Optical illusions

What did short-sighted people do in ancient times before spectacles?

Got lost quite a lot, I expect. The Greeks thought that too little of the spirit of vision had poured from the brain resulting in the eyes being too feeble to see a distant object.

The Romans didn’t have a clue about myopia but a myopic slave was worth less than a normal sighted slave and if you were a comfortably off Roman spending your retirement years in your villa with failing eyesight, you’d keep a sharp-eyed educated slave to read to you.

There must have been times when short-sighted people had real difficulties, though.

At the Battle of Trafalgar: “Oh no, Nelson’s sending more flag signals. England… expects…oh, there’s blue and a lot of white with a bit of red… anyone read those? Nah, Ned go and put the kettle on. Looks like we’re in for a long wait.”  

Imagine the plight of the secretly-myopic French archer at Agincourt, set to point his arrows in the right direction but not having a clue where they were supposed to be going.

Francois, your accuracy is un peut off today. Regardez les Anglaises – combien de digits are they holding up?”

Francois, awkwardly “Er… je ne connais pas.”

Deux, you plonkeur.”

Peeeeeyyyyyoing. Chesty thud. Reposez en paix, Francois.

Not useful. Yet short-sighted people must have come in useful stitching the Bayeux Tapestry. If they weren’t myopic when they started, they probably were by the finish.

And if you are an artist, short-sightedness is an absolute boon. Granted, imprecise fuzzy paintings didn’t really hit it big during the Rennaissance period but everything becomes fashionable eventually (apart from acne) and Monet, Renoir, Manet, while not initially very popular, kept going until the art world had to bow to the atmospheric beauty of Impressionism.

Short-sighted people inhabit a fantastic myopic world is a world of tones, colours and textures. Who needs detail when you have that fuzzy tapestry of wonder all around you?

I first realised I might need specs when, in Birdlip one evening, I saw a chap across the road and exclaimed, without thinking (it’s an unfortunate habit)  “Gosh, look at that man! He’s taking a bear for a walk!”

Capt Sensible sighed. “It’s a Newfoundland dog.”

While I have occasionally wandered around the local woodland without my specs admiring the splinters and diamonds of light penetrating the canopy of wondrous greens, I have also tripped over an unseen rabbit hole with painful consequences. So on balance and off-balance, I would rather be a speccy-four-eyes.

The trouble is that as a bins-wearer, I am totally at the mercy of opticians. I like opticians who wear glasses themselves having ruined their eyesight spending long nights absorbing weighty tomes, buoyed up by Proplus tablets, studying for their ologies.

Most of them know what they are doing and inspire trust. A few let the side down, such as the variety of optical experts I’ve had the misfortune to meet over the past year.

The Specsavers deal in February 2011 was excellent. Two pairs of specs – including polarized sunglasses – for the same price as ONE pair from Boots.

The sunglasses were great. Black lenses, polarized so I can spot fish – doesn’t everyone stand on bridges over rivers on sunny days and look for trout or salmon? – and a pair of varifocals for everyday wear.

Now when you put on your new specs, you do expect to have an improvement in vision but you don’t expect to feel your left eye doing a cartoony “BOIIINNNNNGGGGG” right out of your face on a big spring before popping back into my face.

Oooh, I said, wondering if the assistant noticed a peculiar expression on my face.” Bit strong in the left lens isn’t it? “

Sometimes, it takes a few hours or days for your eyes to get used to the new prescription,”

she said with the smoothness of someone who’s uttered the phrase several hundred times and has no bloody idea what they are talking about.

Oh really? The left eye still wanted to pop out of its socket.

Can you check this prescription is correct?”

She went away with the glasses. Yes of course stupid, stupid customer. My left eye was still rebelling.

So I took them away and wore mostly sunglasses for the next two weeks as we were having a hot holiday. But it was only two months after returning to work before I started getting headaches, lots of them, mild to moderate.

Over the months, they began to be specific headaches behind my left eye. The headaches became so frequent and severe that I was on paracetamol for weeks at a time. So I went back to wearing old prescription specs and seeing everything at a distance in softer focus.

The headaches disappeared and I booked an eye test at Norvilles, Gloucester, which used to be noted for being expensive – Capt Sensible spent £700 on one pair of specs – but reliable.

