Postdictive Illusion of Choice

Can’t resist linking to this bit of neuroscience.

Illusion of Choice

The brief version – research shows that sometimes our brains make actual decisions before we have made, or could possibly make, a conscious choice. Nevertheless “the system” is able to retrospectively fool us that we have made a conscious choice.

It is believed that this “fooling” process is evolved – that our ability to believe we are in control and making choices (even when we are not) stops us from falling into despair and spending our whole lives on our futile bums.

It is an uncomfortable truth. As much as anything else, we may be less accountable than we think.


…the thing I didn’t mention about yesterday’s charity do was that I nearly broke the habit of a lifetime and tried to chat up someone I’d only just met.

This is not my usual style. I brood, aloof, and wait.

But one of the stand-up performers did a routine best described as “mimed comedic burlesque”. That doesn’t really do it justice, but it reminded me of cabaret performers in the pubs of the East End of London, or a camped up middle aged female variation thereof.

She was quirky, funny, interesting, clearly a bit barking. The kind of woman it would be easy to adore. Having had a few beers I was sorely tempted to switch into my outrageous mode. She knew I’d been tickled by her performance as I couldn’t help grinning at her.

All this was cut short when she slipped her husband into conversation, who then duly trundled around the corner like a motley gooseberry. Blast and damnation. I mentally re-adjusted, adopting male resignation at having been beaten to it. But, oh, the unrequited frisson.

Magical Weekends

A slightest touch of hangover after yesterday’s 12 hour open mic to raise money for cancer research, to which I was able to contribute a couple of wildly inappropriate poems. They were flogging Estrella behind the bar and maybe I should have stopped at six….

Here is another poem from Prole that I liked, this time by Robin HoughtonI enjoy sharing other peoples’ stuff so much maybe I should start my own magazine; I don’t know of any Leeds-based ones right now.

This poem works because I suspect we have all had holidays that fit to both “halves” of the poem. All of my trips with my second wife were like part one. Before all that, in another life, there was a magical weekend in Florence. Another in Barcelona after.


Two Honeymoons


One duff clutch on the Hardknott Pass,
one haunted cottage and a coalfire dead
on its knees, mud and more mud.

A photo shows me posing on a stile
in pink sweatpants, that curly perm,
a blurred expression. the miniature train

to Muncaster Castle, hills we couldn’t
name, pubs full of climber blokes up
for Striding Edge. I don’t recall the sex.


Now and then we left the third floor apartment
to fetch bread, or olives or a jar of ragù, to catch
a flash of a Plague Doctor’s white beak crossing
from a blind alley, or a tethered gondola aloof
and rocking. A palazzo doorway was our heartland
and the city drew close, warmed its hands in ours.
We almost touched the prancing horses of St Mark’s
from our window. Every night, in this church or that
we could have heard the Four Seasons by Candlelight,
we talked of it but never went, and instead grew fat
on the silence of lapping water and our own mystery.
Winter was over and Spring sensed our impatience:
we didn’t know how long we had, nor, if Venice
were to sink and send a thousand Titians out to sea
if we, naked and joyous as cherubim, would notice.


A shout-out for Prole magazine, which has just won the 2016 Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Magazine.

What I like about it is that the poetry they publish feels like 21st century poetry. Poetry of our times rather than purely academic echoes of our poetic past.

Take this one by Rachel Clyne from the last issue. I love the playfulness of it.

Having my cake and…

I’ve nothing against éclairs,
their shape and choux,
chocolate slick on the outside,
hidden cache of cream
waiting to burst, like a sax break,
all brass and brash. I relished them,
but really I wanted a trumpet
of my own to blow.

It was vanilla slices that did it for me,
all pink and secret
layers you can get the tip of your
tongue into, lick the custard cream,
feel the harp strings
vibrating in your hand, followed
by fairy cakes with a cherry
to slip between your lips.

Miserable Poets

Hodge podge post coming right up. First, a link to more excellent Jeremy Sherman.

OK No Cupid

He is ten years ahead of me in age but boy does he hit some nails on the head in this one.

“These days I don’t think I’m cut out for partnership. My priorities, including those expressed in my articles here, make me difficult company for romance. My work, both academically and personally (my equivalent to a spiritual practice) is largely about overcoming the tendency to think any of us are exceptions to the good and bad in human nature. Romance, especially during courtship, tugs toward exceptionalism. I just can’t – or rather won’t – sustain the mutually flattering boosterism that courtship entails.”

It’s tough for psychologists. It’s also tough for people who want to expose self-delusions and uncomfortable truths through poetry.

“Maybe being a loaner still hasn’t stuck. I could end up partnered for the long haul again.  I have friends who place bets that I will, and friends who try to reassure me that I don’t have to end up single and miserable (they make that association). This can sound a little like heterosexuals reassuring homosexuals that they don’t have to end up gay.”

Uh-huh. This is a toughie to internally analyse. You can never be quite sure if you are really convinced that you are best suited to singleness, or whether you are deluding yourself about that to make yourself feel better about the fact that you are. The trouble with self-delusions is that you can delude yourself that you’re not delusional. Well I don’t bloody know. Maybe I just need someone to move in with me at random and tell me to stop being so bloody stupid. Something akin to Alan Bennett’s Woman in the Van, rolling up in a Volkswagen camper outside my house one Sunday afternoon and not taking no for an answer.

Other news, last night was an open mic poetry evening where the poetry just got darker and darker and darker until the compère was practically begging people to inject a few laughs. John! You’re up next! Surely you’ve got a lighter one to share?

“Um…I’ve brought a poem about death”

Oh for fuck’s sake. The irony is I still had the funny one about breasts that I have been saving up for such a moment but I’d already had my turn, put on the stand first. That’s the third time I’ve been put up first, way above the statistically average amount. Have I got a face that looks like I want to go first? Someone recently commented that I have good “presence” and I don’t think she meant my expanding waistline. People often judge me to be of considerably higher than average confidence.  A couple of people have even suggested that I am “intimidating”. That just makes me go



Strike Two


Magazine submission acceptance number two. One more, and I can say “several”. The race is on to see how many acceptances I get before anything actually appears in black and white.

So far 12.5% of my submissions have been accepted, against the stated norm of 1%.

My best mate already has instructions for my gravestone epitaph, but an amendment is required.

He wasn’t an idiot all of the time.
Twelve times better than the average poet.