Dopamine, can you get it from Amazon? I keep hearing about this mysterious chemical reaction spontaneously occurring in our brain whenever we do or experience something we find pleasurable. This enticing reaction is apparently not responsible for pleasure as such, but occurs as reaction to our cravings, basic urges and desires.
This reward system goes back a long way. I wasn’t surprised to find the two most basic triggers for ‘reward’ are food and sex. Two essentials for life itself ever since the cave man era. Sex addicts would have thrived in prehistoric times, doing their bit to keep the population up in dangerous times, while another addiction that’s frowned upon now, addiction to food, would have been pretty useful a few thousand years ago when a gargantuan appetite would help make you the biggest, strongest person in the tribe.
Yes, I do appreciate I’m stretching a point in referencing atavistic behaviour in relation to our modern lives. So, dopamine is a good thing.
Oh, hang on, what’s this? The latest craze out of California – where else – is for dopamine detox. It seems these killjoys want to identify everything in our lives that give us pleasure and remove them. No more television, social media, cell phones, music, shopping for anything other than essentials, no more coffee, alcohol, fast food and, obviously, don’t even think of having a sex life.
If we’re to eschew pleasure, what’s the alternative? Yoga is recommended. Meditation, thinking pure thoughts, okay that’s five minutes accounted for. Can I read? Well, of course I can if I avoid any reading material that may be considered escapist so a maths text book will be fine.
I can at least eat, but only if I derive no pleasure from the act of refuelling. The suggestion is to munch on a raw carrot, focussing on tastes and textures while being grateful for the availability of food in its natural form. Do all these things and you may discover a life free from mindless pleasure and addictive behaviour. People actually sign up for this putative depuration?
From choice? It’s slightly reminiscent of the Transcendental Meditation movement espoused by the Beatles, but without the drugs. It won’t catch on in our house.
Just as we’re at the dipping a toe in the water stage of coming out of lockdown, there’s widespread alarm at an impending second wave and localised restrictions are back in fashion. Marigold and I are refusing all offers to attend rave parties – no change there – but we have been out and about to a certain degree in recent weeks.
My former walking route, basically up and down the garden path, has now been extended to the wider world. We try to walk an early morning mile through a variety of virtually uninhabited streets, crossing the road whenever another pedestrian approaches within a hundred yards of us.
We’re now expert ‘distance greeters,’ waving a cheery goodbye morning from the opposite pavements to the few people we meet. Occasionally we wander through the village shopping area, but usually at an hour when most people are still tucked up in bed. This is more likely to be populated, albeit not exactly thronged, but allows Marigold the opportunity to hear people other than myself speaking.
If we give any credence to the proposition that all life on Earth evolved billions of years ago from some mysterious primordial soup then whatever crawled, slithered or oozed onto land in Prehistoric times surely bears scant resemblance to the animals, fish, insects and reptiles we see about us in the 21st Century.
Distant ancestors of the group we saw exchanging unmasked air, fierce debate and occasional bonhomie outside the ‘just about to open up’ fishmongers had surely never slithered. Undoubtedly there would have been a Limo awaiting their arrival on that prehistoric shore.
Three couples, the men each wearing florid trousers, two bright red and the other an especially vivid shade of peach together with sweaters draped across the shoulders but not actually being worn. Their ladies, yes they must be classified as such, had identical shrieking laughs and appeared impervious to the inconvenience they were causing to the mere mortals patiently attempting to form a socially distanced queue outside the shop.
Parked alongside were two highly polished Bentley convertibles, one with the rear window festooned with stickers imploring us all to Save the Planet. A man with a more caustic nature than myself (!) may have pondered on whether a ‘gas-guzzling’ Bentley was an appropriate place to claim one’s green credentials.
We walked past, tutting of course, but Marigold made an instant decision to adopt the walking speed of an arthritic tortoise when she realised the three men were not just ignoring their shrieking wives, but actually having what that class of person probably doesn’t ever call a stand up row. All very mannered but there was venom enough simmering just beneath the surface.
‘Correlation isn’t necessarily causation,’ one of the males bellowed.
‘Aha,’ I thought, ‘just posh boys going on about pandemics. Same old stuff we hear all the time lately.’
As we lurked nearby one of the group looked about and decided I would make a good witness for the prosecution.
‘Ask this chap what he thinks,’ he called out.
‘No, don’t,’ I thought, but in vain.
‘What’s your view on this mask wearing nonsense?’ The irate Bentley owner asked, the tone of his question paying scant regard to the easily observed fact that Marigold and I were both masked. #
# Marigold is convinced I prefer wearing a mask as it (normally) discourages unwanted conversation and allows greater leeway in acceptable facial grooming. Yes, my Covid era beard needs tidying up, but with a mask in place, who would know?
I muttered a reply of sorts, aiming for an unintelligible and completely unrelated mumble in order to be disregarded. All three men nodded sagely; either they’re all pretty dim, I thought, or I was actually talking sense. I decided it was the former.
One of the men, the colour blind one in peach trousers, said, ‘See, told you,’ to his companions.
‘Are you sure you’ve got speech recognition turned on?’ retorted the one with an alarming comb-over. ‘Cloth ears, that’s your trouble.’
We walked on as they returned to their argument. That speech recognition comment was pretty much to the point, I thought. Adding ‘cloth ears’ was tautology though, plain and simple. Pleonasm too.*
*I can invariably be relied upon to think of the words and phrases I wish I’d employed at the time, but only five minutes too late. So often these days, sadly, they’re buried amidst the other dross infesting what’s left of my mind.
We carried on and found ourselves jinking and sidestepping our way through a group of dawdling window shoppers in the High Street. It was 07.30 so the shops weren’t open and we’d expected to have the pavements to ourselves. The sunshine had obviously persuaded a few others to struggle out of bed.
How selfish. This is our early morning walking route, not yours.
Avoidance of unmasked and potentially infected humans is a skill we have developed over the past few months. We cross roads, repeatedly, duck into alleys, lurk in shop doorways until the danger has passed. We have gained the wariness and keen sense of impending threat of a meerkat.
One of the browsers was saying to another, ‘I got shut of the lot of ‘em. In one vile swoop.’
Well, that’s an interesting variation, I thought. The subject matter remained unclear. What had been ‘got shut of?’ It could have been old shoes, unwanted presents or even annoying relatives, but the ‘vile swoop’ comment stuck in my mind.
I once uttered the original phrase ‘at one fell swoop’ in public when playing the role of MacDuff in a legendary* production of The Scottish Play.** Macbeth and Mrs Macbeth get all the best lines in the Scottish Play, but Macduff wasn’t a bad part for someone whose only previous stage experience was in pantomimes I’d written.
My performances provided ample evidence of how becoming an actor was a most unlikely prospect as a career possibility.
‘All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam At one fell swoop?’
*Legendary in the sense of being spectacularly bad.
** The Scottish Play. It’s considered unlucky to use the actual name of Shakespeare’s masterpiece after bad luck and a series of accidents accompanied the early performances and continued to do so. The Bard is said to have diligently researched ingredients of spells for his ‘weird sisters’ and did the job so well that ‘real’ witches placed a curse on the play in retribution.
Yes, the bizarre ingredients in the ‘double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble’ passage were supposedly taken from genuine spells. I can remember ‘fillet of a denny snake, in the caldron boil and bake; eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog,’ but there were lots more. Imagine how difficult it must have been for the three witches – the black and midnight hags - to source their ingredients back in 1606 when Amazon, Ebay, Waitrose and Deliveroo were unknown concepts.