Odd one Out – Coffee and a Chat 2022 January No. 1


Looking through reams and reams of old photographs dating back to around the time of Noah (well, it feels like that sometimes!), I am distressed by the fact that what today is regarded almost as a fashion necessity, labelled me as a bit of a freak of nature. What am I referring to, you probably wonder? It is the fact that on all my school photos I was always the only one wearing glasses! What on earth was going on in the 1960’s which resulted in me being an odd one out? Nowadays every second person, including many children, are wearing glasses of every style imaginable.

I was diagnosed as having an alternating squint and had to have an operation to correct it when I was 3 years old. At that time parents were not allowed to visit their children in hospital and my parents could only peep through the window at the top of the swinging doors at the entrance to my ward. Even though I was so young, I have memories of having bandages over both my eyes and peeping under the bandage to be able to sneak a look at my surroundings. I also remember having to be fed by a nurse and the bowl was specific to the era – with a wide rim surrounding the actual bowl. This was probably to minimise any spillage.

Nowadays, if a child has a squint, the treatment is non- intrusive. The problem in those days was that eye specialists had yet to realise that, if you corrected the muscle in one eye, then the other eye started to squint. Why this was only discovered by the time I had children of my own, and my daughter began showing the same kind of problem, heaven alone knows. After all, the eye is a muscle and muscles can be strengthened by exercises. As a teenager, and having emigrated and now living in South Africa, I had a second operation on the other eye but still had to wear glasses. The eye specialists who had operated on my eye now recommended that I saw a lady in Johannesburg who specialised in teaching people how to strengthen their eyes through exercises using a variety of printed cards. Fortunately, with my own past experience, I was quick to find someone who would be able to work with a young child to avoid her having to wear glasses permanently. It worked!

The point I was trying to make is how advanced life has become and how attitudes have changed. When I was little, I was often teased and called “four eyes” by classmates. I was even asked if I wore them when I was sleeping. I eventually learnt to answer that I actually did sleep with them on so that my dreams were in colour! The glasses I wore in the early years were government issue (UK) and were round and pink with wire ear- pieces. If one compares what is available nowadays, mine really did look very antiquated, but then they were issued free!

How I would have loved to have been able to wear my glasses as a beautiful adornment instead of just a way of keeping my eyes straight at a time when image and being like everyone else was the most important thing in life. Teenage years are a time when you want to fit in not stand out! Anyway, suffice to say that as soon as I was able, and soft contact lenses became readily available, my glasses became a stand- by for reading in bed after my lenses had been placed in their overnight soaking solution. Unfortunately, by this time my teenage years were long gone and I was in my thirties.

 As soon as I became a contact lens wearer, life changed dramatically as now I could swim in the sea and find my way back to our spot on the beach without the help of a human guide dog! Contact lenses were the best thing since sliced bread for me. My eyes no longer squinted at all, I found that I wasn’t as much a failure at ball sports as I had been whilst wearing glasses and my peripheral vision was amazing! Another fantastic benefit was being able to chop up onions without any tears whatsoever, and putting food into a hot oven without the irritation of glasses misting up all the time. Raindrops falling on the glasses was no longer an issue and how wonderful it is to be able to actually see what you are doing when putting on eye makeup.

So now, why are so many people wearing glasses, whilst I, who have worn them from the age 3, couldn’t wait to swop over to contacts? Yes, there are some beautiful, mod frames from which to choose, but they still have the same drawbacks as before, except that no-one is made to feel embarrassed by wearing them due to them being viewed more as a fashion item than an aid for a disability! Sometimes one has to wonder whether they were born too early!!

Sense and Sensibility

One of the funniest things I ever heard was a child saying that his friend had cut his tongue on a cold drink can and all his taste buds had fallen out! Well, hopefully all that happened was that he had a small cut on the tip of his tongue and was still able to taste for the rest of his life! It must be dreadful being unable to taste food, smell fragrances, feel discomfort or pain in parts of one’s body (within reason of course!), hear sound or see the beauty all around. Our five senses are such an important part of being human.

