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The lost city

More than 9800 spectacles were left on London public transport last year

07 Sep 2017 by Selina Powell

As we enter the tail end of the summer holiday season, returning holidaymakers are often asked the question “What was it like?” There is sometimes a pause before they attempt to sum up another town or country in a few sentences. How to define a city?

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Some would say that a place gains substance through its grand buildings, the iconic landmarks that feature on postcards. But, personally, I believe you could find worse places to describe a city's essence than in the detritus that filters down to its lost property department. While good architecture is designed to be permanent and timeless, a lost property collection is constantly changing. It is a shadow that never quite catches up with its master, the civic equivalent of a shed skin.

Figures released by Transport for London reveal that in the past year, 9478 pairs of spectacles were left on London's buses, taxis and underground network, along with 9869 umbrellas and 11826 sets of keys.

In the vastness of the statistics it is easy to lose a sense of the individual owners. But every item has a story. An umbrella that started a friendship, a key ring from a pilgrimage to Elvis Museum, a great coat passed from grandfather to father to daughter, a stuffed toy left in distraction after a child's first trip to the sea.

Here we have a record of what a city was reading, wearing and listening to during a moment in time. In the mountains of shoes, watches and spectacle cases you can seek a city’s precious but amorphous core.

But perhaps a place is not defined by possessions or buildings but how people support each other through difficult times. In the optical community there are many organisations and individuals who are driven by this spirit of altruism. UK charities Sightsavers and CBM have been announced joint winners of the 2017 António Champalimaud Vision Award, which recognises outstanding contributions to research and eye care support in developing countries.

Optometrists across the UK are doing their bit to make their town or city a better place, whether that is through providing the best eye care possible in their day job or perhaps volunteering in a different role outside of work hours. What do you do to give back to your neighbourhood? You can share your views through the AOP’s community forum

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