My New Year’s Resolution to cut back on the hard stuff is being seriously tested at the moment. Apart from the unlikely spookiness that seems to be occurring on an alarmingly more regular basis, I have received a note informing me that The Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour is due to reconvene very shortly. I am fond of Senior Tutor, I really am, but the last of these meetings of his was arduous to say the least.
I am amusing myself today by auditing the College keys. I say amusing myself; this is a rather generous turn of phrase for such an onerous task of mind-numbing monotony. It must be said, some of the keys are fairly interesting. The older ones are like little works of art, in their own way. But however attractive some of them may be, there is no getting away from the fact that the task in hand goes like this: Is such-and-such a key on its hook? If the answer is ‘yes’, all good. Tick the box. If the answer is ‘no’, check the signing out record and check where it is. Don’t tick the box. And so on. I think to myself, this is what comes of not paying attention in school.
Obviously not learning the lesson of what comes from not paying attention, I now find myself not paying attention to the dark art of key auditing. My mind wanders to the stranger goings on in Old College of late. It all started with that conversation with The Master in The Crypt and I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind since. It was just… very old ground.
I will give the unsettling incident on Christmas Eve no further thought as, in the cold light of day, I cannot convince myself whether it happened or not. Likewise, the bizarre incident in the student quarters in Apple Tree Court. What was it Professor K had said? Old College has ghosts. Maybe not the kind you think…
Right. That’s it. My pen and tick sheet are placed carefully on the side and I turn my back on the keys. My naturally enquiring mind, coupled with my straightforward, pragmatic approach, will not allow me to leave this mysterious state of affairs unchecked. I enjoy an innocuous riddle as much as the next chap, but it’s about time I asked some straightforward questions and got some straightforward answers. Or, at the very least, get rebuked sternly and told to mind my own business. These ridiculous, ethereal half-answers and cryptic clues simply will not do. Not even at Old College.
I make my way to Professor K’s rooms. I expect he will be a better bet than The Master, who no doubt will not take to kindly to me bursting into his Lodge unannounced and uninvited. Professor K is ensconced in the newer part of College, presumably because there is a lift and more effective heating. His door is slightly ajar and I knock politely.
“Come in!” Professor K sounds in good spirits.
“Good afternoon, Professor!” I say cheerfully as I enter his rooms. The Fellows’ rooms in the newer part of College are more like contemporary studio apartments and do not have quite the same charm (in my opinion) as the ancient rooms on the other side of the river, swathed as they are in the kind of dark opulence only the passage of time can deliver. Still, they are comfortable and beautiful nonetheless.
“Ah! Deputy Head Porter!” The naughty twinkle of the eyes is on full display, today. “This is a nice surprise. Won’t you sit down?”
Professor K shows me to his settee as he shuffles over from his writing desk to join me. I make myself comfortable and note that the Professor has a remarkably modern taste in décor. I also spy some Alan Moore books on his (very well-ordered) bookshelves. Who would have guessed!
“Do you like my rooms?” Professor K asks, obviously noticing me having a nose round.
“I do, Sir” I reply. “Might I say, we share some familiar reading material!” This is a phrase I never thought I would utter to a Fellow of Old College. Or, any College for that matter. Professor K chuckles and looks delighted.
“Reading is very important,” he says “But just as important is variety of reading. You’d do well to remember that.”
“I will, Sir.” I take a deep breath. “Sir, you know what we were talking about the other day?”
“Ghosts and ghoulies?” I don’t recall ghoulies coming into it, but there you go.
“…Yes. You see, since joining Old College I have become rather interested in the history of the place and, of course, I have read the College website and learned all about when it was built and the famous people who have passed through its cloisters, but… I get the feeling I might be… missing something?”
“I see you have an admirable thirst for knowledge, Deputy Head Porter. It is a precious thing to have; you must make sure you treasure it and never lose it.”
“I will, Sir, certainly, yes. But, come on Sir, a place as old and as illustrious as Old College…” I am interrupted by Professor K’s keen and somewhat passionate reply.
“Old College is like a beautiful woman, Deputy Head Porter. She has a past. And, in my experience, the more beautiful the woman, the more thrilling the past she has, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’m not sure I can confirm that one way or another, Sir” I cannot help but chuckle as I become convinced that Professor K has an absolute authority on this.
“But you can, Deputy Head Porter, I am sure of it” Professor K leans a little closer and the years seem to fall away as – horror of horrors – I think he is going to make some kind of a move on me!
But no. He is a gentleman, it seems. He stops short of physical contact and simply says
“I imagine your past is… shockingly colourful!” I am not sure if he means this as a compliment, or that I look like a fallen woman – one that has fallen pretty far, at that. “And so all I will say to you, Deputy Head Porter, is that Old College is an exquisitely attractive woman. And there is a reasonable explanation for everything, if you know where to look. Well, an explanation, at least. Even if it doesn’t seem very reasonable!”
I sigh and am irritated.
“Professor K, you Fellows are too fond of talking in riddles for my liking. I thought you were teachers? The more I talk to you the less I learn!”
“Really? Is that how you see it?” Professor K seems positively delighted at my frustration. “You’ll never make an academic with an attitude like that…”
I open my mouth to reply, but we are interrupted in spectacular fashion by The Dean, who comes flying through the door, arms flailing. He looks particularly annoyed, as usual, and I am delighted. The Dean is fabulous when he is annoyed. He stops in mid-rage when he sees me, obviously not expecting to find me here.
“Good afternoon, Sir!” I announce cheerily, unable to stop myself giving him a little wave.
“Oh! Deputy Head Porter! Yes, good afternoon, nice to see you. What are you up to in here?”
“We were talking about ghosts and ghoulies!” Professor K answers before I can even open my mouth. “And discussing Deputy Head Porter’s thirst for knowledge.”
“What? What?” The Dean is uncharacteristically dumbfounded. “Thirst for knowledge? In a College servant? Are you mad?”
“Not as mad as you appear to be, my dear Dean” replies Professor K. “Tell me, what has upset you so?”
Ah! Brilliant. Things that upset The Dean are always entertaining.
“I’m not… upset” The Dean wrestles his anger down quite successfully. “Look, can you two continue this… lesson… or whatever it is, another time? We have College business to discuss, Professor.”
Bugger. That’s my cue to leave, I expect. I rise reluctantly to my feet, and turn to Professor K with one of my best smiles.
“Thank you for your time, Sir, this has been most enlightening.”
“I thought it might be, dear girl. Think on everything I have said.”
And with that, I give a little grin to The Dean and leave them to discuss their College business. And do you know, this has been quite enlightening. Thinking over the words of Professor K, I realise just what he is getting at. But it will have to wait. I have my own College business to attend to and I really should be getting on with it if I don’t want to incur the wrath of Head Porter.