By Susan (saved and sent by Jules)
She was 15 when Susan first noticed her eyesight was becoming a little weak. At first it was fairly minor: a slight blurriness when she looked at things a little distance away, like a blackboard, or at the cinema, or watching television.
It was easy to compensate for. You just screw your eyes up a little, or move a bit closer to the screen, or sit nearer to the TV.
When it started, Susan just thought it was a bit of a nuisance. Few people at school noticed anyway.
And her mum only made a few comments: "Susan, what's the matter with you, get your head away from the telly, other people are trying to watch it."
But then things became worse. Susan noticed that if she was waiting for a bus she couldn't see the number until it came quite close. If she arranged to meet someone in town on Saturday, she wouldn't see them until they called out to her. Going into a café on her own became a bit of a problem, especially when lights were dim, making it hard to recognise people.
It wasn't terrible, sure, but within a few months Susan knew that something was wrong with her eyesight. By the time she was 16 Susan was dead certain. She had a reasonable idea of what was happening anyway: two of her best friends, Myra and Angie, wore glasses.
Both were short-sighted, Myra especially. In her case, she had worn glasses since junior school. Her best friend Angie, on the other hand, had only started with hers about three or four years before.
Susan still remembered Angie, then 12, coming to school one day, placing a small case in front of her on the desk. Shortly after a lesson started and the teacher was chalking up something up on the blackboard, Angie casually - but self-consciously - opened the case, took out a pair of metal-rimmed glasses and put them on her nose.
As soon as the lesson finished, Angie took them off again. Although everyone in the class noticed, almost no-one said anything, perhaps realising that this was quite an important moment for Angie. Just one or two comments, along the lines of: "Blimey Ange, so you've gone four-eyed. Let's have a look. Hey, I can't see a thing with them on."
In truth, they weren't that strong, barely -1.5 in each lens. But to Angie they had seemed strong. The difference they made to her eyesight was enormous, and gradually, over the next few months, she started wearing them more and more, without taking them off.
At first it was for one lesson, then two - but removing them for the 15-minute morning break. Then, the mid-morning teaching session until lunch, three consecutive lessons in all. Then from the start of school until lunchtime, and on again in the afternoon, three more lessons. Finally, six to seven months later, throughout the entire school day.
At home, Angie's routine over that period was similar. Luckily or unluckily, neither of her parents had pushed her one way or the other.
So she began to wear them very slowly: first for homework and any television she might watch before bedtime. Then, after a few months, she started coming home from school wearing her glasses. She would have her tea, go upstairs, do her studies then come back down to spend the rest of the evening with her family, or read a book wearing her glasses, taking them off last thing while she was in bed.
Weekends were different. Then, she didn't have to go to school and the routine changed. She wore her glasses far less, but even then, found herself doing things which involved more and more spectacle-wearing. Going to the library, watching a film, checking bus numbers, even looking at prices in a shop were an excuse to pull out her glasses - and once on she quite often "forgot" to take them off.
Eventually, she started wearing them all day during the week, the final moment coming nine months after she first brought them into school. One Monday morning, Angie woke up late: "Come on Angela," her mother called up the stairs, "It's time you were out of that bed. Come down and have some breakfast this very minute, or you'll miss the bus and be late for school."
Angie dashed into the bathroom, splashed water over her face, raced back into her room and as she struggled into her school uniform, she hurriedly picked up her spectacles and put them on. She ran down the stairs and into the kitchen, slurped some orange juice, grabbed a slice of toast and ran out of the house, under her mother's disapproving gaze.
It was only as she was dashing to the bus stop that she suddenly realised that she was wearing her glasses - before her first lesson gave her an excuse to put them on. "I suppose it was meant to happen after all," she said to herself, slightly surprised at the thought. For the rest of that week, Angie wore her glasses from first thing in the morning to when she turned her bedside light out.
The following Saturday was strange. She consciously had to make herself put them on and go downstairs for breakfast with mum and dad. But they didn't even notice, or pretended they hadn't. Sunday was weird too. But after that, wearing specs just became, well...normal. On Monday she kept them on all the time again. And every day after that.
Nine months later, long after she had become used to her new "way of looking", and 18 months after her first prescription, Angie found herself at the optician again. The prescription was slightly stronger, just -0.25 to both eyes. She didn't even care, simply glad that her eyesight with her new glasses was as good as it had been a few months before.
Another 18 months later, when Angie was 15, it went up again, by another small notch, to -2. Again, it seemed perfectly natural to her that this could happen and, apart from the odd catty remark from a few people at school, it didn't affect how she related to her friends - or the boyfriends she started going out with from time to time. And another year went by.
But that didn't stop her noticing how things were with her friend Susan, who by now was squinting quite heavily and had started copying from her classroom notes rather than off the blackboard. Just as Susan had a fair idea what was happening to her eyes, so Angie knew what was happening to her friend.
As they were going home on the bus one day, after one more time that she had pointed something out to Susan, who yet again failed to see what her friend was asking her to look at, Angie turned to her friend: "Suze, I think you're getting a bit short-sighted, just like I am. Have you thought of having your eyes tested?"
Susan blushed. "To be honest, I'm a bit worried about it. It just seems so unfair that it should be happening now, just when I've started going out with Greg. I'm worried that he won't have anything to do with me if I show up with a pair of glasses."
"That's rubbish," replied Angie, "I've worn them for ages and it's never stopped me from going out with anyone I wanted. And to be honest, I'm getting a bit fed up with you leaning all over me during each lesson. Look, try mine on and see what they're like. I bet you'll see much better. Go on."
Angie took off her glasses and held them out to Susan who, after a moment's hesitation, slid them carefully on to her nose. She gasped: suddenly everything was clear, clearer than it had been for ages and ages. It wasn't perfect: the spectacles seemed a bit too strong or something. Even so, every colour seemed much sharper. Details of the road, cars, shops, passers-by, all were infinitely clearer to her. Se gazed out of the window hungrily until Angie said: "Come on, give them back now. But d'you see what I mean?"
Susan was forced to admit that she did. Even so, it took another three months - and a series of minor embarrassments, such as walking past Greg in the high street without saying hello, before she plucked up courage and spoke to her mother one night: "Mum, I think I've got a problem with my eyes. I'd better get an appointment with an optician." It was so simple that years later she wondered why she had been nervous for so long.
The following Saturday morning, she and her mother went into town. They went to see Mr Ripley. He was mum's optician and had been prescribing to the family for many years. Mum had a pair of glasses, not that she wore them often, only for reading the papers or when she did the sewing. Mum had something called "long sight" and her specs looked a bit like magnifying glasses.
Anyway, Mr Ripley took her into a small room with a chart at the other end of the room and sat her down in a chair.
The next 20 minutes were strange, but oddly soothing: a nice old gentleman looking into her eyes with a shiny light. A dark room with a strange contraption over her nose. Lenses taken out and re-inserted, first into a slot over the right eye, then the left. Gradually, a fog before her eyes lifted and Susan was able to read nearly all the letters on the chart in front of her.
When she could read everything bar the smallest line on the chart (and it was really very small), Mr Ripley turned the light back on: "Mmm, Susan. What you have is a slight case of myopia. Not that much, at least compared to some people I've had sitting in front of me, but enough for me to have to prescribe glasses.
"What I'd suggest is that you go back out and I'll get my assistant to help you choose a suitable frame. It'll probably take a few days to get the lenses made up. I'll send a card to your home when the glasses are ready to be picked up.
"You should probably wear them all the time, but although that's what I would definitely recommend, I'll leave the decision to you. I'm old enough to have learned that what I say right now doesn't mean much to young people. But I think you'll find I'm right."
Susan wandered out in a daze. Glasses! She went up to her mother, almost ready to burst into tears: "Mum, he says I've got to wear glasses," she wailed.
Her mother put her arm round her: "Don't worry now Susan, you'll be OK, you're not as badly off as some people. And anyway, now we can pick out something nice to suit your face."
For the next 15-20 minutes they tried on dozens of pairs of frames. Susan became so caught up in the excitement of looking in the mirror with each new style, putting it down, trying a new pair on, that she almost forgot what the original purpose of the exercise had been. Finally, as the assistant helping them began to sigh loudly, Susan finally found something she liked - a pair of oval gold-rimmed John Lennon-style frames, slim, with very small nose pads. Very trendy and, bizarrely, because they were NHS specs, they wouldn't cost her anything.
As they waited by the counter, watching the assistant copy the prescription on to the order form, Susan saw she was writing: L-1.75, R-1.25. There were a few other numbers she didn't understand. When she asked, the assistant said quickly: "It's to do with your astigmatism. Your eyes aren't exactly the same all the way round and the extra numbers help to correct them a bit more."
Faced with this explanation - unscientific, but still way beyond her current comprehension - Susan fell silent.
The next few days were an agony of anticipation, excitement and fear. She told Angie about the visit to the optician: "He says I should wear them all the time, but I'm not really going to. I think I'll do what you did, but just keep that up all the time."
Angie said nothing.
Finally, the following Thursday, just as she was on her way to school, the post dropped through the letterbox. Among the letters was a small white card addressed to her.
The message on the back was brief, just a date and a printed notice: "Dear Sir/Madam (Sir was crossed out), your spectacles are ready for collection. We would be grateful if you could call in at the earliest opportunity for a fitting and collection."
She didn't want to go after school. And she didn't want to go on Friday evening either. So it was on Saturday morning that she went back. This time she didn't want her mum to come. She had arranged to meet Angie later on in a coffee bar in the town centre. But this part of the day had to be "negotiated" on her own. Susan set off for the optician alone.
Soon she was sitting in the same small room she had been in a week ago. Mr Ripley sat next to her, opened a spectacle case at his side and took a pair of glasses out. He placed them on her nose: "Now look at the chart and tell me what you can see."
As Susan read through the letters again, this time seeing each line perfectly, he muttered his approval with each line. "Good, good, very good." Then, standing in front of her, he took her glasses off and, after adjusting the arms, put them back on her face. "Is this more comfortable? Good, good."
Finally, he turned on the light again. "Do you want to keep them on or would you rather put them in the case?" Susan gulped: "I'd like to keep them on for now," she whispered.
As she walked out into the main shop area where all the other glasses were stored on racks, Susan realised she could see perfectly. Everything was crystal-clear. At the time, she felt incredibly self-conscious.
Looking in one of the many mirrors in the shop, Susan realised that she looked different somehow. Slightly older, more mature, more mysterious. It was almost as if she was looking at another person, not herself, someone she didn't quite recognise. Familiar yet strange. She also felt as if everyone's eyes were on her in the shop - "She's wearing glasses", she imagined they were all thinking.
Susan lifted the glasses off her face. Everything turned blurry all at once. She hurriedly put them back on: "Crikey, they really are strong."
Susan walked out of the shop and stopped in amazement. Once again, everything seemed so clear and crisp. Things she hadn't really been able to see in a year and, if she were honest, probably more than that, suddenly stood out sharply.
Again, she lifted the glasses off her face. Again, the blur descended over her eyes. She returned them on her face: "This is impossible," Susan muttered to herself, "I don't want to wear them, but I can see so much better with them."
With a start, she realised that she was due to meet Angie in a few minutes' time. She hurried down the street, her glasses perched on her nose, marvelling at everything she could now see. This was so much better than before.
As she got to the coffee bar, however, Susan stopped. Somehow, she felt terribly embarrassed at the thought that even Angie, her closest friend should see her wearing glasses for the first time. She took them off and the blur descended again. Undaunted, Susan pushed open the door and walked in.
If anything, it was even more difficult for her to spot Angie in the gloom today. Luckily, her friend saw Susan first: "Suze, over here."
Susan made he way slightly uncertainly to Angie's table. "Well, let's see them then," Angie exclaimed. Susan gulped. She reached into her bag, took out the little case, opened it and took out the glasses. She handed them to Angie, who looked at them briefly and then gave them back. "Come on, put them on."
Nervously, Susan pushed the glasses on. "They look brilliant Suze. Amazing. You look dead cool in them. Can you see better now?" Susan was forced to admit that she did. At the same time, she started to remove them from her face and place them back into the case. "No, leave them on," Angie ordered, "Just for a minute, what's the matter with you?"
"I feel like everyone's looking at me," Susan whispered. "Nonsense," retorted Angie. "Just keep them on for a few minutes and you'll soon get used to them." Susan complied. And sure enough, as the started chatting about other things, she did. Every now and then, she would catch herself thinking about her glasses and the fact she was wearing them. A brief moment of panic would wash over her as she fiddled with one of the arms, or pushed them up her nose. Then it was gone. Beside, they weren't even as strong as Angie's.
