I know, funny isn’t it? Unless, that is, you happen to be Indian and grew up hating being stereotyped as the child of shopkeepers (I wasn’t). A few things have happened in recent weeks that have made my heart sing and turn to my 13-year-old self with a wry smile and a ‘fuck you’ to all the haters:
I saw ‘Lion’ in the cinema and marvelled at how a ‘Patel’ headlined a Hollywood blockbuster
A ‘Patel’ from London won a BAFTA and was nominated for an Oscar
That same ‘Patel’ showed up on the red carpet with his Mum, Mrs Patel, who rocked a sari. Yep that’s right – Mrs Patel was on the red carpet in a sari. She was not selling sweets or newspapers.
I really wish I had known, as a 13 year old girl growing up in Suffolk, that this day would come. For me, it’s such a huge leap forward culturally and reminds me of the time a silly blonde girl with big boobs asked me how to spell my first name and then said “I won’t even attempt to spell Patel” (twat). Growing up, my surname was at once foreign yet common. Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses would crack jokes related to Patels and corner shops. Boys from school would call me a paki and make Patel-related jokes. People would call our house (having found our number in the telephone book) and swear down the ‘phone, telling us to go back to our own country, that we smelt of sh*t and they wished we were dead.
To all those people (apart from David Jason) I say a big SHUT UP IN YOUR FACE. For the first time in my life, being a Patel (well, sort of, it’s my maiden name) is genuinely ok. It’s not nearly as embarrassing as it used to be. And I have to say, had I got married tomorrow rather than 10 years ago, I’d have been tempted to keep it.
What’s next? Patel for Prime Minister (as long as it’s not that utter pranny Priti)
Today I had a chat with a very wise lady who pointed out that I need to stop ‘apologising’ for being a Mum and start focusing on the value I bring to the workplace (well, WILL bring soon)…. And you know what, she was so very right. It got me thinking about how, in actual fact, PR prepared me well for having three kids at home and how dealing with three kids over the past year has prepared me for agency life again. Why, I hear you ask?
That feeling of pure elation you get when you hear you won a new business pitch. All the blood, sweat, tears, long hours and all-nighters and people shouting in your actual face…. it was all worth it because you f*cking won. A couple of days later the cold hard reality of actually having to work on a new piece of business when you’re already under-staffed hits you like a double decker bus rampaging through Walford market. Yep – that’s what it’s like giving birth; lots of blood, sweat, tears, hours of working really hard to push out a small human…..all worth it when you see their tiny scrunched up faces. And then the cold, hard reality hits and you realise that was in fact just the beginning, the easy bit really. The hard bit is actually having to care for the small humans on a daily basis for the Rest. Of. Your. Life.
Dealing with crying babies at 2am, then at 2.40am, then 3.10am and so on. It’s ok – I went to a plethora of Christmas parties where the entire agency got to stay over in a hotel with free drinks all night but not a smidgeon of food in sight. Yep, crying babies at home ain’t got nothing on that shiz
Briefing the creative department to come up with a big idea, being told to buy a billboard and have some D-lister bungee jump off it and then trying to explain why that won’t work in a calm, grown up way whilst the creatives refuse to make eye contact with you, speak to you or indeed help you (actually help themselves) by providing maybe just one alternative idea. Thankfully, of course, this NEVER happened to me, just some ‘friends’ of mine. Nevertheless, it is perfect in educating oneself on how to deal with tantrum-ing toddlers, screaming babies and huffy-puffy tweens all at the same time. Patience, placation and balls of freaking steel are what’s needed.
Speaking of tantrum-ing toddlers, it reminds me of the way in which parents have to remain dignified when in a public place with a screaming banshee yet all the while being some sort of ventriloquist who *looks* like they’re smiling whilst whispering “When we get home, I am going to feed to the urban foxes”. This is rather similar to the way that, when attending large-scale media events, you need to always be smiling at your clients even if you’re whispering to your boss “I sent Beyonce’s glam squad up in a lift and now I don’t know where they are and my mobile’s not working and I don’t have an AAA pass because there weren’t any left so now I can’t go and find them and my life is basically over……”, whilst your boss smiles and whispers back “just smile and nod….smile and nod” (You know who you are!)
Team management: it’s always important in agency life to ensure your team members are motivated and understand that if they do good work they’ll move up the ranks. I caught my 7 year old saying to the baby “Am I going to have to speak to Mummy about your bad behaviour? You are not supposed to eat crayons. You do know that because I told you yesterday”. This made me very happy. She has clearly understood the parameters within which she needs to operate in order to become my deputy in the running of Team Saul should I for any reason not be ‘at my desk’ (aka the kitchen) due to needing a loo break.
