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


The Power Of Home.
December 6, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Childhood, Colenso, Comment, Family, New Zealand

This is a photo of my home. Obviously taken at night.

I love this place.

It’s probably my favourite place of all the places I’ve ever lived.

Of course, being able to have any home is a total privilege … so having one you really love is bordering on obscene. I get that.

And it’s obscene how much I love this place.

The fact it’s built into the trees.

That it’s surrounded by nature.

That it has outside decks on multiple floors.

That it’s close to work and yet feels a million miles away.

And then there’s the fact we bought it without having seen it – or even being in the country – which just makes it feel like we won the lottery. Except we paid a shitload for the ticket, haha.

So knowing one day we’ll leave it makes it all the more difficult.

Of course we don’t know when, but it will happen.

And while we’ve talked about trying to build an exect replica wherever we end up next … we know even if it was identical, it wouldn’t be the same.

Because a home is more than those walls.

It’s the environment. The surrounding area. The community. The moment in time.

Which is why I especially love the top pic.

Because while it doesn’t show much, it shows just enough.

A big steel door that holds a warm, inviting shelter.

A place where my family could blossom again after the challenges of covid.

A building where my son, wife and cat could connect to the privilege of living in New Zealand.

In many ways, it’s the most ‘family’ home we’ve had.

I don’t mean that in terms of size, but in our connection to it … which given we’ve lived in other places for far longer is testimony to what it means to us.

What New Zealand has done for us.

What Colenso made happen for us.

Leaving it will be terribly, terribly hard.

And while people reading this may rightfully say, “stop wishing your life away” … the reality is it means we’re not taking anything for granted. We notice and embrace every detail. We remain thankful for what we have. And in my book, that’s an act of love … which may be the most mature thing I’ve ever said, let alone done, in my life.

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Why Wrong Reveals The Systems Limitations Rather Than The Participants …

I recently saw this piece of brilliance …

Isn’t it awesome?

Of course some people will think it’s cute … but wrong.

Whereas others may think it’s cute … and smart.

Putting aside the fact the responsibility for clarity of communication is with the communicator, not the recipient – which means the exam board have to accept their role in the answer given – it also highlights how one persons ‘normal’ is another persons ‘lateral thinking’.

I know that sounds a big leap for what is a young kids incorrect/correct answer to an exam question … but at a time where the British PM wants to kill the arts and freedom of expression for kids in schools – in favour of even more logical and rational studies – it’s a sign how early we try to destroy/control/devalue the imaginations of the young.

What I find ironic about the British PM’s stance is that he seems to be of the belief that having people study maths for longer will make everything better.

Putting aside the fact that much of the UK’s global influence – ignoring the violent invasions of other countries – has come from the arts, that’s a big call to make.

Even more so when you consider the financial mess the UK is in right now, has come from the hands of the very people he wants to encourage more of.

As a parent this situation is very difficult.

Of course we want our children to be set up to embrace life. But if they’re all being taught the same thing … in the same way … without consideration of what their own personal talents, interests and abilities are … then are you actually preparing them to thrive or simply survive?

Recently Otis got diagnosed with a learning difficulty.

I say difficulty, but really it’s a complication.

It’s called Dysgraphia.

While this doesn’t affect his ability to learn, it does affect how he does it and what he may be able to do because of it.

We are incredibly grateful the school he goes to – Birkenhead Primary – not only embraced this situation by changing the way he could engage and present his schoolwork. They did it by specifically tailoring their classes and approach to ensure Otis could participate in ways that actively played to his strengths while maintaining the pace of everyone’s learning. And if that wasn’t impressive enough … they were the ones who first noticed there may be an area of challenge for him and were proactive in acting on it.

The impact of this approach on Otis has been enormous.

Not just in areas of his schoolwork that were being impacted because of dysgraphia, but in his overall confidence, enjoyment and willingness to participate.

He has always been a kid who tries hard and wants to do the right thing [so definitely more like Jill than me] … but thanks to his teachers, he now feels he can express himself fully rather than having to become a smaller version of himself in an attempt to find a way to get through certain areas of class that challenged him because of his dysgraphia rather than his ability.

Frankly I doubt this would have happened if we were still in the UK.

Not because the teachers aren’t as good, but because the system doesn’t allow the sort of deviation of approach that Otis’ school created for him.

What’s scary is Sunak’s attitude towards education will only make this situation for kids like Otis, even harder.

Either actively leaving them behind or setting them up for a life of anxiety, guilt and feelings of inadequacy. And yet it doesn’t have to be that way.

So many of these complications aren’t barriers to learning capacity, just accessibility.

A bit of flexibility can unlock the full potential of a child, especially with the power of technology these days.

