Indiana Jones and the Spectacles of Doom OR In the Beginning

I was introduced to the curious world of corrected sight when I was six years old. Before that I didn’t know that I couldn’t see properly – I mean, how would I? The world was, literally, just one big fuzzy blur – or my normal. I sat way too close to the TV (all kids do that though, don’t they?), and when I started infant school, the teachers noticed that I needed to be about an inch away from the blackboard to properly see it. There was obviously a problem, which nobody had really noticed up to that point – least of all me. So, my parents (who, by the way, both had 20:20 vision) took me along to the local opticians to get it checked out. Either I had a problem with my vision, or I was just an annoying kid – (turns out it was both).

A Medical Wonder ...

It was my first exposure to what I like to call the ‘gobsmacked optician response’ – something that I’ve experienced every time I’ve changed my optical dispenser over the years. It usually begins with a wide-eyed (no pun intended) “Wow, you don’t see many of those prescriptions, do you?” – a question usually posed to me – and one that I have no answer to, since I am not an optician. Anyway, it turned out that I had very high myopia (or in layman’s terms I was as short-sighted as f-ck). In fact, so high was my prescription at the age of six (around -10.00 dioptres), that I was already classed as both a freakish medical wonder – and a lost cause. My first optician was “astonished” that I’d been able to get around in the world for the past six years without corrective glasses, and without anyone noticing I couldn’t see – indeed, it’s a wonder he didn’t report my parents to child protective services for neglect but of course this was the beginning of the 1970s and those things – like seatbelts in cars – didn’t exist.

In fairness, I think my parents felt terrible for not noticing that their first-born child was blinder than a bat – but, as they informed me, it was all going to be OK, because I was going to get some glasses and I’d be able to see! Actually, no, it wasn’t going to be OK, because as I’ve just said, this was the 1970s, and the only spectacles a child then had access to were the hideous generic plastic ones available for free on the NHS – in pale pink, blue, black or tortoiseshell. None of your Pokémon characters or fancy Disney princess specs with diamonds on the arms that are available to today’s myopically-challenged kids. But what made it worse, was that the lenses in my specs were also really thick. They made my eyes look tiny and weird … and I hated them. I hated them even more the first time I went to school wearing them. Overnight these much-needed providers of sight had turned me into a figure of fun – or ‘speccy-four-eyes’ (and its many other derivative terms) as I was now relentlessly labelled by kids who had never noticed anything unusual about me before. You see, you have to remember, that in 1970 hardly any kids wore glasses (I don’t think routine eye care for kids was a thing then – we were a tough bunch, had to be – we are the generation whose knees were constantly left scrapped and bloodied by falls onto the rough concrete in our playgrounds). In fact, the only other child in my year group who wore glasses also had a patch to cure her lazy eye – and she suffered a similar verbal berating as I did. I decided I would rather not be able to see than to have to suffer the ignominy of daily name calling. I refused to wear the damned things, so my mum spoke to the teacher about it and a class meeting was called. All the kids sat cross-legged in front of the teacher on the classroom’s highly-polished parquet wood floor (this is not a detail you really need) while I stood next to said teacher. As a shy kid, I was mortified that she’d decided that a solution to my predicament was to get me to publicly name and shame the name-calling kids. What? This was the solution? Had she never been a kid before?

“So, who was it that called you names?” she asked, as I felt thirty-five sets of small eyes daring me to out them.

“My God, someone call child protective services quick!” I thought. Actually, of course I didn’t think that – because I was only a small child. Instead, I mumbled “Everyone…"

“What was that? Stop mumbling. We can’t sort this out if you don’t speak up!” she roared, with the brutal insensitivity that only a teacher from the 1970s was capable of. “What, even Janice?” she continued, pointing to the poor kid with the metal callipers on her legs because she’d had polio. I nodded an affirmative. “What, even Gregory?” she asked again, pointing to the kid who always smelled of wee because his parents didn't look after him. Yes, even Gregory. It was all true. Even the disabled and disadvantaged kids were calling me names. Well, they would, wouldn't they? It took the heat off them for a few days. It was at this point that I tore off the ‘Glasses of Doom’, threw them down onto the beautiful parquet wood floor of the classroom (again, not a detail you really need) and dramatically (I can be quite dramatic when the need arises) ran to the toilets where I stayed until lunchtime, only coaxed out by the headmistress and the promise of cake with pink custard on it. She lied, there was no cake and the custard was semolina. The 70s were crap.

Unfortunately, there was no speedy resolution to this issue. The name calling continued and I had to wear the damn pink NHS specs with the thick lenses every day. Well, it was either that or never learn how to read. I chose reading and putting up with it. Then, as if by magic (it wasn't magic, it was genetics) I grew quite tall and could, with ease, reach over and bop a name-caller on the nose. Sorted.

By the time that I was 17, those miraculous things called contact lenses had been invented, and for the princely sum of £180 per pair (in today's money that would equate to the cost of a small two-bedroomed semi in Birkenhead), I was able to go glasses-free for the first time since I was 6. Halle-fecking-lujah - as they say. No more name-calling. I was now just like everyone else and nobody knew that was I had bloody awful eyesight. It also meant that I could ignore it myself too - at least for the next few years ... until... (dramatic drum roll) - I came home from work one day to my new husband of only a few months standing and told him I couldn't see properly out of my left eye. This was the first indication for me that having terrible eyesight might also be a tad problematic. More on this in the next essay.

Soon you can read: "I've Never Been to Scunthorpe Before"OR The Semi-Detached Retina