Eddie Mair: My path towards death is becoming blurry

"As you’ll know yourself if you’re a varifocal person, you should never look at your feet when going downstairs... Certainly never wear varifocals, get drunk and look at your feet going downstairs"

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As I walk slowly towards death, the path is becoming more blurry. Regular readers will recall that a few years ago I had my first eye test since the Wilson administration. I was told I had a slight need for glasses to help me see long distances, and a desperate requirement for reading glasses. Strong ones. I seem to recall the Spanish-born optician ordering something for me from the “microscopico” range.


This was my first foray into face furniture and it worked out better than I had anticipated. Before I got my specs I had three fears: (1) that I would break them; (2) lose them; (3) get confused between the distance and reading glasses and have a dreadful accident on the road or on air. To my surprise, I behaved like a grown up and did not have a catastrophe.

But it was on the set of Newsnight one evening that I first realised one set of varifocals might be a better alternative. The thing about Newsnight is that you are sometimes required as a presenter to walk and talk at the same time. Late at night. On television. There’s always a lot of faffing around sitting in one bit of the set, then striding awkwardly to a different set of seats. (It’s all down to the BBC bean-counters, by the way. If you’re not seen using all the studio floorspace provided, they can legally take it away. Ask Phillip Schofield about his broom-cupboard story.)

I didn’t need glasses for the autocue, but I did need my readers to look at my interview notes. On air one evening, having sashayed successfully from one end of the set to the other, I realised to my horror that my all-important reading glasses were at the other desk. We were about to go live with a big discussion, but I was unable to read anything. I looked down at my notes and they were blurrier than the edges of Roobarb. Only a quick-thinking floor manager – every home should have one – saved me from resorting to my absolute fall-back in an on-air emergency: pretending to faint, Fawlty-style.

Now I have several pairs of varifocals. When my eyes were tested again, the optician said my long-distance sight was deteriorating and she ordered something for me from the “Hubble” range. I’m very happy. One pair does the job – although, as you’ll know yourself if you’re a varifocal person, you should never look at your feet when going downstairs. The distorting effect of the lens magnifies everything and your brain thinks you’re drunk, often resulting in hilarious pratfalls. Certainly never wear varifocals, get drunk and look at your feet going downstairs. (Ask Phillip Schofield about his stairs to the broom-cupboard story.)

All of these horrors came to mind yesterday when an insurance company asked me to read the unique identification number (the IMEI, as it’s known) from the back of my iPhone. Have you ever tried that? It’s tiny black writing on a black background. I defy anyone to read it. If you don’t have such a phone, go into a store and ask to read the IMEI number. You won’t be able to. I squinted through every part of my specs. Screwed up my eyes. But nothing. It was impossible to read. I cancelled my plans to insure the device and called the optician instead.


Eddie Mair hosts PM Monday – Friday at 5:00pm on Radio 4.