4. Spectacular ageing


After a lifetime of perfect eyesight, last year’s arrival of the age-related need to wear spectacles felt like a significant milestone on the one-way road to the grave. It was a sign that things were starting to fail and they weren’t going to get better. It was a reminder of my mortality.

Up until then, when bits of me had been broken or injured, they’d either fixed themselves or been fixed by medical professionals. It was just ongoing maintenance. But now like an ageing motorcar, no matter what I did, the scrapheap was starting to come into view.

There’s nothing exceptional about my level of fitness, but I can still carry a deep-filled rucksack into the hills without buckling under the load. I can paddle a kayak all day and still be able to get up next day without a groan. I can waddle along the drive to the house with a 25kg bag of coal in each hand without too much effort, and probably do that for as long as it takes to get a month’s supply in through the door. Hauling ropes all day on a mussel farm doesn’t leave me suffering too much, climbing into mountain passes is still enjoyable and I recover quickly at the top, and although I’ve never been a runner, I can walk all day without feeling any ill effects.


And yet the discovery about a year ago that the outlines of things at a distance were getting a little out of focus, brought into sharp focus the reality of my ageing. At the time it nailed home how the span of my life is finite.  If it was measured as a single day, I was now well into its afternoon.

Don’t misunderstand. I do realise that I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have good eyes, and good everything else for comfortably over half a century, and I know many people who have had to live their entire lives with bad eyesight and much more crippling, painful and restrictive ailments and failings. I also have friends whose lives are being cut horribly short by chronic illness, and there are others who live in fear that it might be the same for them. So I wouldn’t want you to think I was complaining about how badly off I now am, because I most definitely am not. It was just that my deteriorating vision was age-related and it marked the cresting of a hill and the beginning of a decline.

Getting used to wearing glasses wasn’t easy.

First of all there was the practical nonsense of having to keep wiping them when out in the rain or making sure I didn’t lose them into the sea when paddling round the coast. Carrying them everywhere was a faff too.

But there was also the assault on my self confidence.

I just wasn’t used to seeing glasses on my face and the pair I started out with appeared to me to completely change my expression. They were rectangular and minimalist but small and portable, so although they were practical, they made me look like a Very Serious Person. It was like I had become some kind of professional executive and that’s the very opposite of the way I liked to think of myself.


Anyway, I resigned myself to the need to wear them if I was going to get the clearest views when driving, and if I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss seeing a fox while walking in the countryside. But I didn’t like it and got into the habit of taking them off as soon as I met someone. True, I didn’t need them to see anyone standing close enough to talk to, but even truer was the simple fact that I didn’t like the way they made me look.

A good friend of mine wears round spectacles as a matter of course. He has done for many years, he looks great, and I thought I’d like round glasses myself. But Simon has a lush head of long flowing locks and the circular lenses go well with his happy freewheeling spirit and his tanned outdoor life. For someone like me who has almost no hair, there’s a very real danger that round glasses will either make me look like an owl, or like a Gestapo interrogator. Neither is a failsafe way to attract the admiring glances of a would-be romantic partner… at least not a partner with interests similar to mine. I don’t believe I would have much in common with a Nazi strigiphile.

Fashion has come to my rescue, and that’s not a statement I’ve ever uttered in my life before. Round spectacles are starting to make a bit of a comeback among the fashion conscious and whereas it’s been difficult in the past to find a pair that I liked, they’re now starting to return in some volume to the racks of the high street opticians.

After my most recent eye-test about a week ago, I found a pair that I liked and although they were relatively expensive I spent the money, bought the new glasses, and in the process I uncovered two important truths.

Firstly, if my view of the world can be radically improved by the simple miracle of hanging two pieces of glass in front of my eyes, there really is nothing to complain about.

And secondly, if I’m more comfortable with the view the world has of me – even if that’s only in my imagination – then this milestone is one I can happily march past without giving it more than a passing, well focused glance.