Soon, as she became more involved in the gossip, about school and what Angie had been up to with her new boyfriend Bill, and what she was up to with Greg, Susan forgot she was wearing glasses at all. And when Angie paid for their coffees and asked her if she would help her find a new top, Susan happily agreed.
They spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. Every time Susan caught sight of herself, she felt pulled up, recognising and yet not recognising the person looking at her. Once in a while, she surreptitiously removed her glasses, or lifted them up, above her eyes. Each time, the fog made her put them back. In truth, it wasn't terrible, she wasn't blind or anything. It just didn't feel very nice, all of a sudden, to see everything in such a blurry manner.
Angie spotted Susan doing this a couple of times, but pretended she hadn't noticed anything. Strangely, she found herself thinking: "Maybe it's time I went back to have my eyes tested. It's been a while and I've been squinting a bit lately."
As they walked through town, twice they bumped into some other friends. The first time, their friends affected not to realise that anything was different. Susan felt relieved, and yet also slightly insulted that such a momentous change in her was not being recognised. The second time, Mary, another school friend, exclaimed: "My God Susan, I never knew you wore glasses. They look brilliant on you." Although she knew Mary was probably making it up, Susan felt comforted by the compliment.
Finally, it was time for Susan to go home. She saw Angie off at her stop. As she rode the rest of the way home, Susan realised that she had passed a hurdle of some kind. It wasn't clear yet what other experiences she was likely to face with her new glasses, but if they were anything like this afternoon's she had nothing to fear.
To be continued….
This is my next instalment. After packing the older kids off to school and my young one to nursery, I had a few hours of free time on my hands. Somehow, I felt an intense urge to write. It's almost as if by telling this story, part of me is becoming liberated.
Readers of this instalment can judge its merits. I'm off to pick up the youngest. Take care.
The alarm went off at 7am, but Susan had been awake for hours already. This was the most important day of her life and she'd had a restless night, waking and then falling back into a restless slumber.
But the clock's buzzing did mean she had to get up. Susan was getting married today and there were still lots of things to do before the church ceremony started.
Wearily, she reached out to the bedside table and picked up her glasses. Slipping them on, she slid out of bed and reached for her dressing gown.
The gown didn't fit her very well any more - and it was one of those now-thoroughly unfashionable bobbly things, in faded pink. That was one of the drawbacks of sleeping at home on the night before the wedding: the clothes left behind after years of living away were unlikely to win many catwalk awards. But it would do for today and in any event, within a few hours Susan would be dressed up to the nines.
She made her way downstairs to the kitchen, where her mother was flitting around, cooking breakfast for herself and dad. "Hello dear, did you have a good night's sleep? Fancy eating something?"
"Just a cup of coffee mum. I couldn't eat a thing right now - too nervous."
As her mum poured the coffee, her dad looked up from the paper he was reading. "Ready for the big day?" he asked, patting Susan on the arm.
Susan replied: "It seems like I'm jumping off the edge of a cliff. I never knew I could be so tense. It's not like I haven't been preparing for this for months. But now it's going to happen, I feel incredibly shaky and nervy."
Breakfast continued as Susan and her mother, with dad absent-mindedly listening in, talked over the arrangements for the day. Car coming at 11 a.m., ready for the service at 11.30 a.m. Reception at 12.30.p.m., with the drive to the airport for the honeymoon at 4.30 p.m. Buttonhole flowers and posies to be delivered in a couple of hours, hairdresser due in an hour, wedding dress hanging up ready to wear, honeymoon case packed and waiting to be taken to the reception. Everything programmed and ready.
Finally, it was time for Susan to start getting ready. She headed into the bathroom, turned on the shower and stepped in. With her hair in a towel and still wearing the gown, she went into her mum's bedroom (far more room than her own childhood box next door), where the hairdresser was waiting.
"Do you want to take off your glasses while I do your hair, dear?", the lady asked. Susan silently removed her specs and held them in her hand. The world descended into a deep blur. She could barely see her face in the dressing table mirror. It as almost as if, at the same time as her sight was being affected by the absence of the "props" now in her hand, a large glass capsule had also been placed over her entire head, strangely dulling all her other senses, not just her eyes.
Perhaps that wasn't too surprising: since she had first been prescribed glasses 10 years ago, her sight had worsened quite considerably, from minus 1.5 to about minus 6 or so.
Even though Susan's eyesight had stabilised in the past 18 months, her glasses were now quite thick round the edges, especially at the sides. She hated not being able to see clearly at all times.
Nevertheless, she sat patiently while the stylist toyed with her wet head, snipping slightly here, flicking there. Finally, the hair was ready. Susan thanked the woman, put her glasses back on (at last!) and went back into her own bedroom.
There, she sat in front of her own mirror and slowly began to apply her make-up. Her glasses off again, she had to lean very close to the mirror, laying on mascara, eye shadow, a light covering of make-up to her face and then lipstick.
Finally, job done, she reached out to a tiny case on her table, unscrewed the lid and, carefully inserting one finger in one of the indentations, removed a contact lens. A deft flick and she could see clearly with one eye. A second later and she could see with both.
Contact lenses had been a boon to her for the past few years, if truth be told. Not only had they helped her to snare Charles, her husband-to-be a little less than a year ago ("I love your eyes darling, they're like blue pools I could dive into forever"). They had also helped in terms of her own self-image through her late teens and early 20s.
Not that wearing glasses had been really, really unpleasant, or anything like that.
After she had been prescribed her first pair at 16, Susan rapidly became accustomed to wearing them. Unlike her friend Angie, who had taken many months to gradually wean herself onto specs, Susan took to hers almost immediately.
For a start, she liked the clarity of vision they gave her. In time, she had also got used to them, to the point where they became a natural extension to her face.
Sure, there had been problems. Greg, whom she had been with for almost six months, had dumped her for someone else within a few weeks of her starting to wear glasses. "Umm, the thing is Suze, you just don't look the same to me anymore". And a few months later, a boy at another school, on whom she'd had a crush, told a friend of hers that "Susan was nice, but he didn't want to be seen with someone who looked so swotty." That dented her confidence a bit.
Still, there were other boys around so it wasn't all terrible.
Not quite as many boys as Angie, mind. Angie had turned into a terrible tearaway, picking up and discarding boyfriends at will. All this despite her own worsening eyesight: a few months after Susan had received her first specs, Angie went in for her own eye check-up. She came back subdued: "It's going to be -3.25 in both eyes Suze. The optician says that was quite a big leap in 18 months. He says I ought to start going in a little more regularly from now on."
Through Angie, Susan learnt a bit more about myopia. If your eyes got worse, the minus number became bigger. Astigmatism meant that some parts of your eyes saw things differently from the other parts, because the shape of the eye was elongated (or something), which meant the prescription was a bit more complicated.
Still, after a couple of weeks Angie was OK and back to normal, raising hell in school, picking up and spitting out boyfriends. Some of her qualities had also rubbed off on Susan, restoring confidence in her own self.
By the time she was 17, however, Susan noticed that her eyesight was not quite as perfect as it had been. She tried to put the moment of truth off a little longer, hoping things would pan out but if anything they got marginally worse. After a few more months' indecision, she went back to Mr Ripley.
"Hello there, young lady," he greeted her, "let's see what we have here." A repeat performance of the previous experience 18 months ago then ensued. "Yes, well, things have got worse and I will have to prescribe slightly stronger glasses, particularly for your right eye. But they're not that bad, believe me. If you take this next door, our assistant will help you."
As she took the slip next door, Susan glanced down to read it. It said R-2.25, L-2.5, plus a further adjustment for her astigmatism, which she still wasn't totally clear on (and would never really be). This time the frame selection was easy - exactly the same pair, giving her two of the same style. They were ready three days later.
In truth, they suited her. She was quite tall, slim but well-formed, with a pleasant, perhaps even good-looking rather than beautiful face, and shortish blonde hair. These glasses didn't feel as intrusive as the wide-lensed plastic models then available, or the black gun-metal colour aviator style which Angie had picked out for herself a few weeks earlier when she had gone for her own check-up.
Angie's own vision had worsened, not as much as the last time, but still up to minus 4 for both eyes in the past year. But by now, Angie nonchalantly shrugged off the change and professed herself delighted with her own new specs. But they did make her look slightly threatening.
Time passed. Both Angie and Susan took their exams and finished school at 18. In Susan's case, she went off to university straight away. The thought of taking a year off had appealed but somehow she also felt she just wanted to get things over and done with, finish her studies as quickly as possible and go out into the real world. In later years, Susan was to regret this.
Angie, on the other hand, messed around for a year. She took a job working as a hotel chambermaid, then in a bar and when she had saved up enough money she and a group of friends, boys and girls, headed out to the Greek islands for six months.
By now Susan was at college. She'd made a few friends (none as close as Angie), but she was pleasant and most people liked her. She joined in a few societies, acted (!), took a creative writing course, worked hard, immersed herself in books and generally enjoyed her first time away from home. By the end of her first year, Susan once again noticed that her sight was slipping slightly. Now 19, it was 18 months again since her last test, so she wasn't too surprised.
This time, she knew what to do acted quickly. An appointment with a new optician in the university town where she now lived was arranged and she went in for a test. After a similar eye exam to the others, the young man in a white gown said to her: "Your sight appears to have got a little worse compared to your present glasses. I need to give you a new prescription."
To her own surprise, Susan found herself asking: "Do you think I might be suitable for contact lenses?"
"Well, there's no reason why not. Of course, we'd have to find out how you get on. Some people don't really enjoy wearing them and find putting them in and getting them out quite hard. But if you like, we can do a quick test now."
The optician took her into another room, where he seated Susan at a table with a mirror. Handing her a small phial, he said: "What you have to do is place one of these lenses on the tip of your finger. With two other fingers, you move your eyelids up and down and then insert the lens firmly into the eye itself."
Susan did as she was told. The first time, her eye blinked just as she was about to insert the lens. The second time too. And the third, and the fourth, fifth, sixth and many more times. Just as the optician was starting to get impatient and abandon the experiment, she blinked once and suddenly could see quite clearly.
Almost immediately, her eye began to water and she felt an excruciating pain under the lid. Observing her, the optician said: "These are hard contact lenses and they're a bit more uncomfortable until you get used to them. We can give you softer ones but they are more expensive and they damage far more easily. Plus cleaning is more time-consuming and the equipment costs more."
Meanwhile, Susan was starting with the second lens. This time, after just two or three attempts, it slipped under her eyelid. The young optician said: "Well, you seem to have got the hang of it. What I'd suggest is that you go and have a walk for a while and see how they feel to you. If you're happy with the idea we can order you a proper pair."
The next 30 minutes were the most excruciatingly painful experience Susan had experienced so far in her life. She walked around the town, eyes blinking madly and streaming, nose running as if from the worst cold in the word. It was like hay fever combined with huge balls of grit in her eyes. After half an hour, she went back to the optician.
She opened her mouth and, to her subsequent amazement, found herself saying: "They're fine, really they are. I would like to order a pair." A week later, they arrived. Looking at the prescription when she went to pick them up, Susan noticed that they were R -3.00, L -3.25.
Getting used to contacts was an ordeal that took weeks. At first she kept them in for just one hour, gradually increasing the time by a couple of hours every few days. By the end of the month she could just about keep them in for the entire day. Sometimes, if the pubs and clubs she now went to were a bit smokey, her eyes hurt and she had to take the lenses out quite quickly when she got home.
At other times, a minor hangover or small infections made wearing contacts irritating, if not impossible for long periods. Once or twice she had to wear her glasses for a couple of days. But she persevered and found, much to her amazement, not just that she had adapted successfully to contacts, but that people somehow treated her differently when she wore them.
Boys were much more likely to make passes at her, or so it seemed. Even one of her tutors, who had barely deigned to acknowledge her in class, now flirted with her in front of her fellow-students. Not that she had anything to do with him.
It was after she started wearing contacts that Susan finally lost her virginity, to a chap called Mark who picked her up in a disco one night. It wasn’t a really memorable experience as it happened (he rolled over and fell asleep after a few brief grunts), but there were enough pleasant things about it for Susan to feel that - with the right person - it could be a truly magical thing.
A routine developed. In the morning, when she woke up, Susan would immediately put on her glasses. She would have breakfast and then after a wash or a bath, would insert her contacts, get dressed and go out. At night, perhaps an hour before going to bed, earlier if they had been irritating her during the day, she would take the contacts out, put on her glasses and wear them until bed-time.
Life continued. First-year exams over, Susan went back to her old town for the summer. She worked, lolled around, had a brief holiday abroad. Just before the new term started, she received a call: "Hi there Suze, it's Angie. I've just got back from Greece and I'm off to uni. myself in a week or so. Fancy meeting up?"
