I see dead people. Well, actually, mostly I see tourists. There are clumps of them pressed into shop doorways along Oxford's Cornmarket and spilling over pavements down every side street - but still, every now and again I see dead people.

 

There are little parallel lives running on a loop wherever I look - the husbands, the resurrected relatives, half-forgotten people from the past suddenly unbearably present. And then myself - one of the walking young, wearing clothes of such unsightly hideousness that even the year 1975 doesn't excuse them..

 

If I ever found the idea of reincarnation comforting, taking a trip back to Oxford is enough to make one long for oblivion. For a start, astonishingly, I'm no longer 17, the city centre has been Gapitalised and there's a Starbuck's. There's even a Disney Store, which had it sold hats bearing mortar boards instead of Mickey Mouse ears, would be depressingly apt given Oxford's new status as an academic theme park.

 

But we're here for lunch, not nostalgia. The Quod is a restaurant in yet another of those I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-bank buildings that All Bar One failed to get to first. Instead of being a branch of Barclay's it's now a hotel, imaginatively named The Old Bank - a long overdue alternative to the historically memory-drenched, now dismal Randolph.

 

Inside, the large square room is light and pleasant with beautiful windows overlooking the almost traffic-free High Street, just opposite Brasenose College. Large unframed canvases hang on the walls featuring moody scenes of posh student life, with - thankfully - not a dreaming spire in sight. Though noisy and crowded, the room feels cosy enough to imagine it will retain an atmosphere of warmth throughout the other 11 months of the English winter. For summer or hardy souls used to unheated lodgings there's a decked terrace at the back which will be lovely when the conifers grow large enough to obscure the view of the car park.

 

We were six - seated inside and sandwiched between - wouldn't you know it - the service station and reception. We had hardly sat down when the grand operaatic glass smashing contest began - a tray of ice-filled glasses and a couple of cokes - shattered on the flagstones with an ear-spitting resonance worthy of Ella Fitzgerald.

 

Next to go ten minutes later was a single glass, followed, mid-meal, by a couple of coffee cups.

 

Somebody ought to sack that juggler, said Jon, he really isn't very good.

 

Between us we managed to work our way through most of the menu. It's essentially Italian - antipasto, pizza, pasta and some more straighforward main courses inlcuding, of course, the indispensible hamburger.

 

To start we tried the fritatta, the chargrilled vegetables which included a particularly nicely done head of fennel, some speck with Emmental, a passably good fresh crab salad, some crostini and the buffallo mozzarella salad. The fritatta was dry and fairly bland, and both the crab and grilled vegetables as overdressed as a Persian on the beach. The mozzarella salad, in particular, arrived doing the breast stroke in a pool of basil oil.

 

Main courses suffered the same fate. The baked polenta with aubergine and undercooked courgette, topped with mozzarella was definitely not waving, but drowning - and though the duck confit was excellent, the accompanying lentils were watery.

 

We all loved the monkfish wrapped in bacon. The smoked salmon pizza though basically just smoked salmon laid on a thick bed of rocket, atop some beefsteak tomatoes on a pizza base was also enjoyable and shared around the table. The squid salad was a huge white Elvis Presley curl on a pile of chopped salad and though beautifully tender lost marks on taste. The primavera risotto - wasn't. It seemed to have been made with with long grain rice, which still had a distinct bite to it, and contained only peas, carrots and a bit of courgette. Spring vegetables in Greenock, 1962, perhaps but we've come a way on the vegetable front since then.

 

Service was much like the juggling - eager, friendly and ocassionally inept. When our wine cork crumbled in two, the waitress solved the problem by simply shoving the other half into the bottle, where it floated merrily.

 

However, they were unfailingly polite and obliging - the squid was deducted from the bill and a coffee and dessert thrown in for free without us even asking. We laughed, we drank, we gossiped, we ate, and generally enjoyed ourselves despite the less than perfect meal.

 

Of the puddings, the home made ice cream, particularly the amaretto and vanilla were creamy and delicious and enlivened a gelitanous pannacotta.

 

During coffee came the juggler's grand finale when someone knocked over cutlery trays and every single fork, knife and spoon ricocheted across the floor sounding like somwthing from Phillip Glass.

 

We applauded.

 

When compared to watching your long-lost younger, thinner, sweeter self walking dreamily up and down High Street condemned for ever to fashion hell, you are grateful for any performance.

 

How could I have ever worn rara skirts, or that New Romantic's ruffled blouse? My god, the shame of it.