Keys, keys, keys! The walls of the back of the Porters’ Lodge are covered with keys. Many are stored in little cabinets, row after row, like little tiny forests of silver that tinkle merrily on their hooks. They are all intricately and beautifully labelled with letters and numbers that mean nothing to me. On the back walls are older keys, some of them huge and ornate, worn by years of locking and unlocking. I am intrigued particularly by an ancient looking set which are labelled ‘Master’s Lodge’, ‘Old Wine Cellar’ and ‘Old Library’. They almost look as if they are cast from some kind of magical material and have an esoteric air about them. Head Porter is carefully explaining about the keeping of keys, but my mind is fantasising about what lies behind the doors these keys unlock.
Then, the door to the Lodge is thrown open and a wild-eyed woman thunders through, wheezing and spluttering in abject horror. I recognise her as the Head of Housekeeping, a brisk and blunt woman who is clearly more at home with dealing with detergent than she is people.
“Head Porter! Head Porter” Her voice is raspy and accusing, she looks at him as if he has just eaten her first born. Head Porter calmly turns to regard her as one would a confused elderly relative.
“Head of Housekeeping? What ever is the matter? I won’t have you carrying on in my Lodge in this manner.”
“Head Porter!” her voice a strangled cry of fury, now “There is a young gentleman in the grounds… and… he is NAKED!” “What? Where is he?!” “He is in the Old Court, running around in the all together and making a dreadful racket…”
I know where Old Court is, one of the few places I can find my way to without much difficulty. “I’ll go,” I volunteer in a manner which I hope sounds confident and professional. Head Porter looks at me “Remove him from the College” I am instructed.
I sprint out of the Lodge and head towards Old Court. This is more like it, I think happily to myself. This is running after people and removing them. This is my comfort zone. I bound over the bridge, the river rippling like a moody sheet of steel beneath me, and head through the cloisters to Old Court. I spy the ‘young gentleman’ in question, his little white posterior reflecting the morning sun. I call out to him and as he turns to face me, I notice how ridiculously young and nubile he is. My pace slows, along with my decision making process. As expected, the naked student makes a run for it. I can chase him, no problem, but at some point in the very near future I am going to have to grab him, quite likely in a rugby tackle, and I am going to need to employ some kind of restraining technique to bring him under control. Perhaps 10 years ago the prospect of wrestling with a nude young man would have held some appeal, right now I am in danger of looking like some kind of pervert. And anyway, what do I do with him then? My hat is still being made and I have nothing with which to cover his shame. The prospect of escorting a naked male student through College is not a happy one.
The young man has put some distance between us now and is heading towards the boundary wall. Ah, that’s it my boy, I think – get yourself over that wall and off down the street and we can all come away from this with some dignity intact. I feign a half-hearted ‘chase’ towards the wall as I see him trying to get a foothold in the masonry. Bloody hell, just get yourself over the buggering wall for goodness sake, it’s not even that high. Despite the early hour, some students are leaning out of their windows to watch the unfolding drama. I can’t just stand here, doing nothing, so I shout, “Stop!” in an effort to appear proactive. In my previous incarnation, shouting “Stop!” at someone actually meant, “It’s the Police! Run away as fast as you can!” So imagine my horror when the confounded lad actually freezes mid-climb and turns his stupid head to look at me. Bloody, bloody students – no, not actually stop, run away as fast as you can or I will catch you! Idiots, idiots the lot of them. They can pass a series of exams to get a place in the world’s finest educational establishment but have no sense of self-preservation. How will they ever survive in the real world?
Thankfully, idiot naked boy shook himself out of his startled stupor and dutifully bundled himself over the wall and out to the streets beyond. He was now the concern of early morning commuters and no longer anything to do with me. I make gestures of frustration for the benefit of my bleary-eyed audience and, breathing a large sigh of relief, return at a sedate pace to the Porters’ Lodge.