Maria Bamford is one of the top comedians in the country, but like many other people she suffers from bipolar disorder. Maria has discovered a website that helps her cope with the stigma of treating mental illness by using humor and community.
The effects of psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – on adult consciousness are even more extreme and may effectively revert key hubs in our brain to an infant-like state, at least temporarily. We appear to start life without a recognisable sense of self, developing self-awareness through social interactions.
Psychedelics like psilocybin also disrupt this sense of self, with people under the influence reporting the strange feeling that they were melting into everything around them. Brain scans show that the parts of the brain deactivated by the drug – those involved in self-awareness – are underdeveloped in babies. In a sense, psychedelics offer a window into what infantile consciousness might be like.
Babies be trippin’.
On a Saturday night in August 1789, John Wharton was drinking with John Stevens, Thomas Lastley, Michael Bingham and John Booth in The White Hart on Waingate – one of 395 ale houses in Sheffield at the time. John Wharton declared that he was ‘off home’ and left. Stopping at a urinal on Lady’s Bridge, he put his basket on the pavement outside, emerging to find his pals had followed to get him to stay out and had got hold of his basket: a scuffle ensued and they made off with it, getting a landlady to cook the shoulder of mutton it contained in the expectation that Wharton would track them down and join them in the feast.The Songs of Joseph Mather
In March the following year Wharton reputedly fled in women’s clothing as an angry mob attacked his house. Mather composed ‘Steven’s and Lastley’s Execution’:
Why had two of his friends been hanged over harmless drunken horseplay? Wharton, full of ale and worried what his wife would say, had asked Constable Eyre to give the others a fright and ensure he got his basket back – it contained the shoulder of mutton, a pound of tobacco, half a stone of soap, seven pounds of butter and 4d in money. All four were arrested but despite witnesses confirming their version of events – that it was nothing more than a joke and that they’d set money aside for the mutton – the local Magistrate, Vicar Wilkinson, sent all four to trial at York for highway robbery. The reasons for this wildly disproportionate reaction take us from a shopping list and the fug of ale and clay pipes in the White Hart to the other end of the class spectrum. MacDonald argues that ‘it can be no coincidence that [Wilkinson] took this decision on the same day as the Prince of Wales and his party, including the Duke of Norfolk, was expected to arrive at nearby Wentworth Woodhouse, the home of Earl Fitzwilliam’ (p. 222). The Earl paid close attention to events in the town and was concerned about the spread of radical ideas since Joseph Gales had started the radical Sheffield Register in 1787. The Earl, through or with Wilkinson, might have encouraged Eyre to intimidate known radicals or certain groups in the town; the fact that he and Wharton would split a statutory £160 reward if all four were convicted – the ‘Soul sinking gold’ – would only have made the constable all the more willing. As soon as word of the verdict reached Sheffield a petition was signed by hundreds in the town and urgently dispatched to the Home Office: the injustice was so flagrant that pardons were immediately sent back north, but flooding near Lincoln held up the messenger and he arrived at York in time to save only Michael Bingham.
‘Stevens and Lastely’s Execution’ marks a turning point in class relations in Sheffield. A bitter industrial dispute had riven the Town through the 1780s, culminating in the Freemen of the Cutler’s Company – those who had served apprenticeships – demanding the right to elect its Officers, who were a self-perpetuating oligarchy. The Freemen elected Enoch Trickett as their leader and he demanded the freedom of election in terms that – in the context of events in France and rising radicalism at home – were seen by the establishment to be revolutionary.