Thursday, 22 September 2011

Terror, available freely for NHS patients on the High Street

If you usually Facebook to find updates on my blog, well done on getting this far! Cinderella apparently couldn’t find it, and it all got too much…

…as I discovered on a walk near my house this week. Sorry children if you’re reading, it probably wasn’t a painful death!

What Cinderella clearly needed was a stay-cation, for those of you not wanky enough to know what a stay-cation is, it’s basically where you take a vacation but stay at home. Stay-cations are excellent for those people without any friends or loved ones to go on holiday with, step forward me. One advantage of the stay-cation is that you can get all manner of things done. You know all the things that you really should get done in the weekend, but can always far more frivolous things to do and thus put them off. Leaving tasks like sorting out your house, cleaning the bathroom and finding a purpose to your life all undone for weeks on end. A stay-cation can be perfect because it gives you an opportunity to get these done, primarily because you run out of things to put them off with after seven days. Obviously I didn’t get any of these things done, what with having the attention span of an attention-deficient child who has just been fed a skip filled entirely with sherbet dip.

Rather than doing any of those important tasks I decided instead to go and give my body a full MOT. I managed to go to the doctors, dentists and opticians all in the same day. A list of activities that can feel even the bravest man with fear. Often it depends what you are going in for, as to which of these is going to be the most scary. Obviously if you’ve got an entire volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica wedged firmly up your arse then I’m guessing that the doctors will top the fear list, that and you’ve probably recently been banned from the popular reference section of your local library.
However typically the dentist tops people’s list of terror, for some unknown reason the thought of someone boring into your mouth with Channel Tunnel drilling equipment whilst charging you an amount somewhere in the region of Greece’s national debt for the privilege, isn’t top on people’s to-do list. I have to say I never really had a big problem with the dentist; my top reason for not going is laziness. Despite this I finally made it in, during my stay-cation allowing someone to poke around in my mouth like a squirrel searching for where it buried it’s nuts made of plaque. Turned out I needed a filling, now don’t judge (I know I do when I hear someone’s had to have fifteen teeth removed, invariably telling you as the down a six-pack of Coca-Cola), but I didn’t need a new filling, an old one had broken. In fact my teeth are doing better than the fillings, I’ve got enough dental floss coming out my mouth to string up the Blackpool Illuminations. So there Mr or Mrs Judgmental.
I’ve never been that bothered by the drilling part of the dentist, largely because the provision of anaesthetic generally counters my primary objection to a fully operational dolls’ house scale set of power tools being operated in my mouth. Though I must admit the angle grinder attachment that comes out to sand down the finished teeth is a little disconcerting and if anything feels like a little too much craftsmanship. My main objection to the dentist is the vacuum cleaner like hose that is inserted into your mouth to presumably suck up flying bits of tooth, gum or tongue that occurs during the construction work. The sensation of a high powered suction pump pull air at force ten gale speeds through your teeth is probably one of the most unpleasant things I’ve ever experienced. It’s like having your tongue extracted by a Henry Hoover without the reassurance that at least it can offer you a dam good blow job when it’s finished.
Bit much? Sorry.
On this particular visit, the experience was not helped by the fact that the operator of said “Suction Tube of DeathTM” was a ruthlessly efficient German woman, who never once raised her surgical face mask and only ever replied to any statement with the word “Yah”. She showed approximately 5% more personality than the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica or about 150% more personality than Piers Morgan for those requiring a reference other than Battlestar Galactica.
However for me, it’s not the dentist that evokes the greatest sense of dread as I walk down the High Street, no it’s the opticians. Don’t agree? Well I ask you this, which of these sounds most like the goings on in an underground government torture facility, having your teeth drilled into whilst under anaesthetic, OR having metal frames strapped to your head whilst an array of powerful lights is shinned into the deepest recesses of your eyes and you’re ordered to recite a jumbled list of pointless letters off the wall. See. On the gates of Guantanamo Bay there’s a sign that reads “twinned with Dollond & Aitchison, Swansea Branch”.

My regular opticians is Boots the Opticians whose tagline, coincidentally, is Should Have Gone to Specsavers, this has been earned to the general haphazard nature of the service provided. It’s not that any, ok not that many, of the front line staff I’ve met haven’t been anything other than pleasant and competent. It’s just that they’re invariably always reporting on some calamitous disaster that has happened behind the scenes, like the inadvertent fitting of the lenses of the Hubble Space Telescope into my new glasses during the manufacture or accidentally placing of next month’s contact lenses in the eyes of a passing badger. It’s almost like the head office is being run by the Chuckle Brothers, ably assisted by Jedward as their PAs. In fairness they clearly employ clever mind-reading staff though, as every time they detect me wavering and considering moving to another optician, they offer me a discount and suddenly it all becomes right again. It turns out I am happy to trust my eye care to a bunch of cretins who couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, even if the instructions were written in a chart of decreasing font size on the wall, so long as they offer me a hefty discount.

