Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Short Sightedness

I did not realise I was short sighted at first, but with hind sight I can now recognise the signs.

First was when Ricky, my pal from across the street, and I went every week to the children's matinee at our local Odeon cinema, known affectionately as the Six Penny Rush. Before each feature the British Board Of Censors certificate was shown on the big screen. I could never read the small letters and would ask Ricky "What's on next?". After the certificate the big title screens which I could read easily would confirm what Ricky said.

Apart from this I can not recollect any more signs in my early life. There was however one strange visit to the doctors I remember well. I could only have been around eight years old but I was aware that I felt strange, as if I was viewing life through a television and I had a feeling that things were actually smaller than they were. Perhaps my subconscious was telling me something was amiss.

I cannot remember when I first had specs. but it must have been when I was about 12 or 13, this I know because of fighting. I went to a large secondary modern school in Shirley near Solihull which was all boys and over 900 of them. One was expected to stand your ground if challenged and fight your corner. There was no disgrace in losing a fight only in refusing. Now I was just under average height for the time but I never refused a fight, never went looking for one either. I soon was one of the boys you did not bother with. However when I started wearing specs. my confidence took a dip and I think this was because for the first time I could see the determination and aggression in my opponents eyes, whereas before my short sightedness would blur this intensity. I did not turn weak overnight but I distinctly remember the change.

Another indicator of my age is given by Arthur Ransome books. I read them all at least twice before I was 13. There were a brother and sister in the later stories, Dick and the Diana I think we're their names. Dick was a keen bird watcher, as was I. When he spotted a distant bird one of the adults said he was very keen eyed and observant even though he wore specs and this simple sentence gave me solace.

At the age of 15 we moved into the Worcestershire countryside and I went to a much smaller mixed school. OK there was a couple of scraps to establish my position in the pecking order amongst the other boys but now this was secondary to trying to impress the girls. Therefore the specs. came off when not needed to see the black board.

At 17 I took my driving test for motor bike and the eye test involved reading a number plate a set distance away. As we walked out to the Test Centre the examiner pointed to a car and asked me the registration number. Well I got that wrong, I was still not wearing glasses all the time, see previous paragraph. "Never mind" he said and pointed to one half the distance "Try that one." This I managed.

At a regular checkup the local optician was horrified to think I was riding my motorbike without glasses and strongly recommended that I do so in the future, so I began to wear them permanently.

Shortly after this I started playing rugby for both the school and the local market town and for the first time I began to regret my poor eyesight. I have in an earlier post described how being colour blind had unfortunate effect on my playing and so did my short sight. A couple of examples:-

I confess that I run most of my life on the cusp of lateness. This particular away game was somewhere in Birmingham on a large municipal site with several pitches used by more than one club. I had arrived a little late on my motorbike and was the last to leave the changing rooms which were on a rise above the pitches. Now my team mates knew that with the combination of colour blindness and short sight I would have difficulty locating them. As I scanned over the various games I homed in on one team jumping into the air and waving, there they were.

Embarrassed at keeping them waiting I set off at a quick trot down the slope and across the unused cricket pitch. Suddenly my motion was arrested and I was stuck by the palm of my right hand and the top of my left leg, luckily just below my testicles, on barb wire which was unseen all around and protecting the cricket pitch. Quick reverse and scamper around the square, grab a piece of mud to plug the tear in my hand and ready to start. 

This second example is a home game. I spent three years at London University but came home every third weekend to see my girlfriend. When my local rugby club were short the club would ring my folks on the off chance I was home. As mentioned in another blog entry for a small guy I was a surprisingly effective tackler, good job because I was pretty ordinary otherwise, and so occasionally I would fill in as  fullback. In this game I found myself facing a burley forward charging down on me, the try line behind and only me to stop him. Then one of their players crashed into him and peeled off to his left with the ball. Quick change of direction and I nailed him saving a certain try, but on regaining my feet  know congratulatory remarks from any team mates.

 I looked at my opponent lay full length on the pitch with his head in his hand, elbows in the mud who calmly said “I don’t mind Rod but it was a bit of a shock.” It was our stand off! At least between us the try was averted.

The above photo shows me removing the engine from my van which I had written off by going over country crossroads on a grey raining day in the path of an old Morris Minor, also a write off, probably a result of poor eye sight or maybe just carelessness. Anyway sum value of both cars at the then 1967 rate was about £25.00.  Note the specs.

Throughout most of my adult life being short sighted did not bother me. When I was about 50 and having a bit more disposable income I started collecting classical cameras. Specs were a hinderance then as most of the viewfinders on older classical cameras had a very short eye-point, the distance you place the eye from the glass. Now my correction was -5 and -6 dioptres and if the camera had a dioptre adjustment it typically was +2 to -1. Therefore to determine what the camera was capturing meant pushing the camera up to my specs and moving it about so that I could see into every corner. This tended to reap havoc with the surface of my glasses. Incidentally  this made the better TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) attractive as I the bigger screen was viewed from much further back and the Rolleiflex is a great camera as well.

