Mind the bull: staying buzzword free in advertising.

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This is an article I wrote for FutureRising: a much needed initiative for those trying to break into the creative industries. Complete with a fantastic hub of advice and inspiration and opportunities to get involved with real industry work (like gold dust for many aspiring creatives out there).

Ah, you’ve landed your first ad job, congratulations! Pull up a chair for a moment; the champagne is on me. My first “real” job after graduating a couple of years ago wasn’t in advertising (I graduated mid-recession and was pretty chuffed to find any job which paid real money and didn’t expect me to relinquish any vital organs to the black market).

It was just a bog-standard office job, but I remember being enormously relieved on getting it as it seemed a blessing to get any job in that climate.
In the competitive world of advertising, that relief is only amplified. The going is tough. Many just starting out will be familiar with the grad gauntlet: the written application obstacle course, the interviews masquerading as Mastermind Hot Seats, and finally, the job. If only, on landing that job, you actually knew what you were supposed to be doing, everything would be just peachy.

Perhaps you just need to learn how to talk the talk, right? Well, not quite. It’s tempting to join in with the language you hear around you, even when you don’t fully understand it. Don’t. It’s likely you’re not the only one who isn’t really sure what’s going on, others may just be better at disguising it. Being new at a job means exactly that; you’re not expected to know what’s going on, just to be keen, listen and learn.

Yes, it’s a fast-paced industry, but if you don’t understand what someone has said to you that’s as much their responsibility as yours. Be sure to research what you’re not sure of, but it’s equally important to go back and talk to that person and make sure there isn’t a misunderstanding; even at the risk of looking stupid. You’ll probably save yourself a lot of time later.

There’s a subtle but crucial difference between industry specific keywords and shorthand which, with the assumption that everyone is up on the lingo, speeds up a conversation and buzzwords. Marketing loves its buzzwords; words that don’t really have a meaning, in fact they more often obscure meaning than aid understanding. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to know this stuff, but even better, know when not to use it.

What you say is important, but how you say it even more so. After all, advertising is all about persuasion and your choice of words in the workplace is vital. Not only is a lot of “marketing speak” lazy communication, it takes us further away from the very people we’re being paid to talk to.

David Ogilvy says it better than me: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.” That’s a lot harder to do when you spend your work hours communicating in “Advanced Marketing”.

Don’t forget that every single one of us is “the consumer” and we all deserve clear communication. As part of a generation that has been immersed in constant, pervasive advertising since we were born, we know this. We’ve learnt to be very cynical. We can spot an insincere product claim from a mile off. Despite that, they’re still endemic. Yet it can be strangely easy to forget all this when you have your “work head” on. You may find yourself saying things or suggesting ideas that you never would outside the office, I know I have. It’s because at work you are, by definition, isolated from the “real world”.

Obama’s old speech-writer, David Lovett, wrote brilliantly about this in “the culture of bullshit” (please take time to read the full article if you haven’t already): “[it] infects every facet of public life, corrupting our discourse, wrecking our trust in major institutions, lowering our standards for the truth and making it harder to achieve anything.”

Communication is the lifeblood of advertising. We shouldn’t just talk the talk.

August is pretty chilly anyway…

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Last night I was nominated for the ice bucket challenge by a very good friend. Well, apologies to anyone who was eager to catch a flash of my pasty white middle (but really, why?!) in the course of having cold water splashed over it, but it’s not gonna happen.

First I should say that- unlike some others- I don’t object to this style of fundraising. Mostly because it’s extraordinarily effective; as we’ve probably all read, donations to ALS and its British counterpart are up dramatically from last year. It’s a fundraising icy wet dream (sorry).

There is the water wastage, yes, but which of us didn’t spend their childhood running around with super soakers and paddling pools? At least this benefits others.  The fact that most participants had no idea what ALS was previously- myself included- really doesn’t matter; they do now (yay) and their motivations beyond that don’t really bother me- it worked didn’t it?  Surely,  the ends justify the means.

This, and the #nomakeupselfie for breast cancer, have tapped into the social zeitgeist like never before and are bringing a new level of mass participation to charity fundraising. The opportunities for other charities are huge (before we all get immune to this new style of fundraising too, of course. But maybe I can dream, maybe we won’t).

