A couple of months ago, I watched the talented humourist and author, Sir Terry Pratchett give the Richard Dimbleby Lecture on TV.  Or at least introduce himself with the expected humour and humility. Due to the constraints of his Alzheimers, he handed over delivery of his speech to Tony Robinson. Who better than Baldrick ? He did a great job. The title was “Shaking Hands with Death” and his theme was death with dignity.

Death is the last taboo in our society. People now freely discuss cancer these days, but it wasn’t always the case. When I was a child, cancer was a taboo subject. I remember the hushed conversations between my mother and her best friend, who in the early 1960s died of cancer in her late 20s, about what would happen to her children. Cancer was not named; it was the “C” word, and as Pratchett pointed out, obituaries always used to use the euphemism “died after a long illness”. 

So now we can talk about cancer but we (largely) can’t talk about death; something that will happen to all of us. Am I morbid or obsessed with my own demise ? No. But I find I am unusual these days – many people I have cared about have died in my lifetime already. That is unusual these days. I have friends in their 50’s who have not yet had anyone close to them die. In my Grandma’s youth, death was a regular occurence and visible to all. The war, childbirth, front room wakes…. So I often avoid talking about death because it makes people uncomfortable. Yet the circle of life includes death; it’s the most natural thing in the world.

In childhood, you think you are invincible and that anyone over 20 is old. In your 20s, you know that you are going to die one day, but it seems so far away, too far off to bother about… In your 30s, your awareness of your mortality may sharpen, may give you the impetus to seize the moment, forge the business, the career, the artwork, have the children, create your legacy… or you may choose to prolong the carefree 20s spirit. But your 40s give you pause for thought, possible burnout or early mid-life crisis – no denying that time is marching on… And in your 50s, you know that your days are numbered.

For me it’s a reminder to appreciate and be grateful for each day. How many days do I have left though ? Thanks to Kevin Kelly and his link to the Countdown Clock and actuarial tables, I now know it’s estimated that I will die on Saturday 5 May 2040. Best make the most of it now then….

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My Christmas break was not the relaxed, creative break I’d planned though I got to spend lots of time with people I love. Lots of snow and visitors. Then at New Year, exhausted, I crashed and have only just re-surfaced. So my 2010 favourites list is a little late…

Favourite Album (and live gig): the talented Natalie Merchant album, “Leave Your Sleep“, selected by NPR as one of the best Folk Albums of 2010 – and her live performance of tracks from this album at L’Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium in March, 2010.  Heavily researched, years in the making – she takes beautiful 19th century poetry and traditional songs and turns them into something quite beautiful and extraordinary; setting each track to a different kind of music (traditional English folk, bluegrass, reggae, Chinese…) with wonderful results. Her live performance  added stories, dance, humour and a slide-show to a packed house.

Favourite Book : “Strength in What Remains” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Kidder. The inspiring true story of Deo who escaped from the genocide in Burundi to the mean streets of NYC and became a doctor, returning to Burundi to set up a clinic.

Favourite Film : Los Caminos de la Memoria, a prize-winning documentary, by the Spanish director Penafuerte, about “the disappeared” of the Franco era. Recent excavations of mass graves in Spain reveal the silence and fear still present in many places damaged by the civil war – and the deep sorrow of so many who do not know where their relatives are buried. I lived in Spain three years after Franco died and remember the pain and the fear. This film touched me profoundly.  

Favourite Event: the European Summit for Global Transformation in Amsterdam. My favourite event of the year for the third year in a row. An extraordinary meeting of ordinary people making the extraordinary happen around the world. Social Entrepreneurs and Change-Makers supporting each other – just simply wonderful !

Favourite Theatre: “Woven in the Fabric“, a “promenade play” based on the lives of Martha Crossley, founder of Dean Clough Mill, and Lavena Saltonstall, the West Yorkshire suffragette, and performed around historic sites in Halifax between the Square Chapel and the 900 year old Minster.  Finishing with an audience participation rag-rug making session and then tea and biscuits in the Minster. History from a womens perspective comes alive ! With the added and strange bonus of discovering one day later that I am a descendent of Martha Crossley…

Favourite Festival: MintFest – an international street arts festival in the English Lake District. A weekend of jaw-dropping, free entertainment across the streets and parks of Kendal, Cumbria. Absolutely magical !

Favourite Travels: Impossible to choose between Lago Maggiore, Italy, Helsinki, Finland and Sonoma, California.

On a business trip in December, I had a few days to glimpse the beauty of the Italian Lake District

Lago Maggiore: dawn from my hotel window

 and, on another business trip in September, I had a brief glimpse of the exciting and creative dynamic  in the design district of Helsinki, Finland.

The internet is tribal – ask Seth Godin. Funny thing is, I’m no longer sure what tribe I belong to… In an era of youth-obsession, I’ve reached an age where I’ve become invisible – I’m now perceived as a middle-aged woman that marketeers categorise as largely interested in wrinkle-prevention. Don’t they know we are the new demographic ? Baby Boomers with health and wealth ? More numerous than all those Net Gen-ers ? People who like to blog and Twitter and connect ? With as many interests as any other alive and curious human being ? They’ll catch on eventually….