Following the hairdryer treatment by Head Porter, I sit sadly nursing a large glass of red – ridiculously over-dressed and looking quite out of place in this dark and scruffy public house. The whole place appears to be in urgent need of repair and restoration; indeed, parts of the building look like they are about to collapse at any minute. However, I get the impression that it has been this way for quite some time and if it was going to fall down, it probably would have done so by now. The upholstery is faded and thread bare; most of the chairs, tables and other associated furniture seem to be held together by will power alone. Quite how strong the will power of a table is, I have no idea. I try to avoid resting too much of my weight on mine, just to be on the safe side.
My few fellow patrons seem in better spirits than my good self. There is a wiry, elderly gentleman sitting precariously on a rickety-looking stool at the bar. He has skin the same colour and texture of an old boot, an old boot that has had a particularly hard life, at that. He is wearing a vest top and shorts that leave little to the imagination. To complete the look, he has opted for a sock and slipper combination for his foot attire. The old man chatters happily to himself, seemingly without a care in the world. He catches the attention of the shaven headed, purple-bearded bar tender who dutifully furnishes him with further refreshments. What am I doing here? I think to myself.
The first glass of red does nothing to ease my wounded pride and feelings, so I order another. I do not expect the continued imbibitions to resolve my current situation, I just hope they can take the edge off a little. I smile wryly to myself and wonder what The Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour would say if they could see me now. I allow myself to wallow a little, and let the feelings of loneliness and rejection swim self indulgently round and round my head. But I’ve worked so hard! Put in so many hours! Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I might as well go and eat worms…
I quickly realise that feeling sorry for myself is going to get me nowhere. And something just doesn’t feel quite right, somehow. I turn Head Porter’s words over and over in my head and the more I think about them, the more petty they seem. As I contemplate the scenario further, I feel my hurt and heartbreak subside to make way for what can only be described as gumption. Ah ha! It isn’t drinking that’s going to help me here, it’s thinking! I should have challenged Head Porter far more robustly. I should have made a point of detailing my successes and achievements. Why didn’t I do that? I think it was the shock of it all, probably. Still. I expected better of myself.
Just then, the door to the pub opens, letting in a shaft of light from the streets beyond and what passes for fresh air in the City. I am surprised to see the portly, amiable figure of one of my Porters ambling through it. He looks flushed and sweaty, his ample frame obviously protesting at the recent demands made of it. He looks around and spots me. Porter bundles over to my table and unceremoniously pulls up a chair.
“Here you are!” he says cheerfully. “I’ve already tried The Albatross and The Shipman, I’m knackered. I’ll have a pint.”
“Err, right” I reply, getting up to head to the bar. “A pint? Fine.”
The barman is friendly but it is apparent he is now a little suspicious of having two overly-dressed patrons now occupying his establishment. Our crested jackets and College ties identify us as servants to the academic world, obviously we are not his usual type of customer.
Porter drinks a third of his pint instantly and wipes froth from his mouth before offering me a sympathetic smile.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, as politely as I can.
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here?!” comes his reply. My mouth opens, but no sensible words come out, so I close it again, giving the impression of an ineffectual fish of some description. “I heard about what happened with Head Porter, I guessed you would be wanting a drink. See, I was right!”
“Good news travels fast, obviously” I retort, a little more bitterly than I intended.
“Oh, you know what it’s like, these things get out.”
“Head Porter tells Receptionist just about everything. Apparently, he said you were crap and you told him to stick his job.”
I let out an involuntary laugh.
“Well, that’s a bit more dramatic than what actually happened. And I haven’t actually resigned, or anything, but there was – shall we say – a full and frank exchange of opinions.”
Porter nods knowingly and flicks some imaginary specks of dust from his sleeve.
“Look, you don’t want to pay too much attention to what Head Porter says,” Porter tells me. “And it’s not true that nobody likes you. I like you. Most of the lads think you are doing a pretty good job. It’s not you they have a problem with. It’s how you got the job.”
“What?” I am genuinely surprised. “I filled in the application form, had an interview… pretty standard stuff, I think,”
Porter shakes his head.
“No, no. Not about that. You see, the previous Deputy Head Porter did not get on with Head Porter at all. He was an experienced Porter and had worked his whole life in College so he knew how things ticked. The Old Boy retired just before you joined us.”
“So why wasn’t he Head Porter then?” I ask “If he was so experienced, how come he was just the Deputy?”
“Well, that’s the strange thing. We’re not really sure why the Old Boy didn’t get the job. Our current brave and fearless leader was promoted from the ranks.”
“Right, fine. So why didn’t they just do the same when my predecessor retired? Why bring in someone like me, with no College experience, when there is a selection of perfectly able Porters who could do the job far better than I could?”
“No one wanted the job.”
I am intrigued, now.
“No one wanted to work with him.”
“Yep. Well, you’ve seen what he can be like. You don’t know the half of it, the things that went on before you came. Even if one of us had applied, we would never have been given the job. He wanted someone from the outside, who wasn’t aware of the history of The Lodge. Someone he could manipulate and who would do as they were told.”
“He picked the wrong person, then” I reply. “That’s not me at all. Anyway, how could The Bursars allow this to happen? Didn’t they want someone from a College background?”
“Well, that’s just the point!” Porter exclaims “He held the interviews for your job during the summer shut down period, when The Bursars, The Dean and The Master were all off on holiday! Who interviewed you for the job?”
I cast my mind back. Yeah, that makes sense. I started in late September so my interview must have been in early August to allow me to give a month’s notice from my previous job… it must have been in the two week August shut down…
“I was interviewed by Head Porter and the lady from HR,”
Porter slaps the table jubilantly, making me jump.
“Aha! Exactly. You wouldn’t know this, but for a role as senior as Deputy Head Porter, there should be at least one member of The Fellowship present at the interview – definitely one of The Bursars and probably someone else as well, most likely The Dean. We all think Head Porter timed the interviews deliberately so that he alone would be able to choose his Deputy. There were some really strong candidates, as well. He let us look through the application forms. I have to say, we were all shocked when we found out he had employed you. We all told him you were too young. And, obviously, you didn’t know anything about College life. When we knew you had got the job, it confirmed our suspicions that he had fixed it. The first day you walked in, no offence, all slim and pretty and looking like you do, it just seemed obvious he thought he was going to push you around and try to – you know…”
I feel utterly deflated. Up until this moment, I thought I had got the job on merit. I had slaved over my application form and put everything into my interview. I was so proud to have been successful, thinking I had overcome years of prejudice and tradition with my abilities and tenacity, to have stood out from the crowd and been deemed most worthy of this coveted position, above all other applicants. Now, it seems, I got the job because Head Porter thought I was easy. I need another drink.
“Another one?” I ask Porter, gesturing to his empty glass. He must sense my consternation as he reaches for my hand as I get up to go to the bar.
“You have to understand, we didn’t know you then. I’m not saying you can’t do the job, because you can. You’ve really been a breath of fresh air in that Lodge. And you’re right – he did pick the wrong person. He can’t push you around and he knows it. That’s what today was all about.”
I smile gratefully at Porter. After all, he didn’t have to come and find me and tell me all this. It was a kind thing to do. And, he said I was pretty! A small thing, perhaps, but I am easily pleased.
“I’ll get you a pint,” I say to Porter. “And I’m having another, too, because if that was supposed to make me feel any better, you failed miserably!”
“I haven’t finished, yet!” Porter replies, giving me what I assume is a ‘knowing look’.
…To be continued…