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.


  1. This Is Literature With A Capital L.

  2. Oh Val!

    I was so envious of my best friend when she got glasses at a young age, as well.
    Only hers were blue with wings!
    Oh, how I secretly wished I was myopic!

    I have been afflicted with better than 20/20 vision most of my life, although my eyesight is now beginning to flag...maybe I used it too much.

    My affliction is obviously the complete opposite of yours - being able to see life with extreme clarity and having no fuzzy place to erstwhile escape...

    Your revelation when you got your glasses at 6 years old quite struck me.
    It is something that I would never have imagined - the ugliness of my surroundings coming into sudden focus.

    I was either very used to the ugliness - or there was none.

  3. Aaah Dale, I can imagine that your home town was probably cleaner and less scarred than the London of my childhood which was still noticeably affected by the bombings of the war years, and there was much of the shabbiness that you would find in any huge metropolitan area - like New York.

    Still, I can imagine blue with wings was something to be would have worn mine proudly if they'd had no glass in them at all ;-)

  4. Vally I LOVE this post, especially the picture of you as a bolshie little girl whose beautiful world turned into grubby reality. I can actually feel your disappointment and sense of betrayal. I salute your decision to choose not to see it except in soft focus!

    I love the deck chair / sheep story. Made me giggle - especially when I thought of how people struggle putting up deck chairs, but how much harder it would be to persuade a sheep to keep its legs bent so you could sit on it at just the right angle. It's a bit early for surrealism though.

    What I like best though is that your dislike of glasses is not through vanity, but due to the way you prefer to see the world. Lovely.

    It's odd, but childhood has been on my mind too, and I'd only just finished a post about it when I came over here to say hello. Must be something in the air.

    Hope the bike-hunting's progressing well.

  5. What a great story!

    You must have been every bit as remarkable a little girl as you are a grown-up. Thank you so much for sharing.

    I am a bit worried that you cross four-lane highways to avoid ferocious traffic signs, tho. :o

    I hope you can see things that are moving from a safe distance!

    Your soft focus does make me a bit envious. It might be nice to have a less clear view of some of lifes ugliness at times...and when I don't immediately recognize someone I know on the street, it would be nice to have a reason that could be explained easily....

  6. Lovely bit of storytelling, Val. I am seeing the last set of your memoir trilogy, Glassy Ways, taking shape. :)

    I didn't realise I needed glasses until I was 19, having determined that I wasn't meant to see all those things that suddenly I could see when I borrowed a friend's glasses. It was never the same world again, and like you, I am not sure it was any better to have it all come into such clear focus.

  7. Hello beautiful Val!
    I loved this story. I was 10 before my folks realized I needed glasses. I remember we were living in Grande Cache at the time and had to drive to Hinton to get my glasses, a couple of hours away. I was absolutely amazed that I could see branches on the trees as we drove home!
    My eyesight has steadily declined over the decades, and now I have to know exactly where my glasses are or I get panicky. I just can't see well enough without them any more. I actually put in my contacts one day to find my glasses, and had to call Ian once at work because I couldn't find them! I would love to get lasic surgery, but until my vision stops changing I guess that is out of the quesion.
    And I know exactly what you mean about putting your glasses on to hear better! I do the exact same thing if I wake up in the night and hear something strange!
    But I have to agree with Rache.. I worry a bit about you dogding traffic sans good vision!
    And I am so sorry about your bike. I get so upset when people steal things. It is such an invasion.

  8. Vallyp:

    I had glasses at 10 yrs. old (1967-68)...still need 'em, still hate 'em, but gotta love 'em, because...

    But with 'em, I can.

    Love all of you folks,

    --Dan L.

  9. Hi mumsy!

    The report on Saturday's events can be found on our blog :)

  10. SHeeeeep!!!! haa haaa haaa! squinty mama! 22 days to go eeeeeeee

  11. I see the book sales are doing very well :-)

  12. ... and speaking of book sales VallyPee, guess what Colin brought home for me today? Heheheeee I've got it! Now a big favourolo please - could you bear to send me an email with a nice little inscription I can paste inside the cover? Something along the lines of "To Margie, who is a pest of the worst type and won't shut up until I send this". You know the sort of thing. Many many thanks!

    Now back with the specs; I didn't realise I needed them until I was in my early thirties. C. dragged me along to four hours of Wagner (well I never said he was perfect), and I complained bitterly that the least they could do was get the bloody surtitles in focus. He looked at me strangely, then when we were driving home kept asking me to read out car numberplates and street signs. He made an appointment for me with his optometrist the next day.

