Specs, Hugs And Bacon Rolls: The Anatomy Of A Dad’s Birthday

As my birthday rolls around one more time I thought I’d share this piece I originally wrote for Huffington Post.

Suddenly the lights go out, causing a frisson of excitement to run through the air and down your spine. Next, by pure magic, a flame flickers into existence. This spark warmly illuminates the faces of a gaggle of friends and family, whose grins are only bettered by your own. Then, just as suddenly, the drone of ’Happy Birthday to you…” begins, but nobody cares about the singing. Why? Because we’re all imagining how good the cake will taste.

That’s how it used to be, every year (like clockwork) your birthday would come around and for 24 hours you’d be at the centre of everyone’s attention. A little moment in the spotlight.

As a kid, birthdays were everything. They were better than Christmas, mainly because you didn’t have to share top billing with anyone – the stuff of dreams. I remember looking to my parents, confused to see that they didn’t share this enthusiasm for their own birthdays. Why wasn’t it something they lived for? Why didn’t they count down the days, for months, eager to breath that unique birthday air?

Today, as a parent myself, the mystery has been solved.

Suddenly a cry rings out, causing a shudder of tiredness to run up your spine and take root in the bags under your eyes. Next, probably by magic, your feet find the floor and you question your existence. The door opens and a night light illuminates the face of a crying toddler, you smile broadly – pushing back your own desire to cry. Then, tot in arms, you collapse into the chair and break into a droning “Incy Wincy Spider…” as you look at the clock. It’s 3 am. But the tot doesn’t care about the time. Why? You get your answer as the full flavour of the nappy he’s just filled wafts towards you. Happy Birthday.

From the moment a baby arrives, birthdays (for the dads in the family) change forever.

Here’s my Out of Depth Dad guide to what to expect from every 365th day of your life:

  • Lots of hugs When you’re a daddy, hugs from your little ones become the new currency. So expect a lot of them on your birthday. Unlike some of the presents you may have been used to in the past, hugs don’t make you look smart or get you drunk. They do, however, have the ‘lovely’ effect of leaving little snot stains on your clothes.
  • It’s another day It’s important to remember that, although it’s your birthday, the machine needs to keep on working. It can’t stop. Washing needs to be done, food needs be cooked, nappies need to be changed and kids need to be occupied. You don’t get a day off for good behaviour. Your tots aren’t a little bit easier to deal with because it’s your birthday. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be more demanding than usual. Coughs, colds, the bubonic plague, your birthday is likely to be the day your young ’un gets them. That’s life.
  • Hang up the hangover Alcohol, for many of us, is a hugely important part of birthday celebrations. This may be something you’d like to reconsider now there’s a tot (or two) on the scene. As enjoyable as a few bevvies with your mates down the pub (assuming you have time to go) – they will never be worth the utter nightmare that is dealing with a toddler when you have a hangover. If there is a Hell, I’m certain a special corner of it will be filled with hungover residents trying to placate irate two-year-olds with Postman Pat videos.
  • Cake is for kids When you’re a dad, the concept of ‘your’ changes. Let me put this more clearly. Items may well be tagged with the word ‘Daddy’s’ in order to give them a title (‘Daddy’s Phone’, ‘Daddy’s Shoes’, ‘Daddy’s Coat’) but the name isn’t entirely correct. All of these items do belong to daddy, unless the tot wants them. The same goes for cake – birthday or otherwise. Notionally it’s ‘Daddy’s Cake’, however unveiling the cake is a show put on for the tot, who will (no doubt) maul it with grubby hands.
  • Moving from presents to gifts Presents are something we all like to receive, of that’s there’s no doubt. There comes a’ time, however, when receiving the latest stereo, DVD or He-Man action figure no longer holds the thrill it once did (Or perhaps we’re no allowed to admit to this). So ‘presents’ disappear and are replaced by ‘gifts’. Ties, socks and shirts become the perfect ‘Daddy’ gifts. This movement from ‘presents’ to ‘gifts’ can be seen in the following way: if you undo the wrapping paper, then excitedly open a box shouting ‘Wow!’, it’s a present. If you lay it flat, saying ’That’s lovely, it’ll go with TBC”, it’s a gift.
  • Specs appeal Each birthday, as you rummage through your card(s), the increased need for spectacles (to the read the messages written within) underlines the aging process. The addition of the word ‘Daddy’ makes you at least a decade older than your actual age implies. If you can’t find your specs to look at the cards you’ve truly aged. If you can’t see the cards, even with the specs on, you either need a new prescription or new friends.
  • Gorging on bacon rolls As the years go by, the need to mark your birthday with something selfish and unhealthy increases – it’s an important counterpoint to your life as a skivvy throughout the rest of the year. In the past cream cakes and import lager were the naughty treats of choice. These days a bacon roll (or a similarly cholesterol loaded food) is favourite. Greasy morsels, often eaten the day after your birthday, these breakfast indulgences are perfect to counteract the hangover you were far too responsible to get.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ONE AND ALL!

