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‘For your eyes only’ or ‘eyes only?’


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If one phrase sticks out from the babel of voices that followed the chaos of 21 April, it surely is ‘eyes only’.

‘Men only’, ‘tourists only’, ‘invitees only’, we are familiar with the diktat explicit in the words, but ‘eyes only’? 

Could it be a reference to a bank? In this country of many types of banks - from the plain and simple bank to central banks, development banks, blood banks and eye banks – we boast the full range. Or is this a misspelt reference to ‘ice’, the pithy colloquial description of a laidback, do nothing posture, often associated with our power structure? If so, ‘ice only’, or do nothing, given the events of 21 April, has deadly connotations.

However, contextually ‘eyes only’ does not appear to be a reference to a bank or a clueless passivity. The instruction is to a reader of a given text (report). But again we have a problem here. How else do you read, if not with the eyes; is ‘eyes only’ another absurdity from our officialdom?

They may well argue, if the recipient was a blind person reading in braille, he would need to decipher the embossed message by touch. The opening diktat in that case should have read ‘for your fingers only’ – ‘eyes only’ was to confirm that the intended reader was not blind! In our teens, there was no one among our adolescent friends who didn’t want to be James Bond. To keep the world safe from diabolical plots, Ian Flemings’ larger-than-life fictional spy went from one breath-taking adventure to the next, fighting evil men hell. Bond, a role played to perfection by the Scottish actor Sean Connery, captured our youthful imagination; the famed licence to kill (the bad guys): unerringly in the most exotic settings, one plush hotel to the next, exceedingly winsome females, mind-boggling gadgetry; a ritzy life, carried with classy panache. 

After watching a few Bond movies, I began to read the Ian Fleming novels. It is then that I came across the phrase ‘For your eyes only’, the title of one of his short stories, much later made into a movie. Even the titles of the Bond series were thrilling; Goldfinger, Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – suggesting dark secrets, the shadowy world of espionage, sophistication and danger. Excited by the unfamiliar domain of the secret agent, we began to imagine a similar sphere around us, only invisible due to our untrained eyes! Police officers, especially those said to be working for the CID now appeared in a different light; could that scruffy beggar hobbling down the street be a cleverly disguised police spy?

With the passing of years our enthusiasm for all things Bond receded. Youthful fantasies must give way to the call of reality, and unlike James Bond, you cannot live twice. We have just one life, which must be given meaning within a society’s limiting parameters. Our truth is prosaic, a hard grind in a bleak landscape, very different to the glitzy cavalcade of the man sipping vodka martini cocktails, shaken, not stirred.

For sure, we too have many institutions that are symbolic of England, the land Bond comes from. From the business suit to the Parliament, judicial system, constabulary, public service, all owe their origin to that country. Under the burning tropical sun, there is endless talk of parliamentary procedure, Latimer House principles, independent thought and integrity of systems.

But something is amiss. Like the meaningful ‘for your eyes only’ truncated to a meaningless ‘eyes only’, every institution has been distorted into something small, quite different to the original model.

It has now become obvious that as much as we may like to delude ourselves, there is no true replication of ideas, institutions and models in this country. What we have created are only poor mimics, an empty mimicry that only contradicts the original.

True, we have a large police force. In truth, they serve selectively, mainly the powerful. When an ordinary householder telephones the police to report a burglary, in all probability he will be told that there are no vehicles at the police station – can he provide transport for the investigators? A powerful man hosts a party at his residence, the police will be there to guide the vehicles of the invitees. Observe VIP travel in this country – how many vehicles are there in his convoy?

There is no purpose in fantasising about Scotland Yard or talking about undergoing training at Sandhurst. They only lead to further obfuscation of a sorry scene. Training is good, but the deeply ingrained essence is resistant to change, as we have repeatedly noted. In the over-heated imagination of our youth we wondered whether the beggar shambling along the road was a clever police spy sniffing for the illicit. The practicalities of life have disillusioned us, that ragged beggar is no spy, only a miserable soul, as hopeless as an abandoned man in a poor society can be.

In the world of espionage and high security there is good reason to limit disclosure to a few eyes, hence – ‘For your eyes only’. But where it really matters, for an entire society evolving in turmoil, it is time for penetrating questions, boldness of mind and clarity of vision. 

There cannot be progress without understanding. We perhaps need a new diktat – ‘the truth before all our eyes’.


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