London - Rows are never much fun. And they are particularly unpleasant when you are meant to be celebrating something special, something that represents a landmark on the rocky road to marital harmony.
It was our wedding anniversary - our fifth, as it happened - and we celebrated by having a real humdinger of an argument.
I should have seen it coming. Actually, I did see it coming, but thought I’d done just enough to avert an unseemly scene that might have scared the neighbours. It certainly scared me.
I had felt some pressure leading up to the big day, not least because our anniversary is followed 24 hours later by my wife Joanna’s birthday. And she’d hinted on a few occasions that a fifth anniversary is special, certainly more special than a fourth or sixth one.
I didn’t quite see it that way, but the main issue is this: she thinks I am no good at presents. Or, rather, she thinks I’m no good at giving her presents that she really, really likes.
What has happened in the past - with considerable success - is that she chooses a present and I pay for it. Sometimes she chooses something while I am with her and I buy it there and then, or she makes it clear what she would like and I go and get it.
I present it as a surprise, but it’s no more of a surprise than MPs fiddling their expenses.
I don’t like our present-giving arrangement, so this year I rebelled at the last moment. We went through the ritual of visiting Joanna’s favourite antique shop in Hungerford and she identified some items that took her fancy.
She liked an Edwardian pendant so much that she phoned the owner later and asked him to reserve it. Then she told me what she had done and assumed I would do the rest.
I wasn’t having it. Instead, I found four perfectly decent Edwardian wine glasses and then went to the Royal Mews near Buckingham Palace and bought a £49 Diamond Jubilee commemorative cup and saucer in a pretty box. I thought the ensemble was a triumph.
“I had set my heart on the pendant and you know I don’t like heavy cut-glass,” she said.
“You got them only because you were looking forward to drinking your favourite wine in them and because we’re short of glasses after you broke a couple the other day while attempting the washing-up. As for the souvenirs...”
“That is so ungrateful and so ungracious!” I barked. And then it all kicked off.
Later in the day, once I had regained some equilibrium, I was able to reflect on it and had a chance to canvas opinions from colleagues in the office.We were both at fault, was the general conclusion. But the whole unsavoury incident begged the question: why are some men so bad at buying presents?
The answer is blowing in the wind of complete confusion over what makes a man tick and what makes a woman purr in the gift department.
I don’t care at all what my wife gives me for a present. I would like a little something as a token, but am happy with socks, especially if I need a pair of socks.
I do not expect or want to have lots of money lavished on me. I would rather Joanna saved cash for a weekend in the South of France - or Brighton for that matter. I am happy with a kind gesture.
But women don’t see it that way. Even if we are badly overdrawn, my wife imagines that somehow I will find spare money in a bottom drawer and this will find its way to the nice man in Hungerford who has stuck a reserve label on a budget-busting pendant.
Reason doesn’t come into it, and my job is to accept reason doesn’t come into it, which is hard. My friend Jane says the cup and saucer ‘though lovely in its way’ was a bad move because thousands of others have the exact same thing.
Those royal-crested cups and saucers will be sitting proudly on dressers from Tokyo to Toledo before you can say: “Milk in first?”
I told Jane they might be quite valuable one day, something the grandchildren will appreciate when Prince William’s son or daughter celebrates a jubilee of some kind.
Not the point. Not the point at all. The reason my wife reacted as she did was because my presents were not tailored solely to her. They had a practical element. The cup and saucer also had a news-worthy element to it. Which is not good enough.
What my presents lacked (and I am sure I’m not the only man in the world guilty of this) was a care-free, I’ll-jump-over-the-cliff-and-may-be-dead-on-arrival element to them.
Once the mood changed at home, Joanna tried to explain the errors of my ways. She had hoped for a “real memento” marking our five years of marriage. She was longing for a “caressing present” that was 100 percent personal.
And then she reminded me that last year I had forgotten our anniversary, and that because I had “previous form”, the missing pendant was even harder to bear.
She also mentioned that one of the first presents I gave her was a framed Bob Dylan concert poster. I have a passion for Dylan and gave her the poster because I wanted to share that love with her. Big mistake.
And so we are going back to our old arrangement. I am not thrilled by the prospect, but she has conceded that I tried my best with the glasses and the cup and saucer.
She is not angry with me any more. I have listened. And we both have a year to get over it. - Daily Mail