Jonny McCambridge: The optical illusion becomes a spectacle

There was a distant, happy time when I could get through a night’s sleep without having to get up to go to the bathroom. But reaching middle age means accepting that your body is not quite as resilient a machine as it once was. The changes are unwelcome but undeniable.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 9:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 9:38 am
My life moves inexorably towards the day when I will need to wear glasses
My life moves inexorably towards the day when I will need to wear glasses

My stomach, once admirably flat, has collapsed into some sort of soft, convex bulge.

Chewing is more haphazard than it used to be. My brittle teeth these days are prone to bits falling off and unable to cope with anything more robust than a Mr Kipling French Fancy.

My son spends much of his life telling me I am deaf. And then telling me again because I didn’t catch it first time. In fairness though this could be because there is now hair sprouting from my ears where before it was barren.

‘She stresses the importance of me blocking out all other just this moment Joe Dolce’s Shaddap Your Face begins to play inside my skull’

And then there are my eyes. I’ve always been lucky enough to have clear vision and have never required spectacles, contact lenses or (as would be my preference) a monocle.

Lately though I’ve noticed things are visually not as they were. When my boy waves random objects just inches in front of my face (as he is wont to do) I have trouble focusing. I now find it impossible to spot the Rice Krispies that he drops on the floor until they inevitably end up crushed under my heel. While these are yet more undeniable signs of deterioration, I am phlegmatic and practical and resolve that the best thing to do is to seek expert help. So I book myself into the opticians for an eye test.

The last time I had my eyes tested I was in primary school. It consisted of me reading letters off a chart. I assume this will be much the same. Never such innocence again.

In the shop the first thing that happens is a friendly man uses a computer to take a photograph of my head. This is done to determine the shape of my face to gauge the appropriate style of glasses.

I am surprised to be told that my head is 70% oval and 30% square. The friendly man says something to me but I don’t catch it because I’m wondering if they’ve ever taken a picture of someone with a 100% square head.

While I wait for the eye test I’m encouraged to look at some of the glasses in the display. I browse and make a mental note to ask later where they keep the monocles.

My name is called and the friendly man takes me through a door to meet a friendly woman in a white coat.

The sight test begins with...and this is something which I really didn’t anticipate....with a hearing test.

The friendly woman tells me this is part of the service and asks me to put on headphones and touch a button when I hear a beeping noise. I wonder if I should mention my ear hair situation.

She stresses that it is important that I concentrate on the beeps and try to block out all other noise. At just this moment my brain starts to play the chorus from Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face at full volume inside my skull. There are beeps from the machine, to be sure, but I’m struggling to pick them out and start to feel a faintness in my head and a tingling in my fingers.

I feel I ought to explain to the friendly woman that this is not a failing of my hearing, but of my nerve and character. A paralysing anxiety about being tested. I say nothing and start to wonder if I will be the first person ever to go for an eye test who ends up being prescribed a hearing aid.

As it is, the friendly woman makes no comment on my aural ability and simply moves on to the eye test.

This involves another large machine. I’m asked to rest my chin and forehead against a plastic support while staring into a dark tube with dots of lights at the end. This reminds me of the old Incredible Hulk television series from the 70s, the bit in the opening credits when Bruce Banner is hooked up to the machine which pumps him full of gamma rays and turns him into a raging green monster (you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry).

Then friendly woman tells me that the machine is going to test for glaucoma by blowing air and shining light into my pupils and asks me to try and keep my eyes open while this happens. And once again I flunk it. The truth is that when anything is aimed in the direction of my eyes - air, bright light, flaming arrows, the Norse god Thor’s hammer - I close them. Earlier I considered that I was in robust health but now I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m both profoundly deaf and suffering from an incurable eye disease.

Now I am taken to another room and yet another machine. This one has lots of lenses which I look through to decipher symbols from various angles. Most I can read easily but the occasional one appears blurred.

The friendly woman examines the results and tells me that my vision (and hearing) are normal for a man of my age. There is just a small bit of deterioration in focusing on close objects. Which I knew already. That’s why I came in the first place.

I look at her. She looks at me.

‘Well,’ I begin. ‘Do I need glasses?’

‘Do you think,’ she responds, ‘that you need glasses?’

And this is what it all amounts to. The machine that measured how square my head is, the one which tested my ears, the one which blew air at my pupils and the one with the blurry symbols, all those tests undertaken only to be asked by a friendly woman in a white coat what I think.

‘The thing is,’ she goes on, ‘you will know yourself when you need glasses. You’ll know when it’s the right time.’

I decide that I can manage without spectacles for just a bit longer. The friendly woman gives me a little card and tells me to come back in two years, or sooner if I want.

I leave the shop. In truth I had imagined something a bit more definitive from the machines. Their cold, hard logic a perfect foil for my manic hyprochondriasis. I walk down the street, I think I can feel the flu coming on.