Frankly, I think the majority of charity advertising and campaigning methods are in dire need of a kick up the arse, and this just might be the start of it. As much as we may wish it, a good cause doesn’t determine results on its own, not anymore.  There’s too much competition for attention and resources, and often, desensitization to the subject matter through media.

But here’s no denying, the ALS challenge has been pretty rough around the edges. Ultimately, I’ve made the decision not to give my money to the ALS  association because I’m not convinced they’re using funds effectively and I object to their research methods. That’s just my decision.

The spontaenous charity giving though, is something I definitely want to get on board with. This morning I donated to the CF Trust– the UK’s charity for Cystic Fibrosis which is a life-threatening genetic condition, primarily affecting the lungs and digestive system. I also just happen to have it.

By the by, I’m not just donating to the CF Trust because I have CF. I’ve donated to several charities recently (most recently the PSC) but it occurred to me that I’ve never actually made a donation to the CF Trust. Now seemed like a pretty good time. They tirelessly campaign on behalf of people like myself and play a large part in fundraising for that ever elusive (and extremely expensive) gene therapy cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

For those wanting to know, CF affects a similar number of people in the developed world to ALS (around 30,000 in the US). The developing world is a different matter as some genetic groups aren’t affected by it and also because most children born with it would be dead by the age of 10 without the advanced medical care I’m privileged enough to get in the UK.

Happy giving everyone, whatever your cause.

My dirty habit

I have a habit.

I don’t like to talk about it.

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t kick it.

My daily pick-me-up.

I’m not alone.

A lot of young city dwellers need a bit of extra help

A little lift, to make it through a demanding day.

Once in the morning, and in the evening

Quick and discreet, is what I try to be.

“I’m just nipping to the ladies,” I say.

Once, someone saw me-

A faint line of white above my lip.

I scrubbed it off, quick as I could.

What would they think of me?!

But it’s worth the hassle, a thousand times over.

My little lifesaver.

It’s my antibiotic inhaler.

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No, I’m not making light of recreational drug use, but I’m often reminded of my complete and utter dependence on medicinal drugs and I find the parallels interesting.

Yes, someone really did come into the bathroom just after I’d taken my Colistin antibiotic inhaler and saw a cloud of white powder down my front. That was awkward.

Antibiotic inhalers are a very simple but landmark development in CF medication. Instead of having to take multiple oral antibiotics continually at very high doses –something the body will not thank you for – it offers the chance to reduce the metabolic load on the liver and kidneys and a much more effective delivery straight to the lungs. Win for me, win for my body. 

Illness isn’t inspiring.

Illness isn’t inspiring.

I’ve often heard lines like “He’s so inspiring, I could never do what he does,” when someone expresses their admiration for a person suffering from a serious illness. It’s a nice sentiment. But I don’t think many people realise what they could do, if faced with an illness and having no choice but to deal with it. Some people become extraordinary in the face of their adversity, but none of us really know what we’re capable of until we have to. Your resilience can’t be tested in theory, only in reality.

But for me, when it happens, there is nothing inspiring about being ill.

The day-to-day of being ill, is very far removed from ‘inspirational’. It’s characterised by all the things you can’t do, the possibilities you can’t realise in that moment.

It’s about the books and articles I can’t quite grasp the meaning of, because my head feels fuzzy.

The blogs I don’t write because I lack the energy or I feel down.

The projects I put off because I stop believing in myself and feel like I don’t have the ability to pull them off.

The exercise I don’t start because I just don’t want to be reminded of the heavy concrete feeling settling in my chest.

The friends I don’t talk to because I don’t have news to share and I don’t want to keep repeating myself.

Good health on the other hand, is like an adrenaline shot. It’s a burst of clarity and creative excitement, of possibility. A chance to start afresh.

It’s inspiring.

And for the first time in a while, I’m feeling pretty damn good.

Project management and pills

On learning about my CF, an ex boyfriend of mine very kindly (and with only a small hint of panic in his voice) once asked how he’d know if I needed ‘help’. Would I suddenly clutch my chest and start gesturing frantically for him to call 999? Would I turn blue in the face and just keel over without warning?

While most of those things could happen in someone seriously ill with CF, I’m not, and it’s unlikely I’ll be playing an extra in Casualty anytime soon. Although they should definitely use me…I play dead very convincingly when I don’t want to get up in the morning.

