It's a little before 5am. My Dad is gently shaking me awake.
In 5 minutes flat, I roll out of bed, put on my clothes, picked up my swimming bag and get into his his Ford Sierra while he scrapes the last of the ice from the windscreen.
It is minus four, which is really cold for the UK. The radio comes on and, as usual, Dad has put on Radio 2 and it's a slightly mad bloke doing the 'Bog Eyed Jog'.
I am thirteen.
Half an hour later, were at the swimming pool in Leeds city centre. Dad makes his way up the balcony with his flask of coffee and the paper.
I get changed as quickly as possible, the heating hasn't come on yet. Diving into the pool doesn't offer any solace though, it isn't heated either.
The only thing recourse is to train as hard as possible.
It's a delicious feeling when ice in your veins begins to melt and you go from a little warmer to wonderfully toasty.
Two hours later, I will be totally spent and feel like a mini furnace.
As a do the various reps within the session I look up to Dad.
His attention constantly darts between the paper and his son slogging his guts out in the pool.
Only years later will he tell me how proud he is of me.
Not the winning, which happens a decent amount.
The determination to train everyday, twice a day.
Getting up in the freezing dark.
Bolting down a hurried evening meal after school, crashing through homework and training again.
He knows there isn't a day when my body doesn't hurt.
And I will tell him how it felt to know that when I looked up from the pool, he was always there.
Just like before every race, he was always there.
Just like when I didn't have any money, he was there for me, not judging, just helping.
How he never told me what to do at the big moments.
Jobs that mattered.
Having your heart broken.
The twin joys and terrors of becoming a parent.
He just talked about what it was like for him and what he did.
The rest was up to me.
When I got beaten up by a mental chef working in a hotel one summer, I only found out months later that he had to physically restrained from driving up to that kitchen and trying to knock his lights out.
We weren't speaking all that much at the time.
The usual headstrong boy/man and the puzzled Dad wondering where his little boy had gone.
But he was still there for me, even when I didn't know it.
I don't think you see the person your parent is until you go through some of the same stuff.
I only understood what it took for him to take me morning training and then do a demanding job.
As a child you love your parent of course, it's biological.
It's another thing to become friends with your Dad and admire him, to want to be him.
And I want to be like my father.
There are things happening in mine and Juliette's live to do with her Dad right now.
I'm very close to him too, but it reminds me to make the most of my, quite old, Dad and make sure he knows how I feel.
He tells me these days he's just as proud of me doing something with cycling now as he was when I was a swimmer.
He was the first on the phone my I broke my wrist crashing into a car.
He was there when our first son was born with an infection that nearly led to meningitis.
The internet is ablaze (sorry for the pun) at fate of a young, sweet innocent girl was burned alive by her parents, in service of fanatical religion - on a fantasy drama series you'll be familiar with. You'll know what I'm talking about it you've seen it, if not, you've been saved the spoiler.
Some are understandably up in arms at the torture of a character many took to their hearts. Others talk, in sophisticated terms on the value of getting people to question their belief systems and showing the unvarnished truth about religion, medieval times and so so.
I must say it affected me, but for very simple reasons.
I used to get annoyed at parents in research who could only talk about their kids.
They framed every experience through their experience with their children.
I didn't understand this but I do now.
Nothing changed my life like having my two of my own.
The unconditional love is so fundamental. I can't think I wouldn't do for them if required.
They know, and will know for the rest of their lives that, when it comes down to it, if they needed me I'd drop anything and be there to do what is required.
Which is why the made scene of a girl being burned at the stake by her parents is so shocking, I'd rather burn MYSELF alive. Not my little girl.
But it's not just that.
My eldest is five and is still holding on to his innocence, but you see the cracks.
But Evie, my Evie.
She's three and such a sweet little innocent little thing. You fight a doomed battle to preserve it, knowing it's only a matter of time, but utter trust in you always being there never goes away.
Breaking that trust is unthinkable. And the faith doesn't go away when you grow up.
