Tag Archives: delight

Arts and Their Impact on Human Relations – by Maha Moussa

I have a guest writer on the blog today.  I first met Maha Moussa 10 years ago while I was working for the British Council in Cairo.  Maha was interested in learning English, and was a wonderful hostess to me, taking me around the markets and secret places of Cairo, walking along the Corniche, teaching me about Egyptian food and taking me to cultural events, including Sufi dancing.  It was a wonderful time.

When I moved back to the UK, we lost touch, until one day she popped up on facebook and said “hello”.  Maha has lately been studying English again, and she sent me an essay that she wrote for her teacher.  I was impressed by it, not just because of the competency of the English, but because Maha engages with her subject with a great deal of honesty, joy and optimism.  It is the second essay she has written on the course.  Before now, Maha was all self-taught – writing to friends in the West, and meeting Westerners in the markets.  I think it is impressive for that feat alone – but above and beyond that, she raises some really wholesome points and some great, uplifting descriptions.  It is very different from the way that I write – and I hope you enjoy the change!

Arts and Their Impact on Human Relations – by Maha Moussa

Music, Singing, Dancing, Drawing, Poetry, Movies, and Plays, each of them is an important aspect of the culture of different countries and their civilizations. As such, they help us to form our ideas of life with many different perspectives.

Maha Moussa - A Friend From Cairo
Maha Moussa - A Friend From Cairo

There is no need to learn to be an artist, or even to study The Arts in order to feel the beauty which we see in the painting of the great works of Leonardo Da Vinci, or in the painting of an unknown person who lives in a slum area in India, for example.  Napoleon Bonaparte said: “A picture is worth a thousand words”, and yes, this is true . There is also no need to speak several languages to be able to enjoy the wonderful music and songs that we listen to in different languages. All we need is to learn how to feel, to see, and to listen to these inspiring arts, by using our senses, our hearts, our minds and our consciousnesses.  We can follow our desires to become acquainted with other people’s cultures and deal with them on a human level through their arts. That is all that we need to appreciate art.

One of the most famous quotes by Victor Hugo is: “Change your opinion, keep to your principles, change your leaves, keep intact your roots”. Thus, to be proud of our roots, our civilization, and our culture’s artistic heritage is something truly good and healthy. This sense of pride should help us to have a deep sense of understanding and respect for the cultures and arts of other countries, too. It gives us a wonderful chance to know more about the arts that contribute in some way to shaping the hearts and minds of other people, and affects our ways of dealing with each other in life. The fact is that, the global exchange of arts between countries, such as music, singing, dancing, drawing etc., provides opportunities for humanity to open the door of knowledge, to help people to add richness to their values, their dreams, and their ambitions to create a smooth path to communicate with other wonderful people around the world, and accept their differences.  In this way, we learn to accommodate others in a way that is less severe or intolerant, regardless of their beliefs, their customs, their religions, their nationalities, or even their lifestyle. This shared gateway frees us to meet each other naturally and respectfully with more flexibility, respect, and tolerance.

Someone once said about music: “Music expresses feeling and thoughts without language; it was below and before speech, and it is above and beyond all words.” So, if anyone has the opportunity to watch or to listen to any of the various music performances that come to Egypt from different countries such as: Korea, America, Zambia, France, Ireland, Pakistan, or India, etc., I think that the most useful way to be able to enjoy and feel this music is to let your soul go free and clear your mind, as if you are traveling to those wonderful countries and attending these performances by yourself. This is my advice from personal experience.

A few months ago, in the last Month of Ramadan, I was attending one of the greatest and most talented performances that I have ever seen in my life, along with one of my foreign friends, who was working in Cairo at the time. This wonderful show was one of religious music. It was the international annual festival of “Samaa for sufi music and chanting“.  It was a new cultural event that started 2 years ago. It is held annually during Ramadan, in one of Cairo’s oldest and most iconic Islamic buildings, El Ghoury Dome, or Qobat Al-Ghoury. The event I attended this year at the festival had bands from many countries, such as: India, Morocco, Spain, Turkey, while the core band had members from Egypt, Indonesia, and Akabila. This wonderful performance was a mixture of Islamic religious chanting, Coptic hymns, and Opera songs, at the same time. All of these bands were glorifying God, and His messengers Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, but with many languages and in various musical styles. They provided to the world through their music ”a message of peace“, to explain that God created us equal. Regardless of the religions or the beliefs we follow, we all are humans. When my friend and I were listening to them, we felt as if the amazing music and sounds came to us from heaven. All we could do was just enjoy the Islamic Sufi chanting and the Coptic Hymns and we felt that there was no difference between them. When the whole group said the same words together, such as; Allah, God, Mohammed, and Jesus, we became surprised at how they felt the pleasure and the power of their words, and how they transferred that feeling to us, even with our inability to understand most of the languages in which they were performed. We had no choice but to respond to their music and their songs.  Really we felt as if we had already traveled to each country.

