IT’S surprising the reactions you get when you’re riding a bike in a supermarket.

I’d better explain: the machine was of the static variety, as found in gyms and health centres and was one of a set being used to raise funds for a well-known hospice.

The store manager of Morrisons in Banbury, Sarah, is always willing to help good causes, so when a machine became vacant I offered to contribute 30 minutes of sweat and tears, but hopefully no blood.

Eye contact – or rather the determination to avoid it – immediately struck me. An acquaintance who would normally gush with the latest family news, gazed backwards over his shoulder, finding something of greater interest in the door through which he had just come.

Another ‘friend’ preferred to appear fascinated by the store’s ceiling lights.

Breathing heavily, yet with cheerful words, I tried to encourage others into taking the saddle next to me. Excuses ranged from: (a) having to meet his impatient wife in the café; (b) someone, while coughing, saying she was on medication for heart problems; (c) there was no-one to watch over his daughter – she was 14 if she was a day; (d) she was wearing a tight short skirt and felt it would be inappropriate.

Some people cheerfully tossed coins into the buckets while others showed a turn of speed to the exit that even Usain Bolt would have admired.

After 30 minutes I left the unforgiving saddle, with aching nether regions, but satisfied with my small sacrifice. It was only when someone suggested staying for another session that I remembered a pressing appointment...

MY COMMENT was innocent enough – but I wish I’d never made it. The location was Botley Road; the scene, outside the new Waitrose store site. It was raining.

I was marvelling at the speedy progress being made, something I shared with a diminutive, yellow-raincoated woman circa 75.

“Yes – but at what cost?” she said. No time was allowed for a reply.

“Have you seen how many shops are empty in Oxford and in Botley? The last straw is Cake Expectations.” I had noticed that this long-established cake and cake decorations shop 100 yards nearer the city centre had closed last weekend. Lynn, its owner, was retiring.

“So were you one of the regular customers?” I asked.

“I never went in – but that’s not the point,” she said peevishly, before deliberately shaking the rain from her umbrella in my direction, and stomping off.

I was left, wetter than before, wondering what the point was.

NOTICE in a Cowley Road store: ‘Vacancy for assistant – male or female. Must have clean nails.’ Boot or finger?