Juliette's Dad isn't very well and, while intellectually you know they won't always be there, the emotional reality really knocks you.
With both my kids, especially my eldest actually, I see so much of myself.
They're both so INTERESTED. They're quick learners, they love books, they have this total love for whatever they're into. Right now it's sharks, and we read endless books about them, and Will draws these amazing pictures of every species he can. If he loves something, he has to draw it.
It makes me feel responsible, as this came from me.
Juliette says she sees Will's eyes glaze over when they're chatting and she knows he's away daydreaming.
Like his Daddy.
We know that he, and to a lesser extend her will end up quite sensitive, kind and little bookworms.
We know we need to protect this is and help them with introversion, while absolutely letting them know how proud we are of them as they are, and their interests and passions should be respected and developed.
This in a world where they're going to have to compete like never before.
I see an army of ferociously well educated children already readying themselves for the dwindling jobs and prosperity. I see a world that sees the cost of everything and the value if nothing.
It's my job to help them through this, but keep who they are intact. No, to flourish.
That's why burning your child in a fantasy show affected me. Because that innocent trust is the most fundamental thing in the world. It becomes your world.
There's conflict of course. In my case the obsession with swimming and cycling, wanting to read and watch stuff and the realities of being a planner that is better for their upbringing than it is for being a planner.
There needs to be some balance, but the scales will always tip in favour who I really am.
We're really close. I'm a very tactile parent. We hug a lot, we tickle more. I dread the coming years when they start to pull away.
Right now a single kiss can be magic. It can make everything go away. I can make them believe that when I snap my fingers, my nose will beep when they touch it, and their will honk.
I quail at the time when they're teenagers when we laugh together less and they laugh at me more. When they do the whole rejection thing. I can't imagine yet the pain of reaching to take a hand and only grasping empty air.
It will come.
Which is also why I get annoyed with so much advertising around parenting.
Much of the themes are the hard work, the 'job aspect'. The joy in sacrifice. It's true, it's bloody hard work.
But it seems to miss what most parents (this isn't just a view, decent research seems to corroborate this) want to feel.
No parent has a child because they want another job.
It's about love, it's about a relationship, it's about playing, it's about the watching someone grow and helping shape how that turns out.
There's some insight for you if you like, I suppose.
So yes, all that from a burning child on a fantasy show.
I'm off to call my Mum now, I suggest you do them same.
I am ashamed to admit the first record I ever bought was Queen single. To be fair, it's still a classic and was more about liking the film than Queen. Princess Aura, I certainly would. In the real world, Flash would have dropped Dale Arden without a second thought.
More 5 songs in 5 days. Today it's The Beatles, Here There and Everywhere. The first track we played at our wedding. Matters more more now, ten and a half years later 'Here making each day of the year'. That's her. I bloody love Revolver too. Balls to Sgt Pepper or the White Album.
I might ride the bike more these days, but swimming was my first love and will always have the most enduring place in my heart. If I had the time as a working parent, I would still in the pool everyday.
I used to compete as a youngster. The kind of competition that required six hours training a day. You don't come out of stuff like that unscathed.
Below is the Leeds swim team on tour in Chicago in 1988. Bet you can't spot where I am in the line up.
1. Accept the simple truth, you are alone in this
You will tailgate others in training to pull you along. You can banter with your team mates. You can lean on the coach for advice and a kick up the arse. You can turn to family and friends for support. But eventually, there will always come a time when you are utterly alone. It will happen in the training pool when your body cries for mercy and you have to go on. You have to try and lock away the negative thoughts in your brain and pretend the agony in your muscles is not there.
This is doubly so in a race of any notable distance.
But the real loneliness is when you're on the starting blocks.
It's just you, your nerves, your courage and the clock. Waiting for the starting gun. The other other people on the blocks hardly matter. You'll hardly see them in the race. You won't hear the crowds cheering. It's just you.
It's ultimately the same as a planner. You work in a team, a team where most, at best, tolerate you getting in the way.
