Once the safe bet, perfume is now like a lottery - the odds aren't in your favour.
So it's Valentine's Day on Thursday. Not my favourite holiday, I must say. For four big reasons I can't abide it:
1 It all seems a bit bogus. Sure there was some Roman geezer saint called Valentine who loved people a lot (but chastely) and died a martyr's death or something so now we all send cards anonymously to commemorate him. Shyeeeah. Makes no sense at all.
The traditional Valentine's winner is perfume. But buying it for the woman in your life carries a big, big risk factor.
2 Like Father's Day, it's all a big load of hoo-ha dreamt up by the marketing departments of the greetings card conglomerates which secretly run the world.
Sweets for my sweet? Don't be nuts. Photo: Lisa McMahon
3 No one ever sent me any cards when I was a spotty youth.
4 I never know what to buy. Once I get past the Card She'll Never Guess The Sender Of I tend to get stumped by the Something Else That Shows How Much I Love And Respect Her.
The traditional big winner is perfume. But buying perfume for the woman in your life carries a big, big risk factor.
Perfume used to be special and it used to always be bought for a woman by her man. It was a highly prized gift. Quite often one given on Feb 14. And what it was was a Very Big Deal.
Perfume ''nose'' Erica Moore, an evaluator with the Fragrance Foundation, says perfume has now become part of the daily grooming routine for women. They choose it, they buy it and they have loads of it and wear it all of the time.
Perfume, says Moore, is not the same signal of a beloved's devotion as it was before the Seventies, nor an expression of power as it was in the Eighties. It has, for the woman at least, become routine and she's in charge of it, not you.
Moore says: ''Fragrance is an incredibly personal thing - the olfactory memory is primal and how you smell fragrance is unique to you. Everyone has preferences and sensitivities.''
So one women's Beautiful is another's Poison. You buy her something that you might love - and with the olfactory memory thing in mind what if you get something which smelt good on someone else - and she ends up hating it and where does that leave you?
Hopefully not all alone on Feb 15.
Get her some perfume, you old romantic traditionalist you, and chances are you'll wind up in a world of trouble. But what's left?
Fancy choccies? They're deadly. Full of nuts, sugar - which is a worse poison than Poison - fat, milk, etc, etc. Very bad.
Oysters? Yum, but chances are one of you'll get the dodgy one. I did the other year. Valentines' Day breakfast a deux was delightful, the afternoon aftermath a lot less lovely.
Flowers? Ten bucks a bunch from Safeway won't cut the mustard and $40 proper bouquets from the florist are, if you ask me, passe because even the doctor's surgery has an arrangement with them. And the ease of internet ordering has cut the cachet from a dozen red roses.
So what do you get her? I'm told by a reliable source that some perfumes are OK as a romantic gift (especially - but not always - if they're labelled Chanel) but beyond that I'm at a bit of a loss.
Help me out here. What's the best (publishable) thing you've given the man or woman in your life on Valentine's Day?
And check out our gift guides for a few suggestions: