I’m not sure how much of the Old Boy’s ‘revelations’ I actually believe, to be honest. It does all sound a little… well, preposterous, really. Dammit, I wish Professor K was still around so I could ask him. Then again, getting an unequivocal answer from Professor K was like prising a Fellow away from his dinner; nigh on impossible.
It was somewhat comforting to know that the Old Boy had a similarly tempestuous relationship with Head Porter. It’s not just me. I feel a little pang of sympathy for my superior, actually. He is not a bad chap, all told, and if there is any truth in what the Old Boy said he must be quite anxious at being party to such sensitive information. Although, my jury is still out on the plausibility of that particular scenario.
I am making my way across The Bridge, enjoying the sharp spring air and admiring the reflected twinkles of a late morning sun on the waters below, when I catch sight of Head Porter lingering further along the riverbank. He cuts a slightly sad figure amongst the cheery daffodils, waving their little yellow heads in the breeze. I wonder what he is up to.
Head Porter seems completely oblivious to my presence as I approach, his mind quite clearly elsewhere.
“Hello, Head Porter” my voice seems to bring him abruptly from his reverie.
“Oh! Hello, Deputy Head Porter,” his voice is generously furnished with its usual brusque tone but his attention is somewhat wandering.
“Are you alright?” I ask “You seem a little… odd.”
Head Porter regards me strangely, as if he is seeing me for the first time and I am not quite what he expected.
“I’m fine, I’m fine” he replies, a little more like his usual self. “I’m just a bit… tired. I haven’t been sleeping well. I seem to be having some very odd dreams lately.” Something on your mind, Head Porter?
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I offer, sympathetically. “How about a nice cup of tea? That usually brings me round.” Head Porter appears to give this an inordinate amount of consideration.
“Do you know, I think that sounds like a good idea, Deputy Head Porter,” he replies, brightening a little. “You put the kettle on and I’ll fetch the biscuits. Alright?”
Well, this is a turn up for the books, I think to myself as I accompany Head Porter back to The Porters’ Lodge. Biscuits! Biscuits have not been mentioned for quite some time. Not since the unfortunate episode of Senior Bursar’s biscuits, certainly. And the less said about that the better.
In the little kitchenette at the rear of The Lodge, I happily clatter about with mugs and teaspoons (if there is a more delightful sound than the preparation of tea, I have yet to hear it) while Head Porter retrieves the biscuit tin from its high shelf with the utmost deliberation and ceremony. I do feel like the preparation and arrangement of tea things is a little ceremonial. When I visited China some years ago, I was delighted and intrigued by the tea ceremonies and felt very at home with a culture as enthusiastic about tea as I am.
Tea – English tea certainly – is often depicted as a delicate and dainty refreshment to be sipped elegantly from hand painted china cups which repose regally upon gilt edged china saucers. This is all very well, but I like my tea thick and dark and plentiful and as such china simply will not do. A sturdy mug is my preferred vessel of imbibition, which is just as well as The Porters’ Lodge does not have much in the way of fine china.
Head Porter and I sit on stools, squashed together whilst leaning on the small counter. He generously nudges the biscuit tin in my direction.
“Go on” he says “I know you like the chocolate ones.” I beam broadly and take a hearty handful of chocolate biscuits from the tin. This isn’t as greedy as it sounds, as my hands are very small.
I am considering asking Head Porter about what the Old Boy said. If it is indeed true, Head Porter must be very weighed down and anxious by it. As well, he may know something of what Professor K had been hinting at. And he looks so troubled today, maybe he has something he wants to get off his chest? My mind made up, I decide to ask him.
Our eyes meet and I open my mouth to say the carefully planned words I have just this minute thought of. But then –
“’Scuse me, Head Porter, ma’am!” It is Porter, in something of a fluster. His fat red cheeks (closely followed by the rest of him) appear round the door of the kitchenette.
“What’s the matter, Porter?” I ask.
“Come through to the front quickly. Junior Bursar has an announcement.”
Both Head Porter and I sigh in unison. We unhappily abandon our tea and biscuits and follow Porter through to the front, with some trepidation.