Nevertheless, while you rely on the creatives to execute something in a way that can't be missed, you have suits and production folks to make sure stuff gets made, if your in media there's a whole host of specialists and buyers to flesh out the plan and get a decent rate (and media owners to add loads of value) there are suits to get things through Clearcast and make sure there is a vet for a mouse on the shoot (legal requirement in the UK) - you can't get away from having having to do a clear strategy you can express in a sentence.
You. No one else. A sentence others will question, pull apart and try and ignore. It's lonely.
There will be moments, with a first stage internal meeting, a pitch date getting closer and closer when you feel you have nothing.
All you can do is grit your teeth, keep working, keep looking at as much stimulus as you can and keep writing things down.
Flashes on strategic insight rarely come on their own in the shower. Nice when it happens but you can't plan for it. They come from hard work. The pressure to get there can be immense and no one is going to do it for you.
Assess and listen to your body, always be patient
In training, you have to listen to your muscles as they flush out any stiffness or residual lactic acid. Don't go too hard at first. At the end, your body will acquiesce to your determination and begin to respond to more challenging demands. They will collaborate more willingly on some occasions than they will on others, but eventually they will play ball.
It's the same with your mind. Many don't appreciate the challenge of having to think for a living. Most days, there are big chunks that require concentration. Some days, you're tired.
The brain is a muscle too.
But deadlines and general workload, like essential training days in sport, will not go away.
You have to get on with it - and get into that prized 'flow state' when everything gets fluid and easy.
Which, like with sport, means starting gently, stirring the soup a little, but generally keep going. Eventually the brain will play ball like the other muscles do.
Find a rhythm
When you're training and doing long distances, you need to find the right cadence that suits your lung capacity and strength. Start too hard, and you crack and the rest of the distance you have to swim is murder.
You've lost a race or wasted a training session.
Leave too much until to late and you won't make up the time distance with the leaders, or you won't have put your body through enough in a training session to build your body up.
In planning, it's hard work. The days can be long, the work intense.
Find out how you work best and stick to it.
Some folks are on it in the morning and come in early. Some work late and do naff all in the morning.
If you're like me, and find it's amazing what you can achieve between 9 and 5.30 if you don't prevaricate, as long as the tea is good, you'll go full pelt from the get-go.
Of course, with practice you can change your ways, but, like making your weak legs get stronger, it won't happen overnight.
I also know that, as a shy person in meetings, it takes a while to get going. I start off quiet and build confidence as the small talk stops and the work talk begins.
Even then, I let others talk and weigh in when others have exhausted their vocal cords. I make sure what I say is short and to the point, i may not get another chance. Then, as I relax, my cadence builds and I get more chatty. Eventually, I need to make myself shut up.
But that's just me.
But change it up when you can
In our training schedule, there was always planned shocks to the system.We used to do hell weeks, where over seven days you would be close to tears, throwing up or both. The only objective was survival.
Because of the law of diminishing returns. The more the body gets used to a routine, the less it benefits. You need to introduce surprises and variation to keep in on its toes.
That's why every training session has a variety of strokes, distances, rest periods etc. And why we never did the same session in a fortnight.
It's also why interval training is so good. Not only does it raise the metabolism for hours after the session, it makes you train way beyond your threshold for limited periods - and as you do more and more, you find you can go for longer and longer.
If you only train at a 'training pace' you only get good at swimming at a training pace.
Variation is essential as a planner.
Media, creative, whatever -if you go through each project in the same proprietary process, you'll always do similar work. Innovation comes from doing something different.
By all means, create a benign conspiracy where you sell your thinking conforming to a the stages of a process, post rationalise it I mean, but if you want new stuff, do new stuff.
But don't forget the basics. That's where processes and agree standards are good, just as with swimming, where there is a basic correlation with the amount of training kilometres you've done and how race fit you are.
That goes for reading. If you just read marketing, planning and reading books, you'll just do the same as everyone else who reads the same stuff.