In my opinion, there is no specific way to enjoy the different kinds of arts; every person has the absolute freedom to see, to listen, and to taste the art in the manner that suits him or her. Art and freedom are two sides of one coin. Thus, our freedom creates a sense of love, care, tolerance, and respect between peoples. So let us know and learn more about each other from our arts and our cultures. They translate many great and deep meanings in life into one common language we can all understand. Art provides us with convincing answers to many questions that we have in our minds about others, and the answer always is this: that we are all human, just human.

Evidence For The Existence Of Ghosts

So, this is the first draft of a sonnet that I wrote last night.  It came out of an idea I had while reading a book on cosmology.  Wonder what you think?  It’s the first draft only, so I may fiddle with it later.  I have called it: 


Evidence for the existence of ghosts

“Ghosts!?  You think a corpse can radiate

across The Void (so wide and dark)

a spectre of what’s past?  Disincarnate?

And why?  To send an omen?  Make dogs bark?

Really!  No ghoulish world beyond can light

the soulless dark, bewilder nature’s laws, extend

beyond the grave.  This lonely truth is right:

Not one thing lasts beyond its natural end.”

I held my tongue.  I could have spoken back,

except those long-dead shades whose pallid eyes

that glimmered hushed me from the silent black.

Standing still beneath those star-filled skies

I knew that for those present-long-dead suns

I need not speak.  Their argument was won.


Copyright (c) Matthew Wingett, 2010, in all media

My New Word – “Synecdoche”

Okay, so I’ve got to share this with you because I think it’s one of those unusual words that I didn’t know existed. I was just reading Seamus Heaney’s notes on the Anglo-Saxon poem, “Beowulf”, and this really unusual word jumped off the page.  When I find new words I get as excited as an amateur naturalist finding a new species of beetle.  Here it is:


It’s pronounced to rhyme with “select a key” – so: “Si NECKED a key”, with the stress on the second syllable.

The context it was in was to describe the Old English word “ecg”, as used by the Anglo-Saxons.  It is pronounced “edge” – and interestingly enough, means “edge” – as in the edge of a blade.

Now, here’s the thing.  In Anglo-Saxon writing, the word “ecg” doesn’t only mean the edge of something.  It stands for far more – because it can also means “sword”.  What happens is that the part of the object referred to gets to stand for the whole thing.  So, “ecg” by transference, also means “sword”.

That’s synecdoche.

You’ll hear synecdoche all the time in modern English, where the part stands for the whole.

For example:  “Here comes Big Mouth,” is a good example, although in this case, you could argue that the part stands for the hole.  Another example would be: “Who’s the suit?”

And it’s not only used this way.  It can also be used the other way round, where the whole stands for the part.  “The street was jumping for joy” doesn’t normally mean that houses, lamp posts and gardens were involved in uplifting athletic activity.  Just the people, normally.

Another form of synecdoche happens when you talk about the container of something when you mean its contents.  For example, when you say: “I’m just going to boil the kettle”, you don’t actually mean that you are going to get a kettle, put it in some form of crucible and watch it first melt and then bubble off as kettle vapour.   Nope, as far as I understand it, you are going to boil the water in the kettle.  And when you say “Do you take plastic?”, it doesn’t mean you can pay for your goods in empty milk cartons.

Then there are the words in which you use a specific class name to refer to a single thing.  I’m not sure, but I think the annoying habit of a friend of mine to refer to all women as a “Doris” might fall into this category. “I was out with this Doris the other day, and…”  He’s a nice looking boy, and the only Doris I knew of was an elderly lady with a blue rinse with a penchant for knitting.  When he tells me this, I see him in my mind with his hairy chest and open-necked shirt in a swanky bar, seducing a woman in pink carpet slippers and 1950s glasses, who will take her teeth out and put them in a jar at the side of his bed, before the evening is out.  Which pleases me no end.

