it out.

Anyway, one morning I came downstairs and Mum asked me to ask Dad about what happened in the night.

She said it with a smile, so I knew it wasn’t bad.

I went in the lounge and he was there in his favourite rocking chair.

“Mum told me to ask you what happened last night”

As soon as I said it, he looked at me. His face lit up, a big smile came on his face that allowed his gorgeous dimples to come into the spotlight.

“Oh Robert …” he said, “I was reading your book last night and the bit about the Christmas turkey not being defrosted made me howl with laughter.”

“It was 2am and I had to come downstairs to try and calm down”.

“The bit where they’re trying to thaw the turkey under the hot tap in the bath …” to which he he burst out laughing again with tears in his eyes.

Of course, seeing my Dad like this made me laugh too and then I heard Mum laughing from the kitchen at the state of both of us.

While I never really understood why that bit tickled him so much, I have an idea.

Whether it was the time Mum invited a really miserable elderly couple to our Christmas dinner but only announced it a few days before Christmas and we already had a house full booked … to Dad’s terrible first ever experience with a microwave that literally carbonised sausages … to drunk family members causing scenes … to buying a turkey so big it didn’t even fit in our over … to a not-very-funny-but-very-funny episode with a glass of water when his Mum came to visit.

Who knows. Maybe it was some of that, maybe it was none of it.

But regardless of the reason, I will always remember how that paragraph revealed the child in my Dad and that is why I will always love that book.

It might also explain why I love the Plenty Christmas ad from a couple of years ago. Because watching it again, it’s basically that scene made as a commercial.

I miss my Dad.

I miss him so much.

I would give anything to be able to talk to him and discuss what I’ve done in the last 23 years.

Introduce him to his daughter in law and grandson.

Tell him that Paul and I are still inseparable and mischievous.

Show him all the places I’ve visited and lived and then tell him about all the things I’ve done and still want to do and try.

Watch him try to take it all in and then hear all his questions.

But as I can’t, I’ll honour him by sharing the paragraph that made him roar [which is at the very bottom of this post] and say this:

Dad. I love you.

I think about you all the time.

I am almost overwhelmed with the things I want to say and share.

I hope you’d like [most] of the decisions I’ve made. I know a few would raise eyebrows, but hopefully not too many.

All I’ve ever wanted to do is make you and Mum proud.

I hope I’m doing that overall.

A kiss to you and Mum.

And a lifetime of my love.

To the rest of you, give your loved ones a hug and see you on the 31st.

_________________________________________________________________

The Secret Life Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

Friday December 25th (1981)

I went up to the bathroom and found my mother crying and running the turkey under the hot tap.

She said, “The bloody thing won’t thaw out, Adrian. What am I going to do?”

I said, “Just bung it in the oven.” So she did.

‘We went down to eat Christmas dinner four hours late. By then my father was too drunk to eat anything.’



The Best Thing About Me Is Seven Years Old …

Tomorrow my dear Otis turns 7.

Seven!

In some ways it seems impossible it has been that long …

Hell, it only seems like yesterday Jill went into labour and we walked to the hospital from our apartment in Shanghai.

But it can’t be because since that day, so much has happened.

We’ve lived in 3 new countries, started 3 new jobs – not to mention started 2 new companies – seen my wonderful mum pass away, get made redundant, gone through a global pandemic and turned 50.

Even for 7 years, that quite a lot.

And yet, trying to remember my life without him in it, seems almost impossible.

Sure, I can remember certain parts if I try really hard …

The travel.
The dinners.
The concerts.
The ability to go wherever we wanted whenever we wanted … without having to spend 2 hours ‘preparing’ for the trip.

But while that was all very nice … and, to be fair, I still get to do a version of it all at times … it’s so much better now.

Being a Dad has had a huge effect on my life.

What I care about, what I value, what I aspire to achieve.

That doesn’t mean I’ve lost all sense of personal ambition, drive and selfishness [hahaha] – it’s just I view achievement in a different way.

Whereas once it was very much about where I get to in my career, it’s now much more focused on what I can change.

More specifically, what I can change that enables others to win.

I know that sounds the sort of pandering statement you used to hear spouted from a Ms World contestant, but it’s true.

I’ll talk more about that in another post, but while I hope I’ve always been a compassionate person, Otis has made me more so.

But more than that, he’s also impacted the decisions I make.

There’s been situations I’ve faced where the decision I made was the total opposite of what I would have done prior to him being around.

Hell, even moving to NZ has more to do with him – and his Mum – than anything I’d have thought of doing previously, even with the temptation of the lovely Colenso.

Having Otis made me think about what my decisions would teach him about all manner of things.

Life. Money. Career. Happiness.

And because of that, it’s had the effect of teaching me what is really of importance to me now.

I was pretty old becoming a Dad – 44 – and yet, when Jill was pregnant, the issues that affect many soon-to-be Dad’s were affecting me.

Mainly money.

Would we have enough to give him a good home?

Would we earn enough to give him what he needs?

It was ridiculous, especially given the immense privilege we were enjoying in our life, but it was there and it was real.

