With glasses, I am the reverse Clark Kent

CRAIG CLIFF
Last updated 05:00 21/10/2012

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Craig Cliff

Ruins and remembering All hail urban invaders Dead man walking Better luck next time The daycare blues Things I've learnt in my 30s Wrest in peace Welcome to the adjustment bureau No place like home Keep calm and worry on

OPINION: 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.

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.

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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

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