I Can See Clearly Now

If I’m really being honest, looking back with 20:20 hindsight, 50 years ago when my journey with spectacles started I don’t think I really needed glasses at all.

No need for glasses at the start of my career.

I remember telling my parents that I wasn’t sure if the blackboard looked a little bit blurry when I was sat at the back of the class.  I wasn’t actually lying but well I wasn’t sure.  After much pestering my mum took me to see Mr Walters the Optician and after much deliberation he concluded that I might be a little bit short sighted.  He suggested I had a heavy brown plastic pair of national health specs that I could keep in my satchel for use in the classroom.  The trouble was once I had them that was it.  I wore them all of the time except for playing football.

The reason I had made what turned out to be a life changing decision was…Elton John.  Elton was my idol.  I wanted to play the piano like him, I wanted to write songs and sing like him and, I wanted to look like him.  One step was quite easy, platform shoes like the ones Elton wore. Now, when I say platform shoes were an easy step I should qualify that because wearing platform shoes was anything but easy.  With those shoes and the obligatory baggy flares playing football in the school yard was always walking a tight rope between scoring the winner or breaking your ankles.

So I already had the shoes and the flares, what I really wanted was the glasses.  The room that I had stayed in at Elton’s house in Virginia Water was an eclectic mix of art, shoes and glasses.  On the walls were Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe.  On the floor were neat rows of platform shoes of all colours and designs.  In a number of silver flight case style briefcases were row after row of glasses neatly arranged in separate compartments all ready and waiting to be selected to match whatever outfit Elton chose for the day.

I suppose if I had been a normal kid with mates who wore national heath style specs I might have ‘seen’ the error of my ways but with all of this exposure to what the world of designer frames had to offer I was hooked.

One of the first pairs I had that I really loved were my gold aviator teardrop frames. If I’m honest Elton had no responsibility for that decision.  I had probably been influenced by my favourite TV show Starsky and Hutch.  David Soul had aviators and after much nagging…so did I.

Over the next decade or so I toyed with contact lenses but much as I tried to like them I always went back to my specs.

Having decided that the glasses were here to stay I embraced them and tried to use them as part of my ‘image’.  In 1987, knowing I needed to make an impression on the Terry Wogan Show as we strove to be selected as the UK’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest I chose a classic 80’s ‘Buggles’ style.  That together with a skin tight pair of jeans and a white jacket that made me look like an ice cream salesman certainly helped me stand out from the crowd but did little to convince the British public to vote for me. We came last.

Radio Interview late 80’s with Catherine Zeta Jones.

Time passed.  Sometimes when concentrating on a serious career in broadcasting I would try to look like a professor or Danish Architect, but it was usually a bit hit or miss depending on what I could find on offer on the High Street. Then Judith Roberts came to Mumbles to open an optician.  Its hard to believe they have been my local opticians for almost 30 years.

Over the years I have always been amazed by the new pieces of kit they have.  Back in the early 70’s Mr Walters the optician had a small room that meant you had to look at his eye chart in the mirror to get the distance required for him to test my vision. He had an eye chart that I think he had to flip to change and you had to wear a basic set of spectacles that he would load with various lenses from a massive selection box he kept in a special cabinet.  He would take one out, add another in until he got the best fit.

Nowadays, when I go for an eye test it’s so incredibly High Tech.  Gone are the mechanical glasses and box of lenses.  Now we have an electronic set of glasses that have the ability to change lenses in each eye at the flip of a switch from the optician.

In recent years, Judith’s husband Austin has taken charge of my appointments. Obviously I love what I do making music, writing songs and performing but I get the feeling I’m nowhere near as passionate about my music as Austin is about eyes. 

First we do the tests to get the right prescription, so we know what I need for my new glasses.  That’s just the start of things, then starts a whole range of tests and examinations that not only test my sight but also my general health.

The good thing about a long term relationship with a local Doctor or Optician is they know you and they recognise changes that you might not see in yourself.  One of the great machines that Austin uses takes photographs of the inside of my eye.  He’s been doing this at my appointments for years.  As the records are all there stored on computer Austin can quickly flip between past images from previous examinations to see if there are any significant changes to the state of my eyes.

When I say Austin is passionate about being an optician, like all passionate people he can’t help but share that passion by explaining what each picture shows.  Retina, veins, vitreous might all be names I remember from school Biology lessons but to Austin its like he’s introducing me to his old friends. 

On a wider point sometimes the eye can be the window to other problems in the body so that a regular eye check-up can often give an indication that something else in your body needs to be addressed.

Trying on some new frames with Austin Roberts.

After all that comes the exciting bit, choosing new frames. When considering your ‘image’ there are a number of things you can, and you can’t control.  Take me for example….

When it comes to hair style I have a limited number of options.  Either I grow it long and look like an aging hippy or I take it down to the wood.  I always say bald is beautiful.  Then, I can grow a beard, or have designer stubble, or go clean shaven.  Going clean shaven with a bald head makes me look like an oversized baby so I usually sport a scruffy stubble.

But when it comes to glasses…the world has so much to offer.  Austin knows that I depend on my choice of glasses to try to make the right impression.  With this being my Golden Jubilee and with lots of concerts and records to be promoted I’d like to have a selection to choose from.  I don’t mean an Elton John type flight case but different glasses for different occasions.

I popped down to see Austin this week and I think I’ve signed up for 4 pairs of new specs.  That might sound a little over the top, but you wait until you see them. 

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