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The (Humorous) Hazards of Poor Elderly Eyesight

By Patsy Trench November 21, 2023 Health and Fitness

Author James Thurber, who had very poor eyesight, once wrote a hilarious story called “The Admiral on the Wheel” about a time when he was forced to spend a few days without his glasses after his maid stepped on them and broke them.

The Land of Imagination

Far from bemoaning the loss of his sight, he spent those days in a world of glorious fantasy. As he described it:

“The kingdom of the partly blind is a little like Oz, a little like Wonderland, a little like Poictesme. Anything you can think of, and a lot you never would think of, can happen there.”

In his case, he spotted “a noble, silent dog lying on a ledge above the entrance to a brownstone house in lower Fifth Avenue.” It sat there, unmoving, for three whole days. “No ordinary dog could have got up on the high ledge above the doorway, to begin with; no ordinary people would have owned such an animal. The ordinary people were the people who walked by the house and did not see the dog.”

When he eventually got new glasses, Thurber did not want to look to see what “prosaic object” his fantasy dog actually was. He surmised the disenchantment would be too hard.

The Reality of Bad Eyesight

I remember that story very clearly as I have been pretty short-sighted throughout my life, and now that I’m of an age there’s that wretched business of having to use magnifying glasses for the slightest thing, like reading the price of something in the supermarket, or checking messages on my phone.

This has led to the occasional Thurber-like mistake on my part, when I was in too much of a hurry or too lazy to get out my glasses to respond to a phone message, and I’ve received the odd “??” “Huh?” or even laughing emojis [😂🤣😁😆] from friends wondering what on earth my latest message was meant to convey.

I like emojis and I use them a lot, but not always accurately. I once sent a 😢 emoji rather than a 😉 emoji at the end of a message, which resulted in my friend sending a series of frantic messages demanding to know what the matter was and total confusion on my part. (We are still friends, just, but it took her a while to see the funny side.)

Taking It with Humour

On a (slightly) more serious note, James Thurber – whose faulty eyesight was the result of an accident with his brother when they were children – is a great reminder that even in adversity there can be an upside.

He became properly blind in his later years, which is nothing short of tragic for a writer, yet up until then he still managed to enjoy his “Wonderland,” where a flower pot or an aircon unit could be mistaken for a dog. Or an Admiral with a full-blown beard and in full-dress uniform riding a bicycle can suddenly emerge in the middle of the road while he was a passenger in a car (see the short story for the fuller version).

Thurber’s writing has dated, some of it, and would no longer be considered quite correct in 2023. But he still makes me laugh like no other writer. 😀

The full story about the Admiral and the Dog can be found at

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How poor is your eyesight? Has it provided you with great imagination to compensate? What have you “seen” due to bad eyesight? Have you had funny experiences with text messages and other things where good eyesight is often necessary?

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Megan Miller

Thank you for this! My home library includes some books by Thurber which I hadn’t looked at for a very long time. One of them includes this story which I savored in full this morning. I was reminded how much I too enjoy his quirky, gentle humor. Fortunately, I keep a pair of cheap reading glasses everywhere I might need them (one room has three pair, at different locations where I do different tasks). Aging is nothing if not an adventure.

Patsy Trench

It’s good to make the acquaintance of a fellow Thurber fan! He has made me laugh out loud in public on more than one embarrassing occasion. As for reading glasses, I too have several pairs – one for each flat space in my living room – though for some unaccountable reason they always end up in the same place.


The Author

Patsy Trench has been an actress, scriptwriter, theatre tour organiser and theatre teacher and lecturer. She now writes books about her family history in colonial Australia and novels featuring enterprising women breaking boundaries in Edwardian and 1920s England. She lives in London.

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