5 Nov

I must phone Jake and tell him I’ve found some that aren’t pink, I thought this morning, when I unearthed these.  spectangles-nowThese strange creatures are Spectangles, they are the first of Douglas’s inventions that I saw and, whilst many of his other ideas are much more show-boaty, these probably made more money than most of rest of them, although never very much.

The first time I met my future step-father, one of those awkward moments when two people recently together meet each other’s children, was in a car park off an A road somewhere in south Shropshire. Mum and I pulled up and Douglas sprang out of his car, a small, wiry man with shoulder length hair, beard, cheery smile, loud shirt and something round his neck that looked like an unusual necklace. It was in fact a small device to hold your glasses, and Douglas wore one because, as a glasses wearer, it was useful, and the self-promotion didn’t hurt. This would have been in 1990, and at the time Douglas had a contract with Polaroid to make cords for glasses in his small workshop. These are not them below, but you get the idea.

1pc-66cm-sunglasses-neck-cord-strap-eyeglass-glasses-string-drop-proof-lanyard-holder-adjustable_640x640_e19262fd-1006-462e-ad19-9bf12c1a7e9d_largeTraditional glasses cords slide over the arms of your glasses and mean that you can wear the glasses round your neck. Douglas, however, thought that he could do better. With normal cords, the glasses hang badly, clunk around and get in the way, or damaged, and people often just tuck their glasses into the top of their jumper instead (Douglas’s own chosen method). After losing a pair of glasses too many when they fell out of his T-shirt-neck running down some stairs, he got started on a new design, and thus, the Spectangle was born. Using the same hypoallergenic plastic as for the cords, the Spectangle was a pendant with a hole lined with flexible flaps that would hold the arm of your glasses in place, meaning no more accidents. They really worked. Douglas I think wore one almost every day for the rest of his life, and Mum wore one often. By the time I was a teenager he had persuaded the Lakeland catalogue to sell them and I spent many hours in the school holidays working in his workshop with his other staff to cut out and put them together, measuring the cords, clamping the loops and hooks in place, assembling the pendants and pressing them together until they clipped in place before stringing them onto the cords and counting them into bundles. We must have made and sold thousands, and it was with great excitement that I saw my first complete stranger wearing one in the outside world one day. Success at last!

However, fashions change and Lakeland eventually stopped selling them as the arms of glasses got bigger and their customers stopped buying the Spectangle. During leaner times, Mum did her best to sell them locally, on a market stall, and at craft and inventor exhibitions, but eventually we had to admit defeat and the Spectangle was shelved.

Or so I thought. Going through Douglas’s notebooks this year, I found some sketches for newer designs, as well as ideas for expanding the range, including this one from 2009. This one was never made, but I like the fact that he continued to think about the problem, and came up with new ways to solve it.



9 Responses to “Spectangles”

  1. Judy Miller November 5, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

    Beautiful Rachel, paragraph 2 is filmic …. I could feel it.

    • rachelonthehill November 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm #

      I was paying attention Judy!

  2. Alice Dalrymple November 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m really enjoying reading about your stepfather’s inventions. You write really beautifully Rachel & I can’t wait to see more posts. I’d love some spectangles!

    • rachelonthehill November 17, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

      Thank you Alice! You’ve seen my collection of Spectangles – that’s all I have in the photo. A bit manky now… maybe one day someone else will make them again. x

  3. Margaret Presnell February 28, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi, I met someone on holiday last week who was wearing one of these Spectangles and she told me all about when she got it from Lakeland years ago. I WANT ONE!!!! Please!!! They look absolutely brilliant. If you still have any of them I would like to buy a couple of them at least. I have never seen anything like it before. They would certainly sell nowadays as glasses have come full circle. Please will you contact me?

    • rachelonthehill February 28, 2017 at 7:36 pm #

      Wow, amazing that you saw a Spectngle in the wild! Douglas was ill for several years so stopped making them, and he died last year, which means that we don’t have many Spectangles left, or at least, not complete ones. I am offering the best ones as a reward for pledging for the book: http://www.unbound.com/books/underwater-bike, although at considerably more than your friend will have paid for them! If that’s a little more than you had planned, let me know on rachelonthehill@gmail.com. Amazing that your friend is still wearing one – my mum (Douglas’s wife) still uses hers.

  4. Janaine November 19, 2017 at 10:24 pm #

    Devastated if I can’t buy any more!!! Can’t survive without mine.

  5. David Nash July 21, 2021 at 11:00 am #

    Yet again this week (19 July 2021) I have been asked 3 times what is my Spectangle and where did I buy it. This interest is NOT unusual. Please reintroduce this product or the updated adjustable model shown in the 2009 drawings. These WILL sell!!!!

    • Ian Woolf August 13, 2021 at 7:01 pm #

      Aug 2021. We’re still using our Spectangles! So glad to come across your writing about Douglas Buchanan.Bought half dozen from him years ago to pass on to friends in Nice. Still have one more unused, somewhere.

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