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


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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A Parents Love Is Never Black And White …
June 13, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Advertising, Authenticity, Comment, Family, Love, Parents

I had a lovely birthday.

Despite not receiving your presents. Tight asses.

Anyway, I digress …

I want to write a post about being a parent.

Put simply, it’s amazing.

Better than I ever could have imagined.

But what is interesting is how parenting is often portrayed in advertising.

It’s either unicorns or hurricanes.

Soft focus or extreme disaster.

But the reality is in most cases, that’s just not true. It’s somewhere in the middle … where the love is always there, even though it sometimes manifests itself in ways that seem to suggest otherwise.

Years ago I asked Ros – who was a member of my team at Wieden – to go interview teenagers about something they remember their parents said or did to them that was hurtful, even though they know it wasn’t meant that way.

Everyone had one.

It may have been something really innocuous … something their parents can’t even remember saying or doing … but it was cemented in their feelings or memories.

Maybe an offhand comment.
Or a misplaced judgement.
Or a small disagreement.

Nothing major. For some, forgotten in a second. For others … remembered for a lifetime, even if the pain of it has long passed.

We made a cool little film about it called, ‘Parents Fuck You Up’ … I’ll try find it, because even though it’s in Mandarin, it’s something I’m sure we all relate to. I know I do.

I wrote years ago about the revelation I’d had of why I might like Birkenstocks so much.

When I was a kid, my Mum was trying to teach me how to tie my shoelaces. I just couldn’t get it. And she got so frustrated that she lost her shit with me.

It was the only time she was ever like that with me – and she felt bad about it her whole life, when she absolutely shouldn’t have – but that moment is seared in my brain, which may explain why I ended up loving shoes that have no laces.

Maybe.

I say this because I recently watched a repeat of an episode of Gogglebox. It was an episode that when I watched it the first time – back when I was in England – it made me laugh so much I had an asthma attack.

It’s not even that funny. But having a parent says this to their daughter is … because it’s far more reflective of our family relationships than advertising will ever capture honestly.

Enjoy. Have a great weekend.

And remember your kids remember stuff better than elephants



To My Darling Jill …
May 13, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Comment, Jill, Otis, Parents

There’s no post on Monday.

Which is good, because after you read this, you’ll either be sick or shocked and it will give you a little more time to get over it.

Ready? Well here we go …

Being married to me is hard.

Not just for the obvious countless reasons, but because we keep moving countries.

In fact, in the last 6 years, we have lived in four countries.

FOUR.

Add some more years to that total and the number of countries we’ve lived in goes up again.

And again.

And again.

But that aside, the reality is we’ve kept moving countries predominantly for me.

And every time, Jill has been nothing but supportive and encouraging – even though it has meant she’s had to leave her friends, passions – and in the case of Shanghai – her successful cake business, Stir.

OK, so after dragging Jill around the world for nearly 2 decades, coming to NZ was as much about getting her closer to her Mum as it was about me joining Colenso … but even with the added benefit of family proximity, Jill had to start her life all over again.

I’ve never been in this position.

When you move for a job, you are given an instant network.

You’re in an office. With people. Who you get to connect with, talk to, meet.

You also have a ready made job … with things to do and things to change.

In almost no time at all, you feel part of the place with people who can help you overcome any question or obstacle you face.

But not Jill.

When she moves, she starts from zero.

She has no support network except her husband and son.

And given I’m at work and Otis is at school, that means she doesn’t even get us easily.

I am under no illusion how hard this is on her.

I am also under no illusion how much she has sacrificed to allow me to live this life.

It is more than I could ever expect or hope for and yet, despite all the challenges it places her under, she has never complained or stopped us exploring adventure.

She could have.

There are times she probably wanted to.

But she has done it over and over again because of us. Or should I say, me.

My wife is the most compassionate, considerate and caring person I know.

Always looking out for us.
Always ensuring we are settled as quickly as possible.
Always protecting the family.

I say all this because Jill has started taking some tentative steps into exploring a career again.

When Otis was born, she made the decision she wanted to be a full-time Mum. We were in the very fortunate position that we could make that happen and she loved every second. But now Otis is 7 … he has independence and is at school … so Jill wants to use the time she has got back in new ways.

But starting something new when you’ve been away for a while is daunting.

And for all the talent and experiences and achievements my wife has earned in the past, she is doubting herself.

I can literally see the arguments she is having in her head.

The fight between curiosity and self judgement.

The worry she may not be good enough.

