Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

Early 1980s, me in school uniform with an eye specialist avidly examining my left socket.

Worried parents pointing and prodding: “Our Richard’s eye won’t look left”.

I’m not sure why it took until the age of eleven for us to seek medical advice.

My left eye has never looked left

It’s something I was born with.

And I’ve managed to get to 43-years-young without really giving two hoots.

It’s quite novel to visit a new optician. Cue gasps and whoops: “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”

I read a statistic this week that of the 131 million people born each year just 54 will be born with what I have.

It’s classed as a rare disease. Rare? 54 out of the entire human race?

That’s not rare, that’s absolutely staggering. Extraordinarily staggering.

It gets better: Of those 54 - most will be girls.

So in 1973 me and only about 20 other boys in the entire world were born with Duane Syndrome.

Hey! we should get together, go for a beer, raise a glass to how unique we are. I wonder if any of them are actually called Duane?

This week that 54-out-of-the-entire-human-race-revelation forced me to investigate further.

I guess it made me assess what this rare eye condition meant to me growing up.

And, er, well, it didn’t really mean anything.

I was born with it and actually, it now feels reasonably hip and cool for my left eye to be an uber-rare-biology-breakdown.

Ten years ago I remember one young optician in Leeds. She was aghast. Poor girl.

She’d never encountered Duane Syndrome before and after the initial shock was like a kid at Christmas.

She urged me to wait behind for her “studies”.

Hey, anything for research. I should’ve asked for a discount on my new glasses.

Anyway, Duane what?

Duane syndrome is a condition characterised by the inability of the eye to move outwards.

The syndrome was first described by ophthalmologists Jakob Stilling (1887) and Siegmund Türk (1896), and subsequently named after Alexander Duane, who discussed the disorder in more detail in 1905.

Duanes mostly affects the left eye - but can affect the right.

Basically there’s a miswire of my left eye muscles. Or a miswire of the brain’s message to my left eye.

So while my right eye is a bit of a showman which looks here, there and everywhere, the left has been stuck at basecamp ever since Peters and Lee topped the charts with Welcome Home.

I remember at school taking a bit of stick for having “gozzy” eyes. Or the old chestnut: “A lazy eye”.

I guess this wasn’t so great for my teenage self to have one’s appearance ribbed so publicly. But frankly Mr Shankly I wasn’t arsed.

The eye consultant in 1984 produced this high-tech gadget from his box of tricks and said eye exercises would help (this wondrous bit of kit was in fact a pencil…).

The Doc insisted that every hour of every day I use the pencil to strengthen my eyes.

So I’d wave the HB around like some kind of orchestra conductor and bring it closer and closer and then further away.

Yes, this ultra eye boot camp was a total waste of time.

But seriously. Come to think of it. At times having to turn left whenever I want to look left has been a bit of a bummer.

In the last few years of school - while doing my GCSEs - I was in the worst possible seating position: Front row far right.

Cue teenage years and it was actually becoming my party piece. As pub tricks go it was pretty spectacular.

I’d go all Little Britain: “look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around my eyes, look into my eyes…”

In pubs and things it was a bit of a pain whenever someone was sat to my left. Because I couldn't really see them. So apologies to all those people over the years - but now you’ll understand.

Walking along the street with someone has always been a situation where I have tried to always stand on their left.

And at times I’ve done what now seems like an odd dance move to make sure I was in the best position to see them and have a conversation.

Social situations or work meetings can be an issue.

Where I sit depends on how comfortable I am. Far left of a meeting room is great as I can see everyone. Far right is not good unless I shift my body at an angle.

And in meetings and things I just get there early to get my pick of seats.

Driving is ok. I just have to really turn my whole body left. Not just glance left.

I’d be quite stuck if I lived in Europe and had to drive on the right hand side.

I guess for the best part of half a century I’ve got good at hiding my eye condition.

Always turning left and never allowing myself to try to look left.

Occasionally I forget and just glance left. And for a split second I see double.

Pretty handy if I’m looking at something good - like cake.

Oh, and I should probably say that Duanes aside, my eyesight is pretty good. 

So - there you have it. The reason I sometimes look odd in photos and do a silly dance to stand on your right. 

Always wanted to be a bit different to the crowd. 

Anyone else out there with Duane Syndrome?

Let’s sit on the right (or left) together.

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