Saturday, 5 May 2018

Glasses. For travelling.

My friend Margery died well over a decade ago, but I treasure her memory in all sorts of ways. She was my prayer partner, and times beyond counting we would travel out to the Thursday night meetings of the Stable Family at Ashburnham (the Stable Family was brought into being to work and pray for the revival of the church here in East Sussex). Margery's driving exhibited a number of curious phenomena, not least of which was that she needed to change specs when she hit 30 miles an hour.

As anyone who wears glasses can tell you, the challenges of adjusting vision to circumstances is a game that can easily distract for a lifetime.

I have several pairs of glasses.

I got my first pair sometime around 1999, much to my delight because glasses have always intrigued me and I found them a lot of fun. I chose ones the most like the specs Gandhi had that I could find. He bought his in London in the 1890s.

Gandhi's specs:

My first reading glasses (look at them carefully — because more about them in a minute):

As time went on my eyesight got worse, and I needed a stronger prescription. At first the second (new) pair felt way too strong and I only wore them for threading needles and reading the small print listing food ingredients on packets in the supermarket. But gradually I needed them more for regular work.

For a while, I found Pair 2 good for reading (and writing), but useless for public speaking — the people's faces were just blurs. Pair 1 became my go-to specs for public speaking (and preaching). I could read from my notes down on the lectern, and look across the room, and it all worked fine. They also became really good for travelling and shopping, because they sharpened up my vision for seeing things like train time digital displays and what type of nut butter was in the jars on the grocer's shelf; but then I needed to change glasses to my reading specs to check the ingredients list ad make sure nobody had smuggled palm oil or sugar into the nut butter. Much like Margery changing specs at 30 miles an hour. So I always took both pairs of glasses when I went out — and still do.

Then my vision got worse again, and I was prescribed a third pair of glasses — all three pairs being Gandhi-esque in appearance. Partly for Gandhi and partly for the Amish (and some conservative Quakers), who also wear similar specs to mine. 

As before, the newest set (Pair 3) proved way too strong initially, though in the last few months I notice they are becoming more frequently necessary. At the same time the optician prescribed Pair 3, he also recommended distance glasses for watching TV etc. So now I had four pairs of glasses. I only need take the first two pairs out and about, though. Unless I'm going to the cinema or theatre or a concert, in which case I take the distance glasses as well. 

This is the first pair, that I now only wear for looking for things in a shop (and for another purpose that I'll tell you about in a minute).

This is the second pair that I wear for all regular work and also for public speaking these days.

And these are my sunglasses. Did I mention those?

That makes 5 pairs.  I haven't photographed Pair 3 because . . . er . . . I couldn't be bothered.

But now, here's the thing. While out and about in the world, wearing Pair 1 to locate and identify things I couldn't otherwise see, I made a discovery. 

I don't really need to wear glasses at all just for walking about, but sometimes I keep Pair 1 on, to save putting them away and getting them out again. A situation where this applies is on the Tube (the London Underground trains). I don't need glasses for just getting about, but I do need them for reading the map/chart up high on the wall to check which stop is mine. So I'd keep them on.

And this was my discovery. When I am wearing these particular glasses, people treat me differently! They speak to me in a special, soft, kindly voice, and offer me their seat on the train!

If you wear Plain dress out and about in the world it has a similar effect on people, which I rather miss. Everyone used to treat me like their friend when I wore Plain dress. But the specs are somewhat different. Evidently when people look at me, they think not "Gandhi" but "Granny". It's brilliant.

I have a spec-effect-enhancer wheeze too. Last winter our Alice knitted me a hat. It's grey. And I find that if I wear the hat as well as the specs — like this:

— and especially if I slightly tilt my head to one side and maintain a half-smile like the Buddha, everyone is really kind to me, and they all speak to me in that special voice. The ticket collector comes by and I show him my ticket and my Senior Travel Card and he says "Thank you, dear" in a soft, quiet way.

Whether you need glasses or not, I recommend you buy a pair like Gandhi's, with a fluffy grey hat, and learn to smile like the Buddha; because suddenly the world becomes a kindlier, gentler sort of place.

Plus it's funny. It's rather touching, and highly amusing, and gives me hope for the human race. 

One day I expect I'll find I need a stick. Or an umbrella like Gandhi's.


greta said...

you are so cute! love all your glasses but . . . have you considered bifocals? or even trifocals? i've had bifocals for decades now, had no difficulty in adjusting to them and couldn't live without them. they are not, however, in gandhi/granny frames. guess i'm going to have to go for a new look :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah — here in the UK many people as they grow older use varifocals, which graduate the lens from top to bottom. I know several people who have tried them with good success, but also many whom they made feel very sick and ill because of the constant visual adjustment. Rather like this one-size-fits-none clothes you can buy. As a pair of glasses costs a lot of money, I haven't taken the risk. I'm glad the bi-focals worked out well for you!

