I don’t want to suffer my anxiety in silence John Crace’s digested week
I spent the weekend in Iceland as a guest of the Reykjavik international literary festival. As so often, I had as much – if not more – fun meeting readers and authors from other countries as I did talking at my own events. Highlights also included whale watching and avoiding the local delicacies of foal, whale and puffin. I had dinner with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and, as you would expect of one of Iceland’s top crime writers, she was a fund of great stories. As well as being kept up to speed on ever more inventive ways of killing people with household appliances, Yrsa told me that Iceland’s main mortuary is so full of tourists whose bodies have been unclaimed that officials plan to build an extension. Unfortunately for fans of Icelandic noir, there is no great mystery. Many are just people who went out unprepared for the weather. They are unclaimed because Iceland is fiendishly expensive and their relatives can’t afford to pay the storage charges and have the bodies flown home.
In a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Britain ranks seventh in the league table of depression. While I am obviously thrilled that my current state of anxiety, which is often a precursor to a bout of depression, may have helped to push Britain above France, Greece, Poland and Slovakia in the rankings – if it gets much worse we could nudge ahead of Iceland, Ireland and Germany – I have reservations about the data. In many cases mental illness goes undiagnosed as so often it relies on patients self-reporting their condition. So a country with fewer people identifying themselves as depressed may be a worse place to live for those with a mental illness as the pressure to pretend everything is OK may be greater. I’d rather live in a country where being depressed was no big deal than in one where I was expected to suffer in silence.
Britain has been criticised for its slow response to the devastation caused throughout the Caribbean by Hurricane Irma. Whether residents of the British Virgin Islands wanted a visit from Boris Johnson is open to question, but they did belatedly get one, along with some rather grudging offers of financial assistance from the UK government. With so much rebuilding required and comparatively little cash seemingly available, it is surprising that some MPs haven’t put their hands into their pockets to help out. Both Nicholas Soames and Andrew Mitchell have benefited from having offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and it shouldn’t be beyond them to find a few quid to replace the buildings that housed their accountants. The Cayman Islands, where Jacob Rees-Mogg has an offshore company, did not escape unscathed so perhaps he might think about paying for one of the food banks of which he has recently become so fond.
It’s been revealed that Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election cost the country £140m. I am happy to have contributed £2 to an election that destroyed her strong and stable majority but can see not everyone will feel the same. You would think the prime minister might now think twice about spending other people’s money on pointless vanity projects, but apparently not. The latest is a two-and-a-half minute animated video explaining why Brexit is going to be brilliantly simple that has appeared on No 10’s Twitter feed. Not only is the video ludicrously amateur and upbeat – it wouldn’t be out of place alongside one of those 1960s public information films explaining how to survive a nuclear attack by hiding under a table – it also suggests we’re only going to bother to trade with one country in Africa and a couple in South America, and manages to overlook the fact that Croatia is a member of the EU. It’s you that paid for all this. So that’s all right then.
Simon Rattle’s return to Britain, after 15 years at the Berlin Philharmonic, to take over the baton of the London Symphony Orchestra has come with a lot of hype. There are large portraits of him on almost every spare piece of blank wall at the Barbican. But the first concert more than lived up to expectations and Rattle and the orchestra fully deserved their five-minute standing ovation. For me, the undoubted highlight was Elgar’s Enigma Variations, which can sound like a Last Night of the Proms’ old familiar but in Rattle’s hands reached moments of sublime beauty. At my father’s funeral nearly 20 years ago, the organist played the Nimrod variation – quite badly – and it left me almost unmoved: I couldn’t think why my dad had asked for it. But this time the opening bars seemed to emerge as if from another world and grew into something transcendent. My whole body came out in goosebumps, tears came to my eyes and I felt closer to my father than at any time since he died. Thank you, Simon. And welcome home.
Digested week, digested The dysfunctional tin-pot dictatorship
‘We’ve all got tickets for Florence and the Machine’