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

Happy Birthday To The Woman Who Isn’t There, But Is Always Around …

Today would be my Mum’s 89th birthday.


My god, that would have been something to celebrate.

I sometimes wonder if we’d have come to NZ if my Mum was still alive.

There’s a chance we would, but it would have been much harder to go, especially with COVID.

I just don’t know how I’d have been able to leave, given all she would have had to deal with in the last 18 months.

There were days – when we were in the UK – where I found myself being relieved she wasn’t here to experience the horror of COVID.

That’s incredibly hard for me to admit, but the idea of my dear Mum being on own and suffering ill health, without me – or anyone – being able to be near to protect, reassure or support her for over a year, literally ignites my anxiety.

Of course, millions of people had to go through just that, which is why I have nothing but admiration and compassion for all they went through. To not be able to see your family is unbelievably painful. To worry that if you do, you may kill them, is a burden that no one should have to deal with.

But if we were here in NZ … and if Mum was still alive … then today would be a day where not being with her would be one of the most painful of them all.

It certainly wouldn’t be for lack of trying, but the reality is if I did find a way to get back to the UK, then there would be no guarantee of when NZ would let me back in the country due to the quarantine situation.

I would feel torn in two.

And I know this because it almost happened in 2014.

Mum was going to have a major heart operation at around the same time Otis was due.

As in literally, a cross-over of time.

The idea I would have to decide whether to be at my son’s birth in China or be at my Mum’s side in England was something I was genuinely terrified of.

Fortunately, I found myself in England about 5 months before Mum’s operation and accompanied her to a meeting with her surgeon.

There she explaining the situation to him to which he said he felt Mum could wait another 3 or 4 months for the operation so she could be in ‘tip-top form’ to meet her grandson.

I am so grateful to him.

Not just for removing an obstacle that no one should have to deal with, but because it gave me 4 more months with my Mum – months that she got to see her grandson via Facetime – because sadly, she died of complications when she ended up having the op.

And as sad as that is, I smile at the thought of being with her today.

Not only can I imagine how it would go, I can even hear her voice.

She’d be saying how she can’t believe she’s 89.

She’d gently brush off my excited, “and next year you hit the big 90”, with a calm explanation that, “you never know what may happen in the future”.

My god I miss her voice.

Her kind, compassionate, warm, curious voice.

How I would love to hear her asking questions about Otis, Jill and Rosie the cat.

I remember the times I flew home to surprise her from Australia or Singapore or HK or China.

I’d knock on the door and then I’d hear her walking towards it – asking “who is it?” before she saw me.

She would look for a second in shock. Amazed her son … her beloved only child … was standing in front of her.

And she would say, “Oh Robert” before giving me a huge hug and then telling she was so surprised and happy.

Then before I knew it, she’d be asking if I’d eaten and say she had to make the bed up for me as there’s no sheets on it … hahaha.

Oh Mum, I wish I could be with you to celebrate.

I wish that day in March 2015 had turned out so differently.

But as I wrote over that week, at least everything had reached some beautiful finale … though you never got to see the new heating Angelo had put in for you, ha.

Mind you, with energy prices so high in the UK at the moment, you’d likely say, “I’ll just put on an extra jumper”.

Oh how I miss you Mum.

You were the best.

I hope Dad is looking after you.

Thank you for everything and happy, happy birthday.

The countdown to 90 now begins.

Love you.


When Nothing Is Something …

Otis LOVES McDonald’s, so before we left the UK, we decided we’d have some for dinner.

He’s a bit particular about how he likes his Happy Meal, so with that – and the social distancing rules – we used their app to order.

As I was customising his burger [no sauce, no pickles] I discovered the option of having no sauce was unavailable.

THat’s right, you couldn’t, couldn’t have sauce.

Of course it was just a glitch in their system but it did remind me of the time I was in Xiamen in China on a NIKE get-together.

It had been a long and challenging day.

Not with work, but because we had stupidly left our bags, computers and passports in the back of the cab and needed all our powers of deduction and negotiation to get them back.

Trust me, in a city of nearly 4 million people and no details of the cab that had our stuff, that was a pretty big task, but thanks to the brilliance of Charinee and Jenny, we achieved it … so after that drama and then running a workshop for the NIKE Running team … we went back to our hotel tired and hungry.

We decided to have a drink in the bar and order some food.

After looking at the menu, we quickly ordered 2 cheese and tomato pizzas.

“Sorry …” they said, “… we only have pepperoni pizza available”.

By that point, we had set our heart on pizza so I looked at the waited and replied,

“Could we order the pepperoni pizza but without the pepperoni?”

They nodded yes and soon we were munching on our pepperoni pizza … without the pepperoni … with smug smiles on our faces.

And now I’ve told that story, it’s reminded me of the time I used the same logic to get one over on IKEA Hong Kong, who were trying to fuck me over with a new sofa we bought.

Which all goes to show, the best way to beat a process is to use the process against itself, because for all the ‘experience design’ processes that is all the range right now, most of them are built to protect the company rather than satisfy the audience.

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.

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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Happy Birthday Dad …

Today would be my Dad’s 82nd birthday.

That means he’s been gone 22 years.

In a few years, I will have lived longer without him in my life than in it.

Yes, I know that he is still in my life, but I just find that fact so hard to deal with.

I live in fear that one day, I will only think of him when a significant date occurs.

That he will become a figure of my past, rather than my present.

Of course I don’t believe that will really happen, but to be coming up to the point where I will have spent more of my life without him in it, is really tough to take.

What’s worse is he died just as my life was getting started.

The only thing he knew – mainly because he and Mum pushed me to continue with my plans, despite his stroke – was that I moved to Australia.

While both my parents missed me so much, they were adamant I had to go.

I had planned it for a long time.

They saw it as an opportunity and an adventure for me.

And they also – and rightfully – knew that if I didn’t go, I’d never go.

Of course there was nothing wrong with where I was.

I loved – and continue to love – Nottingham. But both my parents knew the possibilities for me outside of my home city were probably bigger than were in it, and they just wanted me to have a chance of exploring what it could – regardless what turned out.

That’s unconditional love.

A level of support and encouragement that – now I am a father – takes my breath away.

Oh the things I wish I could talk to my Dad about.

The adventures – good and stupid – I’d love to discuss with him.

I think he would be proud. He might raise his eyebrows at a few things, but I think he would be happy with the choices and decisions I’ve made.

He would love to meet Jill.

He would be delighted to meet Otis.

He would be thrilled to know my friendship with Paul is still rock solid.

He may even be happy to meet Rosie – the most well travelled cat in the universe – despite never really liking cats.

And when I was to tell him that journey to Australia led to me living in countless other countries – including Shanghai – he would be so happy.

He always found China fascinating.

Part of it was because back then, China was still an unknown quantity.

A huge place that was kind-of invisible to the World.

For me to have lived there … had for his grandson to be born there … would be a topic of conversation for years.

And I would love it.

Watching his eyes twinkle with curiosity.

Watching his brow wrinkle as he processed my responses.

Watching his smile as he held Otis and said, “Ni Hao” as if a local.

Oh Dad, I wish you were here.

What I’d give for one more conversation, one more hug.

What happened that night in Hong Kong is still etched in my heart … but I want more.

I’m greedy, but you were gone too soon.

For you, for Mum and for me.

Happy 82nd birthday Dad, I know none of us believed in God, but I do hope one day we can have that conversation.

Love you.

Give Mum a big kiss from me too.


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