The psychology of willpower



 marshmallow test book

A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: eat this one now, or wait and enjoy two later?

This is the iconic experiment that renowned psychologist, Walter Mischel, is famed for and one of the most important in the history of psychology. In his fascinating new book he uses this simple test to explain to us what self-control is and how we can master it.

Years of studying the outcomes of The Marshmallow Test has allowed him to develop proof that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life. Mischel describes how self-control not only predicts higher grades in school, better social functioning and a greater sense of self-worth but it also helps us manage stress, pursue our goals and cope with painful emotions.

I bought this book as I have very little resistance to temptations such as flapjacks and vodka whereas I can delay gratification quite easily if the consequences affect my future self financially. I wanted to know whether willpower is prewired or can it be learned?


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Tears and joy from classic comedy genius


This is a lovely, funny, touching novel by the comic genius that brought us Reggie Perrin – David Nobbs. It’s the story of Sally Mottram, an ordinary resident of Potherthwaite, a small fictional Pennine town. A town, like so many now, in a dreadful rut of abandoned buildings and closing businesses. Sally feels strongly that something has to be done to turn around the town’s fortunes but what? and by whom?

A shocking tragedy breaks up this nice little tale of a one-woman crusade quite early on. Something happens that is so devastating that it threatens to shatter Sally’s whole existence. But indeed it is this incident that sparks her into action as she embarks on a mission to bring Potherthwaite back to life, rallying the whole community to save itself.

At times the plot appears to be straying into ITV Monday night drama territory but Nobbs didn’t get where he is today by succumbing to neat, twee, happy endings. Instead, we find amongst the tea rooms and allotments tales of suicide, obesity, guilt and jealousy all smothered in a heavy dollop of ‘keeping up appearances’ small town paranoia. Continue reading

A Taste of Morrissey


As you may have already sensed from this blog, I am a huge Morrissey fan. It was the legendary singer and a recent trip to The Lowry giftshop in Manchester that finally led me to buying and reading this highly acclaimed play.

Morrissey famously once said; “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.” Set in the ‘today’ of her northern, industrial Salford you can see why A Taste of Honey appeals so greatly to him. Delaney was a solo female voice in a wave of 1950s gritty British writing as Morrissey (in my opinion) has often been the only voice in contemporary gritty British song-writing.

A Taste of Honey was Shelagh Delaney’s first play and one that she is most remembered for. It received huge critical and commercial success at the time which led to the 1961 film adaptation scripted by Delaney herself.

The play is a poignant and simple story about teenage Jo, and the fiery relationship she has with her irresponsible mother, Helen. Jo becomes pregnant by a Nigerian sailor who soon leaves her. Gay art student Geoffrey moves in to help Jo with the baby after Helen runs off with her latest fancy-man. Jo remains resilient and optimistic throughout their grim existence in her shabby Salford lodgings.

It was the first play to feature a black man and gay man and became regarded as ahead of its time due its progressive understanding of social and sexual outsiders. Ahead of and of its time it maybe, but that does nothing to diminish its dialogue and themes as a great read for here and now. The exchanges between Jo and Helen are sharp, witty, cruel and equally peppered with dramatic revelations and the stuff of everyday grind.

I loved it. I found it funny and tragic and at turns a harrowing reminder of how times and attitudes have changed.

More on A Taste of Honey’s influence on Morrissey and The Smiths

Shelagh Delaney was the cover star of The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs and Girlfriend in a Coma. This, her most congratulated play and one that he has boasted he can recite word-for-word, was “a massive influence” on Morrissey and his lyrics as you’ll see from the lines below; Continue reading

Glamour and Grace




I finally made it to Monte Carlo last year. A lifelong dream of mine, I spent a whole day sight-seeing around the tiny Principality of Monaco. I’d always been drawn to it by the star-studded glamour, the famous Grand Prix and of course Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo!

But what really struck me during my whistle-stop tour of the place was the enduring presence of its much loved Princess Grace Kelly more than 30 years after her death.

The dazzling movie star from Philadelphia had lit up the big screen in the 1950s opposite James Stewart, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra in highly acclaimed films such as Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and High Society.

However, she retired from acting at the age of 26 when she became Princess Grace of Monaco after meeting, falling in love with and marrying the Principality’s ruling Prince Ranier III.

Their relationship became one of the most famous romances of the 20th century and the real inside story of it has been updated and revised here to coincide with the recent release of Grace of Monaco starring Nicole Kidman. The film may have been panned (I haven’t seen it yet so cannot comment) but don’t let that put you off this fascinating read.

It is extraordinary that author Jeffrey Robinson wrote this story about the world’s most glamorous family with the full cooperation of Ranier and his three children. Robinson had got to know Grace when he lived in France and his friendship with the Grimaldi household is evident as they divulge private moments and delightful insight into the life of Princess Grace – their wife, their mother. Continue reading