Month: January 2014

The Committee Meets Again

With less than a week to go before term starts again, Senior Tutor is starting to get twitchy about the inevitable drunken gatherings of our dear students. He has summoned The Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour to meet once again.

The Chair of the Student Union is still languishing at home with mummy and daddy, but present in Senior Tutor’s rooms are the usual suspects of Nurse, The Dean and Senior Tutor himself. As I enter the room, The Dean is hurriedly exiting it.

“Oh do get out of the way, Deputy Head Porter!” he chastises me as if I were a small child. I sidestep smartly to avoid the flourishing arm of The Dean as he bundles through the door grumpily. Today’s outfit consists of a lovely blue jumper (with a hole just below the collar) and brown trousers. I didn’t quite catch a glimpse of the shirt, but I suspect it may be yellow.

“The Dean is feeling unwell,” Senior Tutor offers by way of an explanation.

“Ha! He has been feeling ‘unwell’ since Formal Hall last night!” Nurse snaps distastefully.

Ah. Formal Hall. An unusually elaborate meal held once a week for The Fellowship. It’s the one where they get the really good wine out.

“Shall we begin?” Senior Tutor asks tactfully. “The Dean will be back momentarily, I have no doubt.”

Nurse and I sit down. After the last meeting, I am filled with nothing but fascination as to what will happen next.

“As you are aware, we are here to deter and protect our young charges from the evil of succumbing to over-indulgence,”

Yes, I think to myself, And to prod them mercilessly when they are unconscious, as I recall.

Senior Tutor continues: “I believe strongly that Fellows and staff should lead by example at all times. However, I have growing concerns regarding this, following the staff Christmas party…”

Ah, yes. The staff Christmas party. I have hazy memories of this. The day preceding the evening of the staff Christmas party involved, for me at least, two lunches – both of which offered complimentary wine, one of which included venison – and a general ‘festive’ atmosphere. If you know what I mean. The party itself was gate-crashed in spectacular style by several members of The Fellowship. I recall being in the bar, enjoying a fabulous glass of red and sophisticated background music more akin to a London hotel than a College drinking establishment. The band were tuning up but had not yet started to play. All of a sudden, the doors where thrown open and careering through them came a selection of Doctors and Professors, some very elderly – all drunk as lords. They hit the dance floor immediately and flailed around wildly, even though the band hadn’t started playing yet.

What happened next, I only have a patchy recollection of, at best. There was dancing. There were funny coloured drinks in very small glasses. There was a general tendency to falling over. I remember dancing inappropriately with Dr C then him urging me to take some A-Levels. Or something. Ah, the staff Christmas party…

The Dean returns, looking pale and a little sheepish.

“Have I missed much?” he asks, collapsing into a sturdy and practical leather chair near the door.

“We were just discussing the unfortunate antics of the staff Christmas party,” replies Senior Tutor. The Dean brightens up a bit. He was not one of the gate-crashers, but had heard the rumours.

“Ah! Yes, an absolute disgrace by all accounts,” states The Dean. “We should do away with it all together.”

“The point I’m making,” Senior Tutor continues, with a patience that has every sign that it is being stretched, “Is that we should be setting a good example of responsible drinking.”

There is an audible sigh from The Dean, as he rests his head in his left hand and sinks a little lower into his chair. I gaze resolutely at my shoes and shift uncomfortably in my seat. Only Nurse sits proud and upright, a shining beacon of abstinence and sobriety.

“We can’t expect our students to behave in a respectable manner when we ourselves are roaring drunk, rolling through the cloisters. This will not do” Senior Tutor is determined and resolute, and is staring intently at The Dean. My heart goes out to The Dean at this moment, these meetings are impossible with a hangover. I should know.

Senior Tutor rises swiftly from his seat behind his desk and strides purposefully over to the window. He seems to contemplate the view for a while, before finally turning back to the assembled Committee.

“What I have in mind,” his voice is soft, low and even. Each word is spoken as if it is floating on a cushion, quite apart from its neighbours, “Is something quite radical for Old College. I will not tolerate the acceptance of this increased level of intoxication by Fellowship or staff.” The gaze of Senior Tutor falls squarely on me. “And the Porters will be my essential tools in accomplishing this!”

I realise with horror that Nurse and The Dean have also focused their attentions in my direction.

Oh dear. I do not like the sound of this at all…

A Reasonable Explanation

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.

Spooky!

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.

Spooky, huh?

By the way, this incident doesn’t make it into the incident book. I wouldn’t know what to write.