With glasses, I am the reverse Clark Kent

00:27, Oct 21 2012

It happened all of a sudden. I handed in my novel and then - Wham! I couldn't read the temperature on the television weather forecast. The trees outside blurred into one green mass. The faces of people walking toward me - strangers on the footpath, colleagues in the office - didn't congeal until we were a few feet apart.

I stopped plonking coins into charity collectors' buckets because I didn't want to risk donating to the Cats Protection League (I like birds, OK?).

It was as if the myopic task of writing a novel had migrated to the real world.

At the optometrist's I managed to stay in my seat during the glaucoma test (is there anything more unnatural than trying to hold still while a jet of air is blown into your eyeball?) but the triumph was short-lived: I needed glasses.  I explained my novel-induced myopia theory.

''It would have happened gradually,'' the optometrist pooh-poohed. ''But lots of time staring at a computer screen wouldn't help.''

I tried on frame after frame but it was always someone else starring back at me. When I finally made my selection I was told to come back in two weeks. In the interim I'd have to keep fudging my way through Power Point presentations and avoiding the cinema.

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To kill time I worried about my eyes deteriorating further. What about my hearing? Perhaps all those years listening to an iPod would catch up with me. How long did I have left until I was an insensate mass being spoon-fed in an easy chair?

Then, one day after work, I collected my new specs. I stepped on to the footpath, slipped my glasses on and the previous fortnight's anxiety melted away.

The world was so crisp. The office buildings stood like die-cut facsimiles in a diorama. I could see the leaves, distinct, on distant trees. It seems an unimaginative simile, but it really was as if I'd been watching a 3-D movie without the glasses.

I must have looked quite special as I walked home that evening, reading the route number of every distant bus and checking myself out in the reflection of shop windows. I stopped halfway up Prince of Wales Park as the sun descended and looked across this dinky city, the millpond harbour, the prawn-coloured ranges. Where had I been living these past few months?

I only need my glasses at certain times, but each time I don them, rather than feeling like an enfeebled old man I get a burst of confidence. I am the reverse Clark Kent. I feel invincible. All my First World problems (''I can't go to the film festival because I can't read subtitles ...'') solved with a couple of lenses.

I have a new appreciation for the work of the Fred Hollows Foundation in South East Asia and the Pacific, where the consequences of preventable blindness are far more dire.

Next time there's a charity collection for the Foundation on Lambton Quay, I know I'll recognise the logo with plenty of time to fetch my wallet and dig deep.

Craig Cliff is a writer and traveller. He writes a fortnightly column.

The Dominion Post