    The thing is, you don't notice the softening of images if it happens over time. I can see what you mean about the appeal of soft focus - when I had my long-distance specs and could suddenly see sharp outlines, they weren't always all that yummy.

  13. Well, val you should have perchased some happy glasses!..
    lol this made me laugh you write like a comedy..i have the opposite problem i can see great at a distance but close up it's just a blur, i succomed to glasses about 10 years ago under great protest of course!..the batterys in my eyes had gone you see!..and it's true I have to take my glasses off if someone is talking as it's fuzzy otherwise..

  14. No Anne-Marie..."Empty Glasses".

  15. I like to wear my glasses when I'm eating rice...I can actually see the individual grains!

  16. I loved this piece, fantastic writing as ever.

    I've had glasses since I was 10 or a bit younger. Hm, actually I can't remember how old I was exactly. I never had quite the same experience as you, though. Maybe because I was a bit older when I first got my glasses, so the world of imagination was no longer present as strongly; or maybe because my short-sightedness has never been as strong as yours, only just enough to make it annoying to not see things clearly. Then again, I grew up in a countryside parish, so maybe there wasn't enough ugliness there to require the protection of soft focus vision?

  17. Hi Val,

    do you know who I am? I wasn't here since ages. SORRY!!!

    It's a great story. I have glasses since years, too. But if I read something I needn't. As I was younger (long time ago, ha,ha), the kids are laughing if someone had glasses, but today it's normal.

    Take care

  18. I have so enjoyed reading all the comments on this post. That's the best part, really it is.

    Margie, I laughed so hard when I visualised you trying to persuade a sheep to keep its legs in order while you sat on it.

    Dale, I love the idea of 20/20 being an It certainly seems to be that for me.

    Rache, I know what you mean..ferocious traffice signs are way too risky...but you know, Sindy and I do brave them out sometimes ;-)

    Anne Marie, hahaha, Glassy ways...brilliant! I'll have to do it now somehow! I'm glad you know what I mean about the real things not being quite so yummy.

    Stevie, be careful with that laser surgery now my love. Sometimes it doesn't work so well, and quite often people end up with even worse sight after a few years. Glasses are much cooler anyway and yours really suit you! I actually like my glasses now. I just don't like what I see through

    Jo, love, I've read and commented! Well done to the guys anyway!

    Momo, if I've made you laugh my day is complete! Yes, not long to go now sweetheart, I'm counting the days too.

    Gypsy, the same for you. If I've made you laugh, then all is well with the world. So you're one of these long sighted types who have to pin the newspaper on the opposite wall just to read it! It'll be a while before I have to do that, but I don't need my glasses to read these days, so I guess in twenty years or so I may need reading glasses instead.....oooooh I'll be sooooo old then ;-)

    Dan, great to see you you've been wearing glasses nearly as long as I have?? OKay not quite ;-)

    Dale, I can see every rice grain, every dust spec, every dog hair very very long as I'm close enough to That's a blessing actually. If I don't feel liek doing the housework, I just make sure I don't wear my glasses indoors at all ;-)

  19. Eek, while I've been frantically keeping up, Stefan and Maria have been here too!

    Maria, you live in such beautiful, open surroundings, I can't imagine that ugliness was ever and issue!

    Stefan, you're right, kids who wore glasses were often ridiculed, but I felt rather special being the one who had to wear them - that is until I saw the real world through them!

    And a PS for Margie, I would love to send you something to put in your book, but can I send it by snail mail with real writing and that? If you email me an address where I can send it, I'll post a personal note. Does that sound okay?

  20. Vally, that would be super-lovely, thank you so much. Will email straight away.

  21. Great story - yeah!! more of Val writings!!

    I first got reading glasses when I was 28. 1.5 years ago I had to move to wearing glasses full-time and I was amazed at all the texture I could see in my food. It wasn't the grains of rice that Dale is speaking of, but the texture of citrus fruit that really got me. I forgot they had bumps because I had been seeing them as smooth as velvet for years. Heck, I like my oranges so much, my near pair of glasses are actually orange.

    I could never live without them - I get headaches galore without them.

    Lovely post

  22. oops, i meant to say ... new glasses are orange. Guess I should be typing with my old glasses on!

