Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead

Music

London Jazz Festival, 9-18 November, various locations

Opening tonight with a "Century of Song" gala at the Barbican centre, this landmark music festival is returning to London for its annual November stint. Exploding across the capital with a seemingly endless line-up of improvised music, this is guaranteed to keep all jazz aficionados positively paralysed with choice. From established performing legends to promising young newcomers, the twenty-odd festival gigs a night promises to show a unique snapshot of all that’s interesting in the world of jazz. Highlights include veritable living legend Herbie Hancock and last year’s Grammy Best New Artist winner, Esperanza Spalding. Jon Snow even takes a break from presenting Channel 4 news to show off his apparently "beautiful voice" in a duet with Mara Carlyle.

Festival

London Storytelling Festival, 9-18 November, Leicester Square Theatre

For the second year running, London Storytelling Festival returns to Leicester Square Theatre for ten days of tales, talks and teaching. Literary fans can hear from award-winning writers and performs, and a schedule of workshops is also in place. Aspiring writers can gain priceless tips from a weekend masterclass with Martin Dockery – seven time finalist in The Moth’s grandslam storytelling championship. Story-writing skills can also be honed at workshops with Sarah Bennetto, including the chance of reading your work live at a showcase. This unique festival sits somewhere between stand-up comedy, spoken word and a literary salon. Billed as ‘a great excuse to be snuggled up somewhere warm with fellow like-minds’, what more could you want from an autumnal evening?

Comedy

Josie Long, 10 November, Soho Theatre

“Hello there! My name is Josie Long and I am 30 years old and that is frankly a little alarming,” explains the three-time Foster’s Award Nominee in the introduction to her new show. Long may not be the first person to find that crossing the triple-decade milestone has put her in a reflective mood, but it's certainly funnier than most people’s. This, the sixth solo standup show from the amiable Oxford graduate, is written following her "political awakening". Not that her newly-found serious subject matter has affected the amount of laughs; critics agree this is the best offering yet from the TV panel show regular. Consisting of a spot of soul-searching, a tinge of Tory-bashing and an earnest contemplation of the frantic need to tick a bucket list in the last months of your 29th year, this show proves that the unstoppable comedian is exponentially increasing in talent.

Art

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, Somerset House, 8 November - 27 January, 2013

Perhaps the most iconic street photographer of all times, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of monochrome but endlessly disparaging of the potential of colour photography. This exhibition takes an unusual slant through his oeuvre, re-assessing his influence on future colour photography. Centred around the rare exhibiton of ten extremely little-known works by the master, curator William A. Ewing seeks to find a new lens with which to re-examine the icon. He juxtaposes Carteir-Bresson's work alongside 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers. The message? A categorical example fo the directionla influence he exerted on the pioneers of the medium he detested.

Theatre

People, National Theatre, until 9 February, 2013

When a playwright has a reputation approaching that of national-treasure status like Alan Bennett, success is almost guaranteed. Indeed, seat for People have been snapped up so swiftly that, unless you’re very lucky, you’ll have to wait a few weeks for the new batch of ticket slots. Following the success of The History Boys, Bennet brings us a new satire on – of all things – the National Trust. Described by Bennet in the preface as “a play for England, sort of” -  this is a story of upper-middle class snobbery descending into family drama. Nicholas Hytner directs.

Herbie Hancock is one of the artists performing at London Jazz Festival (Photo credit: RAFA RIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Harry Potter didn’t cure my depression – but for an hour a day, it helped

These books didn’t cure me. They didn’t even come close. But at my lowest moments, Harry Potter was the only thing I enjoyed.

Just over a year ago, I was on a plane to Japan being violently sick. I had filled exactly two-and-a-quarter sick bags with my half-digested ginger-chicken-and-bread-roll before I decided to think about Neville Longbottom. As the plane rocked from side to side with turbulence, I sat completely stiff in my seat, clutching my armrests, and thinking of Neville. I told my boyfriend to shut up. In an effort to abate my nausea, I distracted myself for the remaining hour of the flight by picturing the peaceful plant-lover over and over again, like a visual mantra. I wasn’t sick again.

I’m telling you this anecdote because this was the only time in my life that Harry Potter acted as some strange and magical cure (even then, the fact there was no inflight meal left in my stomach to throw up had more to do with it). And yet, a few years before this, Harry Potter did help me through my depression. When we talk of Harry Potter and depression – which we do, a lot – we imagine that the lessons of the book can teach us, in a Don’t let the Dementors get you down! way, to not be depressed anymore. What do you mean you want to kill yourself? Banish that beast to Azkaban with your silvery kitty cat Patronus!! For me, it wasn’t like that at all.

