It is the second week of January and Old College is slowly rousing itself back into action. Like a giant, ancient beast awakening from hibernation, the stirrings are laboured and delayed and College has the annoyed and cantankerous air of an elderly gentleman forced to get up before he is properly awake. The Fellowship have been trickling back in, the trickle increasing to a steady stream now that the kitchens are open again. Although term doesn’t start for almost two weeks, some of the overseas students have returned and are shuffling around, generally making the place look untidy.
The Porters’ Lodge is a hive of activity once again and I am keeping busy with the day-to-day nonsense of post, overtime forms and random tasks from crotchety Fellows.
The morning is progressing nicely when I receive a telephone call from Head Of Housekeeping. It is always an uncertain affair, answering the phone to Head Of Housekeeping. She is as helpful as she is hostile, but quite often she is just hostile. I pick up the receiver and hope for the best.
“Good morning, Deputy Head Porter, Head Of Housekeeping here. Look, one of the students in Apple Tree Court has barricaded himself in his bedroom. My Bedder can’t get in there to clean, sort it out, will you?”
It appears that Head Of Housekeeping has been taking telephony etiquette lessons from The Fellowship.
“I’ll see what I can do” I reply in the most non-committal manner I can muster. “Which room?”
I write down the name and room number of the student and frown. Apple Tree Court is in the oldest part of College, so kicking doors in willy-nilly is certainly not an option. Junior Bursar would have an absolute fit. No, gentle persuasion is the preferred method here. That said, I do not yet know the nature of the barricade, so I call for the Gate Porter on duty to join me. There might be some heavy lifting involved.
“These bloody students are all bloody drama queens,” grumbles Gate Porter as I try to hurry him along through the cloisters to Apple Tree Court. “As if we haven’t got better bloody things to do…”
As Gate Porter curses the entire student population of the world, I am acutely aware that what we find on the other side of that door might be more unsavoury than your average student bedroom. Students are prone to overindulgence of drink and sometimes drugs. Some are also prone to depression, brought on by the stress of heavy workloads and pressure to perform well in their chosen subject. Chances are, our student is playing silly buggers, and he will be getting the dressing down of his pampered little life if that’s the case. But if it’s not…
Gate Porter is so wrong. We really have not got anything anywhere near better than this to do right now.
As is often the case when trying to get somewhere in a hurry, our destination is located as far away as physically possible from our departure point. I am less than impressed to discover the room we want is on the top floor. Ah, I think to myself, A classic example of Sod’s Law. I could be a Doctor of The Law Of The Sod.
I unlock the door to the student’s rooms, which opens up into the living/study area. It all looks fairly typical, actually a fair bit tidier than I was expecting. The bedroom door is on the left wall of the room and I try to open it. The door bangs against a large wooden dresser that has been placed directly in front of it. I experimentally put my body weight against the door to see if there is any movement. There is no give at all, the dresser is too heavy.
I shout to the student, there is no response. The room on the other side of the door is very quiet.
Gate Porter motions for me to stand aside and he shouts, informing the occupant in no uncertain terms that we are coming in. There is a sterling struggle, in which Gate Porter performs valiantly; Man versus Furniture, flesh against wood. He manages to force the dresser backwards enough to make a gap large enough for me to squeeze through.
I scramble up onto the dresser through the gap and tumble into the room with all the grace and poise of a baby giraffe. Making an elegant entrance has never been my forte. I pick myself up and look wildly around the room for the student. He isn’t in here.
The bedroom is not large, there is the bed at the far end and behind me is a small sink and cabinet. The dresser should be occupying the spot underneath the window on the far wall. I scoot to the window. Although not original to the building, the window is still bloody old. It doesn’t have a lock, as such, but the catch is fastened in place. I open the window and stare down four floors to see the river directly below me. Beyond the river, the grounds of Hawkins College. I certainly hope he didn’t go out this way.
“He’s not in here,” I shout to Gate Porter “Have someone at The Lodge check if he has signed back into College yet.” I heave the dresser laboriously out of the way of the door and begin searching the rooms for anything unusual or of concern. Before long, The Lodge call us back to inform us that the student is not due back in College for another week and his key and spare key are hanging up in The Lodge. I am relieved that the boy is safe. But then I get thinking…
How did the dresser some to be pushed up against the bedroom door? It is certainly very heavy. Who put it there? Not the student, certainly, he isn’t even here. Only the Porters and Bedders have access to his room keys. It is conceivable that someone could have got in the room, but how did they get out? There are no loft hatches or secret tunnels in the student quarters. To get out unscathed through the window and down into the river would have been quite a feat. I know that student pranks are legendarily ingenious and cunning, but there are hardly any students in College right now. Porters and Bedders are not known for their love of pranks, ingenious or otherwise.
I am sure there are a hundred ways a huge piece of wooden furniture could come to be shoved against a door in an empty room behind a locked door, but I cannot summon one to mind as I return thoughtfully to The Lodge. I am sure people far cleverer than I will, with withering looks, recount several examples of how this could have occurred. Whatever, it plays on my mind for a while.
By the way, this incident doesn’t make it into the incident book. I wouldn’t know what to write.