Christmas, if one could people it with fictional characters, would be perfect. As it is, we have to rub along with imperfect and maddening types who jar with our dreams and get right on our nerves. I suggest you buy them books - transporting someone to a pretend land is almost as good as zapping them off the face of the earth. Impossible-to-buy-for-buggers include, but are by no means restricted to:
1. The Martyred Mother
All steam-reddened cheeks and gale-force sighs, she truly believes Christmas would go to the dogs without her unique input. Get her something to remind her that life needs a bit of a glamorous veil at times, and that she'd be more cossetted if she played the coquette a bit more. Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford will remind her that stumping crossly about in worsted tights yields much less than flirting, giggling and beautiful stockings.
2. The Sulky Teen
Goth khol, determinedly dreary clothes and a perma-scowl. Give her Baudelaire's (complete works, including English translation) poems to show her what real fin-de-siecle malaise looks like and give her something to be interesting about at the miserable parties she'll be slouching around at the minute she's limply opened her presents. This one's a lost cause. For now.
3. The Bottom-Obsessed Little Boy
Roddy Doyle's The Giggler Treatment is perfect for adults still at the read-me-a-story phase. Lots of different dialects to amuse the reader, if not the listening child, especially after a couple of glasses of Christmas cheer, and a twist-and-turn story to exhaust them before blessed early bedtime. Oh, and it's all about poo. This used to have the bots and me helpless with laughter.
4. The Impossible To Please In-law
Something huge and heavy; content irrelevant, just club him/her into a coma with it while no-one's looking.
5. Your Lover
Surrealist poetry and fascinating photographs from Lee Miller. Lie decadently abed awaiting your glass of champagne and plate of blinis leafing langorously through this and listening to Ella Fitzgerald. Silk lingerie mandatory; read aloud to each other between erm, the sheets.
6. The Left-the-Nest-Fledgeling
Easy - Nigella's, How to Eat. No doubt they will be existing on expensive lunchtime sandwiches and the odd lasagne for attempted grown-up dinner parties. This book, even apart from the luscious prose, will instruct the sophisticate wannabe in basic cookery techniques, store-cupboard must-haves and incredibly easy to do but completely amazing dishes for pretty much all occasions. If you're feeling flush and don't own it, buy one for yourself.
7. Your Old College Chum
Knackered by child-rearing, mortgages, juggling life and getting on a bit, Rosamond Lehmann's Dusty Answer will take them back to the halcyon days of intense friendships, nascent fascination with Other People and a lovely glimpse into the early days of women's education at Cambridge. Seriously sumptuous prose, this is the literary equivalent of eating most of a Stilton alone; in my book, a splendid indulgent end to a perfect day.
8. Travel Buff d'Un Certain Age
Alec Waugh's (brother of the infamous Evelyn) Island in the Sun. Fabulous, if tragic, story of the West Indian planter classes in the 1950s. Great characters, great social insight and a really gripping tale. Send them back to a time when one wore gloves to fly and spent evenings avoiding the ghastly bores at Consulate drinks parties. Guaranteed to give you two hour's peace from lonely old Uncle Edgar.
9. Slightly Awkward Little Girl
The utter classic The Secret Garden; lots of spine-tingling Victorian melodrama, which is surprisingly easy for even the most dedicated X-Box child to read. Sympathetic tragic heroine, ghostly happenings, the curative forces of narure and sinister gardeners. Even better, make an hour for her to read it to you.
10. Military Buff
Book token, tucked suggestively down your stocking top. You don't want to be bothering with all those dull little wars when there's fun to be had.
(Painting: "Femme en bas noir" by Egon Schiele)