In 2013 I was depressed. And Harry Potter helped me through. But it wasn’t magical, and it wasn’t wonderful, and there was no lie-back-and-think-of-Neville instant fix. When I closed the cracked spine of the last book, my depression didn’t go away.

Here’s some context, as plain and painlessly as I can put it. I had just graduated from university and ended my four year long relationship. I was living at home and working three jobs a day to be able to save up to do a six-month journalism course in London (the course was free, but eating is a thing).

Early in the morning, my mum would drive me to the local hospital where I would print out sticky labels and put them on patients' folders, in between sobbing in the disabled toilets. Around lunch, I’d go to work in a catering department, where I printed yet more labels and made sure to order the correct amount of gravy granules and beef. At five, my mum would pick me up and drive me home (thanks mum), and I’d have an hour or so to eat something before going to work in the local steak restaurant for the rest of the night. (On weekends, I had a fourth job - I would wake up early to scrub the restaraunt's toilets. Yay!) 

It sucked – even though there was, at least, a woman in the hospital who liked to do an impression of a Big Mouth Billy Bass fish.

“You’re not just depressed, you’re depressing to be around,” said the boy I was not-dating, two weeks after I said we should stop not-dating and a week after I begged him to start not-dating me again. If I was being dramatic and poetic, I’d say he was the kind of boy who stopped at nothing to make you feel unloved, but if I was being honest I’d say: he was really bad at texting back. Still, tip for anyone wondering what to say to someone who is depressed: Not This.

This wasn’t, exactly, the moment I realised I was depressed. (For a little extra context, note that it was Christmas Eve eve!) For a few months, my tongue had felt constantly burnt. Every moment of every day, my mouth felt like I had just bitten into the chewiest, gooiest molten pizza and burned off all my taste buds. Except I hadn’t. Eventually, Google told me this was a little-known symptom of depression called “burning mouth syndrome”. After ignoring clues such as constant crying, and knowing-the-exact-number-of-storeys-you-have-to-jump-from-to-ensure-you-die, I realised what I was. You know, depressed.

And round about here was when Harry came in. I’d always been obsessed with Potty Wee Potter, from the lilac HP branded M&S fleece I wore as a child, to making my brand new uni mates don pillowcases and bin bags to dress up for a screening of Deathly Hallows, Part 1. But by 2013, I hadn’t read the books for a while. So I started again.

I can’t emphasise enough that these books didn’t cure me. They didn’t even come close. But one of the worst parts of my depression was my anhedonia – which is the inability to feel pleasure in things you previously found enjoyable. I would spend (literally) all day at work, dreaming of the moment I could crawl into bed with a cheese sandwich and watch my favourite show. But the first bite of the sandwich tasted like dust, and I couldn’t concentrate on watching anything for more than thirty seconds. I lost a lot of weight incredibly fast, and there was no respite from any of my thoughts.

Except: Goblet of Fire. Harry needs a date! And Hermione wants a House Elf revolution! Wait, does Ron fancy her? Harry can’t manage Accio and THERE’S AN ACTUAL DRAGON ON THE WAY. The fourth Harry Potter book is now my favourite, because its episodic and addictive structure meant I couldn’t put it down even when I knew what happened next. I couldn’t enjoy anything in my life at that time, and I’m not even sure I “enjoyed” Harry. But the books were a total and complete distraction, like slipping into a Pensieve and floating down into another world where you could lose track of the time before being yanked, painfully, up and out.

I didn’t learn any lessons from the Dementors. I didn’t learn that love would get me through. As valuable as these messages in Harry Potter are, none of them helped me with my depression. What helped me was – and I can say it and you can say it, because 450 million sold copies have said it – insanely good writing. Addictive, un-put-downable writing. All-consuming, time-consuming, just-a-second-mum-put-mine-back-in-the-oven writing. Writing that allows you to lose yourself in the moments you most want to be lost.

That’s not to say, of course, that the messages of Harry Potter can’t help people through dark times – they have and will continue to do so for many years. There is no right way to be depressed, and there’s no right way to stop. But for me, Potter helped me through my anhedonia when nothing else at all could. It wasn’t magic. It was something ordinary in a world where everything had changed.

Now read the other articles included in the New Statesman’s Harry Potter Week.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

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