It’s good to dress the part on a Bank Holiday...

Oxford Mail: Peter Unsworth Peter Unsworth

AT least I made the effort. It was Bank Holiday Monday and deprived of family (all were away for half-term) I was still determined to embrace the holiday mood.

Out came the Henley-style striped blazer, cream trousers, white shirt, red tie and comfy yet shiny shoes. Unfortunately the lousy weather meant an umbrella was a must.

“You look like a PG Wodehouse reject,” said old chum Alec, retired railway worker and theatre luvvie whom I usually meet in my favourite Covered Market café. On Monday the market was closed and our paths crossed in Broad Street. “All you need is a monocle and you’ll pass for an ageing Bertie Wooster or an over-dressed visitors’ guide.”

I put his remarks down to jealousy.

Over-dressed forsooth.

HOW could anyone hope to compete with the Mad Hatter, the young guide whose popularity grows by the week? His outfit, straight from the pages of Alice in Wonderland, is a real eye-catcher. It was a relief to see that his defeat in the recent city council elections had not dimmed his smile or his enthusiasm. He was booked that day to escort at least two groups around the city – rain or no rain.

Some of the guides use a furled umbrella hoisted above their head to keep their parties in touch. One female guide was using this icon and was leading a large group of quite small Chinese visitors – all with their umbrellas open. It looked like a field of giant mushrooms on the move. She was soaked, but she strode on undaunted.

MY weekly trot-around-town had started in Cowley Road soon after 10am. The place seemed unusually devoid of life. Shutters were still in place on many of the shop fronts. The two craftsmen braving the elements in Bartlemas Road seemed to be the only ones working.

As soon as I saw the woman’s face, I knew what she was going to ask. She wanted ‘any spare change’. She was small, probably in her late 30s, tidily dressed – and pregnant.

I’ve had the advice on not encouraging begging in the streets, but her condition made me want to ignore it for once. The problem was I had no money on me – not a bean – and I was heading for a cash machine to put this right. Before I could explain, she changed her request to that of wanting a cigarette. With that my sympathy faded. She couldn’t have picked a more bigoted anti-smoker than me. I walked away.

Almost immediately I was ashamed of my reaction and when once more in funds returned to where we had met. She had gone.

The guilt is still there.

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