The two friends arranged to meet for a drink that evening. As she walked into the pub, Susan instantly spotted her friend, even though her looks had changed dramatically. Angie was nut-brown, with her hair bleached from the sun. She was much thinner, at least a stone and a half lighter than she had been before setting off a few months before. Her clothes looked worn and slightly ethnic, or at least vaguely incongruous in a British environment. She also had on a new pair of glasses, plain black plastic, almost manly in style, and, or so it seemed to Susan, with stronger lenses than her previous pair.
"How are you Suze?" Angie asked. "Looking good, I see. Let me get you a drink". They sat in a corner of the bar, sipping on their drinks, catching up on what they'd been doing for the past year. Angie had been island-hopping in Greece for the past few weeks, after a brief fruit-picking foray on the mainland.
"What happened to your other glasses?", Susan asked.
"Oh, I lost them swimming in the sea one day, only a fortnight or two ago, and had to get another pair because I was helpless without them. This guy on the tiny island I was on took about an hour or two to kit me out with a fresh set. There wasn't much of a choice to be had. The prescription is a bit higher, about minus 5 or so, but I didn't speak Greek and he didn't speak English so I don't really know. Or care much. What about you? Why aren't you wearing yours?"
Susan explained about her contacts. "Urgh, sounds dreadful," Angie said. "I don't know if I'd ever want to put up with that kind of stuff. Still, if that's what you want, good luck."
A few drinks later, they separated, slightly drunk, and agreed to keep in touch.
A week on, both of them went back to their respective colleges, Angie to start her course and Susan to resume her second year. Or the next nine months, Susan continued at university, work getting slightly harder but not impossible, making friends, enjoying one or two brief flings with fellow-students.
Her eyesight had worsened again so she went back to the same young optician as before and had a new pair of lenses were ordered. This time, they were R-3.75, L-4. She knew because, for the first time ever, when she picked them up they came with a little slip with the prescription on. For some strange reason she kept it.
That summer back home from college passed much the same as her previous one. This time she saw much more of Angie, although her friend had decided to spend a larger part of the holiday at he own university town, where she had made a new set of friends. Again, Angie's fashion style had changed, this time to a more "rock chick" look. So had her glasses, although they didn't look much different lens-wise: "The guy up there said my vision had barely changed, up just 0.5. But I wanted to get rid of that awful plastic pair."
The final year passed for Susan in a swift blur. Masses of revision, huge amounts of reading late into the night, intensive essay-writing and long hours in the library. She was not surprised to find, just before her final exams, that she needed a new eye test. This time, her fresh contacts were up to R -4.75, L -5.25, plus the usual add-on for astigmatism.
Her optician said: "It's probably to do with all the work you've been putting in. Don't worry about it. I would think that your eyes will soon stabilise at roughly this level or slightly more. It might take two or three more years, but the worst is over."
Susan wasn't too worried. Of course, she disliked the fact that she could see far less well without her contacts than a year or two earlier - and that the glasses she was also forced to buy in addition (she'd skipped the last "round" for lack of money, but the difference between the two prescriptions, old and new, was now to great to ignore) looked so strong.
But as she wore contacts all day, there was no constant outside evidence of the changes to her eyesight. What difference did it make if, when she took them out, she could see very little that could be described as meaningful?
That summer was the last she spent at home. Susan was 21, ready for work, if unsure of where her career path really lay. As a last-minute present to herself - and encouraged by Angie who had also arrived home for the summer - the two friends went on a three-week round-Europe trip, covering Spain, Portugal and France.
It was a magical journey, sleeping in youth hostels, on beaches, in public parks and at railway station floors, eking out every penny but having a fantastic time every day and every night. Finally, their money spent, Angie and Susan arrived back home, travelling the last few hundred miles using their thumbs. In later years, Susan would remember with fondness her time spent abroad with Angie - while remaining sad that she had not taken the time off to go on a longer trip.
At last, after a thorough clean-up, scrubbing off weeks of grime, then dozens of applications and several interviews later, Susan was offered a job as a publishing assistant with a book firm in London. The money was awful, barely enough to live on. But she knew that if she were prepared to share a flat with others she could survive.
Susan moved to London that autumn, staying initially with a distant relative of her father and, once she had been at her company for a few weeks, moving into a spare room in a colleague's house.
Life wasn't so bad. At first she was homesick. But soon she started making friends and being invited to parties. Angie would visit every now and then, though not as often as Susan might have liked. But even Angie had exams to face that summer and while she wasn't too bothered about her marks, she still wanted some kind of a degree.
Even so, Angie remained Angie. When she did come down one time, shortly after her final paper, Susan was shocked. Angie had turned into a punk. He hair was spiky and bleached white. She wore ripped and torn clothes. Her ears had multiple piercings plus a further one through her nose. Most amazingly, her glasses were back to the heavy black plastic style she had briefly been stuck with in Greece - but this time by choice.
On the other hand, as Angie told Susan, her eyesight had remained the same over the past year: "My eye guy tells me that I may finally have stopped getting worse. Great news, eh?"
It was, although Susan did feel a slight pang of jealousy. Her eye test was coming up in the next few months and she had noticed a very slight worsening in her sight - and by now her vision was virtually on a par with Angie's!
Her friend's next words also gave her a pang: "Suze, I'm off for a while, travelling at the end of summer. I met someone who wants to head out on a long trip to Africa and then onwards, with a camper van. It sounds really exciting. I don't know when I'm coming back. Don't worry. I'll send you cards from wherever we go and stay in touch."
They saw each other often in the next few weeks. But eventually, bleary-eyed on a cold and drizzly September morning, she waved Angie off on her travels. As the van, driven by a strange-looking guy called Duncan (Susan couldn't understand what Angie saw in him) rumbled off in a cloud of smoke, she wiped away a few tears.
Meanwhile, things were going well at work. Barely a year after joining the company, she had been given a manuscript to read and assess. In truth, she had virtually grabbed it off a bored editor who was herself inundated with submissions by hundreds of would-be authors.
Susan read it in one sitting and then re-read it twice more. Then, over a weekend, she painstakingly typed out an analysis of the manuscript, its strengths and weaknesses, of its plot line and style, plus how it could be improved. She made sure only that editor saw it, so she could not be accused of going over anyone's head.
A few days later, the editor stopped by her desk: "Thanks for your memo. Just thought you'd like to know that we'll take this guy on, refer him to an agent and act on many of your suggestions. You made some really intelligent comments and I appreciate your help. If I can repay the favour, I will."
Susan's joy at this first glimmer of a serious opening at work was tempered by the results of her eye-test that autumn. Once more, her sight had worsened, albeit not by the larger margins of a few years earlier. This time her new lenses were to be 0.5 stronger in both eyes, taking her to R -5.25, L-5.75. The female optician se now went to in London, her third, told her: "We may be finally at the end of your worsening period. Time will tell, but I think you're nearly there."
This time, Susan splurged out, buying a set of soft lenses for the first time. The difference in comfort was staggering. Within a few hours she felt totally at home with her new lenses. Sure, she had to spend a lot more time cleaning them and they were far more delicate. But at the same time, she felt she could see even more clearly than with her hard lenses and was able to keep them in longer than ever before.
Gradually, Susan started thinking of herself as cosmopolitan young thing rather than a small-town girl. She was now able to argue intelligently about art and literature, to go to films and exhibitions and understand what they were about, even see things in them that she had not previously read in a book or had been told about by someone else.
And the first in a series of minor promotions (the commissioning editor had been as good as her word) meant that she was now far more able to support herself financially. Two years after coming down to London, Susan finally moved into a flat by herself. It was a small place to be sure, barely enough room to swing a cat, but it was hers and she could do with it what she wanted.
Her eyewear routine had remained the same - but now she no longer had to share, her bathroom and kitchen were far more hygienic.
It was about that time that she first started seeing men on a more serious basis. Short but intense affairs, learning about real love for the first time, and finding out that sex could be very pleasent indeed, all helped Susan become a more rounded person, even if she somehow never managed to keep a relationship alive for more than a few months at the most. Not that it mattered much. She was content with things that way.
While her eyesight carried on causing slight problems, the pace of worsening slowed even further. Some 18 months after her last test, when she was 24, her optician told her that she only needed a mild 0.25 per cent increase in her prescription. Things were starting to look even on the vision front.
The only slight pall on the horizon was Angie. After a few cards from Spain, Morocco and a few other African countries, she'd heard nothing more from her friend in all this time. She missed Angie and her exuberant devil-may-care spirit.
Still, things were going great. And to cap it all, she met Charles. It was shortly before her 25th birthday, at a dinner party given by a colleague at work. Susan had not wanted to go: she knew hardly anyone there and her colleague wasn't even a friend. But she didn't know how to refuse without giving offence.
So it was that she found herself sitting next to a 28-year-old tall, public school-educated, impossibly blond man with a floppy fringe and a very loud fruity laugh. Charles worked in the City as a fund manager and made pots of money. More importantly, he made her giggle and they found they had both common acquaintances and tastes in music, art and other areas. When, at the end of the meal, he asked for her number she gave it to him.
Two days later he called and invited her for a meal. She didn't hesitate. That night she dressed up to the nines. They shared a cosy candle-lit supper, then, in the next week or so, two more. Finally, after inviting Charles to her place for a Friday night dinner which she had offered to cook, she went to bed with him.
The sex was fantastic. He treated her gently, taking time to please her, timing his own orgasm to match Susan's. She fell asleep that night, with him lying next to her in her flat, knowing that she had found the right man.
The next morning, she woke up to find the bed empty and a banging of pots and pans going on in the kitchen. Puzzled, she reached into the bedside drawer where she kept her glasses, put them on and sat up in bed.
A second later Charles walked in with a tray, two glasses of orange, coffee and what appeared to be several slices of burned toast. "Ta-daa," he said, swiftly followed by, "Crikey, what's that on your face? I didn't know you wore glasses."
"I don't, usually. I tend to wear contacts but I tend to put these on in the morning before I go out," said Susan. "Why, is that a problem?"
"No, well, it's just that you look so fabulous without glasses on that I was a bit surprised to see you wearing a pair. They look a bit strong, don't they."
Susan replied: "I've worn them on and off for almost the past 10 years or so years and my sight has got a bit fuzzy in that time. Without them I can't see very well at all. In fact, I've got an appointment in the next week or two. But I expect to be given an all-clear this time since my eyes haven't given me any trouble in the past year."
"That's great news angel. To be honest, I don't really like glasses. I think they make people look a bit weak. And you can't really see their eyes very well," Charles stated firmly.
Susan started to feel slightly uncomfortable - and mildly cross: "Maybe I should pop into the bathroom and put on my contacts then. You'd find me much more attractive, perhaps And I wouldn't want to let you down."
Totally misunderstanding her, Charles replied: "That's not a bad idea. It will just take a few seconds and then I'll be able to see your eyes in all their glory."
Perhaps she should have acted then. Maybe if she'd been firm at the time, everything that subsequently took place would not have developed, or in quite the same way as it did.
However, almost to her own amazement, Susan found herself heading for the bathroom. A minute later she was back in bed, where Charles was waiting as if nothing had happened.
The rest of the Saturday morning was spent in bed. And the Sunday. Despite her hurt feelings about his comments on her glasses, Susan felt happier than she had ever been before.
Within a few weeks they were inseparable. A few months later, after she had spent the past three weeks in a row living at his own London townhouse, ferrying over several days' clothing at a time over from her flat, he finally suggested they move in together. Susan said yes instantly.
Her only reservation was his attitude to her glasses. Charles hated them. He would sigh every time he saw them on her, morning or night, making umpteen excuses to take them off and leaving her in a blurry fog. He nagged her about taking them off in the evening and about the fact that she wore them a breakfast. Even the fact that her optician had given the good news that no, this time she didn't need new contacts, felt to Susan almost like a vindication of his refusal to acknowledge her short-sightedness.
Yet she acquiesced to Charles' wishes. Within a short period of time, Susan developed a new routine of taking her contact lenses off last thing at night and, as soon as she woke up, going into the bathroom to put them back on before sliding back into bed for a cuddle with Charles, or more. It annoyed her, but everything else about him was so wonderful that she was almost prepared to forgive him his obsession.
After six months, she took Charles to meet her parents and he charmed them, being gallant to his mother and blokishly friendly with her dad. She wasn't altogether surprised when Charles told her he loved he and, a short while later, when he asked her to marry him. It took her no time to say yes to that too.
"I want us to have at least three children, darling," Charles confided to Susan in bed one Sunday morning, "Two boys and a girl".
It sounded like an order.
