It is early Tuesday morning and I am waiting by the window of the Porters’ Lodge. It is still dark and there is a frost. The ground twinkles coldly, a mirror of the star studded sky above. The City’s early morning populous are going about their business, while the commuter classes are still sleeping. I see people shuffling along, coats buttoned up against the cold, heading to who knows where. Some look like labourers, burly chaps in multiple layers topped off with high viz jackets of all kinds. Others have the appearance of late night revellers doing the Walk Of Shame, their flimsy outfits ineffective and ridiculous at this sober hour. One figure catches my eye. The many layers of mismatched clothing make it impossible to tell if their wearer is male or female. A well-worn and filthy woolly hat completes the cocoon effect. The figure walks slowly and without purpose, illuminated briefly by the streetlights as it passes beneath, like some sort of wretched performer on an unforgiving stage. I wonder where he or she might be going. I suspect he or she wonders the same thing.
Approaching the imposing iron gates of Old College is the man I have been waiting for, the newsagent. He has in his arms The Fellowship’s newspapers, including, I hope, Dr F’s copy of Private Eye. I exit the Lodge and meet him at the gates, taking his burden from him. I make a cursory check of the bundle. Sure enough, there it is, nestled between The Independent and The Financial Times.
Back in The Lodge, I flick back to the magazine that has caused so much uproar in Old College recently and stare at it sternly, as if to admonish it for the part it has played in recent events. Don’t you dare go missing today, I think to myself. I realise that trying to send my thoughts telepathically to an inanimate object is fairly pointless, but it is early and I haven’t had enough tea yet. I take my trusty pen from my jacket pocket, and carefully write two words on the top right hand corner of the front page.
I transport the papers myself to the Senior Combination Room, placing them carefully on the table. Another, last, final check. Yes, Private Eye is now safely delivered. The Senior Combination Room is eerily quiet, its usual occupants still tucked up in their beds. The well-worn, but still sumptuous, leather chairs are scattered haphazardly about the place, standing forlornly in the same places their incumbents left them last night. The Bedder obviously hasn’t been in yet. No matter. I return to The Lodge, and wait for my plan to take effect.
Several hours later and I haven’t heard any rumblings from The Fellowship. This is a very good sign. Just to be sure, I ask Receptionist to call Dr F and see if he is in receipt of his weekly publication. Praise the Lord, he is. Marvellous. All that remains, is for the culprit to reveal himself.
I have to wait several days for my cunning plot to reach fruition. I am on the phone when Dr J bounces into The Porters’ Lodge, his scarf and jacket fluttering wildly. The much-vaunted lycra cycling suit is happily omitted from today’s outfit. He waits patiently by my desk for me to finish my conversation.
“Good afternoon, Dr J, I hope you are well.”
“Yes, thank you, all good here,” he replies cheerfully, one hand absent-mindedly twisting locks of his curly brown hair. “I wondered if you could do me a favour?”
“Of course, what is it?” I ask, hoping that I already know the answer.
“Could you arrange for another copy of Private Eye to be delivered along with the papers? The one I’ve been reading apparently belongs to Dr F, so I thought I’d better make arrangements for one for myself. Can you do that?”
The smile that breaks across my face must have been a little confusing and unnerving for Dr J, who looks at me strangely as I reply, with the utmost enthusiasm,
“Certainly, Sir. That will be no problem at all. I will see to it right away!”
I relay the tale to Receptionist over a cup of tea later that afternoon.
“So, all you did was write Dr F’s name on the top of the magazine?” Receptionist asks.
“Yes! Can you believe it? Bloody Fellowship, all they had to do was ask around and it would have resolved weeks ago. Why won’t they ever do anything for themselves?”
Receptionist laughs and shakes her head.
“You still have an awful lot to learn about life in College!” she exclaims, the disbelief in her voice plainly evident.
Clearly, I do. But I’m starting to get the gist of it, just about.