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Over the top or total cheapskate?

> Tne new boy - Tony has been going out with his girlfriend for three months

I was single last Christmas, and for the 30 before that, so the prospect of shopping for the new girlfriend has filled me with dread since we started dating late in the summer.

The wrong gift, or gifts, could have me trawling the dating scene before the last of the snow has cleared. But it's a tightrope.

If I go over the top and spend a fortune? She'll get scared off by thoughts of these romantic early days turning into long-term drudge . . . and she'll be expecting a ring in January. But if I spend too little? I'm a cheapskate, a man who wouldn't know a romantic notion if it stood up, politely introduced itself and gave me a haircut.

For the past month I've been sussing her out. My mental notebook has been filled with the shop windows she's stopped to look at, the TV series she's never seen but "would like to", the books that are missing from her shelf and the restaurants that she has yet to frequent.

The problem with this mental notebook comes with the arrival of silly season and nights spent in the pub, leading to the forgetting of all the lovely ideas that were in my head.

I ring my sister, who tells me to check out the perfumes in the bathroom. Good idea, I think, until I discover only two bottles, both of which are three-quarters full. Scratch that plan.

I refuse to go rooting through the new girlfriend's wardrobe, checking for sizes. The same with the shoes as I figure it's better to err on the side of 'not letting her see me get closely acquainted with a pair of high heels'.

Even I know that would be bad.

With my sister's advice duly rubbished, I decide to brave the slippery streets for inspiration, coming up with a cookery book and a novel from Waterstones, the first series of something based in 1960s New York, a print from the National Gallery and two pints in a quiet corner without people. A gift to myself.

There will be a 'big' present, but that may just have to wait another week. I don't want to spoil the surprise.