From 'on trend' to 'over' in the blink of an eye

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The Independent Online

It might be the first sign of a midlife crisis. Or just boredom. But when I went to the opticians for a routine eye test last month, I decided I needed a pair of glasses that would give me a Dramatic New Look.

When I got my first pair two years ago, I was so horrified that my hitherto 20/20 vision had been compromised by the onset of my late thirties that I chose those gold-coloured metal frames that are so thin they're almost invisible. I only needed them for driving and working on computers, but if anything this made it worse. At least blanket short-sightedness would allow me to wear contact lenses.

Yet something has changed in the past two years, because when I went back in February – nine months before I turn 40 – I rather liked the black, heavy-rimmed Ronnie Barker-style frames that sat in rows on the wall. There were so many of them I assumed they must be "on trend". I nearly punched the air when the optician told me, gravely, that my eyesight had got slightly worse so I would need a new prescription, and ordered a pair of Eric Morecombes. They are, of course, also the glasses popularised by TV geeks such as choirmaster Gareth Malone and BBC political editor Nick Robinson. Nerds are in fashion aren't they? When Kate Winslet wore a similar pair to the opening night of The Book of Mormon earlier this month, I was convinced I'd struck eyewear gold.

But it was only when watching Michael Gove on Question Time that I remembered that the Secretary of State for Geeks has also recently acquired a pair (his are from Cutler and Gross, mine are slightly cheaper, from Demenego). Perhaps he too is encountering a midlife crisis. Or maybe I am considering a bid to lead the Conservative Party. But free schools ideologue was not the look I was going for.

Wearing heavy-rimmed specs must be like driving a Mini or a Volkswagen Beetle. You suddenly notice everyone else who is driving the same car. I can let it go about Mr Gove – he got there first. But these Ronnie Barkers keep cropping up everywhere. On Budget Day, there was Peter Mandelson in the Commons gallery peering down at George Osborne, wearing the same specs as me. Then last week the Health Minister Norman Lamb was sporting a pair on Newsnight, talking about emptying Jeremy Paxman's bedpan.

The tipping point came for me when the new head of MI5 was revealed on Thursday. You might think this gives my glasses a James Bondesque allure. But with the greatest of respect to Andrew Parker, who has a fantastic record on stopping terrorists, I hadn't quite imagined a spy chief would be visually challenged.

OK, so George Smiley wore a pair of heavy-rimmed spectacles, but his image was more in-the-shadows academic. Mr Parker's glasses make him look like a provincial solicitor. It turns out his favourite hobby is birdwatching. Perhaps this is part of the plan to outsmart al-Qa'ida: who would suspect the lens-polisher sitting in his hide? But perhaps I need a rethink, because my glasses have jumped the geek.