The real man's guide to shopping
Frank Coughlan applies a little man sense to last-minute gift buying
Men get bored with shopping in less than a half hour, so how can they get through Christmas? Easy if they know how.
Remember last Christmas morning when you gave your niece, the sulky one with the permanent pout, her present? You'll hardly have forgotten how she tore a hole in the corner of the wrapping, barely peeped inside and then muttered a semi-thanks?
You'll certainly recall how much you paid for those sleek, and even if you did say so yourself, seriously cool Bose headphones. Not to mention the endless footfalling along city pavements in the hunt for a perfect gift for your sister's treasured daughter.
That was an afternoon of your life that you will never get back.
Do you remember, for that matter, what presents you received last Christmas? A Kindle, maybe, or was that 2011? And can you recollect many of the gifts that you gave over the past few years? The chances are you can't.
Doesn't it all become a blur? A whirlwind of panicky over-spending, of last-minute retailing blitzing, of melting plastic and, come January, head-in-hands regret?
Before answering these not particularly philosophical questions, a crude but necessary unscientific divide has to be drawn along gender lines. Leaving aside a lot of the nonsense about men being from Mars and women from Venus (or is it the other way around?), it is still safe enough to say we do shop differently. At Christmas especially.
There is science to back this up. As much as 80pc of all shopping in North America is done by women and there is no reason to believe we are any different on this side of the Atlantic. And there are countless studies and surveys that, more of less, come to the conclusion that for women shopping is an event, like a night out, while for men it's a chore, like dragging out the bins.
A recent survey of 2,000 men in Britain came to the conclusion that men lose interest in shopping after 26 minutes, 45pc of them avoid shopping with their partner altogether, half of all couples argue when mall traipsing and one-in-four men despair and head home early on their own in a sulk.
Those who go the distance are usually promised a treat, like food or a pint. A bit like bribing a toddler with ice-cream, if they promise to stay in their buggy.
This is not to say men can't be savvy shoppers, don't recognise a bargain or don't engage with shop assistants. Younger men, in particular, smooch in the sales, use coupons and buy online.
But they shop when they need to buy and they don't hang around. And that's why the Christmas season is such a nightmare for them because they don't really know what to purchase and, unlike women, they're not genetically predisposed to making a virtue of the pursuit.
To say you can get it all done in an hour is highly ambitious but it can be done. Or, if you're a bit of an indecisive wimp, an afternoon. Tops. Here's how I see it:
In the words of that great philosopher, poet and national treasure, Roy Keane, it's all in the preparation. Or as he tells us: 'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail'. So don't even leave the armchair without doing your prep. Roy's watching.
So make a list, sand it down and alongside each recipient's name, suggest three possible gift options. Are these affordable and, just as importantly, are they easily and readily available?
Everyone's balance sheet is different. Work out what you can spend, accept you are going to go over by 10pc, but promise yourself that when that credit card bill slips through the letter box come January that it won't make your February miserable. Be disciplined.
It can be efficient, quick and convenient, but be careful. Will the present arrive in time, are there hidden costs (shipping and the like), might it be counterfeit and can you trust the quality? If you know what you're doing, it's wonderful but sometimes the stress it takes away from the start of the process it dumps at the end instead.
Hit the pavement running and know where you are going. The hour shop doesn't allow for geographical illiteracy, so Google Maps the shops you need to storm and do them in convenient bunches.
Don't parachute behind enemy lines anywhere near a weekend in December and expect to be taken alive. If you can get a few hours off work mid-week, and get into the shops at first light, it's amazing the difference it makes.
Scarves, hats, gloves and ties are lazy fallbacks while socks and slippers are simply insulting. After that, clothes pose more problems than solutions and are notoriously time-consuming purchases. Fashion shopping for that special female does not lend itself to 60-minute raids and choosing the wrong size ('are you saying I'm fat?') could do as much damage to your relationship as an office party fling.
Men fondling slinky underwear in a department store can be misinterpreted by harried staff. The guards have been called for less. And ask yourself this question: would this gift be given out of love or lust? If it's the former, then off you go.
Don't waste your time in stores where sparkly necklaces cost as much as the second-hand runabout you have just bought. And know what she likes before you go off and buy the exact opposite.
Don't be seduced by the glamorous perfume counter Barbie who will spray a little something on your wrist and enjoy your mortification as you inhale. She'll tell you it's the exotic aroma of the East. On Christmas morning, the woman in your life might instead tell you that she smells like a Bangkok hooker. Go perfume shopping armed with a shortlist of suitable brands, or not at all.
If you want to buy a nephew or niece the hottest thing this Christmas, forget it. The chances are you have left it too late. Best ask the parents for very specific ideas then get in early and out fast.
* Last minute
Books are condescendingly regarded as default presents, but even those who don't read for pleasure do have passions, interests and hobbies. Nor can you go wrong with DVDs and boxsets. And who doesn't love gift vouchers? These are your get-out-of-jail presents as dusk falls on Christmas Eve. Invariably good value too.
All done? Get the store to wrap the present there and then (you're probably all thumbs anyway), always ask for a gift receipt and keep all other receipts and slips too because you have no rights without them. Not that your choices won't be long treasured and appreciated by grateful family and friends.