Meet Brendan – The Optometrist Born Under A Wandering Star

To say that London Vision Clinic optometrist Brendan Duane has the Travel Bug would be a serious understatement. In fact it would probably be easier to mention the places in the world that he hasn’t visited rather than to list those that he has.

Trekking in Iceland

It would also be true to say that there are very few – if any – corners of the Globe that don’t interest him at all; and even fewer that – having seen once or even a second time – he has no desire to explore further.

There is always a desire to see beyond that mountain or to explore what lays the other side of a lake… it just goes on and on

Explaining the wandering paradox further Brendan told me: “One of the things you learn about travel is that you are only ever just touching the surface of a country or culture. Whether it’s Africa or South America it seems to me that the more you think you know about somewhere; the less you really know.

So, with the passing of time and air miles, Brendan’s travel “wish list” does not get any shorter.

“There are so many places I still want to see…. there is always somewhere on the horizon… I think it would take a dozen lifetimes!”

The Gobi desert in Mongolia

In between his adventures in locations as diverse as the high African desert of Ethiopia and the freezing wastes of Antarctica, Brendan can be found examining Laser Eye Surgery patients in his consulting room at 138 Harley Street. Despite the enormous difference between his professional and private life, Brendan obviously enjoys his work and is the longest serving optometrist at the London Vision Clinic.

Perhaps surprisingly he is able to smoothly make the transition from shorts and back pack to smart suit and carrying out with care and consideration the highly skilled eye checks that accompany Laser Eye Surgery. On a chilly winter evening as the London Vision Clinic was closing its doors for the day, he shared with me the incongruous experience of an unexpected journey travelling on top of a bus in Nepal with a goat as his companion that had happened only a few weeks earlier.

An unusual travelling companion on top of a bus in Nepal

Brendan first joined the fledgling London Vision Clinic in Devonshire Place in a part time capacity seven years ago.

“In those days there was just one full time optometrist … today we are a team of seven.”

Brendan first arrived in London from his native Australia some 19 years ago and was working as a locum optometrist (as well as travelling), before joining the London Vision Clinic.

His interest in eye health began at the College of Optometry in Melbourne where he graduated from a busy public health clinic.

“It was a terrific learning environment”, he recalls. “Between us we saw some 20,000 patients a year – these were people from all backgrounds (including refugees) and with many different eye problems and diseases. It was an extremely stimulating place to work.”

Brendan’s first trip to the UK was to study for a further degree and to validate his Australian qualifications. Alongside this, he also wanted to explore Europe and his Irish ancestry.

During his subsequent travels, Brendan has so far managed to avoid political uprisings. Eighteen months ago he was in Syria which he described as an “amazingly hospitable country which – at the time -seemed to be peaceful and stable.”

Within the last year he has also explored Iran where he was greeted by the most “friendly and cultured people.”

The Annapurna base camp in Nepal

However, unfortunately Brendan has not altogether managed to avoid illness and was struck down by malaria after attracting an unwanted parasite in West Africa. However, this unpleasant experience that led to a hospital stay in London, has not in any way put him off.

“Life becomes simple when you travel”, says Brendan who acknowledges that, along with his back pack, he only needs a bed and a shower. “The only choice you have to make is where you will stay, what you will eat and where you will go tomorrow.”

Brendan told me that, although he is passionate about his wandering lifestyle, he realises that it provides an intensely personal experience. Despite accumulating tens of thousands of photographs along the way and enough anecdotes to fill scores of guide books, it is rare that he is able to share his experiences. Over the years, he has however built up an extensive global contact book and made a network of life time friends all over the world.

Dawn on a sand dune in Morocco