He's a brave man, that Paco Underhill. The self-styled retail guru has attempted, in a couple of years, to do what millions of men spend a lifetime trying to achieve and fail at miserably - working out exactly what women want. His book What Women Want claims to dispel any myths about why we make the choices we make. From digitised hotel key cards to farmers' markets in shopping malls and slimline cigarettes, women dictate our consumer choices and the design of shopping emporiums, argues Underhill, a consultant for Dubailand.
Men don't mind when shops are a bit girly and go with the flow because, well, our choices usually make for a much nicer environment. Let's face it, if it was down to men, we'd all be shopping at holes in the wall with goods stacked on a counter and one brand of everything. Writing in The National last year, Underhill said: "Women have historically been gatherers. They get pleasure from the act of looking. Two women can go to the mall to spend the entire day, buy nothing and have a great time.
"The man was the hunter. He went to the forest, to the desert, or out on the ocean, and his success was in killing something and dragging it home." Excuse me for being cynical, but this sounds rather too much like a beleaguered and embittered Underhill has spent one too many Friday afternoons gazing forlornly at the waterfall in Dubai Mall with all the other dads, while his wife and children plead: "Just one more shop ... and then we promise we can go home."
It's not the first time a man has claimed to have tapped into the psyche of the gentler sex. Mel Gibson did it in that dreadful movie that shares its name with Underhill's book, playing a chauvinistic advertising executive who, after an accident, can miraculously hear women's thoughts. Bearing in mind Gibson then went on to dump his long-suffering wife, Robyn, before embarking on a relationship with a woman 14 years his junior - and we all know how that turned out - I think it's safe to say he's no expert.
So can a man ever really understand the intricacies of the female psyche? A poll of the men in The National office prompted much beard-scratching, knitted brows and gazing into space, followed by baffled grunts from the singletons. Those who were attached seemed a little more clued-up. "When women want to talk and vent, they want men to offer solutions rather than just listen," said one, who either had a more highly-tuned sense of empathy than his peers or had simply been terrified into submission.
"What do women want? Nice house kids pliable husband undemanding job shoes hyperglamorous encounters with celebrities with horrible gelled hair," recited another breathlessly (the lack of punctuation is his, not mine - presumably because he was frightened of making an omission from the holy mantra). He added, somewhat redundantly: "I speak here for the abstract, notional man rather than for myself or any actual man I know."
Sadly, on a poll of the women in the office, their information was sadly lacking. We're simpler creatures than you might think, you see, and don't need much to keep us happy. Here is the definitive list of what it takes to satisfy all our needs. Gentlemen, feel free to cut out, stick on the fridge and memorise:
1. Jennifer Aniston's hairstylist and make-up artist to pop by every day to preen and primp us. 2. A request for a fresh fruit juice or smoothie not to automatically mean "plus half a ton of sugar syrup please". 3. For men to be banned from wearing muscle shirts, string vests, high-waisted jeans a la Simon Cowell, three-quarter length trousers, thonged sandals, tight cycling shorts (even in yoga), one earring or budgie smugglers. 4. For our thighs not to meet in the middle. 5. For the television only to be on when we are watching a programme, not as background white noise.
6. For there to be only one answer to: "Does my bum look big in this?" 7. For the scales to occasionally lie. 8. For there to be no such thing as a "bad hair day" (see point one above). 9. To feel fantastic in a bikini. 10. For "your turn to cook" not to mean beans on toast. With cheese for an extra-special treat. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org