Of course the varifocals I bought online were a waste of money. When they came in the post and I first put them on I could see the world up to and including my fingernails but anything beyond was a blur. I should have guessed that emailing a photo of my face with a credit card fixed to my forehead, as directed, was too rough and ready a guide to the correct measurements. If the glasses had been right it would have been more of a surprise. Being poor is always more expensive in the long run. I’d have been better off spending the £200 on some class As and a hat and going to a party.
These were the second pair of glasses I’d bought online whose only possible use was as an executioner’s blindfold. Add to that about three pairs of magnifiers at £30 each, which worked with the text examples in the shop but nowhere else, and for the total amount of money spent I could have gone to a high street optician. There I would have been fussed over by young women and been ordered to gaze deeply into their eyes, and with a final guarantee that I would eventually walk out of the shop able to see. In the long run it would probably have worked out cheaper.
So I made an appointment with a local optician to be tested and measured up for a pair of frames and the best varifocal lenses money could buy. They would cost approximately nine times the Parker’s guide price of my car. Was 3.40 on Friday afternoon OK? To raise the money I sold three silk handkerchiefs. They had escape maps printed on both sides and were given to servicemen and pilots serving in North Africa during the second world war. I had inherited them from my great uncle, an anti-aircraft gunner, who, in his own words, was ‘up and down that bloody desert like a yo-yo’. Being largely housebound, I was looking forward to getting out and having my eyes tested and face measured as much as Kenneth Noye must be looking forward to his release date in August.
Friday came. I showered and shaved and ironed a shirt. I was about to leave when my mobile burbled. The mother of my two grandsons. ‘All right?’ she said. ‘Yes, thank you,’ I said. ‘You know you were going to pick up the boys tomorrow?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Well, can you pick them up this afternoon instead?’ ‘No,’ I said. ‘I’ve got the opticians at 3.40. Why?’
‘I’ve got to go down to the hospital and calm a relative down,’ she said. ‘She’s lost it again and beaten up her boyfriend. At least, they think it’s that way round. He probably started it — she’s black and blue — but she probably finished it, knowing her. She’s been on a bender up in Aberdeen. Found some mates. The police want me to have her here. No flaming way, I said. Not with the kids here. So I’ve got to go round to the hospital and talk some sense into her. Calm her down so the police can leave and go and fight crime instead of babysitting a nutter. Between you and me I think she’s bipolar.’
‘Oh yes? What’s that?’ I said. ‘You know! They’re up one minute and down the next. So can you come over right away and fetch the boys early so I can go down to the hospital and give the police a break?’
‘Look,’ I said peevishly. ‘What’s the matter with you all? It’s one thing after another. You’re all drama queens who imagine you’re starring in the nation’s favourite soap opera. All you are interested in is stimulating the pleasure centre of your brains. You’re like a lot of nematode worms.’
‘What are they?’ she said, genuinely interested.
‘They represent 80 per cent of all animal life on earth,’ I said, ‘and they have a very simple brain devoted to eating and excreting, also an elementary pleasure centre that can be endlessly stimulated with the sharpened point of a pencil.’
‘Wow,’ she said, impressed.
‘Your nematode worm of a relative goes off on one again,’ I continued, warming to my theme, ‘and look how many people are sucked in: coppers, nurses, ambulance drivers, medics, hospital administrators, social workers, solicitors, you, me and my eyeballs, at least one optician, and even my mother, left asleep in the chair at home for longer than is ideal.’
Of course this was all hypocritical baloney. I’ve been a nematode worm all my life. But I had been looking forward so much to my visit to the opticians. I was feeling peevish and just couldn’t help myself.