Finance: On the floor

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`How could she do this to me?' he keeps bleating, with all the insight of a man clever enough to earn a large salary but too stupid to understand people

There's nowt so queer as what people will buy each other as presents, especially when they've just been told that they're getting a massive end-of-year bonus. Not that we'll see the money until April, for tax reasons we're told, but it certainly adds a little boost to what you're prepared to spend now.

Gill came back from her day off last week with the smug look on her face of a woman who has finished all her Christmas shopping. Sure enough, after a few hours in the General Trading Company and Peter Jones, and pauses in every country outfitter between Knightsbridge and Mayfair, she'd provided for every niece, godchild and all the rest. And I haven't even started.

Neither has Rory, but that's not surprising. He's still reeling from The Mouse's sudden decision to head off to the tropics for a holiday with his credit card and the boy from the wine merchants. Not very long-suffering- wife-like behaviour at all, which is why Rory looks at the moment like a man who's been savaged by a kitten.

In the circumstances, he's decided to hire a personal shopper to handle his Christmas list. "My mind just isn't on presents. How could she do this to me?" he keeps bleating at us, with all the insight of a man clever enough to earn a large salary but too stupid to understand people. "But, Rory, you do it to her all the time," we remind him, but we might as well save ourselves the bother, since all he ever replies is, "They don't mean anything." Of course not, silly us.

So now our chief honcho has his personal shopper, who turns out to be young, pretty and very impressed by Rory. She can't be terribly good at her job, however, since she seems to need constant guidance, and Rory's been having to take her out to lunch and dinner in order to make sure she buys the right things. Poor girl, little does she know that early in the New Year her name will be added to the list of "People Rory Does Not Take Calls From", and the FX boys are already running a book on which day it happens.

All this does nothing to get my own Christmas shopping sorted, of course. So I'm bracing myself for hitting the shops this weekend, though since I don't surface on Saturdays until 2pm, I won't have to spend too many hours in the general scrum. Anyway, this time I'm going to buy antiques all round, since last year's effort with the swish designer labels didn't go down too well. I bought a Prada bag for my grandmother, and all she said was, "That's nice dear. Is Prada an Italian chain store?" On the other hand, she often calls me Clementine - her sister, who died when she was nine - so Grandma's world is plainly a bit different and I shouldn't be offended.

Besides, there's another hazard to get through before the annual ritual of feigned delight ("what a clever idea"; "just what I wanted"; "how - original"). Yes, the dreaded Christmas parties. We've already been to two cocktail receptions this week, both given by a couple of the major players in the market. Good drinks and food, naturally, but another evening of talking shop and not seeing my real friends. That said, it's a good opportunity to find out who's doing what in the market. So imagine my horror when I walked into the first party on Monday night and saw wall- to-wall pinstripes. I didn't spot any women anywhere, and I was just bracing myself for an evening of being the novelty turn when the chocolate-voiced Philippe came purring up and said, "At last, a woman who's not afraid to look like a woman."

Puzzled, I looked round the room again, and saw there were in fact several women, but in pinstripe suits and with low-maintenance, short haircuts. So much for equality, I thought angrily. Professor Higgins would have been delighted.

So when I spotted my mate Linda among them, I asked her what the hell was going on. "Oh, hello, darling," she slurred. "We had our Christmas lunch today, and we all had to dress up in drag. The boys have gone home to change."

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