IT all started simply enough.  Difficulty in seeing the end of the fly rod never mind a head-and-tail rise 40 metres away, meant it was time for a new pair of glasses. That’s when the trouble started, as the next episode of Not Exactly Fishing reveals.

See me? See my optician? We’re like old chums. Well, we are now. Six months ago, I wouldn’t have known the guy, or his assistants if I’d bumped into them in the street, either with or without my glasses. Now, we’re on first name terms. “Come in, come in, Gordon have a seat. I’ll just get your latest pair and you can try them on. Any problems with the ones you’re wearing?”

Now this may not sound familiar conversation at your current wheel-’em-in-whack-’em-on-wheel-’em-out optical chain store, unless you happen to be an Elton John lookalike with a one-pair-a-day fetish and a pop star’s bank balance to match.

Free sunspecs - just read on

Need a pair of sunspecs? Have a pair on me . . .

In my case, we’re not talking about outrageous Dame Edna sequinned horn rims. We’re not talking about scratch-resistant, multi-focal, self-cleaning, designer-labelled ( . . . and that will be an extra £75, thank you) jobs.

Oh, no. What we’re talking about here is straightforward, no frills specs: a present from The Ghillie Herself, she being genuinely concerned that I hadn’t had my eyes tested for at least three years and could see neither the end of the fly rod without my old pair, nor tell the difference between a blue Rapala and a blue whale because of the scratches even when I had them on.

OK, I did settle for a very-far-from-NHS pair of rimless glasses. Not quite in the Cartier class, but on the wrong side of £150. I liked them because they were light, comfortable, clear and didn’t make me look as if I was wearing the things at all.

I will admit to being seduced by the marketing men. The prospect of prescription sunglasses thrown in free for a myopic, gullible chap like myself, was a low trick. But there was a vestige of practicality: have you ever attempted to apply a pair of clip-on lenses with one hand while negotiating a 30 mph right-hand turn? A smart new pair of ordinary spectacles AND a separate pair of sunglasses to keep in the car, at no extra charge, seemed the ideal solution.

In three months, however, my collection of frames rose from one to four and I now have sufficient stock of spare spectacle cases and lens clothes to start a small market stall. I wore a path to the optician’s door: eight visits from eye test, to final, final fitting.

The first pair to arrive, some two weeks later than promised, had a cracked lens where the leg joined. “Take them with you on holiday,” offered the pleasant sales assistant, “and we’ll have another pair made.” They lasted two days before the leg broke off. To be fair, the big, dark, prescription sunglasses, had already been voted a success. You’d need a chain saw to get a leg off these.

A replacement pair emerged miraculously the day before my holiday and I eagerly scuttled to town to collect them. A new assistant adjusted the glasses to fit with all the dexterity of Tommy Cooper and snapped off a leg before my very eyes. Just like that.

I went home, composed a terse, indignant letter about The Ghillie Herself having paid out all that money with only a pair of sun specs to show for it and went off on holiday with my old pair.

These are not the glasses you ordered,” The Ghillie Herself, declared

On my return there was no official reply to the letter, but a fresh pair awaited collection. “I see you’ve been having a little trouble with these,” a third sales assistant announced with consummate tact. This time the amputation took place in a back room away from my gaze. “I’m sorry, the leg snapped off during adjustment,” she said clinically. “Would you like to choose a different pair?”

Discussions with the manager quickly followed and he intervened personally, organising another new pair, delivering them and adjusting the fit flawlessly, but failing to notice that the legs and bridge were the wrong colour from those I first ordered. TGH  was not so blind. “Those,” she announced emphatically, “are not the glasses you ordered.” As is generally the case, she was right.

Still, by now I had gained a gratis second-choice pair in addition to the free sunglass as recompense for being at the centre of the longest running spectacle outside Drury Lane. Two up and one to play.

Finally, many weeks later, tenacity paid off and I took possession from a trembling assistant, the glasses I ordered, in one piece. With a 12 month guarantee dating from final collection.

Four pairs of glasses, is of course, ludicrous. I can only ever wear one pair at a time. Well, actually nowadays two. When on the water, I have foresaken the sunglasses for a pair of Cocoons designed to be worn over the top of my own specs. They have proved to be both highly effective and comfortable, and won’t need replacing when advancing age soon decrees I need a new prescription. [Note shop around for discount prices].

They are all I’m ever likely to need and have opened my eyes to the fact that these days, specs have moved on from simple utilitarian artefacts to become  objects of raging desire, targeted at that most basic of human frailties – vanity.

Fuelled by astronomical fashion advertising and marketing budgets which severely distort the need versus greed perspective,  NHS spectacles have become almost synonymous with a social security cheque. If choice is what it’s all about, then I for one would be happy with less.

I ceased being angry about my glasses fiasco early on and adopted an attitude of studied amusement as the charade rumbled along. Now, on reflection, I’m just sorry that spectacle wearers elsewhere are clearly bearing the cost of doubtful quality, workmanship and erratic service which seems to underpin the outrageous retail prices meted out to you and me.

Any industry which can well afford to resort to multiple repairs, significant offers of compensation for harassed customers and maintain a major programme of free inducements, has to be making indecent profits or it wouldn’t be in business.

Or is that too short-sighted a view?

PS: A recent visit to a well-known angling store resulted in a free gift at the check-out. Yes, you’ve guessed. It was a free pair of sunglasses. Any one who wants them free of charge can email me. First come, first served. And if you break a leg off. Bad luck! I have a strictly non-negotiable  no-return policy.

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