Even so, Susan loved him. In fact, her love for Charles was so fierce it shocked her. She would have done anything to keep him happy, including his petty little feelings about her glasses.
And so it was that, aged 26, she found herself waiting for the limousine to take her to the church where her own parents had been married 30 years earlier. She would definitely make Charles happy, she resolved, climbing into the back seat of the car.
The next few hours went like a tape on fast forward.
Susan had always anticipated that when she got married she would be able to recall and savour every small moment of the day. In reality, apart from a few cameos - the best man dropping the ring as he passed it to Charles, her dad wiping his eyes (she'd never seen that), the best man making a truly awful speech (where did he come from?), the limo driving them out of the hotel grounds, past a throng of cheering wedding guests - in later years she found herself unable to remember much else about the day.
Two weeks later, sitting on a beach in the Bahamas, watching the sun go down and sipping a pina colada on the final day of their honeymoon, Susan reflected on the wonderful time she'd had in the past fortnight.
There had only been one niggling moment when, after sand had penetrated into her left eye, she had been forced to wear her glasses at dinner one evening. Charles had sulked all night - and into much of the next day.
By now, Susan had become accustomed to his views and, virtually without realising it, was adapting totally to suit Charles. In practice, he never saw her with her glasses on, no matter whether she was able to wear contacts or not. At times, it meant living in a blur for an hour or two.
It was a small issue, mind, and didn't really matter too much.
After all, she could see well with the contacts in. They didn't give her any problems. She didn't particularly like wearing glasses herself anyway. And when he wasn't around, she could do as she pleased, just as she had on her wedding day. Everything was fine.
The newly-married couple flew back into London the next morning. They set up home in Charles' house (she'd given up her flat months before) and settled down to a happy life together, setting off to work together and, as they went of to their respective jobs, kissing each other on the lips outside the tube station every morning. Everything was fine.
Then, three months into the marriage, Susan became pregnant.
To be continued…
Susan entered into her 30s with an extraordinary sense of optimism. She was the mother of a beautiful daughter, Emma.
She and Charles were happy together and loved each other, or at least that's how it seemed to her. Susan felt fit and healthy. Thanks to near-daily exercise with a personal trainer, plus her own gym workouts, her figure was svelte and trim.
Gradually, since she and Charles moved into the family home a few years earlier, she started making a few friends in the surrounding area. Her circle of friends was expanding and she was invited round for morning teas, took part as a volunteer in various toddler and then nursery groups. Everyone said that she was extremely good with children, and not just her own.
The only minor cloud on the horizon was Charles' totally unreasonable refusal to accept that his wife was severely short-sighted. Her last prescription, when she turned 30, was R-11.25, L-11.75, which meant she could not function effectively without either glasses or contact lenses.
But when she tried to talk to Charles about it, Susan felt as if she had hit a brick wall. He would point-blank ignore any remark she made about her eyesight. If he caught her wearing her glasses for any reason, Charles would either walk out of the room or throw a temper tantrum - and then sulk for the rest of the day.
On more than one occasion in the past two or three years he had done so in front of Emma, leaving both Susan and her uncomprehending daughter in tears. Nor even Susan's decision - after her last check-up - to switch to new ultra-thin spectacle lenses, which appeared miraculously to halve the thickness of her spectacles, made any difference to Charles.
She tried to show him her new glasses: "Look, they're much nicer than the old thick ones, a lot more discreet don't you think?"
"Susan, I've told you many times, I'm just not interested, OK?"
Things reached the point where Susan only wore her glasses when in absolute dire need. Not only, she also became extremely self-conscious about wearing glasses at all, even in front of Emma.
Although she had been happy to let Emma see her with her specs on until she reached three or so, the moment her daughter was old enough to talk and ask Susan questions about it, she began to panic. What if Emma were to tell Charles that she often wore her glasses during the day? How could she explain to Emma what was happening between herself and Charles? Emma had been frightened enough by Charles' shouting; Susan wasn't sure what her daughter understood of the rows but didn't feel up to explaining what lay behind them.
So she switched totally into contact lenses. Not that it was a hardship. Susan had started wearing new long-wear lenses, incredibly thin and very flexible. She found she could keep them in up to 16 hours a day.
Not every single day, mind: sometimes her eyes did get a little tired. On those days, she simply took them out a little earlier and went to bed sooner. Or, now that Emma was four years old and at kindergarden for part of the day, Susan would take them out for a few hours and slip on her snazzy new glasses instead.
Life was still OK, on the whole. And, best of all, she had made contact with Angie again. Or rather, Angie made contact with her.
It had happened a few months earlier. Susan had been in the house, idly running a few coffee-cups under some hot water while Emma, then still too young for school, played with some of her favourite dolls in the kitchen. She heard the front door bell ring. Drying her hands on her dress, she went to answer.
Angie was standing in front of her, on the step: "Hello Suze, long time no see. Spare a cup of tea for an old mate?"
Susan stepped forward and hugged her friend. "Angie! My God! It's so nice to see you! How long has it been? Let me look at you." She cast around for more words. Meanwhile, she looked at her friend.
In truth, Angie appeared to have changed dramatically. It wasn't just that she looked older, thinner (much thinner) and her face was pinched or that her hair was surprisingly grey for someone her age, cut very short in a brush style. Angie looked smaller somehow, hunched, almost sad and hurting from some inner pain. She still wore glasses, this time a small silver metal-rimmed pair.
"About nine years, ten months and 14 days, actually," Angie said drily, "Well, are you going to let me in or not?"
They made their way back into the kitchen where, almost on auto-pilot, Susan put the kettle on and started brewing up a pot of tea. Emma, who had watched her mummy coming back with a stranger, looked on shyly. "Well, tell me what's been happening to you."
"It's a long story, Suze," Angie replied, and then fell silent. As they sipped their tea, they tentatively made conversation. At first, it was about old friends and what was happening to them now. Susan told Angie about her daughter. Emma carried on playing happily. Angie told her that she had lost Susan's address and had finally contacted her parents to find out where their daughter now lived.
Susan then explained about Charles, how successful her husband was, how she had been living in this house for four years or so. How happy things were.
"And what about you?" Slowly at first, then in a sudden torrent, Angie poured out her story.
After leaving on her trip round the world, Angie and her then boyfriend Duncan had travelled right across Africa. They dumped their broken-down camper van and made their way to India, where they spent almost a year "living around the place."
In time, about two years after setting out, Angie came home, leaving Duncan in stoned-out bliss in Goa. That's when things became difficult.
"I wanted to get in touch with you Suze, honest. But almost as soon as I got back, I fell into bad company. I moved into a squat and started living with a guy who was already in the house. He was into heroin. At first I had nothing to do with it. Then, after a few months, I tried it once. Then twice. Then three and four times. Within a few weeks I was totally hooked."
Angie's world became reduced to fixing up first thing in the morning, then going out to make some money to pay for her next fix. Often she stole, once or twice she took part in burglaries, a few times she even sold her body to pay for her drugs. Her boyfriend effectively leached off her.
During this time, Angie completely forgot about her personal appearance: "You should have seen me, Suze. There was a period when I didn't have a bath or wash my hair for weeks. There were maggots in the kitchen and we lived on a mattress on the floor, hardly bothering to get up. I didn't look after myself or my health, hardly ever ate anything. After years of never going to the dentist or brushing my teeth my teeth went bad. They hurt like mad, like all the rest of my body, but all I was worried about was where to find money and how to score next."
Susan listened, horrified at her friend's story.
Finally, about a 18 months earlier, Angie had woken up one morning to find her "boyfriend" lying next to her. He was dead, a needle still sticking out of his arm. An ambulance was called and took them both to hospital, the boyfriend directly to the morgue, and Angie to a hospital ward, where she spent 12 hours being cleaned up and deloused before she was discharged again: "They had no space for a raving addict who might frighten their other patients," Angie said drily.
This was the last straw. As soon as she got out, Angie made her way to a drug rehab centre where she checked in and, overnight, stopped taking any more drugs. It took more weeks of pain in a detox unit before she purged her body of the immediate physical addiction, many more months before she felt remotely confident that she could sustain her clean state in the outside world.
Social services had managed to find her a half-way house and regular therapy helped. Then, when she felt ready, she moved into a council flat on her own. She found work counselling others in her same shoes. Meanwhile, she cleaned herself up physically, learning how to eat once more, taking care of her body a bit more. She ha been living in the outside world for about nine months.
Unfortunately, not much could be done about her teeth. Angie leant forward, reached into her mouth with her fingers and tugged on her upper teeth. To Susan's horror, half of Angie's mouth appeared to come out in her hand.
"They had to pull out 10 of my upper teeth and seven of my lower ones Suze," Angie slurred, her cheeks suddenly collapsing into themselves, "And they say there's not much they will be able to do about the others. In fact, my dentist says I should be preparing for what he calls 'The Worst'. He gives me another two or three years. But as long as I can keep them, I will."
"And hey," she said, noticing Susan's eyes brimming with tears, "I've been clean for almost 18 months now. That's the best I've been in almost seven years."
"By contrast, Suze, your life seems a bed of roses. You've certainly fallen out of bed on the right side," Angie said, rather enviously.
Then, Susan started to tell her own story. He told Angie about Charles, about his unwillingness to accept her worsening eyesight and her need for glasses, his tantrums, the ridiculous routine she was forced into following every day.
Susan excused herself, went upstairs into the bathroom and returned a minute later with her glasses, handing them to Angie: "This is what's happened to me since the last time we met, not just Emma, the nice house, smart clothes and the car in the garage," she said.
Angie opened up the glasses, took hers off and tried on Susan's: "Christ Suze. They're hugely strong. Much stronger than mine. My prescription has changed hardly at all for the past 10 years. You must be totally blind without them. Charles is either a complete bastard or mad not to recognise what's happening."
Susan immediately felt strangely defensive about her husband: "Oh, he's OK really," she found herself saying. Angie, noticing that her friend was herself upset, changed the subject (in itself a minor diplomatic coup, considering how she had always been so forthright about everything).
They carried on talking for hours, interrupting only to feed Emma, who was by now demanding attention, and play with her. The pair went out to a nearby park with Emma, who rapidly became impressed by the way mummy's friend could ride higher on a swing than anyone in the play area. How she could do funny things with her mouth, and take her teeth out and how she was prepared to play hide and seek for ages and ages. And so much more.
By the end of the afternoon, Angie had made another friend for life.
When they separated in the early evening, Susan made Angie promise that they would meet up again soon.
On Charles' return, she told him about Angie's visit. He sounded strangely muted but agreed reluctantly that Angie should come round for dinner that weekend and stay the night.
It wasn't a huge success. Angie had recovered some of her inner hardness. While Charles drank copiously, she didn't touch a drop. That didn't prevent her from informing Charles what she thought of him, mocking his career and his somewhat right-wing politics, and telling him what a bully he was for refusing to accept that Susan's eyesight was bad. He said little that night. But when Angie had left for home on the Sunday morning, he turned to Susan and informed her coldly that he never wanted "that woman" to set foot in his house again.
From then on, when Susan and Angie met, it was either in London, or in secret, when Charles was out a work.
Despite his behaviour, Susan remained in love with Charles. So much so that when he proposed to her that - this time - they actively plan for a second child ("I want a little James this time") rather than let it happen by accident, she agreed enthusiastically.
Some four or five months into her 31st birthday, Susan discovered she was pregnant again.
The second time, Susan knew what to expect. She had enjoyed her first pregnancy very much and, if anything, the second one was even better. Susan felt comfortable in her new body and her high level of physical fitness meant she did not suffer from many of the niggly pains that affect some other mothers-to-be. In fact, to all intents and purposes it was a super-smooth pregnancy, with the baby expected on or soon after her 32nd birthday.
The one cloud on the horizon, again, was that her eyesight suddenly worsened once more. Six or seven months into her pregnancy, Susan made the journey into London, to see Ms Barnard, her optician. She liked Ms Barnard, whom she felt understood her and who had a good grasp of her problem sight.
The news was not good: "It's gone up by about minus 1 this time. That's not much. What concerns me is that every time we think your sight has finally stabilised it seems to get worse again. I just can't work out what's happening. What I'd like you to do is come back and see me in another six months."
Still, at least it was a good excuse for a lunch with Angie. "Never mind Suze, you'd look beautiful if you were wearing an old wellington boot on your nose. Anyway, who cares: you can still wear contact lenses."
Three days later - and another lunch with Angie - she picked up her new glasses and contacts. And the prescription: R-12.25, L-12.75.
Barely three months later she gave birth. Once more, it was an incredibly arduous birth, lasting 17 hours. To Charles' barely-concealed disappointment, it wasn't a "James" this time either but another young girl. They decided to call her Madeleine.
