The gospel according to an optician

You can’t do that: it’s not natural


Politicians and TV personalities might be the great pundits of our times, but they don’t have exclusive rights to deep pronouncements. My personal list of potential gurus grew unexpectedly when an optician challenged the opinion of a fellow professional with the words “It’s not what God intended.”

He was talking, ladies and gentlemen, about my contact lens prescription, and I have to say I agree with him up to a point. In order for this story to proceed without alienating anyone, let’s establish some fundamentals. For the benefit of atheists, agnostics and those who believe only in themselves, the remark could equally well have been “It’s not what nature intended.”

I don’t know if this optician really believes in God, but he certainly sounded serious about this. And if he does believe, presumably he has discussed this sort of thing with his maker, such was the authority with which he spoke.

And no, I can’t find any reference to optometry in the Bible, even in general terms. The ten commandments contain nothing remotely similar to ‘Thou shalt not wear glasses with big, bold frames that make thee look like a 1970s cartoon character, nor the sort of lenses that go dark when thou art in the sunshine’. I would have thought that last one would have been in there if anything, because it is a bit like turning day into night, which obviously none of us can do. And shouldn’t do, even if we could.


The prescription that gave rise to this whole thing was given to me about 10 years ago by an optician whose whereabouts I will not reveal, because he may be a perfectly nice person but he has a way of making people’s skin crawl. He sounded for all the world like one of Adolf Hitler’s evil doctors when, looking into my eyes, he said slowly and deliberately, “I’m going to make your left eye for reading and your right eye for distance,” as if this would involve pain and permanent mutilation unless I cracked and gave him the secret recipe for the seasoning in Kentucky Fried Chicken. “Don’t insult me with your lies, Tommy. We have photographs of you with Colonel Sanders himself. In the kitchen at his headquarters.” He leaned forward and his voice went softer and higher for the clincher: “Looking at a spice rack.” He adjusted his monocle and ordered one of his subordinates to put on a Susan Boyle CD.

He didn’t, of course. But he did sound creepy and it had been at the back of my mind ever since, until this new optician brought it right out into the open. A chill went down my spine as I realized… Sorry. No it didn’t.

So God, if you believe in him (which I do, incidentally) or nature, didn’t intend an optical professional to treat my eyes individually, only as a pair, both doing the same job? Did God or nature think that varifocal glasses were okay? And what would be the celestial position on correcting squints?

The possibilities are endless. If God had intended us to go on standby he wouldn’t have given us guaranteed seats on planes. Progress and innovation are two of those things that set us apart from the animals. You might be able to teach a dog to perform a simple task, but he’s not going to go away and set up a business passing the skill on to his fellow hounds.

Similarly, thinking outside the box is what distinguishes a genius from the merely excellent. I’m not saying my radical old eye man is a genius, because I doubt whether he came up with the idea himself. But he had the guts to go along with something that he knew his more conservative colleagues would reject.

The human brain is a wonderful thing, and if it can think up ideas to help its own functionality, there really is no limit to human potential. So who’s to say they won’t one day find not just cures for all diseases but ways of preventing these things from ever getting started?

My new optician surely didn’t intend his innocent remark to spark any kind of debate. He just thought he had a better idea. But then he probably thinks God didn’t intend people to write blogs, and that even if He did, He wanted us all to write about politics.


Why God needs a new image

Yes, guys, the laptop is a nice touch, but this old boy’s not going to appeal to our demographic

Everything happens for a reason. You hear it all the time.

What this expression says to me is that the people who use it want to believe in God but can’t bring themselves to, because it’s so unfashionable these days. People don’t just disagree with those with religious beliefs, they think you’re stupid, because God has been intellectualized out of existence. When man can construct buildings half a mile high and do it using mainly glass; when we can access information from who-knows-where using an electronic device that isn’t physically connected to anything; and when we can savour the salty delights of takeaway food served not on a stone but in a polystyrene box, why should we believe in anything but ourselves?

So okay, let’s suppose that everything happens for a reason. Who or what decides the reasons? Who or what knows the future and has determined what must happen and what must be prevented from happening? An ’everything happens…’ merchant might appear to have access to privileged information, but to have such an unprovable feeling, he or she must believe in something or someone.

As much as one might detest the PR industry, in which nothing is true and nothing is false unless it serves the best interests of the client, it is so easy nowadays to broadcast your views that there is wisdom everywhere, but there is also stupidity. And stupidity needs help

We used to hold our elders in great esteem. The wise old people of the village were revered as having knowledge about things, and a better perspective on them than the younger ones. Nowadays, when we see them unable to work a mobile phone, there isn’t the respect there once was. Money talks, and those who bring it into the household call the shots. All of which suggests that, whoever it was that drew up the interminable list of reasons for which things happen, they must have been relatively youthful.

And that in turn suggests that God needs a drastically different image.

So we must call in the experts: the creative team. Here’s the first meeting in their self-consciously ‘alternative’ offices.

“Sitting on a cloud dressed in white – okay, if you must,’ groan the PR people. ‘Looks stupid, but you’re the client. But let’s have him with short hair and a neatly trimmed beard, untainted by grey, and the sort of physique that implies that he works out three times a week and is going to live forever on the strength of that. It can’t be an old guy with a white beard. Better if he looked like – that’s it – Lewis Hamilton.”

Of course: young, physically fit, fashionably dressed, successful, popular – and black. That’s important, because it’s not just the black community that notices when somebody non-black gets some credit, deserved or not.

If this PR firm is to be seen universally as forward-thinking and broad-minded, they can’t let anything get in the way of the mood of the times.

Just as the US decided it was time for a black President and duly elected one – albeit not very dark-skinned – so it may soon give in to the ‘need’ to balance things up by electing a woman to run the country.

The world has had enough of old men. The world has had enough of white people.

Oh, Lewis, if only you were a woman

So the only thing stopping our PR firm from using a Lewis Hamilton lookalike as the face of God would be the fact that he is a he.

“Let’s look at an option: Halle Berry. Black enough, yes, but too old. Hang on, though, we’re supposed to be against ageism in the case of women. The old men can go screw themselves, but older women we like. Trouble is, the world is not as sophisticated as we PR and marketing people are, so we’d better go for someone younger after all. No one will ever know we rejected Halle, and it’s not as if she needs the money.

“No, Crispin, intellect isn’t a factor – we considered Lewis Hamilton, didn’t we? Not stupid, but he’s no Stephen Hawking. What we’re looking for is a person, an image pure and simple. A black, female, youngish person. She’s not going to be actually running the universe, just serving as the image when people feel they have to draw pictures of The Almighty. So we want someone who will look good on a cloud, maybe holding a small harp.

Agreed, Thom, the harp’s a bit old hat. Guitar? No, I tell you what, I saw a young guy at an open-mic night the other week, looking very pleased with himself because he was playing a ukulele. Not looking sexy because of his phallic instrument, but in spite of the lack of one.

You think it was the angels who had the harps? Okay, I’m thinking The Three Degrees, but let’s do the boss first.

Love the throne, Josh, but are you sure she’s dark enough?

Yes, Josh, Rihanna. Exactly. She’s mixed race, so technically black. Or Beyonce, yes. Same thing. Like Obama – he’s not exactly Idi Amin, but he ticks the box and that’s all we’re interested in. With Rihanna or Beyonce, nobody can complain. Except the Asians, okay, but we’ll update her to Indian or Chinese next time – say in 10 years or so, depending on how the land lies at that time.”