But the schooling system is increasingly about ‘targets’ rather than learning.

Preparing you for exams rather than life.

Systems rather than needs.

And while I totally accept creating an education system that caters to the masses as well as the edges is incredibly difficult, having a one-dimensional system that ‘succeeds’ by forcing compliance and oppression is not the solution either.

What the British PM needs to understand is making kids study maths for longer isn’t going to solve the UK’s economic woes. But maybe designing an education system that enables teachers to help kids learn how to play to their strengths, is.

Or to paraphase Sir Ken Robinson … see creativity and imagination as a strength, not a weakness.

We’re so lucky Otis’ school values potential rather than parity … but I can’t help but wonder how many other clever kids are out there who have been written off simply because the system would not allow for them to be recognised, embraced and helped.

When will certain governments understand an educated generation is a successful nation?

Probably when they understand school should be about learning not teaching and it’s an investment rather than a cost.

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Happy Big Birthday Mum …
November 3, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Childhood, Comment, Dad, Family, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, New Zealand, Otis, Parents

So today would have been my beloved Mum’s 90th birthday.

NINETY!!!

My god, it seems impossible.

What’s bizarre is that while Mum died at age 83, I never considered her old.

She looked very well.

She was active and sharp.

She retained a huge interest in what society was interested in.

But of course, underneath her heart was failing – more specifically one of her valves was.

And yet despite that, I still find the idea of her turning 90 shocking, even though it’s just 7 years on from when I last saw her.

Of course a lot can happen in 7 years.

7 years ago we were living in China.

I was working at Wieden+Kennedy.

And we’d just become parents.

To think in-between then and now we’ve moved country 3 times, I’ve changed jobs 3 times, we’ve called 4 houses home and I’ve entered a world of creativity where I’m interacting with individuals/bands I never would have imagined in a billion years I’d be working with … I guess seven years has a lot of capacity for change.

But despite all that, I remember my time with my Mum clearly.

The good. The not so good. The happy. The devastating.

But underpinning all of that is just what a brilliant human and Mum she was.

From playing tennis with me on our small patio in the back garden through to encouraging me to still go on my life adventure when she so easily could have asked me to stay … my Mum’s selflessness was one of her defining characteristics.

As I wrote when she died, this generosity towards others continued after she passed.

I still remember finding a notebook where she had meticulously detailed all the account numbers, phone numbers and people I should contact now she was gone.

Which means in the lead-up to the operation we hoped would give her a better life, she was preparing for it maybe not to.

That breaks my heart.

The idea of her being alone in the house, writing these things out for me is almost too much to cope with.

That she could deal with her mortality with so much dignity, grace and love for me … that she would put her emotions to one side to make sure life would be easier for me, in my darkest moments … is a definition of love that is overwhelming in its generosity.

She even had found the time to cut out articles on people I knew from my childhood that she wanted me to know better.

Who would do that?

I’ll tell you who … my Mum.

My beautiful, kind, compassionate and loving Mum.

And today she would have been 90.

God I wish she was here to celebrate it.

We’d either all be in the UK or we would have brought her here.

She would love this house. The quiet … the nature … the peacefulness.

And as much as she loved our home, maybe she would have been in the right frame to make a leap. To come live with us.

I don’t know. Mum was fiercely independent so maybe she’d be against it, but I have a feeling there would have been a chance.

Towards the end, we had found a new rhythm to live by. We’d always had a wonderful relationship but over the years a few niggles had entered into our interactions. Nothing much. Likely less than most. But when you have never had it, you notice it more.

However the last few years were different. It’s as if we had finally recognised that the things that irritated one another weren’t being done to annoy one another … they were simply our ways of trying help each other, even if we didn’t understand it. And from that moment, a new peace and acceptance came. It felt good. Conversations that had previously triggered us, were now open and easy. It was lovely and it’s for that reason I think Mum may have said yes to coming to live with us.

Sure, the house we live in doesn’t have the garden of the house she helped us buy, but I think she’d like it just the same.

I hope so.

I know it is a long way from England, but she was up for going to the North Pole to see the Northern Lights when she was 80.

So I’ll be thinking of that today when I celebrate her milestone.

Her, living in the house with her son, her daughter-in-law, her grandson and cat-in law.

Ahem.

Because while I know she’s not on this earth, she remains with me and that is some comfort.

It’s why I have 90 yellow roses being delivered to work today.

So 90 people in the office can take one in her honour.

To give to a loved one to show how much they mean to them.

Something that lets my Mum’s spirit be alive in the World.

Because while I know she wouldn’t like the attention, she would forgive me for the sentiment.

So Happy 90th birthday to you, my dearest Mum.

