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It is day 5 and I am feeling a little bolder. My all-day bus ticket has taken me on quite a tour, breaking free of the picturesque, picture-postcard Georgian townhouses, out to the humdrum, taupe pebbledash of normal lives. On the run back in to town, I make a snap decision and press the request button, forcing the driver into a last-minute stop. I don’t look at him but mutter my thanks, embarrassed.For his part, he is gracious in his acknowledgment.

I wind my way through the back streets, peering into the steamed-up windows of cafe-bars, admiring grand facades, wondering what – or who – might be found inside. A story in every one, I don’t doubt.
Crossing Queen Street gardens, I work my way uphill, breath condensing in the chill.

It is day 5 and I am feeling a little bolder. I push open the door to the Oxford Bar, its utilitarian sparseness curiously comforting. I am pleased to find it quiet and can take a place at the end of the bar, tucked in a corner.
The barman – landlord? – either way he is proprietorial – raises his eyebrows in a question.
“Dry white please” I say, suddenly conscious of my soft southern accent.
“Wine?” he asks, silently appraising me and my new, strange face, pink with cold.
“Yes, white” I confirm, mishearing.
He looks at me, dead straight. “Wine?” he asks again.
“Oh, yes. Thank you.”

I am surprised to find myself amused, not embarrassed as a less-bold me might once have been. Nonetheless I notice that the other two customers have fallen silent.

I pay the man and thank him, settling into my seat. I forage in my bag and retrieve a book.
“It’s bitter out there” I say, making conversation.
He appraises me once again before answering. “Probably something to do with it being December” he says, deadpan.
I smile, more to myself than at him and definitely undeterred.

A little later, I put my book down, open at the place I’ve reached. I pick up my phone to respond to the message that’s just come in. He comes over then, places something on the bar. It’s a bookmark. I look up.

“To save your spine” he says, as straight faced as ever.