I was born with one long-sighted eye and one short-sighted eye. Also I was born with a squint, not surprisingly, since my brain tried very hard to see with both eyes but got confused. For a long time I wore those horrible NHS specs which were in fact instruments of torture but some optician thought would help.
The earpieces were bendy springy wire things which dug in the backs of your ears… it felt like two pencils being bored into your head. To make matters worse I had to have one eye-glass covered with opaque stick-on paper, which nobody bothered to trim very well, and scratched my cheek painfully. Consequently I pushed the specs to the end of my little nose (I was about 4 or 5 at the time) to relieve the pressure on the backs of my ears and the scratch on my cheek and – Hey Presto – I could look over the top of the horrible cloudy glasses and carry on letting my brain decide what to do with my eyes and squint away merrily.
The glasses having failed to correct my squint (though nobody knew why, because nobody asked me), I went into hospital at the age of seven to have the squint corrected… both eyes. I was the only child in the hospital with Two black felt-tip marks, one over each eye. All the other children only had one.
I came out with two relatively straight facing eyes, but still short-sighted in one and long sighted in the other. Opticians thereafter, tried to correct my vision in several useless ways, the main one was that they tried to correct the long sighted eye to be more short-sighted and the short-sighted eye to be more long sighted, with the hope of me seeing somewhere in the middle. This didn’t work at all, the result was simply that I had appalling vision in both eyes, had to sit at the front in school to see the blackboard and used to follow strange women out of shops because they were wearing a red coat, because my mother was wearing a red coat that day.
I did find lots of tricks to get myself through life, like the red coat thing, even though it backfired occasionally and I got smacked a lot for not staying in the shop with my mother. I remember on holidays, memorising the stains on the hallway carpets between bathroom and bedroom so I could find my way back, and recognising people by their shape and colouring because I couldn’t see the faces of most adults, being too far away down there near the ground. I remember putting my hand out for every bus, because I couldn’t see the numbers until they were practically going past, and getting shouted at by the bus drivers when it wasnt my bus and I had made them stop for nothing. I remember never being able to catch a ball, because of my lack of stereo vision, and always ending up in goal at Lacrosse, netball, etc. When someone throws a ball at me, I put out my hand to catch it and it flies by about 18 inches to the right. It made me hate ball games, and hate being the one nobody wanted in their team.
Then, when I was about 22, I went to an optician who recognised the problem. He told me that my brain had been forced to make a choice and had opted for the short-sighted eye, presumably when I was a young baby in a small world, or because my favourite occupation was reading as soon as I could read. This opting by my brain meant that, while I could see a fairly good distance with the long sighted eye, my brain had shut it down and made me look through the short-sighted one. Therefore, he said, what we need to do is put a very good lens over the short-sighted eye, make you see better with that one, and forget about the long sighted one.
I stepped out of the opticians in St Anne’s Square, Manchester, and saw this.
I stood and stared at it for about 15 minutes…. and stared…. and stared. Then I stared some more, and some more… I had passed it a thousand times, and never seen it. Now I could see all the beautiful carvings, the windows, the towers and turrets and the total gothic splendour, where before there had been a big brown blurry blob.
I still wear glasses today, and I still tend to match people’s names to their shape and colouring, I still see my fingerprints better than clouds, but when I need to see something, I can actually see it.
Some parts of this semi blindness for a third of my life have been advantageous, some not. My hearing is Very Good, to the point of painfully good sometimes, if too much noise is around me it can be unpleasant. I am very aware of sound around me. I can’t see 3D images, or those funny pictures where you have to put your eyes out of focus to see them. I still can’t catch a ball if you throw it to me. (Though I can juggle, but juggling isn’t actually about seeing the catch, but controlling the throw).
So, if you have a child with a squint, or who follows strangers out of shops, don’t smack them, or make them wear revolting and uncomfortable spectacles. Find an enlightened optician. Or open up the world some other way, like a pair of binoculars for Christmas.