Yes the left eye prescription needed to be toned down (I kind of guessed that) but the result at the end of the eye test was crystal-clear vision and the ability to read even the little tiny font on the card. At last! A correct prescription.

But the first pair of lenses they gave me (frames were nearly new and didn’t need replacing) made me feel like Clarence the cross-eyed lion. They were somehow inducing my eyes to fight with each other for supremacy. “I’ve always been the dominant eye” from the left.

But now I AM” countered the right. All very confusing.

I handed them back immediately. “I can’t see through these, sorry.”

But they are the correct prescription.”

Oh really? A second pair of lenses were supplied later. I couldn’t read too well with them and would have been totally unable to see anything on my computer screen but the optician guy said “It sometimes happens that your eyes have to get used to a new prescription. Try wearing them for a bit…”

So I walked up the road to WH Smiths to buy a greetings card. Had trouble focussing on them and looked at the opposite wall where there was a big sign – letters about a foot high – which unfortunately were completely blurred.

I returned to Norvilles.

Sorry I can’t even see a large sign on the wall of WH Smiths with these. I wouldn’t be safe driving with them…”

So their specialist bloke who does varifocals would have a look at them.

I had high hopes, after wearing old glasses for four months or more, of at last having specs I could see through sharply and without headaches. But alas, when I returned to try my third pair of new lenses, it was not to be.

Distance was fine, but there was an impression of low-grade fighting between the eyes – like a tired, half-hearted punch-up, and I couldn’t read much of the smaller text on the reading chart. When I tried them at home later using the laptop I’m using now, the words on the bottom toolbar were indistinct and they became more fuzzy from the centre to the right hand end. I typed my complaint letter and refund claim while wearing them so I could describe accurately just how weirdly wrong they were.

So two months and three pairs of specs later, they have given me a refund and I must start all over again with another optician, yet to be decided.

Alternatively, I could avoid any more optical illusions and stick with these comfortable inadequate weak old specs from at least five-six years ago.which turn trees into beautiful tonal patchy things and street lights at night into big sodium stars.

Who knows? I might even take up painting again…

Claude Monet – The Cliffs at Etretat


About janh1

Part-time hedonist.
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16 Responses to Optical illusions

  1. Trying to get the right prescription made into glasses can sometimes be very difficult, but I hope it works next time for you.

    I’m a bit short sighted too, but only wear glasses for driving and when I know I have to read things in the distance, and have remarked that I think I like impressionist paintings because they are out of focus and that’s the way I see the world 😀

    • janh1 says:

      Yours sounds like the best sort of short-sightedness, Sophie! Prescriptions were never a problem before the too-strong one from Specsavers but all this is *very* off-putting.

  2. Pseu says:

    You are not the only one. But it has happened to me only once. And once to Cycloman.

    I picked up my new prescription from Specsavers the day of our trip to go on holiday. ‘These are not right,’ I said, but not until I had left the shop… and then had to struggle with them (both pairs were not right, sunnies and ordinaries) for the duration of our holiday… and then when we got back the optician was away, so that was another two weeks.
    All credit to her: she retested immediately and it transpired she had omitted to write up the prescription properly, not allowing for the right eye’s astigmatism. It was matter of leaving off one digit.
    “It’s totally my fault,” she said and arranged for a quick replacement. But no compensation for the suffering!

    I do hope your eyes are sorted soon I’d go back to Specsavers, insist on a new test and ind out if there is a discrepancy – they should replace them for nothing and you should get money back on the others too. Its a crime!!!

    • Pseu says:

      PS Mine are varifocals. No good long or short sight without specs!

      • janh1 says:

        Hi Pseu – it must have been pretty annoying, having two pairs of faulty specs when you were on holiday. At least Specsavers admitted the fault. The prescription Specsavers were working to for me came from Boots so there was always the possibility they would have transferred the blame, which is why I hoped that a new prescription with the dispensing optician would do the trick….but…erm…no. ;-/

  3. valzone says:

    This is a brilliant read Jan, you’ve had me in stitches, you have a brilliant writing mind, even if you can’t see 🙂

    “Oi, I’m over ere Jan” xxxxxx

    • janh1 says:

      “Val? – that *is* you isn’t it?” 😀

      When I was a teenager in the local swimming pool with my mum (who never liked to out of her depth so was always a victim for japes) I took a deep breath and swam underwater to grab her legs and pretend to pull her under. Course, it wasn’t her at all – it was another woman completely with a similar bathing costume. Oh how we laughed.

