THE chaos that is Frideswide Square is not all bad. Traffic moving along Botley Road at snail’s pace gives pedestrians the chance to observe buses, cars, vans and lorries in greater detail than would have been possible had they sped by.

An elderly yet elegant man, in near-white flannels and Henley blazer, was leaning on the railings below the railway bridge. He was ‘taking it all in’ as the saying goes, anxious to make a point.

“What is organic horse manure compost?” he asked, holding out one arm to stop my progress while pointing to the writing on a van with the other. “It’s a strange way to describe muck straight from the horse.”

Could it mean the stuff had been treated with something before being bagged up, I suggested.

“Then it isn’t organic,” he declared.

Five minutes later we went our different ways having reached no common ground. Later an old friend, retired railway worker Colin, asked if I’d met anyone interesting that morning. I mentioned the earlier encounter.

“You’re telling me that with the world in turmoil all you could find to talk about was horse s***?” he said disapprovingly. “You’ve too much spare time on your hands.”

Spare time – yes, but fortunately not horse manure – organic or otherwise.

IN TOTAL contrast I met J. This was how he introduced himself.

He is homeless, has no money (or debts), no family, no responsibilities. He prefers life this way. He carries his world in a backpack. He is spotlessly clean, well spoken and well educated. His overall appearance gives no clue to his situation.

J is sustained by a deep religious faith but makes no attempt to force it upon those he meets. It is a personal thing.

I reckon J is the most contented person I’ve met in ages.

FILLED with joi de vie that a sunny Oxford and its horde of happy visitors provide, I bought an ice cream from the van outside the Westgate Centre.

Had my old headmaster been there a Thursday detention without the option would have been the penalty. Eating in public was a near-capital offence.

But as I believed he hadn’t patrolled this side of the pearly gates for 40 years or more, I relaxed and enjoyed.

More joy when three teenage Spanish girls, also armed with ice cream, cheerfully commanded my attention as I started to cross the road. They waved their cones, calling out “Good, very good!”

I returned their greeting – only to leap several feet after a bus driver sharply applied the brakes of his double decker, scowling and shaking his head in disapproval.

Could he be my old headmaster incarnate?