Finally, there’s the version of synecdoche which is a general class name that refers to a individual items.  To be honest, this one I don’t really get.  With “Prepare to abandon ship”, for example, it’s pretty obvious that it means the ship you’re on.  You know, the one that’s sinking.  Besides, abandoning someone else’s ship means getting on to it in the first place.  Which I suspect would be counter-productive.  I think that’s a form of synecdoche, but I’m not sure.  Synecdoche is, after all a new word for me, so I am sure there is much more to learn about it.  What I know is just the tip of the iceberg.

So, if anyone can shed a bit of light on that final class of synecdoche, I will be most pleased.

In fact, to be synecdochetic about it, I will be all smiles.


A Little Boy, Lost In The Moment

A tiny moment of pleasure.  Scene: The Street Outside An Acupuncturist’s Clinic on Palmerston Road, Southsea.  Time: 3 p.m.  The shop is divided into the clinic, and a private living space, and the door to the living area has been left open.

As I walk down the street I hear the sound of a piano being played, and passing an open door, see a little Chinese boy of around 5 years old intensely concentrating on the keys of a piano as he falteringly produces the tune to “Camptown Races”.  I stand by the door and listen as he works his way gradually up the keyboard, changing the key as he proceeds.

A still moment.  The traffic and people pass by outside, and he is totally focussed on his music. He’s not brilliant at what he’s doing, and he makes mistakes.  But he corrects his mistakes, and carries on, teaching his fingers to pick out the notes in a certain order.  I absorb his total concentration, as if it, too, is emanating from the room on to the street.  Sensing him totally absorbed, feeling his way – learning, co-ordinating, learning, persevering.  The sound is not pretty, but enchanting – and it tells a story.

We live in a muddled world, and that makes it fun, too.  That little Chinese boy lives in a Victorian house in Southsea, where the English general public are treated with Chinese medicine, and plays a Black American tune on an old German piano.

I stand and enjoy.

These are the little pleasures of life.

A Provincial Snob

Tonight I have just got back from one of those great moments that happen from time to time in the Banana Republic.

It was a fireworks show over the water, fired from ships lying straight off from the Wharf, and boy it was great stuff. We got to The Point in the rain, and stood for half an hour on the shingle, with the smell of the water and seaweed in our noses, and the shingle scrunching beneath our feet. And despite the rain and the chill, it was neither damp nor cold enough to dull my enthusiasm. You know, I have come to love the Island. I love the Banana Republic and all its foibles. Yes, I get frustrated and annoyed by it, but overall, it’s an honest sort of a city.

The Spinnaker Tower, at night
The signature of the city, in concrete

Waiting for the fireworks, I played on the shingle with Toby, a close friend’s son – cracking open glow sticks and pretending in the October night to be Darth Vader – swinging our light sabres and laughing as we duelled.

Then, as the time grew closer I fell into conversation with a pair of women – one of whom lived in Old Portsmouth. And it was then that I encountered the Provincial Snob.

I guess I should have known her from her aloof air as she stood beneath her brolly, frowning at us playing, rigid in her light blue jacket in the rain.  The Provincial Snob of this type is a very particular beast. Look at her now, with her mousey bobbed hair and the slight curl of the lip, so nearly a sneer. Notice the way that she looks around her with an expression of discontent on her face. But most importantly, listen to what she says.

This Provincial Snob says things like: “Yes, I live here, unfortunately,” and doesn’t have the self knowledge to know that she is creating her own unhappiness. A little moaner, always looking to find something bad to say about the surroundings that are simply not good enough for her, the Provincial Snob will not hear that the place where she lives has anything to recommend it. She is in her twenties and yet sounds like a long decommissioned battleship would talk. Living by the side of the sea, she is a sad old hulk, caught in the backwater and stuck in the mud. What a shame on her.

And of course, the thing that is so stupid about the Snob is that she lives in a lovely, picturesque part of Pompey.  A place where the old buildings were saved after the War.  A place where King Harry watched his ships from the ramparts, where “heroes innumerable” as the brass plaque tells it, sallied forth from the Sally Port, and where the body of General Wolfe was landed in a barrel of brandy after he was killed scaling the Heights of Abraham.

