I wear contact lenses, largely due to the nature of my work. They are, at times, a total pain, but they do come along with a number of distinct advantages over glasses. They mean that I can hold my head up in society at large: when it rains, I can walk without staring down at my feet in order to keep the rain off my spectacle lenses. I can enter a building without steaming up. I can play sport; I can play with my grandkids without having to constantly reach for the superglue. When I emerge from the horror of the Public Swimming Baths changing rooms, I can see more than a Technicolor swirl of unidentified flesh and ill-advised costume. I do not need my family to come and find me and lead me, like some grotesque bespectacled walrus, towards the chlorine/urine cocktail of the pool. I even swim in my contacts. I know that I shouldn’t, but it does mean that I do not spend my whole time in the water apologising for swimming into people.
Lenses are not without drawbacks: especially after a long night, when I can’t get them in, or after a long day, when I can’t get them out, but the modern soft toric lenses do not come close to the tiny slivers of glass I used to insert into my eyes in days of yore. Each pair lasted a year, so losing one on the bus was a nightmare – but not as much as losing one in your own eye. The increasingly desperate attempts to locate, and subsequently extract, the errant lens often left one eye looking like, as my friend described it, a bulldog’s bollock (or bullock as my spellcheck is desperate to persuade me). From that I could only assume that he had some intimate knowledge of the aforementioned canine’s testes, and that they were, indeed, red, swollen and angry-looking. I never asked. Stray over your maximum twelve hours of wear in those miniscule head-lamps and you felt like someone had sandpapered your eyeball. Whatever vision remained was shrouded in the kind of fog that would have stopped the London buses.
I have spent my whole life battling with the right/left conundrum: never quite certain of which is which. Consequently, my morning contact lens routine can be a little fraught. For a start, my lenses may not be in the correct sides of the case from the evening before. If they are, they may not go into the correct eye in the morning. (One of the rare occasions where two wrongs really do make a right.) For thirty years or more I have tried to help myself by singing my own version of the bloody awful ‘(B)right eye(s)’every time I remove/insert what just might, possibly, be the right contact lens. It serves no-one – least of all Art Garfunkel – well.
These days, as my vision, like my common sense, fades into oblivion, I wear varifocal glasses when I do not have lenses in. These little miracles mean that I can see the world in general with a certain clarity whilst still being able to read books, signs and mobile phones, without having to have a second pair of specs suspended around my neck on a spangly little chain. The great skill being in locating the sweet spot on the lens that allows me to see in close enough detail to do things without rendering myself blind to the on-coming lorry.
The somewhat unique shape of my eyeballs, following a pre-full face helmet motorbike accident in my feckless youth, means that I cannot wear varifocal contact lenses – please don’t ask why, I don’t know – so I have, in one eye a lens that allows me to read and, in the other, a lens that allows me to see. My brain, apparently, sorts it all out. I don’t know how when it constantly loses track of the plot in Vera. Until the point of that particular teenage impact my vision was fine – although not good enough, you might quite fairly point out, to see the tree – and I found out that I would need to wear glasses after leaving hospital. I remember, so vividly, wearing them for the first time and realising that trees still had leaves, but being incredibly confused by the fact that they all appeared to be falling over. It would have been very useful if the tree I had hit on my bike had done so. I like to think that the slight asymmetry I now have makes my face more interesting, although, in honesty, I think that lop-sided is probably nearer the truth.
Possibly because of that, I have grown to like the look of my face better in lenses than in glasses which never quite seem to be on straight, but I’m guessing it’s only because I can’t see it as well. Although, rather like a woman with a bra, my lenses are the first thing I want to get out of when I get home in the evening. They become more uncomfortable as the day drags on; they seem to serve less purpose as soon as I get behind my own front door; it feels good to let my eyeballs resume their normal shape and to give them a little air at the end of the day.
Now, during the course of my daily toils I currently wear a mask all day and I spend that time with people who are also wearing masks, and more often than not, the eyes alone do not give me nearly enough information for the rest of me to have the faintest idea of who I am talking to*. My facial recognition is notoriously bad, but robbed of three-quarters of the relevant information, it just gives up and goes home and, in this respect, unusual spectacles are a godsend. The more Elton John, the better. (I’ll be honest here, E.J. wasn’t the first person that popped into my head, but I thought that there was a better chance of my international readers knowing who Elton was, rather than Timmy Mallett.) In these days of severely limited contact and muffled voices hidden away amongst lips and nostrils, these tiny plastic windows on the world are often all I have to go on when I try to identify a face that I vaguely recollect. If it is you, and if you decide by any chance that you too want to be able to see in the rain, I, for one, will no longer have any idea of who you are…
*…to whom I am talking. For Mr Wells-Cole, to prove that I did, indeed, learn something at school…