I AM not a particularly fashion- conscious person, as the lady who runs my local Oxfam - whose eyes light up whenever I walk in - will testify. To me, in fact, there are few more depressing words than "fashion special" when written on the front of a normally perfectly decent colour supplement, but I did happen to glean the other day that tie knots are getting smaller.

Good news? Well, maybe, but I hadn't actually known that they'd been getting bigger. My own tie knots are sort of medium-sized in reaction to the tie-knot traumas of my schooldays. Back then - and I'm talking mid-Seventies - big knots were in. The idea was that your tie would fill up the whole of the V of your 110 per cent acrylic V-neck school jumper, and the resulting arrangement was only about three inches long yet almost a foot wide. It was, in other words, all knot and no tie.

It looked completely ridiculous, of course, but to essay a small tie knot was to risk permanent ostracisation... until Tuesday, 8 July, 1977. I think it was on this date that it became imperative that your tie knot be microscopically tiny, barely concealing the top button of your shirt. For that was how Johnny Rotten wore his tie, not to mention Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and Reckless Eric, who wore the smallest, tightest tie knots of all which, in retrospect, might explain his unique vocal style. The only punk rocker to employ a large tie knot was Mark E Smith of The Fall, and he was doing it (as that Mancunian iconoclast does everything else) with irony - a concept that existed only in a very primitive form in my secondary school. So I went with the flow, and started strangling myself with my ties.

My father looked on askance throughout these shenaginans. Since approximately 1938, he has maintained a steady Windsor knot - an equilateral triangle which he carefully composed with his tie around his thigh, garter-like, while listening to the Today programme and eating egg and bacon, or other food which passed for healthy in those days. Whenever I was going anywhere important he would do me a Windsor knot, thus doubling my nervousness by entrusting me with such a perfect piece of cloth geometry.

I have never mastered the Windsor myself, and my tie knots remain of the conventional, slightly tubular sort which I don't think even merits a name.

I did, however, master the tying of a bowtie at university, thus sparing myself the disgrace of a pert, prefabricated dicky bow. But the other week, having been invited to a black-tie function for the first time in years, I found that my fingers wouldn't move with the old fluidity. I spent an hour in front of the mirror, wailing to the wife "But it's like learning to swim... you can't forget".

I went to Moss Bros and picked up some bowtie-tying instructions and, as a stand-by, a pre-tied dinky bow. I spent another hour cursing - "But in a mirror everything is backwards...!" Then I finally managed to crack it.

I haven't felt so happy in a long time.