Real life

The pros and cons of robot vision

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

15 February 2020

9:00 AM

Being told I am now both short-sighted and long-sighted feels like someone is playing a very bad joke on me.

I would say I’ve always been as blind as a bat but I don’t want the Bat Society to complain.

Lately, every time I go to the optician a different practitioner has what feels like a wild stab in the dark at changing my contact lens prescription so I can see near and far. Nothing works. And multifocal lenses produce the worst result of all, blurring everything no matter where I focus.

I’ve had so many eye tests that when they put the Clockwork Orange headgear on me and start barking ‘Top line… middle line…’ I just recite the darn chart from memory. Which isn’t helping.

So I had to admit I was doing that. ‘Honestly, I can’t see anything at all. F something. V something.’ ‘What about this?’ ‘Now I can read the bottom line.’

Being able to read the bottom line of a six-line Snellen chart is robot vision.

But that is what they gave me the last time they changed my prescription. ‘How’s that robot vision working out for ya?’ I hear you ask. Well, I can see a squirrel in a tree two fields away. I can read the writing on a lorry 15 cars ahead of me on the M25. But I can’t see anyone I’m talking to, or the food on my dinner plate. So it’s swings and roundabouts. And quite often I feel as though I’m about to swing into a roundabout.

It doesn’t help that every time my lenses run out, I have to beg the optician for an appointment.

I have been on a direct debit scheme with the same company for nearly 20 years. But every time I am due a check-up, I get the distinct impression they don’t want anything to do with me.


This time when I rang, a chap said I could only have an appointment on either a Friday or a Tuesday. As it was Wednesday I said: ‘Fine. Friday. What time?’

‘This Friday?’ he said. ‘No. This Friday we’re all booked up.’

‘Right, well, I can’t do Tuesday, so it will have to be next Friday.’

‘Next Friday?’ ‘Yes, next Friday.’ He said he needed to put me on hold, and the line went dead for a long time until he came back and said he could give me 2.50 p.m.

‘Please wear your lenses to the appointment,’ he said wearily, as though this was just the sort of thing I would mess up.

‘Well, that’s just it, you see. I’d like to. But I’ve run out.’ He put me on hold for a long time, then declared: ‘We can put some in the post tomorrow.’

A week later, after I had scrabbled through every handbag and the glove compartments of the car looking for odd lenses of various crazy prescriptions with which to eke out a week’s lopsided sight, a small post-pack arrived.

And if nothing else, it reminded me to check on my appointment. Had he said 2.50 or 2.55? Or 2.59 and 30 seconds?

When I rang, the chap declared: ‘Your appointment’s not Friday, it’s Saturday.’

‘Are you sure? I thought you said you could only do Friday or Tuesday.’ ‘Yes, I’m sure,’ he said.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘I hate to argue but I’m really sure my appointment is Friday. Can you go and check again?’

‘All right,’ he said. And the line went dead for an age. I mean an age. Babies were born, generations came and went, memories were made and forgotten, the Earth’s climate changed from hot to cold and back, before he picked the phone up again and said: ‘Actually it is Friday. My mistake.’

I got the message, but still I turned up at the appointed hour wearing my robot lenses and sat on the waiting chair thinking, ‘One last appointment with this lot, then I’m going to take my wonky eyesight somewhere it’s appreciated.’ Whereupon a lady came out of her consulting room smiling at me so nicely I ceased being cross.

She was so nice, in fact, that I wanted to ask if she was really a qualified optician. Instead of pushing bits of paper laced with yellow dye in my eye and ordering me to ‘Blink!’ ‘Look up!’ ‘Blink!’ this lady wanted to talk. She asked me how my vision was.

‘Not great,’ I said. And I explained about the squirrel thing. ‘You see, I’m not a game-keeper. So on balance, I’d really rather be able to observe fewer tree-dwelling creatures and be able to eat my dinner.’

‘I agree,’ she said. ‘You do?’ ‘Yes. This needs some careful thought.’ ‘It does?’ The experience of being listened to was so pleasant, I forgot all about changing opticians.

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