I have spoken about being in my forties before but recently it seems to me that it is actually more relevant than it has been before.  I am forty-two (and a half as my young friend P always reminds me) and although I don’t feel old all the time, sometimes – well I do.

I know, I know, 42 is the new 28 just as navy is the new black, staying in is the new going out and carrying stuff around is the new leaving it where it is.  Still though, although 42 isn’t as old as it seemed when I was 22, it is still not young.  If you are as young as you feel, then I am 19 maybe 20.  However the flesh is not cooperating.  For a start, my joints ache much more than when I was in my twenties.  I have developed all of the textbook aches and pains.  For example:  I have arthritic thumbs and a dodgy left hip, my neck and shoulders are permanently tense and aching and I tend to stiffen up after about 20 minutes in one position.

I am also slightly hard of hearing.  And I mean this seriously.  I am not selectively hard of hearing, like so many men (you know who you are) who don’t hear you when you ask them to do something or are expressing your displeasure at something.  I am genuinely hard of hearing.  This means that I cannot function efficiently in a loud environment, and that includes not being able to speak on the phone with the telly on, or if there are others speaking in the room.  It also means that I shout a lot, and I know that annoys some people, hell it annoys me.  However, I cannot seem to speak quieter, and I can only see this getting worse.  It also means that people who speak quietly are people I now actively avoid talking to unless it’s just the two of us locked in a soundproof studio. I tend to have to read lips a little and watch body language for extra auditory information leading to the oft uttered sentence:  I can’t hear you without my glasses on.

Which brings me to my next point:  my glasses.  By far the earliest victims of my age have been my eyes.  I started needing reading glasses when I was still in my thirties and now it is official, I can no longer see anything without them.  I have worn glasses since I was five years old.  I cannot see more than 2 feet in front of me – but being myopic has not been the terrible affliction I thought it was going to be when I first started being teased at school about my (admittedly hideous) glasses.  You learn early on what you can and can’t do and you make sure you are never more than two feet away from your glasses.  I remember once at school someone stood on my glasses and they were beyond repair.  I had to go home.  Fortunately, a friend who lived close by came to make sure I didn’t get killed on the way.  As we were standing at the bus stop, waiting for the bus, she said:

“Here it is!  No 74!”

I looked over in the direction the bus would be coming.  I couldn’t even see a bus, never mind the number on it.  I assume that had I been alone, I would have had to be under it in order to see it.  Good thing she came with me then.

After a while, at about 15, I started wearing contact lenses.  I wore them for about 15 years, trying to pretend I had normal vision, not really wanting to be seen with my glasses on.  I fooled no one.  It’s not like you wear contacts, and that’s it.  There are solutions, little vials, different pots etc. etc.  You can’t have an impromptu sleepover.  You can’t swim with them in (anyone who has tried to locate a contact lens in the ocean will attest to that), you can’t rub your eyes.  Hell you can’t even laugh too hard, sometimes, that’s all it takes.  Even a short nap will glue them to your eyeballs which makes taking them out painful and a little frightening.    Of course, things have changed since I was fifteen.  Now they have disposable contacts that you wear for a day and throw away.  Revolutionary and life-changing? Yes.  £600 a year that people with good vision don’t need to spend? Check.  Wearing a pair of lenses every day is convenient, and removes the need for the cleaning rinse/saline solution bottles and rituals sure, but it is damned expensive and you still can’t swim/sleep/rub your eyes/laugh etc . etc.  I remember with my first pair of lenses,  I was supposed to put them in this hydrogen peroxide solution to clean them for 20 minutes at night, and then remove them from that solution and leave them in the saline overnight ready to wear the next morning.  If I had a penny for all the times I forgot and put a lens into my eye with the hydrogen peroxide on it, I would be a wealthy woman.  Let me tell you that stuff burns and your eye cries like your boyfriend broke up with you by text message for hours.

Slowly, as I got older and more mature (ahem) I started wearing my glasses more.  It stopped bothering me to be a glasses wearer and I just wore them everywhere.  I still wear contacts to go out somewhere formal, or somewhere my glasses would be in the way, but generally, I wear my glasses everywhere.  Recently, I called up my optician to order some more lenses. The conversation went like this:

“Hi, I’d like to order some more contact lenses.”

