Archive | May, 2010

Seeing Red

19 May

The laser is applied once the flap has been created and pulled back

Signs of life from the floor below and I slowly start to wake up, emerging from a deep, sedative-induced slumber.  A strap around my head tightens against the pillow and I remember that I’m wearing goggles to protect my eyes, which were lasered yesterday.  The excitement of opening my eyes for the first time since surgery makes my next movements ceremoniously slow.  I lift the goggles, turn to the bedroom and prepare to open my eyes.

I’ve had myopia and astigmatism for as long as I can remember.  At fourteen my life was vastly improved by contact lenses, which stopped me feeling like a four-eyed geek and gave me some of the confidence I was desperately lacking.  But wearing contact lenses every waking hour was not good for my eyes, which became dry and veined.  Opticians scared me into returning part-time to the glasses I hated and I resigned myself to a blurry life of optical aids.

But five months ago I heard about Intra LASIK.  It is a new form of laser eye surgery that requires no blades.  A laser creates a flap in the outer corneal layer, which is peeled back to expose the eye to another laser, which reshapes the lens to achieve perfect vision.  The procedure is advertised as painless, swift and with immediate effect.  It costs between £2500 and £4000 but, given that I spend £30 a month on contact lenses and at least £150 every 2 years on glasses, it pays for itself within 10 years.

After a two-hour consultation I was cleared for surgery and booked in for the week after.  I arrived at the surgery ten minutes late yet was greeted with smiles by the receptionist.  A nurse soon ushered me through to the preparation hall, where I was dosed up with sedative and anaesthetic eye drops.  Before long I was led through to the operating theatre (if that’s what it’s called), shod in plastic slippers and hair in paper shower cap.

Lying back on the operating bed I began to feel apprehensive for the first time, but decided to surrender to the encouraging voices around me and the warm dark atmosphere of the chamber.  The surgeon placed a circular clip between my eyelids to stop me from blinking – that was probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole operation.  Then I was told to look straight ahead at a blurred series of blue-white lights.  Unbeknown to me this was the flap being created, though I couldn’t feel it.  The same thing was done to my left eye.  I can’t be sure when the flaps were lifted off, but everything became very blurred.  I was asked to keep staring straight ahead into a pool of red light.  Suddenly it was like being inside the music video for a psychedelic sixties’ tune.  Red, orange and green lights intertwined, grew and shrunk before me.  Little worms of black wriggled across my vision.  And all the while the zapping sound of the laser continued and a faintly disconcerting smell of singeing filled my nostrils.  At the end of each zap the singeing smell gave way to an almost fishy smell, caused, I assume, by the saline solution being generously sprayed into my eye.

Half an hour and only mild discomfort later I sat up on the operating bed, read the time on the clock on the wall and walked out of the theatre with everything in soft focus, like a 1950s’ film.  I was taken to a reclined chair to close my eyes behind the set of goggles handed to me, and to drink a cup of tea.


For 24 hours I was told not to open my eyes, though I couldn’t resist sneaking a peek through half-closed eyes.  This morning was the first time I was able to open my eyes, and what revelation!  To be able to see across the room without reaching for specs – that is an exhilaration only someone who has lived with imperfect sight for several decades can understand.  I just hope it lasts…

I had my surgery at the Centre for Sight in East Grinstead and my consultation at their London office off Harley Street.


The Road to A Prophet

7 May

The Road movie poster

Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country For Old Men was such a success on screen that director John Hillcoat decided to adapt another of McCarthy’s books, giving us The Road, which came out this week.  Bleak, apocalyptic and relentless, The Road merits its tag as “feelbad film of the year” from David Edwards writing in the Mirror.  But on the whole it’s been very well-received by critics.  The performances, especially from thirteen-year-old Kodi McPhee, are compelling; Nick Cave’s score blends masterfully with the dialogue, which is convincingly sparse at times; and the grey-on-grey end-of-the-world vision is sufficiently disturbing.  But the themes are not developed enough.  Isolation, parenthood, earth’s destruction, unconditional love, anarchy, unguided morality – all these notions are introduced but none are followed through.  The result, for me at least, was a feeling of dissatisfaction.  This film may have thrown up some ideas, but it certainly wasn’t, as Philip French writes in The Observer “affirmative and life-enhancing”.  Quite the opposite in fact, notions of good and bad, of life and death are set up only to be knocked down.  And in the surprising turn of events at the end of the film there is no resolution, only more questions left unanswered.  For such a long road, it’s a shame it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Un Prophet movie poster

Where The Road fails A Prophet, Jacques Audiard’s prison drama, succeeds.  Revelling in the confined prison landscape, Audiard’s camera evokes barrenness without the weariness of The Road’s scenery.  With an energetic performance from Tahar Rahim, A Prophet takes us swiftly through prison politics, the storyline ducking and weaving with the same agility as the main character El Djebena.  Questions may not all be answered in this film, but there is the feeling that they could be.

A Pyjama Party

7 May

Get me to the polls on time

Election day.  The longest day of the year for those waiting to get in (or out) of power, and surely one of the most anti-climactic for those voting.

Who has ever come out of their local polling station punching the air in a triumphant gesture of recognition at having exercised their democratic right?  Certainly no one at my three last local stations.  That kind of fervour doesn’t happen in Britain.  Or does it?

In my (admittedly short) adult lifetime there hasn’t been much to get excited about in Britain politically.  Like so many young voters, I rocked up at the last general election more out of curiosity than any sense of political responsibility.  I was confronted with a list of names I didn’t recognise and the bland expression of an attendant who clearly didn’t care where he was let alone how to fill out the ballot papers.  I’d been expecting balloon-clad representatives, recyclable polystyrene cups of tea, perhaps even the odd custard cream.  And certainly only one ballot sheet with the three (or let’s face it, two) main parties clearly listed for me to put my one cross beside.

Ignorant of my local councillors I just stuck three crosses on the yellow paper by the names that most appealed to me aesthetically (a great time to have an alliterative name), on the white paper beside the party I vaguely felt I ought to support.  I may have exercised my democratic right, but any pride I should have felt doing so was eclipsed by an uneasy sense of shame.

Things are different this time.  In 2010 more young people have registered to vote than ever before.  And we’re not just wielding our pens: young people have researched parties and local councillors and are making decisions based on manifestos, TV debates and meetings with local candidates.  Pubs and bars around the country have been full of heated discussions about the economy, taxation, electoral reform and spending cuts.  Everyone has an opinion, an opinion they are expressing on paper in their local polling stations.

We’re not just voting with our social conscience now.  Electioneering has become more sophisticated.  Now we’re looking towards our own personal fortune and wellbeing.  And that’s the trouble with being young:  the pull between liberal ideals and holding onto personal wealth are tough tides to reconcile, especially for graduates with the prospect of a well-paid job.

But whatever decisions young people are facing as they drag themselves out of bed to get to the polling stations, at least they are getting there.  Three mop-haired girls sporting varying shades of pink pyjamas were in front of me in the queue yesterday morning when I went to vote.  I may have wished they’d brushed their teeth before wafting into the polling station, but I couldn’t criticise their dedication to democracy.