I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again...

I don’t know about you but I live in a very blurry world. Not always, you understand, just when vanity overcomes common sense. And that’s rather often in my case. I blindly scribble my signature on store receipts, rarely put the right tip in the right place on restaurant credit-card slips, and the Visa-waver cards that I present at US immigration look as though a drunk filled them in, which could also be true, of course. Have you guessed my guilty secret? All right, I’ll confess. I’m a closet specs-wearer. What, me need glasses? Oh no, I’m far too young…

Some time ago when I was forty-flump, I discovered that The Sunday Times had reduced its typeface. Outrageous. After years of perfectly readable print I was now squinting my way through its pages. News International had obviously got the ecological point and in an effort to save trees had compelled its readers to purchase magnifying glasses. The funny thing was it was happening all over the place – menus, railway timetables, Yellow Pages, the little explanatory notes on cosmetics – the information highway had suddenly become very foggy. Why it took so long for the awful truth to descend on me I have no idea, unless it was a recurrence of that teenage affliction – a belief that I’ll never be old.

Now, before you reach for the tissues, it was only a matter of time before I realized that there was an upside to my ocular-challenged world. I was driving through my nearest village when a headline on a news-board caught my eye: “Templars flayed at Liphook bus-stop.” No, surely not. Had I entered a time-warp? Was I back in the Thirteenth Century? I blinked and all became clear: tempers were frayed at said bus-stop. Naturally, heretics hardly ever happen in Hampshire and it was quite a relief to know that the blood had not been running in rivulets past the doors of Circle K.

Actually, it was my most recent blurry moment that prompted this literary excursion. I was in New York, at the Metropolitan Opera, watching Die Walkure. Placido Domingo had just stumbled into Sieglinde’s forest dwelling and, struck by the thunderbolt of love, he exclaimed: “ my cakes are lighter; my limes stronger!”, at least that’s what he said according to my little subtitle screen in blurry red. Dear, oh, dear, what had happened? Had Placido suffered a minor stroke? Where were the limes and cakes? Was I missing some deep Wagnerian symbolism? Blink, blink: my cares are lighter;my limbs stronger. Ah, I see.

Not long after, I was amazed to discover that my local Mexican restaurant – the Ariba, North Scottsdale, corner of Camelback and 40th, if you’re interested - was serving some innovative dishes. I was tempted to try the fajitas with vice and petrified beans, but settled instead for a less adventurous enchilada. Well, who in their right mind would eat a petrified bean?

So, you get my drift. A touch of blur can brighten the dullest day and turn a lifeless script into a masterpiece of mirth. Not that I haven’t tried to remedy my situation. I did opt for soft contact lenses for a while. I was doing a daily spot on The Food Network and was having trouble reading the auto-cue. Now, I was all right blurring my way through the astrology but when it came to the recipe of the day smoked haddock is no substitute for smoked paprika. I mean what could a teaspoon of smoked haddock possibly bring to a goulash?

The realization that contact lenses were not the great cure-all came about three weeks into the programming. I was complaining to the make-up girl that I had an intermittent problem with my left eye, a sort of grittiness, which became worse when I was wearing my contact lens. “Maybe that’s because you’ve already got another one in there.”, she opined. “Would you like me to get it out for you?”

Having abandoned the contact lens solution I headed into even more hazardous territory – the American driving test. You see, even though I’ve been driving for yonks on an English licence, in America, your insurance company won’t stump up if you don’t have one of theirs. I passed the theory test after three attempts (even with my glasses on) but far worse lay ahead. “Could you read the licence plate on that car, please.” Oh, no, this was it. The dreaded moment had come. I was going to be exposed for the blurry person I truly was. If I didn’t put my glasses on, they’d hand me a white stick as I left the centre. “1M GOD”, I whispered. (Americans love vanity number plates). Thank you very much, Ms Thornton.

At long last I am ready to concede that I need a pair of specs. In fact if I don’t I’m in danger of going bankrupt, signing up for a lifetime’s supply of something in small print and entering a competition that will kill me. I’ll wear my glasses with pride. I’ve come out.

But isn’t it always the way, as soon you come to terms with one failing, another takes its place. Can you guess what it is? No, not the one about the shoe sizes getting smaller or the disconcerting hairy outgrowths of diminishing estrogen supplies, it’s the adventure in sound. I will inevitably reach the Age of Blah at some point, and if I’m anything like my mother it will be sooner than later. As I bellowed down the telephone to her last week, “I won’t be able to phone you next Sunday, Ma, because I’m flying to Phoenix.” Came the reply,

“ That’s all right dear, I’ve got a chicken in the oven.”

Original article; an edited version appeared in Woman&Home in 2004





Penny Thornton

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