The dramatic stuff is what most of us expect when we hear about a chronic illness but that isn’t the reality for lots of people, myself included. Frankly, it’s all a bit more mundane than that. Boring yet constant. I’ve recently started doing some project management at work and I won’t lie, profound organisation skills were not gifted to me at birth. I’m much better than I used to be and it’s a damn useful skill to have but it’s definitely a learning curve.

It’s pretty much the same story with CF. Sure there are times when I can get away with doing little besides the daily pills. I don’t bother with physiotherapy because I’m exercising,  I don’t do nebuliser treatments (a device by which you inhale antibiotics or other drugs such as ventolin for a few minutes at a time-like a complicated inhaler) because I don’t think I need to. I go for months like that and then suddenly realise I’ve got a metaphorical in-tray to rival Alan Sugar.

In all honesty I think that’s what happened with the little A&E trip in November (a hiccup in my otherwise very suburban CF life).  I hadn’t been doing my admin and it came back to bite me. Now, in just the same way as can happen at work, I have to do twice as much as before so that I can get back to normal. I’m doing three different drugs with a nebuliser twice a day, (ok mostly once, nobody’s a saint alright) daily physio sessions and I’ve increased my pills to 30 a day.

I still haven’t got back to my baseline. I’m easily breathless and getting frequent chest pain and to be honest it’s starting to get me down.

Still, it’s the new year, the holiday is over and I think it’s time to get on with it. The next part is to step up my exercise regime which took a beating when I started my new job in October. That’s no easy feat when, on his daily walk, the family’s 16 year old dog overtakes me on the steep bits!

Now if only there was a pill that made you organised…

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You know you’ve arrived when you have enough pills to make a 12 wheeler.

Don’t mind me; I spilt some heparin in your coffee

Ah it’s that time again.  Home Intravenous Antibiotics and work. Always a tricky balance, but one made a lot easier for me this time by  a job I truly enjoy and that I can plan treatment around. Let me take you back a bit, to my last post but one, ‘fear is not conducive to work’. In it, I mentioned how I’d had a pain in my left lung for the last month which I couldn’t explain.

It wasn’t bad all the time, but it just wouldn’t go away and to be honest it was starting to scare the crap out of me. Normally, when I complete a 14 day course of intravenous antibiotics I am right as rain soon after (for the next 10 months or so). This time, not so much.

By Friday of last week the mystery pain had gone and come back with a vengeance. I got home from work tired and achy and went to bed shortly after. Four hours later I woke up gasping for breath; each breath I drew ending in stabbing, intense pain. I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone and for about 15 minutes I honestly wondered if I was going into respiratory arrest. I managed to get control of my breathing after sitting up for an hour or so and decided that I’d try to get a couple more hours sleep and see if the pain was still there when I woke.

It was a bit better, but as soon as I got up and went downstairs I started struggling  again. I decided to call 111 who, upon listening to my symptoms told me I needed to get to A&E within the hour. Oh great… it being Saturday morning and I being home alone. And so, I had my first ever ride in an ambulance to the Royal Berks A&E.

The highlight of the journey was definitely when the paramedic got me in a wheelchair at the other end, and on realising that my chair had no foot rests, said, “sorry about that. That’s what happens with  government cutbacks.” My hero.

All of my vital stats were ok and it soon became clear that although a thoroughly unpleasant experience, I was going to be fine.  My dad arrived a couple of hours later, in time to see me dosed up on tramadol and perhaps not entirely lucid for the next 4 hours. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

A further appointment at my CF unit on Monday revealed that, for whatever reason, the IVs I had in October just didn’t do their job.  My chest X-ray showed signs of damage/infection in my left upper lobe in precisely the area I’d been experiencing pain for the last 6 weeks.

I’m now on a course of different IV antibiotics for the next two weeks, multiple nebulisers and prednisolone for 28 days. Despite all that, I’m starting to feel much better.  Mostly, I’m relieved that I know what was wrong and I can now start to fix it.

One lesson I’ve learnt this week? Always trust your instincts. Oh, and be careful when drawing up intravenous fluids around people’s  coffee.

