Spectacles

John Creedon must have struck fear into the hearts of many RTE Radio listeners this evening. He recalled the glasses given out by the Southern Health Board, “one size fits all,” he said. “They kept them in a tin and they were all brown.”

Perhaps the Southern Health Board in Cork got their glasses from the same supplier as the NHS in Devon. Perhaps the provision of ugly brown glasses to those who could not afford a private prescription reflected some Victorian value, the sort of thinking that said poorer people should never have things that were as nice as the things that richer people had. Perhaps it was simply the case that the brown pairs of glasses that must have been dispensed in their thousands were the cheapest available.

It was in the autumn of 1976 that a mobile clinic came to our remote Dartmoor school for us to undergo eye tests. It was immediately obvious that I was short-sighted and I was taken to an optician, probably in Newton Abbot, for a more thorough test. My glasses would be ready in a few days.

“Please, oh please, don’t let the glasses be the ugly brown ones,” I thought.

Of course, they were the ugly brown ones. It was 1976, the country was broke, the vanity of a teenage boy was not among the NHS list of priorities.

I never wore them. I pretended I could see. The only time I would take them out was to watch Match of the Day on a Saturday night, when the lights in the sitting room of the senior block were turned out and the only illumination came from the screen of the black and white television.

At Sixth Form college, I got a more fashionable pair. Well, a pair that were slightly less ugly, anyway. I would take them out for brief moments when squinting was not sufficient to read the diagrams drawn on the board by the economics teacher.

Such was my vanity, that it was not until I was in my early-twenties that I wore glasses regularly. There are photographs from forty years ago where they are not to be seen.

I hated wearing glasses. I hated hearing people being called, “speccy four eyes,” and other such pejorative terms.

Last week, I walked from the cold outdoor air into the warmth of the school. Wearing a mask meant my glasses steamed up. A colleague noticed and said she had had her eyes lasered.

A look in the mirror the next morning persuaded me that glasses were a preferable option. They aren’t nearly as ugly as the brown ones from teenage days and are much younger than the skin they conceal.

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