How come fashionable parents look so cool?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Eastern Daily Press about my frustration with ‘Fashionable’ parents…

How on earth do Fashionable Parents look so ‘together’? It really isn’t fair, especially when the rest of us look like we got dressed blindfolded… in a jumble sale. For a bet…

Let me explain. These days I’m a Stumbler. I stumble out of bed, into some clothes; this usually involves finding the trousers with the least amount of visible dirt, before hopping around the bedroom trying (unsuccessfully) to get my legs into the appropriate slots.

I stumble into the bathroom, only to recoil from my own reflection in the mirror. I then drag my fingers through unwilling hair in a (half-baked) effort to bring order to said barnet. Soon I’m stumbling (half-walking, half-falling) downstairs for breakfast with the little one. The meal always concludes with my wearing much more food than he’s consumed. Then, after many tears (from both of us), he’s wrestled into his buggy for the morning constitutional.

As I stumble over the front step, struggling with trainers and shushing the banshee-like screams emitted by my son, I always have the same encounter. It really is uncanny. No matter what time I leave the house, I’m always just in time to say ‘Hello’ to Mr Fashionable Dad as he and his saintly child stroll by.

‘Morning,’ he says, a grin spreading across his pristinely-shaved face.

‘Hi,’ I say, wiping ketchup from my raggedy-bearded chin.

‘Lovely weather’

‘Isn’t it?’

And with that Mr Fashionable Dad is gone, trotting down the road in his co-ordinated, stain-free, clothes – probably off to the gym or perhaps to expertly whittle some wood for charity. I know my level of contempt for Mr Fashionable Dad is totally out of proportion to his crimes. Essentially he’s the dad manifestation of the swan gliding above the water, whereas I look like the frantic paddling that goes on beneath.

God, I dislike that guy.

Eastern Daily Press

To read my full piece for the Eastern Daily Press, click here.

SIMILE LIKE YOU MEAN IT!

Here’s my new piece for Eastern Daily Press, all about my frustrations with the misuse of the word ‘Like’.

“Simile like you mean it…

Before we start, yes, I am aware that this is going to make me seem like a total grump. That said, I feel I should continue. What’s my beef, I hear you cry?

It’s simple really, I seem to be surrounded by a world that’s lost any ability to communicate without the word: ‘like’.

Let me expand.

The word ‘like’ is one of comparison. It suggests that one thing is similar to, but not the same as, another. Yes, we all know that, but it’s important to state at this juncture. For some reason, however, the word ‘like’ has replaced ‘erm’ for many as an unconscious way of punctuating sentences.

As such – and my English teacher would be proud of me for this – we’re living in a world of similes.

“He was, like, so mad,” someone said to me today. A statement that means, ‘he’ was similar to being ‘so mad’, but wasn’t. I don’t think that’s what they meant.

“The soup was, like, so fishy.” Which means, if ‘so fishy’ is the maximum fishiness we can expect from a soup, that the meal in question was close to that – but not quite.

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

For the rest of the piece, click here. I hope you ‘LIKE’ it!

Sincerity….

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made”

George Burns


For me, the key to writing that really engages is sincerity.
What do I mean?

The writing that I find engaging is sincere, in the sense it’s a reflection of life – with all its imperfections.

Prose with a sense of humour, that doesn’t take itself too seriously and actively reflects the experience of being human, is always going to get my vote.

There is no such thing as a ‘boring’ subject, only boring writing. It’s all about finding an angle on the topic that will engage with a reader. If my mind wanders and I think about lunch while I’m reading some of my copy, I’ve taken the wrong tack.

