The Weasel: A spectacle of myself

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The striking depiction of the Weasel by Lucinda Rogers that illuminates this column on a weekly basis is, of course, an impeccably accurate likeness of the author. But if compelled to make a criticism of my likeness I might point out that the specs are wrong. I went through my John Lennon phase over two decades ago. Though fine for the sardonic Scouser's beaky nose, they didn't do much for the Weaselian features, even with the oh-so-cool (or so I thought) amendment of a blue tint to the lenses. After that, I had a brief flirtation with contact lenses. This was even less of a success since the soft lenses failed to correct my astigmatism. "Have you ever considered wearing glasses with your contact lenses?" inquired the ophthalmologist. Whenever I've told the story to opticians they find nothing amusing in it at all.

After ditching the contacts, I continued with metal frames in various shapes, none of them entirely successful. There is a distinct danger with these spectacles that, while believing you look like Eric Clapton, you actually bear a strong resemblance to the nasty SS bloke in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Eventually, I decided to return to plastic frames. I'd worn various types of these in the distant past. Most were fairly conventional in shape, akin to those worn by Superman's alter-ego Clark Kent, Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby and, come to think, the big band leader Billy Cotton. At one point I sported a pair with hexagonal lenses purchased when I fell under the potent influence of Vivian Stanshall. (Ageing zanies may recall that his idiosyncratic giglamps featured as a cut-out on the cover of the Bonzo Dog Band LP Tadpoles.)

The only trouble about returning to plastic frames is that they are rather hard to find. Though high-street opticians sell a vast range of styles, they are almost all metal frames. I had a moment of optimism in a local specs shop when I saw the manager was wearing a rather flash pair in green plastic. He was amused when I asked if the shop had any in stock. "Oh, no!" he trilled. "You can't get these here!" Occasionally, I would see desirable plastic frames, but always perched on famous noses rather than in opticians' windows. The provenance of such cool correctives remained a mystery. Where, for example, did Dr David Starkey get his stylish tortoiseshell specs?

Eventually I was given the chance to resolve this quandary when I interviewed the celebrated historian. Here is the full text of our exchange. Weasel: "Where did you get your specs?" Dr Starkey: "From a shop called Opera Opera on Long Acre in Covent Garden." Leaving a Roadrunner-style trail of dust in my wake, I vamoosed for WC2. The shop in question turned out to be a fabulous repository of optical plastic. Speccy wearers can choose from the Hank B Marvin, the Johnny Depp, the Austin Powers or even the heart-shaped Lolita. I tried the Dr Starkey but they were not quite me. Instead, I went for the Jonathan Meades in clear plastic and matching sunglasses in tortoiseshell. They were fine in every respect except price. Two pairs of varifocals cost the wrong side of £800.

That was four years ago. Since then, my prescription has changed due to the effects of aging augmenting my familiar astigmatism. Returning to Opera Opera for two new pairs of glasses, I traded up to some slightly more expensive frames. The bill came to £1,200. This was more than a little knee-weakening, especially since many folk seem quite happy with ready-made reading specs from the chemist for £7.99. On the other hand, when I told my culinary friends Fergus Henderson and Jeremy Lee, both of whom wear distinctive plastic-framed glasses, of my stupendous outlay, their response was reassuring. "A bargain!" they exclaimed. Well, they might be a bargain if I actually wore them. There is a tendency for spec purchasers to stick to their old, inefficient glasses rather than take the plunge with a new prescription. "Make sure wear them!" was the parting adieu from Opera Opera. Yes, I promise I will do one day in the foreseeable future.



eas and beans are great for getting kids involved in real food," announced Mark Hix in these pages recently. "It pays to have extra pairs of hands to get the podding done." I'm sorry to break it to Mark, but such leguminous education has been singularly lacking in this neck of the woods judging by Mrs W's recent experience at Sainsbury's. On three separate visits, she was asked at the check-out to identify an exotic vegetable she wished to purchase. "There're peas," she explained. Eager to provide enlightenment, she shucked a pod for the baffled cashiers.

"Coo, they're all in a row!" one of her interrogators, though another was less impressed. "Doneatvege," explained the young gourmet.

A leading food producer has come to the assistance of Britain's bewildered youth by revising the name of another legume. The product sold as Heinz Baked Beans since 1886 and, more recently, as Heinz Baked Beanz is to be labelled Heinz Beanz from next month. A company spokesman explained the contraction was required since the current appellation is "a bit of a mouthful to pronounce". Though peas in pod are an unfathomable mystery to the jeunesse d'orée of south London, my friend Mark may be gratified to learn that they can manage a mouthful of beans – or, at any rate, beanz.

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