At the age of 43¾, little things continually remind me that youth is now but a fond memory and the relentless march of time is delivering me, unresisting, into the arms of old age. As youthful as my looks still are, bits of me are starting to creak, fail and wrinkle.
Right now, it’s my eyes that are giving me grief. In recent months I’ve had the increasing tendency to take my glasses off to read, and over the last week or two I’ve been straining my eyes just working at the computer. Which means that I am about to join the legions of the Varifocal Brigade, that breed of humanity that has to tip their heads back to read posters.
Still, this morning’s bus driver did his best to cheer me up by addressing me as “young man”, which didn’t cheer me up as much as he’d probably hoped because I was left with the nagging feeling that the fact he called me “young” at all was because he thought I would appreciate it: in other words, that I looked old.
Hoping for a sudden miracle which never came, I trudged my gloomy way into the optician’s, which just happens to have a special offer on varifocals at the moment. “That’s quite fortunate,” I explained to the optician. “I think I’m going to need varifocals.”
“Oh, good,” replied the optician. Not really the answer I was looking for, but at least he wasn’t rubbing his hands as he said it.
This optician was nothing if not thorough. Normally, if, when asked to read the bottom line, I start with, “Well... H, I think... A, or maybe R... Squiggle...” the optician will stop me and adjust something. This man was probably as sadistic as it’s possible for an optician to get, as he made me read to the end of the line. “Good!” he said, as I finally slumped back in a cold sweat. I felt like a schoolchild who was making small but significant breakthroughs in learning to read.
Later, with me wearing those sci-fi superspecs they use to find the right prescription, he gave me a card with texts printed at different sizes, pointed to one paragraph (“This is the standard size for the fine print on contracts...”) and asked me to read it out. Well, he’d got the prescription right, so I rattled through the first couple of sentences and thought he’d stop me. Surely it was obvious I was seeing it pin-sharp?
Nope. This is a man who loves the sound of people reading out loud, apparently. It was a long paragraph, and I actually got bored reading it.
He also gave the Dagger of Potential Mid-Life Crisis an extra gratuitous twist when, having asked me if was taking any medication for diabetes, announced: “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you a very personal question. How old are you?”
Here’s a tip for anyone whose job entails asking adults how old they are: the correct way is to ask normally and then, when the answer comes, to look surprised and say, “Gosh, you’re looking good on it, I would never have guessed!”
I was handed over to a nice lady from the sales team who helped me choose a frame and who, at one point, went all apologetic and said, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’m afraid I have to ask how old you are.”
She asked me if I didn’t want a really “chic” frame, which is German for “something that can be seen a mile off”. It’s not just me: one of the things foreigners often tell me they notice first about Germans is their unshakable belief that spectacles are the perfect showcase for avant-garde fashion. I politely explained that, being British, I have a slightly different idea of the aesthetics of eyeware and preferred something more discreet.
Now, as I said, this optician’s is currently having a special offer on varifocals; but I was perfectly well aware that what you get for the price written in huge digits on the posters (preceeded by the tiny word “from”) is a pair of glasses that looks ugly, fits only one person in the entire world (and it isn’t you) and is only of any use if you promise never to work at a computer. A pair that will actually help you see is going to cost so much, they have to make you sit down before telling you. And so it proved.
We did the business of me promising to come back in two weeks to take away a pair of glasses and them promising to suck vast amounts of money from my bank account, during which she needed my address and phone number. Being the clever, practical sort, I just handed over my business card.
“You teach English!” she exclaimed. “Why, that’s the perfect job for you!”
“Well, you being English and all.”
I am very rarely rendered speechless. But really, what was I supposed to say to that?