Rowan Pelling: How to buy a present for a man

Get him a Dylan CD, and then work out whether he'd prefer whisky or beer to go with it. Sorted
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The Independent Online

Dear Santa, I have been a very good girl and I would like a cute Mulberry Gemma wallet (£295), a Laura Mercier Crème Brûlée candle (£32), and a droll gold leaf table with bird feet from Viaduct (£1,550). One should always have something amusing in one's hallway.

My husband wants some Dior Homme repairing moisturising emulsion (£32), a Paul Smith skateboard (£350) plus a Series 5 Sat Nav with changeable colourful faces from Novogo (£229) for the Waitrose run.

My two-year-old would adore a children's Eames chair (£268) - style is, after all, ageless - and our cat wants some Baby Glam Parfum Spray for Pets (£35).

NOT. In fact, now I think about it, I would rather drink a cup of cold sick.

Love, Rowan

It's impossible to express in a family newspaper the depths of my incredulity at the gift ideas that fill magazines at this time of year. Most of the suggested cadeaux listed above came from a famously Labour-supporting newspaper. Let them eat panforte!

Every year my husband and I compete to see if one of us can find just one thing that we might actually like to own. Every year I win because the presents for chaps are so much more horrendous.

Everyone knows that men are hard to buy for, but there's no excuse for the dandy crap or hi-tech gizmos. Brocade trousers for £415, anyone? A watch with a built-in dictaphone? Most men divide into the following two distinct sets: those who want the new Dylan CD, whisky and a big book about the Second World War, and those who want the new Dylan CD, beer and a book of pub quiz trivia. And yet if you wander down your local high street you'll find blokey "dad" gift packs that combine a spanner, a baseball cap and a bottle of Old Spice. No wonder this Christmas is forecast to be the high street's bleakest for 25 years.

The only mystery is why retailers are surprised. Who wants to buy shoddy tat that will be discounted by the end of the month? There's nothing more soul-sapping than gazing at a cheap chocolate liqueur pretending to be Bailey's, while Slade's "Merry Christmas Everyone" assaults your eardrums. The fact the British public have wised up to the seasonal rip-off shows laudable maturity at a time when moralists would have us believe that they're all binge-drinking morons who would buy week-old kebabs if they were stamped with the Nike logo.

I'd like to pretend I am free from seasonal insanity, but it's simply not true. Only last week I found myself overloading my already heavy bag with a weighty hardback novel that I'd been given at a literary event. It was a book I had already read and found underwhelming. Nevertheless, I stuffed it in my bag thinking "that'll do for someone's Christmas present". It was only later that I began to question in what way it would "do" to give someone I liked a book that I rated as only six out of 10.

The giving of books should be a heartfelt and sincere act between intimates that carries the implicit subtext: "Here's something I value so highly that I would like to share it with you, dear one." All I would be saying to the recipient is, "Here's hoping you think I spent £15 on you."

Many years ago, when I worked at magazine publishers Condé Nast, a Christmas gift from Christian Dior to a Vogue employee was misdirected to me. It was a hideous but hugely expensive belt and I thought I'd give it a to a friend or sister. But 14 years on I have still never had the gall to pretend to anyone that I would blow that much money on something so frightful. It's strange, but gratifying, to find oneself in possession of unexpected scruples.

There are certain depths I know I won't stoop to. I am not such a psychopath that I buy all my Christmas presents in the January sales and hoard them for months so that all my loved ones think I'm Lady Bountiful, when I'm meaner than Scrooge.

Nor do I fly to the States for dollar-priced bargains because not only am I meaner than Scrooge, I am also thicker than plankton, as I haven't worked out that the plane fare and hotel bills will cost me over £500 - more than I spend on presents anyway. Nor will I give anyone a goat for a starving family in Africa. By all means give your cash to charity, but then have the balls to tell your loved ones you're not giving presents this year as they've got enough junk already.

My siblings and I have called a Christmas present armistice this year. Only children are getting gifts and they're capped at £5 tops. I hope to come to a similar pax with my husband. This agreement simply involves not buying your best beloved things you actually want yourself. No Sopranos DVDs from him to me, no expensive digital camera from me to him.

When I bought the camera last year at Jessops in Cambridge, I idly inquired whether anyone nowadays bought old-style cameras with film. "Only once every couple of months," said the sales assistant. "But, now you mention it, a bloke bought a discontinued one in our sale yesterday. Who'd want that?" I knew then with terrifying certainty what I was getting for Christmas. And I almost certainly deserved it.