I remember my first pair of glasses. I was just in my teens and they were a pair of NHS Specials. Ghastly things. Once day I had them in my music case when mum asked me to get milk on my way home from my piano lesson. I accidentally dropped the tan, faux leather case and smashed the bottle of milk, emptying the drookit contents into the bins at the gable end of our tenement. As soon as I did it I realised I had consigned my specs to the filthy steel rubbish receptacle, to lie among the tattie peelings and yesterday’s newspapers. There were numerous wee boys, midgie rakers, who would go through bin contents just for fun. I could have easily asked one of them to get them out for me, but I was well shot of my ‘bins’, glad not to have to wear them any more.
I have vivid memories of sitting exams, writing at speed while not being able to see what I was writing so when I started work and had some money of my own, I knew I had to get glasses again. And this is when my real relationship with eyewear began.
Believe it or not, I used to be terribly shy. I hated having to go and speak to people I didn’t know, hated having to sit through meetings where I was supposed to be the ‘expert’, hated having to stand up and talk to people. Whenever I had to do something that made me uncomfortable I put on my reading glasses, whether I needed them or not. They became a shield, a screen behind which the real Annette hid. I found I could handle things much better when I wore my disguise and soon began to rely on them to survive the working day.
It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I needed to wear spectacles for distance sight too. Of course, I’m no longer what you would call shy and rather than hiding behind my glasses, they have become a further statement of who I am. One of the benefits of growing older – OK, the ONLY benefit – is caring not a jot about what other people think. It is incredibly liberating to realise that the world barely notices me, let alone cares about something as trivial as what I wear. My first full-time glasses were brown plastic tortoiseshell effect. My second pair was brown plastic tortoiseshell effect. My third pair was… Let’s just say there was a pattern to my choice of eyewear.
Then I turned 50.
My husband came with me to help choose my new glasses. He knew I wanted something different but, as usual, I was looking at brown plastic tortoiseshell effect frames. “Look at these,” he said, placing a pair of frames in my hand. He had handed me a pair of cats’ eyes shaped glasses in a nude and brown leopard print. It was love at first sight.
“George,” I said. “These are my Fuck It I’m Fifty glasses!”
Oh, how I loved my glasses. Wherever I went I was complimented on them. They made me feel bold, confident, sassy – everything I wasn’t when I was younger. They became such an intrinsic part of my identity I couldn’t imagine ever wearing anything different.
And then, one day last week, I snapped the leg off. They were irreparable and discontinued. I was heart broken.
I went to choose new frames and liked nothing in the shop. They had some black cats’ eyes frames but they were too heavy for my colouring and too small for my face; they had some John Lennon style round frames but on me they looked like Benny Hill’s; they had brown plastic tortoiseshell effect frames but….
In desperation I saw a pair of white frames in a shape not too different from my old specs and tried them on. While they will never take the place of my FIIF glasses, I actually rather like them. In future my glasses will be white like my conscience – Oy! I can hear you laughing from here, you know!
At least, they will be white for the next two years…