Posts Tagged ‘bifocals’

On eyesight and glasses

August 6, 2016

I was first prescribed reading glasses when I was fifteen. I have always been very long-sighted – the kind who can read a car numberplate from half a mile rather than the prescribed 25 metres or whatever it was; the reading glasses very gradually got stronger until I was about 45, when I moved on to wearing glasses all the time, bifocals in my case. It used to be that I could still, with effort, make out written text without the glasses on: now I can’t, everything is an impossible fuzzy blur. This does alarm me when I think about it.

I love reading, and I normally read a lot, on paper and now onscreen. And if I didn’t have glasses, I’d no longer be able to do this any more. What on earth would I do with myself and my time, and, more importantly, where would I get my constant fix of new ideas? Worse things could have happened, I know; I do still have my sight. But I remember a discussion we used to have at school, when I was trying to introduce students to the possibility of writing their own poetry. We would look at the inputs to our five senses and the pleasures each could bring, having looked at Rupert Brooke’s poem The Great Lover. And then I’d ask the class, ‘If you had to lose one of those five senses, which would you give up?’ We would look at the consequences of each choice together. I’d always point out that I was a teacher and an avid reader and would never give up my sight; choosing which of the other four to do without was incredibly difficult…

Back in the past, readers, writers and other learned people didn’t have the wonders of optical science to help them. There are two telling moments in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Firstly, we discover that the hero, William of Baskerville, has poor eyesight, and a primitive pair of glasses that magnify text to allow him to read: is this apparatus a thing of the devil, some of the monks wonder? And then, later on in the story as he gets closer to solving the mystery and identifying the murderer, that person realises the significance of the eye-glasses and contrives to steal them, leaving William helpless…

My glasses are always on the end of my nose apart from when I’m sleeping, and I have a spare pair in case of emergencies. Attempting to walk without them is somewhat perilous, particularly on stairs: I won’t say I’m helpless without them – nor was William of Baskerville – but activities are seriously circumscribed. And the day will come when I will not be able to manage without them.

On spectacles…

February 8, 2015

I have been thinking lately about the fact that I would not be able to read or write at all without my glasses… I have needed reading glasses since I was about fifteen or so, and have gradually become more and more dependent on them. I’ve always been ridiculously long-sighted, and this is still the case although I don’t think it’s as sharp as it once was. But the shorter range vision has definitely degenerated with age.

For about fifteen years now, I’ve given in and worn glasses all the time, bifocals so that the distance vision can be more or less unchanged, but the reading segment set to my eyes. And over the years I came to realise that I could read less and less without the glasses – I used to be able to squint, or juggle with the distance and make things out, but now print remains an indecipherable blur without the specs… and I’ve never wanted to even contemplate contact lenses.

Why does all this bother me? Because, I realise, that in the past, that would have been the end of reading, unless I were wealthy enough to have a servant to read aloud to me, and that would not be the same. I think about William of Baskerville, the detective monk in Eco’s The Name of the Rose, with his primitive glasses, a pair of hand-ground lenses set in a forked frame, and how these were regarded almost as witchcraft by people at the time, and also how completely lost he was when it was realised how crucial these were to him, and so they were stolen. And, of course, in the middle ages, you couldn’t just go out and buy another pair. Then, as now, you needed an expert craftsman, and they were very thin on the ground.

When I was teaching, one of my creative writing units involved imagining and discussing the relative usefulness and significance of the five senses to us, and deciding which one we would give up if we had to lose one; for me it was always a toss-up between sight (losing reading) and hearing (losing the ability to enjoy music); now it would be hearing I gave up, without a doubt; I just cannot imagine not being able to read. I am very glad we now have the technology which allows me to overlay maps with a magnifying sheet to see the small details, and the ability to adjust the fonts and their size on my e-reader. So hopefully I’m good to read for a long while yet…

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