The bells of St Mary’s Church chimed 4pm last Friday across an all but deserted Radcliffe Square.

Gone were the scurrying students, the street vendors, the shuffling parties of tourists following their guides’ umbrellas over the cobblestones or staring and snapping at the architectural glories around them.

The buildings have stood, will stand again, in midst of other woes than ours. They represent in solid, shapely form a triumph of mankind’s invention and ingenuity, on which we must rely again at this time of global peril.

Before encountering the surprise of the empty square, I had cycled across Port Meadow and beside the Thames sparkling in the fitful sunshine.

Natural wonders, the greening of the landscape, renewal – all things to cheer and encourage us at present.

Hey guys, it’s spring – as David Hockney observed as he revealed his lovely, iPad-created portrait of a daffodil. “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh,” as Philip Larkin rejoiced in The Trees.

As bright day followed bright day, I was out on my bike enjoying it, revelling in the blossoms bursting into life in the empty streets of North Oxford.

Here could be observed, too, in the lavish renovations of the vast houses in and around Crick Road, how the other half (of one per cent, that is) lives in affluent times possibly soon to end. In these sprawling properties, folk could self-isolate for months with no co-habitee even aware of their presence.

I’m in lock-down, as it happens – on medical grounds, not yet quite as a septuagenarian. As a consequence, my first instinct was to suspend operations and give what some readers might consider a ‘pleasing interval’ without Gray Matter.

This expression, with its ironic overtone, we owe to Lytton Strachey, who used it – according to his biographer Michael Holroyd – when confronted in a London street by some old bore who declared: “My God, Strachey, not seen you in . . . how long must it be?”

The ‘pleasing interval’ of my absence proved to be unnecessary, however, when a kind colleague offered to supply the technical assistance to allow column creation through home-working.

This is something I had never previously done, even as a child, which helps to explain my undistinguished school career. And that explains my translation, post A-levels, not to a university but to a career in journalism that would otherwise not have been my destiny.

This began precisely half a century ago, since when there has never been anything requiring press coverage remotely to approach, with the single exception of AIDS, the staggering nature of the crisis now engulfing us.

While valiant efforts are being made by politicians, medicos and economic commentators to make us look on the bright side, there is, as yet, no such happy focus for our observation.

Except, that is, in the kindness and consideration being shown one for the other across society.

Yes, we are seeing, and shall continue to see, many of those “little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love” that, according to William Wordsworth are the “best portions of a good man’s life”.

Within an hour of the increasingly statesman-like Boris Johnson’s announcement of what was to be, in effect, ‘lock-down Britain’, forces of assistance were swinging into action.

In my neighbourhood of Osney, all houses were immediately leafleted with the names and contact details of people willing to assist in each of our various streets.

Listed were areas of assistance on offer: “picking up shopping, posting mail, getting urgent supplies and being someone to speak to on the phone”.

A day or so later, a students group leafleted making a similar offer.

It goes without saying that the biggest changes in my life arise from the closure of Oxford’s theatres and other places of entertainment.

The shutting of pubs and restaurants – while annoying – is not quite so life-changing. I can still eat and drink at home, if not socialise there.

I would be a lucky man indeed to be able to savour live theatre, opera and great art in the domestic setting.

Watching television is a no-no, since I don’t have a licence. And yes, I do feel guilty on that count as I tune into the BBC’s wonderful radio programmes, like Rossini’s Cenerentola from the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday night.

Guilt is increasing in view of the marvellous work being done on Radio 4’s news programmes.

I must single out for praise the PM programme and its presenter Evan Davis.

He always seemed a bit of an irritant, an arch practitioner of the Beeb’s ‘woke’ approach to news.

But he is now proving a voice of calm, reassurance and sound sense amid the encircling gloom.

Banbury Cake:

'Arch snoot' critic drops 'honorouble' clanger

'Much laughter in the shires and stately homes of England will have greeted the delivery of a significant social solecism – hilarious in its context – by arch-snoot and right-wing big hitter James Delingpole in last week’s Spectator.

It came in the course of his review – he’s the Speccie’s telly critic – of Julian Fellowes’s latest load of upper-crust bunkum, Belgravia.

Me neither, incidentally. Even in these terrible times, there are better ways to keep oneself amused.

Having begun his review by telling us that “I like and admire Fellowes,” (natch, their being a well-matched pair of parvenus), Delingpole hints that Fellowes lays it on a bit thick in alerting proles to the nuances of aristocratic life.

“People telling each other stuff they already well know. Hmm.”

Delingpole continues: “But I’m being catty. There are decreasingly few of us these days so socially attuned that we really notice or care, say, if a baron called Lord Bonkers is misdescribed [sic] . . . as Lord John Bonkers (which should only be used as a courtesy title if he’s a younger son of Duke, a Marquess or an Earl). The gloating capitals are Delingpole’s or the Spectator subs’.

Oh dear! Seemingly Delingpole is not so socially attuned – this Bromsgrove factory owner’s brat, ‘trade’ if ever one saw it – as to realise that earls’ younger sons are never lords.

They are merely the Honourable John Bonkers. Their sisters all get to be ladies, though, which would, of course, be grossly unfair, if any of this mattered.

Delingpole rides to hounds and sent his son to Eton. But he needs to do better if he really wants to get on in society.

The whole ‘Lord John Bonkers’ business arises, by the way, from the name of the Belgravia male-totty character Lord Bellasis (played by Jeremy Neumark Jones), who has been wrongly called Lord Edmund Bellasis in a number of newspapers.