Influencers are everything. There’s the social media influencers. There’s the key opinion formers. There’s the celebrities. There’s the advocates. And so the list goes on (print journalists – sorry for omitting you but, well, you’re just not as influential as you used to be). Understanding how to make friends and influence people has stood me in pretty good stead for dealing with school bullies (kill them with kindness), the PTA (kill them with kindness), school gate mums (kill them with kindness), teachers (kill them with kindness), the caretaker (slip him a tenner every now and then). You see, it’s all about personalised interaction- understanding what’s really going to make them tick so that they are friends with you and by default your brand (in this case, your kids)
Celebrity management. Ah now, this is a good one. Some slebs are obviously just really nice, good, down to earth people (in my experience, I’d say usually the A-listers). Then there are those slebs who, for example, didn’t realise they needed to dress warmly despite performing on an ice rink….or those slebs who refuse to share a backstage area with a well-known boyband…..or those slebs who are so incredibly rude and sleazy that you have to take the client out of the room and explain to them that the reason you’re sitting on your hands is because it’s the only thing you can do to stop yourself from punching the ‘celebrity’….the list goes on. This has prepared me very well indeed for playdates. After all, not all kids are the same. Some are super polite, down to earth, respectful. Others, however, are pretty silly – for example, not realising they needed to pull their knickers down before going for a wee. Some are rude “wow your house is a mess” and some display what can only be described as wholly unacceptable behaviour. Dealing with slebs and their egos is in fact very similar to dealing with small children and their lack of social graces. Most of the time you let it slip. But every now and again you have to glare at a child for a prolonged period of time until they realise that they really shouldn’t be messing with you.
Positioning. It’s everything really. From how to ‘sell in a story’ to journalists, to how you present your campaign results back to a client. Good positioning is key. Same goes for meal times with fussy eaters. “I mean it’s up to you, but if you want to do well in your spellings I suggest you eat your salmon because it’s good for your brain”; “It’s a shame you don’t like spinach because I read that ballerinas eat a lot of it to be able to pirouette so well”; “what do you mean you don’t like Indian food? You’re Indian for God’s sake” (Ok so that’s not strictly a good example but you catch my drift)
Tone of voice. My kids know that if I whisper very, very quietly and slowly that the proverbial is about to hit the fan.
And that’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it? The transferable skills of PR and parenting: dealing with tantrums, attempting to reason with unreasonable people, trying to teach small(er) humans right from wrong and, in extreme cases, stopping the shit from hitting the fan (and/ or your light grey carpet).
Today a new Christmas ad premiered. I took notice because a) I love Christmas b) it was conceptualised by an old colleague of mine at the place I used to work and therefore filled my Facebook timeline and c) because it tackles Alzheimer’s head on.
There’s not a single day that goes past when I don’t think about my mother. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 49, whilst I was taking my GCSE exams, and passed away just after her 60th birthday.
During my teenage years and my 20s I would dread Christmas. For me, it was a sign of time passing away and every year I’d ask myself whether Mummy would remember me by the following Christmas. Would she recognise my face? Would she be able to talk to me? Would she know I was even there? And I’m very sad and sorry to say that with every Christmas that passed, Mummy became less and less like the woman who took care of me. She didn’t know who I was. She didn’t write me cards or buy me presents. She didn’t say ‘Happy Christmas’. She eventually didn’t say or do anything. She was just there. A shell of herself. Trapped in her mind. Trapped by a brain that could no longer function. And then she died.
For years I didn’t want to acknowledge what was wrong with her. I didn’t tell many friends or colleagues. I tried to pretend everything was normal. I was ashamed. And sad. And scared. And sad. And I buried my head in the sand. Trapped in my own thoughts, I suppose.
So today, when I saw ‘Santa Forgot’ for the first time it brought back all my memories of Christmases that weren’t really Christmas. And I remembered, as I do every year, about the very last time my Mummy bought me a Christmas present.
It was the Christmas before she had officially been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. (Up until then, it seemed no one really took it seriously. “She’s just forgetful”, “she’s depressed”, “she needs more help around the house”). A nice old lady who lived across the street from us called Mim would often spend time with Mummy and understood she was ill. One morning, during the school holiday, I was still in bed – because that’s what teenagers do – and Mummy came in to ask me where we kept the scissors. I told her. Then she came in to ask where we kept the sellotape. I told her. Then she came in to ask where we kept the wrapping paper – exasperated, I asked if she just wanted me to wrap some presents. “No”, she said “I’ve got a present for you”. It turned out Mim had taken Mummy on the bus to do some Christmas shopping.
