Here’s a picture of me as a baby with my Mum. Notice how my right eye is next to my nose? Guess what? It’s hardly moved since then.
Right from the start, it seems, I was seeing the world in a different way from other people, with my nose in the bottom left hand corner of the view. It seemed my behaviour reflected that too. My parents often reminded me of the fact, and would discuss me in the terms of, ‘Do you know what she’s done (or said) now?’ The final one, not long before she died, was my mother saying, ‘You couldn’t even have your babies like everyone else,’ because I’d had two Caesareans.
Anyway, I was talking about seeing. I don’t know anything about the early years but at some point my parents were given advice as to how to deal with this stationary eye. When I became of an age to do as I was told, they would say, ‘Turn your head and not your eyes.’ This was good advice as, when I tried to move the eye, it would travel a short distance and then shoot back into its corner. Instant brain confusion. However, for a very long time, I thought they’d made it up to make life more difficult.
When I began to ask questions, they told me there were some muscles behind my eye that didn’t work and that was why the eye didn’t move much. End of conversation, topic never to be reopened. It was the fifties after all and nothing was ever discussed in the fifties, especially with children.
No one noticed that I was extremely short sighted. Not even me. I just thought that everyone saw the world as a blurry haze with an in-focus nose in the corner. Years later I heard Roy Castle, the comedian/musician say that his parents would take him to the cinema and he would wonder why they were paying money to see a grey blur on a big screen. I knew what he meant. I did find that yawning would sometimes bring tears to my eyes, then I’d scrunch my eyes half closed and use the tears as a sort of lens to see better.
When I was about 7 or 8 the teacher moved me from the front to the back of the class. My work dropped drastically. The world, in the form of my teacher, Mrs Watkins, noticed I didn’t see life like everyone else did and a letter was sent to my parents. They did what was expected of them and I was prescribed glasses.
Without saying it out loud, it was clear that my parents didn’t approve of glasses. It is also possible that it was females wearing glasses that was the problem, especially females wearing glasses in the public eye. My Dad had reading glasses but he wasn’t female and he didn’t wear them outside. Years later, my Mum wanted to get some reading glasses, mainly to use in the shop. He told her to get a magnifying glass. Many loud arguments later she got her glasses.
It was possible at that time to get free glasses for children. Everyone called them clinic glasses. They had round frames and were pink. I thought they were pretty. But I wasn’t allowed to have them because people would know I was wearing free glasses. I had paid-for glasses but they weren’t as pretty as the clinic glasses.
I wore my glasses at school, to read and to watch television. I wasn’t allowed to wear them outside under any circumstances. People might see, people who knew me, customers in the shop. So, really, I could have had the pretty pink glasses if they weren’t going to be seen.
I need to go back in time now, to when I was about six. We moved to another area so that my Mum could run a shop. My parents talked to the head of my school about whether to move me to the school around the corner from where we were going to live. Here we come to a different sort of seeing. The headteacher ‘saw’ me as a child well-established at her school and advised them to keep me where I was. My parents ‘saw’ her as a wise person who knew what she was talking about.
Now I look back now and I can see that little Glenis, the six year old who couldn’t see well at all. My parents didn’t have a car, not many people did, and the journey to school had to be made by bus. Neither of my parents had the time to make the return journey three times at day – I didn’t have school lunches for some unknown reason. And so I was to do the ten-minute bus journey by myself. I had a little note to show the bus conductor to tell them where I was going. There was one road to cross, luckily with a zebra crossing. But the fact is, apart from being six years old, I couldn’t see properly. I don’t like the thought of that at all.
As I grew older, my travels became wider. But the problem was, I couldn’t see the destination on the front of the bus and I worried about it. I still worry about getting on the right bus. My teenage rebellion, at age fourteen, was to start wearing my glasses outside. My parents didn’t say much. They probably saw it as another sign of my weirdness.
to be continued