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The Flat Cap on ... Spectacles

Recently The Flat Cap has been struggling to read the horse racing results in his daily newspaper, and only last week got on the wrong bus because he misread the timetable at the bus stop. This led him to arrange an appointment at his local opticians, as well as find out more about spectacles. Fortunately for The Flat Cap the opticians are within walking distance of his house and didn’t necessitate a journey by public transport; although he did almost trip up over an uneven paving stone that he failed to spot en route.

Like most things that have been around for years historians are divided on who invented spectacles and when. They can’t even agree on what to call them either, so you have eyeglasses, glasses and spectacles – all names for precisely the same thing. Thankfully there’s only one monocle. “Glasses” is probably the best word because you can then stick other words in front of it to give a more accurate description. For example there are 3D glasses, sunglasses, safety glasses and reading glasses, the exception being x-ray specs. Goggles aren’t really glasses at all and a looking glass is just another term for a mirror.

The important thing to remember about glasses is that they can be really cheap or really expensive depending on the type of lenses, and the type of frames. Stick a fancy name on a frame and you can charge at least forty times what they cost to make. When first invented in the thirteenth century (although it could have been the twelfth century) glasses were only worn by people who could read. This immediately made them quite exclusive and unless you were a librarian, or had a job like a monk or a priest which gave you access to religious books that you spent all day reading from, the chances were that you would spend much of your life bumping into things, or being run over and fatally injured by the age of thirty. Marco Polo definitely had a pair of glasses when he went travelling to China in the thirteenth century. These were invaluable for looking up places to stay, scrutinising rickshaw timetables, and reading maps and restaurant menus. If he hadn’t had them he could just have ended up wandering round local bars and never seeing much of the country. Staying in one place where there’s a lot of bars is largely how package holidays are now marketed several hundred years later. Back then however there weren’t any package deals,, and in any case very few people had the means, or the education, to read travel brochures. Not that there were any brochures of course.

As well as being a useful way to see and read things glasses are often worn as a fashion accessory. Some famous people like John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Harry Potter and Deirdre Barlow would never allow themselves to be photographed unless they were wearing their glasses. But perhaps the most famous glasses wearer was Mahatma Ghandi. Despite his fame Ghandi shunned designer glasses and wore little round ones that he picked up at a school jumble sale when he was aged just eight. Although he struggled to see very far without his glasses Ghandi was always coming up with memorable sayings about eyes and vision such as: “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind”, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” and, “It’s two for one at Boots the Opticians until the end of the month”. As well as wearing glasses Ghandi also had a set of false teeth that he used to carry around in his loin cloth and only pop in his mouth when he needed to eat.

On exiting his local branch of Specsavers The Flat Cap literally bumped into a lady who was carrying her weekly shopping back to the car. Clearly winded by the collision she was forced to sit on a nearby bench. Once she had got her breath back the woman happily shared the following eye glasses / glasses / spectacles related facts:

  • Superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Superman always wear glasses when they aren’t on duty. This allows them to blend in with normal people and go undiscovered until the next time they are called on to tackle some villain or save the world from aliens

  • Large optical retail chain “Specsavers” sponsors the County Championship cricket competition. Whenever an umpire gets a decision wrong the oft repeated cry from players and fans is, “should’ve gone to Specsavers”.

  • Actor Daniel Radcliffe who played Harry Potter went through an average of fourteen pairs of glasses per film due to the dangerous nature of his wizardry and having to fly about a lot

  • Snooker player and 1985 world champion Dennis Taylor used to wear special glasses with incredibly large lenses. When Dennis was having a new front door fitted he got the glaziers to take out the glass from the old door and had it made into the big glasses that helped him beat Steve Davis

  • There is an annual Spectacle Wearer of the Year competition. To be eligible all you have to do is send in a photograph of yourself wearing a pair of glasses and not be phased by meeting real celebrities like Bradley Walsh, host of television quiz show “The Chase”

  • People who wear glasses are four times more likely to be called a nerd or a geek than their non spectacle wearing counterparts

  • United States founding father Benjamin Franklin is credited with having invented bifocals during one of his many lunch breaks at KFC, where he used to struggle to read the menus (until coming up with the idea for bifocals)

  • Former Dutch footballer Edgar Davids used to wear protective goggles because of a family history of glaucoma. Renowned as a tough tackling midfielder opponents never dared to make fun of his appearance lest they ended up being tackled very robustly

  • “Pince-nez” is a type off glasses that pinch the nose and don’t require earpieces to support them. Taken from the French language the literal translation of “pince-nez” is nosey looking ponce. Fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot used to wear them and always solved the crime because he was very nosey and asked lots of clever questions

  • Amsterdam is home to the Netherlands’ National Museum of Spectacles. Ironically because of its steep stairs and the lack of a lift it isn’t suitable for people with mobility issues or impaired vision. A much better bet is the Cheese Museum, which is free and does nice sandwiches

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