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January 2019

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In December 2018, Greggs the bakery had an idea.

One of their 1,850 stores is directly opposite Fenwick in Newcastle City Centre.

And it is a well known fact that every Christmas, families with young children – tens of thousand of them – actually queue to see Fenwick’s Christmas window display.

They film it and photograph it too.

As do much of the the press and media in the North of England.

Knowing this, Gregg’s award winning in-house creative team decided to do something very simple.

They decided to flip the signage of their city centre branch so that it was written backwards.

The result?

It appeared the right way round as it reflected in Fenwick’s window.

It also appeared the right way round in thousands of photos and movies.

And in many dozens of column inches about the stunt too.

Ideas. 

There’s a lot to be said for ideas.

I don’t know where they come from.

But I do know three things.

  1. To get to the great ideas, you MUST first go through many, many bad ones.
  2. To go through many, may bad ones you must be patient. And you must kind to yourself and (if appropriate) your team too. Only by doing this will you get to great.
  3. The greatest ideas are often the simplest.

Gnirebmemer htrow.

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I’ve never thought about it quite like this before…

When someone criticises something you have put your heart and soul into, they are actually criticising your heart.

And your soul.

So of course, it’s going to really hurt.

Hurt.

Knowing  this, it puts us in an awkward position on the subject of creativity.

Because the more creative you are, the more you’re going to get hurt if someone doesn’t like what you do.

So if you want to reduce the risk of hurting, all you have to do is to put less of your heart and soul into being creative.

It’s much safer.

The risk is reduced.

The worst that can happen is that this thing you’ve been half-hearted about is attacked.

And because you’ve not given your heart and soul you have the perfect get-out.

You can shrug, smile and openly admit that you didn’t invest all you could.

So of course they’re not going to like it.

Perfect!

Perfect.

But it’s not perfect, is it.

It’s far from it.

So, I’d advise, do one or both of these two things instead.

  1. Learn to live with the hurt.
  2. Don’t listen.

The price for not doing this is to be ordinary.

The prize for doing it?

The possibility that, one day, you will be considered extraordinary.

Extraordinary hurts.

But it’s worth it.

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You need to see the image at the 50odd website with this story. So please click here.

This is a test.

To see if we’d get on.

I do spend a lot of time running around to get things done.

I’m busy.

And I imagine you are too.

Very occasionally these days I have to post something.

It’s a right nuisance.

But there we go.

Birds. 

How would you feel if you were faced with this sign?

I’m not asking what you’d do.

I’m asking how you’d feel.

If you’d feel inconvenienced and grouchy, we’d not get on.

If you’d feel warm, reminded that life is much more than the treadmill of what’s in front of us, we’d be fine.

Life.

I like little reminders of what really matters in life.

Life itself.

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Is this obsessive?

I watch the entire box set of ‘Cheers’ – every year.

That’s 275 episodes.

I still can’t remember everything that happens.

And I still laugh at the things whether I remember what’s coming or not.

As much as I enjoy Cheers being on, I also think it’s a test for Lisa.

She does one of those smiles that is really only with the mouth (not the eyes) when I say I’m going to put Cheers on.

And it’s often when it’s Lisa’s turn to make tea.

So she may very well be stood in the kitchen holding a knife as I pop the DVD in, my back to her.

It’s the thrill I like.

She’s very tolerant.

For now.

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Nick Cave was asked this question by a fan called Cynthia, in October 2018.

I have experienced the death of my father, my sister, and my first love in the past few years and feel that I have some communication with them, mostly through dreams. They are helping me. Are you and Susie feeling that your son Arthur is with you and communicating in some way?

Nick Cave’s son Arthur died in 2015, aged 15.

This is Nick’s reply to Cynthia, in an open letter:

Dear Cynthia,

This is a very beautiful question and I am grateful that you have asked it. It seems to me, that if we love, we grieve. That’s the deal. That’s the pact. Grief and love are forever intertwined.

Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our minuscule selves. We are tiny, trembling clusters of atoms subsumed within grief’s awesome presence.

It occupies the core of our being and extends through our fingers to the limits of the universe. Within that whirling gyre all manner of madnesses exist; ghosts and spirits and dream visitations, and everything else that we, in our anguish, will into existence.

These are precious gifts that are as valid and as real as we need them to be. They are the spirit guides that lead us out of the darkness.

I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there.

I hear him talk to me, parent me, guide me, though he may not be there.

He visits Susie in her sleep regularly, speaks to her, comforts her, but he may not be there.

Dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity. Like ideas, these spirits speak of possibility.

Follow your ideas, because on the other side of the idea is change and growth and redemption. Create your spirits. Call to them. Will them alive. Speak to them. It is their impossible and ghostly hands that draw us back to the world from which we were jettisoned; better now and unimaginably changed.

With love, Nick.

Izobel is 2.

I am amazed, having never had children before, how much a 2 year old can know and process at such a young age.

How deeply they think.

Earlier this week, as I sat on the settee watching the television, Izobel was sat – still – to my left.

After a little while, her fidgety legs lifted her and – quite suddenly – she jumped clean over my lap and landed to my right.

I was concerned she’d fall on the wooden floor of course.

But I smiled as she paused to considered this new game.

Then, Izobel jumped back across my lap and landed once more to my left.

There was a pattern now.

And it continued.

Dizzy.

After 8 or 10 if these jumped, I called her name and began to explain something.

“Izobel” I said, “You might fall. You’ll get dizzy.”

She listened silently.

She was looking at my eyes.

Thinking.

“You’ve not fallen yet…” I continued, “…but you surely will, the dizzier you get.”

“Now – what are you going to do? Slow down and be safe here at my side? Where there is no chance at all of you falling. Or getting hurt?”

“Or are you going to continue to make your self dizzy? To bounce and fly?”

Two seconds passed before she flew across my lap once more, laughing.

Then back again.

And again.

“I have just seen the future”, I thought.

“And I have just seen a little bit of me, too.”

Winter is my favourite season.

I think it’s because it’s the season I can wear most clothes.

I like clothes.

Layered.

Then throughout the day peel them off if I feel like it.

To reveal a different uniform.

I find that interesting.

Overcoat… jacket… sweater… shirt… undershirt…

All at the same time.

Snow. 

And I like snow too because it simplifies everything.

It hides the detail.

And the mess.

The unnecessary fuss and nonsense.

The uncut lawn and the beautifully manicured lawn look the same.

When I see freshly fallen snow, to me, it’s like someone hit the ‘reset’ button.

It reminds me that we don’t need this car or that car.

Because when all the cars in the street are covered in the same whiteness, I am reminded that cars are for getting you and me from here to there.

And how strange it is then that this car costs £5,000 and that one costs £50,000.

Under snow, they look so similar.

Children.

And then there are the children who, universally, love the snow.

Because it is new and fresh and – somehow – theirs.

Children elbow you and the rest of the world out of the way when their snow comes.

They want the first footprints in the snow to be their footprints.

Pause.

We grownups have a lot to contend with.

Snow somehow gets in the way of all these things that we adults have to do.

But we don’t have to think like that…

Winter’s gift of snow is your opportunity to stop.

Pause.

Relax.

Smile.

And watch the children.

Not much that the children do in the snow is for anything.

It’s very momentary.

And as we all know, the snow won’t last.

But for those short few minutes hours or maybe a couple of days, the snow – to them – is all that matters.

There’s a lot to be said for living in the moment.

And one of the greatest reminders of this, I think, is snow.

It’s OK to zigzag.

Because when you’re zigging, you don’t really know what zagging is like.

Until you actually zag.

So it’s good to try.

Always Wear Red.

Going ‘all in’ on a project that is important to you seems like the right thing to do.

If and when you do this, only then will you truly know what it feels like.

