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

ODD ONE OUT

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!!