My father was known as Cat's Eyes because of the sharpness of his night-vision as he tooled across the English Channel in his MTB playing real-life shoot-'em-up with his German opposite numbers. Sailors, known for their gross/graphic slang, saw his florid complexion and called him two-poached-eggs-in-a-bucket-of-blood. I was delighted to inherit his eyes, which gave supremely good service until I was in my late 40s. Then I found that, in order to keep what I was reading in focus, I needed prosthetic arm-extenders. Which didn't help much because at that distance the letters were too small to distinguish. At the time The Beloved fixed me up with an appointment at Eyeworks, the best optician in Waterford - possibly the best optician in the Sunny South East. I could knock off all the letters on the chart on the opposite wall and thought I could read the card I was handed - which I could if I squinted and girned. But when the optician made me wear the optical head-set and popped in a couple of lenses - KAching! - everything crisped up into focus. I was amazed! Those lenses and some adjustment later suggested a) my optical deterioration was symmetrical and b) I could do with +1.50 in both eyes. Because we are Protestants the optician nevertheless recommended a prescription of +1.00/+1.00 "to make your eyes work for their living". The Beloved and I went off and bought a pair of prescription reading spectacles; I didn't give-a-damn what they looked like, so TB chose something middle of the road, after I stipulated the bottom end of the price-range.
Nevertheless it was a chunk of money: £60 or something close. A while later, I was up in Dublin when I realised that my glasses were on the top of the piano at home 120km away. So I trekked across the River Liffey to the Pound-shop District and bought a pair of +1.00/+1.00 off-the-shelf reading glasses for £5. That Summer I was in Kilkenny and bought a bin-end pair of glasses from another Pound-shop marked down to half-price at £2.50. I used to lay all three pairs out on a table and invite people to deduce which were the "quality" glasses and which were El Cheapo. The sample of opinions was no better than random. I concluded that Eye Business is big business. Being told that if I bought one pair for +£75, I could get another pair for "free" also made me suspect that there was a lot of fat in the pricing structure. Over the intervening 11 or 12 years, I must have gotten through 20+ pairs of spectacles, and I used to buy them in batches whenever they were on offer in Lidl or Aldi.
The Monday before Christmas, I was sitting in the chair in Eyeworks again, having had another appointment made for me. Opticianology has acquired a lot of electronic this and that in the last decade, and I was told the my distance-vision prescription could have been made without recourse to my opinion: simply by measuring the distance from lens to retina. We went through the 18thC lens swapping protocol anyway, because opticians find that the customer is then less likely to find fault with the new glasses after they have been worn for a while. The ritual of changing the lenses and asking if that is better, worse or the same is really rather exciting. There is a little lollipop lens that the optician flipped back and forth [better, worse or the same], which I image is a half-unit. The first thing established was that I could no longer read the letters on the far side of the room: I could see two or three of each letter and with trouble I could take a punt at what they were by squinting. The optician told me that I was actually at the threshold for safe driving, especially at night, so I now need +1.00/+1.00 distance glasses as well as my collection of reading glasses. I've self-diagnosed my readers over the years, creeping up from +1.00 to +1.50 and most recently to +2.00, although I still use the lower power if I can't find, or have sat on, my Number Ones. The optician recommended I try +2.50 next time or if I was going to get all Protestant about it, make t'buggers work with +2.00. I was relieved to hear that, although the degeneration of my eyes has been uneven, the difference between left and right is not enough to merit having asymmetrical spectacles made up (@€50+ a pop!!).
One of the handy pieces of modern optical kit is a retinal scanner, which is hitched up to a camera for a permanent record of the back of the eyeball. It is partly diagnostic - to see if I have diabetes or macular degeneration - but also as a bench-mark, so that when I go back in two years time (make note in diary) we'll be able to see if it is better, worse or the same - it is very unlikely to be better, not least because it is remarkably unblemished and capable of looking over tall buildings. Which is good because my 94 y.o. mother, who had very good sight in her early years has been keeping macular degeneration at bay with zinc supplements for the last 10 years.