What happens when men hit the high street? HESTER LACEY trails three blokes around town - and tries not to laugh

The shopper: Andrew Haggard (right), 31, co-owner of the Imperial pub on London's King's Road, and independent brewer.

The challenge: A birthday present for his mother-in-law and a gift for a friend's new-born baby; Budget: pounds 50.

How it went: Andrew never goes shopping if he can help it, and his initial reaction was one of alarm. "This is my wife's department," he wailed. However, he pulled himself together to have a go. "Babies need something they can't hurt themselves with, and they like bright colours," he reasoned, quite logically. In Big Kids Store on the King's Road, he rejected Tin Tin crockery, though he admitted he'd quite like some for himself, and he also didn't dare tackle any cute miniature clothing: "I wouldn't know where to begin." A striking space-rocket caught his eye, and cunningly he decided to enlist expert help. "Is this suitable for a very young child?" he enquired. "It's a doorstop," explained the assistant. At this point, Andrew thought to ask if the baby was a boy or a girl. "Well, it doesn't really matter at that age," he reasoned somewhat defensively. Our photographer, wanting to help out, made a murmured comment about Beanie Babies. "What are Beanie Babies?" asked a perplexed Andrew. Further down the road in Daisy and Tom, another kiddie emporium, Andrew felt equally uncomfortable. "I'm bamboozled in here, completely off my turf." Fortunately, he spotted the helpful age-ratings on most of the toys. Once he had identified the correct range, he had secured a jingly push-over duck and some baby Lego and was at the cash till within seconds, wincing at a howling bambino. His mother-in-law was a much easier proposition; he made a bee-line for the exclusive Rococo chocolate shop. "I'm not sure if she prefers milk or plain chocolate, but these are very sophisticated and I know from visiting that they keep plenty of chocolates around the place." With a bottle of wine, he thinks he has the perfect gift. "You have to pick quite safely for your mother-in-law, nothing too wacky, and I hate wasting money so I wouldn't choose anything I couldn't be pretty sure she'd like."

Time: Just under an hour.

Stress level: On a scale of one to five, initially Andrew rated himself a laid-back one. In the toyshop, he peaked at four.

Money spent: Came in at a pound inside his budget.

Andrew's wife Charlotte says: "Andrew never shops, he always avoids it if he can help it. He knew he couldn't go wrong with chocolates and wine for mum, and she'll appreciate them and laugh as well at him being put on the spot. I'd have guessed he'd go for a typical present-for-a-lady like flowers or chocolates, though he does know she likes golf so he could have got something to do with that. I'm surprised he was so practical about the age range for the baby - I'd have guessed he'd have picked something more appropriate for an older child. Andrew puts me off if I take him along when I go shopping - I'm definitely more productive on my own, he gets very frustrated and impatient!"

Psychologist Dr David Lewis says: "This shows that by and large men are not very adventurous shoppers. It's maiden aunt syndrome - when in doubt, buy something safe that doesn't require much insight. Everybody likes chocolate and drinks wine so they are very safe choices. It's not the pattern you'd expect from a woman. Also, shopping for presents makes a statement about your own taste, and men are particularly vulnerable to rejection. When men buy for children they often buy things they'd like themselves, so this baby was lucky not to end up with a lot of Star Wars memorabilia. And he was put out by the crying child - noise is very stressful for male shoppers, they can't focus enough to cut it out."

Score: 6/10 - not terribly imaginative but managed to get there in the end.


The shopper: Toby Allen (right), 25, works for a film magazine.

The challenge: Ingredients for a three-course supper party for six, a healthy menu for two to last several days, plus essential groceries for the week.

Budget: pounds 70.

How it went: Toby attacked London's Berwick Street with military precision. A regular visitor, he was disappointed not to see his favourite: the olive stall. His first purchase was bin-liners: "We ran out of these this morning". Toby's two flatmates are vegetarian so he avoided meat and fish in the supermarket, choosing milk, juice, eggs, lasagne, canned tomatoes, ready- made cheese sauce and ready-made tiramisu ("I work too hard to make desserts from scratch, but I can do it"). He chose own-brand loo rolls and pan- scourers, but ignored cleaning materials. At the till, his tins of tomatoes went in on top of the hapless tiramisu - he claimed he was worried about holding up the lady behind. In the market, he snaffled up potatoes, bananas, rocket, vine tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, aubergine, fresh garlic and ciabatta, and mozzarella and avocado as a starter for his supper party, plus a selection of vegetarian sausages. In the local offy he chose two bottles of rose wine. "These bags are really hurting my hands," he moaned as he staggered off.

Time: A speedy 40 minutes.

Stress level: Super-cool.

Money spent: Toby had more than enough cash left for a floral centrepiece for his supper-party table, and some Vitamin B12.

Toby's flatmate Maxine says: "I tend to buy all the cleaning stuff so Toby doesn't have to get that kind of thing, though he is good at buying loo rolls. He's great at buying for a meal - he cooked a lovely Thai recently. He's also good at buying presents - not a typical man!"

Dr David Lewis says: "Men tend to make purchases rapidly - quickly deciding for or against. Also men hate crowds, so shopping in a market with plenty of space was a good choice. He didn't like having someone behind him in the queue - men are more conscious of queueing, they like to demonstrate their efficiency by moving quickly."

Score: 9/10 - honourary woman.


The shopper: Colin Campbell (right), 36, actor.

The challenge: A holiday shirt, a pair of swimming trunks, some cotton- mix socks and a set of underwear for his partner.

Budget: pounds 120.

How it went: Initially Colin was confident. "The last few shopping trips I've been on I've quite enjoyed." His main worry was the underwear. "The bra thing is going to be quite difficult." Colin takes a scattergun approach, zooming into Nicole Farhi, Ted Baker, Paul Smith, Gap and Blazer; the average time spent in each shop is barely a minute. Colin may be swift but he's also fussy. "What's modal? Do you sweat in it?" he asked in Ted Baker, and was assured that modal (a type of cotton) can be worn in the tropics. But he worried over ladies' undies. "I'd like to get them done so I can concentrate on my shirt. She does like a certain type of pants but I can't remember if they're the ones that come up high or down low." He was completely foxed by crop-tops: "I know the right bra number but not her size - I think it's 12 or 14." After dashing through several small boutiques, a relieved Colin ended up in M&S where he chose a good value vest-and-knickers set - cleverly leaving more money for his shirt. The socks were easy, but alas there was not a pair of swimming trunks in the whole of Covent Garden that passed muster. "They either looked stupid or cost too much," he moaned.

Time: Two weary hours.

Stress level: Calm at first but peaked at four in M&S, by which point he was "a bit pissed off".

Money spent: Within his limit - but didn't complete the challenge.

Colin's partner Becky says: "Colin tends to come back from shopping trips empty-handed which I find very odd - I'll always come back with something, even if it's a mistake. I'm not surprised he found the underwear difficult - I don't think you can choose it for other people."

Dr David Lewis says: "Colin, was demonstrating his ability to make quick decisions. Men are appalling at knowing what size their partners are - they often like to believe they are slimmer than they are in real life."

Score: 5/10 - he tried hard.