Nothing like a nasal potential difference test to teach a little patience

Patience and perspective come in handy in many professional situations. They’re also pretty useful qualities to have when a doctor is sticking a plastic wire up your nose while passing a tiny electric current through it to measure the transference of ions across your sinus cells. No, I don’t really know what that means either and no it’s not the latest thing the kids are all doing to get a buzz. It’s one of the tests required in the year long gene therapy trial for cystic fibrosis patients that I’m taking part in.

You have not experienced the true definition of the word ‘itch’ until you’ve had a run in with this little plastic tube. Often a current can’t be detected on the first attempt and so it’s necessary to sit through a few tries before the plastic wire is doing what it should do. After the third attempt I was getting rather impatient, especially as I was trying to type an email to my boss on my phone.

Tube in place, I sat for half an hour while conductor fluid was passed through it, with a charming dribble coming out the other nostril and into the bowl in front of me. I’m not telling you this for fun, but we must all do our bit for the greater advancement of science. It turns out my contribution was just a little snottier than  anticipated.

Point being, a bit of patience comes in handy at times like these and so, as I was soon reminded, does a bit of perspective.

A little later I was waiting to be seen by the doc and I could hear her talking to another patient in the next room. It became apparent that the patient was a male teenager, at a push I’d say 15 or 16. The doctor was discussing the possibility of a double lung transplant.

“I understand it’s not fair,” she said. “You’ve kept to your treatment so well. At the age where so many young people with CF aren’t taking their pills and having a teenage rebellion.” (I too, flirted with medical non-compliance as a teen and am none the the worse for it now). “You’ve done all the right things,” she continued. “Yet you’re still declining faster than we’d expect. If you continue like this I suspect we will be referring you for transplant in the next 18 months.”

A double lung transplant is a very high-risk operation, not to mention that approximately 50% of people die on the waiting list before they get the chance to have the op, due to severe organ donor shortage. Being a CF patient who’s not doing so well, it’s probably a talk he’s used to having. I don’t imagine that makes it any easier.

All teenagers think they’re invincible. It’s their job to be as irresponsible with their health as possible, isn’t that what youth is for? Being told, that despite your best efforts, you’re not going to live for more than a few years unless you get lucky must be soul-destroying.

I never had that as a teenager. I wasn’t admitted to hospital for the first time until I was 19. CF or not, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m also lucky that I get to receive that dose of perspective each time I come to hospital.

Thank goodness the worst that happened to me was a slightly uncomfortable encounter between my nose and a bit of plastic.

Fear is not conducive to good work

Starting this blog was not easy.

I used to struggle with the idea that future employers might pass me over for candidates who didn’t have a serious antibiotic habit going on behind the scenes. I kept CF purely in the personal life tab and didn’t think it was relevant to my work life. Of course,  I understand now that it is never that straightforward.

So, this blog was intended as a positive way for me to talk about CF in the context of career.  And it still is. The problem is that I always like to put a good spin on things.  Things usually are positive and it’s my belief that it’s the best way to deal with things; but  it’s also much easier for me to write.

I can gloss over the time I spent two weeks in hospital in the second month of a new job, because the end of the story was positive and I did well the rest of the time. I can mention in passing when I couldn’t walk up two bloody flights of stairs, ’cause I was kicking ass two months later in jiu jitsu… Alright,  I was just kicking.

Point is, things have always ended well for me so far and that’s the part I’m comfortable with sharing. Talking about the unsure moments and my fears on the big wide Internet?  Not so much. And the difficulty with that, is that those moments need an outlet too. Once you start sharing part of the story, you feel like you’re fibbing if you don’t tell it all. It’s also normal to want to please in a professional situation; no one wants to bring bad news, ‘least of all to your boss.

I’m two weeks into my new job and loving it. I feel like my hard work to get here has paid off and I’m so ready to show what I can do. Unfortunately, I also landed myself with a chest infection a month ago and had to finish my old job early to start intravenous antibiotics in hospital.

This wasn’t a big dip like last year so I didn’t have to stay in hospital for the two week course and was able to administer the IVs myself for most of it. (Side note: any friends ever need help drawing up drugs or figuring their way around an intravenous access device, then I’m your girl…hang on, that didn’t really come out right.) IV antibiotics are a wonderful thing for me and I’m normally feeling miles better once the two weeks are up.