Emma, to Susan's relief, didn't seem to mind her young sister at all. Now five years old, she demonstrated no signs of jealousy. Indeed, she would often insist on holding her sibling and playing with her, showing remarkable gentleness towards her and insisting on helping her mummy with many baby chores
The fact that that Maddie, as she soon became known, was the second child meant Susan was far more experienced about caring for her new daughter. She knew what to expect in terms of sleepless nights and adjusted her living patterns accordingly. In fact, Maddie turned out to be far less demanding than Emma had ever been. Far from waking up two or three times a night, Susan found herself having to do so barely once or twice. She loved Maddie fiercely and found herself perfectly content to be mother to a new-born all over again.
Despite her happiness, not everything was right as rain. Shortly after Maddie's birth, Susan's sight continued to go downhill. When her second daughter was six months old, Susan went back to Ms Barnard.
"I'm really concerned Susan. This is most unusual. This time, your sight has worsened by a further -1.5 in both eyes. That's the worst I have seen in you since you started coming to see me. I would like you to visit a specialist again for some more tests."
Again, Susan told Angie the gloomy news. This time Angie was less flippant: "I'm really sorry to hear that Suze. You can always count on me for anything, you know that."
Susan returned a few days later and collected a supply of new contacts. She had switched to one-day throw-away lenses, which Ms Barnard told her would be more comfortable and hygienic.
She also collected her glasses. Despite the ultra-thin lenses, they looked very fat. When she looked in the mirror, her eyes looked tiny. If she wore neither contacts nor glasses, she couldn't see a thing. Her sight was now R-13.75, L-14.25.
The appointment with the specialist drew no firm conclusions either, only tentative ones. After a battery of tests, he called her back to say that he could not find anything specifically wrong. But he had a theory: "One of the things we have found is that you do appear to suffer from a slight hormonal imbalance.
"I've checked with the hospital's blood test records over the past 12 months, since you became pregnant, and also looked through the case notes of your first pregnancy. It seems this imbalance becomes worse when you are pregnant and shortly after giving birth, subsiding after a year or so. We can treat the problem, although it's not a hugely successful treatment.
"What I'm wondering is whether this imbalance is responsible for the worsening of your sight. Unfortunately, I don't have any evidence either way. All we can do is continue to monitor the situation over the coming months. I would suggest you come in and see us every six months."
Once again, although she told Charles about her various hospital appointments, he appeared to be totally deaf to her worries and even refused to take time off from his job (his office in the City was barely a mile from the hospital) to come with her to see the consultant.
Susan knew things were getting bad. One evening, she went to bed early. While wearing her glasses in the bedroom just before turning off the light, she heard Charles coming up the stairs. In a panic, she whipped the specs off her face and hid them under her pillow. Susan heard the door open and her husband walked in. Aside from her bedside light, the room was in semi-darkness and Susan suddenly realised that she couldn't see him at all. She could hear him moving around, but apart from the noise to tell her where he was, Susan was effectively blind.
From then on, Susan started to devise special routines. She always placed her glasses in exactly the same spot inside her bedside table drawer. Her contact lenses were kept in the bathroom cabinet in exactly the same location, which she felt confident of being identify by touch. She always kept a pair of glasses and contacts in her handbag for emergencies.
Susan practiced finding her glasses or contacts in the dark, with a scarf tied round her eyes. She practiced putting on her contacts in the dark. If she took a shower, her glasses always went into the soap dish while she washed her hair, back on her nose when her head was rinsed.
Her precautions worked. She rarely if ever faced a crisis in terms of being left blind and helpless - except for her walk back to bed from the bathroom at night and back in the morning. But she had practiced that too, and knew exactly how many steps it took to get from one spot to the other.
While Charles slept at night, Susan was able to attend to Maddie, while wearing her glasses, without giving the game away. Every now and then the routine slipped and mild panic would set in. On a couple of occasions, she was unable to find her glasses her glasses where she knew she had left them. It was as if someone had moved them, maybe just by a few inches. Overall, her tactics worked, however.
Susan often wished Charles would pay attention to what was happening to her, but was long reconciled to the fact that he had some in-built problem which she would never be able to penetrate.
All her preparations did nothing to prevent things getting worse. Six months later, by the time Maddie was a year old and Susan was 33, her sight slipped by a further minus 1.25 in both eyes, to R-15.00, L15-15.5. Half a year later, her vision had worsened to R-16.00, L-16.25.
However, Ms Barnard, who had been monitoring Susan's eyesight in conjunction with the consultant, pointed out to her that this time the worsening was just minus 1: "Maybe we're at the end of this cycle. I really hope so."
It seemed as if Ms Barnard was right. The next six months saw a further decline, but by just -0.75 per cent.
Susan, who had been seeing Angie every time she went up to London, allowed herself a small ray of hope: "Maybe it will stop getting worse from now on."
Angie meanwhile, had remained off drugs. It was three years since her awful experience. He appeared happier and was now training to be a social worker, working with people suffering from mental illness. Her teeth, as predicted had gone from badly damaged to simply rotten and, in a fit of bravery (or madness) Angie had simply told the dentist: "Whip them out once and for all." Susan had gone with her for the procedure and sat outside in the waiting room.
When Angie came out, she looked no different: "They've given me a set of immediate dentures, top and bottom, which I've got to keep in for a few days. It doesn't hurt at all, but my mouth feels a bit numb." They went to a nearby coffee bar where Susan hid her concern while Angie nonchalantly smoked a cigarette. In truth, Angie seemed to have regained much of her old spirit over the past few months. Her salt-and-pepper hair was now more salt than pepper. But she was happy. She had been going to meetings of a women's group in London and both looked and sounded more like the Angie of 15 years ago.
Over the next year, Susan's eyesight problems did indeed slow down. By the time she was 35 years old, it had gone up to R-17.25, R-17.75, just minus 0.25. The ray of hope, carefully nurtured, turned into heady optimism.
In all other respects, Susan's health was excellent. She had maintained her physical fitness programme and her figure was barely unchanged compared to 10 years earlier. Lots of money, 100 stomach crunches and an hour in the gym every morning can have that affect. All she needed was for her eyes to hold fast.
This was confirmed a year later, when Ms Barnard told Susan: "Good news. Your sight has finally stabilised again. No change this time."
It's funny how "optimism" can mean so many things at different times. To feel optimistic because her sight, now virtually useless without correction, was not getting even worse, would have shocked Susan a decade ago. Now, however, she was almost deliriously happy at hearing the news.
Things were not quite so joyful in relation to her children, unfortunately. At the same time as her own eye test, this time she also took Emma and Maddie to be examined by Ms Barnard.
For the past year or so, Susan had noticed that Maddie, now four years old, could not see some things very well and in recent months this had become a more serious problem. Even Charles, usually so wilfully ignorant of sight-related issues had remarked that his younger daughter appeared to be a bit "absent-minded".
The result in Maddie's case was a prescription of minus 2.25 in both eyes. For Emma, who was a beautiful nine years of age, there was a small shock too: she received a prescription of minus 1 per cent in both eyes.
Ms Barnard said: "I strongly recommend that Madeleine wears hers all the time. As for Emma, it's a matter for you. But would suggest the same thing."
When they got home and Susan told Charles what had happened, he swore: "This is a f*****g conspiracy. I don't intend to let either of my daughters look like four-eyed geeks. I'll talk to that bloody optician myself."
He strode off to the phone. A few minutes later, Charles came back looking somewhat thoughtful. Ms Barnard had probably given him a piece of her mind, Susan realised.
So it was that when the day after next, she took the girls to collect their specs and brought them home, Charles said very little about the fact that Maddie was wearing hers. But from that moment on, he suddenly became colder and more distant towards his younger daughter. It was almost as if Maddie's new "imperfection" no longer rendered her deserving of his unconditional love.
On Maddie's part, she didn't appear to notice her dad's coldness. Apart from a few tantrums and an initial tendency to take her glasses off and lose them round the house, she settled into them within a week or two.
Charles, meanwhile, began to lavish all his affection towards Emma. In part, it was because Ems steadfastly refused to wear her glasses at all: "Mum, I hardly need them. And I'm not going to wear them. Daddy said I don't have to either."
Even a call to Emma's teacher in school produced no results: "I'm sorry, Mrs XXXX", we can't force children to do what they don't want to do over this kind of thing. If things get worse, or Emma's schoolwork suffers, we will reconsider, of course, but one option might be to place Emma to the front of the class so she can see things a bit better. We'll just have to play things very carefully: Emma is at the age where we don't want her to develop a complex."
A complex! Emma already had a complex and refusing to tackle it meant it was likely to get worse. But without support from Charles, Susan felt powerless.
The following year brought more good news for Susan, but once again, less so for the children. While Susan's sight was unchanged for the second year running, Maddie's had gone up to minus 2.75 and Emma's was now minus 1.5.
Maddie took to her new glasses instantly. Now five years old, she started at junior school where all her classmates had ever known her with specs. Aside from some minor teasing, which she ignored, she was perfectly happy to wear glasses all day. Indeed, without them on, in the bath for example, she would pull comically funny faces and complain in a loud voice: "Mummy, I can't see. Where are my goggles?"
Emma, on the other hand, still refused to wear hers. Susan remembered what it had been like for her when she had similar eye problems at 16 and knew, more or less, what her daughter could and couldn't see. The evidence was apparent at home: sitting up close to the TV, the inability to recognise things at a distance, squinting.
Charles remained adamant that Emma should not be made to do anything she didn't want. This previously-stern disciplinarian when it came to insisting on certain behaviour from the girls, was prepared to bend over backwards to let his older daughter do as she pleased.
In fact, things spilled over into other forms of behaviour, in which Susan found that Emma and her father often ganged up on her and Maddie, whispering to each other and the stopping when she came into a room, or doing things together and leaving out mother and younger daughter.
She pretended it did not affect her. It did. "Suze, you ought to have it out with him," said Angie during one of her friend's forays into London, in which Susan poured out her heart. "You can't let him treat you like this. It's not right." But Susan felt unable to change things.
It was at this point too that Charles started talking about having children again. This time Susan was opposed to the idea. Not because she didn't want another child, though Charles' insistence on "trying for a little Jack" (he had switched to "Jack" after someone at a dinner party told him that James was a naff name) was annoying. It was more to do with fears for her remaining sight.
The specialist's warning five years ago had remained engrained in her mind. While there was no direct proof of a link between childbirth and the decline in her vision, Susan felt there was more than a coincidence in the fact that each time she had a child, her eyes became worse so rapidly, before stopping.
Try as she might, she could not persuade Charles of this: "Nonsense. As the man said, there's no evidence whatsoever of this theory. You can't possibly deny us the right to a third child on the basis of this mumbo-jumbo." But he refused to talk to the consultant directly, she noticed.
Shortly after her 38th birthday and a year after their last visit, Susan and the children went to see Ms Barnard again. Once more, she was given the all-clear. Maddie, now six, was up, however, at minus 3.25 in both eyes, while Emma ("I don't know why you're making me go mum, I won't wear them anyway") found her sight had worsened to minus 2.25.
Two days later she took the kids to collect their specs. Maddie had had lots of fun choosing a new pair, while Emma briefly perked up and took about 20 minutes to select hers, only to repeat - almost as a mantra - that she wouldn't be wearing them. Ever.
Nonetheless, she noticed that in the brief moment between the fitting at the optician's and when Emma took them off and crammed them into her pocket, her older daughter became momentarily subdued.
Meanwhile, she continued to face mounting pressure from Charles to have a third child. The two people she trusted most, Angie and Ms Barnard were both against it. Angie was outspoken: "Suze, if you do it, you're bonkers. Just say no to the pig." Ms Barnard was more reserved: "Of course, this is a decision for you alone, Mrs XXXX. My opinion is that you should be very careful of the sight you have and not take any chances."
But Susan, unhappy at the way things were going on in the house between herself, Emma and Charles, and his apparent rejection of Maddie, found herself wondering whether one more baby might really do such terrible things to her eyes.
They weren't up to much now, how much worse could things get? And maybe, just maybe, giving Charles a son (assuming it would be a "little Jack") would make him a happier person and take the pressure off the entire family a bit.
Susan found herself slowly being swayed in favour of just one more child.
To be continued….
The final part:
Whether to have a child or not was a difficult decision for Susan. On the one hand, she was conscious of the dangers involved, particularly the potential worsening of her eyesight.
On the other, she (and Charles) had long planned to have three children. This was an ideal that had sustained them both throughout their marriage and Susan's previous experience of childbirth was so positive that, deep down, she knew she wanted another baby.
Nevertheless, before she committed herself, she decided to seek further expert advice. Susan spoke to her local doctor and through him obtained an appointment with a consultant at London's major eye hospital.
