I need new glasses.

Actually, I've needed new glasses for a while now, but every time I think I'll do something about it, I come up against the same problem: vanity. I am vain in as much as I am not vain, if that makes any sense. I have an anti-fashion sense that is acutely tuned and which will not allow me to do anything that could be considered in any way trendy. Trendy is conformist, and I have striven all my life not to fit in. So I am vain.

But what, I hear you ask, does all this have to do with spectacles? Well, in the UK, in the olden days, you went to see a nice NHS optician, who hung a heavy metal frame over your nose and slid different lenses into it, twiddling them around and covering up one eye or the  other whilst asking you to read out letters printed on a board across the room. After about a half an hour of twiddling, you'd be sent away. Three weeks later, you went back and were presented with a pair of glasses whose frames were thick black plastic, in a style guaranteed to lead to taunts of 'four-eyes' and 'specky twat' or worse. There was no choice of frame; you were lucky if it even fitted properly. What's more, these glasses were made of actual glass, which scratched and crazed within a week of first being cleaned with a snot-encrusted hanky. They weighed almost as much as the optician's aparatus, pinched the bridge of your nose so you could only breathe through your mouth, and pulled at your ears until they stuck out like the wings of a startled insect. Those were the days, back when I had my first pair of specs, and suddenly realised that the world wasn't supposed to be blurry.

Things have moved on quite a bit since then. The opticians are mostly privately funded, the NHS long having lost its way where optometry and dentistry are concerned. The ancient apparatus, the rows of little detachable lenses in a lovingly crafted wooden case, has been replaced by some weird computer-controlled machine that grabs your head if you get too close and puffs jets of air at your eyeballs when you're least expecting it. You no longer have to wait months to get your new spectacles; some places will even have them ready for you in an hour. The lenses are plastic, lightweight, and can be tinted red should you wish to be an eternal optimist. And no more do you have to suffer the indignity of those clunky NHS frames.* Now you can choose from hundreds, maybe thousands of different styles.

And every single one is horrible.

There are basic, cheap frames, which look basic and cheap. There are designer frames, which make me want to go up to people wearing them and punch them repeatedly in the face, until their noses pop like blood-filled balloons and they can't wear spectacles at all. There are glasses that you might wear to a bad taste party or for a bet; glasses that your gran might wear on a slim cord around her neck; glasses so thin and narrow that wearing them must be to spend all day as if peering out at the world through a frightened letterbox. The trend for some years now seems to be for rectangular spectacle frames, which simply don't suit the shape of my face. Or the shape of anyone's face, if I'm being honest. 

For years I had a pair of perfectly round glasses, with thin wire frames. Not as big as John Lennon's, and not tinted, but they fitted well and I quite liked them. When I had sat on them just once too often, I replaced them with a similar pair, but with the metal frame painted red. I was never quite so sure about those glasses - they were a bit too big, as well as a bit too flashy - but they were the best of a bad lot. By the time they wore out, I reasoned, I'd be able to get something more like my favourite old pair.

But when that time came, the trend for thin and rectangular had started to take hold. The only round spectacles you could get came in kid's size and were aimed squarely at fans of a certain boy wizard. So for the last six years or so  I've muddled along with a series of spectacles that I don't really like - the most rounded edge version of the horrible rectangles that I could find at any given time. Last time around I had two pairs made, as the opticians were doing a two for one deal at the time.** The first pair died soon after I moved into the new house - something about cement dust and soft plastic lenses just doesn't work. Now, eighteen months on, the second pair are pock-marked from exposure to nasty paint cleaner and other noxious things. Sometime soon I'm going to have to get them replaced.

I could get new lenses for the old frames, but perversely enough that's twice as expensive as a complete new set of spectacles. I could get my eyes tested and take the fresh prescription to an online outfit with a better selection, but that is expensive and I can't even try the frames on first to see if they fit properly. There are a couple of places in London that do really nice round designs, and one place that will sell me some authentic John Lennon specs, but I'd need a second mortgage to go down that route, and my vanity is very poor. So I'll have to grit my teeth, see what the high street chains have to offer, and spend another couple of years wearing something I'd like to be fashionably unfashionable, but which is probably unfashionably fashionable. Or just plain awkward.

They'll still be better than those old NHS specs.

* though oddly enough, some people think them quite trendy these days, which is weird. Mind you, they think the eighties are trendy, too.
** and still they tried to sell me expensive insurance to replace my specs in the case of breakage. 'What do you think these are then?' I asked holding up the second pair. The young assistant couldn't answer that.


Ellen said…
I commiserate with you on your spectacles dilemma. Not only do I think the "fashionable" frames horrid, but also terribly unsuited to withstanding the temper tantrums of emotionally disturbed 7-year-olds (the 7-year-olds at work, not at home). The greatest indignity of it all though, is that my latest pair are bifocals!

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