Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The eyes have it

Having bitten the dental bullet (in a manner of speaking), I grasped the ophthalmic nettle and had an eye test yesterday.

Or perhaps that should be: had a number of eye tests. And a modern visit to the optician has become akin to visiting a form of torture chamber, with all manner of devices that you almost have to be strapped into to have air puffed at your eyeballs, to have your eyelids turned up and goodness knows what else.

It’s all rather different to my first memories of eye examinations.

The first optician that I remember was called – if memory serves – Miss Anderton. I picture her as white-haired and wearing glasses; thin, tall and gentle, but with the manner of a slightly jolly hockeysticks sort of schoolmistress, all very businesslike.

This was Mossley – and being a Pennine mill town, it wasn’t really the sort of place that was overburdened with such characters.

It had started to become clear apparent that my sight was far from perfect when I was little more than six or seven. By the time I was 10, I was having to wear glasses all the time. Miss Anderton told us that I had inherited myopia from my paternal grandfather, after the genes had skipped a generation.

My parents – I suspect as much from a fear of having to cough up for more spectacles more often that strictly necessary – tried to pack me in more cotton wool than usual. It provided a glorious opportunity to tell me, for instance, that I should stop playing football.

At my grammar school, I was never allowed to play hockey because of being a speccy four eyes. In fact, the only time my glasses actually ever took a bashing was playing netball.

My sight worsened rapidly. Miss Anderton told us that it would continue to worsen until I stopped growing. Which gave it a good decade to get bad and then get worse.

I finally got my first contact lenses when I was in my late teens – we went back to Miss Anderton from our then home in Lancaster to get them: I don’t have a clue as to why we hadn’t registered with an optician there instead.

I wore them on the way home, as my father drove. It was astonishing; clouds seemed to be three-dimensional. And then there was getting used to how everything was a completely different size to what I’d spent years being used to. Pavements, for instance, suddenly seemed to be miles higher than I had known. It took some getting used to.

One of the biggest shocks was being able to see when I was on stage – indeed, being able to see the audience!

In more recent years, I haven’t worn contacts on a daily basis, but mostly when I’m on holiday – vital for a spot of snorkelling and besides, it’s nice when you’re in the water and you can still see your surroundings in detail.

Yesterday’s test went well – I actually spent part of it telling myself silently: ‘this is not a test you pass or fail; this is not a test you pass or fail’.

My eyes are apparently in good health – my near sight is doing well and my far sight is a fraction worse, but not enough for the optician to insist on a new prescription. I shall probably get a new pair in the autumn, but for now, my main concern was making sure I could get enough lenses for holiday later this month.

There are people I know who would self-identify as disabled on the grounds of such very short sight. But it’s not something that I can imagine doing.

It’s not how I want to be perceived – it’s not how I perceive myself. As I get older, one thing that, for me, is clear: I am less and less interested in having labels attached to me, whether by myself or by others.

And I do sometimes wonder, however convenient labels may be, for a variety of reasons, whether they don’t simply divide more than they unite. And they always seem to be simplistic – not even half the picture.

And then there are labels that are just plain daft. One that gets chucked at me on occasion is ‘champagne socialist’. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a socialist (see above), but even if I did, what’s wrong with champers? Is it written somewhere that socialists shall only drink beer of Adam’s Ale?

And if we were playing that game, then surely nothing is too good for the workers: if they want a glass of bubbly they shall have it!

No. The more I think about, the less I want to have any labels pinned to me at all.

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