In many ways, the tests proved as inconclusive as before. Yes, the specialist said, there appeared to be some connection between pregnancy, its immediate aftermath and the worsening in Susan's eyesight. The information received from her optician suggested this worsening lay in the range of about minus 5 dioptres over each three-year period during and after childbirth.
It also appeared that the hormonal problems encountered by Susan throughout pregnancy and beyond might be at least partially responsible for the eyesight changes. Some might have been the result of the pregnancy itself, he added: neither of Susan's birth experiences had been entirely easy.
"My natural inclination would be not to proceed. But I sense that's not what you want to hear.
"We can solve the problem of difficult childbirth quite easily," the consultant went on, "We simply offer you the option of a Caesarian birth. Nowadays we can minimise the scar by On the hormonal side, we can treat with a range of suppressants similar, though in smaller doses, to those given to women who are engaged in IVF fertility treatment.
"And I would recommend that you do not breast-feed after the birth, as that may alter your hormone balance. All of this does not guarantee any harm to your eyes, but it may go some way to minimising any damage."
Susan felt vaguely reassured by the specialist's comments, but was nonetheless unprepared for what he had to say next: "There is something else that I need to tell you about the tests we have carried out on you over the past days, Mrs XXXX.
"Essentially, what we have found is that your use of contact lenses over the past 15 to 20 years has a potentially negative impact on your overall eyesight. The contacts you have worn in the past have effectively been denying oxygen supply to your cornea.
"As a result, some small blood vessels in the cornea have begun to leak. This is a condition, which I call buried veins, that has been ongoing for two or three years, although the effects are still very minor in your case. The long-term effects of this are serious, however. They will be to impair your eyesight further - unless we take remedial action now."
Susan stammered: "What do you mean?"
"Put simply, I'm suggesting that you don't wear your contacts for more than six to eight hours a day. As part of the overall treatment that I am proposing, I also suggest that we check your corneal veins every three months and see how we get on."
Susan stumbled out of the hospital into the unusually bright London sunshine.
Six to eight hours a day! How on earth would she be able to get round that particular restriction! It was unthinkable. On the other hand, Susan was also terrified at the prospect of her sight degenerating to the point where, irrespective of her wearing any form of correction, she might end up seeing little or nothing.
As she caught the train home, Susan started mapping out her day to suit the new requirements laid down by the consultant. One way would be to get up, insert her contacts, sort out breakfasts and pack the kids off to school, change into spectacles throughout the day and put the contacts back in at about 4.30pm, when the children were back. To optimise her time further, she would ask Emma to take Maddie, her youngest to school herself. It was on the way to her own school anyway.
As for weekends, well, things might not be exactly perfect, but she could make up for it during the rest of the week by wearing her contacts a bit less, couldn't she?
By the time Susan arrived back at the house, everything was clear in her mind.
As was the issue of having a child. That night, after the children were in bed and she and Charles were sharing a convivial bottle of wine (how rare it was for them to do so nowadays), Susan told him: "I went to see the consultant today and he tells me that while nothing is guaranteed, they can offer some treatment to ensure my eyes stay stable as possible.
"So, if you were still minded….", she added shyly.
"Darling," murmured Charles, "Nothing would give me greater pleasure."
The next few weeks were a blur of sex. From some reserve deep in his being, Charles appeared to have re-discovered hidden reservoirs of energy. Early nights were followed by lazy early mornings. The kids were packed off to their grandparents for two weekends.
Sometimes, she didn't even have time to put in her contacts in the morning and was forced to make love to Charles in a complete blur. And the same at night. Oddly, the effect was to give her a further sexual charge. Wondering where his hand would touch her next and experiencing everything through her body rather than her eyes was in itself a profound thrill.
She almost wished it could go on forever. Or at least a lot longer.
To neither of their surprise, however, within three months Susan found one day that her period was late. After three further days, plus two more for luck, she carried out a home test. Pregnant!
It was too early to be completely sure, but she told Charles nonetheless. He was delighted. "Let's make triple certain," he said, "Go for a proper test tomorrow."
Susan did. Her doctor confirmed the good news: "Congratulations. I think you are probably about six weeks pregnant." She also made sure to inform both Ms Barnard and her London consultant, who immediately booked her in for a series of three-month check-ups, starting six weeks hence and carrying on after her birth.
She also told Angie: "Well, I'm pleased for you Suze, because I know that's what you want. But I'd be really careful that things don't go wrong if I were you."
The first hospital test passed uneventfully. But by the second exam, six months into the pregnancy, Susan knew that her old problems had re-emerged.
"I'm afraid it's not good news, your sight has declined again, by about minus 0.75 in both eyes. That's less than on your two previous occasions, of course, but still serious enough," the consultant said.
Three days later, Susan went home with a new set of eyewear, and a prescription of R-18.00, L-18.50.
The next two or three months sped by. One notable event was that of taking both the young children to Ms Barnard for their eye tests. For Maddie, now seven years old, the results weren't that bad. Her sight had got worse, but only by about minus 0.25. Barely any difference.
It was Emma who had the greater shock. From minus 2.25 her eyes suddenly went to minus 3.25. It was a big leap and one which left Emma both unhappy and defiant: "I don't care. No-one's going to make me wear these things even if I'm a million years old," she declared.
Actually, there had been some serious problems at school concerning Emma. She had moved to a local fee-paid school and her teachers rapidly became concerned at two related events. First, that her school results were now extremely poor. The second was that Emma increasingly appeared to be missing classes.
She would often disappear for the entire day, "bunking off" as kids called it. Susan had a number of meetings with Emma's head of year, but very little could be resolved.
Even at home, Emma would often come home, eat her tea and then rapidly disappear to her bedroom and only come down to say goodnight. Susan could hear her playing music and often Emma's TV (a present from her dad) was switched on. She now refused to go out with her friends, scornfully dismissing them as "nasty cows".
Once, during a weekend, Susan thought Emma had gone out and went up to her room to tidy up. Too late, she discovered Emma up there, lying on the bed wearing her glasses and reading a book. "Who said you could come in without knocking. Get out," cried Emma furiously, ripping the spectacles off her face in an embarrassed hurry. She looked defenceless. Susan mumbled an apology and closed the door behind her on the way out.
Finally, as it became clear - even to Emma - that something had to be done, Susan engineered a meeting between herself, her daughter and the head of year. "Emma, we can't go on like this. Your work is suffering and you actually risk being excluded from school if this continues," the teacher said. "I'm willing to help you if you help me."
A compromise was ungraciously agreed by Emma: she would wear her glasses sometimes, if things were written up on the board. No-one would force her to wear them otherwise. But if any teacher felt that she wasn't wearing her glasses when they were needed, or that her work was suffering, they would have the right to tell her, in front of the whole class, to put them on.
The concession appeared to work, if only because Emma felt that the threat of ritual public humiliation by a teacher was worse than sneaking her specs on her nose for a quick scan of the board. Shortly thereafter, her school reports appeared to improve and if she was not a model student, at least she remained in class all day.
Meanwhile, the countdown to the birth proceeded. Two weeks before the official birth was due, Susan was booked into an expensive private hospital by her doctor. The following morning, after a spinal anaesthetic, Jack (yes, a little Jack to gladden Charles' heart!) was born by Caesarian section at 10am. It took little over 10 minutes for the operation, although the stitching up seemed to take hours. Susan was relieved to see that the cut was just below the bikini line.
She took Jack home two days later. The first three or four weeks were awful. The pain in her lower abdomen was extreme and Susan was unable to bend, to walk properly or even to sit for long periods of time. She was forced to take lots of painkillers, leaving her alternately groggy or in pain. Charles was forced to take time off and, for the first time, to share in the night-time child care ritual.
He was shattered by the experience, but unlike Susan, once his four-week holiday, plus three days paternity leave entitlement were over, Charles scuttled off back to work, leaving her to look after Jack.
Thankfully, the worst was over physically and Susan gradually recovered. Although she wondered if she would ever get used to that scar, she was reassured to hear that in time it would fade. "Never mind about that," said Angie, who had taken to coming round at least once a week, "you still look gorgeous, girl."
In her own way, Susan did. She had always eaten healthily, took plenty of exercise and, perversely, motherhood made her bloom. Although a little fuller than before (it would soon come off, she vowed, and it did) she began to feel a lot better.
Her drug treatment continued and, briefly, Susan allowed herself the hope that this time at least things were working out better than the two previous pregnancies.
Sadly, that was not the case. Three months after Jack was born, tests already began to show a decline in her sight. A further three months made it even more obvious: R-19.00, L-19.50, only minus 1 up, but still significant enough to warrant a change in her eyewear.
Worse, the consultant also said: "I have some further bad news. It seems very much as if your corneas are suffering from your extended contact wear. I really think you should give serious consideration to cutting down the amount of time you wear them, perhaps restricting them to parties and social engagement."
Susan told this to Angie in despair: "I can't do that Angie. Charles will never let me."
"What's it got to do with him?", asked Angie, reasonably. "Anyway. He's a sexist pig," she added, also reasonably.
Susan went home in a state of serious depression. She resolved to ignore the consultant's advice for as long as possible.
Her three-month tests continued, even as Jack reached his own first birthday. They showed that while things were better than the last time round, Susan's sight had continued its decline.
Shortly after her 40th birthday, celebrated at home in deference to their three-child family, they had risen to R-20.00, L-20.50. This time, her consultant added fuel to the fire of her fears: "The first concerns the kind of glasses you wear. My suggestion is that you might feel more comfortable if you had something called myodiscs instead of the current 'thin' lenses you are wearing."
Susan felt a strange sense of apprehension in the pit of her stomach: "What do you mean exactly?"
The consultant explained in his speak-to-a-simple-child way: "Well, the glasses you are currently wearing have become quite thick, as you have noticed, even though they are high-index - thin, that is. Myodisks offer a way of controlling that thickness. What we do is 'carve' out a sight part within each lens. The advantage is that by contrast with what you are wearing, the overall lens thickness is reduced. If you wear small glasses, the overall effect is quite benign.
"The disadvantage is that if you turn your eyes sharply left or right, you move out of the lenses' own field of vision. This can be quite disorientating at first. You have to turn your head and body more to focus on something, rather than just your eyes. But one does get used to it and it soon becomes quite natural and certainly unnoticeable to anyone else."
Susan felt marginally reassured and agreed with his advice. She undertook to return a week later for the first fitting of her myodisk glasses.
But all the way home, she tried to resolve the riddle of what she would do in respect of her consultant's "very strong advice" that she restrict her contact lens wear as much as possible.
That night, against her better instincts, she tried to broach the subject with Charles. "Please listen to me. Either I wear glasses at least part of the time - in front of you - or my sight will get much worse. I could lose a large part of my sight. I promise to wear my contacts when we go out and at other times, but you have to accept that I can't do so all the while," Susan pleaded.
Charles' reaction was typical - and frightening. Without saying another word, he rose out of his armchair, where he had pretended to be reading a book, and walked out of the sitting room, shutting the door quietly behind him.
Susan found him in bed with the lights out, his back turned against her, his entire body screaming silent reproach.
She spent most of the night awake, lying still in her bed, rising only once to attend to Jack. By the morning, she had a fair idea of what she had to do.
The days seemed to speed past and, finally one morning, with her children safely off to school, Susan caught a train to London with Jack. She had decided to wear her contact lenses one more time and, as the train sped through the city suburbs, wondered what things would be like from now on.
Jack was fast asleep when the specialist invited her into his study. She left him in his carry-cot on the floor and moved over to a table with a mirror placed on it and, placing her container in front of her, she deftly removed first one contact and then, having placed it in its place, took out the other one. This too she put away, remarking not for the first time on the deep sense of isolation she felt on not being able to see anything without her glasses.
Susan turned in what she hoped was the consultant's direction: "I'm afraid you will have to help me with this part," she heard herself say.
He moved to her side, helped her too her feet and guided her gently by the arm into a special chair a few feet away. Then, sitting before her, he opened a case at a table next to him. She heard a clack as the case opened and a few seconds later felt spectacles being rested on her nose.
Her eyes had been closed as he did this. Opening them, Susan could suddenly see again. It wasn't a good feeling though. The glasses felt very small (she had deliberately chosen a small frame on the specialist's advice) and as she focussed, Susan found that any movement away from dead centre in her spectacles meant she could see nothing.
The consultant turned out his lamp and, pointing at a chart took Susan through a familiar litany of numbers. Even with the glasses on, she couldn't read the bottom two lines. But the real shock was when she stood up and looked at herself in the mirror.
