THE sun was shining on Oxford. The sort of day those chaps who produce brochures on “the city of dreaming spires” dream about.

But there was nothing sunny about the diminutive yet loud American who, after a testing time walking from the rail station through the chaos that is Frideswide Square, was negotiating pavement work in Queen Street. He declared the city was a dump.

I resisted the temptation to protest when a businessman from Bristol, here for an important meeting at a Cornmarket store, said he had spent the past hour getting to the Seacourt park-and-ride from the ring road and then queuing the length of Botley road.

“I come here often,” said Victor – that’s the businessman’s name – “and I can’t help but notice businesses and colleges seem to choose summer to cover buildings with plastic sheeting and scaffolding and councils to dig up roads. Shouldn’t someone mention it’s the tourist season and all this gives a lousy impression of the place.”

The American (a label on his shirt revealed his name was Denver) piped up again. This time he went too far.

“I hope Cambridge will be better than this,” he sneered.

I suggested he found out at his earliest opportunity. That “C” word was inappropriate for tender Oxford ears.

Mind you, they both have a point...

THE low growl was blood-curdling. What hair I have stood on end.

It came from behind a door in the Market Street men’s lavatories. Was someone breathing his last? Should I dash for help?

A weaker, shorter growl was more worrying. I hoped for some movement or more noise. It seemed an eternity.

Just as I was about to knock on the door it opened and out came a large white dog followed by its owner. An embarrassing moment avoided.

LAST New Year’s Eve life changed permanently for an old colleague. He managed to break almost every bone in his body. He will never walk again.

It came as a surprise to see him in a wheelchair, unaccompanied, outside Carfax Tower. He was “on daily parole” from Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

“How are you?” I asked, a daft question deserving a scornful answer – but it didn’t come. Instead here was someone looking to the future with optimism, planning his next unaccompanied trip to London (his first was made after threatening to invoke his human rights) and filled with a renewed admiration for the human race.

His disabilities had confirmed his belief that the world was filled with wonderful, caring people who far outnumbered the villains he had so often written about.

At least his spirit is unbroken.