Friday, June 21, 2013

I can see clearly now...(well, soon)


I have worn spectacles since I was seven years old. After discovering that I couldn't see anything the teacher wrote on the board, I was whisked off to my first optician's appointment and asked to read random letters off an illuminated board before choosing my very first pair of NHS finest. This will mean nothing if you live outside the UK. NHS spectacles for children came in three or four choices of horrible, only one of which looked remotely feminine, all with a stretchy bit that wrapped round your ears quite uncomfortably and smelled of dirty coins. Mine were pink. This wasn't a good thing.



In the following years I have had to increase my sight prescription on average every 2 years. I've long since passed the stage where I could read anything other than the large letter 'A'. I dread to think what this has cost, once the NHS stopped providing me with standard issue frames. When I was 16 I flirted with contact lenses, and put up with horrible scritchy-scatchy sensation for a few years before reverting thankfully to spectacle-wearing once more.

If you don't need glasses you probably have no idea what the problem is. Surely you just pitch up to the optician, tell them how far down the rows of shrinking letters you can read, then choose a pair of cool frames? If only...

Sight tests have gone mad these days. It's probably a combination of technology, physiological understanding and my increasing age that necessitates more and more tests; but each one feels like an assault course for the eyeball, coupled with an intelligence test. Oh, and there's the mild torture, too. Click the button when you see the light in the corner of your eye. Put these ridiculous and painful joke spectacles on and read the letters far away - now close up - now moving towards or away. Is the red or the green circle brighter? The up or the down line stronger? Look up - left - right - down. Focus. Blink. Blink again. Now keep still whilst I blast your eyeball with air. Or drop stingy yellow drops in your eye. Ooh, yes PLEASE...

Apparently I have a complicated prescription - or at least, that's the line when I say 'how much??!!!' to each preposterous lens bill. Very short-sighted with astigmatism, I have to pay extra to get the lenses made thin enough not to look comical. Since last year I have had to resort to varifocals for reading (the alternative was to carry around a long pole with a bookstand on the end of  it). And then one has to find frames. Surely it's just a matter of taste? Oh, no...it seems my ears are too near the top of my head. And my nose is hardly there at all. The net effect is that I look straight over the top of most frames. Every time I try around 60 different frames, squinting into a mirror that I can barely see through the totally useless lens-free specs, only to reasise that my true choice is between That One and This One - the only 2 pairs in the shop designed for mutant ears and invisible noses.

When I first donned my new pair of varifocals last year I was invited to read something. Definitely better; so long as I held the book tight against my body, kept my head erect and looked down. Well, that's normal. I then looked across the street at a shop sign..which was totally blurred. I was told I had to get used to them, but should return if I really felt things weren't right.

Now, you need to know that I am an idiot. I knew I should go back, within a month. Instead, I went on holiday, and then...sort of forgot...only not really, because things obviously weren't right...particularly the way the TV screen went 3D every time both red and blue were major features of the picture....nor the way I had to manually lift my spectacles in order to read at distance...but I accepted what was given me, by experts. I thought, that's how life is. And it's fuzzy.

I returned for an annual sight test 2 weeks ago. My reading prescription had changed, so new lenses were suggested. So then I mentioned some of these other problems. The staff all looked slightly incredulous, and agreed to send the lenses off for testing. And guess what? I just got a call to say they were wrong, all this time.

So now I'm looking forward to finding out if life could become a bit sharper. A bit brighter. A bit flatter, in certain circumstances - having Ian Hislop jump out of the TV at me was a little surprising. And perhaps, just for once, I won't have to fork out for the pleasure.