A commenter yesterday (hello Abby!) posed a question about inflatables, which, strangely enough, had nothing to do with booncy hammers, but instead with the giant Santa Claus, who was always to be found, in the run up to Christmas, climbing up the outside walls of Manchester Town Hall. Well, he is still there all right- only in a slightly different guise.
The original inflateable Father Christmas was a surprisingly nimble looking individual who was to be found every December, laden with a sack of presents, shinning up the side of the Town Hall clock. At least he looked nimble on December 1st- by Christmas Eve the rigours of the climb- and the effects of a chronic slow puncture- would have taken their toll, and the poor fellow would be looking quite emaciated. He never finished his climb either- staying marooned two-thirds of the way up. Eventually this increasingly pitiful figure admitted defeat in his annual vain quest to reach the top of Manchester's most prominent landmark, and was quietly retired.
But I liked this Santa- you couldn't see his face from Albert Square, just the back of his furtive, clambering figure- and you got the impression he was just getting on with his work and really didn't want to be bothered. This unassuming attitude allowed him to remain- well, I won't say inconspicuous- he was after all a 30-foot high man in a bright red robe climbing up the side of the Town Hall clock in broad daylight carrying a sack- but he didn't exactly command your attention. So you would see him one day, then forget all about him- and, the next day, when you looked up again on your way across the square, you would take a step back in renewed astonishment. 'Fuck me, Santa Claus!', you would exclaim. 'Isn't he looking thin?'
After the demise of the climbing Santa, there were a couple of years where the Town Hall walls stayed sadly bare at Christmas. We were just getting used to this state of affairs when, a couple of years ago, a new figure appeared- and he is quite different. First of all, the new man has made it all the way to the top. It seems he has completed the ascent via the easier Southern face of the building mind you, perhaps by jumping off the top of a tram onto the roof of the library and making his way along the side of the Town Hall extension- and so he is to be found peering over the top of the clock tower onto Albert Square below. And boy, is he keen to let us know! Where our old Santa was shy and retiring- shifty, even- this brash newcomer has no qualms about advertising his presence to all and sundry. All through December he retains a permanent, faintly scary grin, and he is forever waving enthusiastically to the crowds below. 'Hey, everyone- Santa Claus here!, he seems to be saying. 'Look- I'm up on the top of the Town Hall- not stuck two-thirds of the way up like some has-beens I could mention! Hey- look at me! Me! Me! Me!'
Frankly, I find the new Santa Claus to be something of a show-off, and I think maybe the people of Manchester- who have been known to avert their gaze from his uncalled-for month-long display of unashamed egotism- would join me in welcoming a return to the days of the charming but hapless figure, with the bulging sack and mysterious shrinking waistline, who we had grown to love.
I'm sure little Frankie agrees with us on this count also. After all, the young fellow has met two Santa Clauses in his short life- the second of whom was someone's harmless old grandma dressed in a red robe and beard- and both have sent him into uncontrollable fits of tears. If he gets a look at the terrifying figure beaming down from above Albert Square right now, he might not recover his composure until July, and he might develop a subconscious aversion to Town Halls, or to Manchester itself, that could last for ever. Which will never do, the lad is a Mancunian after all, and we can't have him walking across the main square of his home city in the year 2027 and breaking unaccountably into a cold sweat.
So we're staying clear of the town centre until the scary Santa has gone- instead enjoying Christmas in Levenshulme, Merseyside and Blaydon-upon-Tyne. I will probably not be coming to near any computers in this time, either- so wherever you are going to be spending your Christmas, I hope you all have a great one- Crinklybee will be back in action in the New Year.