Tuesday 28 March 1989, continued
The next question was from Sam: “Looking back at last week, I’ve had quite a few moments that have been interesting, and I’ve seen moments where I’ve had a choice in regards to my feeling towards people. But overall the most important thing is the total aimlessness almost of the whole week. Coming here tonight, the contrast between that and doing the movements and the state that brought. It seems to connect very closely to what you were saying about being a serious person.”
“And what it means,” responded Mr Adie. “I can think about things without even scratching the meaning. See, everything has a significance. Pause. Try and understand how you think. I suggest you think about a certain word, try and understand. How you going to go about it? Try, try and understand from your own experience, what kind of effort is necessary in order to approach nearer to bring some understanding about seriousness, or the question of being serious. What is your relation to that word”?
“It’s a question of how I actually go about it and what I experience: what do I have at the end? I have five minutes of thought or ten minutes, is there any substance at the end of it, have I moved at all, what have I gained at all, or what have I managed to lose?”
“I’m reminded of a strange thing that happened nearly hundred years ago, and it was my mother, I think must have made a mistake paying the horse, the hansom cabdriver, and I remember her saying afterwards, that he was a very vulgar man. Because she had paid him, and given him something, and he said, “There ain’t no taste in nothing lady.” She said it’s very vulgar of him. She was a real Victorian, but you see this very interesting thing. Let’s us say she hadn’t given him anything, what a good thing: “There ain’t no taste in nothing lady.” That’s very expressive.”
“What in fact is it that doesn’t have any taste? See, there’s more in it, but if you really take trouble it can pay you enormous dividends to try and think. But you’ve got to be there, and there’s one thing that’s more difficult than trying to think, and do you know what that is?”
“Trying not to think. If I were to make a condition, that you wouldn’t think about something, you wouldn’t be able to do it. And that brings you down to, “there ain’t no taste in nothing lady.”
I will pause here, because the anecdote was not clear on the tape, although of course delivered by Mr Adie with his expressive gestures, it was quite unambiguous. This, I am fairly sure, is what was meant. His mother had unintentionally short-changed the cab-driver. He sincerely felt that he had been hard done by this middle-class woman who could have easily afforded to do the right thing by him. He remonstrated, but he didn’t use the language appropriate for such a lady, e.g. “That is rather under par for the trip,” or “the fair tip is a little more than that.” Instead, he used a vivid expression” “there ain’t no taste in nothing, lady.” Speaking of “taste” rather than “fairness” or even “money” is to use a word he could physically relate to. It graphically conjures the picture of a poor labourer working hard all day and finding no taste in it. Our word “disgust” originally meant to have a bad taste. This barely educated cab driver was instinctively using the same visceral sense for language which had caused the shift in the meaning of the word “disgust.” And his coining that phrase had struck Mr Adie. Incidentally, this is why the man struck the stately Mrs Adie as “vulgar.” It was the language of a poor common man used by him to express his poor common feelings. There is nothing artificial about a phrase like that. And adding that one word, “lady,” at the end of it was a masterstroke: he is aware of the social difference between them, but is not over-awed by it. He had something to teach her, and he did. She learnt the lesson alright, and so did her son.
This brings us back to Sam’s question – and ours. How can I fruitfully think about the material of my life? It wants an ability to relate my experience directly to both my thoughts and to my words, and for that, surely, I need to have some feeling of myself throughout the exercise. I need to eventually learn to summon that Deputy Steward, who stands behind all my ordinary thought, feeling, and sensation; witnesses, orders, learns, and guides.
Joseph Azize, 19 February 2020