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.
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.