HAVING sampled the shrunken charms of our Christmas market – it must have taken all of five minutes – I decided to check out the opposition.

But the very first thing we saw as we entered Winchester’s cathedral close was a pair of policemen cradling what I believe to be semi-automatic weapons. Whopping great guns, anyway.

Wow! Happy Christmas to you, too!

I suppose the authorities were worried about the risk of terrorism in the hallowed precincts.

The officers’ demeanour was calm and purposeful rather than threatening as they strolled towards us through the crowd.

But what with the local oiks shoving kids off their feet on Salisbury’s ice rink, you have to wonder if all these festive frivolities are worth it.

I don’t believe for a minute that our teenage troublemakers would have been indulging in that kind of daylight yobbery if there’d been armed officers on duty outside the Guildhall.

Not a suggestion. Just saying.

And I have to add that had Salisbury’s market been up to its usual standard, I really think it would have compared well with its Hampshire competitor. I didn’t see anything much there that we haven’t had here in the past.

On a more positive note, I’ve got to say I how much I enjoyed Beauty and the Beast at the Playhouse.

Unlike some of the offerings in big cities, which are really just star vehicles full of catchphrases and telly ad references, Salisbury pantos are always refreshingly free of commercialism and full of sheer, delightful , escapist silliness.

We were laughing and shouting “Oh no it isn’t” like a pair of big kids. If you haven’t been yet, I do recommend it.

Money for nothing

I’ve held off telling you about this, so I can’t be accused of ‘talking down’ our city in the crucial run-up to Christmas.

One morning recently I wanted to make a small purchase. A last-minute thing, because my husband felt inspired to start DIY-ing.

It was a tin of Annie Sloan wax, the kind you use when distressing furniture.

And distressing was the word when I discovered that the pitifully few parking meters anywhere near our local stockist, the brilliant No. 44 Homeworks in Fisherton Street, were all occupied, and remained so even after I’d spent several minutes cruising up and down, to the detriment of the local air quality.

I had to pay £1.60 to leave the car for literally ten minutes in The Maltings. I don’t think I’m mean, but crikey!

I grumbled about it to the woman behind the counter, saying these charges must affect trade.

Oh yes, she agreed. And if I rang up next time and told her I was coming, I could pay over the phone and she’d have my purchase all ready wrapped so she could run out on to the street and simply pop it through the car window.

What a nice person.

But oh my, does it need to be that hard to support local independent traders in a city that’s trying to woo back visitors?