  4. IsobelandCat says:

    Bit of revision needed re masculine and feminine nouns, the difference between savoir at connaître, but a jolly good read, none the less. I liked the Nelson’s flag signals especially. But my giggling gave way to shock as you outlined, though I am aware you may not have seen it, how you have been suffering these last few months. Bloody hell! I had a pair of specs once where everything became a blur. I am longsighted in one eye and short sighted in the other. someone had assumed there was a mistake on the card and corrected my prescrip to make me short sighted in both. I only wore them very rarely, but it was like looking through a tub of Vaseline. As my short sighted eye attained normality and my longsighted eye became even more focused on the way off distance allowing me to dispense with a telescope, I sought a new solution. Now I have a contact lens for my left eye only which has weirdly made it my nearer sighted eye. This was all after lengthy conversations with the optician, and it works really well, except when I forget to put it in, and have to close one eye in order to read.
    Good luck!

    • janh1 says:

      Je m’excuse, Isobel 🙂

      Blimey, being long-sighted in one eye and short-sighted in the other would be a real test for the opticians I’ve been to!! Yes, well my vision is like a tub of Vaseline with about half an inch left in the bottom. So you are a uni-contact lens wearer? Well I’m pleased that you have the solution because it is annoying not to be able to see properly in this day and age (I love that expression, makes me seem ancient). Not sure I have the time or strength to do anything further about it yet. My confidence in opticians is shot!

  5. Darrel Kirby says:

    Great blog! I have now reached the stage where I have to take my glasses off to read, so I predict varifocals in my near future. Messing around with glasses on/ glasses off is a real pain – even worse in summer when you also have to juggle sunglasses into the mix. My optician is David Clulow in Cheltenham – very good, but glasses aren’t cheap.

    • janh1 says:

      Hi Darrel. Thanks! Sounds like you probably will need varifocals but quite honestly, it’s less trouble and cost to just whip your glasses off. 🙂

      Ta for the recommendation – I might call in there after work. Oddly enough my sunglasses are fine – they are varifocals too so perfectly feasible to wear all day, except that wearing indoors would give me the look of a posing D-list celeb!

  6. earlybird says:

    Ouch, ouch, ouch! Been there too… I go so often to my optician that she and I now ‘fait la bise’ and ‘tutoyer’ each other… she adjusted the prescription I got from the eye specialist when I came back after the first pair of varifocals, flung the glasses on the desk and burst into tears because I couldn’t get used to the glasses I’d been prescribed (ie couldn’t see) … then, when I decided lenses might be a good idea she let me try NINE pairs of contact lenses for free… I finally bought some but today went back to ask if she couldn’t do any better as I tend to say ‘oh! sorry! I can’t see, I’m wearing my lenses’…(I only wear lenses occasionally) the best thing she did, however, was to make me glasses just for my computer (ie for reading and middle vision) – they have stopped me curving my neck to see the screen through my varifocals.

    Keep persevering. It’s worth it.

    • janh1 says:

      *Nine pairs* Earlybird? Gosh, I gave up far too easily!! ;-D

      That’s certainly a solution, having specs for the middle vision – which is probably why these old ones of mine work fine from that point of view. (no pun intended, for a change!)

      Trouble is, that given my experience and the prolonged problems some people have had – with no refund and no apology for faulty specs/prescriptions from opticians – I am now fairly convinced that opticians are little better than snake oil salesmen. When you consider that pairs of frames, which are very tiny pieces of thin metal can cost £400 and the lenses to go in them another £400, say, when the real cost of those lenses is about £30 apiece… it’s almost pure profiteering. You could maybe justify it if the end product was satisfactory to the customer but sometimes it isn’t and the line “well give it time for your eyes to get used to them…” is an easy cover-up for incorrectly-made specs.

  7. Oh Jan, what a pallaver! You made me chuckle though I am sure it wsn’t a laughing matter at the time. Loved ‘plonkeur’ and the old historical might-have-beens!

  8. janh1 says:

    No worries, Kate – I recognised it immediately as precisely the same abbreviation I use! I think Del Boy might have liked “plonkeur” too. Mange tout, Rodney! Mange tout! 🙂

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