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See no evil, Hear no evil, Taste no evil

A relative who was getting on in years once said that if she had to choose between being unable to hear or unable to see, she would probably choose having poor eyesight but still be able to enjoy listening to music. A difficult choice, and one which I believe none of us would willingly want to have to make. Losing one of our senses, after enjoying them for a good part of our lives, has to be traumatic in any event.  Experts tell us that our other senses step in to compensate for the loss but surely that would only be the case in very young people or if one or more of the senses is absent from birth? I do hope that I never have to put that theory to the test!

What is more delicious than waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee? Oh, hang on-what about the appetizing smell of frying onions? Bacon sizzling away is another winner for those who are allowed to eat pork. The list could go on and on and the olfactory nerves have already awakened the taste buds (those which have not been lost through a sharp edged cold drink can!) which are now fired up and raring to go! Opening the window and taking a deep breath after the rain is decidedly therapeutic – especially if it hasn’t rained for quite a while. No more dust in the air! Divine! Yes, the power of smell is very important to a quality of life. Perfumers have known all about this since time immemorial and we pay a premium when we buy a bottle of their expertise!

What about touch? The warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you cuddle a new puppy or a new baby for that matter (depends on your preference of course), not to mention the smell of the puppy breath as well. We will leave out the new baby smell as it’s not always one of baby powder and soothing lavender lotion.  How about the comfort of a friend’s hug when the days have been tough? We often tend to under estimate the value of being able to feel through our sense of touch. Babies need to be touched from the moment they are born. Premature infants in incubators are known to respond positively to gentle touch whilst fighting to survive. Humans are tactile creatures and many of us tend to ignore the importance of touch by being afraid of seeming to be needy.

Friends and family are so often scattered all over the world these days, and to be able to pick up the phone and hear your loved ones’ voices can make all the difference when it comes to coping with the miles that separate you. Fortunately there are a variety of up-to-date devices which assist with hearing loss which can be beneficial in many cases. One’s voice is unique, and often even age does not result in it changing. How often have you heard something which transports you back in time to another place and another age? It may have been someone’s voice, a song, a piece of music or even the sound of a plane flying over your house.

Sight is something we take for granted until the day we realise that the writing seems to be getting smaller or it is becoming difficult to read road signs. Fortunately, whether young or old, there are many forms of treatment. For children, wearing glasses is now in vogue – unlike those years in the past when a child was often the only one in the school who had to wear them and often got teased and called “four eyes” and asked if they wore them when they were asleep! Apart from deterioration due to age, with cataract removal surgery, lens implants, and an often performed procedure to cure short sightedness we are living in a world where we should be able to enjoy good sight for most, if not all, of our lives. However, even with 20/20 vision there are probably many people out there who remember the embarrassment of seeing someone you are sure you know and calling their name, only to find out that it’s not that person at all! So, sometimes, the sense of sight can be deceiving.

Eyes need to be treated with care as strange and often dangerous things can happen.  An example is the true story of the over-worked, young mother trying to juggle a full-time job with bringing up a toddler, who grabbed a bottle of eye drops one morning to ease her dry eyes. Imagine her horror when she suddenly found herself totally unable to see, and her irises had become enormous. In desperation she rushed to the pharmacy for help. She took the bottle of eye drops with her and was horrified to discover that they were the ones the vet had prescribed for her dog’s eye infection! Never again will she store human and canine medication on the same shelf! Yes, she did recover the full function of her eyes, after a few days of blurry vision!

For many people their favourite sense is the sense of taste and it would be politically incorrect to mention the way in which this is often obvious to outside observers! Being blindfolded and asked to identify various foods can be quite nerve wracking as one is often suspicious if the food is not visible. Chefs know the importance of the presentation of the food to be served.  If it looks appetising then one is more likely to savour the flavour. Even the most delicious food can fail the taste test due to its messy appearance.  Imagine just how dull life would be if we had a yellow pill for breakfast, a green one for lunch and a red one for dinner.  Many wives would welcome an advance such as this with open arms, but there is a lot to be said (and millions of ardent food lovers will vouch for this) for enjoying one’s food.

Many starving people in the world will never be in a position to understand the true enjoyment of experiencing different flavours of food, as for them food is just a necessity and not a gastronomic delight. For those fortunate enough for this not to apply and who have their taste buds intact and are able to thoroughly enjoy their sense of taste – Bon Appetit!

A lot has been written about a sixth sense and that will be covered in a later blog which I trust will prove to be of interest.