Friday 18 September 2009


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). 

Nowadays it seems that we're all too deeply sophisticated and grown up to be allowed agony aunts in glossy magazines - I suppose there's the wonderfully facetious Mrs Mills in Sunday Times' Style magazine - but really, Jackie magazine may have long ceased publication but has the angst disappeared? Or is it simply that the questions have changed. 

Anyway, imagine how much more fun Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and W would be with a column devoted to solving reader's problems? I was idly pondering the kind of questions that might crop up most often in the postbag when, in a spooky wiggle of Jungian synchronicity, the dilemma you find below pinged into my inbox. Some are born agony aunts, others merely writhe in agony: I'm not sure what I am, but have attempted to answer the question to the very best of my ability. 

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.


Mr London Street said...

As the proud owner of a Bill Amberg medicine bag I wholeheartedly concur. But I would never violate mine with a laptop, it's far too lovely for that.

Style At Every Age said...

Mrs T, you really must write a shopping guide, this post is most fantastic, am ringing my Lawyer as we speak, whilst I think about what gift to buy!

Marie said...

This post is fabulous, perhaps something to continue... I love the Agony aunt side and the shopping advice.

one of 365 said...

Ahhhh...if only you were around when I was being broken up with. Let's see. I've gotten a crappy faux-pashmina from a market stall near Charing X Station, flowers with CARNATIONS, but the best gift was 200 dollars to get on a train to leave because the girl he was cheating on me with was coming over and he needed me to get out--FAST. I reckon a nice laptop case would have been nicer. A bottle of wine to drown my tears. Hell, even the Hermes tie--I could have sold it on ebay and made a quid or two. As always, witty, well written and with the best taste. xoxoxoxoxo--One of 365

westendmum said...

I audibly cooed when I revisited the Rimmel make-up spread in that reissue.
Great post, you really are too nice, doesn't the 'soon to be divorced', offer a 'lucky if you get a card' get out clause.
WEM xx

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Wonderful ideas.
I might buy a subscription to an S & M club where they could either take out their annoyance with women by being a dom, or indulge their submissive 'hate myself now' side by being a sub.
Mind I just suggested my dad hire a mistress to help deal with his prostate problem. Mistresses are known to milk men regularly which can be an aid. My mum didn't seem bothered.
Sometimes I wonder if my boundaries are...erm...normal.

theundergroundrestaurant said...

As you are now answering problems: What can I do about my unsuccessful love life?

Waffle said...

Goodness, Mrs T, how extraordinarily helpful this is.

Can we make this a regular feature I have many more, sorry many dilemmas I'd like your assistance with...

one of 365 said...

A little pay it forward thank-you on my blog. Hover over your link at the bottom of the page to see what I've said about you ;)

mothership said...

These are all lovely suggestions for somebody's 40th and so typically generous of you. Personally I can't think why one would get anything at all for a husband one is about to ditch. If you dislike him enough to divorce him, why would you get him a gift? Or, conversely, if you get on badly enough, surely the divorce IS the present? Perhaps I'm being cynical here.
I think you have a sideline in personal shopping for the maritally aggrieved here.

Rose said...

please can you do a gift guide at Christmas please?

Welsh Girl said...

I am not allowed to go to the Chris Beetles gallery as I inevitably come out having bought something I had no intention of getting (Ronald Serle sketch last time!). That place is dangerous.

Great list though. If I had a husband, and was going to leave him, I'd certainly get one of those things!

Unknown said...

O no, I missed free copy of Jackie! So nauseated was I by free copy of Bunty (was it?) Miners, sparkly pink stuff, Love sprayed too liberally. Getting ready for parties being so much more fun than the actual party...