spexWhen you move to an entirely new area (which I have now done about 25 times, and I’d really like to stop, if it’s okay with everyone) one of the most tiresome, and indeed irksome, things you have to do – aside from packing your entire life into cardboard boxes and watching a willing but not entirely competent removal man drop them – is establishing new connections with health professionals like doctors, dentists and opticians.

It was when I realized I’d started squinting at the world like a (very large) mole that I decided the time had finally come to make an appointment for a long-overdue eye test.

I knew where the opticians were in Adverse Camber – it was hard not to know, really, since they advertised their presence in what I assumed to be a small suite of rooms attached to Heggartys – the local chemists – by means of a HUGE sign on the wall outside announcing, ‘BEECH EYECARE: A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES’ in letters about a foot tall.

One Saturday when I was passing, I bowled into the chemists and located the door to the opticians’ emporium between a stand selling budget range make up and a display of spectacle chains and psychedelic swim hats. There was a giant sign on the door saying ‘BEECH EYECARE – PLEASE KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND TAKE A SEAT.’ Robert Beech, BSc MCOptom, plainly thought it was safest to assume that all of his customers were both intellectually challenged AND as blind as bats.

I knocked on the door and attempted to walk in and sit down. The door was locked. A young voice from behind me said. ‘They’re closed today. Sign on the wall says so.’

I turned. The boy at the checkout – who looked to be about 10, but was presumably at least 14 unless the chemist was into child labour, was watching me with an irritatingly charming smile on his face. ‘What sign?’ I snapped.

‘Above the door.’

I looked. There was, indeed, a tiny sign above the door giving the opening hours. It was about 4 inches by 8 inches and you needed a magnifying glass and a pair of steps to read it. When I did finally manage to decipher it, it said – in effect – ‘You’ll be lucky to catch us here at any time, but you might like to try this teeny-tiny window of opportunity on Tuesday.’

So, thanking the obnoxious munchkin through gritted teeth, I went home and, some time later, looked up the opticians’ telephone number in the book. I tried it. There was no answer. I tried it again on Monday and a woman’s voice said brightly, ‘Heggartys’.

It took a moment for it to register that I’d got through to the chemists, not the opticians.

‘Um … can I speak to the Optician, please?’

‘He’s closed today – but he’ll be in tomorrow.’

‘Right. Thank you.’

Tuesday dawned. I rang again, expecting to reach the optician directly, but got the same bright voice telling me I was still talking to the chemists. THIS time however, I did manage to get myself put through to Robert Beech BSc MCOptom, and an appointment for an eye test – for the following Tuesday.

I carefully wrote it in my diary and double-checked with him as I did so. A little later in the day, I also wrote it on two separate wall calendars. Having gone to so much trouble to get the appointment, I was determined not to miss it.

The day dawned. I got up early, had a shower and spent a long time carefully cleaning and flossing my teeth before I remembered I was going to the opticians, not the dentist.

I had it all mapped out: I would take the car, see the optician, then go through to the local garden centre to buy some potting compost, 8ft canes and vegetable seeds before heading home in time to take delivery of my groceries. (I shop locally for eggs and some vegetables, but treacherously use an online grocers for everything else. If we could just keep that between ourselves, I’d be grateful – okay?)

I set off good and early, found a parking space directly outside Heggartys (whose missing apostrophe always irritates me like a badly fitting bra strap) and sauntered inside in plenty of time for my 9.55 appointment. I read the sign on the door again: ‘PLEASE KNOCK ON THE DOOR AND TAKE A SEAT’.

I knocked on the door, and went in … to a darkened room, where an eye examination was taking place. The two occupants looked up at me, startled.

‘Ah.’ I backed out in confusion. ‘Take a seat OUTSIDE the door … Sorry …. Sorry ….’

Back in the chemists, I sat down in one of the two chairs I’d completely failed to notice before and mentally cursed people who couldn’t write coherent signs, even in six inch letters. As I sat, gazing blankly at the BOGOF deodorants and shampoos on the stand directly opposite me, a woman came in, marched up to the door, knocked on it briskly, then wandered off to look in the ‘Clearance’ bucket.

The door to the consulting room opened, the previous customer left, giving me a really peculiar look, and Mr Beech beckoned me inside.

‘Right’, he said cheerfully, as I placed my posterior in the chair. ‘Has anything changed since I last saw you?’ He was examining a record card.

I blinked. ‘You’ve never seen me before.’

He frowned. ‘Aren’t you Myra Evans?’

‘No. But that may be who’s just arrived outside …’

We looked at each other in bemusement for a moment before he thought to ask who I was. I told him. He consulted his diary. ‘I have you down for 11.55am.’

‘Oh. I have it down as 9.55am for some reason. Not to worry – I’m only just up the road, I’ll come back in a couple of hours ….’

For the second time that day I retreated in confusion and fled. It was only when I was at the garden centre loading an 80 litre bag of peat free goodness into the back of my car that I remembered I’d arranged my grocery delivery for the hour between midday and 1.00pm – because I’d thought my appointment with the optician was at 9.55am.

It was too late to change the grocery delivery because it would already be on the road, so as soon as I got home and had peeled two demented dogs off me (why – contrary to years of experience – do they always assume I’ve left them for ever?) I picked up the ‘phone to change the time of my eye test. As the number was ringing, I looked at the calendar. It plainly said ‘9.55: Optician’. I glanced down at my diary, which I’d just opened at the current week. It plainly said ‘11.55: Optician’.


Heggartys answered.

‘Can I speak to Mr Beech please?’

‘Just a moment …’

‘Beech Eyecare.’

‘Mr Beech, I’m the person who gatecrashed a consultation and arrived at the wrong time …’

‘Oh hello. What can I do for you?’

‘I can’t get back to you for 11.55. I need to remake my appointment.’

‘No trouble. How would next Tuesday suit? 10. 35?’

‘Ten thirty-five next Tuesday? Fine. Thank  you – and I’m very sorry to be such an idiot.’

‘It’s not a problem …’

I now have the appointment written on the blackboard in the kitchen.



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