I confess I’ve been rather smug about my eyesight. In recent years when I went to a restaurant with any of my older siblings I’d try not to gloat as they fumbled around to get out reading glasses, while I happily scanned the menu and then read out the blackboard specials to them.
I can still read the bottom line of an optician’s chart without much strain. But recently something strange happened to books. They started printing them in smaller type. A similar thing was going on with packaging, which suddenly all seemed to be typeset in four point and quite often in pale grey. How was I supposed to read instructions printed like that?
A routine eye check at my wonderful optometrist (Richard Banks in Woollahra, Sydney, who is one of many reasons I have to make a visit to Australia every two years; the book launches are just an excuse) revealed the terrible news. I needed reading glasses.
I’ve used specs to look at my computer for a while, partly to protect my eyes from damage, but now I needed special glasses for non-screen reading as well. And not just those cheapies you can get in a pharmacy, but expensive lenses with prisms for my astigmatism.
At first I was rather thrilled at the new shopportunity and immediately chose a pair of the frames by iconic New York brand Moscot, which I’d been admiring on a friend’s face for ages.
They’re the same ones Johnny Depp and Woody Allen wear (the style is called Lemtosh) and I fancied myself as looking rather terrifically bookish, sitting up in bed with them on, relishing the contrast between the black Superman-style glasses, my French bed linen and cotton nighties. A bit Grace Kelly, who wore specs better than anybody.
Then I got the train up to London and found I couldn’t read the paper comfortably. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to take the bloody things out and about with me.
And so a whole new world of anxiety has emerged: having to remember my reading glasses and worrying about losing them. Spectacles have gone from accessory to essential without passing pose.
Within a few weeks, I realised I needed a spare pair, in case I did ever lose them. Imagine not being able to read! It would kill me. And so I could have one pair by the bed and another in the kitchen in case I needed to check a recipe. Like a total NANA.
Reading in bright sunshine
But now I’ve moved into a whole new area of spectacle stress: reading in bright sunshine. After the most gruelling winter and crappiest spring I can ever remember in the UK (which is saying something) we suddenly have some good weather, so I thought I’d spend last Sunday afternoon lying on the beach reading while my daughter splashed in the water with her pals.
I couldn’t read a thing. If I wore my reading glasses the glare was too bright; if I wore my sunglasses, the type was too small. And so I understood, with a sinking feeling, that I also need reading sunglasses. Especially as I’m off on holiday in a couple of weeks and plan to spend most of it horizontal, in hot sun, reading.
My crafty plan was to take a cool pair of vintage frames I found in a charity shop to the nearest optician, with a copy of my reading specs prescription and get the dark lenses put in.
Not so easy, it turned out. I was crisply informed – and it was the same in the next two I tried – that heating the 1960s frames to put the lenses in would probably make them crack and break. What I needed to do was to buy a pair of their really nasty new sunglasses, with prescription lenses. No thank you.
My friend Tom Herrington, who has the brilliant eyewear company Rockoptika, came to my rescue and said he would get the special lenses fitted into the vintage frames for me. (I have his Key Largo style as sunnies.)
So it seemed I had it all sorted, but then I was standing in a shop this afternoon and a woman came in with two pairs of glasses perched on her head – one clear, one dark. Presumably one for indoors and one for strong sunshine.
I suddenly realised that would be me on holiday. Constantly swapping between reading sunglasses and normal sunglasses, because I can’t see a thing when I look up in my readers.
What I could clearly picture, though, was the scene where we’ve yomped for miles over rough terrain to get to a secret secluded Croatian beach, I’ve blown up my special back rest, laid out my padded mat, picked up my crisp new book – and then realise I’ve left my bloody reading sunglasses behind.
So it will have to be those ones that go from lightish to darkish, which I now discover are called ‘photochromic’, which is another word for even more expensive.
But before I make this major investment, can any of you tell me, are transition lenses any good? (Post me a comment, below.)
PS: I’m rather obsessed with Moscot (and they’re not short of celebrity fans, either). When I was in New York earlier this year, I stumbled upon its shop, still there at Orchard and Delancy, which is a pretty iconic address for this legendary Manhattan brand. Here’s what the outside of the store looks like, then and now, and the quirky interior.
VIDEO Optician Robert Roope: how to choose glasses for your face shape