The central part of the myodisk lens was less than an inch wide from tip to tip and exactly round. Elsewhere, the lens was almost frosted. Set deep at the back, her eyes looked tiny, almost invisible. To see anything clearly, Susan found herself turning from side to side. My God, so this is what it's like, she thought nervously. Susan felt sick.
"It will take a few days to get used to them, but most of my patients tell me that after a while they barely notice anything different compared to normal glasses," the consultant announced grandly.
Susan picked up the carry-cot with Jack in it, and looking straight ahead, was ushered out of the door.
By the time she got home, it was still only 1pm. The taxi driver had stared at her a bit curiously as he drove he from the station but did not say anything. Susan would later discover that this was a common reaction among people. Among those, that is, who did not sometimes confuse short sight with mental disability.
Somehow, between feeding Jack, tidying up the house and preparing dinner for the girls, the afternoon sped by.
Soon, she heard the back kitchen door open and Maddie raced in: "Hello mummy. Mummy! What's happened to your eyes? Why are you wearing glasses?"
Emma followed slowly behind her younger sister. In her case, she could not see what her mother was wearing very well, but could tell form Maddie's excited tone that something was very different. She came up to Susan's face and looked straight at her: "So," she said, "you've been needing glasses all along too. Are you going to wear them all the time?"
Susan smiled at Emma about two feet away and said firmly: "Yes I am, darling."
Over tea, she gave them a potted history of what had been happening to her eyesight, minimising some of the fears and worries she'd had. Maddie was soon bored with the conversation, but Emma kept on asking questions, rapidly exhausting even Susan.
The evening wore on and finally, it was time for both the girls to go to bed. Charles had told her he would be late that evening at a social function. Normally, she would have gone to bed too but tonight, she decided to stay up and wait for him.
Finally, at about 11.30pm, she heard him come in. He walked into the lounge and at first appeared surprised simply to see her there. Then, he noticed her glasses for the first time.
"God on earth Susan. What on earth have they done to you?" was his remark before he appeared to sway and leant against the door for support. He wasn't drunk, mind, just shaken.
"I'm sorry Charles. I have tried to tell you but you wouldn't listen. This is how I will look from now on and that's final."
Red slowly began to infuse Charles' face: "What do you mean: 'This is how I will look from now on', take those bloody things off your face this minute."
He moved towards her, raising his hand in an attempt to swipe the glasses from her face. Susan leapt up and, grabbing a nearby ornament off a table, she raised it above her head: "Come anywhere near me and I'll smash this over your head." He stopped.
Then, turning on his heels, Charles stalked out of the room. Seconds later, his footsteps could be heard climbing the stairs. Susan waited an hour, then went to bed herself.
The next morning, having set the alarm, she rose at the crack of dawn and was waiting in the kitchen when Charles came in. He said nothing, studiously avoiding looking at her. She sat at the kitchen table, pretending to be engrossed in the morning newspaper. When he had made himself a coffee, Charles supped it looking out of the window, his back to Susan.
Then he went out. She heard the front door close and his feet on the gravel outside.
A few minutes later, first Maddie then Emma came into the kitchen for their breakfast. Maddie was totally unconcerned. But Emma looked at her mother expectantly: "Well, what did he say?"
"What do you mean?" Susan fenced. "Come on mum, it's been obvious for years that dad hates anyone wearing glasses. He told me so himself."
Susan changed the subject and packed her kids off to school. Then she picked up her shopping basket and went into the local village. The reaction from most people was barely different, if at all, from before. Just one or two comments from a few neighbours who mostly knew her without glasses. To everyone who asked, Susan explained briefly what had happened. She knew that within a day or two everyone would know.
Gradually, as the day went on, she was finding that seeing things was not as difficult as she had anticipated. She was adjusting quite rapidly to moving her head from side to side and did not even notice it very much.
When the kids came home, the topic of her glasses was exhausted, although Susan could feel Emma looking at her.
With Charles, it was a different matter. Again, she waited up for him, wearing her myodisk lensed glasses. This time, perhaps sensing her in the living room, he came into the house and went straight up to bed. The next morning, instead of coming into the kitchen, where she was waiting for him, Charles sped out of the house.
A weary routine developed, in which Charles would pull the same or similar tricks every day. Even when Susan took to waiting up for him in the bedroom, he would come in, climb into the bed and refuse to look at her. Weekends, Charles simply disappeared for the whole day.
Both girls noticed, but didn't dare ask what was happening. They learnt to say nothing about their daddy's near-total absence from their lives.
This went on for many weeks. Over this time, Susan had finally become used to her spectacles. Sure, she couldn't see as well as with contact lenses. She did not like some children's oafish remarks if she went to play with Maddie in the park or took Jack for a walk in his chair. She resented some neighbours' stares and occasional remarks. And she didn't like the way she looked. Every time she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she would gasp inwardly.
But good, loyal Angie was fantastic support. To Angie, she could tell anything and still feel loved. And the children were great too.
One night, as she played her waiting game with Charles, she fell asleep. She work up to see him standing over her, his face a mixture of disgust and drunken determination: he'd obviously had a few too many.
"Susan, I've decided. I'm leaving you tomorrow. I've found somewhere to live and I went to see it today."
She gripped him by the arm and screamed at him: "Why, Charles, why? Why are you doing this to me? How can you hate me for something that is not my fault? Do I really repel you that much? Look at me. I'm still the same me, no matter whether I wear glasses or not."
Charles was oblivious to her: "There's no point discussing this. You've let me down and that's that. Tomorrow, I'm picking up some of my belongings and I'm moving out." He appeared so decisive in making this statement that Susan simply dropped back into her chair and began to sob. But instead of comforting her, Charles turned slowly and walked up the stairs - to the spare bedroom.
Once more, Susan spent most of the night awake, this time crying downstairs. She heard Charles leave unnaturally early, closing the garden gate behind him. The children came down to find her still in floods of tears.
"He's left, hasn't he mum," said Emma, suddenly practical. "Never mind. You've still got us." Then, reaching into her school jacket pocket, she did something Susan would never have expected her daughter to do.
Emma slipped out her own pair of glasses, put them on he face and said simply: "Good riddance to him." She wore her own glasses full-time from that moment on.
The next few months were hellish. Susan felt lonely, afraid, ashamed at Charles' departure. Part of her still blamed herself, even with the constant support of the children and the ever-faithful Angie, who became almost a full-time resident in her home as they sought to bring her out of her misery.
Gradually they succeeded. Charles had left a big void: you can't be with someone for 15 years and not feel an incredible sense of attachment to them, no matter what they do. But all attempts to contact him, at work, or through his friends, met with stonewalling or apologetic brush-offs: "I'm sorry Susan/Mrs XXXX, he just doesn't want to talk to you."
Eventually, one morning an envelope dropped on to the mat. It was from Charles' solicitors: he wanted a divorce. If she accepted it quietly, she would be well-provided for: the house, a generous lump sum, a monthly settlement for the kids. By now, convinced all hope of a resumption in her relationship with Charles was dead, she wrote back, with her own solicitor advising against, to say she accepted.
Meanwhile, tests showed her sight was worsening. A year after her last test, it reached R-21, L-21.25. As for Emma, now 13, it rose to -4.25, surpassing Maddie's own -4. Neither of her daughters commented much. In Emma's case, she simply put on her new glasses straight away and wore them all the time.
Good news is hard to find in such cases, but a year after that, Susan's prescription had risen by just 0.5 per cent and there was no change 12 months later. It seemed as if things had finally stabilised again.
Not for the children, though. Emma's sight started to worsen rapidly, reaching -4.75 when she was 14 and -5.5 a year later. Maddie, by contrast, now 10, had halted at -4.75.
Neither of the children appeared to care. In Emma's case, she seemed to show some of the defiance Susan remembered from Angie almost 30 years before. Her schoolwork, while never perfect, was vastly better than it had been though. Maddie was an even tougher nut. She had never cared or noticed what people said and that didn't change. Jack, now four years of age, luckily showed no signs of eyesight problems.
Susan, by now divorced some years earlier, suddenly began to hanker after some of the many things she'd missed out in all her married life. Even though Charles had kept his promises of continued maintenance for her and the children, she felt there was a void in her life.
The family sold their large, and to Susan, barren home outside London and moved somewhere closer in town itself. Smaller, but much cosier. Charles let her keep the small difference between the asking price of the one and the selling price of the other. Or at least, he never said anything.
Susan didn't have to work to live comfortably. But she was bored and frustrated. Then it struck her: what were the things she had enjoyed most in the past 15 years? It was looking after children! Why not be a teacher? With Jack himself at school, it would not be too difficult. And with the Government on a recruitment drive for new teachers, she might even stand a chance.
Susan decided to investigate. Her local teacher training college was holding an open day. Susan went in trepidation and got talking to strange-looking chap whose lapel badge said he was head of some department at the college. After a 30-minute conversation, she took a form away with her, quickly filled it in and posted it before she could change her mind.
At the interview, a month later, she found herself sitting in front of three people, including the same strange man. The interview went well. Right at the end, one member of the interview panel suddenly said: "Mrs XXXX, forgive me but I can't help noticing that you wear very strong glasses. Do you think this is likely to cause you a problem if you become a teacher?"
"Oh no," Susan replied devoutly. "I've worn glasses all my life and no-one I've ever come across, children or otherwise, has ever been anything than perfectly fair and decent to me."
One week later the letter arrived: she was accepted to start this September. At last a genuinely new life was finally opening up for Susan. Not what she'd planned, but better than se might have dared hope a few years ago. And, in a curious way, she had her glasses to thank for that. She was finally happy.
I came back into the site today to see how my story has fared. I am both grateful and humbled by your praise and support.
Thank you, though I must confess that re-reading each episode there are things I would changed/edit - if only I had the time! In any event, as my early career in publishing taught me, these things tend to need the outside ministrations of an editor, rather than a writer hacking away at his/her own words.
When I wrote one of my earlier instalments, I promised that I would attempt to answer any lingering questions you may have had about what I had written. Here, in this post, I'm trying to keep my promise.
One of you asked about Angie and whether she is involved in a 12-step programme. I have asked her this, without telling her what for. Her reply is that it was one of the options available to her at the time of her recovery from drug addiction but that she deliberately chose not to take part. The explanation is that, while tremendously useful to many people, the AA-type approach was not suited to her.
Angie is not religiously inclined, yet much of the 12-step approach rests on a strong belief in an outside force - if not God, at least an inner spiritual being, which Angie does not share, so she says.
In addition, she tells me (and I really don't know whether she is right or wrong, I simply report her views) that the key to the 12-step approach is that addiction in all its forms is seen as an illness to be cured, or at least kept at bay. Angie doesn't see things that way. She believes that what happened to her was an act of temporary madness into which she slipped when she fell in with bad company.
Although the recovery was hard, and she did undergo a lot of therapy, it was not based on an assumption of Angie as an ill person. Rather it was a means of talking through with someone the issues surrounding the death of her one-time boyfriend and the devastation she felt about the rapid disintegration of her life, the wasted years and feelings of regret at what had happened.
She now seems completely healthy. Apart from her teeth, or lack of them, which Angie maintains is a "blessed relief", she now looks and feels fine, still slimmer perhaps than she once used to be, her hair now almost completely white (cut short, quite sexy in fact). Her job as a psychiatric social worker allows her to indulge in some fairly outlandish clothes, including leather trousers, biker boots and jackets, plus the odd tattoo (on her back and shoulders) and a dinky little nose stud. She wears glasses still, this time frameless titanium specs which appear almost invisible on her face. Angie has weathered her own problems rather well, I think. More on her later.
As for the kids, they too appear to be fairly well-balanced. I hadn't realised how much they had understood of the occasional rows between Charles and myself. But they did, Emma in particular.
Emma tells me that she knew about the glasses thing with Charles and me and, on those odd occasions when I suspected they had been touched and moved slightly many years ago, it was her that did it. She put them on to test what they were like. You could argue that she was being prescient about her own later glasses-wearing, although she tells me it was nothing like that, just curiosity, she only wore them for a few seconds and she couldn't see a thing out of them anyhow. I believe her.
Emma adds that in large measure she didn't wear hers because she was afraid of Charles' potential withdrawal of love towards her, as happened with Maddie. At the same time, Emma felt guilty for what, deep-down, she actually felt was a betrayal both of Maddie and me.
In that context, her sudden decision to "out" herself with glasses seems to me quite natural, although, like Julian, I was profoundly touched by that gesture of solidarity. (I was even more pleased the little Missy finally did what she should have done years before, after years of causing trouble at school, but let's not get into that one!)
