At two pound fifty a ride, the Victorian carousel in Sunderland town centre was almost empty. A Bengali was playing the accordion, badly, from a stool in front of Burger King. Inside the shopping centre everywhere was packed, but there were more people than carrier bags and the biggest queue was for the Lottery machine.
Things weren't much better in Newcastle. Every shop had a red and white sale sign, a topless magician was attempting to unchain himself from a ladder by the Monument, and a line of kids was being pulled by the hand along Fenwick's Christmas window. People shopped because they had to, grim-faced and as joyless as a late-December dusk.