“I didn’t use to like Portsmouth when I was younger,” I told her. “I used to live in the country. But now I’ve moved here, it’s great. The characters are amazing. Some of them are nutters.”

“Yes, well that’s part of the problem, the people,” she says, the light in her eye the optical equivalent of chokedamp.

Aha! So, it would be a better city if it didn’t have people in it… Another part of the Provincial Snob’s mindset is that she doesn’t really know how to be comfortable around people.

And then there is the Tower. As the firework show starts up, the Spinnaker Tower begins to flash with all sorts of different lights. Looking at its pointy shape and the way it stand on two legs, I say: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if the Tower took off!? That would be one heck of a rocket!”

“That would be the best thing that could happen to it,” the Snob sneers back, that cynical look in her eyes, that flush of colour darkening her face more. This is something that she has wound herself up about, that’s for sure. “That shocking waste of money. And I paid for it with my taxes. It’s disgusting. I see it everywhere I go in this city, and it is the ugliest thing I have seen.”

Wow. She is so dark now. “Oh, I really love it,” I tell her. “It’s a great signature building. Like the Blackpool Tower it is instantly recognisable. It put Pompey on the map.”

That put Pompey on the map?! You don’t think that anyone knew that it was here before?”

Oh, such stupidity. “Of course they did. But it now has an icon – a brand. It’s great fun. And people come here to see it, and enjoy it…”

But now the real fireworks start in earnest. A little dinghy is puttering around the harbour, and is firing a barrage of rockets into the sky. Screaming in pinks and whites and gold and blue from a big mortar on the boat. And this is just the prelude.

There it is. An amazing spectacle. Bright colours, explosions, the crackling of fireflowers burning for an instant in the sky, the gold explosion of the fire that bursts and rains. Then the embers hanging like stars in the rainy sky.

The fireworks burst over the Island.

Oh, wonderful city. Oh little Banana Republic that sparkles in the night, and fizzes and whooshes. This is the joy of the winter night, and little 4 year-old Toby sits on his father’s shoulders with his mouth agape. He’s never seen anything like it.

Behind it all, that remarkable Tower, lit up, drawing people to it, like a beacon.

And one Provincial Snob, not knowing that those little everyday decisions that she’s made about what to love and what to hate, she’s got the wrong way round.

Because if you choose to hate a firework, then it lasts for two seconds. But you choose to hate a building, or a town, and overlook what it has to offer… well, then you’re going to have to carry on hating it for a long time. It ain’t going anywhere.  And that little loop of reinforced emotion is going to carry on growing, under the skilled guidance of someone who really knows how to do misery.  Filling up your life with petty and useless distinctions which might well reinforce your sense of who you are but which, in the end make you this: a person less able to enjoy yourself.

Remember that, each time you are tempted to turn your nose up at whatever you choose to belittle; and when you are tempted to judge without first wanting to know and understand.  Remember this too: that knowing how to use your judgement skills to improve and delight in a thing can make you a person who can improve every day – and into a person in whom others can take true, pleasure – for the world expands as your love of it expands.

Why would you choose to do otherwise?

Signs and Wonders, 1: Rodent Racers

Red Squirrels: the shocking truth revealed in this investigative article by Matthew Wingett.

While driving in the Lake District last year, this little beauty of a sign caught my eye.

Although clearly not addressed to me, I did marvel at the intelligence of the Lakeland red squirrel; firstly at its ability to read, and then at its paw/eye co-ordination.

I decided to make further investigations, and contacted the Office for National Statistics regarding the number of red squirrels killed on the road in traffic accidents.

The results are shocking.

It turns out that a large proportion of red squirrel road traffic accidents are alchohol related, with dangerously high levels of blood-alcohol being detected in 45.8 per cent of red squirrel road deaths.

It is disturbing for nature lovers like myself to realise that the bucolic idyll of country life has such a dark underbelly.

Along with high levels of alcoholism in the red squirrel community are other addictions, mainly to nuts and acorns.  Squirrels have a tendency to hoard their nuts in all manner of places.  In fact, a recent survey revealed stashes of nuts in a field near Worthing, up a pig’s anus and in a cumulo-nimbus cloud.

