Letter from Roger Tarbuck, August-September 2017

Nearly all classical guitarists play with the nails of their right hand and these need to be long, especially the thumbnail.  The trouble is that nails can crack or chip.  I, for instance, have the recurring problem of a split appearing on my thumbnail, and this needs repair, for which I use superglue.

Because the damage to my thumbnail appears on my right hand, I need to handle the tube of glue in my left hand, then place a couple of drops on the crack in my nail.  But the crack is closed because the thumbnail is strong, so, before the glue hardens, with the end of a fingernail on the right hand I prise the thumbnail upwards and try to waggle it up and down, to allow the glue to run quickly into the crevice.  (Gel doesn’t work here.)  I then quickly put the tube down and work the crack with the nails of my left hand and hold it in place, all in a matter of seconds.

On the occasion I have in mind, I gave the tube a little squeeze, but nothing happened, so I squeezed harder, then harder still, and yet harder, whereupon the glue shot out in a jet and ran like cool water over all the fingers of my right hand, then, because I instinctively tried to limit the damage it would do to my soft reclining chair, my pyjamas (!) and the carpet, by bringing my left hand into play, in very few seconds I had all the fingers of both hands saturated with a great deal of superglue, all of it destined to harden like glass in less than a minute.  But I was saved by a simple thought:  Keep your fingers apart, which I did.  Can you imagine what it would have been like if I had allowed my fingers to touch each other, and then, possibly touch the fingers of the other hand?  Or my face!?  There would have been a seven-hour wait in A & E, and would they have had the solvent available?  (And what about the loo?)  But my fingers were separate and I had a bottle of the solvent. (Always have solvent, and always test the tube of superglue against a couple of tissues bunched in the other hand.  If it spurts out, no harm done.)

What concerns me here is the spontaneous reaction which caused me to keep my fingers apart.  It reminds me of the time that I slipped and tobogganed downstairs on my back, at the age of 75.  While this electric experience was happening, a thought flashed into my head: Keep your feet together.  I wasn’t hurt.  In fact, I would have enjoyed it if I’d known that there would be no injuries.  Too many people in such a predicament try to stop themselves by sticking their feet out and hurting themselves badly on the stair posts, or under their body, as they somersault at speed.

In each of these experiences I was saved by a spontaneous reaction.  No time for thought. No “What shall I do to do in this situation?”  I kept my fingers apart and my feet together without thinking.  From past experience, I knew the dangers of super glue, and I dimly remember reading something about the best techniques of falling downstairs, and the necessary part of my mind sprang immediately into action.

Edmond Shaftsbury called this part of our mind the Truth Teller.  It knows the best course of action to take in an emergency or when suddenly presented with strange circumstances.  I’m not talking about the first few minutes, or the first second, but the very first instant when you meet something new.  Somehow you know what is right and what is good; what to do or not to do.  This has happened to me many times, and on reflection afterwards, it has always been right.  All this takes place before opinions, prejudices, likes or dislikes – even before reason.  In a sudden crisis, there is no time for reason, only immediate action.  Reason comes afterwards, when we weigh the pros and cons of what we have experienced, because, after all, like good Unitarians, we mustn’t lose our head.

This spontaneous reaction is evident when we meet a stranger.  Before all thought, all reason, all funny little ideas we may have, there is acceptance or non-acceptance – pre-prejudice.  In the first case, the stranger starts with an advantage; in the second, he or she will have to prove him or herself.  Such a spontaneous realisation can reveal love at first sight, and it’s what I experienced when I first encountered Unitarianism.  Before all questions of Christianity or humanism, freedom, reason and tolerance, ancient or modern, etc, I knew that this was it, so I stayed.  Later, reason proved me right.  Oh how right!  Of course, I could say that this is all God-sent, but I won’t go into that now.


Yours sincerely,

Roger Tarbuck