Death: Southbank's Festival for the Living

Postcard from London: Death festival goes live

Good grief: death finally got its own festival in the UK last weekend. Since we hate to miss out on under-the-radar activities in London, we sent a spy. Bon viveur Bruce Traynor’s verdict was that Death: Festival for the Living at London’s Southbank Centre was definitely worth writing home about…

London Southbank’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, put it well in the programme for the inaugural Death Festival: ‘It is not about morbidity, sentimentality or sensationalism. It is full of delight and humour. It’s about hearing powerful stories and interesting facts from people who have had to sort out practically and emotionally how to face up to the greatest and most challenging of all certainties. Come and be part of it – we’re all in this together.’

She was dead right. The mood was almost euphoric; there was a buzz. Was this the dawn of a new era of openness? We felt like pioneers. Indeed, this was probably the first event like this in Western history, according to Rosie Inman-Cook at the Natural Death Centre stand, who’d been on BBC breakfast telly saying how funerals can and should be so much better (and cheaper) than what we put up with. Their website immediately got 10,000 hits.

Death Festival in London: Crazy Coffins

Mexico‘s Day of the Dead celebrations inspired the great logo for the Death Festival, and it was subtitled the Festival for the Living. It seems there’s a groundswell to break free from the sombre Victorian attitudes that we’re still lumbered with. The festival sold out quickly. Another sign of the times is British company Crazy Coffins, who make caskets as uplifting, personalised and elaborate as the famous Ghanaian coffins. Exhibitions of both were delighting the crowds at the weekend.

Henri Bendel shopping in Washington DC

The shopping list: Washington DC

The Shopping List rummages through Smith's latest bundle of insider city tips to highlight lesser-known shopping destinations and bring you the low-down on where and…

How to… drive in the Alps

Car adverts invariably show a gleaming vehicle purring unhindered along an empty highway that twists and turns through magnificent scenery. Real life is, of course, a bit different. The reality is that the average speed of a car in London’s rush-hour traffic is seven miles an hour, and the nearest that many motorists get to top gear these days is watching Jeremy Clarkson on Dave. But don’t despair: you can escape the terrible tedium of the Hammersmith gyratory (and Clarkson). In the Alps.

Ski holidays in the Alps - driving tips

Before you blaze off into the mountains, it’s worth considering a few of the lessons I learned the hard way while researching the Smith Ski collection. Here are some tried-and-tested Alpine driving tips to help you get to your ski chalet in one piece:

Smith trips: Maggie meets Marrakech

Mr & Mrs Smith’s hotel relations manager, Maggie, just got back from a week in Morocco where she and Peggy took a quick whistle-stop tour of Smith’s Marrakech hotel collection, and also unearthed a new range of ravishing riads and gorgeous Maroc palaces.

So, Maggie, you’ve recently landed from Marrakech – bring anything new back in your luggage?

Loads of mint tea, actually.

Splendid – is the mint tea pretty special out there then? Better than Twinings?

Definitely – it’s the real stuff. If only I could be in a gorgeous riad every time I drank it…Riad 12

Indeed. Speaking of gorgeous riads, where did you visit while you were there?

Well, we saw all of the places that we know and love in the Smith collection, such as Noir d’Ivoire which is incredible, and Riad 72 and Riad 12 which both have fewer than four rooms and make you feel like you are a guest in their home.

Everyone I speak to raves about Noir d’Ivoire – what’s all the fuss about?

Firstly, the owner Jill is so involved in running it, and knows all her guests by name. She makes you feel so comfortable and will always sit down for a drink and a chat. Not to mention that the place is beautifully done. It is very grown-up: dramatic fabrics and great big baths – seriously big.

Lucy was saying that Jill’s just had a load of new rooms built. Are they finished? What are they like?

Huvafen Fushi, Maldives luxury resort

Top 10: Honeymoon Destinations

Let our destination inspiration whet your wanderlust and provide a guide to the most romantic cities, idyllic islands and wilderness escapes. Lucy Fennings rounds up a worldwide hot-list of honeymoon destinations…