Of course being short sighted means you can see things up close extremely well. So when needed I would just peer above glasses to get a great detailed view.  In my earlier days my party piece was to read a Bible with the page pressed against the end of my nose. When my record player, which was being played less and less as the industry moved to tape, and then CD,  sounded awful the cause usually was dust behind the needle. I was surprised when inspecting this less my specs that I could not focus on the needle from the customary three inches. I know that older people, a group I was joining, often need glasses to read. I had hoped this was because the ageing process caused people to become long sighted and therefore as I grow older it would be an advantage. Alas no, it is caused by the eye muscles losing strength and not being able to focus the lens as close. So instead of getting better I had to start having two sets of spectacles, one for normal viewing and the other for reading which was like the former but with reduced strength making it equivalent to the positive lens for normal sighted people.

But there was to be a cure for my short sight and this came in 2010 when I was 63 with the growth of cataracts, but I will describe this another time, but cataracts proved to be a blessing.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Cycling - The early days.

Cycling - The early days.
I am prompted to write this "muse" having today just completed a 63.5 mile (101 km) ride around Bredon Hill and passing through Fladbury, Elmley Castle, Winchcombe, Tewkesbury and Pershore. A marvellous ride and I am pleased I can do this with little difficulty at the age of 68, albeit slowly.
I am now more keen on cycling than any other period in my life although far less serious than many true cyclist. Where did it all begin?
A predecessor was my scooter when I was 7 or so years old. It was not only my personal transport but also my pirate frigate, army tank and space rocket. But this did not last long and soon my elder brother taught me to ride.
"Don't let go." I called out to my brother who was steadying the bike by holding onto the saddle.
"I won't" he replies.
The question is repeated and the reply is the same until there is suddenly no answer and I am off alone wobbling down the croft. Next Dad finds me my first bike, not sure of the make but it is a standard type, black with solid rod brakes and no gears.
This bike was to serve me for the next few years. It's main purpose was to get me to and from school only a mile at max. It's other major task was to take me fishing, with my rods strapped to the top frame.
Of course once I was off to the senior school, 11+, I wanted a racing bike. At that age a racing bike meant one like my friends, one with drop handle bars. I now know that a racing bike has a lot more requirements such as frame angles, but then it just meant drop handles. So my Dad manage to conjure up a frame which he had shot blasted and sprayed blue and then added the wheels, brakes, chain set etc. Although I wanted that most mysterious component, dérailleur gears, Dad 'explained' that I would be much better off with a fixed gear.
A fixed gear is not only a single gear, but has no freewheel mechanism, so there are only two ways to stop pedalling, you either hold your legs clear and let the pedals spin around between them or you stand stiff legged on one pedal and bob up and down as the pedals rotate. The latter was quite spectacular and drew a lot of attention.
The bike was still a means to an end, to and from school, get me to my friends, fishing trips and the like. Favourite fishing locations were Earlswood Lakes and the Cut between the Grand Union and Stratford-Upon-Avon Canals at Lapworth, both about 5 miles from home.
Earlswood Lakes
I also cycled to Earlswood to watch the fascinating courtship of the Great Crested Grebes, an activity that has been shown on the nature programmes on TV a couple of times this year. I cycled there again this year, only now they are a 40 mile round trip. There are still plenty of Grebes to watch. I expected the Lakes to be smaller than my childhood memories but the opposite was the case and I was surprised how big they are.
I do recall one memorable trip when I was 14. My pal Chris was a member of the local church youth club which was having a night away in the Youth Hostel at Stow-in-the-Wold, about 45 miles away and he suggested that together with our school friend Doug we should go as there would be girls there. We three went to a school which had 900 boys, so the chance to actually meet girls was not to be spurned. The only problem was that Doug and I were members of the school rugby team and we had a match that Saturday so we would miss the coach. No problem we could cycle in the afternoon.
After the first three miles I realised I had left the map on the kitchen table, so as Chris had not played rugby he went back to retrieve it whilst Doug and I waited. The next thing I remember is at the entering Studley you passed a Gloster Javelin jet parked by the road side.
For some reason I have a vivid picture of the main road bending to the right and we had to go straight on down a narrow country lane. Perhaps the sight of this narrow lane stretching out into the houseless countryside made me realise we were getting a long way from the security of home and suburbia. I now live close to this place which is by Ragley Hall Alcester.
One of us had a puncture but then there were small cycle repair shops in the small towns and villages and we had it repaired.
We travelled on to Chipping Campden which even to a 14 year old boy was impressive. High ancient stone houses of the Tudor era. We needed refreshments and found a sweet shop. Although the buildings were tall the shop was small and the ceiling low. Chipping Campden is still worth a visit today and I prefer it to the more touristy Broadway.
Chipping Campden
Last leg now but it was dark and I am convinced a bat's wing pressed against my face and then peeled off again as we struggled over the Cotswold plateau. Still we got there to hot food and the pleasure of mixing with girls fulfilled.
At the age of 15 we moved from Shirley just south of Birmingham to a village in Worcestershire and the bike was needed more than ever as everything was at least four miles away. School was so far away we were provided with a coach to get there. So from a school with 900 boys I was suddenly in a school with just 300 or so, and half of them girls! But now the bike was used less and if we wanted to go anywhere we would hitch hike. I also began to dream of motorised transport and by 16 I had finally managed to get to the grammar school having scraped together enough O-levels to make the jump from secondary modern. Fed up with missing the school bus I soon acquired a motor bike and the bike was sold to a young pupil of the school who lived in our village.
It would be over twenty years until I started cycling again at the age of forty and this time cycling would become the prime aim and not just a means. Oh and the bike at long last would have dérailleur gears.