Valentine's Day. What a nightmare.
A nightmare for lonely singletons (and let's be honest, if you're new to London with no roots here, it can be a very lonely place): with the Post Office getting rid of the second post delivery, there's not even that tiny glimmer of hope to last you another few hours when cupid's failed to shoot his arrow through the letterbox in the morning delivery.
And a nightmare for couples who have to try and come up with something special that doesn't break the overdrawn bank. As if buying a Christmas present for your other half wasn't stressful enough, six weeks later, a card-company-sponsored sham forces you into another difficult choice, just as you'd managed to soothe the angry yuletide tears of disappointment.
Of course, Valentine's Day can also be great fun if you get it right, so here's our tips for those of you buying gifts for the ladies you already have and those you'd like to have in your life.
Let's face it, if you've left it until now to try and book somewhere in a half-decent restaurant, you're stuffed. Don't even think about going to a crappy restaurant just because it's 'going out' because you'll just get fleeced with a special menu which contains very average food at twice the normal price.
If you still want to do the 'dinner' thing then Watch From A Box have a Valentine's Dinner Cruise on the Thames available. At £98 + vat per person (which makes it £230.30 per couple including vat) it's not cheap but it sounds pretty special, with a champagne reception on the boat when you arrive at Savoy Pier near Embankment tube station, then a three course Valentine menu to be enjoyed as you cruise up and down the Thames. There's plenty of availability on these cruises (Londonist does actually check these things for you sometimes) so if you're feeling flush but lazy, this seems like a good option.
If you or your partner don't have the sea legs then extra brownie points are always earned if you lovingly prepare a meal with your own fair hands, especially if you don't normally cook.
If you're a culinary novice, try Banquet In A Box, who deliver posh ready meals. You'll have to get your skates on though, as the cut-off date for Valentine meal deliveries is 3pm today (7th February). Prices start from £20 for two portions for the Valentine's Day Banquet. (Banquet In A Box don't approve of troilism or any kind of situation where there's imbalance of sexes, but wife-swapping is catered for as you can also order four or six portions.)
If a meal's beyond you but not your other half, then consider the heart-shaped cocotte and remekins by Le Creuset. You risk a slap in the chops with this present, so make sure you're buying them for someone who aspires to Domestic Deity status. We've given you a link to the cocotte on Amazon (where the price is just shy of £50) but there's not a huge amount of stock left last time we looked so you'd be well advised to check other places (the actual shops, not the online stores) like John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams or even try a cheeky little 'bankruptcy sale' trip to the fallen giant Allders.
Be careful visiting site below. Some corporate firewalls block the site, classifying it as 'Adult Content', so these particular links may be NSFW.
GirlsStuff.co.uk is always a good place to look for gifts for girls. Like any online shop worth its salt, it's got a Valentine's Day department right now. Our pick is the Chocolatiere Electric Melting Pot (£19.95 + p&p), which appeals on a number of levels: 1. it involves chocolate, which is certain to be a hit; 2. it comes with moulds for making chocolate hearts, teddy bears and the like, so you win brownie points for being cute; 3. it comes with recipes for alcoholic creations, taking it into adult sphere; 4. if you hate chocolate, you can always put cheese into the thing and make it into a more traditional fondue set. Londonist's other half reckons another advantage is that the melting pot is portable, and therefore transferable to the bedroom but we can't help being reminded of the chocolate mousse scene in I'm Alan Partride, so be careful if you intend to partake in those types of shenanigans.
If you're feeling cheap, then you could always propose to your girlfriend on Valentine's Day with a diamond ring from Hatton Garden. It looks a generous Valentine gift at first, but when you think about it, you would have bought the ring anyway whatever the time of year. You could be even more cheapskate by buying the diamond in an auction, as detailed in Diamonds: learn the rules of engagement in The Observer.
If you're not quite prepared to commit to that kind of thing, there's a nice alternative at Sweet Chestnut Designs. The pick of the bunch is the Crystal Hearts necklace which is a very reasonable £24, including p&p. Again, you're leaving this a bit late so make sure you call up to check on how quickly they'll be able to deliver. The good thing here is you're dealing with an independent jeweller so you'll get the personal service all that entails. Londonist's other half can vouch for that.
Again, you may want to be a little careful at looking at these sites in case your colleagues start wondering why you're looking at pictures of models in lingerie (hence we've not included any pictures here).
Agent Provocateur is the obvious place to go for nice lingerie although the line between tarty and sexy can be a difficult one to tread here. The other extreme is to try the more matriachal M&S, and their Ceriso range of underwear. There are several designs, all of which are very pretty, very girlie and will get you more brownie points than the traditional tarty underwear.
If none of the above tickles your fancy, then stop being so bloody selfish and remember that it's not supposed to be for you, it's for her, and as a last resort look back at the Christmas gift guide we posted last year, as a few ideas in there are still valid.
And if you're really brassic (or just plain tight) then remember that the most valuable gift you can give someone is your time. A walk in the park and your constant attention (and maybe just a single red rose) is surprisingly effective. If your woman complains, then you really ought to question whether you want to be going out with someone that materialistic anyway.