Soak up as much interesting stuff from as many sources as you can.
And for God's sake. Don't just be a planner 24 seven. Don't live at the office. The more real life you live, the more you can draw on.
There's a trick of psychology too, where couples that do new things together tend to be happier. So do new things as a team, try new stuff. It just makes it more fun.
Just as there is nothing more monotonous as swimming up and down a pool if you can't find a way to make it more interesting. Like I said, you're on your own in the pool, it's boring unless you jazz it up.
I'm sure you have lots of stuff to draw on from your own interests, this is just some stuff which is of relevant to and how I have gone about stuff in a variety of species of agency.
Rob Campbell has helpfully got me to do this 5 songs in 5 days thing. Rob has decided his 5 will be songs to be played at his funeral. Despite the fact I'm getting spammed on my email by 'plan by funeral' at the moment I won't be entirely following suit.
However, the first one is a funeral song, partly because of the neatness of the title- it's 'Goodbye Andy' by Lou reed and John Cale. Now, The Velvet Underground are not too everyone's taste, but along with some of Lou Reed and John Cale's respective solo efforts, some of their stuff, especially songs not on the album everyone knows (with the banana on the front) are among the stuff I've always come back to for most of my life. Songs for Drella the album this song was from, was a joint effort Reed and Cale did, burying the hatchet after years of the usual music partnership falling out. It was a tribute to the Andy Warhol after his shooting. The whole album is moving, utterly original and communicated the regret of too, now mature men, who wished they hadn't wasted some of their best years on spite and pride. This song perhaps captures that the best
It was the first of our children's swimming lessons after the Easter break.
I love these Sunday mornings. Will and Evie have their separate lessons - make me nervous about their growing aptitude and the 6am morning training sessions that might entail when they're older - and we all have a play. Good family time.
Anyway, this was the first time I got in the pool after I broke my wrist.
First time proper swimming for about eight weeks.
I only did a couple of laps, I wanted to watch Evie with her new teacher.
But, boom. It felt great.
You lose your feel for the water really quickly, but for whatever reason it was all there.
It reminded me that I ride every day, but I'm not any good.
Swimming is what I was made to do and I do miss it.
Just like I do sometimes miss getting deep into creative development, which I don't really do any more.
(If I was ever any good is a completely different question).
Picasso once said that art is a lie that tells the truth.
He has a lot to tell agency folks.
Because great advertising doesn't just sell the product, it becomes the product.
It makes Coke taste better, as makes the fit of your jeans feel better.
It makes a car that isn't really that different to the legion of others more reliable, sexy, faster..or even make you feel like the rebel/success or whatever you probably are not.
I liked much of what Paul Feldwick said about the value of 'Showmanship', but I don't really think this is as different to the dark arts of psychology and subtlety as he claims.
I totally buy the Byron Sharpe 'fame' and 'distinctiveness' argument. You need to reach as many people as possible and make the advertising gets noticed...because when it comes to buying stuff, folks buy the ones they remember.
But the quant research that dismisses 'differentiation' and noticeable brand preference forgets a truth most of us conveniently forget.
Research is rubbish at getting people to describe how they feel about stuff. Verbal communication in general is rubbish at describing the intangible.
I really would struggle to tell you why I love my wife, I just do. I could tell you some core facts if pushed of course, but there is a warm fuzzy 'Julietteness' I can't really put into words.
Just as I can't really tell you why I tend to prefer Nike. Apart from the fact it just feels better. I can't tell you why it's different, there is just a feeling of 'Nikeness' built up from years of advertising.
To be honest, I didn't understand 'Just Do It' when it first launched, but I remember how the ads made me feel. I suspect most folks didn't get it, or cared. They probably remembered it because it was different.
I don't feel intangible stuff based just on emotional content or tone of voice.
The 'Nikeness' is also built out of the intangible value of the showmanship advertising, the great, powerful advertising that magically inserts itself into the product.
Yes, great ads and stuff are essential to get noticed, as Byron Sharp says, but they do much more than that.
