I love you Bess.

My darling dog Bess came to the end of her well lived life yesterday.

My best Bess
My best Bess

I tried to tell her many times, and I hope she knew:

I love you Bess.

Bess and me (2009)
Bess and me (2009)

She’s buried where we often used to walk her, above Glossop, where the pine trees catch the wind that sweeps across the moor and a single tree stands alone amongst the reeds.

Bess's view
Bess’s view

I’d be happy to visit her with anyone who wanted to make the trip out to Glossop and up the hill, to spend a few minutes with her.

I love you Bess
I love you Bess
Painting of Bess

Describing the monsters under my bed.

I want to describe one of the monsters under my bed – one of the things that keeps me awake at night. I don’t believe describing the monster will make it disappear, but I hope it may help you understand how I’m feeling about something I’ve barely mentioned.

Bess, Christmas 2015
Bess, Christmas 2014

In 2007, I wrote this article about my dog Bess and she’s still my best friend.

The only thing that has changed? Everyone is 8 years older.

Bess is now 13.

I’ve written before about life and death, but mainly with people being uncertain I might hurt myself for me – which in hindsight seems very easy.

Writing about knowing you’ll have to confront the fear of losing your best childhood friend is much much harder.

On the one hand, there are so many things I feel lucky for: so many people whom I’m happy to call friends, colleagues and family – who look up and look out for me, so many more books to learn from, mountains to climb, friends to help finding their own paths through the labyrinths of life, and exciting projects to get stuck into – that I feel as connected and alive as ever.

On the other, I can’t communicate with my sofa-bound, best friend to tell her how much I love her, and have appreciated all moments we’ve shared together. To tell her how much her sniffs and snuffles meant through a decade of teenage turmoil, to share memories of our stomps around Blake Moor, or simply how much I enjoy rubbing her tummy.

When Bess was a young puppy, she used to be small enough to fit underneath a wardrobe, and used to disappear under it, and the emerge as a wild-monster-puppy, growling and showing how ‘big’ and ‘bad’ she was.

At other times, when Bess would sleep on my bed, with her nose at my toes, she’d sometimes wake up a from an exciting dream about rabbits and snap out at the nearest thing to her mouth – for example, my sleeping foot, which would be subjected to a surprise attack… until she realised my now-very-awake-foot, was indeed not a rabbit.

It’s easy to argue from reason: to point out she’s had a good innings, to say she’s lived almost every one of however-many-lives-a-dog-has, or to point out how lucky she’s been to have such a caring family. These are true, but logic and reason doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s so challenging for me to acknowledge that many of those great moments have passed and they must now live on as memories. Not unexpected, just very challenging.

So that’s out there. Those thoughts are something that’s taking up brain space right now, but isn’t something I talk about much.

I find it really challenging to talk about – maybe to the point that I don’t really want to talk about it because wanting to avoid uncontrollable floods of tears and an instant urge to go and see her is… well a pragmatic approach of sorts in many situations. I suspect there are no ideal approach.

I think the best thing you – as someone reading this – can help can do to help is just to empathise and be supportive where and when you can.

And so that’s the monsters under my bed and the ‘monster’ that used to shoot out from under my wardrobe. It’s good to put it out there.

Footnote: Different cultures see time in different ways, and my culture has a very linear approach (past, present future) which is reflected in this blog post. It doesn’t make it easy to see things as a cycle of things that have happened before and will happen again.  

Aaron Swartz

The recent death of Aaron Swartz has saddened of me, and many other people.

This is the guy who at 14, wrote part of the original RSS spec, was an early programmer at reddit, and was deeply passionate about the things he believed in.

Aaron was someone I’d have been glad to meet – he was a great inspiration to me, and will continue to be so.

Usual programming will resume shortly.. but remember you have friends.

War. Peace. Who remembers them?

Note: Graphic links are clearly marked

How many wars can you remember your country being involved in since you were born?

For me, I can count at least five conflicts that my country has been involved in – I’m not a great historian and I’m pretty sure there are other places where we have deployed our armed forces.

