I've had one for as long as I can remember. In fact, I think everyone has: the unknown relative who keeps sending 50 pence Boots tokens every Christmas. In the Seventies, 50 pence was OK - at least you could save up for that pair of mirrored tear-drop Foster Grants your parents wouldn't buy you. But over the past few years I tended to stop sending thank you letters as it was hardly worth the stamp.

When the token didn't arrive last Christmas, I can't say I was disappointed. When I became the sudden beneficiary of pounds 1,000 from this relative's will, however, I felt guilty for not having written more often - at least then she would have known just how much I'd enjoyed using my Boots Brand Baby Buds. And now it's too late.

Consequently, I became determined to buy something 'proper' with the money - so shares in Eurotunnel were definitely out. With the car and flat in working order, the searchlight was beginning to swing dangerously towards that 'supa deluxe' 20-gallon dishwasher.

Then I saw her. I'd been wandering up Westbourne Grove and there she was dressed in a blue veil standing in the window opposite. I stopped dead. I couldn't take my eyes off her. I was in love. I called my girlfriend over to have a look too. She agreed.

I'd never thought of buying a painting before. I'd thought of buying prints and posters and have to admit that it wasn't that long since I had a dog-eared film flyer of Blade Runner stuck to my wall. But a painting? No. That was for people in Roger Moore safari suits who ask to have their pounds 1m purchase delivered to 'this address' - a nine-storey mansion in SW1. So, as I tentatively entered the gallery, in my old grey track suit, I could only hope I would be thought of as some sort of Howard Hughes eccentric.

I'm not sure how well the deception worked. As I meandered round, studied by a seated man in tinted rectangular spectacles and improbably long maroon scarf, the colour in my cheeks was rising proportionately to the prices on the walls. When I finally asked him about the cost of the painting in the window, I did so while inching backwards towards the exit with the words, 'Well, that's certainly worth thinking about,' already pursed on my lips. Then, having been told that it was well under pounds 1,000, I couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with it.

'He's young,' the owner replied, 'but on the up. His brother was in Tatler last month.' And there was my predicament: I had found a painting I could afford but only because it was by a young artist I'd never heard of and, more importantly, that no one else had either. It all depended on how I viewed it. I may have stumbled across one of the artistic pillars of the next century and could one day expect to become the focus of countless Cork Street collectors willing to pay me pension fund sums. Alternatively, I could end up on the mailing list of a country fayre arts and crafts centre somewhere in Kent.

Having convinced myself of the former - that this was a discovery art critics would be falling over themselves to write lengthy tomes about, particularly his 'Westbourne Grove period' - I placed the new investment on the living-room wall and invited a trusted friend to a viewing. It was only when he expressed more interest in my pounds 5 Ikea lamp that I had my first real crisis of confidence. What if the painting was rubbish? After all, the last practical experience I had of the art market was when I beat brother at the board game Masterpiece. And that was only because I made him sit with his back to the mirror.

Some months later I was invited to my artist's first exhibition at a Mayfair gallery: it seemed I was a bit of a Charles Saatchi after all. But despite fantasies of arriving in my immaculately cut summer suit with a fistful of calling cards, I found myself wandering around the party with the colour rising in my cheeks precisely because the artist's prices hadn't. And when we were finally introduced, having suspected every goatee and pince-nez, he turned out to be the one with the pudding-bowl hair cut and the Marks and Spencer suit.

With my artistic aspirations so severely tested, I was left with the growing feeling that perhaps buying shares in the Channel tunnel wouldn't have been such a bad idea. So, it was only when I started towards the exit that I saw it. And then, as I stared at the painting, an oil on canvas as stunning as the last, I suddenly realised that it was still a hell of a lot better looking than a supa deluxe, 20-gallon dishwasher.

As I called my girlfriend over to see it too, I couldn't help but wonder if there were any other forgotten Boots-brand relatives to whom a timely letter of thanks might be in order.