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First a bit of nostalgia. I am sufficiently old that I can remember my early days at college when lecturers used to write on a blackboard (yes they did!) and I can remember one particular lecturer whose writing was so small we all crowded onto the front two benches to be able to read what he was supposedly trying to impart to us. In later years I moved in a world where overhead projectors were used and spent many an hour wondering at the sanity of the clown who showed a copy of a book page on screen that was impossible to read from five feet, let alone from the back of a room. But my shoes laces set me thinking about visual issues and then other coping issues when you are older.

If we stick with sight or visual issues to start with, I have come to notice various things but for you to understand my gripes you need to see a quote I recently came across on the internet: “At age 40, only half the light gets through to the retina as it did at age 20. For 60-year-olds, it’s just 20%.”  This means that for all of us over the age of sixty – that’s us Silver Surfers – it is generally just more difficult to see things and there are therefore two factors that I have noticed in design that may cause us difficulties – light and darkness and size.

Computers are clearly made for the younger generation. I work on a PC the body of which sits under my desk. The computer is black, as so many are.  There are buttons on this computer that are black and without a torch being shined on them are indistinguishable so if I want to open the disc-drive I have to fumble about until I press the right part. The same applies with many modern video machines and TVs, the buttons are black inset in black and not easy to see. What is wrong with colour, why everything black?

But then there is size of printing. My eyesight when it comes to size is pretty good for an old boy, having two new lenses to replace cataracts and a pair of glasses to sharpen up small print but increasingly I note that on bottles, jars and even packets of food, the print gets smaller and smaller. For general information that I am not too bothered about, fine, but when it comes to instructions, surely common sense says the print should be the size that most people can read. Not long ago I came across an app that can be on a phone etc. that acts as a magnifier. I never thought I would get to the point of needing a magnifying glass but much modern print is so small I am being forced to it.

But sometimes it is not merely a matter of small print in instructions; I have found making sure I get small batteries in the right way round in certain gadgets is not always easy. You would think they could make the + or – signs bigger and much more clear wouldn’t you!  If you ever travel much and use hotels, I have noticed that increasingly designers of taps omit either red or blue on the top of the tap so a game of guesswork ensues and, no, they don’t always put the hot tap on the left! If you really want to move into a nightmare area it is trying to follow road signs in a town you are not familiar with, not only the signboards but the signs on the road surface. Increasingly designed to cause congestion and accidents I conclude.  


Whenever I think about this subject I have this picture of the stereotypical little old grannie struggling to cope with modern life, and that makes we realise there is another factor that makes the going difficult at this time of life. It is ease of undoing lids. Milk bottle tops have become increasingly difficult to get off, the ones with a coloured piece you lift to then prize off the seal beneath the cap. I am no seven stone weakling but increasingly I have been coming to the conclusion that somewhere out there, there is some perverse manufacturer who sniggers every time he seals a milk bottle and says, “Let them get that little beauty off then!” Please, I am serious, I am reasonably strong but whether it is the seal on a milk bottle or a packet on sweet, cereals or a whole variety of other things, it should be relatively easy to get to your food for goodness sake!

When we move into the realm of flat-pack furniture or a whole realm of other goods these days that need assembling, it isn’t so much the case of legibility of print it is just the sense of the words and the clarity of the instruction. This is increasingly not an area for the aged to dabble in, whether it is a piece of furniture, a computer, a lawnmower, a microwave oven or a whole range of similar products, description of assembly is increasingly the stuff of nightmares. The latest thing – to be truly international – is to omit words altogether so a member of Mensa from any nationality can work out how to put the blessed thing together.  We have advanced a small measure from the day when instruction on a gadget from China has been interpreted by a Chinese with little English language, but not much!  

This last item is not so much a struggle for the Silver Surfer as for the whole human race it seems. Manufacturers are staggeringly bad at providing instructions that work. A little while ago I bought a power washer. Why did I let my wife persuade me that the patio needed washing with a power washer?  It took over half an hour to read through and work out how to assemble it and run it. So complex and extensive were the instructions that I missed the bit that said that pressure could fall if….. and when that happened it could not be restarted for five minutes. These things should be obvious and if it is the crucial bit about how to make the thing run, it should be in print that stands out!!!

There are some things you really shouldn’t do when you get older – like bungee-jumping, because it puts too much pressure on the heart at the turn point. But some of the things include travelling. You have to be seriously fit to fly. With the exception of  say Southend airport which has brilliant access, if you dare use Heathrow or Gatwick say, go and have a health check before you go, because you are going to walk miles to find your plane. Yes, I know there are often travellators, but there often aren’t. And yes I know when you are becoming seriously infirm you can order a lift from the airline but that just goes to rub our faces in the fact that we are getting older.  

It is increasingly a technologically complex world out there and the demands on intellect have gone up – even going into certain coffee shops to understand the menu! Enough, let’s have some light hearted or meaningful quotes to finish we as we usually do:

Like everyone else who makes the mistake of getting older, I begin each day with coffee and obituaries.

Bill Cosby

Most common conversation between husbands and wives:

She: I see you’ve finished it eventually.

He (sheepishly): Er, yes, I had to do it twice, must have been something wrong with the instructions


Label on a product:

If you do not understand, or cannot read all directions, cautions and warnings DO NOT USE THIS PRODUCT.  

On Boot's Children’s Cough Medicine: 
'Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication'

Also common conversation between elderly couples

He: Can you read the print on this label?

She: No, where is my magnifying glass?

He: I last saw it in the fridge.

She: Why in the fridge?

He: Why not?

She: No, why should you ever keep a magnifying glass in a fridge?

He: I don’t know. Why do you want a magnifying glass?
She: To read a label.

He: What label?

Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.
Daniel Auber

Old age is not a disease -- it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.
Maggie Kuhn

To be seventy years old is like climbing the Alps. You reach a snow-crowned summit, and see behind you the deep valley stretching miles and miles away, and before you other summits higher and whiter, which you may have strength to climb, or may not. Then you sit down and meditate and wonder which it will be.
Henry WadsworthLongfellow,

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