You need your eyes tested

What an odd insult that is, isn’t it? It isn’t confined to football grounds, either – it’s the kind of phrase people are always hurling sardonocally at one another to suggest that they are somehow in the wrong.

But anyway, I do, I did, and I have had them tested again this week. Possibly seduced by the catchiness of their slogan, I did go (back) to Specsavers, since, as I have shown, I am a creature of woeful habit, and it’s where I first went, when about 52, for my first pair of glasses.

Going to Specsavers is like going to a complex restaurant, or falling into a vat of maple syrup. There is nothing the people at Specsavers cannot do for you in your hour of need. The whole experience is beautifully, even seductively choreographed, and someone at Specsavers HQ has obviously put some considerable thought into the rigmarole. Getting specs – before I needed them – used to be a vaguely medical formality. Now it is a lifestyle choice, but I take my current specs off to them, they make it a great trip.

There are five stopping-off points in the chain of events. The receptionist checks your appointment (and calls you ‘Bill’, which is clever of them, because it’s not my real name, that being Thomas, so I am in a good mood), and ushers you in a soothing way to a chair. It is true that you are not at this stage offered a glass of bubbly and a flashy snack, but the chairs are fairly comfortable, and the wait so short it is impossible to feel impatient.

Stop number two. An ophthamological (I did not enjoy spelling that) assistant steps out of an office and calls your name. In you go. Your eyesight is to be measured. You look at a tiny lighthouse (I think that was it) and wait for the familiar warning that the machine is just going to puff in your eyes, after which you are gently hosed down by questions.

This is where the developments have taken place. This is where the subtle backstage psycho-boffins have been at work. Because, in addition to asking about my address (knew it), job (knew it) and my doctor’s name (knew the name of the one before the one before last), the assistant now threw in a genuinely unexpected query: ‘What are your interests?’ I suppose at this point, one could capsize the process by saying ‘stalking’ or ‘hard-core porn’, but I heard myself, very politely and as if from a distance, murmuring ‘family history, writing, collecting records…’  Hobbies! That’s what they were asking about! (That’s the word they would have used twenty years ago.)

‘You’ve never asked that before,’ I said. (Perhaps I wasn’t so polite after all.) ‘Oh, we should have… some people forget,’ replied my happy interlocutor. The upshot of this was that, when I reached Stage Three, the encounter with The Optician, he was armed not just with lights that went in and out of focus, and the usual letters (which I can always read – I’m sure I couldn’t do that as a child), and the question about whether there was any history of glaucoma in my relatives, but with a very strategically-placed chat-up line ‘I see you’re interested in family history.’ I have to say, I started enjoying this. If he had asked me for money then and there, I might have given to him.

More matily, he asked me what kind of music I liked.

So I told him. Of course, at first I protested that this was a new tack for Specsavers, but he brushed it aside, with the line that really skilful analysis of the eyes required intimate knowledge of the inner life of the customer (I don’t think he used ‘customer’, or ‘patient’, but I can’t recall what the word was. I was too comfy). I told him about Steve Reich and I told him about Jess Klein, and I told him about Boz Scaggs – there was a subconscious reason for this (see tomorrow). And then he told me about his six-year-old’s interest in Elvis.

My God, I can’t fit Specsavers into one blog entry. I set myself a limit of half-an-hour and 700 words and we’re there. I am going to have to finish this tomorrow, and maybe the next day.


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