  23. I love my lasik :)

    I went under the beam in August of 2000. Being of an athletic persuasion (more then than now, I suppose) particularly in the martial arts, peripheral vision is important, plus I drive a lot, so it wasn't all vanity. I didn't really mind the way I looked in glasses so much as I minded having to repeatedly push them back up my nose during workouts...

    Plus I absolutely hated being dependent on the things. Being almost legally blind, it was just plain dangerous for me not to wear them.

    Oh...oh...and I LOVE being able to go into a store and try on the cheap sunglasses!

    You do get what you pay for, tho; and you have to be VERY careful when choosing your surgeon..... discount lasik is a very scary thing :(

  24. NA! NA!NANA NAAAA!!!..I've got a signed copy of vals book!!!..
    thankyou val for my birthday presents and card xxxxxxxxxx

  25. Never leave home without them!

    I enjoyed your story here, I wore glasses for awhile many years ago, but realized I did not reallye need them, but now.......ooh, have to squint to see the guide on the TV! Maybe time again.


  26. LOL Lesley, I can't imagine not being able to see things in front of my nose. That must be amazing - to be able to see the textures of things that you haven't seen before - Dale's grains of rice too! That's all fine for me - it's just everything more than a metre beyond my nose that's all fuzzy!

    Rache, you're right, and a lot of people I know are very happy with lazik (that's a new term for me - we just call it laser treatment), but I have known some people who used to ears contact lenses, then had lazik, and five years down the line, their sight was worse than before , AND they couldn't wear contacts again, so as you say, you do have to choose your surgeon very carefully....still prefer my world fuzzy though ;-)

    Hey wee one, so glad you liked it...what about the orange number cruncher though. Wasn't that cool? I loved

    Grace, thanks! You're lucky you need them so little though, I do have to say, but it comes to us all at some time, I htink...some of us earlier than others!

  27. ha ha ha! yes val 'THAT' will come in very handy X

  28. I remember when I was at school everyone so desperately wanted glasses because they thought they looked cool and made them look more cleaver. We were strange children.

    Lovely story Vally

  29. theres a couple of bunny-related stories over on our blog if you need a laugh :)

  30. Yeah Val, I think if I was really faced with the opportunity, I would balk.
    My eldest sister had lasik surgery. It was a gift from a friend of her what was dying of cancer. She wanted to give the people she loved something they would never spend money on but would love to have, not necessary but desired. Rose had severe astigmatism in both eyes, so was an excellent candidate. I will likley never be able to have it because of the type of gradual but continual eye degeneration I have, so it is easy to say I'd love to when I know I won't! And to be honest, to spend that kind of money on getting rid of glasses... I'd have to have a lot of expendable cash lying around. I can wear contacts if I don't want my glasses on, and while I know Rose and Rache (and my friend Arly) love that they have had it done, I do wonder about long term effects. I know a lot of people who had it done in the earlier days of the procedure who are wearing glasses again now.
    Having said all that, the idea of waking up with immediatly clear vision... well, it does have its charm! Who knows. Maybe one day, when my kids have completed their post secondary education and the other truly important stuff is taken care of, I'll think differently.
    But for now, being able to look sternly over the brim of my glasses at a youth in my office for an infraction... well, really, how can I give THAT up? lol!

  31. Ah Stevie, you are right! Glasses are such an advantage when you have to exert a little authority. I don't know how I'd manage without mine for the imperious teacher

    Stu, thanks! I love the idea of you kids all wanting glasses to make yourselves look clever..what a trunaround!

  32. Val, the fact that yoour world was suddenly made ugly by seeing everything when you were 6 is so interesting...and I don't blame you for not wanting to wear the glasses! And hey, the fuzzy world gives you lots of stories to tell...such as how you have mistaken the electricity boxes for people! :)

  33. Hi Val,
    I loved this post!
    I agree with both Koos and Margie,
    they said what I was thinking. :)

    I only started wearing glasses a few years ago, it's the heat that I hate,glasses just keep sliding down my sweaty face.
    Lately I've been wearing contacts more.
    The biggest thing with Lasik that my ex told me (he had it done by the best. The guy that corrects other people's bad lasik surgery and is on Dateline as a medical correspondent occasionally)is that even with successful lasik, there is still going to be some visual deterioration as the years go on.
    Though not nearly what it was before the surgery.
    Speaking of which, thanks for... you know. At my blog. You've been helping me alot ;) xoxo

  34. After seven years this reads like new. One sentence especially should go down in history as totally outstanding:
    'Then suddenly, I had these things that made me see that all that glittered was not snow.'


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