Saturday 8 May 2010

Blind As A Bat

Somebody told me that newborn babies can’t see and that their eyesight dramatically improves. I still have the vision of a newborn baby – without my glasses I can barely see past the end of my nose.

My glasses are my best friend. Without them I am a shadow of myself; I am incomplete; I am Mr Magoo.

This is the story of how we met.

When I was a young child, my blurred vision seemed perfectly normal to me; it must have done. I must have adapted to the fact that I couldn’t see a bloody thing. To me it seemed perfectly natural to sit in front of our black and white television watching Thunderbirds. When I say “in front”, I mean with my nose pressed firmly against the tube.

My parents used to scold me and drag me back from the TV saying things like “if you sit too close to the TV you’ll go blind”. I must have stared at their blurred outlines and thought “Crikey! You mean my eyesight can get WORSE???”

Until I started school, I would sit on the settee watching television, staring at the box in the corner of the room unable to get a clear image of what was going on.

“This is the most stupid invention ever,” I thought. “All I can see is a bunch of wiggly blurred outlines.”

I had nothing to compare the images with. It was perfectly normal to me.

I started school aged five and nothing changed. I was handed books to read and, being short-sighted, I could read totally clearly. I couldn’t see what the teacher wrote on the blackboard but I didn’t actually need to – because I was clever and it was all in the book right in front of my eyes. Nobody was any the wiser, including me.

Eventually, when I turned seven, the teaching methods changed and we had to pay more attention to the drivel that teachers wrote on the blackboard; we were expected to copy it down. Having no idea that I was half blind, I assumed that there was a kind of ripple effect from the blackboard. The teacher wrote down a sentence for the kids in the front row; the kids in the second row copied the sentence from the kids in the front row and so on until it reached me. The problem was that the kid I copied from was as thick as an elephant sandwich so I simply copied down the gibberish that he wrote.

He couldn’t spell and his writing was appalling; I thought he was insane.

It was only when the teacher looked at my work that he put two and two together; I was either short-sighted or totally weird I’m both of course, but he didn’t know that at the time; he had a foolproof plan to work out which.

“Read what’s on the blackboard,” he bawled at me.

“I can’t,” I replied. “You write too small.”

The teacher decided that I was not weird but short-sighted. He told my mother and she dragged me off to my first optician appointment. I sat down in a scary chair in a small room and a scary old man put a contraption on my head that vaguely looked like a pair of glasses. He didn’t put any lenses into this contraption.

“Read those letters to me,” he barked.

“What letters?” I replied.

“Oh dear,” he sighed.

And then my life changed.

First of all, he put a black lens in the left socket of the device and a clear lens in the other side.

“Read those letters to me,” he repeated.

“AAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!” I screamed. “I CAN SEE!!!! I AM BIONIC!!!!!! I CAN SEE!!!!!!!”

And I could. I could see everything. It was as if somebody had wiped my eyeballs with a rag. Everything became crystal clear. Not only could I see the letters, I could also see a spider crapping a web in the corner of the room.

“I CAN SEE A SPIDER CRAPPING A WEB!! This room’s filthy you know.”

“Just read the letters,” he snarled.

“Q I R T Y B P” I said triumphantly before adding a few more with a giggle:

“P O O”

“W I L L Y”

“F A R T”

After a few more lenses, and a couple of cracks around the bonce for being cheeky, the optician homed in on my prescription. Finally, he took off the contraption and told me to go.

“Can’t I take it with me?” I asked. “I can’t see properly now.”

He laughed and told me that my glasses would arrive in a couple of weeks and I would be able to see clearly for ever.

I was overjoyed and I couldn’t wait to get them. Two weeks later I sat on the sofa and suddenly realised what the point of the TV was.

Sadly, acquiring my first pair of glasses was a bittersweet experience. I could see great distances and was therefore deliriously happy, running around like a demented imbecile with my new found vision. Unfortunately, in my school year, nobody else wore glasses except me.