For those of you who, unlike me, weren’t blessed with the optical strength of a rusty teaspoon at birth, and therefore would have at least a decent chance of reproducing were the government to reintroduce survival of the fittest as a policy again, you might not be familiar with the journey to hell (on a rail replacement bus service) that a typical visit to the opticians represents. First up you’re seen by assistant, rather than an optician, it’s their job to operate on you with the shop’s latest torture devices. Previous examples include the device which blasts a jet of high pressure air directly into your eyeball to see what reaction this produces. Invariably it causes me to flail around uncontrollably until I punch the assistant in the face, at which point they usually stop. This time the latest device of mass destruction was a piece of equipment designed to provide an exceptionally detailed photograph of the back of the eye. Which it captures, apparently, by detonating a naval grade distress flare approximately two nanometres from the surface of your eyeball, the resulting flash of light being enough to stun a fully grown African Elephant. Still all these escapades pail in comparison to the time when I was given drops to open the pupils of my eyes for an in depth examination. I was told the drops took about thirty minutes to kick in, but it was an exceptionally hot day, and the air conditioning in the waiting room had broken so the helpful optometrist suggested I go for a browse down the High Street. Approximately twenty minutes later at the height of the midday sun, my pupils opened to their maximum aperture on a permanent basis. Thus causing me to have walk back to the opticians in absolute agony, shielding my face as best from the sun as possible, whilst forcing my eyelids to go against their every natural desire and stay open in the blinding sunlight. I had so many tears streaming down my face I looked like a pre-pubescent teenage girl who’d just heard that Take That had broken up.

Those who survive the first round of pain, which feels like it’s been closely modelled on the first round of Total Wipeout, are then allowed into the optician’s examination room, a Santa’s grotto of torture equipment decorated with cross-sections of the human eye. Although worryingly my opticians has now started doubling up doing hearing tests, so this time round I had to sit next to a fully annotated diagram of the ear. Which given the usual competence of Boots the Opticians lead me to worry that someone might try and fit a hearing aid under my right eyelid. However there’s no time to panic, as instead a giant metal arm swings round to pin you into the Mastermind style chair. The opticians then proceeds to shine a blinding light into your eyes whilst commanding you to look left, look up, look down and blink on command as they invade your personal space. After five minutes of this they ask if you ever experience sore eyes or see flashing lights, “YES” straight after you decided to blind me for a laugh. Next up they proceed to cover one of your eyes whilst showing you the traditional optometrist chart depicting the letters of various sizing. Unfortunately despite having the modern technology required to actually project the chart on the wall, most opticians appear to have only one set of letters, meaning the examination of the second eye simply becomes a memory puzzle to see how much you remember from the previous eye.

After all these you are presented with your prescription, which unlike an NHS prescription costs a dam sight more than £7.40 when they utter the immortal line “you need new glasses”. Yes, because if it wasn’t enough to be born blind enough to mistake a hat stand for your parents, over the next twenty years of your life your eyesight will deteriorate faster than the Liberal Democrats opinion poll.

Choosing glasses is always a horrid affair fraught with danger, even if you have contact lenses you’re probably going to need to spend a good proportion of the next few years of your life with these glasses proudly displayed on your nose for all to see. There aren’t many facial features you get to choose, and the process of choosing glasses proves that in most cases you’re better off sticking with nature’s lottery – unless of course you’re me and you look like you were constructed by a deprived child using the Halloween Edition of Mr Potato Head. Unlike a t-shirt which can be subtly placed at the bottom of a drawer after a few wears once the realisation sets in that you’ve made a bad choice, glasses that turn out to be a rash purchase remind you of their existence for a long time to come, unless you’re prepared to shell out a three figure sum for another set. This can be where it’s a good idea to take a friend with your for honest advice, though don’t take a wise guy joker as you’ll probably end up looking like Deidre from Coronation Street’s less fashionable cousin.

Of course if you don’t want to pay a fortune you can always ask for NHS glasses, provided of course you can convince them you’re a small child. At this point a secret drawer will be opened up beneath the lush display cabinets of glasses, the inside will be filthy and its contents will look like a lost property cupboard in a school populated by only those with no taste. I don’t see how it’s any cheaper to make glasses that look as bad as these glasses actually do; in fact I suspect extra money has been spent to make them look hideous. I think the deal is that if you want the rest of the tax paying community to pay for your eyesight that’s fine, so long as you’re prepared to go around with pieces of plastic strapped to your face that look like they would survive orbital re-entry to give everyone who has paid for them a good laugh.

Sadly at the young age when I first needed glasses, my parents had a different philosophy. They firmly believed that if you’re going to wear glasses you should be proud of this fact and wear the biggest and boldest rimmed spectacles you find, much like Dame Edna Everage, except without the comic irony. Effectively they paid to put me in NHS glasses, as at that age my only aesthetic requirement was that they be blue. And maybe this one fact explains my true terror at the thought of revisiting the opticians.

Still with glasses like that it gave people something to laugh at other than my face, in some ways it was a welcome relief.