WITNEY residents who have to cross Bridge Street regularly are already aware of the hazards and the difficulties incurred when trying to find a gap in the traffic in which to cross.

My friend, the Oxford poet Jenny Lewis, seldom visits Witney, so she was slightly alarmed at the prospect of crossing this busy road to get to The Old Court Hotel.

"How do people put up with this?" she asked as she gazed at the traffic with despair. It was a question I failed to answer, as it's one I have often asked myself.

Yes, we did cross eventually, but not before our lungs were full of traffic fumes and our nerves shot to pieces. What we needed having arrived safely on the other side, was a good lunch in a warm, hospitable pub. We assumed that this is what we would get in the The Old Court Hotel, which had just opened its doors to the public after a major re-vamp.

One should never assume!

How good it would have been to have received a welcome that suggested we really were welcome when we opened the front door. We didn't! In fact, we found ourselves wondering if we had become invisible as we stood at the bar waiting to be served. When we were noticed and finally shown a table, having ordered a half-pint of Donnington's Best Bitter and a glass of wine, it was without enthusiasm. We were given a menu from which to order, without being told that there was a specials menu too, then left to our own devices for a while.

"Gosh, it's cold in here," Jenny remarked with a shiver. Indeed it was. In fact, I think that by the time we left, we were colder than when we had gone in. Neither of us removed our coats. Apparently one of the electricians fixing the lighting had cut through a pipe feeding gas to the fires in the centre of the main dining area. Hence no heating. Whilst I accept that accidents such as this do happen, I also ask why alternative heating was not hired until the fault was mended.

The decor is minimalistic. A large picture of two laughing cows dominates the far wall, a TV screen hangs from the corner of the dinning area, and the walls are a deep muted red.

A public bar area with a pool table, dressed in shocking pink felt, stands to the right of the entrance.

"Well, at least the beer's good," I told Jenny as we looked through the menu. Donnington Best Bitter is brewed in Stow-on-the-Wold. I drank it last week at The Queens Head, and enjoyed it enough to order it again. At 3.5 ABV, it makes a great lunchtime drink.

We ordered food and waited, while watching waiters struggle to hang a large specials' menu on the wall. "Why didn't you tell us there were specials too?" I asked. The waiter stared at me, shrugged his shoulders, and retreated without answering.

Jenny had ordered the baked fillet of salmon, served with steamed vegetables and new potatoes. Her meal arrived first, and out of politeness, she waited for mine to come too, before lifting her fork. Several minutes elapsed before I was presented with the rack of ribs (£14.95), pictured, I'd ordered. The menu stated that the select pork ribs would be cooked slowly with the house speciality BBQ sauce. As the photograph probably shows, they were cooked to a crisp. It was more like eating a crispy duck special than spare ribs.

The waiter, on passing and seeing my fork and knife resting on the plate, took it away, with no regard for Jenny, who had not yet finished her meal.

Paying the bill turned into a problem too, as the machinery to process my card had not been installed, and I was asked to pay cash. When I offered a cheque, the waiter looked concerned.

We left feeling that one way and another lunch had been a bit of a struggle.