COLUMN: April 19, 2018

Clark Kent
A man wearing glasses. I am not saying I am like Superman. It is not for me to say that

FOR most of my life I have worn glasses. I think only the logistical difficulties prevented me from being born wearing them.

For the first nine years, my glasses were intended to make my virtually blind right eye work. And when they realised they would have better luck getting a post-Brexit economy to work, my doctors told me I did not need to wear them any more.

But I started wearing glasses again in my mid-20s, when I belatedly realised that I was having trouble seeing into the distance. Luckily I was a poor footballer in any case, so this was not important. The only time I ever had to see into the distance was every day when I was driving on the motorway.

And so I continued to wear glasses, ostensibly for distance vision, but, because I am a) lazy; b) prone to losing things; and c) too vain to wear a Larry Grayson-style spectacles chain, I only ever took them off for sleeping and showering. Even when I took them off I still found myself absent-mindedly pushing a phantom pair up the bridge of my nose.

All was well for the best part of 20 years. I would have eye tests every couple of years. Occasionally my prescription would be marginally strengthened, and I am not entirely sure it had to be. When the optician asks me if the first or second lens is better, I honestly do not know. I am convinced that sometimes I actually got worse glasses after an eye test than the ones I had before.

But recently I was reading an article on my phone and I realised I was squinting and holding the phone at arm’s length. I lifted my glasses. The text was blurred without glasses and considerably more blurred with the glasses.

“Oh, marvellous,” I thought. “It’s finally happened. First grey hairs, then my barber’s suggestion that he might trim my eyebrows, and now this. I need reading glasses. Next stage is excessive ear growth, then elasticated waist trousers, then a more than mild interest in advertisements publicising funeral insurance plans starring the worst actors over the age of 65.”

I shuffled along to the optician’s, a new one this time. Perhaps the difference between this one’s first and second lenses would be more apparent and I wouldn’t have to guess the answer. “How long has it been since your last eye test?” the optician asked me. It felt like going to Confession.

“About 18 months,” I said. He raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Oh,” he clearly thought, “That’s not very long. I’ve got one of those recreational eye test-takers they warned us about at opticians’ school.”

“That’s not very long,” he said.

“I’m having trouble reading while wearing glasses,” I said. “This is a new and unwelcome twist in the story of my eyesight.”

“You could just take them off,” the optician said, presumably unaware of his company’s keenness to flog me as many pairs of glasses as possible.

“I could, but I know I wouldn’t. Can’t I have varifocals?”

He acceded to my request and gave me a sheet of small type to read. With a particular lens strength, I could read it so well I forgot myself and added intonation and emphasis, like Richard Burton. It was almost a pity when the optician snatched it away.

My prescription was ascertained and I was sent off to a salesman to choose some trendy frames (there is no such thing as a trendy frame) and work out what sort of varifocals I would like. For there are four different levels of varifocal excellence, and the only difference I could see between them was the price.

I chose the second cheapest, my standard approach to all such choices, and waited a week for my glasses to be hewn out of the glasses mine, or however they make them.

I have been wearing them for a couple of weeks, and I can tell you this: varifocals take a lot of getting used to. For a start, you have to remember to move your eyes, rather than your head, when changing focus from one thing to another, making you look like an Eagle Eyes Action Man.

And walking downstairs is much more interesting, especially if, like me, you have vertigo. Adding the element of blurring to the experience makes descending a staircase as exciting as a roller coaster.

This is what it is like to be older. I can see that now. Literally.

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