In the middle of 2018 I stopped working as a Brand Consultant and worked 100% on Always Wear Red, my fashion brand.

Being a Brand Consultant is where I am safest.

I’m good at it.

I’ve been doing it and similar business communications activities for 20 years.

But as I decided, at the age of 47 to go into fashion, a totally new thing for me, I also decided that if I was going to do the new thing well I’d better commit.

Fully.

So I did.

Logic. 

The logic behind this decision is sound.

Surely the more time you spend doing a thing, the better you become?

I had to do it and I don’t regret it.

But a few months in, something happened.

I realised that I was struggling with the responsibility of just doing the one thing.

It HAD to be successful… NOW.

Because it was all I was doing.

Patience.

My ability to be patient weakened.

I was forcing things that should not be forced.

Like design.

And every day I woke I was hit full in the face with ALWAYS WEAR RED.

It was all I thought about and all I could see.

And that was not good for me.

Or for Always Wear Red.

Zag.

So, I’ve zagged.

I’ve gone back to working with just a couple of brands as a consultant, helping them to maximise by getting their business communications right at a brand level, then both strategically and tactically, and all of this aligned to the overall organisational objectives.

I can do that for other people.

And I can do it for me too.

In fact because I am doing it for myself it makes me better at helping others.

And, for the moment at least, because I am helping other people, it’s making me better at doing it for Always Wear Red.

Weird!

I’ll do this for a while. For as long as everyone is winning.

Then, if things change again…

I’ll zig.

If I had my time again – I know I won’t  but I want to illustrate a point – something I’d do a whole lot more is practise.

Freely, consistently, wholeheartedly and over longer periods of time.

The Dictionary versus My Dictionary.

Here’s the dictionary definition of ‘Practise’

…perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it.

Here’s a Michael Owen (me) definition:

…perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) in an incomplete, ineffective or sub-optimal way repeatedly or regularly in the hope that you might acquire, improve or maintain proficiency in it, when in fact you may very well simply look like a twat as you chase levels of performance that are clearly way beyond a pathetic thing like you.

You see… I do that.

Sometimes.

I tell myself the wrong story.

Bicycles.

Izobel is loving practising with her new bike at the moment.

However I did say this to her on Boxing Day:

Izobel, for shit’s sake – how many times are you going to falling off?

Maybe you were just not cut out to ride a bike.

Me and your mother spent £100 on it as well.

Now get back on and if you can’t ride it in a straight line for any useful distance it’s going on bloody eBay.

And for Christ’s sake stop crying… you’re 2!

I didn’t say that.

So you can stop looking for the number to call Childline.

Clothing.

I’m leading Always Wear Red.

It’s very new to me.

I do some things really badly.

And some things really well.

And I sometimes ask myself why on earth I’ve founded a clothing brand in a world where brands like Levi Strauss have been making perfectly good clothes for 165 years.

Well, I am practising.

I like practising.

I am enjoying practising becoming a great clothing designer.

Just like they did.

What else can I or anybody else do with anything fresh and pioneering but practise?

This is worth remembering.

As is this…

Someone else is also practising creating great clothing for today’s consumers.

Levi Strauss.

Practise or Failing?

So call it what you will.

Practise… failing… something else.

But I think we should all embrace it.

Because I don’t think it ever stops.

Zero 7 wrote a song that, I think, is about how the passing of time changes us.

As we get older we’re supposed to have learned lessons.

So that we are more sensible.

Less susceptible to being hurt.

More stable.

Less confused.

More able to see people for who they really are.

Not me.

The Space Between – Zero 7.

Link below at www.50odd.co.uk.

Now that you’re older
Taking the time to look
Back over your shoulder
On the days confusion took
Now that you’re wiser
Surely you’ve learned to read it
You should know
No surface shines brighter
Than the light that burns beneath it
Never so sure
We always take more
Though we still don’t know what it’s for
Now that I’ve seen you
Stripped to the very core
I know that I need you
Less than I did before