Then he was born and everything changed.

Suddenly money was not the focus, instead it was about doing things that would make him proud of who his parents were. Helping him have a life of excitement, enjoyment and fulfilment. Exposing him to situations and circumstances that would help equip him with how to deal with things in life.

And while there have been stuff-ups along the way – predominantly by me – the joy of this adventure has been incredible and infectious.

It even made me feel grateful for COVID … because while I would not wish the suffering people have had to endure on anyone, it has been an utter privilege to basically be together 24/7 for almost 2 years.

See him wake up.
Have breakfast together.
Take him to school [when we could]
Have lunch together. [when we couldn’t]
Have dinner together.
Chat, laugh, play.
Put him to bed.

Before that I didn’t really get to do much of this. Maybe at weekends … otherwise it was a hotchpotch of a bit of this and a bit of that … and doing it all the time is much, much better.

And while he is growing up far too quickly for my liking – resulting in me getting obsessed with random lookalikes in the Guardian Newspaper – I have to admire the evil genius of how parenthood works.

From the moment you have a kid, you want them to stay exactly as they are.

Everything they do is just perfect and you revel in getting more of who they are.

The sounds. The squirms. The way they look. The way they react to things.

But you can’t stop evolution and bit by bit, more and morenew things happen.

Now while that should be annoying because the things you love get overtaken by the new … you deal with it, because those new things become a whole new set of wonderful features and quirks you fall in love with.

And this keeps going and going.

Each step of evolution takes you to somewhere even more adorable.

Until you’re here.

At seven.

Which forces me to write this:

_______________________________________________________________________

My dear boy.

Oh how I love you.

I can’t put into words how wonderful I think you are.

I’ve loved watching every second of you exploring, experimenting and discovering the world you’re in.

I’ve laughed at your good-natured cheekiness

Felt pride at the way you’ve embraced the challenges and changes I’ve forced on your life.

Been overwhelmed by your level of compassion, consideration and kindness.

And been in awe with your ability to learn and absorb … even when that has meant seeing you beat me at certain video games and horrify me with your use of Roblox slang such as, “call those muscles, look at these guns”.

To me and your Mum – and maybe even Rosie – you are perfect.

It’s an honour to be your Dad.

I still can’t believe I could have something to do with creating someone so wonderful. Sure, your Mum has the most to do with it, but I’m in there too.

I hope the next year is even better than this.

I don’t simply mean in terms of you being able to go out and enjoy life without restrictions and limitations … I mean in the adventures you have and the friends you create mischief with.

You have handled the past 12 months with such amazing grace.

Now houses … new schools … new countries … new friends.

It is a huge amount for anyone to deal with – and more than any young boy should – but you have taken it all in your stride. But I do not take that for granted. And I do not forget I have put you through this 4 times in 6 years. But I can assure you I won’t put you though it again for a very long time. So embrace your new home. Enjoy the possibilities of the world you have. You are a delightful kid and the world is better for having you in it.

Happy birthday my dear Otis …

I hope you have an amazing day.

I am so, so proud of the person you are and excited to see the person you become.

Love you.

Rx




Countdown To Hope …


I can’t believe we have hit December.

DECEMBER!

More than that, I can’t believe we’ve hit December and I’m still in lockdown … albeit in a totally different country to the one I was in last year.

Madness.

Given the last 365 days have basically been Groundhog Day, I’m amazed how quick this year has gone.

You’d expect it to have felt slow … but far from it.

For us, it’s been a huge year filled with huge changes – and I’ll be writing a huge post all about it in the next few weeks [don’t roll your eyes, ha] – but before that, we have Otis’ 7th birthday to celebrate and we need to find a way where he can feel the love and attention of his friends and family, as this will be the second year he’ll be experiencing it on his own.

I remember when birthdays were such a big thing.

A sign of growth … independence … power.

Of course, when you’re my age, you tend to look at them as indicators of getting old, irrelevance and impending death [hahahaha!] which leads me to something I read recently from Tom Goodwin.

It was this:

I have to say, it stopped me in my tracks.

Yes, it’s obvious, but when you see it written like that, you tend to re-evaluate what you’ve done and what you still want to do.

I am increasingly becoming aware of my mortality.

I’ve written about it before … but while I am not in a depth of depression, there is a part of me that acknowledges I am approaching the final 1/3rd of my race, despite having the hunger, energy and ambition to go a lot further.

It’s quite unnerving.

You look at everything with fresh eyes.

You ask yourself if you’ve done enough or are doing enough.

I don’t mean in terms of career – though there is a bit of that – I mean in life in general.

I look back on what I’ve done – and I acknowledge, I’ve done a bunch – and sometimes wonder if it was all a dream.

So much of it seems like it belongs to another person’s life.

Or another version of mine.

China. America. Singapore. Australia. Japan. Hong Kong. London.

So many places over such a long period of time.

Each one filled with experiences, stories and memories that defined who I am.

You’d be amazed how often I have to remind myself these happened to me. Seriously.,

The life I’ve lived is beyond anything I could ever have wished for … and while I appreciate my privilege, seeing that quote from Tom made me think about what I’m going to do with what I have left. What I want to do with what I have left.