This time, not so. Granted, I’m managing work ok and my energy levels are fairly normal. But I know that something just isn’t right. My lung function still isn’t great and there are other tell-tale signs, like the pain in my left lung that just won’t go away, which I’ll have to get checked out soon. I’ve started a course of oral antibiotics (love to switch it up me) and I’m hoping that they will finish off what the IVs didn’t.

In the meantime,  I can’t help stressing a little. I know that I’m now entering the real ‘world of work’. This is no longer a job, it’s the start of a career. The advertising industry prides itself on stamina and long hours, something which I have no problem with when firing on all cylinders. Now is the time I really need to produce the goods and impress.

Only thing is, that’s a lot easier to do when you’re not afraid.

The wonders of modern medicine: intravenous antibiotics in the comfort of your own home. Dog not included.
The wonders of modern medicine: intravenous antibiotics in the comfort of your own home. Dog not included.

Allow yourself a stumble or two

I moved to London late November last year all full of hope and expectations for the year to come. I’d got a new job and things were looking good. Since returning from Korea in March of last year I had worked as a contract Bank Teller amongst other temp roles. To begin with I didn’t mind; it was interesting to learn about life on the other side of the till, although I did begin to struggle defending the practices of the bank to customers when I fundamentally disagreed with the realities of the global banking system. Anyway, I digress.

By November last year,  I was bored out of my mind and ready for the next step. It was time to find myself in London I decided. Or just find a job as it turned out, the rest would have to wait. I interviewed for a couple of roles and then I was offered a job, fantastic! I started the next week. I knew my new job was not going to provide unparalleled intellectual stimulation but it would be a foot in the door and hopefully set me on a path to better things.

I’d like to reach back into early November 2012 and give myself a slap for being so naive and optimistic. I’d been told by many people that their first job in London left much to be desired but I was positive that wouldn’t happen to me. 10 months later and approximately 400,000 codes entered into spreadsheets, countless phone calls of abuse from suppliers and the same repetitive email enquiries answered many, many times a day and I’m prepared to admit I was wrong.

But early on into this adventure I wondered if I’d even be able to handle a more demanding job. That’s because less than a month after moving to London I ended up in hospital for 2 weeks. My lung function had reached its lowest in nearly 5 years, I barely had the energy or breath to walk 200 yards and I was put on a 24 hour drip of aminophiline to open my airways. The doctors didn’t actually know what was wrong as I didn’t have a chest infection as far as they could tell and most of the tests used to determine infection came back normal.

There’s rarely a convenient time to spend 2 weeks in hospital, but 3 weeks into a new job is probably one of the worse times. I was worried they wouldn’t believe I was sick and just tell me not to come back. The worst thing was my health had been pretty stable in the last 2 years and this was only the second emergency admission in my life. I really didn’t know how to explain to work that this was not normal for me. How were they to know?

I was discharged on Christmas eve and picked up a lot over the Christmas break, ready to return to work in January. The doctors still don’t know what was wrong and have put it down to a freak virus. I’ve since been told that almost everyone gets ill when they move to London. I wish I’d known that at the time!

London air may not be the sweetest, but I like it nonetheless. Since then my lungs have been fairly well behaved. By May, I decided that it was time to focus on a career path and try to get into advertising. It’s not an industry without flaws but there are many reasons why I decided to pursue it.

I’ve realised there are rarely objective milestones or achievements. What is an aspiration to one person may seem easy or undesirable to another. A person may have achieved many of the things society tells us are desirable; good grades at school, a well-paying job (mine wasn’t!) but those achievements mean little to them if they think they should be doing something else, doing better.

Last week I was offered my first job in advertising. It is not the be all and end all, neither will it be everything I want it to be. But I have worked hard to get it; it is an achievement by my own standards and so I am very happy to have it.

I may have gone on a tangent but there is a lesson in here somewhere. Healthwise and career wise, this year has not been what I expected. There were times when I was convinced I was going in the wrong direction and I wasn’t going to get there, wherever ‘there’ was. Of course, where I’m going next won’t be quite what I expected either but the fact that I now feel like I’m going somewhere is the important bit.

Note to past self: you’ll keep on stumbling so try not to complain too much, just keep on walking.

