Sunday, June 17, 2007

Soft focus delight

I have been very shortsighted since an early age, although with time and cataract replacements, this is becoming less so. Nevertheless, I had my first pair of glasses at the tender age of six. This was not the age that I actually became myopic - no, it was merely the day and time when my parents discovered that I really couldn't see. There was this Golden Eagle (escaped from London Zoo). Goldie, it was called, somewhat predictably, and it was sitting in a tree not four metres above my head. I squinted skywards, and saw nothing but blurred blobs. Shocked at their inattention to their offspring's borderline blindness, my parents rushed me off to the nearest optician to order my glasses.

I remember them clearly. They were like toned down versions of the ones that famous drag queens wear. You know the type. Pink. With wings. And because I was so young, I had those springy extra wire pieces that hooked round my ears to prevent them falling off. I hated them with a passion. Not because they were ugly. In fact I thought they were the last thing in elegance when I first got them. No, it was because all of a sudden, I could see the ugly side of life.

I'd had them for just a matter of days when we were driving through an area of south London just after a heavy snowfall. Without my glasses, everything had looked sparkling, clean and fairy like. I lived in a delightful fantasy world of soft focus vision. Then suddenly, I had these things that made me see that all that glittered was not snow. I could see the ugly mud and slush. I could see the litter on the streets being trodden into the same ugly mud and slush. My world was shattered, and I made a conscious decision at that moment that I was not going to wear my glasses unless absolutely necessary. Quite determined for a six year old, I was!

The result of that piece of willfulness has sometimes been quite hilarious. There was the day when we were driving past Hyde Park, and I asked my mum what all those sheep were doing on the grass. She gave me a very peculiar look. What sheep? I pointed to the creamy coloured shapes ahead of us. "Vally, put your glasses on", she scolded me in exasperation "they're deck chairs, not sheep!"

Then there are the times I have tried to greet 'someone' up ahead, only to find I've been talking to an electricity box.

There are other downsides too. I have this tendency to totally ignore friends and acquaintances on the street, even when I am walking right past them. When you can't see, you are less inclined to look. Or there have been occasions when I have literally walked into people I know well without having seen them at all. Try explaining that to your best friend.

More recently and with Sindy's aversion to being confronted by other canines, I have crossed four lane highways in a dash to escape dogs, only to be acutely embarrassed when I've realised the said 'dogs' haven't moved and are temporary traffic signs or bollards.

But the last and most puzzling truth for most of my friends is when I tell them I have to put my glasses on to hear them properly...well, excuse me?! It's true, but I'll leave you to figure that one out.

At the end of the day, though, I still prefer my fuzzy world to the real thing. Here in Holland, I tend to wear my glasses more because I'm a danger to myself without them. There are so many hazards afoot as soon as I step off the boat - cyclists, moped riders, cars, trams and buses too. And you have to watch out for all of them all the time.

However, as soon as I get home, the specs come off and my eyes breathe a sigh of relief. They are in their own form of denial, and really prefer a life of ease and softly blurred edges.