Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Eyes Have It - Having crap eye sight Part 1

I could see the storm coming from miles away. The sky was a deep yellowy, grey and the wind was whipping the water up into waves on top of waves, on top of waves.

This is what experienced sailors call, 'choppy'... but I wasn't experienced, I was 14 and barely knew one end of a boat from the other. The boom - the heavy, metal pole that hangs menacingly from the mast was thrashing about dangerously. I ducked to avoid a massive wallop on the back of the head. 

Our sailing instructor, who was some way away, hollered at us to head for shore. Over the wind and the thunderous waves it was hard to hear her but her hand gestures were clear. Everyone recognises the international sign language for, 'get the fuck out of here'.

My skipper immediately turned our boat around. Unfortunately, I wasn't so quick to notice the boom on its return journey and this time it clocked me square in the face – hard - knocking my Beastie Boys hat into the English Channel (it was actually a baseball cap I’d bought at Alton Towers and got the word 'Beastie' put on it with iron-on letters - not quite official merch) along with 
my glasses. For someone who was massively short-sighted, losing my specs to the choppy waters was a shitty turn of event and there were still four more days to go of this wretched sailing and canoeing holiday as well as the small matter of making it back to shore. It's amazing what speeds even a basic dinghy can achieve with a following wind. And with a following gale, you can really get some speed up. Luckily we made it back in one piece but the elation was short-lived. I was glum having lost my only pair of glasses. 

Now, for anyone else on that school trip, there were probably bigger stories than me losing my glasses like the mysterious human shit that was discovered in the girls showers one morning (we never discovered the culprit but we all had our suspicions... especially when she volunteered to clean it up the next day! Come to think of it, I was probably no.1 suspect up until that point simply because they'd probably assumed that in my relative blindness, a toilet bowl and a shower cubical looked the same). Anyway, losing my glasses was a catastrophe.

Not being able to see properly impacts on your life in ways those with good vision rarely think of. Sun glasses - nightmare, swimming - dull and even though for many, the morning ritual begins with coffee, for some a cigarette and for a lucky few, sex, for the speccies among us, every morning is the same, the blind hunt for the plastic miracle givers of sight.

Very early on I decided that contact lenses were the only way to go so I got some fitted. Back then it took up to 10 days and 5 NASA scientists to create them. When the optician called, to say they were ready, I raced into to Stratford Dolland and Aitchison to collect them. I was 16 and done with geek chic (which wasn't a thing then. It was just geek). I put the lenses in and I do believe I heard angels sing. It was wonderful. The first thing I did when I left the opticians was put my sun glasses on. Look at me not squinting in sun light. Take that world. 

But before the optician would let me leave I had to show her I could remove the lenses too. No mean feat for someone utterly squeamish of their own eyes.

Half an hour later I'm still there trying to fight my own hand like a scene from Evil Dead.
The optician popped her head in. "How are we getting on?". "Fine". I lied. My eyes were watering yellow tears from the dye they used for your eye examination, I was almost hyperventilating. Come on, God gimme a break!

She said that if I couldn't get them out she'd have to use the 'suckers' and if that didn't work I wouldn't be able to wear the lenses home. Not on my watch I thought. Within seconds, ping, ping I popped those bad boys out. And with that I was off home - in my sunnies. 

But if I thought it took a long time to take them out, it took me even longer to put them in. The first week it took me an hour to get the fucking things in. An hour. This largely involved the lens sliding down my finger for 30 minutes, then sliding down my other finger.

But after a lot of practice, I started to get used to them. For the first time, I felt like it was actually worth wearing eye make up, people commented that I had nice eyes. This was a first as before then, they'd been caged behind my big old plastic frames.

It's amazing what a difference a small thing like this can make. I think it's the same psychology as when some one longs for a nose job or minor plastic surgery procedure. Like, once that's done, my life can begin. Making these little changes can fill you with confidence and it definitely elevated me from awkward kid to... slightly less awkward teenager.

I was delighted by my ocular liberation although, there were some minor failings, like if you got any dirt under your lenses, it was excruciatingly painful. Your eyes immediately start streaming in an attempt to remove the dirt and don’t talk to me about eyelashes. You get one of those under your lens and it felt like you'd been shot in the face.

Impromptu sleep overs (which I did on occasion) were a nightmare because you needed all kinds of potions and solutions to clean your lenses. Cleaning lenses made you look like some mad alchemist and if you didn’t have them you couldn’t put them back in (or so I thought) so I’d go home blind. (After a few years, my squimishness subsided and, if I didn't have my solutions, I would clean my lens in my mouth - grim... don't judge me). 

Losing a lens is another nightmare but if the universe wants you to find them you will. I’ve found them in my bed, on the floor the following morning, even mistaken them for a drop of water hanging precariously off the kitchen sink.

But other than those relatively minor problems, I was much happier. Even though I came from a family of spectacle wearers, I never felt like they suited me (the glasses not my family)  and so I was glad to be free of them. However, a few years ago, I noticed that my eyes were starting to get really tired, and irritated more and more and I needed to remove my lenses after just a fewer hours with them in.

In the past, I'd been totally comfortable with a 16 hour day but now, I could barely manage a couple of hours. Effectively I was just putting them to go to gigs.

I started to wonder if my love affair was over! We'd had some good times, a few lows but generally it had been a lovely romance but perhaps it was time to move on. I’d considered laser surgery but I couldn’t afford it and That’s Life had run too many horror stories about charlatans who messed up people’s eyes.

I'd also read an article about a girl who went to South America to get cheap eye surgery and nearly ended up blind (I guess on the plus side, she would have saved money on glasses). So I soldiered on with my lenses. 

But the irritation was getting worse and it got to point where I didn't want to wear my lenses at all. I reverted to glasses and got myself some cool specs but they just weren't me, and defintely not on stage. It wasn’t my persona.

All this time, I’d had in mind a make up lady who’d told me she’d had corrective laser surgery a few years back and was delighted with the results. This conversation had happened 5 years earlier but it had stuck in my head.

The final straw was realising that a certain pollen which abundant in late Spring, was making my eyes even more itchy… but only when I wore my lenses. The first year it happened I didn’t think anything of it but the second year I put two and two together and made -  pollen.

I knew what I had to do. 

Next week, corrective eye surgery and the truth about that 'burning smell'. 


  1. I've never really understood the whole contact lenses/glasses debate especially now that we don't have to put up with those black plastic horror shows of our childhoods. Glasses these days are sooo much more stylish that I don't see them as an embarrassment. I did once consider trying lenses but the whole putting them in, taking them out and cleaning them thing seems to much effort. I did break my glasses last new years eve though and spent 2 days like Mr Magoo until the optician reopened. It did cross my mind recently to perhaps give them a try but when friend politely informed me that I look like a serial killer without them I put that idea away

  2. Them being the glasses I currently wear

  3. You do have beautiful eyes.


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