FORGET or ignore it at your peril. To do so could lead to weeks, nay months, of heartache and suffering.

We are not talking about cyanide in the tea. No. She has far more subtle, drill-into-the-bone-marrow, ways of causing you agony.

Quite simply if you don't do anything about Valentine's Day - and there are only three days to go - you could end up with Cupid's arrow in your backside.

Even then, if you don't gauge the mood just right, you will blow it just as surely. Because it really is a no-win situation.

Should you give presents? Some couples are still smarting from Christmas. He bought her the world, Jupiter and Venus; she bought him a hanger for his ties, a music CD by someone she loves and he hates, and one of those chintzy little armchairs for his mobile phone to rest in after a hard day's chatter.

I had a good friend at school whose parents fell out and refused to speak to each other for 25 years because she bought him a gold watch he did not like and virtually threw it back at her. They used to communicate through the kids: "Ask your dad what he wants for dinner" or "tell your mother I'm going to the pub."

It was only years later that my mathematical genius kicked in and I realised that if my pal was 16, and he had a younger sister, and the parents had not been speaking for 25 years, perhaps they occasionally called a truce.

Back to true romance, should you say it with flowers? If you always do, you are boring and predictable. If you never do, and you do it this year, you are up to something. If you only bring flowers on special occasions she'll say "Other men bring flowers every week..."

If you bring flowers every week, she'll say: "This is just a routine for you, isn't it? Other men think about it and only bring flowers on special occasions..."

Warning - do not EVER suddenly buy a big bunch of red roses on a 'public' day when they cost five times the normal rate. She'll definitely ask what you've been up to/are up to/about to be up to/thinking about being up to... or that you couldn't be bothered to think of anything original.

On the morning of February 14, what do you do? Hand over the card while your other half is still comatose? Or do you risk waiting until after work and facing the wrath of "she who feels let down and has had all day to dwell on your (supposed) shortcomings"?

Risk evaluation required.

Most men just don't think of flowers in the same way as women. These beautiful creations are too ephemeral. Of course, they look lovely when they are fresh, but then they droop and wilt (we're still talking about flowers); petals fall off and have to be swept up; then you have to wash out all that gunge in the vase.

Flowers are not half as practical as a Black & Decker.

And cards - what a minefield. Should it be hearts and flowers, a verse, modern and 'cool', cute bears, slightly naughty, innuendo, blatant cheek?

Another warning - most grown women don't mind the odd bear (the odder the better in some cases, reminds them of you perhaps?). But nave, fluffy bunnies or cutesy, rounded, soft-spiked hedgehogs with apple cheeks, don't even go there. And that applies to 'blokey' humour as well.

Here's one tip boys, but don't say it came from me: Make her a card - you can tart it up on the office computer while the boss is distracted - and pop in an IOU for a romantic weekend break. You defer the day until you have the cash, you would have been having a weekend away at some time anyway, and you get just as much fun out of it as she does. Talk about a caring, sharing partner!

And yes, we all say it's a load of commercial hype, but woe betide the man who believes he can escape a St. Valentine's Day massacre if he really believes that she values anti-consumerism individuality against a big red heart and a bottle of her favourite smelly stuff.

All's fair in love and war - and Valentine's Day is no minor skirmish.

Updated: 09:48 Tuesday, February 11, 2003