Last week, I mentioned the curative properties of medicinal cannabis and 'magic' mushrooms. Most of you will be aware of the research and development of the former, the latter not so much. In a ground-breaking development in psychiatry, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound of the mushroom administered to terminally ill cancer patients was found to radically reduce panic and anxiety. Incredibly, trials have shown that one dose of the hallucinogenic removes their fear of dying by transcending the ego.
This week, The Times
reported – in its business section – that a British start-up company, Compass Pathways, has raised $80 million from investors to research the wondrous fungus' capacity to treat clinical depression. The company is conducting a trial to discover whether the active ingredient – psilocybin – could be effective against other mental health disorders more resistant to conventional treatments, including anorexia, dysmorphic disorder and bipolar 2 disorder. Though not a financial advisor, Compass Pathways is worth a punt with your stocks and shares ISA, and an ethical investment to boot.
The eyes have it
To be quarantined while the sun shines is not easy. If ever there was a metaphor for depression, it's the pressing of your face against a window from a locked room you're forbidden to escape, watching the smiling eyes of up-turned faces absorb the bright light and warmth of a glorious spring sun. An external manifestation of the internal shadow perhaps, but the shadow cast by the 'black dog' is as nothing compared to lockdown in tight spaces with a violent partner, young children, disabled family members, or financial worries and job loss. We are privileged that boredom is the greatest challenge our household faces.
Physically distancing for a long time prior to current shielding instructions, the impact of the lockdown has not been as severe on me as it is for many of you. Last year, after catching mumps, shingles and various infections following a stem-cell transplant, I had had enough. I rarely kiss even my loved ones, don't attend gigs, theatre or concerts unless unmissable, avoid travel on public transport and the rest of it. As for personal hygiene, I had the handwashing ritual established years ago. A tip: refrain from drinking fluid prior to a cultural shindig to avoid a visit to the misnamed public 'washroom'.
We are slowly becoming aware of the social effects of physical distancing. I can fill you in on one from experience; sustained physical distancing results in a slow detachment from social contact and intimacy. One of the symptoms noted is the reduction in direct eye contact. You might think eye contact would increase given the straitened physical circumstances but no, for reasons I've yet to fathom, the opposite is the case. Eyes buried most of the time in books and various screens, I decided to reconnect with my dear husband across an unruly living room. 'What's wrong?' inquired my other half as I held my loving gaze. 'Are you alright? What the hell?' Finally explaining my strange behaviour, he chuckled with relief before unpausing his beloved Deadwood
. Could have been worse, I suppose, it could have been Southpark
The Deadwood stage
Twitter is a strange beast of a social media platform. Many users call it a hellsite. Sometimes it is, but I detect a softening since lockdown and an attempt by many who are not friends 'in real life' to communicate as friends. What does that mean, 'in real life'? Twitter is real life, if a rather abstract form of it. What's more, over the last few weeks I've gleaned an abundance of useful information from my real-life twitter friends: literature I'd never thought of reading, such as Nabokov's Bend Sinister
; beautiful movies such as Cinema Paradiso
; the 'sassy' trombone playing jazz musician Gunhild Carling; completing cryptic crosswords with feminist friends I've never met in person; gardening tips; the American crime writer Don Winslow, and assorted TV series.
Which brings me to Deadwood
, a magnificent TV series recommended by two online pals. If you loved The Wire
, they told me, you'll love Deadwood
. Set in 1876, during the richest gold strike in US history, Deadwood
was an outlaw settlement populated by assorted misfits including Calamity Jane (a stunning performance by Robin Weigert). Like The Wire
, the American dialect is thick, so you need to strain at times to catch what is said. But when you do, the dialogue is Shakespearian, as are the characters. British Actor Ian McShane is outstanding as the complex anti-hero; the articulate, cursing bar and brothel-owner, appropriately named Al Swearengen. In turn, I cannot recommend this series highly enough.
'Virtue signalling' is a pejorative neologism for the conspicuous expression of moral values in order to draw attention to your shining virtue. Originally a concept in evolutionary biology, the put down is targeted at progressives and left-leaning pontificators. In my view, however, the charge of virtue signalling is unfair unless you add the following clause: the conspicuous communication of a moral position you know bugger-all about. To my shame, I did exactly that on Twitter last week.
Wringing my hands about the plight of our poorly-paid essential workers, and to stave off the frustration of futility, I tweeted: 'The heading alone is good reason to cheer' over an article headed 'Coronavirus: Basic income for working adults championed by Scottish economists' – which I hadn't read. Because I knew it all. Now that is virtue signalling. What ensued from my tweet, however, was not.
First off in response was John McTernan, ex-spin doctor and family friend, quoting Alan Fisher of the National Union of Public Employees (NUPE): 'Most to those who need it least – least to those who need it most'. What followed was a civil, detailed, informative discussion between tweeters (mostly Labour, but not all). Apart from a couple of uninformed, irrelevant butt-ins by folk yelping 'Iraq', it was an education. What unfolded – via a range of interlocutors including Paul Sweeney (former MP), Michael Marra (Dundee councillor), Matt Kerr (Glasgow councillor), Simon Barrow (commentator, NUJ), Mike Danson (academic) and Jenny Marra (MSP) – was a long, disputational thread. For onlookers like me, it provided rich insights into the complexities of universal basic income. One day, I intend to write it up in Platonic dialogue form. In doing so, I might learn a thing or two.