I was mocked – mercilessly.

Within two minutes of arriving at school on that first day with by glasses, kids who I thought were my friends, were calling me “Four eyes” and “Specky” and other derogatory names. In fact, my first altercation with a teacher happened on that very day. I remember it well and it is probably one of the reasons why I have a problem with authority today.

It was the teacher who had noticed my poor eyesight so, looking back, I should really have shaken the man’s hand and given him all of my worldly possessions (a toy robot, a football and my bogey collection); I should have been forever in his debt. However, on that first day, I grew to hate him.

“Specky four eyes,” I was called over and over again and something had to give. The anger built up and up and up and up until finally I broke.

I forget the name of the poor kid who pushed me into the abyss of wrath but I bet he remembers me.

“What’s it like to look like a specky four-eyed girl?” he said.

“What’s it like to be in pain, you BUGGER!!!” I screamed as I hit him square on the nose with all my might, actually giving him a nose bleed.

The teacher saw it all, grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me into the library, which was a room that we dubbed “the naughty room”; people waited there to receive the cane in those days of corporal punishment.

“Sit down!” shouted the teacher. “How DARE you hit another child; AND use language like that.”

I was still enraged and, without thinking of the consequences, I turned on him. I couldn't believe that I was being punished after the ruthless name calling that had driven me to violence. And now the teacher was my target; this man who had helped me see; this man who was my hero; this responsible human being who now turned out to be a complete arse. I lost any respect for him.

“THAT BUGGER HAS BEEN CALLING ME FOUR EYES ALL DAY! WHY AM I IN TROUBLE?” I screamed exploding in a blend of tears, snot and spit. I might also have wet my pants – I’m not sure. I simply couln't believe what was happening.

I forget the events after that, such was my trauma, but I do know that I soon realised my predicament and may suffer the wrath of the headmaster, resulting in six hefty whacks across the arse with his cane. After all this was a strict catholic school and using foul language and violence was regarded as a pretty bad sin. Furthermore, I feared that I might end up in hell with Satan himself calling me “Four Eyes” for eternity while punching me on the nose.

I do know that the headmaster got involved and when I explained, through floods of tears, snot and spit, about the persecution I had received from my so-called friends, it must have turned the tide somewhat.

In the end I had to suffer punishment but the teacher and headmaster were lenient.

The kid I had smacked on the nose was also punished and ended up sitting next to me in the library for an hour. Our punishment was missing the PE lesson, which we both loved, and hundreds of lines. We had to write sheets and sheets of lines: mine were meant to drill into me that I should never use the foul language I had used and I had to write out repeatedly the line:

“Let me no wrong or idle word unthinking say. Set thou thy seal upon my lips just for today”

from the old hymn “Just For Today”

I think my tormentor and victim of my violence had to write some crap about being nice to unfortunate people.

After that, certain kids thought twice about calling me “Four Eyes” at school, for a while at least. It wasn’t long before I was called names again but by then I was hardened to it. “Four eyes” and other derogatory terms stuck with me throughout my early childhood and youth and I still wince when I hear similar phrases now (though thankfully I haven’t heard it for quite a few years now).

As you can imagine, though, “Four Eyes” and “Specky” weren’t the only insults that were hurled my way.

It was typical that I was born and grew up at a time when there were not one but TWO of my nemeses on the TV.

The first was “The Milky Bar Kid”, a boy about my age with blond hair and glasses, just like me, who dressed up as a cowboy and ate white chocolate bars called Milky Bars. I hated the kid and I hated Milky Bars, not only because of the torment that came my way but also the taste.

White chocolate? What crazy mutant dreamed that up?

Here is my first nemesis:

With my wild blond hair and glasses I looked like a crazed version of the Milky Bar Kid who had been assaulted with a particularly potent ugly stick.

