A new me
I have discovered a new me. My life has changed. If only I’d known this before… particularly before The Wedding.
When we’d been married a short while – I suspect Shaun was in his very early thirties – he happened to wander into an optician’s, I have no idea why, and ask for an eye test. Where he was paid a backhanded compliment I have remembered to this day.
“Well sir,” she said, after all her fiddling about with charts on walls and whatnot, “your eyesight is extremely good,” and just as he was preening himself and preparing to brag to me when he got home, “for someone of your age.”
So it was I who preened and silently bragged that my vision was twenty twenty (I’ve never known what that means), always had been and always would be. Eventually Shaun bought himself some half moons, which I found surprisingly aluring, while my eyesight continued perfect.
Until suddenly, without any warning whatsoever, a few years ago I went virtually blind overnight. I whipped out my A to Z one dark evening in London when I was lost, as I frequently am, and couldn’t read that ruddy index designed for someone about the size of a Borrower. I boiled. Soon I couldn’t even read it if I stopped pedalling, pulled into the curb and stood under a lamppost.
I started pinching Shaun’s spectacles to read. One day I found I couldn’t read the tiny lists of ingredients on things in supermarkets; I never had spectacles on me when I shopped so I just had to guess.
The rot had set in. I could rage as much as I liked – and frequently did – but I started buying my own spectacles. By the dozen, from Poundland. I scattered them about the house like confetti, though I still often couldn’t find any of them. I couldn’t see to find them, of course, without another pair of spectacles to look for them. And yes, frequently they were on the top of my head, thank you.
The offspring kept offering to buy me one of those strings that Really, Really Old People Wear so as not to lose specs. No, thanks. Then I started catching sight of myself on Skype, wearing specs as I had to in order to use my computer, looking at least a hundred and nighty eight and almost a grandmother. Yuk. I would whirl them off immediately: ok, I couldn't see the keys but at least I couldn't see what I looked like either.
I was even beginning to wear spectacles to chop vegetables, so as soon as I opened the oven they would steam up and I’d be blinder than ever.
Naturally therefore, when Serena and Christian asked me to read a lesson at their wedding, I started learning it about ten months before the day. No way was I going to wear spectacles at my daughter’s wedding. Absolutely no way no way no way.
To be honest, it was no burden to me to learn a chapter of scripture, but don’t tell them that. I was an actor before I was a writer and wouldn’t mind learning a book of scripture. A Shakespearean play a year wouldn’t do me any harm at all. I would have learnt it anyway, as the best way of preparing a reading. But the spectacle-issue guaranteed it, word perfect. Which meant that when, a few weeks before The Day, Serena dropped the bombshell that she only wanted four verses not the entire twenty or whatever I’d learnt the previous autumn, I had the moral high ground and was able to negotiate a few more, but that’s another matter…
(The funny thing is, when I looked at the wedding photographs, without any doubt whatsoever the moment in the whole day when I looked happiest, most animated, most joyous and most myself was when I was at the lectern. I really did enjoy being an actor, I realised.)
Anyway, moving swiftly on to the present day which is what this post is about, a few months ago Alex asked me whether I’d ever had an eye test.
“Of course not,” I said scornfully. “I’m not that blind.”
“Please do,” he said. “I’ll pay for it. Really.”
My father is rather harder to ignore than my son. As he says, he wasn’t a head master for two decades for nothing, and when he gets an idea it’s almost impossible to shake him off.
It had got to the point where I was wearing two pairs of spectacles, one in front of the other, while he gave me my daily Greek lesson, and I still couldn’t tell whether that was a rough breathing or a soft over the initial vowel.
He didn’t just offer to pay for it. He made the appointment and put the cash in my hand and shooed me out through the front door.
They tested and inspected and shoved excessively bright lights in my eyes and tested some more, and told me for the umpteenth time that no, laser surgery wouldn’t help (I’ve asked numerous people in recent years) and no, they’d never heard of those whacky Traynor Glasses with which you’re supposed to be able to cure your eyes organically by driving yourself nuts reading through pinholes for several years…
And guess what? No, guess, really!
They said I could wear contact lenses. All the time. All day and all night, so I don’t have to fiddle about with little pots of liquid in that boring way that people with contact lenses do. And they are invisible to the person talking to me, so I don’t have to wear the hateful granny face.
There was a moment – a week or so – of panic when the optician asked if I’d had laser surgery after all because my irises are very flat so I probably won’t be able to wear contacts, but I suspect he says that to everyone as a way of amusing himself on a Friday afternoon.
For the first day or two I couldn’t see anything at all. It was as if I’d had several triple gins without the warmth in the belly. I couldn’t work. Without spectacles, all was a blur: with them, I had to hold my laptop about two inches from my nose which causes RSI after about eight hours.
But it’s settled down a bit now. I mean, I’m actually writing this without spectacles, and there aren’t too many typos, are there? Now, I don’t care if I lose three or four of the last handful of specs I bought from Poundland. I can cook. I can see the television if I want to, so now that I can, I realise I don’t.
They have changed my life. I am fifteen years younger.
And when I’m reading Ancient Greek, I only need one pair on my nose, not several, to read the breathings. So my excuse to my father, “Oh, is it? It’s so small, I must have misread,” doesn’t wash at all any more.
Not for nothing was he a head master for two decades.
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