It’s easy to consider it all in the context of good and bad – with us “obviously” being on the side of the good. But lots of people didn’t support the Iraq conflict, so perhaps, it’s not always that clear cut? What about the people we were fighting against? If we weren’t clearly the “good guys”, could it be that they weren’t clearly the “bad guys”?

Look at this photo – these Iraqi insurgents – how do you feel about them? Anger? Look they have weapons – they were trying to kill our troops. Maybe they succeeded. What does this photo make you feel?

Iraqi insurgents - by Gonzo13fox from Wikimedia Commons - CC-BY-SA 3.0
Iraqi insurgents - by Gonzo13fox from Wikimedia Commons - CC-BY-SA 3.0

Now put yourself in their shoes. What do you think is going through their heads? How do you think they’re feeling? Why do you think they feel their actions were necessary? Do they have family? Children?

What if they kissed their children good night and said “I’m going out to defend our country, so you can grow up in a free country”? What is they said “pray for me, I’m going to make sure you live in a better future, I hope I return in the morning”?

Is that possible?

Let’s leave it for a minute. Take a breath. Breath in.

Tarana Akbari is a 12 year old girl from Afganistan. Tarana Akbari is a lucky girl.

Why? Because she survived a suicide bomb attack that killed 80 people, including 7 of her family.

She was also the subject of this devastating Pulitzer Prize winning photo. (Graphic image)

How do you think she feels?

What about her surviving family?

Devastation? Loss? Anger?

Let’s change direction again – watch the first two minutes of this video from Rick Falkvinge:

As Remembrance Sunday approaches, and we line up before our minutes silence, to say “Never Again” and think about, “The War to End All Wars”, I can’t help but thinking how hollow those words are.

As people speak about our friends, our family, our neighbours who’ve been killed in conflicts, I wonder who will speak about the people who also thought they were doing the right thing, but whose ambitions, dreams, love life, was killed with a flash from one of our guns. I wonder who will remember Tarana Akbari’s 7 year old little brother – innocently killed in a suicide bomb blast?

Shouldn’t we remember these people as well?

I’ll be wearing a white poppy this Sunday and thinking of those people, will you?

It is false to argue that only those who support war, support our troops.” – Robin Cook

Death: a free trial, but no one cancels.

Warning: Brutally frank words. If you’ve recently suffered from tragic loss, you may prefer to read something else.

I consider myself very lucky; I think that’s largely because I’m young, and because I’m alive.

Those two things are a pretty winning combination in themselves – generally people who are alive, have some time to enjoy life before they die, and generally, people who are young, still have a good deal of it to enjoy.

But neither of these should be taken for granted. I made it through infancy – that early stage of my life was made easier because of first world, nationalised healthcare and vaccination programs. Having made it to ‘adulthood’, I’ve somehow skirted childhood leukemia, teenage cancer and lots of other fatal incidents. But it could happen tomorrow. Or it could arrive 5 years down the road.

Shit happens, and however lucky you feel, at some point, shit will happen.

The thing is, there’s such a taboo about death, that it’s quite unusual for people to talk it, especially when they’re young and I think this is disingenuous.

The future is vague

The future is always a vague and uncertain thing, but everyone agrees that at some point one will have to say goodbye to a number of people close to them, and that one will, at some point have to leave this life behind.

The fun thing about death is that can happen at any time. “Fun you say, what the fuck is fun about dying?” you ask.

Well, obviously, it’s no fun at all, but just imagine if you knew the exact date you were going to die with 100% certainty.

Do you remember at school/work when you were given something to do and the deadline was several weeks away and so you didn’t do anything until right before it was due. Do you remember how you probably wished you’d been done it at the time it was given to you rather than waiting until then?

Imagine if life was like that. You’d spend decades bumming around knowing that, whatever happened, you weren’t going to die. You’d probably spend several decades telling people what you were going to do one day but you’d procrastinate it so long you’d be trying to travel the world, have a family and start a small business all in the last two weeks of your life…

So actually, the uncertainty is quite helpful – you know that sometime in the vague future – things won’t be quite so good, so take advantage of what you can, when you can.

