Walking into Aldrin’s, my local opticians is like walking back forty years straight onto the set of a seventies sitcom. The shop itself is a bewildering mish-mash of old shop dummies with lopsided glasses and spangly headscarves; a top shelf that’s like an ever changing shrine (this week it’s Bruce Lee / last week it was Egyptian pharoahs); a collection of chairs ranging in style from 1950s dentist to 1850s Parisian bar; a tall, rectangular glass display case filled with sunglasses, and in the shop window, a red corner sofa where a bunch of characters come and go for no apparent reason.
Mr Aldrin, the optician, is a witty, personable, slightly louche character in a tank top and pastel slacks, with jangling wrists of lucky charm bracelets, and a gold tooth. I don’t know whether he does it unconsciously, or whether he read about it in one of the magazines that lie about the shop – but Mr A always adopts exactly the same posture you take when you talk to him. To the extent that it’s become a bit of a thing whenever I go in to stand in the most ridiculous poses and see if he does the same. Which of course he always does.
There’s an old TV up on a bracket, and every time I’m in it’s playing something retro. Last week it was ‘Duel’, the early Spielberg road thriller; today it was concert footage of Roger Whittaker (Mr Aldrin: ‘Watch out! He’ll start whistling in a minute!) Although thinking about it, both Weaver and Whittaker were big spectacle wearers, so maybe that’s why he chose them.
Today I’ve gone in to pick up my new glasses.
SCENE: MAN goes into Aldrins Opticians. Roger Whittaker is whistling on the TV. There’s a CUSTOMER, a middle-aged woman, sitting neutrally in the window seats, a giant Scooby Doo cuddly toy leaning up against her. MR ALDRIN is pottering around the glasses display. MRS C, the very ancient woman who sits behind the counter, is … erm… sitting behind the counter.
SFX : Tinkle of a shop bell.
MR A: A very good morning to you. How are you?
MAN: I’m good thanks. Yeah. How are you?
MR A: Absolutely no trace of a hangover.
MAN: Really? That’s great!
MR A: Vodka is so pure it burns clean away.
MAN: I never knew that.
MR A: My eldest took me to Vegas. His stag do.
MAN: I think I saw that film
MR A: They made me watch it before I went. And I have to say it was very helpful. We had a fabulous time. A pool to ourselves. And the waiters! They just kept coming and going with Vodkas and cokes. All told I think I must’ve been drinking about nineteen hours straight.
MR A: And everything was as clear as these glasses by the end of it. At one point, Dan went off with his mates to see Calvin Harris. Y’know who Calvin Harris is, don’t you?
MAN: I think so.
MR A: Well I didn’t. That’s why I didn’t go. So I wandered off, and eventually I found myself at this show. A famous couple from the seventies. And they played six hours straight. And they were completely fabulous. Who d’you think it was?
MAN: I don’t know. Chas n’Dave?
MR A: One of them’s a girl.
MAN: Chas n’Dave – no – I’m kidding. Erm – Peters & Lee
MR A: Who?
MAN: Peters & Lee. You know. (closes his eyes and starts singing) ‘Welcome home….’
MR A: (shakes his head) You’re thinking of Ray Charles. No – it was Donny & Marie.
MR A: (pointing at her) That’s it!
WOMAN: Now he IS fabulous. (She picks up the Scooby Doo, dances it on her lap, then hugs it).
MR A: That’s Vegas for you. Full of surprises. And good value. Now then. What can I do for you?
MAN: I just wondered if my glasses were in.
MRS C: (grumpily) I did ring, you know.
MAN: Did you? Sorry. I didn’t get the message. Maybe our phone’s on the blink.
MRS C: (shrugs) Mind you, I left about a hundred messages for a customer the other day, and then eventually got a callback saying can you stop ringing this number, this is Salisbury.
MR A: Phones, eh? (secretly pulling face at me). I say, Mrs C – could you take the lettering off of these lenses for the gentleman? Shan’t keep you a moment.
(MRS C hauls out a large bottle of methylated spirits – pretends to take a swig – then starts cleaning the glasses)
WOMAN: I was at that Health Spa the other day. And I was lying on this lounger… by the pool….
MR A: Not the car park, then?
WOMAN: …and I could see this elderly man out of the corner of my eye, and I thought I know you. And I couldn’t help keep sneaking a look, because it’s terrible when you know you know something but you can’t quite…. you just can’t…..And when he left, and walked past me, he looked down at me and gave me a lovely big cheeky grin, and it was the grin what gave it away. I knew immediately who it was. Guess who it was.
MR A: I think we need a bit more detail.
MAN: Old or young?
WOMAN: Not very old. But quite old. Before YOUR time.
MR A: Well I know who Shakespeare is but I’m not four hundred and fifty, am I?
WOMAN: He was in a sitcom. I used to love it. About this old married couple. Although thinking about it he could only have been about thirty when they made it.
MR A: Brian Murphy!
WOMAN: (pointing at MR A, delighted) Yes!
(she dances the Scooby Doo around again. MAN is just about to ask her where it came from when MRS C interrupts, holding out the glasses…)
MRS C: Well do you want them or not?