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