Eddie Mair: “I had a quiet moment alone while I contemplated blindness”

"A snapshot of my left eye produced a photo, which I kid you not resembled Venus passing in front of an angry sun"


My name is Eddie Mair and I am an optophobic. Wait, I’m not sure that’s a word. Let me check online…


I’ve checked and it is a word but it has a different meaning to what I intend. Optophobia is apparently the fear of opening one’s eyes. I’ve only ever had that on the set of Newsnight. What I’m talking about is a fear of opticians, or more accurately a fear of what they tell you. I’ve just googled that concept and it seems there isn’t a word for it. At least not in the first ten choices and who can be bothered clicking through?

Two years ago I discovered my arms were suddenly not long enough to allow me to read a book so I had my first sight test since school. Glasses were prescribed. I’ve become used to wearing them, losing them and forgetting to take them to restaurants where friends have to read out the menu.

An eye-test reminder arrived recently from the opticians (why is the typeface on these getting smaller?). On the recommendation of well-meaning friends I ditched my first optician and went with a swanky bunch whose store, when I walked in, could have been an ultramodern champagne bar. Or Nasa. It was all glass and perfect lights and smart assistants in suits. It was on several floors and may have had its own brand of toothpaste and an in-house magazine. I knew I’d be taken care of and that I would need to take out another mortgage to pay for so much as a monocle.

Hi-tech machines festooned the ground floor. If I’d suddenly given birth they’d have had the equipment to deal with it. A snapshot of my left eye produced a photo, which I kid you not resembled Venus passing in front of an angry sun. The optician offered a thin smile, said there was probably nothing to worry about and scurried to get a more senior colleague. I think I heard her vomiting into a bucket. I had a quiet moment alone while I contemplated blindness. The boss appeared and when she saw my polaroid her face turned puce. I was about to suggest choosing some dark glasses when she said that a second photo would be a good idea. And that photo was fine. Dodgy first photo. My heart started beating again.

As expected, the verdict was that my eyes were getting worse. I was schmoozed around the showroom, offered bewildering lens choices and presented with a simply enormous bill at the end of it. I put on my old glasses to read the figure at the bottom of the page and the assistant noted that at least my tear ducts were in good nick.


Eddie Mair co-presents iPM on Saturday at 5:45am and hosts PM from Monday to Friday at 5:00pm on Radio 4