Last saturday's Guardian came with a free copy of Jackie magazine. As a teenager I was an avid reader: I loved the ads for Miners makeup and for Rimmel- which then seemed the height of cosmetic luxury- and the photo-love stories, and pictures of hearthrob pop stars, but most of all I loved Cathy & Claire, Jackie's resident agony aunts (AKA the subs desk).
Dear Mrs Trefusis
I am about to divorce my husband, but it's his fortieth birthday in a few weeks, and I feel I should really mark the occasion with a suitable present. How does one celebrate the 40th birthday of one's soon to be ex? What kind of present is appropriate?
Hmmm. It's difficult, isn't it. What does one buy the man who has everything.... except, um, his wife. For a fortieth birthday, one naturally wants to get something someone can keep, but then, if you're sidling out of someone's life, then the idea of proffering a permanent reminder seems to lack a modicum of tact. What one really wants to give him is a subscription to a good dating agency, so one can get him off one's conscience as soon as possible, but I can see that this solution may not offer the finesse you're looking for.
I'm assuming - from the rest of your email - that you're parting on good terms and so I'd take a neutral but lavish approach: forty is still something of a watershed in a man's life - a time to put away childish things and shift gear from dilettante up to connoisseur. This is my round up of great gifts for a discerning chap on the eve of his, ahem, fifth decade.
Clothes: There are classics every man should own once he's old enough to look after them properly: Turnbull & Asser Sea Island white shirts, for example, Hermès ties - particularly the ones with the distinctive animal patterns on them, an Hermès belt, a decent jacket from Gieves, a cashmere v-neck. Non-comedy cufflinks. A pair of shoes from Loakes or Church's. A classic Burberry or Aquascutum trench. A good winter coat.
A watch: If he won't be troubled by a present that will show him how quickly time zips past once you're in your middle youth, a watch is a particularly appropriate fortieth birthday present. A man should own three watches: sports, work and dress. Remember, it's better to buy a good Timex than a fake Rolex.
Distinctive accessories: Every man should have something suave to carry his laptop around in, rather than one of those ghastly IT black things. Bill Amberg do the nicest, and they come in several sizes - the smallest works for a laptop, the largest for a weekend bag. The Medicine Bag is particularly good, offering a modern twist on the traditional Gladstone.
Art: Signed lithographs don't have to be expensive. Photography is also becoming very collectable, and oddly, it's slightly less emotionally nuanced than art. I love this Terence Donovan print of Julie Christie, available from the Chris Beetles Gallery, who specialise in illustration but have a burgeoning photographic side.
Wine: After forty there's no excuse for not knowing your way round a wine list, and building your own wine cellar is an elegant refinement that doesn't have to be an expensive hobby. Berry Bros & Rudd do a terrific wine course as part of a cellaring package.
Food: Men seem very keen at the moment to adopt some of the more traditional female skills - sadly this never seems to involve a taste for emptying the dishwasher, or cleaning up when the children have been sick in the middle of the night - if they want to do some cooking it seems to involve a trip to Borough Market in search of some rare vegetable or artisinal cheese which will then be presented at the dinner party with a flourish and its full resumé. Anyway, the using of every single pot and pan in the kitchen will soon no longer be your problem, so you can feel free to indulge his latent Gordon Ramsay without any qualms about having to spend decades clearing up afterwards. Leith's do wonderful cookery courses ranging from week long intensive cheffery to high tech specifics: I'd hesitate to give Knife skills as a present to someone I was breaking up from, but it's apparently hugely popular with men.
Like leaving a job, it's always satisfying to exit on such a high note that your successor will find it hard to live up to your standards. This may not be the last present you'll buy your ex, but ideally, it will be one that will help him remember the relationship with fondness, and irritate the hell out of the next incumbent.