A heap of presents still to buy? Don't panic, says MEG CARTER - you really can do the lot in just one day
Only 12 shopping days left till Christmas - time is running out! But stay calm. A deep breath and a little lateral thinking and you can get it all sorted in one day.

Why not get everyone the book of the moment? Scan through the charts at your local bookshop for this year's Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt and Sebastian Faulks' Charlotte Gray were this year's paperback favourites. If you're looking for a hardback, the Bridget Jones sequel or Dava Sobels' Galileo's Daughter are running off the shelves. For less bookish mates, try the video of the moment - The Matrix - or for telly fiends, the video edition of Channel 4's cult hit The Sopranos.

If ideas aren't your forte, think about a personal shopper - these are now available in high street stores such as House of Fraser and some branches of Debenhams and will offer ideas and trek around the store while you eat mince pies in the restaurant. Present Connection offers advice on gift buying at its London shop or via its website.

Another short cut is to buy your presents along with your groceries. Sainsbury's is selling a range of foodie-themed special gift packs of luxury oils and herbs. Tesco has clothes and gifts alongside its more traditional festive fare. The downside is the packaging - follow a tip from the Queen who had her Tesco Christmas Puddings for palace staff re-packaged with royal insignia.

If you're too stressed to leave the house, go mail order. This year's selection of gift catalogues is bigger than ever and includes high street names from Selfridges to Marks & Spencer. Contemporary lifestyle products familiar to anyone who shops at Heals are neatly packaged by Ocean, whose catalogue includes wind-up torches and heart-shaped hot water bottles. For gifts with a more traditional flavour, try Past Times or art gallery gift shops, such as V&A Direct. How about a personalised French wine collection matched to the recipient's star sign from mail order firm Liquid Assets? Or have perfumes and scented candles delivered to your loved one's door from Send a Scent.

More options can be found on the net. For books access amazon and bol, and for toys, try toyzone and etoys. If you're stuck for ideas on-line gift suggestions services like presentpicker or iwanttoshop are useful - both offer personalised advice. happychristmas.com details best and worst gifts given and received by previous visitors to the site.

Other useful starting points include shopping portals, like Boots' handbag.com, which provide one-stop access to a range of gift sites. btspree.com details the best deals available on a range of rival retail sites. You can even do the West End on-line, paying virtual visits to Liberty, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges from the warmth and comfort of your own home, glass of mulled wine in hand.

Be warned, however. Gift surfing saves energy and time only with pre- planning, advises e-shopping consultant Clive Wood. "On-line you are - quite literally - spoilt for choice," he says. "Decide first what you want to buy - if possible, before going on-line. Ensure the site you order from delivers to the UK and double check delivery dates." Every site and mail order catalogue has a cut off point for Christmas orders. Many are saying 17 December for standard delivery and 20 December for express delivery. And ask if the item being sent can be left in a secure place (in case you're out), or if you need to sign for it. You don't want to spend a day shopping on-line then three more queuing at your local parcel depot.

"Experience" gifts are impressive and quick to organise. Activity Superstore 2000 offers activities including an afternoon skiing with Eddie the Eagle. Boots has a tailored events service with ideas including nights away and cosmetic makeovers. Or book a weekend away or night at the theatre. On- line service lastminute.com can arrange this at short notice. Or pre-book a visit to the Dome or trip on London's giant wheel, the Millennium Eye.

A growing number of good cause sponsorship schemes sell "living gifts" with a range of adoption opportunities including neighbourhood dormice (yes, really) to endangered trees. London Zoo, for example, has more than 600 species available for adoption - money raised contributes to food and vet bills and adoptive parents receive certificates and newsletters about their furry friends. The Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society is looking for surrogate parents for dolphins such as Bubbles - "a friendly, mature female". For details of local schemes contact the Wildlife Trusts.

If by tea-time inspiration is fading, two final thoughts. Buy a magazine subscription, or season ticket to a local gallery. Or: a Lottery ticket. There is a Millennium special on New Year's Eve with pounds 5 tickets and a chance for up to 25 people to become millionaires. And it only involves popping round the corner to the newsagent. Plus, buying one posh, stiff, white envelope. Well, it is a present, after all.


5 Activity Superstore 2000 (tel: 01799 526 526)

5 Adopt-a-dolphin scheme (tel: 0870 870 5001)

5 amazon - www.amazon.co.uk

5 bol - www.bol.com

5 btspree - www.btspree.com

5 etoys - www.etoys.co.uk

5 handbag - www.handbag.com

5 happychristmas - www.happychristmas.com

5 lastminute - www.lastminute.com

5 Liquid Assets (tel: 01279 428899)

5 Living gift schemes, local (tel: 01636 677711)

5 London Zoo's "adopt an animal" (tel: 0171 449 6262)

5 Millennium Dome (tel: 0870 606 2000)

5 Millennium Eye big wheel (tel: 0870 500 0600)

5 Ocean (tel: 0171 670 9083)

5 Past Times (tel: 0800 106666)

5 Present Connection (tel: 0171 228 4059)

5 presentpicker -


5 Send a Scent (tel: 0171 720 0202)

5 toyzone - www.toyzone.co.uk

5 V&A Direct (tel: 0171 942 2689)