There’s a fine novel called The Missing Postman, in which the eponymous Royal Mail absconder (and who can blame him, given those unflattering shorts they have to wear?) takes refuge in a series of optician stores. He feels safe in opticians, you see, having visited them for years man and boy. This book is very resonant, for I too am a long-term optician-botherer, since my blind-as-a-batness was discovered at age six and my parents were warned that without my new bottle-top glasses I would likely be struck by a bus. Since then I have patronised numerous opticians (‘Ooh lookit der cutie little glassy-wasses, aren’t they just the sweetums’), including a sadistic one who laughed at every pair of specs I tried; one who spoke only Welsh (‘bod mor ddall â’r garreg’ - ‘you’re blind as a bat’); and one who fobbed me off with rhinestone horn-rims previously rejected by Edna Everage.
Have just done some in-depth Google research and bats aren’t really blind. Well, bully for them.
Lewes is well endowed with opticians: five at least. I go to Spectrum, though I’m sure the others are just as lovely. It’s definitely the best I’ve tried in my Missing Postman levels of experience: friendly, thorough, and no-one sniggers ‘Bessie Bunter’ when one tries on a round frame. In fact, they sit for hours patiently searching for your perfect glasses. Mine have lenses made of a wafer-thin plastic otherwise used in space missions, and frames of bendy titanium (might not have got this quite right), of such high resistance that even a small child cannot break them. Wearing them, I look like one of those cool glasses models, apart from my face.
Anyway, all this is leading to a disturbing conversation I had recently with Honesty Girl. Knowing she is similarly short-sighted – we have shared stories of tumbling over unseen sofas and failing to recognise loved ones – I was stunned to find she’d just had The Op. ‘I can see my feet in the shower!’ she gasped, revelling in the newness of it all. I retorted quite sharply that I personally knew my feet were there even if I couldn’t see them. She stared, starry-eyed, round my kitchen. ‘Blimey, your windows are a bit mucky’, she said. ‘You want to give them a good wipe.’
I definitely won’t be having laser surgery. It’s partly that there’s something wonderful about taking one’s contacts out at the end of the day and entering Blur-World, in which one relies on non-visual senses (‘OW! Yes, that’s definitely the door’). And it’s partly that I don’t want some quack sticking lasers in my eyeballs. But it’s also because going to the opticians is such a part of who I am. I sit in that up-and-down chair wearing the heavy testing frames that make one resemble Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor. The lights are dimmed, random letters appear on the screen, the optician says gently, ‘Can you read the top line?’ and I completely and utterly relax.
Beth Miller, 29th September 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith