To take full advantage of my dolee status, I made an appointment to see the optician at Boots in Wolverhampton.
The glasses aren't doing what they once did and I'm having trouble distinguishing whether that moving blob in the distance is a truck or a bus.
So I went through the tests. Field of vision, crude focus, the eye puff test and the take-a-picture-of-the-retina test.
Then I went in with the Opthalmologist for the "proper" eye test.
This girl was new. She was pushy from the get go. I made it clear that I was unemployed as I had to show her my HC2 certificate which entitles me to free eye tests and cheap NHS glasses. She said she understood and sympathised.
As the eye test progressed, it became obvious that my eye sight had deteriorated. It took an embarrassingly long time for the red and green lights to appear of equal strength and for the black dots to come into focus. I still can't read that bottom line on the eyechart either.
Again the Opthalmologist sympathised. The only people who seemed to be able to read that bottom line were service personnel. They seem to be feeding them something.
The weird hairs growing out of the corners of my eye were irritating me as they were starting to curl towards my eyeballs. She prescribed hypromellose eye drops and told me to stop plucking them out as that could lead to infection.
After the eye test, she spelled out the options. My eyes had deteriorated significantly and as I neede prescriptions for far and close work, I needed (she emphasised needed) varifocals or, at the very least, bifocals.
As I was unemployed, she continued, I was entitled to financial help with the cost of the glasses and as she was recommending complex lenses, I was entitled to an E NHS voucher as opposed to the standard A NHS voucher.
She hustled me out and sent me back onto the sales floor. The sales girl and I sat down and discussed the options. She recommended the most expensive "gold standard" varifocal lenses. Finally we started talking about prices.
How much would the glasses be?
Smiling, she quoted more than three months mortgage interest payments for the lenses alone. The frames would be an additional cost on top of that.
She made a play of double checking. Yep. More than three months mortgage interest payments.
Then she glanced down at the paperwork in front of her and corrected herself. With the E NHS voucher, that'll only be three months mortgage interest payments.
After I was sitting stunned for a little while, she looked at the cheaper options. The "silver standard" would be nearly three months mortgage interest payments with the E NHS voucher and with the "bronze standard" lenses that would be two and half months mortgage interest payments.
I repeated again, slowly, that I was unemployed and that even with the E NHS voucher, I would not be able to afford a "tin standard", even if they did such a thing.
With a kind of ease which suggested she had done this sort of thing before, she turned the E on the form to an A.
I needed two pairs then, she said, one for distance and one for reading. They were doing a 2 for 1 offer on Boots own brand frames which included the cost of simple lenses and she tried to lead me to the higher priced (and admittedly nicer) frames on the expensive stands.
I went to the lower priced stand with the "little old lady" plastic frames. There were a few metal frames with nose cushions. I pointed to two slightly different metal frames, one for distance and one for close up.
Financially, it turned out to be a very good choice. The A NHS voucher covered the cost of the first pair of glasses and with the 2 for 1 offer, I didn't have to pay for the second pair either.
Aesthetically, it's another story. They do look lame. However, they're free and beggars can't be choosers.
The Sales girl showed me to the till, as I still had to pay £10 for the photograph of my retinas which will remain on file until my next eye examination. She smiled through gritted teeth and told me I'd get a call when my glasses would be ready.
I thanked her politely and walked away wondering what someone with less willpower would have done.