If you are shortsighted, then you will know that it is possible, with one swift manoeuvre, to cause the mundane world around you take on the pleasingly hazy air of a Monet masterpiece. You just have to take off your glasses. It is a lot easier than going to an Art Gallery, especially one in Paris. Just now, for instance, I removed the old face-furniture to catch a glimpse of 'Manchester Sales Office in Late Summer', a delightful work in which nearby items such as this stapler here are perfectly identifiable, but that figure 6 feet away, who you take at first sight to be your colleague Steve, may in fact be a hatstand, a pile of cushions, or just a very large, colourful cat talking on the telephone to a man in Sheffield about the price of industrial adhesive.
This kind of do-it-yourself impressionism is a delight available only to the short-sighted, as Art Historians are agreed that your actual Monet and his ilk were bohemian figures ignorant of the ways of commerce, who were much more likely to set up their easels next to a haystack, or maybe some nice waterlilies, than by my fax machine. So if you are one of those annoying people with 20-20 vision, you may be feeling a trifle envious, and wishing you were just a little bit less damn perfect, so that you could join in our cool game. Well, let's see if you change your mind after you have read the following- it is the life story of a short-sighted person as illustrated by his optical-enhancement devices (like the one the other time with the tellies, you remember). Now then, where to start? Oh yes....
Between these times I lived in Amble and Belford (Northumberland), Kendal (Cumbria), Benidorm (Spain), and then for most of the time in Newcastle (People's Republic of Tyneside). And I saw them all clearly. I had eyes like a damn hawk, I tell you! A damn hawk!
But then something went wrong, round about the same time I started secondary school. In Classics (it was a grammar school that had changed into a comprehensive, and retained some quaint features, such as teaching Classics to the first years) we had to copy down the story of Hercules that Mr Kelly wrote on the blackboard. Except I couldn't see the blackboard so had to adopt some artistic licence. In my version Hercules was not an all-conquering Greek God defeating mythical beasts, but the inside forward in Newcastle United's 1950s cup-winning team. Mr Kelly was not impressed and I received a D minus in the Christmas report. Sensing something was up (well, there was also the way I kept walking into lamposts and mistaking my Auntie Mary for a fuschia bush) my parents whisked me off to Dr Spicker, the Opthalmic Optician on Fenham Hall Drive. This practitioner took one look at my pitiful attempts to identify the tiny letters on his board, and uttered the most chilling words I had heard in my short, idyllic life: 'Mrs Baker- your son is going to need these National Health Glasses'. My days as a playground 'specky four-eyes' had begun.
Except they hadn't. Because I never wore the glasses (well, you will all remember how hideous they were)-except when I absolutely had to. Which meant Classics lessons with Mr Kelly, and every second Saturday on the Gallowgate End between 3 o'clock and 20 to 5. Yes, you can insert your own 'you should have left them off during the football' line here, and save me the bother.
I left Newcastle and went away to Wolverhampton Polytechnic. This was my first experience of being short-sighted in an unfamiliar place and it was scary. I would walk into the Student Union Bar, and, not having any idea who all the people were in there, walk out again. Later, people would tell me they had been waving at me across the room and I had looked right through them. I developed a reputation as being somewhat aloof, even occasionally rude- but on the other hand not knowing what the hell was going on could come in handy. Playing right-wing for the college second team, I took down a flighted ball on my chest, let it bounce, and drove it 30 yards into the top corner. As team-mates ran to congratulate me, I simply shrugged and walked away. They thought I was some kind of fantastically cool guy for whom scoring that kind of goal was no big deal. Of course, the truth was I had no idea where the ball had gone, or where all the excited shouting was coming from. To this day, this moment- a goal I knew nothing about in a 3-9 defeat by Leicester Poly Thirds- remains the highlight of my footballing career.
This ridiculous state of affairs continued until- about three years after everyone else in the country- I discovered those tiny, invisible little fellows you stick on your eye, and all of a sudden you can see like a hawk again. Contact lenses- magical! Except, of course, they are invisible, and you are a bit clumsy and short-sighted, so you spend an awful lot of time looking for them behind the fridge, or in a pile of dirty washing, before eventually discovering them hiding around the side of your eye, the tricky little buggers.
And then one day, you are scrabbling around in a drawer at your mam's house in Newcastle, looking for something or other (probably your contact lenses) when you come across a really cool pair of 1960s-style round glasses just like John Lennon's. Except they are not John Lennon's, they are your mam's from the 1960s! So you take them to the opticians in Eldon Square and get them to put in some glass to your prescription, and- hey presto, you are a member of the Beatles. Or maybe just a bloke shambling around Newcastle in knackered-looking eyeware belonging to his mother. One or the other. Anyway you are of the considered opinion that you look very cool indeed.
And then one day, the inevitable happens. I am watching Manchester City against Arsenal from the packed Kippax (I have moved to Manchester, and we are in the last days of standing at the football) when David Rocastle scores for City. The crowd goes mental, and when everything settles down I find the pitch looks all blurry. I shout in panic 'Me glasses! Me fucking glasses!' and- in a fine demonstration of the camaraderie of the terraces- everyone pushes back and a 10-foot-square concrete gap miraculously opens on the Kippax with my spectacles lying in the middle. In the moment before the weight of the surrounding humanity forces the gap shut I dive down to retrieve them- but they are all scratched and the arm is hanging off.
But I am a poor teaching student so have to make do and mend. A week or so later I'm being shown around the Modern Languages department of a school in Irlam, asking all the right questions and thinking 'this interview is going quite well', when I realise the Head of Department is looking at me a trifle curiously. I put my hand to my head and realise the arm of the 1960s glasses has sprung out from behind my ear and is protruding from the side of my head at a crazy angle, like some kind of antenna. The interview terminates in short order, as I am swiftly shown the door, and presently, the street. Oh well, I never really wanted the job anyway.
A succession of round glasses. Like the original ones, except bought from Specsavers, a fresh search of my mother's kitchen drawers having yielded no further antique eyewear. And then it is time for a change of image, so....
... I call into the Eye Clinic, and, in the style of Mr Benn visiting the fancy-dress costume shop, try on every single pair of glasses on display, before eventually plumping for a quite snazzy, European-style pair with rectangular, black metal frames. As these appear to be the style favoured by Chorlton-dwelling creative types, these are christened my 'media glasses', and I become convinced that if I simply hang out in the correct cafes for long enough, a man will walk up and offer me a full-time job writing for City Life.
Five years later, I am still waiting (although I do have a website now, hurrah!), so maybe it is time for another change, especially since the Eye Clinic have sent me a letter threatening me with impending blindness if I don't get my eyes tested right this instant - and enclosing the sweetener of a £30-off-your next-spectacles coupon.
So what style will I go for next? Because that is the other advantage of being short-sighted: by simply changing your face furniture you can adopt a completely different persona, just like Mr Benn with his outfits. This time round, I might go for something glass-framed in the style of Mr Sven-Goran Eriksson, and then I will be able to spend a day managing the England football team. Or maybe some massive early-1970s horn-rimmed affairs, so I can be Henry Kissinger for an afternoon.
Or maybe I will just take my glasses off and enjoy the rather hazy view. Which reminds me- I must go over to the photocopier and see if that giant brightly-coloured cat has any documents for me. It is so exciting, being short-sighted. You will all have to try it some time.