“You didn’t, did you?” “Yup,” I replied. “Oh dear. You’re a young fellow. I’ve been married for nearly 40 years. Let me share this with you. Men should never, ever try to buy clothes for women!” Don’t become a fashion victim

Now, if only I’d consulted this cabbie about fashion and women before Nikki’s birthday instead of the day after then I wouldn’t have become a fashion victim.

It’s not easy finding the perfect present for your missus and, I’ll admit, most years I end up at a record store buying CDs or DVDs.

Nikki really likes music so they’re usually appreciated but I’m always left with this nagging feeling that I’m being boring, sticking to a shop in which I’m comfortable, rather than getting something that’s truly special. So this year I decided to buy Nikki a dress.

Having sauntered past a few shops, nonchalantly glancing in, trying not to seem too keen, my eye was suddenly taken by a window mannequin donning a sensational little black number. It was a reasonably short dress, with shoulder straps but no sleeves and very little fabric on the sides.

If I had to pin it down, I’d probably call it 20-something fashion racewear. Is there such a thing? (Can you tell that I’ve never hosted a fashion parade or written for a style magazine?!)

After 10 minutes standing outside this boutique, I gathered my courage, walked in, confidently selected Nikki’s size and presented said dress at the counter. And this is where I should have picked up the hints.

“Who are you buying for?” I was asked. “My wife,” I proudly declared.

“Really?” she asked. “How old is she?”

Now, rather than asking myself “what does this young shop assistant know that I don’t?” or “why does she need to know Nikki’s age?” I pushed on, “39,” I said. A further disapproving look. Another clue missed.

For a split second, I must have questioned whether Nikki would indeed wear this revealing LBD – see, now I’m getting into the lingo! – for I asked “would she wear a shirt under it?” Seriously? How hopeless am I?

The answer: “No, sir, you wouldn’t wear anything underneath it.” And then the killer: “Look, if she wants to bring it back, that’s no problem. Just keep the receipt.”

So I paid for the dress and strode out of the shop just a little bit excited about my achievement! A quick glance over my shoulder at the mannequin, a moment to imagine Nikki looking sensational, showing off a little bit of skin, and I headed home to wrap and hide the present.

Next morning at the ABC, several hours before giving Nikki her present, I sketched the dress for my colleagues and asked their opinion. Was I having niggling doubts? Everyone appeared very supportive and said it was great that I had bought clothes, not more CDs, but there was also quite a bit of eye-rolling and comments like “you men are all the same!”

My radio producer Anne told me the story of another hapless husband who once bought his wife underwear for Christmas. It turned out the bra was too busty and the bottoms way too small! Still, this woman took it as a great compliment (before returning them to the shop!)

Later that day, my chest puffed out, I presented Nikki with her birthday present.

She slowly pulled the dress out of its wrapping and declared: “How old do you think I am? 12? I would never wear this!”

When I came to tell the story to the married-40-years taxi driver, he wasn’t at all surprised. He had one more piece of advice for me: “Whatever you do, let her take it back. On her own. Don’t go with her”!

Thankfully, a caller to the ABC’s “Cereal Box” voicemail, Daphne of Tivoli, saved the day. After I told the story on radio, Daphne called to say, “your wife doesn’t need birthday presents because she’s got the greatest gift that God could ever have given – you! Believe you-me, I hear it in your voice, the love that you have for her and she has for you. No present can replace that.”

When Nikki heard the call, she emailed me: “That’s beautiful. I have tears – some of laughter – but that is so sweet!” Phew. Back in the good books. For now.


As seen in bmag issue 257