What on earth am I going to get my wife for Christmas? It's the perennial peril.
Will I screw up again, like I do every year? Or will I, for once, get it right this time?
I have known my wife for more than a decade and for the first 10 years – to use a darts metaphor – I didn't once hit the board when it came to her Christmas gift.
I pride myself on being in touch with my sensitive side – we housedads can't be macho, thoughtless types, not when there are children's needs to be accommodated – so in the past I relied purely on instinct to pleasure my wife (so to speak).
This was a huge mistake, delivering only the lesson that my instinct is so off the feminine radar I'd be better suited to cage fighting (I wouldn't, really. Not with these soft Fairy Liquid hands that do dishes).
This instinct led me to buying her:
• a new iron, because she was always complaining the old one scorched her work skirts.
• a hurricane-strength hair dryer, because she said the two she had didn't have enough
cashmere lined gloves ('Too small. Do you think I'm a toddler?')
• a summer maxi dress ('Very nice, if I want to show the neighbours my tits. And how am I supposed to wear a bra with it?')
• smelly bath salts and soap ('I don't want to smell like lavender')
• and the potentially divorce-threatening exercise bike plus...wait for it...bathroom scales.
We-ell, she was always complaining that she could do with losing a few pounds, so I thought it was a hint.
All of these wage packet-sapping gifts (and more – let's not mention the cheese-making kit!) are still in their boxes or collecting dust on the shelves, or being used to dry towels (that's the exercise bike), though I have caught her on the scales a few times with a look of jaw-dropped horror on her face.
I'm not a complete dolt and have got her presents she loves on several occasions, but always for her birthday.
For her 40th, for example, I got her a necklace from which hung two joined white gold rings, engraved with her three children's names.
That went down a storm.
But for Christmases I found it impossible to hit the target, so I came up with another methodology that I was sure would work: I started to pay attention.
A couple of months before December 25, I kept my beady eye on her every movement, her every whim, her every passing comment or interest. I figured this was the key to gifting her her heart's desire.
Big fat festive fail.
She hated (perhaps too strong a term: let's say, 'has never used or worn'):
• The book on how to teach yourself crochet, inspired by a Kirstie Allsopp programme she'd raised her eyebrows at.
• The Morphy Richards soup maker, inspired by her passing comment that she'd love to have soup for lunch at her desk.
• The John Sergeant autobiography, because she'd found him funny on Strictly Come Dancing.
• The macaroons kit, because she likes macaroons.
• The cake icing turntable, because she loves the Great British Bake Off.
• The designer ear-rings, because I'd seen her hover for a second or more on a page in a catalogue ('Too heavy. They drag my lobes to my waist')
• The corset.
Now, my wife is not an ungrateful woman. She appreciates the effort I put into my present-buying, but we have a candid relationship and when something isn't right, it isn't right, and neither of us are offended when the other says so.
Aside from that, she gets more pleasure from giving than receiving and goes to huge lengths to play Mother Christmas and make the once-a-year occasion beyond special for the kids.
And she does the same for me – and gets it right for me every time, which means I never get the chance to stick her gifts on the pile marked 'School Tombola'. Did I say Mother Christmas? I meant Mother Superior.
So last year, it was finally time to turn the tables. I was determined to provoke a look of tearful joy on my wife's face instead of the usual rictus, 'Oh!'
I decided on subterfuge.
One November night, we were sitting on the sofa watching a telly drama, when my wife remarked: "Those are nice boots."
"Hmmm," I thought. "Boots, eh? Intriguing."
But how the hell do you buy boots for a woman? I didn't even know her size, let alone the style to research. But I had a plan. And a man with a plan is a wonderful thing.
I went on to Google and typed in: "Boots with buckles."
And I got 2,870,000 results!
Hmmm, perhaps not the shortcut answer I was hoping for.
So far, not so good.
But then I was struck by a moment of inspirational genius: why don't I get my wife's workmates to do some spying on my behalf.
I'd never met any of my wife's colleagues, so they were a bit non-plussed when I emailed them to ask for their help in surprising my wife.
But once they realised it was all in a good cause, they were only to happy to transform themselves into Secret Squirrels.
This is how it went: during the lunch hour, one pretended to be looking for a gift for her sister.
She then drew up a shortlist and asked my wife: "What do you think of these boots?"
My wife made her selection, I was informed of said selection, I then went online to order the wife's selection, selection arrived in the post and I breathed on my knuckles and rubbed them on my shirt in the sure knowledge that this time I had, finally, got my wife' Christmas present bang to rights.
Brownie points, pink tickets, the drinks are on me.
And then this happened two days before Christmas.
Me: "Looking forward to seeing Danny and Claire, love?"
Her: "Definitely. Can't wait to wear my new boots."
Me: "New boots?"
Her: "Yes. They came today. Gorgeous aren't they?"
Me: "Yes. Gorgeous. What made you buy those?"
Her: "The girls at work were looking at them online and I thought, 'I have to have a pair'."
Me: "Great. Excellent. Lovely. They suit you. Good for you."
Anyone have any ideas for what I'm going to get my wife for Christmas this year?
• Dads, for a more informed and reliable way of getting your other half's Christmas present right, try these..