MANY of us have this sense, which is sealed to our souls and thus totally inescapable, that somewhere high above, far beyond the yearning beak of a winging bird, is the realm which no rocket could ever pierce.
In there is an eye floating alone, unhooked and unsupported, and it looks down here – into our souls, under our nails, up our nostrils and into the wicked nooks of the brain. All is revealed to this eye and when we act, it blinks like a camera. Behind its shutters, everything is recorded for the eternal file. This is the eye that we can never see.
It is not like Big Brother’s eye in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty Four, which foretold the coming of CCTV with chilling accuracy. That eye saw only the visible. This eye in the sky sees the invisible us – that most cherished part of being, our thoughts. You can call it what you like, maybe it’s your conscience, perhaps it’s God. Could they be the same thing? But to my generation, dipped in the Christian faith of our forebears, it is simply God.
We all had this notion then that our good deeds and our bad deeds were ticked or crossed in a perpetual balance.
So, if you crawled from the warm comfort of bed to make your parents a nice cup of tea on a frosty Sunday morning, your foot was stepping gingerly on the first buttered rung of Heaven’s ladder.
But if, in a fit of snarling jealousy, you snapped a clever friend’s pencil and then laughed, you would be doomed to start the next life roasting your flaccid buttocks on the hobs of Hell, while listening to a tape of Sir Brucie Forsyth repeating, “Nice to see you – to see you, nice’’.
In the comparative sophistication of my mature years, I still hold these sentiments. The seed was sown deep.
Yet, in the spring of roaring life, you believed that it would be OK to sin a bit on the romp down the road, as long as you kept enough puff for a righteous spurt towards the end – and that was a long way off, to be sure.
But, at my age now, it seems to be a little closer. That’s why we worry more keenly about this balance, wondering if it is time, at the least, to begin limbering up for that spurt.
You need to be as fit as a harp, if you are to go up and not down on the day that you’re summonsed to the great yo-yo of judgment.
These thoughts were dancing in my mind shortly before Christmas, as I left the railway station in the noon drizzle.
An old fellow emerged on his stick from the nearby bus shelter and hobbled and wobbled precariously towards me with a proposition. I had seen him many times before and knew that there would be nothing of advantage to me in the deal that he was about to unfold. Would I, he asked, get him a can of cider from the shop behind the shelter?
I agreed to do that. Then, to my surprise, he offered to pay for the can and opened his purse to reveal a clutch of coins.
“They won’t serve me,” he said with a hint of wounded dignity in his tone. “So, if you get the drink, I’ll give you the money.”
Now, this was a dilemma.
The staff in the shop presumably didn’t serve him because he could be a nuisance, or other customers complained about him, or they felt, rightly, that the drink was bad for him.
But, in the past, I have had good reason not to be too preachy about the evils of drink, so I bought the can, thinking that it would give him brief pleasure in a day that otherwise promised very little.
I don’t know if it was a wise thing to do, but, instinctively, I dislike the moral tone of those who would deny the beggar booze, though they are probably right in the long run.
It would be nicer to make my wife a cup of tea and some hot buttered toast and hope that the eye blinks in the sky then.