I can see clearly now

Sorry if I’ve drawn you with suggestion of a Damascene conversion. I merely refer to the realisation that middle-age deterioration has now officially set in, having picked up my first glasses this week. Trying them on and looking in the optometrist’s mirror, sunlight streaming in through the window, was a bit of a shock: the sharpness of those lines makes me look older (to me) than I realised (everybody else with whom I have regular contact of course knows this anyway). My immediate instinct was to discard and run, but you can’t hide from the truth. Ladies, I promise to be less sceptical about your fondness for smoothing make-up in future. Nothing remarkable: I need glasses and I’ve got to live with the fact.

I’ve ‘seen’ it coming. A year ago I could read the oven clock from my living room through the sliding doors to the kitchen. Not any more. I picked up my sister’s glasses at Christmas, whilst struggling with teletext on her TV. Such an experiment would have once been uncomfortably blurred; now, crystal clear. The main impetus, though, has been an increased tendency to headaches. So, off to my G.P. I did go, and felt foolish when, on his agreement that I need an eye test, I stood up and looked round his surgery for the letters on the wall, and couldn’t find them. ‘F##k’, I thought, ‘my eyes are really shot!’ It’s been that long since I had them tested I was unaware that G.P.s don’t provide this service anymore. You have to go elsewhere and shell out twenty quid. And, after doing so, the optometrist rapidly dispatched me back to my G.P. To cut a long story short, including testing okay for diabetes, it was back for another test – and another twenty quid – to check for further decline, and confirm my prescription.

So, now I’m in the brain adjustment phase, wherein objects take on Escher-esque distortions. It’s a bit disorientating. Yesterday, I walked down the slope towards the hospital entrance to get a coffee. It ‘felt’ like the ground was getting closer. I came close to remonstrating with the coffee shop staff because for a second I was convinced they had downsized their cups. And walking back up the slope, I ‘felt’ achondroplastic; a trick of light like a fairground mirror.

Last year, I had another shock of the senses. Ever wondered on the importance of smell to us more visual creatures? Well, after undergoing sinus surgery, my olfaction was shot for a fortnight. And I couldn’t taste, let alone smell, a bloody thing. Or rather, I couldn’t discern flavour. Taste is provided by the tongue, but it is, so I’ve read, the combined action of taste and aroma that gives flavour. Food became boring.

Our olfactory capacity peaks around the age of twenty, after which decline is alarmingly rapid. But if you suddenly lose it completely for a while, well, no fun at all. Don’t dismiss your ‘silent sense’ as unessential. It’s primitive. It is linked to memory, and is all tied in with sexual attraction. We are more pheromone-receptive than we realise. ‘Lock and key’. It matters a lot. But we conformist beings often tend to overrule such important signifiers.

Thinking about it, it’s time I got my ears syringed. On the cover of this month’s Nature Methods is a lovely picture of a cow. Don’t they have beautiful eyes? Can still smell ‘em, though.

3 responses to “I can see clearly now

  1. I remember this experience you describe so well, a few years back. I had 20/20 vision for, well, most of my life, but in the space of a few short years, I am now +3.5. The first time I tried varifocals was quite an experience, too, especially going down a London Underground escalator.
    My sense of smell is still acute, but I was shocked by my hearing degeneration — when I took a phone call and needed to write something down so switched the phone to my left ear – I could hardly discern the words. Such is the ageing process.

  2. Maxine – I’m glad I’m adjusting prior to using an Underground escalator; I imagine that could be quite unnerving.
    Wonder if I’d be this way if I hadn’t spent the last decade looking down microscopes, at computer screens, etc. But perhaps it’s inevitable, regardless.

  3. That’s interestingly odd. We normally struggle to describe a smell… because usually the association is so instantaneous, because it is such a short connection (in fact, I think the olfactory apparatus is practically part of the brain). Evolutionarily speaking, if you smell something bad, you don’t waste time thinking about it; you just respond, because it could be a survival advantage. But, although we can often ‘remember’ a smell, we can take a while to place it; or describe it in words. Something to do with The Proust Phenomenon and autobiographical memory, I think. A smell can trigger a memory, but then you may have to think hard to place it, because when you originally smelt it, you likely didn’t think about it. And for some things we are probably not even aware that we’ve ‘sensed’ them. (Or perhaps I’m starting to smell like bulls##t.)

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