Do you recall the first time you wore glasses? OK! If you are long-sighted it may be a treat in store, depending on your age; but if you are short sighted …… I must have been about 8 or 9 and I remember walking up the street from the opticians in the great Roman and Georgian city of Bath, where I was born. Clearly I must have needed some sight correction for a while, as it was like seeing buildings, people, traffic as if for the first time!!
This was how it was!
In the Army of the 1970s the threat from the Soviet Union was very real and we imagined any attack across the inner-German border would include nasty chemical agents. Consequently we spent part of the time on training wearing a respirator and chemical-resistant suits (not Pierre Cardin I assure you!). Having a gasmask on your face is quite incapacitating simply on its own, with vision restricted, breathing more difficult, so we all had to suffer a yearly test, in a way to remind us how wearing it kept us alive. We all trooped into a gas chamber and put on our respirators. Some CS Gas Pellets (see note) were dropped onto the floor and, after sufficient time for the gas to build up, one by one we took off our gasmask, shouted out our service number (in my case 24067711 – amazing how some numbers are instantly recalled), rank and name ….. before heading rapidly for the door ……. and most likely to vomit on the grass outside!! The frames of my normal glasses didn’t fit inside the respirator so I was issued with a pair of the type much loved by John Lennon.
and this is how it became!
Not sure why one keeps old spectacles but I seem to have a collection, of ones with small frames, a pair with large smoked glass lenses, some with ‘no frame’ (!), memories of sunglasses which had a coating making the world look rather blue, and those yellow ones now at the bottom of Sydney Harbour as the strong wind took them off on some ferry trip! Since 1970 have also used contact lenses. My regular readers will know that I spent a lot of my ‘Army’ life sailing. (See second note!) Mostly in keel boats but occasionally I was encouraged to jump into a dinghy ……. and if you wore glasses you soon couldn’t see once they had got covered in salt water. The problem is salt water and glass. It’s almost impossible to keep your specs clean ……. and when there is a lot of spray around, the handkerchief that is tucked into your pocket and which could be suitable soon becomes damp with salty water and simply smears the glass. In 1970, after a number of long offshore races and cruises to the Chanel islands, for example, I ventured into the fairly new technology of contact lenses.
I went to get fitted and came away with a pair that I cleaned and soaked overnight; they were to last one month. They are made of hard plastic. In additional to the little storage container, I was given what I can only describe as a miniature sink plunger, for that’s what it looked like; a little rubber tube about 2 cms long with an open cup at one end. The idea was you could place it over the lens in your eye and suction would help its removal. Needless to say I only used it once.
These new contact lenses were an absolute boon. Seeing and sailing became so much easier. The only trick was to make sure when you removed the lens it didn’t fly out …….. somewhere. Grubbing around on the wet and dirty floor of a yacht looking for a piece of clear plastic barely a centimetre in diameter was never easy. On one offshore race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Skagen on the northern tip of Denmark in 1972, we had some fairly inclement weather ie it was raining heavily and blowing a severe gale. I didn’t dare take my lenses out below decks and they stayed in for three days; my eyes felt that they had been rubbed by sandpaper when eventually oxygen got at them!
And once, in a hotel in Zurich, I was putting them in, leaning over the sink …….. with the tap running. The left lens didn’t go it first time and dropped into the sink ……. and my attempt to turn the tap off before it disappeared down the drain was not successful. I didn’t have a spare so I had to unscrew the U Bend beneath the sink ……. and rinse it through in the bath, with the plug in I should hasten to add. You can imagine that no one had cleared out this particular U Bend in this particular hotel room since …… well, probably since the hotel was built. But in amongst the human detritus of decades that washed out was my left lens!!
An early pair!
Gradually technology improved contact lenses and along came ‘gas permeable’, both daily and weekly and monthly wear. I am short-sighted so as I get older my uncorrected eyes can read books, papers etc without glasses, although wearing contact lenses I additionally needed to have a pair of those half-moon ‘granny’ glasses. About twenty years ago I stumbled on another option. I think I was extremely hungover from some entertainment the night before and was on semi-automatic pilot in the morning when I attempted to put my contact lenses in. I put one into the wrong eye; I could still see, but not quite as well as normal. However I realized I could get this to work. In my left eye I correct to about 9 ft, so that that eye dominates; and my right eye I correct from 9 ft to infinity. Amazing how the brain can adapt and I have got so used to it it’s only when an object is at the cross-over distance I notice it.
So there you have it, see what I mean, illuminating scribbles about eyesight!!
Richard 10th April 2017
PS This old joke fits well in a PC about eyes. “The science teacher asks: “Which human body part increases to ten times its size when stimulated?” A girl complained this was a very inappropriate question and said she was going to tell her parents. The teacher repeated the question and Billy answered by saying it was the pupil of the eye. After congratulating Billy, the teacher turned to the girl and commented:
“As for you, young lady, I have a couple of things to say: firstly, you have a dirty mind and secondly one day you are going to be very, very disappointed.””
CS or tear gas is a riot control, de-capacitating agent, the defining component being 2-chlorobenzalononitrile. (The ‘CS’ simply refers to the surnames of the two scientists who first synthesized it in 1928!)
There was a trio of car bumper stickers: ‘Fly Navy’ and ‘Sail Army’ and for the Royal Air Force ‘Crab Air’ as they had a reputation for going sideways!