Are the Manchester Christmas Markets as good as usual this year? As I look forward each year to their arrival with breath that is actually bated, I am loathe to be the one to voice doubts, but it just all seems a bit too samey this year. The stall selling mulled wine or hot chocolate with brandy and whipped cream is as good as ever (and particularly heavy-handed with the brandy this year, ideal in all this cold weather we've been having), and the hog roast stall is still doing a roaring (oinking?) trade, but the problem is that all the other stalls are selling the same stuff as well. There are the lovely steel clocks, one of which already sits proudly in my living room; the frankly bonkers hand puppets that so charmed my nephews a couple of years ago; the slightly over-priced but rather lovely amber jewellery - it's all here again, just as it was last year, and the year before, and the year before that. As I've already bought the choicest items in previous years, either for myself or my loved ones, the Markets are no longer the easy option for Christmas shopping that they once were - please can we have some new stalls?
As a social occasion, the Markets remain as irresistable as ever - just try to feel bah humbug when you're clutching a cup of mulled wine and listening to the brass band playing carols. But the stalls need an injection of new life... and that Father Christmas atop the Town Hall in Albert Square looks way too much like a big scary Zippy in a santa suit.