It's no accident that 'Fame' campaigns, the one that folks talk about are the most effective, according to the IPA Databank. We just naturally feel that the products are better if the ads are good and create natural PR. It's not just about being seen to lead in my view, it's as simple as really liking the ads means really liking the product.
These ads are as generic as could be in terms of messaging.
"We'll find you the right glasses, so you'll see properly".
There might be a subtle emotional wrapping about 'the need not to look daft' (which I can imagine some brand consultant saying is the main fear of folks buying glasses).
But to be honest, the ads are very funny, very consistent and entertaining.
I'm not sure they would work without the single minded message - relevance still matters in my view (even if there isn't any real 'differentiation') but what really works is the fact you like the advertising and therefore like Specsavers.
No 'consumer' could really tell you why Specsavers is different. They won't tell you 'I just like the ads' in any quant research either.
So when the brand comes to the front mind in buying situations, which Sharp tells us is the main role of advertising, it's not just that it's remembered, there is an emotional smudge we can't describe, that makes it feel good...not must from a tone of voice, but from great ads.
The 'lie' has become the reality.
That's why you can buy success by outspending your market share, but aware winning advertising increases the effectiveness 11 times (Source IPA).
The ad has become as much part of the product experience as the sugar content, the engineering story or whatever.
How you build a 'showmanship' ad campaign is up to you.
A great source can be a cultural flashpoint...
The battle of the sexes and young men's search for identity in a contradictory world for example.
It can be taking a simple category generic, for example, the main buying need and ramping it up to hell.
It can be, and perhaps should be more often, a brand or product truth delivered in a devastating way.
It can even address a negative about the brand in a way people will just love.
Or make a spurious, but confident claim about quality. This campaign has been resurrected.
And let's face it, most of the above fit into one category, in fact, if they do, you know you're onto a winner.
So yes, there is a treasure box of source material to create ads like these.
I've worked on one or two supermarkets. Hard work, but then again. that level of intensity means you work fast.
It struck me then, as it does now, how contradictory people are about these kinds of places.
On one hand, we think they're the devil, ruining independent high street folks, making us fat and unhealthy while shafting their suppliers.
On the other, people still tend to agree that 'their supermarket offers value for money' and, let's face it, most people have spent and still spend most of their grocery money in these places, even if they shop around more.
Just like, if you read the papers, everyone thinks Amazon is evil (they don't) but everyone shops there (they mostly do).
What does this mean?
Firstly, don't assume what you read in the papers is what people really think. It usually isn't.
Secondly, don't assume people will put their money where their mouth is. We all go down the path of least resistance, it's just we try and feel a bit better about it.
Thirdly, it's pointless listening to what people claim to think or do, we are all liars in research. In fact, we all do contradictory things too. Most people that shop in farmers markets also go to a supermarket every week.
Finally, no one has a God given right to survive.
Back in the days of the independent high street, most of the shops were overpriced, gave bad service and didn't sell good stuff (and they also shut on Wednesday afternoons).
But it's true too, that many good businesses went under when the big boys came along. When markets move on, when culture does, those that haven't stayed ahead get crushed.
There are still some ace local retailers though, because, well they are ace and give people a reason to bother.
My local butcher has more business than he can handle because his stuff is better quality, keenly priced and his knowledge of his product is second to none.
In other words, if you want to survive as a business, don't ask people what they want or what they'll do.
If people will have a choice, they'll go with the easy option, not always the best - unless you're exceptional.
And finally, don't stand still. If you're not ahead of the market, eventually it will crush you.
Those creative agencies still churning out 30 second ads as 'the idea'? Yes, there are still some. It's not business as usual, it really isn't.
Those media folks only talking in terms of reach and frequency, you need a new act.
Digital agencies that don't get brands and how communications works? You won't get away with it for long.
Social media folks still talking about 'likes' and 'retweets' as valuable business metrics? Enough said.
Don't stand still, the market will always move on and crush