Professional discrimination with cystic fibrosis, Part II: Sticking it to the man.

In January 2012, I went to Korea anyway. The previous summer I had posted a message about a Korean-English language exchange in a local oriental food shop. A few weeks later I got a call from a Korean student who was in England on a summer programme and wanted to get some conversation practise with a real live English person. I agreed to meet her and her 3 friends later that week for a coffee. I am very glad that I did. Over the next few weeks we became good friends and promised to keep in touch when she went back to Korea at the end of the summer.

I don’t suppose I really believed we would see each other again, but was happy to have met her nonetheless. I did not expect for a minute, that 3 months later when my application to teach English in Korea was denied on the basis of my cystic fibrosis, I would get an invitation to spend the 3 month university vacation  living with my friend in Seoul. Anyway, that’s exactly what happened. For  the next 2 months we planned the trip over Facebook while I carried on working as a bank teller to save up the money.  We were going to be living in a tiny ‘oneroom’ apartment (common student accomodation in Korea) in Yaksu, Seoul, while she attended English classes and sought work experience and I studied Korean at a small academy.

A part of me was definitely worried that it might all go wrong, what if it was awkward, what if we ended up hating each other and I had to fly back home in a hurry? I honestly believed however, that it would be ok.  I thought it was realistic way to achieve my goal of getting to Korea, but more so,  it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.  A way of sticking up a defiant finger to those who said I couldn’t have a go.

Korea taught me so much.  I fell in love with Seoul and the way of life. The glossy sheen of the city; 24 hour shopping malls and designer coffee shops open until 6am.  The grumpy ‘ahjusshis’ loudly debating life until the small hours over bottles of Soju. The contradictions of an ancient society that has never had a social (correction, sexual) revolution, sitting alongside some of the most advanced technology in the world. The trials, troubles and exhilarations of living in a country so fundamentally different to your own. And the friendship. I met so many fantastic people and of course had so much fun living with my friend. We learnt a lot about each other, ourselves too I think, and we’re still in touch. I’ll be back in Korea one day to visit and I’m sure she’ll come over to London too.

I’ve often said that one of the greatest things about having friends from the other side of the world, is not only realising the ways in which your lives are different; but seeing beyond that to all the ways in which you are alike. In this instance, just two young girls in their 20s with similar hopes and dreams and a desire to learn about the world.

I learnt some valuable lessons about my CF too. It was a hard pill to swallow (hah), but I had to accept that teaching abroad in a country with virtually no sick pay, almost no understanding of my condition (CF is almost non-existent in Korea as the CF mutation is extremely rare there) and no specialist CF care to support me if things did go wrong, was a risk I’d be stupid to take. Putting it like that, I know it seems like an obvious choice, but you have to understand that having a longterm condition isn’t a simple case of things you can and can’t do.

Most of the time I can do everything I want to do, and that is quite a lot. At present my lung function is over 90%, I work long hours and fit in time for fun too. 5 years ago my lung function was reduced to 45% and I couldn’t climb two flights of stairs without breaking into paroxysmal spasms of coughing. It’s very likely I could have spent a year in Korea without any major incident and had the time of my life. I could also have put my life at significant risk for something that just wasn’t worth it.

It was not an easy decision to be sensible and sit this one out. Unlike many CF patients, I had spent my entire childhood being pretty well and being told I could do almost anything I wanted to. At the age of 16 I told my parents I wanted to volunteer in the Israeli-Lebanese war to provide humanitarian relief. They told me I was stupid and quite rightly couldn’t do it; but not because of my CF.  I spent most of my teens imagining I would be a foreign correspondent for the BBC, or a travel writer. I never believed that it would be my CF that might stop me from doing these things.

Despite it all, it has made me determined to find my own way to do things, to recognise when something is worth fighting for, but also to learn when to go back to the drawing board and work on my strategy. The number of detours is irrelevant, there is always a way of getting there.

Our favourite bar.
Our favourite bar.
A Japanese, Korean, and slightly English feast.
A Japanese, Korean, and slightly English feast.
This is not actually a real building in Seoul, it's a replica. Most of them have 20 floors...
This is not actually a real building in Seoul, it’s a replica. Most of them have 20 floors…
There's a dog in there somewhere.
There’s a dog in there somewhere.