Later on that morning, I spied two haphazardly wrapped gifts under the tree in the hallway. No nametags attached but I knew they were from her. One for me. One for Pappa.
The next day, before he went to work, Pappa asked me if I knew where his aftershave was, as he couldn’t find it anywhere. Mummy had a habit of ‘tidying up’ and putting our belongings in random places and then forgetting where she’d put them. I had an inkling she’d perhaps wrapped his aftershave and put it under the tree….. Once Pappa had left, I asked her if she knew where his aftershave was. She didn’t. I asked if maybe she’d wrapped it up. She said she couldn’t remember. So together we found the gift she’d placed under the tree, carefully unwrapped it, and realised that whilst she’d bought a new bottle of aftershave for him (Mim had suggested she bring his old bottle on the shopping trip so she’d know which one to get), she’d wrapped the old with the new. We put the old bottle back on Pappa’s shelf and rewrapped his gift.
Come Christmas Day, which must have been about a week later, Mummy didn’t remember she’d bought presents for us. I did. One for Pappa. One for me. I opened my present. I knew it would be the last gift Mummy would independently buy for me. It was a pair of pink slippers. I never wore them – I wanted to keep them forever. I don’t know where they are now. She remembered I loved pink. And she’d remembered my feet were the same size as hers.
And so, when I heard the magical voice of Stephen Fry narrating the Christmas ad for Alzheimer’s Research UK, it was painfully clear that Mummy was my ‘Santa who forgot’.
“Once upon a time a little girl was preparing for Christmas but Christmas wasn’t quite as magical as it used to be”, says Fry. “…one Christmas Eve, things started to go wrong. He began to mix up presents and muddle names. He seemed sad, distant and afraid. Year by year things got steadily worse til finally he stopped coming altogether.”
You may not know me, or maybe you know me very well. Either way, this Christmas please support this campaign by texting ‘BELIEVE’ to 70755 to donate £5 to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Ok so before I go any further, can I please just say I’m not like that ‘don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ woman. Although, truth be told, I’d love a slot on Loose Women or This Morning to discuss this further 😉
This is also not a ‘woman vs woman’ post. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I love the company of other women. I am in awe of other women. I think actually that most non-women are numpties. I’d even go as far as to say that such is my love and appreciation of other women, I’d probably be a lesbian if I didn’t have to clean the fish tank.
So, there we are – those are the disclaimers.
But here’s the thing – I have become increasingly aware of human nature’s way of dealing with aesthetically-challenged people. Now, in my world no one is genuinely UGLY. To paraphrase Roald Dahl, there are no ugly people, only ugly thoughts. BUT there are those of us who like to present ourselves well, those of us who can’t really be bothered to present ourselves well but can scrub up good should the occasion be required (that’s me) and those of us who haven’t been dealt the best hand when it comes to looks and, on top of that, can’t be bothered to make any effort at all.
Recently, I’ve had the great fortune to work alongside somebody who is like the third person I have described. The person is very unhappy. And dresses badly. And doesn’t make the most of themselves. This is the aesthetically-challenged person that prompted me to write this post.
For the sake of argument, let’s call this person HORSE.
Now, HORSE was sad and angry in equal measure. HORSE decided to pick and choose which tasks to complete and which to just leave. HORSE decided who they would and would not take direction from. HORSE decided it was ok to tell people exactly what was on HORSE’s mind. Cue “you’re not really dressed appropriately for the office”, “you are wasting sellotape”, “you are very messy”, “if you leave your stuff on my desk when I’m not here I will throw it in the bin”, “I hate you”, “I didn’t want to leave but you left me no choice”, “I hate you”.
Luckily, HORSE’s comments were rarely directed at me. They were directed at two lovely, kind, hardworking young women who worked alongside me. They were very gracious in their responses. “Sorry HORSE we’ll try not to be so messy”, “thanks so much HORSE for helping to pack some boxes of products to post to people”, “sorry HORSE for using all the sellotape”. On and on they went with their apologies and placations. One evening when the young women and I were still at work past 8pm we had a conversation about HORSE. The young women said they found the things HORSE said to be rude but funny. They were able to laugh off the little digs and taunts from HORSE. I was pleased by this. Their self-esteem was such that they weren’t going to be knocked by someone evidently so unhappy with their lot. So I asked them this; “If HORSE was three stone lighter, wore nicer clothes, better shoes and had a good hair cut would you still think the way HORSE speaks to you is acceptable?” “Ohmigod no WAY”, the young women said. “Omigod that’s, like, SO true. No, I totally wouldn’t. I’d tell HORSE to go f*** themselves”. “Precisely”, I said – feeling very wise and old.