The Red Squirrel Road Safety Action Forum, the Penge-based group of militant socialist squirrel-fanciers and road users also point out that the British red squirrel is in decline due to heavier traffic volumes in the last few years.

“The red squirrel has not adjusted to the new road conditions, and still imagines that we live in the England of the 1920s, when other furry British mammals, such as Ratty, Mole and Badger did not drive, leaving the roads open only to aristocratic, non-hopping amphibians, and squirrels,” he informed me, while fixing me with a slightly intense stare.  “But since rats, shrews and even immigrant gerbils have taken to the road, the high speed antics of the British red have led to just one tragic result: car-nage.”

In a secret location at the Dog and Duck in Penge, the spokesman also hinted at more sinister reasons for the shocking decline of the British red.

“Let’s be clear about this, apart from not being able to see over the dashboard and press the pedals at the same time, which makes driving inherently dangerous for the British red, we have to bear in mind that most squirrel mechanics are greys,” he hinted darkly.

“The American grey has the body mass needed to replace wheels, lift engines out of engine bays and service vehicles.  And…” he supped on his Babycham and checked over his shoulder to see if any rodents were listening before continuing. “They like to gnaw.  On brake pipes.  I bet that’s a statistic not held by the ONS,” he slurred as I plied him with more fizzy alcoholic drinks once fashionable in the 1970s.  “You know why?  Because the ONS is run by greys, too.  It’s a conspiracy.”

I was distracted from our interview for a moment by the sound of feet scurrying away from a table nearby.  Whoever had been sitting there had left behind no clue as to whom they were, except for an empty bag of peanuts and a copy of The New York Times, from behind which, the Penger assured me, “they” had been listening.

A call to the ONS asking for details on the amount of red squirrel road accidents caused by gnawed brake pipes received only a stunned silence at the other end of the line.  A query as to the species balance in the government-run organisation was followed by a high-pitched Texan rodent voice aggressively asking me for my name and address.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Grey Squirrel Mechanics Alliance was unavailable for comment.


Last night, I was awakened by the sound of the clinking of tools outside, and I looked down from my bedroom window to see small, furry movements underneath my car. It was clearly a dream.  I will be taking a drive in the country later today.

Waterstone's Delight

A little while ago I decided to rise to the challenge of writing in a hundred words or fewer about something that really delighted me, so that I could upload it to the Waterstone’s Delight website. I found out about the website when I bumped into the web developers in a pub on the South Bank up in London. The website was to go live on the very next day. It meant that for a short while, my piece was the most visited on the site.

The thing I love about the idea of Waterstone’s Delight is its guiding light: that in a time when things are really grim, when no-one’s got any money and tv newsreaders keep telling you that the world is about to get blown away in a banking disaster of Apocalyptic proportions, you can still focus on the the good things in life. And the fact is, there are plenty of them.

There are golden places in your mind, stored up, filled up with moments of delight, like the honey from a gorgeous summer or top quality champagne that’s tucked away in a safe place, just waiting for you to revisit and savour again. Right there, in your noddle – all the hope and aspiration and delight you could ever possibly want. And what’s even better about what you’ve got in your head as opposed to champagne or honey, is that no matter how much you drink of it, or eat of it, there’s always more to come. You can bask in the sunlight of a single thought for a thousand years, if you’re minded to live that long. It’s better than tv.

And what’s more you don’t even have to subscribe.

So, here is my piece below. I hope you enjoy smiley

Sand And Sea

Let me tell you about the sea, and the tides. For in their movements there is a delight to be found – a gentle one as soft as sunlight on the water, that laughs like the gurgle of the ocean caressing the shore.

When the full moon comes there is a sand bank close to my house that is laid bare for just a few hours. It is a massive expanse of sand that stretches flat beneath the sky, a transitory landscape. At each appearance, the sand bank is different, its character changed with the shifting seasons, new shapes sculpted in the sand by the draining sea.

A few evenings ago, as I walked out more than a mile onto the sand bank, the sea was reflecting the dying summer sunset with a satisfaction at a job nearly completed. The season, it seemed, was putting on its woolly jumper. The last dog-ends of the summer were burning themselves out under the windless shelter of seawalls. My love and I kicked around on the sand, a lunar landscape revealed by the moon’s movements. We saw horses in the sea. Of such events are the bottled tinctures of future delight made. A potent brew.