My children are wonderful. Emma is going through a minor teenage rebellion phase. Still, we understand each other probably better than many mothers and daughters do. Maddie is beautiful, scatty and wild, sweet and pure, and also uncannily wise in a strange way too complicated to explain. Maybe you understand anyway. Jack is 100 per cent boy-child - boisterous, happy, playful. He remembers nothing of what went on and I don't think I will tell him just yet.
Meganekko, you ask whether I ever considered some form of laser surgery. Yes and no. I did ask a few years after Maddie was born and was considering having Jack. But both my optician and the specialist whom I went to see from time to time felt at the time that the procedure was essentially untested and that it would be a mistake to do then something I might regret later.
As it is, I still wonder from time to time whether this might not help me. But two things have put me off. The first is TV programme shown last year on the BBC about the experiences of people who have had this procedure. The programme found that even in cases where the individuals felt psychologically the surgery had helped them, eye tests showed they displayed continuing - and this time uncorrectable - sight problems. Worse, a website I found before coming to Eye Scene (unfortunately I don't remember what it was called) has a mass of information from people who had the procedure and now wish they hadn't. Their experiences are horribly frightening and not to be wished on anyone.
Several of you have asked a series of questions about Charles. In many ways I have portrayed him badly. And in truth, he wasn't/isn't always the most understanding man in the world (somewhat of an understatement). But at the same time, notwithstanding all the problems I have outlined, we shared many happy years together - part of the story you have read is not just of his behaviour towards me but of my caving in to his diktats.
As I said earlier on, perhaps if I had stood up to him sooner, much of this would not have happened, or at least not in the way it eventually did. Perhaps I should share a little of the blame.
Even more fundamentally, although I did not say in my story what happened to Charles to make him behave the way he did, I now know.
About three months ago, Charles phoned me at my new home and asked to meet me. This was such an unusual request, we had not seen each other since he walked out two years or so ago, that I accepted with some curiosity. I left Jack and the older kids with Angie, who often baby-sits for me, though she was very reluctant for me to go.
We met in a wine bar - on neutral territory, so to speak. His first words were that he wanted to apologise for his behaviour over all those years. He then asked me to go outside with him and, it being a balmy evening, we went to a nearby park and sat on a bench.
Charles has recently started to see a therapist who has encouraged him to come to terms with childhood experiences that profoundly shaped his behaviour. Charles went to a very upmarket public school (in the UK, public means exclusive and fee-paying). He boarded at the school, and its preparatory version, from the age of eight until he was 18.
Put bluntly, when he was 9 years old, Charles was raped by his housemaster, a man then in his 40s whose own bedroom was adjacent to the larger set of rooms where upwards of six boys slept. The older man, Charles told me, wore very thick glasses.
The first episode of abuse happened one night when Charles had a nightmare, woke up and tapped on the housemaster's door to seek comfort. The older man took Charles into his room and offered to let him sleep in his own bed, telling the young boy that he would himself bed down in an armchair and watch over him. Charles woke up an hour or two later to find the housemaster in bed next to him, fondling his genitals.
A pattern was quickly set: late at night, when everyone was asleep, the housemaster would appear by Charles' bed and tap him on the foot, then leave the boys' room. A minute or two later, Charles would be expected to follow and enter the housemaster's rooms next door. There, a set of sexual acts would follow until early morning, when Charles would return to his own bed.
This went on for over a year. Even then, when moved into another, older boys' house, the same man engineered situations in which he would call Charles into his room on some pretext and sexually abuse him.
Charles' abiding memory - and he says this is what shaped his profound aversion to spectacles, particularly on someone with whom he has had relationships - includes the man in question kissing him powerfully on the mouth on many occasions. As the housemaster forced his tongue in Charles' own mouth, he remembers looking at the man's eyes through the lenses of his glasses. The eyes were tiny, suggesting that this man was quite short-sighted.
The abuse continued for another 18 months, until Charles was 11 and a half. Then, presumably because he had tired of Charles, the man left him alone. Shortly afterwards he left the school.
Throughout all his time at that school and in later life Charles never spoke about this to anyone, presumably out of shame and self-blame. But it is clear that the effect of this experience has been to scar him profoundly, probably irreversibly.
As Charles talked, he cried long and hard - for the first time in my memory. I held and hugged him for at least an hour as he alternated between crying and apologising for hurting me and for his tears.
That evening I felt, and continue to feel, extreme sorrow and pain on Charles' behalf. And anger at the man who abused him and has had such a powerful and destructive effect on not just one life but, very nearly, two lives, myself included. I understand he is now dead.
In the past month or so, I have been encouraging the children to consider seeing their father. They don't yet wish to do this but I think they will. And I know that would please him no end. Charles genuinely wants to make amends.
In an ideal world, I would now tell you that the experience of that evening has brought us back together again and we would all rejoice at such a fairytale ending. Unfortunately, that's not the case.
It's not that I don't feel a lingering affection for Charles. As I say, he was mostly a loving man - albeit a bit straight-laced and occasionally domineering. While I might have got back together with him in the months following his departure, he and I have both moved on since.
At the time, he hurt me badly and I can still remember that too. In any event, I understand Charles has found another partner, someone who cares and loves him and has encouraged him on his own spiritual journey. And I am happy for him. Really, I am.
As for me, I have found my own kind of happiness. My teacher training starts in a couple of months' time. I'm nervous but exhilarated at the challenge.
As for my glasses, I have looked up the full current prescription and it stands at R-21.50 (-2.50 X 95), L-21.75 (-2.25 X 170). I still don't quite understand these things completely, though I know that some of the other numbers mean that I have astigmatism and that a portion of the lenses are stronger than others over part of my eyes. Or something: maybe one of you can explain what it all means.
The practical effect is indisputable, however: without them I am now almost completely blind. Sometimes, in the morning when I wake up, I lie in bed and look around me. Everything is totally blurred. Without my glasses, I can't recognise any of the children even from a foot away. Jack will sometimes jump into bed in the morning with me and we tussle, me blindly, holding on to him and tickling him.
I have a routine for the day, which involves always keeping a spare set in my bag, and several pairs around the house in precise locations so that if anything should happen I know when to find another pair instantly. I always remember where I am setting my glasses, in the shower for example.
Despite all these precautions, I occasionally forget to put glasses on. A year or so ago, after we moved into the new house, I heard Jack crying in the middle of the night and jumped out of bed to go to his room. I forgot, in the total dark, that I was not wearing my glasses, a fact brought painfully home to me when I walked into a door and crashed to the floor, my nose bleeding badly. What Jack made of his mother rushing into his room with her nose squirting blood all over the place I don't know.
All my neighbours, friends and family have seen me with glasses now. It is probably true for everyone in a similar situation that they dread the first two or three meetings when something like this happens. In my case, I remember thinking that they would be shocked at the sight of someone they had come to know as "normal" should now appear before them with such thick spectacles. In practice, it has not been so terrible, though if I'm honest, I still do a double-take if I inadvertently catch sight of myself in a mirror or shop window.
From time to time, I still meet people whom I have not seen for years. They are amazed at my transformation - and at the fact that Charles and I are divorced. When that happens, I do get slightly flustered and wonder what they are thinking of the bespectacled and seemingly-blind new me.
I still have a pair of contact lenses, by the way. I could wear them for a couple of hours a day, maybe a while longer from time to time, but I don't. Having made a decision that I would no longer subject myself to the sense of loss and longing that comes with not wearing and then wearing glasses, I feel it would be too painful to pretend any longer to be something I am not and never have been since I was a teenager - properly-sighted.
Funnily enough, as I was writing this epilogue, I had a sudden urge to find out what I looked like with them on. The children are in bed and I've just been into the bathroom and slipped the contact lenses in for a few minutes, wondering round the house before changing back to my lenses. I must confess it felt weird.
I could see much better than with my glasses, which I had forgotten about. That's a definite minus compared to my current state. At the same time, I felt slightly uncomfortable without something on my nose and I couldn't quite recognise myself in my "old" state. It was almost a relief to slip my glasses back on. Strange. Maybe I'm getting used to how I look.
The only thing I still don't like very much are the stares and occasional comments in the street or in shops, or the way other people feel they can push ahead of me, or treat me as if I'm mildly retarded and ugly.
I'm not retarded. And I'm not ugly. Actually, one of the dubious benefits of a husband leaving you is that at first you lose weight because of the miserable state you feel in. Then, a perverse sense of pride makes you decide to "show him" that you are sexier and better-looking than you ever were. In my case, I spent hours down the gym every week, hundreds of pounds (thousands actually) on clothes and much time in the hands of beauticians and hairdressers just to make myself look and feel good.
That particular frenzy has abated, thankfully. But I live healthily, still exercise regularly and, so I'm told, am quite good-looking. At least, Angie tells me so. She says my glasses make me look "mysterious", whatever that means. I've not put it to the test, as such. A couple of men have asked me out and I have had the occasional meal and theatre or film outing with them. But it never goes any further. Maybe I'm not interested. Or maybe I'm just focussed on something else.
Perhaps, it's Angie. She moved I with me when I bought our house in London recently. That is, she has another room in the house. For me, it was the chance of some genuine companionship and a friend for the children, whom she adores and who adore her.
For Angie, well, for her it was probably the chance to live in a nice house with someone who puts up good-humouredly with her occasional drunkenness and drama-queen outbursts; who will sit up and listen when she comes home and wants to talk about her main obsession (work). A friend who accepts her early-morning behaviour: stomp grumpily into the kitchen without your teeth in, light a cigarette without speaking to anyone, put the kettle on and make yourself a coffee without offering a cup to the rest of the house. The kids love it. I'm not so sure.
Angie hasn't found a man to live with either. Over the years she tried a couple ("They were wankers Suze, total wankers") before moving in with me and living a life of pulchritude. But she may be getting desperate: two weeks or so, shortly after I started this autobiography, Angie came in one evening slightly the worse for wear after a drinking session with some of her work colleagues. As sometimes happens, she came in to see me in my room before disappearing to her own one for the night. I was in bed, reading.
Angie was in her dressing gown and had taken out her teeth. Her face looks caved in when she does that, slightly crone-like. But nice, ancient and almost all-knowing.
We both lay on the bed chatting about this and that, with Angie lisping away about how much so-and-so had to drink and what happened at her office that day. Then, to my surprise, she turned to face me and gently kissed me on the lips: "Suze, you know, you really are sexy." We looked at each other in amazement.
Then she kissed me again, this time sliding her tongue in my mouth and holding my face in her hands. It was surprisingly thrilling and I found myself kissing her back. Then, I suddenly stopped and pulled away. Angie looked at me and nodded, stood up and quietly walked out of the room.
That night, I wondered whether I had done the right thing. To an extent I still do wonder, but believe I have. Angie and myself are very good friends and to take things further would complicate matters.
Nor am I sure that it's what I really want. I'm not homophobic in any way (next thing you'll hear me saying that some of my best friends are lesbian and gay - but they are). Yet ultimately, I would like to meet a man who respects me, will be a friend to my children and will like my own friends, including Angie.
By contrast, one night of admittedly enjoyable passion might spoil everything between Angie, the kids and me. We haven't spoken of it since and things appear to be unchanged between us in every respect. Let's hope it lasts.
Well, that's about it. Specs4ever is kind enough to ask whether, as a result of writing this epic, I have found "closure". Yes, in many ways I have. There must be about 25,000 words here in all, probably more, and I've found the experience of setting out my thoughts hugely cathartic.
I should confess, again, that this is not a totally "true" story. The main details are correct, but some peripheral issues (and especially the quotes from years ago) are not exact. I've changed a few other things to protect my privacy.
And inevitably, writing as one does about a course of events influenced by my eyesight means that many other facets of my personality and my life are not reflected in this autobiography. In that respect, re-reading my story I almost feel two-dimensional and obsessed by vision, glasses and that sort of thing. In truth, most of my life has been anything but. Hopefully, some of that love of life has come through in my writing. I'd like to think it has.
It only remains for me to express my gratitude to you once more for your patience and support. I will stick around and read the posts in here and elsewhere from time to time - as I did, feverishly, for two months, back-tracking over a year's worth of topics in every forum before plucking up the courage to write in myself.
If, Meganekko, you want to collect my various scribblings, unite them and re-publish them in some other area, I would be honoured. You know, I haven't saved them anywhere else other than on this site, so if they go from here, that's it.
A couple more observations: I started off thinking this site was for weird people. I'm glad to have learned it is full of nice people too.
Another thing: since starting this, I have made a habit of checking what people are writing themselves: it seems only polite. By the way, is the "Bella" who replied to "Jules" in another forum the same as Isabella, the person who wrote last year about adjusting to wearing glasses when in her 30s? I'd like to think so: I have a lot to thank her for also.
That's it for now. It is now 11.45 here in London and I really should go to sleep. Take care of yourselves.