“Why is it ok for someone aesthetically challenged to be an arsehole when, if someone aesthetically blessed said the same thing, you’d actually call them out on it?”
Think about it. We all know those people (men and women) who – because they feel crap about themselves – go OUT OF THEIR WAY to try and expose your ‘stupidity’ and put you down as much as possible whilst simultaneously being clever know-it-all dicks. Yep, you know EXACTLY the person I’m talking about. The person who hates good looking people, the person who hates average looking people, the person who wants to TAKE YOU DOWN whenever possible. The person who actually has so little self-esteem that they don’t really realise their actions could cause harm (luckily, because I sussed out this affliction early on I am able to immediately identify and empathise with such people and therefore am rarely caught out by them….. I think it’s because I’m non-white).
Do I sound like a bitch? Probably. But ask yourself why.
Remember that song from Grease 2? No? Never mind, I’ve included a clip at the end just to put a smile on your face. So, if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know my husband aka MustBeTheDaddy has more or less taken over due to my ineptitude at keeping it going. You’ll also know that since I last blogged we have a new addition to Team Saul who is now being weaned by said husband. AND you’ll know that I am back at work. So basically, a lot has changed. If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. I can only assume it’s because you’re a massive Grease 2 fan.
So anyway, yep, back to schooooooool. The big one is now in Year Two. The middle one (still feels weird calling her that) has just started Reception. Everyone is happy. For me, September signals new beginnings much more than January 1st. It’s a time to take stock. To reflect. To think about the future. To plan the trip to the Christmas Grotto. To set aside a budget for Christmas presents. To eagerly await dark Saturday nights on the sofa watching Strictly and X Factor. Oh yes, September is a useful and pleasant month.
Added to that, it’s the big one’s birthday in September. We’ve already hosted her birthday disco and I have written ‘BUY 7 YEAR OLD CARD’ in eyeliner on my forehead so that I remember tomorrow morning. By this I mean “buy a card for a seven year old” not “buy a card that is seven years old” (a. that would be weird and b. where would I even find one?). Also, I do actually know that my big one is turning seven so I’m not really sure why I’ve written that on my head. (I do know really, it’s because I love a number).
Talking of numbers, I was quite dismayed this morning when she asked me what half of six is. I mean, shouldn’t that be pretty clear for a seven year old? She’s a bright kid. Her reading and spelling level is probably the same as a kid a few years older than her. But unfortunately she’s decided she can’t ‘do’ maths. This is a shame. I’m concerned that if she’s already decided she can’t ‘do it’, she won’t even try. She’s a perfectionist so if it’s not 100% amazing it’s basically shit. I have no idea where learned this type of behaviour. It’s certainly not from me or MustBeTheDaddy. Neither of us strives for perfection (if we did, we probably wouldn’t have married each other!). Anyhow, I digress. I hate to admit it out loud (or even to myself for that matter) but I am already thinking very seriously about secondary schools for her. For a long time I wanted her to attend the local girls’ grammar school (*pauses to reflect*) but if she doesn’t ‘do maths’ and has already given up the piano because she “didn’t have the time” to practice, I’m concerned that she may not cut it at a selective, competitive, single-sex school. She also doesn’t even know her three times table which, considering one of our little neighbours knows ALL his times tables (up to 12) and is currently focusing on his 75 times table, does academic papers before school and has them ‘marked’ and corrected after school by his mother, makes me think I probably wouldn’t cut it as the parent of a child at a selective, competitive, single-sex school.
A friend of mine told me about a new website that has just launched called schoolreviewer.co.uk which is really helpful in researching the schools nearest to you, stating clearly what their OFSTED rating is and showing a heat map to help figure out if your child has a cat in hell’s chance of actually getting in. It also gives parents the chance to review their schools which is great as it gives a much more rounded view of whether the school is right for your child – after all, a school is about so much more than the OFSTED result alone. There’s a handy buy/sell section which, once more parents register to use the site, will be super helpful in terms of selling on your old uniforms and buying barely-used second hand items.
I’ve just been on it to see where my kids are most likely to end up and guess what? That mum who sets her kid extra homework before and after school will totally want to be checking the site out – there are walkthroughs for GCSE Maths, SATs and 11+ papers all explained by a teacher who sets and marks the questions. The site also talks through how to score top marks and points out common mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not an advocate of spoon-feeding kids so they only learn what they need to learn to pass tests (I’ve had to work with far too many millenials who seem unable to think for themselves) BUT it will definitely help Team Saul prepare for the important stuff that is to come. And it may even help the Team Head (me) prepare for the best case/ worst case scenario of holding my own at the school gates of a selective, competitive, single-sex school.