“Hi M, It’s Rohit.  Forget it.  You ordered six months of lenses three and a half years ago and we haven’t seen you since.  You’ll need to come in and get your eyes checked, we are not allowed by law to give you lenses without an eye test after two years.”  (I am not sure if there is actually a law or if it is a conspiracy between all dispensing opticians to say there is because they are all in cahoots and you need the eye test to get the lenses.)

I made an appointment for the following day.  Eye tests make me nervous.  It’s like a regular test, but if you mess up, you’re stuck with unsatisfactory glasses for three and a half years.  Anyway.  I put in my last pair of lenses and went in.  Rohit was waiting for me, full of beans.  After the pre-requisite conversation about football (It’s a thing between us, he is a Liverpool fan (poor thing) and I support Arsenal (I don’t want to hear it)).  He puts on the super dorky round glasses with the slots for lenses on my nose and we start the test.  I read the top line with confidence, and peter out about halfway through the third line.

“Hmm,” he says.  “We’re going to have to adjust your lenses, you aren’t getting the distance.”

“Yes,” say I, “ I have been fudging through with the distance, but I am really having problem with reading things and seeing things up close.”

“Yes” he said.  “That is completely normal for someone in their..” he paused, then continued in a whisper “forties

I giggled to myself.  Did he think I would be shocked?  I answered:

“Oh, I know, but there must be something we can do about it, surely, I am tired of having to lift my glasses up and bring stuff close to my nose in the supermarket. What about bi-focals or something?”

“You aren’t ready for bi-focals yet.” he said. “Your eyes are not at that stage. I can mess about with the distance with your contact lenses, so that you will hardly notice anything, but you will still be able to see to read.  Here, come outside.”

He leads me out into the shop with those extremely attractive glasses on. “Look out onto the street. Which do you want?  This? Or this? “ he said slotting in different lenses.

The difference was huge.  I couldn’t believe it.  With one of the lenses I could read the name of the shop across the road clearly, with the other, I could see that it was blue and red but not what it said.  Seduced by the extra distance, I said the first one.

“Are you sure? “ He asked.  “If you have the distance, I can’t do anything about the reading.  You will definitely need reading glasses.”

“I don’t care,” I said, “I can see!  Far!  This is great!”

“Ok,” he said, “But I would have thought you would want to avoid reading glasses.”

“Oh, I’m not precious about it.  I have been wearing reading glasses for about 4 years already, I am past feeling unhappy about it.”

“Really?” he said checking my chart, “I am surprised. Usually people don’t start to need reading glasses until well into their”, lowered tone “forties.  Anyway, don’t say I didn’t warn you, you will not be able to read anything small with these lenses on.”

“Fine, fine.” I said, “Let’s sort out the glasses now.”

We arranged the prescription, and then it was time to try on new frames.  I really don’t like trying on new frames.  It’s a bit like the eye test thing.  If you get it wrong, you’re stuck with awful glasses.  Much like contact lenses, glasses are not a cheap pastime, it’s not a case of oh well I’ll just get another pair.  Also because of the level of my short-sightedness, I have to pay extra for thinner lenses or have the kind of glasses I used to wear as a child – bottle bottoms.  I mean really thick lenses.  Apart from the weight factor (they’re quite heavy on the nose) there’s the nerd factor (four-eyes four-eyes, dorky dorky four-eyes).  I mean, I know I am not 7 any more, and glasses have come a long way since then, with people even wearing them who don’t need them, but I will never get over the teasing, and I always feel at a slight disadvantage for wearing them.  At least with the thin lenses, you can kid yourself and others that they’re just something to aid your vision, not the things that stand between you and certain death by walking off a cliff or under a bus every day.

We start looking at frames.  He directs me to the designer section.

“Er, any chance we could choose a pair of frames that I don’t have to mortgage my house for?” I said, laughing nervously.

“Oh, but the lenses are included” he said.