My second nemesis was “Joe 90” and in many ways this was even worse because the name “Joe 90” stuck for years and years. Who is "Joe 90"? In case you don’t know, here he is:

One of the last times I remember having “Joe 90” trauma was when I was nineteen. I was about to leave a pub in Walsall town centre with a couple of friends when I noticed a bunch of skinheads. As we walked past, the skinheads, in a coordinated harmonious manner that belied their Neanderthal stupidity, gave a rendition of the “Joe 90” theme tune.


and bellowed with laughter. We all walked out and I told my mates to run to the next pub.

“Why?” asked one. “They were just taking the piss. They’re not coming after us.”

“Just run,” I said. “Because they will be coming after us.”

They walked, thinking I had had a pint too many. When I went back into the pub, however, they changed their mind and set off for the next pub at a trot.

Inside the pub, I walked up to the skinheads as they laughed, amused by their piss-taking. Years of being called “Joe 90” had finally got to me and having had a pint or two of lager and lime I felt it was time to tell them what I thought. And I did. I can’t recall exactly what I said but I think I accused them of having dog-shit for brains and the intellectual capacity of a particularly stupid dung beetle.

Thankfully, at the time, I was fit and fast and was out of the pub before they could react. Whether they chased me or not, I don’t know. But I felt better for telling them what I thought, that’s for sure.

Of course, I wouldn’t do anything that stupid now; I’d probably join in their laughter and chat to them.

That’s not the end of my story about my relationship with my glasses. There is much more to come.

What do you mean “Oh no!!!”??????

By the way, the picture at the start of the post is me aged twelve. See what I mean about being a mad-haired version of “The Milky Bar Kid”?


bingkee said...

Have you considered wearing contacts? My best friend used to wear glasses when she was younger, but now she's wearing contacts. She's farsighted.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Bingkee,

Yes I have considered contacts - that's another story...




River said...

I remember the milky bar kid but I've never heard of Joe90. He must be an English only character.
I happen to believe that the nose bloodying of your "friend" was well justified, and that your teacher should have been more aware of what was going on, knowing that you were newly wearing glasses that he'd been instrumental in bringing about, and also should have known that small boys would tease unmercifully. I didn't get my glasses until my second baby was six months old. The optometrist who tested me said he didn't know how I'd managed at school since not only was I long sighted, but cross eyed as well. I'd had no idea, only seeing the optometrist as a last resort for headaches. Funnily enough I learned to read at age three and haven't stopped since, although now I find I can't read without the glasses.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

Joe 90 was British but possibly American too. I'm surprised it didn't find its way down under.

My eyesight is even worse now - I am going to post about it soon.




Nomad said...

Lordie Mercy, Children can be such demons. I had my share of that kind of merciless teasing. I had some kind of problem with my teeth and the front ones had to be capped- in silver, FFS. Not so creatively, I was called, "Silver teeth."

There are lots of long term effects of getting that kind of treatment. I leave it to the psychologists to explain that. But, it is also possible to turn that into a beneficial experience too. It can give us a sense of empathy and considered thought. And that's not bad at all.

One time a friend of mine who happened to have a fairly intense stammer was telling me the same kind of tale. "And you know what was the worst?" (I won't try to imitate his stutter. You may add that on your own.)
"Loony toons."
"Man, I hated that fucking pig."
"Porky the Pig."
I asked, like an imbecile," But why?"
He just stared at me for a long time without answering. I guess he was carefully just checking if I were making fun of him or just dim. Fortunately I managed to persuade him I was the latter.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Nomad,

Kids are cruel but I think the ribbing I got as a child changed me for the better. I am very thick skinned these days, though as I said, I still wince when I see Milky Bars.

I didn't know any kids with stammers but I can fully appreciate why Porky the Pig is such a hated creature. It makes me wonder why you would give a popular cartoon character a speech defect.

It all goes to show that these childhood memories do stick - I would struggle to watch an episode of Joe 90 to this day.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Thanks Lydia,

I'll take a peek.