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Posts Tagged ‘night’

black and white lights sun ray of sunshine

Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

For the last couple of years on the road, I’ve dreaded the dark commutes of late November through to late January. It used to be that the biggest danger facing a motorist over winter was the weather, but now it’s other people. My journey involves several stretches of unlit, country road, but these are becoming no-go zones, and I’d rather take a long detour than risk them.

At night, regardless of what the limit actually is on a stretch of road, you adjust your speed so you can pull up within the cast of your dipped beams if you need to – that’s the theory at least. But now it’s impossible to see the road at all when there are cars coming the other way, coming at you with very bright headlights – so bright your vision whites out. And if there’s a long line of these vehicles, it makes seeing your way a real struggle, to say nothing of dangerous and stressful. Add some heavy rain into the mix which exacerbates the glare, and these roads are barely passable at all now. I’ve been arriving at work this week still in the pre-dawn with my eyes burning, and have concluded that were it not for that commute I’d be giving up night-driving altogether.

I wondered if it was me, if my eyesight was shot, but the optician says not, well not yet anyway. In fact super-bright headlights are now a major problem, one that’s largely unreported, but it takes only a little research to learn just how dangerous they are, that they’re being cited more and more as a cause of road traffic accidents, including fatalities.

Indeed, the RAC reports that 70% of drivers are struggling with night driving now, purely on account of dazzle from headlights, that the problem has arisen in the last few years with the rise of LED and Xenon beams, and has reached a stage where many of us are unable to tell if an oncoming vehicle’s lights are dipped or on full beam, because they’re so powerful. Cars aren’t the only problem. I was forced to pull over suddenly one night when a peleton came at me down a dark lane, all with super-bright bike-lights seemingly targeted directly at my eyes.

Surprisingly, regulation is rather dated – like from the 1960’s – and somewhat lax, being more concerned with beam alignment than actual power. Luxury vehicles are a particular problem, tending to have the most powerful lights, also SUVs and vans where the headlights are set much higher than a saloon car – combine that with a powerful beam and you have a real problem.

Other than tightening the regulations, there seems to be no solution, and I doubt anyway if all those luxury car owners are going to have their headlights retrofitted with dull old halogen, like the rest of us. You can go the other way of course, upgrade your mediocre beams to something more killer-bright,  but that’s only adding to the problem.

I used to enjoy night driving as a kid – there was something relaxing about it. But there was half the traffic back then, and no one was trying to blind you in the name of their own personal visibility. I suppose its just one more thing we have to accept as inevitable, that the future isn’t what it used to be. As for me, I’ll be retiring from the commute at the end of this year, and not before time because by then the headlights will be so bright they’ll be burning the paint off each others cars.

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person eye

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

William H Bates (1860-1931) was an Ophthalmologist with an unconventional view on the workings of the eye. He was also unique among his colleagues in advocating a method of vision-training he claimed would cure problems with sight that are normally corrected by spectacles. However, Wikipediea, as ever a bastion of orthodoxy, dismisses the method in its opening paragraph as “ineffective”, as do many others who take the established scientific view.

A more positive advocate was the writer and visionary Aldous Huxley. Huxley was born with very poor sight and wrote about his experience of the Bates method in his book, “The Art of Seeing” (1942). In it he explained that while his vision remained far from normal throughout his life, Bates’ training helped him to progress from being functionally blind, to being able to manage reasonably well and for a time the Bates Method was all the rage.

So, is it any good or not?

Well, in 1950, Huxley got up to read an address at a Hollywood banquet. The lighting was poor, and he struggled to read his script. In front of many witnesses, he had to resort to a magnifying glass to make out the words. Critics of the Bates method leaped upon this as evidence he’d memorised his script, the implication being he couldn’t really see it and had only been pretending to read it, therefore all Bates method teachers were charlatans, and that Huxley had misrepresented claims of his improved vision. Orthodox ophthalmologists breathed a sigh of relief and went back to business as usual, selling spectacles.

Curiously though there are still plenty of Bates teachers around, and they are not short of positive testimonials. It’s possible that in some cases, having spent a fortune on such a method you’re more likely to praise it for even small gains because you look like less of an idiot that way. But surely not everyone falls into this category, and I wonder if there’s not more to it, that, as with all things, the story is more complex than the shrill headlines and the naysayers allow. Huxley’s case is particularly interesting. As a public intellectual, he had a lot at stake, and it seems unlikely to me he would risk his reputation on such a blatant, elaborate and pointless deception.

