TOLERANCE never figured among Victor’s qualities. Early retirement from work as a brewery rep has not improved matters.

His journey into the city had again been a nightmare.

“If King Charles had only asked the county council to repair roads in the city, Cromwell would have gone home to grow turnips on the Fens,” he said to our group taking refreshments in a Covered Market café.

“You’d reckon with all the digging he’d have called off trying to get here from Botley Road?” said former local government officer Clive, entering into the spirit of the debate.

“He’d never have got off the ring road,” put in retired Cowley worker Eric. “Headington would have been hell.”

Sitting at the next table was a tall, serious-faced, white-haired visitor from Malvern. He was alarmed to see how our group was not only distorting the historical facts of who was where and when but also had no idea of 1640s conditions. An enthusiastic student of the Civil War era, he felt he had to point out the county council would not have existed and that motorways or dual carriageways were still many years away.

I wanted to tell him we were having a joke, but Clive kicked my leg.

“We didn’t think of that,” he said oozing solemnity. “Do you know all about it?”

Unfortunately he did.

I NEVER uttered a word, but the smartly dressed young person read my mind.

She had just lit up a cigarette in Radcliffe Square when her eyes caught mine. I am unashamedly anti-smoking. It must have shown.

“Sorry,” she said apologetically.

“Your choice,” I said, but adopting the paternal role, smiled and added: “I’m only thinking of your health.”

“I’ve tried to stop for years. But I can’t,” she said in mitigation. She looked no older than 18. But appearances can be deceptive.

“I’m 15,” she confessed.

Trying for years? How old was she when she sampled her first gasper? Eight?

THERE was no mystery about his age. He was 83 – a statistic announced when our paths crossed. He seemed to be waiting for his audience to arrive.

Rotund and leaning on a stick, he was chuckling and tapping the large triangular warning sign outside the YHA building near Botley Road railway bridge. It read: ‘Narrow lanes. Do not overtake cyclists.’ “So should we run them down?” he asked, laughing at his own sick suggestion.

I counselled against this, in spite of being stabbed in the ribs by the handlebar of a cycle ridden in the no bikes zone of Queen Street less than an hour before.