“Really?  I asked, “Included?  That’s changed since the last time I was here.”

“Well there is an extra (£170) charge for the thin lenses, but apart from that it’s all included.”  He said.

This was a reduction from the last time I had bought glasses, but it still put the cost of the glasses up there, plus new contact lenses.  Anyway.  I started trying stuff on with him and his colleague coming up with such helpful comments as:

“Too wide”

“Too masculine”

“No way.”

“Ugh, Dame Edna”

“Try these, they may not make you look like an owl.”

“The trouble is, your face narrows around your eyes.”

After about 15 minutes of being heckled,  I was beginning to wonder if I would need surgery to correct the flaws that were preventing me from finding a pair of frames to suit me among the myriad of frames in the shop. I finally narrowed it down to two pairs.  Usually I would have my sister D come in and help me choose, and I would take her word for it no questions, because she is a style guru, but she wasn’t there, and I didn’t think I could take much more of the constructive criticism from the glasses gestapo.  I picked one pair, and said I would take them.

They agreed it was the right pair, and I paid and left with the promise that they would be ready the next day.

“Would you like a pair of contact lenses to wear home?” he asked.

“Sure, that would be great.” I said.  I put in the lenses and set off home.  All the way there I was beside myself with excitement, this clarity in the distance was not something I was used to.  I crowed to myself all the way home and then I sat down to eat.  As I looked down to my plate, I realised that I couldn’t see the food clearly.  No big deal I thought, I know what I’m eating, what’s the problem?  I picked up a magazine to read as I ate.  The print was out of focus.  I held it further away, still out of focus.  My arm at full stretch, I had to admit defeat.  My arms are not long enough to achieve the distance I now need to read.  In my head, I could hear Rohit saying:

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you… Now that you’re in your [whispering] forties you have to sacrifice some distance to be able to read.”

I went and got my reading glasses.  They are no longer the right prescription.  Fortunately, while I was in Greece, my Mum gave me a pair of hers.  I now can no longer go anywhere without them if I am wearing my lenses.

This weekend, I went to a pop up ping pong club (try saying that five times very fast).  It sounds really cool and young right? We thought so.  I went with my best friend, N.  We have a table tennis history he and I.  I used to have a table in the basement of my parents place, and we basically spent our twenties and thirties playing ping pong.  It’s not like it was a real competition or anything.  We would play, sometimes for hours and I would lose.  Repeatedly.  On the plus side, my game improved, and I did win at least five times in twenty years.  It was character-building for me, and I assume morale-boosting for him.  Anyway.  We booked tickets (thus showing our age already), then committed the cardinal sin of showing up at opening time practically wagging our tails at the door.  The kids manning the door smiled indulgently at us.  We could tell they were thinking, how sweet! Old folk!  They stamped our hands when we went in. Apparently according to D, the correct response to having your hand stamped as you go into a club nowadays is (adopt a bored tone) Seriously?  Stamps? Like what are we twelve?  N and I however were extremely excited.  We giggled to each other.  Stamps!! Like when we were young!  We’re so hip and cool!  (Obviously, if you have to point it out to yourselves, it’s less cool, but, you know, we were subtle about it.) We got down to playing right away.  Slowly the pub started filling up.  After about 45 minutes, we felt we were hogging the table, so we stopped to have a drink.  After that, with the pub full we asked some people to join in their game.  They didn’t want to so we ended up playing just the two of us again.  After a while there was a crowd watching us.  I think they were alternating between being surprised at the sight of oldies playing decent ping pong and also feeling sorry for me as N was not holding back, and I was trying desperately to hold on and return some of the smashes that kept coming my way.  Anyway.  After another half hour or so, we left.  First ones in, first ones out, you could hear the sniggering of the kids at the door as we left.  I imagine they saw us in uni-slippers  drinking Horlicks within the half hour. Fortunately, they couldn’t see the reading glasses in my coat pocket.  We didn’t go straight home just for the record.  We stayed out until way past eleven. We’re still young and hip.  In a not-so-young-and-stiff-hipped kind of way.

 

 

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