Spending: Retail therapy

VALENTINE's Day gifts should always arrive shrouded in mystery and suspense. But with so much kitsch in the shops, finding a present to match the spirit of the occasion is not always easy. Undeterred, Retail Therapy has come up with the following tips:

In keeping with current New Age sensibilities, Love Spells: the Authentic Collection of a White Witch ( pounds 4.99, Pavilion Books) provides a pocket-sized love-token at a pocket-sized price. Entertainment comes in the form of ancient spells of love, marriage and dreaming. The recipe for Valentine's Day romance includes pinning bay leaves to the corners of your pillow before you go to sleep. Available from most bookshops.

For those who like to dabble in the mystical or for whom love proves elusive, try the 'The Lovers Tarot' (Headline, pounds 17.99). A set of large, prettily illustrated 'Renaissance' tarot cards, together with instruction manual, it professes to reveal the path to future happiness and fulfillment. From bookshops.

Those who remember the war will probably be nonplussed by New Age offerings. Try a trip down memory lane instead. Send your Valentine a ticket or an invitation to the Forces Sweethearts Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. This has exhibits devoted to 'The Dream Girls' - Vera Lynn and Rita Hayworth - 'True Love Stories' and 'Wartime Weddings'. For your forces favourite there's a chocolate medal, inscribed 'My Hero', available in the museum shop for 99p. The Imperial War Museum is at Lambeth Road, London SE1. Entry, Adults pounds 3.50, OAPs pounds 2.50. Free admission from 4.30pm.

Why not send a card from another era to complete your trip in time? From about pounds 15- pounds 20 you can send an original Edwardian or Victorian Valentine card. From Patricia Evans, Unit N6- N7, Atlantic Antiques Centre, Antiquarius, 131-141 King's Road, London SW3 (071-376 4419).

Of course, the most direct way to the heart remains the stomach, and to help you concoct the perfect dish try cooking in a heart-shaped Le Creuset casserole dish. In white or cerise, it's a cast iron winner, and contains several recipe ideas. Reduced from pounds 46.65 to a sale price of pounds 32.65 at Elizabeth David Cookshop, 3 North Row, London WC2. Tel 071-836 9167.

For after dinner entertainment, create your own romantic scandals with 'Liaisons'. Have a secret rendezvous with your favourite celebrity in this new board game. A mixture of Through the Keyhole, Cluedo and charades it is perfectly apt for Valentine's pursuits. Price pounds 25, available from game and gift shops including W H Smith and Virgin Gamestores.

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