I have been at Old College a little over a week now and feel I am starting to find my feet. I can find my way around, just about, although giving visitors accurate directions still eludes me. I have a tenuous grasp on the key situation and am finding that they strangely fascinate me. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of them, all neatly labelled and arranged in their cabinets and across the walls. They remind me, in some ways, of people. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have limited uses; others are versatile and have infinite abilities. Some are mundane, others are desirable. But every single one of them is important in its own way, and if one single key is broken or misplaced, it has a resounding effect on the running of the College. I have met so many people over the years. Many of them came in and out of my life in a matter of minutes – another customer to be dealt with, another face in the crowd. Many of them I have chosen to forget, for innumerable reasons. Some of them will be forever etched on my memory, for reasons equally as numerous. A very few of them have made such an impression that they have changed me, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. What I realise is, every single one leaves a tiny footprint on my psyche, whether I realise it or not. People are important. They make the world what it is. They have made me what I am. Never forget the importance of humanity; without it, we are nothing.
Right now, humanity is getting right on my wick. Although people have stopped reminding me that I am a woman, they still don’t seem to like it that much. The students are faintly annoying. I have finally succumbed to the one thing I swore to myself I never would – I have forgotten what it is like to be young. I am not especially old, not even middle aged, but I am no longer in the full bloom of youthful exuberance. I am annoyed by the disorganisation, the naivety and the down right idiocy of youth. Youth burns every meal it ever cooks. Youth loses its keys on a seemingly hourly basis. Youth cannot handle its drink.
I am calculating the Porters’ overtime when I hear my name from the front desk of the Lodge. A familiar figure is leaning over the desk talking to Receptionist. I recognise the small, wiry frame of Tailor. He has in his arms a box and suit carriers. Oooh!
I stride over, expectantly. Could it be?! Oh yes it is. My Deputy Head Porter’s suit has been delivered and – oh my! – So has my bowler!
I sign the forms. I stamp and sign off the invoice. I take in my trembling arms my new suits and, most importantly, my new hat. I always liked wearing a hat. It gave me a sense of purpose. It dawns on me now how much I like wearing a uniform. A uniform. A sense of identity. A sense of belonging. Something to hide behind? Or something to be proud of? I suppose that all have been, and no doubt will be, true for me. That said, a uniform is one thing. A bowler hat is quite another.
So let us begin with the bowler. The first time I put a bowler upon my brow, I felt like my life had really begun. Whatever had gone before had led up to that point. That was the first day of the rest of my life. At first, it hurt like buggery and stained my forehead black whenever it rained or I sweated profusely. In time, it yielded to the shape of my head and became as much a part of my job as the law itself. But always, it felt like a part of me and, from that point on, I didn’t feel properly attired without it.
As I eagerly opened the hatbox in the privacy of the rest area, my heart beats hard in my chest. Like a little jackhammer in my ribcage, I feel the metallic taste of rushing blood on the roof of my mouth. It’s like shoes! But for your head! I hurriedly cast aside the packaging and quickly realise that this is a very different bowler indeed. Lighter and more delicate. Sleeker. Soft and black, like deep water. In place of the battenburg is a beautiful silk ribbon, as black as night. It is tied elegantly at one side. The brim is fashioned so that it follows the contour of the head and is wonderfully peaked at a slightly jaunty angle. I face the mirror and place it slowly and deliberately upon my head. It is a thing of beauty. But, oh, it is tight and digs into my forehead. I half expected this, it will need wearing in. No matter. I have a hat. I have a purpose.
The suit is almost as impressive. It fits perfectly and is flattering in charcoal grey. The silk lining is slightly more elaborate than I would have deemed strictly necessary, but I can certainly live with it. Embroidered on the right lapel of the jacket, and also the left pocket of the trousers, is the colourful and extravagant crest of Old College. The embroidery is a work of art in its own right. Thank the lord for the College drycleaners, I wouldn’t fancy washing and ironing this myself.
The tie will need a little practice. I haven’t worn anything but a clip on tie since primary school. I have never worn a silk tie. College colours are not entirely flattering to my skin tone, but I am proud nonetheless.
I emerge from the rest room and strike a pose for Receptionist. “The hat really suits you,” she says “But the suit makes you look like a man”.
Yes. Maybe I look like a man. But that man is James bloody Bond and I feel magnificent.