MELANIE MCDONAGH T FOR THE first time, I found myself
last night in the unhappy position of being without a taxi fare home. Or rather, I had enough Money to get me half way, which would mean walking the rest of the way at midnight or getting the night bus. This would not normally be a problem, except that I was wearing evening dress at the time a white and gold dress and a velvet coat, the sort of thing which is fine in context but makes you feel the most awful fool on public transport, still more, walking the street. My companion that night had obligingly found me a taxi so once inside I told the driver to stop half-way towards the destination. Why, the driver wanted to know, had I changed my mind? Because, I said, I only had a fiver for the fare. He wouldn't hear of it, he said. He had a policy of not dropping females off on the street alone. So on we went, all the way to my front door.
I expressed fulsome gratitude for his chivalry. Not at all, he said. He had a policy of performing one good deed a day. Today, in fact, he had clocked up three. I remarked that he could have the next couple of days off good deeds. No, he said, you had to do it every day or else you wouldn't keep it up. Normally, I take a reserved view of Good Deed doers. They remind me of Boy Scouts, in particular the Boy Edwin in P.G.Wodehouse's novels featuring Bertie Wooster. His rigorous Good Deed policy led to Bertie Wooster's holiday cottage, Wee Nooke, going up in flames because of some ghastly bit of officious activity.
Now, understandably, I have revised my view. Naturally, one's whole life ought to be based on an attraction to the good, and in expressing one's virtues in virtuous deeds. Somehow, though, whole days go by without my doing anything of the sort. It is very many years since I conducted a daily examination of conscience before going to bed, the sort of thing recommendcd in children's prayer books. But WI were to do so, I would usually find the audit a bit wanting, showing up a number of days when my badness was nothing more than the usual business of being uncharitable about my colleagues, and my good deeds no more than preserving a polite telephone manner in times of stress. A Good Deed a Day policy might result in my going out of my rut in order to behave virtuously and making a conscious effort to behave well.
It is time, I think, to hear it for legalism, or at least routine, for people like me. Many Catholics remember the bad old days when Lenten fast days meant weighing out the precise amount of food that would constitute a modest collation. Now the laissez faire policy means that most of the tine, we don't fast at all. A rigorous approach is less good than living out principles from the heart, but it is better than nothing at all. In Mary Kenny's book, Farewell to Catholic Ireland, she refers to the early editions of the popular Messenger of the Sacred Heart, and describes how people would "bank" their merits with the Messenger, writing in to record their Masses heard, acts of selfdenial and works of charity. It is odd to read about it now, but the veiy pleasure of recording good deeds would make one more likely to do them. My taxi driver may have got a Fick from having surpassed his Good Deed quota for the day. Personally, I wasn't complaining.