Deborah Ross: These tips will stop you buying stupid presents

If you ask me...

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If you ask me, as the festive season shifts into high gear – I felt a tremble beneath my feet in John Lewis this morning, which is always the sign – it's time to get down to the serious business of buying a present for everyone you know, have known, might one day know, or think you know, even when you don't, as this is what Christmas generally amounts to. However, you can take the sting out of it by following these insanely wise tips:

* Giving cash makes life simpler all round. True, it may alarm older people, but as I said to my own mother last year when I gave her a fiver and told her to buy something nice: "Mum, what did you expect, a tenner? I'm not made of money, you know."

* To avoid putting further pressure on yourself, never set any store by the saying that "good people give good presents while bad people give bad presents" as it is patently untrue. For example, Nelson Mandela once gave Winnie a pair of washing-up gloves with a jokey fur trim, and as she later said: "I still think he's a good person. It's not why we broke up."

* The best gift for small children is a jigsaw with just the one piece. It offers no play value whatsoever but, my goodness, it is tidy and welcomed the world over by parents sick of picking bits of Lego out of their bare feet and battling to keep Operation complete.

* Try not to be seduced by sales assistants who say: "I'm sure he'll love it." How do they know, when they don't have to live with him, and have no proper understanding of what a grouch-faced old grump bucket he is? You may say, in reply: "No, he won't. Go to hell."

* Don't strain too hard to give people something they don't already have. Socks, for example, are generally better than an eagle statuette with a clock face in it. I once received an eagle statuette with a clock face in it and, as I told the giver: "Socks. What's wrong with socks, all of a sudden?"

* The best present for someone who isn't interested in much of anything is a remote-control helicopter. Once it's hit a wall after 1.5 seconds of flight, it will never work again, and will be of no further interest.

* If further proof were needed, Chairman Mao once gave the third Mrs Mao, Jiang Quing, a Tiffany pendant, but as she said at the time: "He's still a complete shit." And as she further added: "But at least he is my complete shit, and I got a nice pendant out of it."

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