So what about my own experience? Well, when my own eyesight began to drift off into myopia in my early teens, I took to practicing the Bates method with enthusiasm. This involved various exercises, all of which, by the way, can be nowadays be found for free online. They include switching focus from near to far distance (tromboning), sitting with your palms over your eyes (palming) and letting the sunlight play upon your closed lids (sunning). I hasten to add none of this had any effect on my vision whatsoever. Indeed my eyesight continued to deteriorate until my middle twenties when, somewhat ironically, I merely accepted the need for spectacles, and things stabilised. So, not much of a testimonial then, except,…

I’ve not troubled myself with the Bates method again until recently. I’m in late middle age now, and for the past few years, although I’m 20-20 with my specs on, I felt that at night, I was becoming less able to discern details in dark shadow. I could no longer see the fainter stars, and had become particularly sensitive to oncoming car headlights, which made night-driving stressful. I don’t know why I picked up on Bates again but, out of interest, I began a regime of alternately sunning, and then palming my eyes – just twenty minutes a day.  The effect on my night vision was immediate and very noticeable, vastly improving what I’d call the dynamic range, and therefore my perception of detail in low light, the night sky once more replete with countless stars, and those pesky ultra-bright headlight beams no longer as much of a nuance.

As for my actual vision, my prescription is unchanged, so the spectacles remain indispensable, but at my age I lack the necessary vanity to wish them gone anyway. On the upside though the eyes are generally healthy and, thanks to Bates and his much maligned method, I no longer worry about commuting in the dark over the coming winter months. Okay, so perhaps the Bates method’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but neither should we dismiss it entirely, because a lot of people have positive things to say about it.

And I’m one of them.

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mazda night journey HDR

November and these cloud-thick nights,
Darken now my wending of the way,
Releasing sleepy thoughts,
From the oppression,
Of that harsher light of waking day.

Such a long road, so often travelled,
But now without the stars to guide,
Their names forgotten,
Friendly patterns lost
As with the memory
Of once much clearer skies.

There are just these vague pecked lines,
Ticking out the time,
And the blind old eyes of cats,
Sunk, each in their little pit of grime,
Depressed in layer upon layer
Of careless tar,
And just the odd one
Feebly blinking now
At the passing of my car,

Lost souls, all.
Adrift, alone,
And not candle in the dark,
To guide us home.

 

 

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Our vessel crossed an ocean far from land,
Black velvet waters wide that made no sound,
No ripples burst nor sparkling foam,
Nor wake of waters churned.

An old man at the tiller held our course,
A woman in the bows to scent the wind,
A glance aside was all she’d give,
To guide the old man’s hand.

The sky was clouded thick to gift no stars,
Nor yet a hanging moon to light our way,
No charts had we, nor almanac,
Nor compass rose to play.

Our only sail was raised and lightly taut,
A swollen dart it sped us on with ease,
Yet no wind nor motion did we feel,
Nor time to count the leagues.

All form and all dimension fell away,
All progress measured only in the mind,
Imagination for my eyes,
The dark to bring alive.

I fancied islands dotted all around
And leaping dolphins arcing from the sea,
But there was just the silent night,
My two crew mates, and me.

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Fractured Beauty

I recall an immense stillness,
And a velvet, sparkling night,
And a full, perigee moon,
Painting white wavelets,
On the black lake,
Lapping below.

Left and right,
Pines forests pricked the sky,
Dark on darker still,
Enfolding us in hushed embrace.

Small hours late we stood,
Beneath that moon,
Stealing minutes,
From the dawn.
Your perfume, razor sharp,
Seemed a blade to part,
The thickness of the summer air.

Mute, I let the night imprint itself.

I did not know you then,
Nor ever would;
A fool in love with love,
And you,
In thrall to blood,
And breath,
And bone,
Yet too young to guide,
Too young to say: forget love.
And just make love.
And me too shy to steal,
What you but loosely did conceal.

You judged me empty, perhaps.
Yet I was full,
But cautious and ill prepared,
For you.
And that big moon,
Bright witness, shone,
Upon the fractured beauty,
Of it all.

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