We have become a nation of sad pill-poppers. The British, once Churchill’s ‘lion-hearted nation’, are now among the most depressed people in the developed world. The UK ranks joint seventh out of 25 countries, with double the rates of Poland, Estonia and the Slovak Republic. According to the Children’s Society, English children are more miserable than those in 13 other countries such as Ethiopia and Algeria — despite the widespread introduction of ‘wellbeing’ lessons.
Antidepressants saved my life, I am sure of that. But I am also certain they made my mental illness much worse too. It has taken just under two years from my first very dark thoughts to me feeling sane and — largely — back in control of my mind. That’s not merely because it takes time to heal, but because it took at least six months for the doctors to work out what pills to give me.
My symptoms of anxiety and depression started in the spring of 2016, and the first few drugs I was prescribed didn’t work.
From the outside it all looked haphazard and frenzied. A campaign that was skidding from scandal to crisis on its way to total defeat. That’s not how it felt inside the ‘Project Alamo’ offices in San Antonio, Texas where Trump’s digital division — led by Brad Parscale, who’d worked previously with Trump’s estate division setting up websites — was running one of the most sophisticated data-led election campaigns ever.
Before vets put him down in Kenya this week, I attended the deathbed of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros, to observe up close what extinction looks like. Like a king he lay on his side, all 2,800 kilos of him. For millennia, his species had been one of the largest of land mammals. At the grand old age of 45, his back legs had given out, then he had developed a nasty lesion.
Sofie Hagen is a young Danish comic I admire. I didn’t see her most recent show, Dead Baby Frog, but I saw her win the best newcomer award at Edinburgh in 2015 and I was happy for her. I liked her sweet face and her fury. The audience treated her as a benign oddity. Because Sofie is fat.
I say this with no judgment, for I am fat myself, but I am not as upset about it as she is. I make no attempt to spin my fat into a matter for universal sympathy and something to be admired.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Knightsbridge is nestled in a maze of mews streets and embassy rows somewhere between Harrods and Hyde Park. It’s as much an expat social club as it is a place of worship, and on Sunday mornings it’s packed to the rafters. In what can sometimes look like one big game of Grand-mother’s Footsteps, the congregation of headscarved women and men in leather jackets quietly make a dash to circulate every time the priests turn their back, while old women maunder about kissing icons and hushing grandchildren.
When Palestrina wrote his Mass settings and motets, or J.S. Bach his cantatas and passions, they could not have imagined the ways in which their music would be heard today. We can now access sacred music in our living rooms, at work and on the commute: an hour-long compilation of the choir of New College, Oxford performing the Agnus Dei has four-and-a-half million views on YouTube.
Spotify and smartphones may eliminate the need to visit a church or chapel to hear these works, but visit we still do.