Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Four eyes aren't better than two

Jeremy Clarkson

My eye was caught recently by a photograph in a magazine called The Spectator. It showed an old man in a 19th-century setting and underneath it read “Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homosexuality”.

This seemed odd, partly because the old man in the photograph, with his mutton chops and his frock coat, looked about as gay as Sean Connery, and partly because I thought homosexuality had been invented long before the 1800s.

I therefore plunged into the lengthy story that accompanied the photograph and pretty soon my curiosity turned to bewilderment. Because it just went on and on about alternative medicine.

Only when I reached the end and turned back for a better look at the old man did I realise my mistake. Samuel Hahnemann was not the founder of homosexuality. He was the founder of homeopathy.

For some time now I’ve suspected my eyes are beginning to fail and that some spectacles might be a good idea. But I’ve always been nervous about coming out because of a simple truism. Not all people who wear glasses need a poke in the eye. But all people who need a poke in the eye do wear glasses.

Sadly, contact lenses are not an option because if your eyesight is broken how are you supposed to find them when you drop them on a brightly coloured hotel carpet? Or at a football match? I’ve seen too many people on their hands and knees shouting “Nobody move”.

There’s something else, too. Regularly I appear on television with bloodshot eyes because I can’t use eye drops, and I feel physically sick at the thought of having a retinal scan. I can’t even watch a close-up of someone’s eyes on Casualty. So, given the choice of putting in a pair of contact lenses or having my scrotum eaten by a pack of wild dogs, I’d have my trousers off in a jiffy.

And therefore, with an hour to kill at London City airport last week, I sauntered into the shop and decided to buy some spectacles.

It wasn’t easy. A notice alongside the display asked me to stand 14 inches away and read various lines of print, each of which was in a different size. Right. So how do you know what 14 inches is in an airport shop? Eventually I figured a Berliner newspaper might be about right, so finally I had a very good reason for buying The Guardian.

Having used it to position my nose in the right place, I found I could read the entire eye chart, and who made it, and their address, with no difficulty at all. So on that basis my eyes are fine.

But they’re not. I cannot read The Spectator by the 40-watt glow of my bedside lamp. And nor can I read menus in candlelit restaurants. And so, because I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life eating the wrong food and muddling homeopaths up with homosexuals, I selected the weakest lenses and set about choosing some frames.

Now look. It’s a fair bet that most people who need spectacles are no longer in the first flush of youth, so could someone please explain why the choice was so universally cool and anti-fit hip. I wanted something from the Seventies, an Aviator perhaps, or maybe a Lennon, but all I was offered was the sort of stuff worn by fierce-looking television executives and Bonio.

None of them, I felt sure, would suit me at all, but for confirmation of this I put a pair on my face and stood in front of the mirror to see what they looked like.

It was hard to say for sure, because all the advertising paraphernalia and health and safety nonsense was hanging like bunting in front of the lenses, which to make things even worse were covered in stickers. How stupid is that? After I’d peeled and ripped it all off, I went back to the mirror to find that I was completely out of focus. For all I knew I wasn’t standing in front of a mirror at all. It could have been a huge poster of a space alien. Certainly the creature staring back at me had a face that was about three miles wide.

And it was covered in huge, pustulating spots. Jesus Christ. They hadn’t been there when I’d shaved that morning and yet now I looked like I’d been attacked with half a pint of VX nerve gas. And there was what looked like a whole tree growing out of my nose.

How come the girl at the check-in desk hadn’t thought to mention this? I always make a point of telling people when they have loo roll sticking out of their trousers, or their skirt tucked into their knickers, so why had no one taken me on one side and explained there was a giant redwood growing from a moon-sized puss-filled crater on my nose? Bastards.

Hurriedly I removed the spectacles and felt a wave of relief as everything returned to normal. The spots went away and the tree turned back into a small hair.

Small wonder people with glasses are so irritating. Like vampires they live in a permanent state of fear that they may accidentally catch sight of themselves in a mirror.

They also know that the disintegration has begun. Today it’s the eyes, but soon the ageing process will start to scythe its way through something more important.

Spectacles, then, make The Spectator and menus easier to read, but in the process they also bring into pin-sharp focus your own mortality.