Laughter is often the key.
When I wrote The Modern MAMIL: How to look pro, illustrated by the amazing Spencer Wilson, I deliberately focused on experiences that cyclists might feel embarrassed about sharing. For example the difficulties of going for a wee when covered in layer after layer of tight fitting Lycra.

It’s amazing how people engage with writing when it shows they are not the only one to feel a certain way.

“We read to know we are not alone…”


Are you addressing the elephants in the room in your content?
Engagement isn’t about selling a dream, it’s a matter of sharing common experiences…

Thinking inside the box-set

Here’s my latest column for Eastern Daily Press.

Have a read.

It was Alfred Hitchcock who said: “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out”, and that quote seems very relevant to anyone like me who loves a box set.
Box-setters are, for clarity’s sake, those of us who have foregone traditional broadcast TV in order to watch entire series back to back (using on-demand platforms like Netflix) and not, as someone said recently, an obscure breed of dog.
I’m part of a growing group who don’t watch conventional TV in the way we all once did. For us it’s no longer a case of sitting down in front of the goggle box and watching ‘whatever’s on’. Oh, no – for box setters, ‘linear’ broadcasting (to use a pretentious-sounding term) is a thing of the past. Time, you see, is a limited commodity, so we’ve decided to focus in on programmes we actually want to watch – gorging on them like telly-addicted versions of Augustus Gloop.

Chris McGuire, Eastern Daily Press

The importance of storytelling in business…

One of the things that I love to do is to work with a business or organisation to distil their story into something meaningful, for both them and their customer base. Here’s a piece I wrote all about the importance of storytelling, published by the amazing folks at Proven.

Saying: “I’m a Mac person” is to align with a story that’s almost universally understood. This person sees themselves as modern in attitude, technologically astute, not one of the crowd, a maverick. That an exceptionally large percentage of the population now ALL see themselves as mavericks is neither here nor there. These narratives don’t come about by accident, big business understands that the tale they portray often matters MORE than the product. Just like the generic cereal that so upset me as a child, it’s all about the story. Personally, I could get another (cheaper) phone that does much the same as my trusty iPhone, but like the non-brand puffed rice, it wouldn’t hold the same thrill. It’s the STORY that Apple is so adept at telling that interests me, probably more than the product. As a consumer, I want to be part of that story.

A business doesn’t have to be a huge multi-national for the cultivation of a compelling story to be important. A good narrative, one that will engage with a chosen demographic, is vital for any organization trying to show they’re not just another bowl of generic cereal.

As a consumer, I want to believe that I make good choice. Because, like it or not, these decisions reflect upon me, and how I feel about myself. I want to be interacting with brands that fit in with my own personal story.

Chris McGuire: ‘And that’s another story…’ Putting compelling narratives at the heart of business.

For the full essay, click here.

If you’d like to talk about how to foreground the compelling story that lies at the heart of what you do, please get in touch.

‘Smize’ like you mean it…

They call it ‘Smizing’.

You may never have heard the phrase before, but I’m pretty convinced you’re already an expert at whether people are doing it or not.

To ‘Smize’ is, as Tyra Banks of American’s Next Top Model fame informed us, to smile with the eyes.

No, I haven’t lost the plot, bear with me.

Communication, we all know, is a complex thing; filled with thousands of tiny nuances that can completely change the meaning of any interaction. A recent awareness of the importance of ‘Smizing’ has really brought home to me the need to be authentic in the way we as individuals, businesses and brands communicate.

What am I talking about?

One of the ways the pandemic has changed our lives is the advent of the facemask. I’m all for masks as a method of fighting the spread of COVID-19 19, but there’s no denying covering our mouths and noses has had a major effect on the way we communicate. Put simply, it’s now incredibly difficult to see a smile. The simple action of pulling back our lips and showing teeth, as a method of indicating friendship and empathy has been largely lost to us.

In the absence of the traditional smile, we look to other non-verbal cues to indicate subtleties in of communication: tone of voice is one, hand gestures are another. For me, the ability to indicate a smile with your eyes is central. It’s one of those things that is incredibly difficult to fake. We all know people who smile with their mouths while their eyes indicate they’d rather be somewhere else, doing anything else. Without the mouth, (a much easier indicator of a traditional smile) to fall back on, many of us are now looking to the eyes to show the authenticity of the communications we’re having.

