Valentine's day can be a minefield and while it can't be ignored, however much you might want to, neither does any man want to come across as cheesy. How to strike the balance you ask? We find the following simple formula works year in, year out: a Valentine's Day card from Smythson, the stationers, a large and tasteful bunch of seasonal flowers (ask the florist for "soft pinks"), a medium-sized box of expensive chocolates (NB the packaging is just as important as the contents) and a candle-lit dinner at home, with champagne to drink.
And here's what not to do...
Disguising your handwriting on a Valentine's card is fine, but know the limits. Composing a message made up of individual letters cut from newspaper headlines will make you look less like a serial lover than a serial killer.
Cuddly toys are the domain of the desperate. Before purchasing a polyester teddy bear clutching a love heart, ask yourself one simple question: what would your reaction be if the object of your affections invited you back for coffee, took you upstairs and then opened the door to reveal a boudoir festooned with more soft toys than a Justin Bieber obsessive? "Horny" devils are equally unforgiveable.
Restaurants. Eateries advertising special Valentine menus are to be avoided at all costs. Not only will you find yourself in a dining space filled with couples all looking around to see if those on neighbouring tables are having a better time/look more in love/are more attractive, you'll invariably be forced to pay over the odds, thanks in part to the over-priced single red rose in a slender transparent plastic cylinder you'll be duped into purchasing before you leave.
Lingerie is a potential minefield. Avoid anything that's cheap, red or produced in man-made fibres coarse enough to produce smoke when she walks from the bedroom to the bathroom. Make sure you get the size right, otherwise you'll merely be betraying how big you think she looks - or how big (or small) you'd like her to be. A good rule is to have a sneaky peek in her underwear drawer for sizes, although be careful not to be caught - especially if you are in the early stages of a relationship. Anything with zips or in rubber is only going to advertise your clandestine internet preferences. And talking of clandestine internet preferences, pornography is always a no.
Heart-shaped soap. Stop and think about it for a second. What is the hidden subtext of this present? I am giving you this not as a token of my love but because I feel strongly that your personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. Without exception, Valentine's Day novelty soaps will result in nothing sexier than your belle/beau smelling like your grandmother.
Household appliances. Vacuum cleaners are bad (chainsaws are worse) but not as bad as digital bathroom scales, electric toothbrushes or lady shaves. In fact, anything that might possibly prey on your intended's insecurities - gym membership, sessions with a personal trainer, a private consultation for a gastric band - are a bad idea. And while we're on the subject of the home, do not, under any circumstances, think that the true extent of your feelings will be conveyed with an oven glove bearing the legend "Hot Stuff".
Comedy gifts are, of course, oxymoronic. If you ever find yourself looking at a chocolate penis, a booklet of cut-out coupons for breakfast in bed/a free back rub/a bubble bath with candles or, God forbid, an elephant trunk thong, step away, take a deep breath and reconsider.
Movies. The right film at home on the sofa is fine; a trip to the cinema is a signal that you're happy to spend the bulk of your date not having to make conversation. If you go for the former, avoid nature documentaries, especially anything involving bonobo monkeys (clue: they're extremely randy). If the latter, steer clear of Mr Lars von Trier.
Flowers. Avoid bouquets wrapped in clear cellophane with prominent price stickers. They will betray the fact that you made a last-minute panic purchase from a supermarket or petrol station. Wreaths are not recommended for obvious reasons.
Saying I love you. It's one thing to send someone a card and a small gift; it's something else entirely to profess your undying love. Valentine's Day was invented by the greetings card industry and while you can't use this as an excuse to ignore it altogether, you should remember that once you've said, or written, "I love you", there really is no going back.