On one hand I don’t want to sit back … I want to chase after the things that intrigue me with even greater speed and determination. But on the other, I want to make sure I am making time to enjoy and embrace all that’s going on. I don’t know if I’ve been as good at that second bit as I should have.

The problem is, the more you do, the more things you discover you want to do and – as has been the case with me – you find yourself on a track, travelling 100mph without having the ability to really enjoy the journey and the experiences you’ve had because you’ve seen something else you want to investigate.

I guess I’m living proof it’s not just millennials with short attention spans, ha.

That said, I’ve got a lot of expectations for 2022.

I did for 2021, but apart from NZ, that did not work out that way at all.

But now – with vaccinations and a world opening up – there’s a chance things could really change. A chance to embrace and explore what the world has to offer.

And I must admit I can’t wait.

Having been on only one plane in the last 18 months – to get us to NZ – has been very strange. I love travelling and exploring and have spent the last 25 years doing a ton of it. Hell, I did 100 flights in 2019 alone.

So as we enter the last month of 2021, I can look at next year with a different sense of optimism than I’ve had in a long time. A year where I want to learn how to balance ambition with enjoyment … because nothing makes you value the possibilities of the future like the acknowledgement you don’t have as much of it left as you probably would like.



China Is More Than Just Big Numbers And So Is Singles Day …

As I’ve said many times, I miss China.

I miss everything about it. Except the pollution.

It was – and remains – an incredible important and special place in my life, personally and professionally, and I’m so grateful I get to still do work there.

That said, there’s days where I miss it more than most and today is one of those.

Singles day – because of the date 11.11 – has become the single biggest shopping day on the planet. Bigger than the global Black Friday and New Years Day sales put together.

I have had individual clients sell US$100 million+ of product on that single day … and as huge as that is, it’s nothing compared to some other brands. You see, for all the talk of Singles Day being the luxury brand bonanza, the reality is it’s the more mundane things that sell in far bigger quantities.

There’s lots of reasons for that, of which money is only a small part.

That aside, the whole thing has become an extravaganza … even featuring international celebs [before they were in disrepute] in the lead-up … and yet, while it has finally been ‘discovered’ by many in the West, it still blows my mind at how little they really know, or care, about what started it, what drives it and what it represents to millions in the Middle Kingdom.

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised, because where China is concerned, the West still prefers to be deliberately ignorant to the goings on there … preferring instead to either ignore anything until is comes to the West, or just repeating what they’ve read somewhere without delving more into the culture or the history.

And that’s what I saw a lot there.

In fact, it’s a lot of what I saw wherever I lived, especially in Asia.

The preference for headlines rather than the details.

Easy wins instead of earning your rights.

Acceptance only when it was localised.

What scares me is this attitude seems to be extending beyond just knowing other cultures … but approaches to planning.

Answers rather than listening.
Comments rather than thinking.
Responses rather than considering.
Generalisations rather than nuance.
Complicity rather than a point of view.

I appreciate we live in a world where there is commercial benefit in speed. And while that doesn’t automatically mean it is wrong, it only works if you have people with the real experience and knowledge to be able to answer the problems properly.

There’s a massive difference between someone looking things up on Google and someone who appreciates the nuance and layers that goes behind opinion, beliefs and behaviour.

And yet too often these people don’t get valued by their companies.

Viewed as too costly … when the experience and knowledge they have is the difference between resonating with culture or shouting at people.

Or said another way, doing work that is for people rather than about them.

It blew my mind how little Western markets, and companies, valued my – and everyone else I know who spent considerable time in Asia – experience. I constantly felt a sense of distain from those who had never been there … as if the work and culture didn’t count for anything … despite the history, the economy, the culture and the technology.

Fuck, I had someone recently ask me if I knew TikTok was a Chinese company. A person who claims to be ‘an expert’ in digital. You should have seen their face when I told them that not only did I know that, but it had been around in China for years before it had come to the West.

This does not mean you have to live in another country to care about it. But generally, you do have to if you want to have any way of understanding it beyond the headlines and the superficial clickbait.

Which is why in the next few weeks if someone tries to present you a deck entitled, ‘Singles Day: all you need to know’ … just ask them what the premise is.

If they only talk about big numbers – and, god forbid – something to do with Confucius, run the other way. And if you think I’m joking, I can tell you about the time I was in Beijing and sat in a meeting full of CEO’s and the guest speaker started talking about his proprietary strategy for using Twitter, until it was pointed out that the government ban it there.

This guest was the head of strategy of a major ‘global’ digital agency.

Whether you like it or not, China is vital to your business.

Might be directly or indirectly, but it can’t be ignored, even if your ego has to take the hit.

The fact I have to write this in 2021 is mind-blowing, but here it goes:

Hire Chinese talent.
Value Chinese talent.
Learn from Chinese talent.

I promise you they’ll be able to help you and tell you stuff that is far more insightful and valuable that someone writing a presentation on Singles Day from information sourced via Twitter or the Daily Mail.

Love you China. Miss you.