THERE’S no disputing Wilf is a man of the city. Were this retired college scout sawn in half, you’d find the word ‘Oxford’ written from end to end. He isn’t one for change.

“The Market Street bike shop’s moving,” he announced, barely able to retain composure or false teeth as he spluttered in exasperation. “It’s been there for donkey’s years. Bill Morris (later Lord Nuffield) had his bike business there before his cars and going to Longwall Street. Now it’s off to St Michael’s Street. Good Lord!

They’ll be shifting the Ashmolean next.”

I suggested there was probably a sound reason; he was having none of it. The shop, now known as Bike Zone, had even appeared in ITV’s Lewis, he stressed.

(Fortunately we didn’t get into the closure of Gill and Co, the ironmonger, which tomorrow puts up its shutters in the Wheatsheaf Yard after four and half centuries in the city.) The notice announcing Bike Zone’s planned move to larger premises, across Cornmarket Street, was in the window. Looking inside I said things did look cramped.

“Cramped?” said Wilf. “My dad could have told you about cramped. There were nine living in one room, and...”

lLAVATORIES was not a topic I had expected to discuss in Broad Street with two statuesque, up-market, elderly women from ‘the other place’.

As is my fashion, I was extolling the virtues of Oxford – both city and university – while they were unflinchingly lyrical about Cambridge’s colleges and college lawns sweeping majestically to the River Cam.

The grandeur of Christ Church, the magnificence of Magdalen and the surprise impact of the Radcliffe Camera were fine, but had I not seen the beautiful King’s College Chapel, elegant Caius and wonderful Trinity?

“Your public toilets are better,” conceded the larger of the two, introducing an unexpected new topic.

“Back home some cubicles are so small you have to crush between the wall and the lavatory to close the door.”

The other agreed, sarcastically suggesting the council had catered for pygmies – physical if not mental.

Lavatories dominated their conversation for some minutes. Matters had been made worse by the closure of so many for so-called economic reasons. I tut-tutted sympathetically but felt it was time to move on. Locked loos are a sore point here, aren’t they?

lI HEADED for the peace of the old schools quad only to find an exquisitely crafted six-foot-plus wooden book outside the Sheldonian. It was made by Oxford sculptor Diana Bell, whose work includes that eye-catching stack of books in Bonn Square.

As part of a Bodleian-inspired event, she was inviting snippets of imagination and hope for the world. More than 1,100 had been written on its pages.

After two mugs of hot chocolate, my immediate hope was that the gents’ in Market Street was neither closed nor on the move.

But I managed to contribute something more high-minded.