Shopping: Save us from undead hankies

Martin Plimmer reveals what men really, really want for Father's Day

MEN ONLY want one thing, women like to say. Well, they're wrong. In 1939 Frank Swinnerton, writing in Good Housekeeping, listed six things men want: a book, tie, electric torch, slippers, pipe, box of Carlsbad plums. This list gives us a vivid image of what inert figures men of that time were, sitting in their ties and slippers, peering at books through the pipe smoke with electric torches.

One of Swinnerton's items jars with this picture: the Carlsbad plums. My father had drawers-full of slippers and pipes, but I don't ever recall him eating a Carlsbad plum. Could Swinnerton's plums be a small shout of protest, an attempt to escape male stereotyping? Or could the words "Carlsbad plums" represent something more significant, a code perhaps, instantly recognisable by all men in 1939, for the one thing men really only want?

Ask a modern man what three things he wants and he will probably say world peace, a fast woman on a slow train (or some such thing) and half an hour in a room with some handcuffs, a cattle prod and Chris Tarrant. The trouble is, we do not live in an ideal world: Father's Day gift ideas for fathers are almost as unimaginative as they were back in 1939.

Walk into any department store and into the land of the un-dead hanky presentation box, the victim's initials embroidered in the corner so he won't forget who he is while blowing his nose. He's likely to receive a "humorous book" too, a golfing picture, a spring-loaded device to hold pound coins, and one of those things that cause junior managers to embezzle and flee - the executive toy.

For my desk, the only novelty item able to keep me awake would be a Paul Spooner automaton (Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, Covent Garden, London WC2, 0171-379 7961).

Otherwise, I'd want something inspirational, like a copy of the head of Aphrodite, pictured, (British Museum shop, pounds 495 resin or pounds 1,750 bronze, 0171-636 1555), or a resin figure of a Greek girl athlete (same place, pounds 79.95).

Most men, being simple-minded, are inordinately pleased with gadgets. Novelty bottle openers, desktop pencil sharpeners, computery bits and things with buzzers will keep them happy for days at a time.

Exquisitely made tools, such as those in the Canadian Veritas range (mail order, BriMarc 01926 493389), in cherrywood boxes or velvet pouches, are satisfying to own, even if he can't bring himself to use them, and for DIY obsessives who think their tool shed is perfectly equipped already thank you, the exotic functionality of a beautifully ground Japanese marking knife (Buck and Ryan, Tottenham Court Road, London W1, 0171-636 7475) will turn their world upside down.

Never underestimate the childlike thrill that the sight of a gift-wrapped CD gives men. For myself, I'd like a copy of David Lindley's El Rayo- X, the best rock 'n' roll record ever made (HMV, 0171-432 2000).

What else do men want? Well they want a hat (pounds 100 upwards, Bates Hatter, 21a Jermyn Street, London W1. 0171-734 2722). Hats alter our sense of ourselves - no bad thing for inert slippered slobs. But I'd be content with Joelle Chariau's book on Rene Gruau (pounds 49.95, Schirmer/Mosel Verlag). Few things are as sexily satisfying as Gruau's fashion illustrations. A Carlsbad plum might be nice though.

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