In many ways, death is a very democratic, participatory and inclusive activity – everyone gets a free trial, but no one cancels.

The problem

If I was to die tomorrow, my friends and family would be justifiably saddened, but they’d have no idea how I’d prefer to be remembered. They’d make their best effort to guess, and I’m sure they’d do an admirable job, but I doubt it’d be what I’d want.

I could codify it all up in a legally watertight will, but in today’s Web 5.0 infojism-superhighway, I doubt that’d have the effect I’d be looking for – news of my death would likely bounce around social networks much faster than any legal process occurring in it’s aftermath.

Whilst the allocation of my assets probably isn’t a massive concern, online memories and discussion, would probably initiate instantly – my conclusion is, therefore, that it makes sense for various “in the event of my death” information, to be published as widely as possible. Someone, probably would then be aware of it’s existence, and even if it was wildly out of date, and make it well known.

I’d much prefer people did something to celebrate my life rather than got hung up on how I died. It makes very little difference to me whether I die intentionally or unintentionally, because of my own or someone else’s actions. Ultimately, the end result is the same – I’m dead and at that point, frankly, the details don’t matter.

Launching a misery-driven vendetta on some poor guy who made a mistake in his life, isn’t what I’d like anyone to remember me by. I don’t care about the greatest case of negligence or tragic drink driving – if I’m dead – how I went is not really a concern of yours anymore. There’s no need to seek ‘justice’ or ‘punishment’ for people who made mistakes; if you can see a way to remember me by helping them become better, happier people, then that’s wonderful, but if not, I’d prefer people simply focused on remembering me.

Equally supporting health and safety campaigns that I wouldn’t have done? Don’t do that. There are too many moronic campaigns that cater to the worried, when really, some days you’ll be lucky, some days you won’t. In all likelihood, the lucky days will probably be quite fun. (Example of what not to do). Erasing all risky activities from the world would annoy me quite a lot. Please don’t attempt that on my behalf! I’d actually quite like adventurous activities to continue for a good long time, without having to employ lawyers and risk assessors full time, to risk assess the red tape.

If anyone describes me as “bubbly” after death, and doesn’t mean that I was effervescent in a liquid form, I will personally return to slap them round the face with a wet fish. “Bubbly” is a particularly vacuous adjective – I’d prefer you described what you meant with other words.

How would I prefer to be celebrated? Well I’d prefer that any event(s) weren’t held at a place of worship, or prepended with with a faith – it’s not a “humanist/atheist/agnostic/christian/$religion funeral” because it doesn’t matter – it’s an event for everyone, and I certainly hope there’s more to define me, than any beliefs I may or may not have.

Now personally, I’d be definitely up for being celebrated by a electro-ceilidh with glowsticks, smoke machines and lasers, however, I’ve a feeling that in six months time I may have completed that ambition, and so the idea may have sounded completely dull to me by the time I die.

Instead, I’d simply suggest something fun, crazy-unusual and a bit weird – maybe taking inspiration from some aspect of my life? If retro-lanpartying is what you think would work, go with that, if you’d prefer to rap a tribute with a banging funk-metal beat, or something so awesome (and at the same time a bit weird) I can’t even imagine it – please do that.

It occurs to me that, this blog post could be something you read at a very emotional time, probably after I’ve had a spate of bad luck, so I just want to tell you a little story my mum once said when I was young:

When an old king was getting towards the end of his life, he was asked if he wished he could live longer.

He said, “No. When you get to the end of a great banquet you don’t ask for more, you say ‘thank you’.”

Legal note: I’d like to clarify that that I’m certainly not intending to die anytime soon – I hoping to die of old age, in my sleep – as far as I know, I don’t suffer from depression, and that whilst this blog post is intended to be an interesting insight into my thoughts at the moment, it’s not intended to be legally binding in any way, or override any past, existing or future wills of mine.