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27 April 2022

My new glasses darken in the sunlight and put my money worries in the shade

My mother’s nine millionth birthday celebration is at an intimidatingly expensive steak restaurant, but I’m playing it cool.

By Nicholas Lezard

The recent Easter weekend was the first I have enjoyed since I was tiny and thought chocolate bunnies were cool (they are, a bit). Since adulthood Easter has been more like an inconvenient Christmas where although there is a long weekend everything is shut except on Saturday and everyone has gone away. And you also never know when it is coming so you can’t plan for it. I mean really, the Church should have worked out when it is by now. It has had 2,000 years to do this but no, every year it just takes a wild stab at the date.

But Easter this year coincided with my mother’s nine millionth birthday. My brother had arranged a restaurant party on the day itself, and my Estranged Wife’s partner organised an enormous and, as it turned out, delicious feast at his vicarage for my mother, all her blood relations and a couple of strays. It was an extremely pleasant day, marred only slightly by my daughter holding forth about the boss at her new job.

“He googled my dad and read a couple of his columns,” she was saying. I could tell she was building up to a comic climax. “One of the ones he read was about the time he got some new glasses.” There was something about the way she said this that suggested that maybe there were more interesting things to write about. Well, hold the back page, oh wretched child, because today I have an even newer pair of glasses: the good people of Vision Express have swapped my normal lenses for photochromic ones, ie, they go dark in the sun – a fetching shade of green, as it happens. This is partly for the sake of affectation – they make me look both suave and sinister at the same time – but also to slow down the progression of my cataracts, which grow like Topsy under UV light.

What this has to do with anything is that the amount they cost changed the tone of the weekend a bit. Vision Express has learned from bitter experience that it is unwise to let customers wait until the work on new groovy shades has been completed before asking the customer for payment. This knocked a bit off the little I had left to last me for the second half of the month. Then on Good Friday I went to lunch with a woman I am very fond of but who is not terribly impressed by men who can’t even pay their half of the bill.

“Let’s go to Cecconi’s,” she said. “Their crab ravioli is amazing.” I looked up the place. It is one of those places where there are four pound signs on Google indicating price. ££££. I didn’t know they went past £££. I must say the crab ravioli were, in fact, delicious, but at nearly a fiver a bite they’d better be.

Then the restaurant for my mother’s birthday. My brother had chosen a classy steak restaurant in Muswell Hill. I like steak restaurants because I never eat steak by myself, and the reason for that is that I do not want to choke when there is no one around to give me the Heimlich manoeuvre. I explained this to my sister-in-law, who is a doctor, and she said this is a perfectly reasonable fear, but gave me a tip on how to survive choking when on your own: use gravity. Don’t say this column doesn’t learn you anything.

Anyway, when I looked at the menu, it made the prices at Cecconi’s look like ££ prices. There was no way, I realised with a sick feeling, that I could afford to pay my share. I looked around. Who, I wondered, was going to stump up for me tonight? I couldn’t borrow any more off my daughter, and it was my mother’s nine millionth birthday so she couldn’t pay; in the end my brother did. I think he knew it was coming. That night, I let him beat me at backgammon, as a treat. (He always beats me at backgammon, but he cheats, by knowing much more about it and having a brain which is essentially a professional backgammon computer.)

But one of the publications that owes me money paid me yesterday and I have just enough in the bank to last me until the end of the month. (At one point I was down to £26, which is, by a strange coincidence, the exact price of a plate of crab ravioli at Cecconi’s.)

So I am back, in the Hove-l, and after so much socialising my solitude becomes even more of a looming feature than it was before. This is always the case when I see people. But at least I now have photochromic glasses, which is a very real incentive to go out for a stroll in the sun and look at my reflection in shop windows. It would be nice if there were someone else in my life to impress with them but, as I’ve said before, I’m not getting back on that horse – it always ends with heartbreak. After writing this I shall go out in my spring plumage and do what I think the Italians call passeggiata – that is, strolling the streets and looking cool. Or in my case, cool for my age. I wonder if someone will ever invent glasses that go dark if you look at someone you fancy. You could call them photochromantic.

[See also: The Great Doormat Heist diverts me from my impending flat inspection]

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This article appears in the 27 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sturgeon's Nuclear Dilemma