I love and miss you so much.

Give Dad a big kiss from me.

And know I am so glad you were my Mum.

Rx

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My Them …
October 17, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Babies, Cats, China, Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Fatherhood, Home, Jill, Love, My Fatherhood, Otis, Rosie, Singapore

Look at that photo.

Look at my kids.

Yes, I appreciate one is a cat, but she isn’t to me.

She’s my demanding, complaining, cranky daughter who – bizarrely – is also a grandmother.

But only in age.

While also being Otis’ ‘kitty sister’.

We had Rosie for 7 years before Otis came around. And when he did, everything changed.

I remember how Rosie couldn’t work out what was happening. Especially how Jill was behaving.

From ruling the roost, she was now playing second fiddle to this screaming object that seemed to be awake at all hours of the day.

Rosie’s way of dealing with it was to sulk.

She would openly shun Jill before blindly following her every move. Blatantly craving the love and focus she had enjoyed for 7 years while pretending she didn’t care.

I felt sorry for her.

I’d talk to her a lot and gave her extra hugs to ‘equalise’ the attention and adoration being given to Otis.

And while you may think this shift in hierarchy could make Rosie hate Otis, she never did.

I’m not saying she loved him, but she put up with him.

However Otis found Rosie fascinating.

He thought she was AMAZING.

But babies don’t know how to treat animals which is why we paid a bloody fortune to have an identical version of her made as a cuddly toy so he could learn how to be gentle with her.

While the identikit cat didn’t achieve the desired result – I would often find him swinging the toy version of Rosie over his head by the tail – he never did anything bad to the real thing.

He loves her. Adores her. Is thrilled every time she pays the slightest bit of notice to him … regardless how small or short.

And I love that.

I love how they have found their own relationship.

Not expecting anything from each other but accepting what each other wants to give.

It may have started as a forced relationship, but it’s definitely a family now.

My family.

I get some people will read this and think I’ve lost the plot.

And maybe I have.

But family is more than blood. It’s understanding.

The good. The bad. The quirks. The demanding.

And when you find the level where you’re able to float with all of that, then you’re doing pretty well. It’s not always easy, but its always worth it.

Which is why I love spending my my time with them – and their Mum – every weekend.

Oh and one last thing.

To Dave …

I’m thinking of you.

I wish I had something I could say that would shield you a little from the emotions you’re facing, but for what it’s worth – know I love you. And love them. Rx

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I’m A Low-Rent Oprah …

There’s a lot of talk about the ‘great resignation’, but as I’ve written in the past, when you spend time talking to the people doing it – or hoping to do it – you learn the correct term for it should be ‘the great reset’ or, in some cases, ‘the last hope’.

The reality is the situation isn’t new.

People have felt trapped in their jobs for decades. Centuries even.

But the basic premise was ‘if you want to earn increasing amounts of money, you have to stay on the path you have chosen’.

It kind of makes sense, until you factor in the economic value of happiness and fulfilment.

Add in companies increasing lack of loyalty towards their employees and you realise the younger generation are both smarter and braver than most of my peers.

I say most because there’s people like my best friend Paul.

I’ve written about Paul’s journey from printer to Frothy Coffee Man but the more I think about it, the more amazing it is.

Because while leaving a paying job to do the same job for yourself is an act of self-belief – acknowledging it still requires a huge amount of effort if you want to continue growing, rather than just stay where you are – leaving a job you’ve done for decades to do something totally different is an act of hope.

Well, that’s what it may seem …

The reality is carrying on doing something you aren’t enjoying is the most sensible thing you can do.

What stops us is the risk of it failing.

The worry that instead of taking a step forward, we end up going backwards.

And then that idea fucks with your head and you end up carrying on as you were.

Miserable is your arrested development of life.

But Paul didn’t do that.

He decided to do something about it …

Now becoming Frothy Coffee Man wasn’t all a punt in the dark.

While he hadn’t done it before, he loved the idea of being self-employed. He loved the idea of dealing with people. He wasn’t frightened of hard work. He was realistic about what he needed and wanted out of it. He loved being outdoors. And his fucking wonderful personality was made to build relationships with strangers.

He also had an incredibly supportive wife who encouraged him.

As well as a best mate who did the same. ie: Me.

So he went for it. And it has been the best decision of his life … first emotionally and then pretty soon afterwards, financially.

I’ve written a lot about how my parents drilled into me the importance of fulfilment over contentment.

To be honest it took me a long time to realise what they truly meant.

But in essence it was this.

Always choose the bigger life.

I’m so glad Paul did it. I’m so glad I was taught it. I hope more people find theirs.

Because as hard as it may seem, it’s only one considered decision away.

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