Of course all women go through this.

The most evil thing men have done is make women believe they have to be perfect before they can try something new.

Which means many don’t, leaving men – who don’t give a shit about perfection because of our deluded self-confidence – to take opportunities that could be better served and expressed by female talent.

I am proud of my wife for many reasons, but for someone so gentle, she is immensely strong … and despite her not really sure where she will end up, she is starting a little design studio focused on digital art.

Not NFT’s … but just different designs that can be used in different ways and places.

She knows it’s hard to get noticed in this field.

She knows it’s a lot of work for not a lot of reward.

She knows she has to build up her portfolio of work.

And while it would be easy to point to the privilege she has in being able to do this when so many don’t even have that option … I am watching a woman seeking a different sort of self-worth. One that goes beyond being an amazing wife and Mum, but an independent person

I have never had to worry about this.
Otis is unlikely to have to worry about this.
And I wish Jill didn’t have to worry about this … but she does and so she should.

Add to that the time she has been out of the workforce – something she did for us to be able to walk forward – and what she’s doing is insanely important.

For her.
For us.
For any woman who faces this situation.

I love this woman.
I’m so proud of her.
I am watching her put so much of herself into this.

Not just in terms of designing … but thinking, considering and questioning.

This is a huge thing for her – far more than just a design project – and I want her to feel excited and proud about what she’s doing.which is why I have a favour to ask.

Not as someone’s wife. Not as someone’s Mum. But for who she is and what she does.

A brilliant, clever, talented, smart, kind human.

Someone willing to put their vulnerabilities on show and on the line in the hope it may lead to something they can’t quite define.

What an amazing person.

I’m such a lucky bugger to be her husband.

Thank you Jill.

I love you.



Why Nothing Says Love Like Forgetfulness …
March 9, 2022, 8:15 am
Filed under: Dad, Daddyhood, Death, Family, Jill, Love, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Parents

I almost forgot today was your anniversary Mum.

That’s twice that has happened.

Though this time I remembered weeks before the date, which makes me feel a little less guilty than last time. Which was literally a few days. And that was because someone wrote to say they were thinking of me, because they knew your anniversary was close.

But I still feel bad.

I just can’t work out why Jan 16th is so burned in my mind for Dad, but March 9th needs me to actively think about it.

I remember your birthday. I remember your anniversary – in fact I wrote a post about it on the same day I wrote this – but the date of your passing is one that can pass by.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think of you.

I think of you so much. And Dad.

Those memories make me laugh, smile or sometimes, can tip me over the edge into a land of tears without too much effort at all.

Especially when I think about how much I wish I could share things with you. Or discuss things with you. Or just have you as part of my life … and my families.

Now I know you would say, “don’t worry about it”. You’d then back it up with something like, “you have your family to think about and you’re so busy”.

But you’d be wrong.

Because it’s never about ‘making time’ to think about you. You and Dad are always there which is why you’re definitely part of my family, even though you’re not here.

In fact we talk about you all the time.

Otis talks about his Nona, and asks if you ever met him.

He loves hearing you loved him and loved seeing him over FaceTime. He also talks about Dad a bit … and how “he died because his brain had a bleed”.

He doesn’t say it to be mean, he’s fascinated … so it actually helps me feel you are both still around. I mean, you are – in my heart and mind – but you know what I mean.

But forgetting the anniversary of your death does bother me.

I remember every single second of that entire day. And the days after it. You could ask me anything. If I was on Mastermind, it would be one of my specialist subjects. Every single detail is burned in my mind. From the moment I woke up early so I could see you before your operation right through to watching the ticking of the clock and not understanding why you were still in there right up to the moment Paul and Shelly took me back to their house so I wasn’t alone that night.

Hell, I even have it tattoo’d on me.

But maybe I’ve answered the question with this post.

Because when I look at what I’ve written, it reveals I think far more of the life we enjoyed, rather than ‘the’ moment it ended.

It took me 10 years to get to this place with Dad, but with you, it was much quicker.

I was older.
I was married.
I had experienced the tragic sense of loss and despair together.
I had a 3 month old baby – your grandson – to stop me falling too far into the abyss.

So your life is part of my everyday rather than defined by this single day.

And when I think of it by that, today suddenly is filled with optimism and love rather than darkness and despair.

And I know how happy that would make you, which would make me happy too.

So here’s to more anniversaries of pain that I remember late.

Because nothing shows how much I love and miss you than thinking about you every day of the year rather than just this one, tragic day.

Rx