Real life

Real Life

In the eye of a storm

29 July 2009

When I arrive on my deathbed the thing that will torment me most is the amount of time I’ve spent on the phone to Vision Express arguing about when my eye test is due. It reduces me to tears when I think of the wasted hours spent trying to reason with twenty-somethings puffed up into merciless autocrats by an optometrist-assistant training course. Hours when I could have been doing something more life-affirming, such as rearranging my socks.

The thing about optometristic autocrats is that they worship the computer more than anyone else on the planet. If the computer at Vision Express pronounced that you were to be boiled in oil, the people who serve behind the counter there would happily put you in a vat and stir you with a big spoon.

The routine by which they torture me is always the same. Whenever I come to the end of a box of contact lenses, the automatic system that is supposed to dispatch another one defaults and I am left myopic. So I ring up and ask where they are and the assistant always tells me that they have been ‘held in the store because you have not had your annual eye test’.


At which point my blood begins to boil as if I am in that vat. ‘I think you will find I am NOT due an eye test,’ I told her the other day, as I commenced the usual argument. She insisted I was due, and that my lenses could not be dispatched because they had a legal requirement to examine my eyes first.

‘Please don’t do this,’ I pleaded. ‘Look, I know it’s not a year since I had an eye test because the last one I had was in the winter. It was between Labour and Tory conferences. That means it must have been October.’

But she was adamant that this was not the case. ‘The computer says you are due an eye test.’ And you can’t argue with the computer. I tried, of course. I was on the phone for half an hour. At one point she told me that if I didn’t come into the store and submit to their requirements I ran the risk of going blind. Going blind!

I confess I lost it. I want to put on record here how sorry I am to the staff of Vision Express Canary Wharf for shouting and wailing and accusing them of being part of a global, government-backed conspiracy to brainwash me through the medium of too-frequent eye tests. (Although they obviously are.)

I slammed the phone down, rang back a few minutes later and had the same argument with a different assistant. He confirmed I had no choice but to cancel my holiday in the south of France to have an eye test next Wednesday, and informed me that if I had been ‘better organised’ I might not be in this position.

I slammed the phone down, waited three minutes and tried again. You see, with computers you have a chance of something random going in your favour eventually. And so it proved. This time a sensible-sounding girl answered. She tapped a few buttons and said, ‘Your lenses were dispatched yesterday and should be with you in a few days’ time.’ What, no need for an eye test? ‘Oh, no. You had an eye test in October.’

I told her, ‘You are a wonderful human being. You are a shining light in a terrible world.’ She seemed a bit underwhelmed by this news, but it did me good to tell her.

Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.

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  • Old Dan Tucker

    Please don’t tell me you got paid to write this drivel.

  • D Short

    This is the kind of pub conversation people have, moaning about modern life.

    Surely an exec of the Telegraph can go somewhere else? I know Vision Express is the only mainstream optician at Canary Wharf but a Sunday paper journo has Monday to shop around.

    And get some specs as a back up.

  • Alan HIll

    You think vision express is bad!

    You should try dealing with the FSA.

  • Celeste

    It’s not just optometrist receptionists. Doctors, dentists – any health care office has these watchdogs at the front gate. The one thing they excel in is confidence. It’s a control thing. They know that their training and skills are pretty basic, yet they have the ability to put the patient on hold, insist on certain requirements, etc.
    I do the same, and just keep calling back – usually, you do get what you want eventually. So much for progress.