Anonymous said...

Ha! This did make me laugh! Little do they know...
I wonder why ‘ granny’ specs invite benevolence especially. Great that you’re having the last inward chuckle. I rather like your grey hat - I have a dusty purple one which is very similar, and granny specs and greying hair...
Do I care? Not a hoot. I find it quite liberating not to have to conform to the beautiful model of youth. I’m very happy in my airy tunics and cave-man shoes ( birkenstocks) as my children laughingly call them! Comfort on many levels. Happy Sunday Pen!

Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope
I think varifocals and trifocals might be the same thing? Not sure - the former is not a term used here in the US that I know of, but I've had the latter for years and still have to take them off to read, though they are ok for walking and driving once you get used to them. I find I have them perched precariously under my chin, bows on either side of my neck a lot, even in stores to read the fine print on food labels!
Unfortunately, I don't feel aging is well-treated here. Increasingly as I age I am experiencing more incidences of feeling dismissed, swept aside, mocked, or ignored. Questioned, more than being supported, treated gently, or graciously. Maybe I need those spectacles? And a hat!

Anonymous said...

Surely there's something wrong if a newly-prescribed pair of glasses are perceived as 'too strong'?

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb — yes, I have those caveman shoes too. I love birkis!

Hi DMW — that business of "feeling dismissed, swept aside, mocked, or ignored"; I know it well. I am in a category of people I've recently come to define as "hard to see". For some reason, people (even my closest family members) *literally* find me hard to see, and being dismissed and ignored has been my lifelong daily reality. It is frustrating when I do actually have something positive to contribute to a situation but cannot overcome the hard-to-see barrier and turn on take-me-seriously mode. But it's handy for a novelist, because I can watch and listen freely, and am such a nonentity that people tell me all kinds of stuff. Because it's been a lifelong phenomenon for me, I'm not finding much difference as I age; they couldn't see me before and they still can't see me now.
It can be very funny. Recently I went to a concert with my husband. One of the singers was a woman I've known since I was nineteen (41 years). My husband, she was known only for the last decade. At this concert I was wearing an Indian kanthan coat in brilliant colours of gold, red, green — a real Hawaiian sunset of a coat. I sat next to my husband. At the end, I went to greet this old friend of mine to say how much I appreciated the concert. I had to vigorously attract her attention, because I'm hard to see. After I said how good it all was, she reacted with surprise. "Oh," she said, "were you here? I didn't see you. I saw your husband, but not you." And there he sat in his grey fleece and dark blue trousers, right next to me in my coat of many colours, and she *didn't see me at all*. The oddest phenomenon.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Anonymous — yes, maybe. It's a common phenomenon, I think.

Sandra Ann said...

I wear varifocals! I have always needed glasses for distance but found it frustrating when wanting to craft and watch tv at the same time! I use the lenses from Boots and they came with a 30 day money back guarantee that if they weren't for me they would refund and put in a distance lens. I have to say they are brill :-). I chuckled at your story ❤️

Pen Wilcock said...

"Craft and watch TV at the same time" — yes — and if I'm attempting to navigate my slow an difficult way into Netflix or iPlayer on the telly, I need two pairs of glasses: one for reading the buttons on the remote control and one for reading the results of the button I pressed coming up on the screen! I see wisdom and common sense in your system!

The Mother Abyss said...

Spooky... 🤓😎

Pen Wilcock said...

And useful!


Ganeida said...

When I first needed glasses I opted for ones that looked like Ghandi's or John Lennon's but no more! I have found that I destroy such flimsy specs rather quickly: hanging them from my shirt, shoving them in my pocket, dropping them in my bag without carefully putting them away in their case & as I can't work without them I have had to buy ones with sturdier frames. I do keep an emergency pair handy but as they are cheapies they tend to give me a headache. And yes: glasses for reading & computer work, glasses for driving & sunglasses. Half my luggage these days are glasses in their cases!

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello! Waving across the world!

I know what you mean about the frames — mine are always a bit wonky. Oddly enough the only pair I ever broke was one of the sturdier sort; I sat on them. Sturdy or not, that did it!

BLD in MT said...

That is a rather fascinating observation! I'm glad you've stumbled upon a way to help encourage people to be kinder and gentler to you while out and about. I suspect that can come in handy on the Tube. I just got new glasses after gravity and an Aloe Vera pot conspired to put mine out of commission.

Thanks for the smile today.