Anyone who can’t Smize, in Covid-19 ridden 2020, is at a distinct disadvantage – their eyes indicate a real or perceived lack of commitment to their communication.

It struck me that being able to pick up on subtle intricacies of communication isn’t just limited to ‘reading’ someone’s eyes. When we engage with content, whether that be social, traditional marketing or B2B, are we picking up practically imperceptible hints that the message is inauthentic? Most of us would find it very difficult to describe the difference between ‘Smizing’ eyes and those which don’t engage, but somehow, subconsciously, we pick up and interpret these cues. It’s the same with marketing content.

It’s too easy for a brand’s blogs or social feeds to fall into the trap of going through the motions. As Eric Morecambe once said, they are playing “All the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order”.

For me, it’s essential to take a step back from the content we create and attempt to look at it with the eyes of someone who isn’t invested in its success.

Does it engage?

What do I mean by that?

Put simply, is it the type of material that I would actively connect with, even if I wasn’t initially attracted to the product or service it promotes? Does it have a life of its own? Is it attractive, funny, or thought provoking outside of the ‘job’ it’s supposed to do?

If our content doesn’t engage in this way, I’d suspect that (like someone who can’t Smize) it has many elements of good communication, yet something blocking an authentic connection.

Next time you write, read or view a bit of content, ask yourself this question:

Is this content Smizing at me?

On Pointe

Here’s a piece I wrote for Western Morning News, published on April 1st (that’s important). In it I explain how the fates have conspired to make me a middle-aged Billy Elliot…

He handed me his card.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he cried, full of emotion.

I didn’t know what to say, so I just smiled.

“Really, you have poise, grace… everything. I couldn’t take my eyes off you!”

I blushed, slightly worried.

“So you’ll think about it?”

“OK.”

“Good. Chris, let me tell you, today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Yes this week, while rather drunkenly dancing at a friend’s wedding, I was spotted by a scout for the English National Ballet. I’m going to be their newest star.

Granted 37 is, for many without my ability, quite an advanced age to begin a career in a tutu – yet this didn’t seem to concern the ballet folks. I was, as they put it, ‘this generation’s mature Billy Elliot’. After doing a little research, I’ve discovered that many of the Britain’s great dancers were discovered in a similar way to me. Wayne Sleep was dancing to Agadoo in Cleethorpes when he was first spotted, whereas Darcey Bussell’s ballet career began when she was a Redcoat in Skegness. Both were well over 40. I seemed to be in good company…

On Pointe – West Magazine April 1st Column, Chris McGuire

To read the full piece, click here.

Winning an Emmy…

As ever, in these gloomy times, I’m deliberately focusing on upbeat moments in the past.
Some of my contacts may not be aware of my background in children’s TV. Over the years I produced and directed content for CBBC, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. It was a fun period filled with silly characters, larger than life celebrities and vast amounts of gunge.
A highlight was working on two series of Pet School for Cineflix shown on CBBC. I developed and wrote this innovative series that helped children answer the perennial question: “Am I ready for a pet?”
You can imagine how thrilled I was when the series went on to win an International Emmy!

My 2nd Book…

“Procrastination is the nemesis of those who work from home. Some homeworkers fall foul of housework, an easy and time-consuming trap to fall into. They vacuum stripes into their carpets, arrange their spice racks alphabetically and scrub windows until the glass is wafer thin: anything rather than settle down to work.
Others find their Achilles’ heel is TV. They happily lap up the most mind-numbing programmes (‘Celebrity Fish-Gutting’, ‘Celebrity Window-Shopping’, ‘Celebrities Watch Paint Dry’) rather than knuckle down to the big presentation looming over their head.
Social media is another problem for procrastinators. Checking Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can leave the homeworker with very little time to get on with whatever task it is they’re actually paid to do!
We advise that procrastination is only allowed during set breaks in the homeworker’s day. Watch TV, but do it at a scheduled time each morning. Clean the house, but only after the homeworker has got some tangible work done. Get on social media, but do it on the loo – like everyone else!”

Written by me and illustrated by the amazing Spencer Wilson, ‘Homeworking: The Ultimate Guide’ is a funny look at working from home.