Head Porter and I arrive at the front desk of The Porters’ Lodge to be greeted by a smiling Junior Bursar. This does not bode well, I fear. A grumpy or enraged Junior Bursar is more along the usual line of things. A smiling Junior Bursar is something of which to be cautious. But he does seem to be genuinely delighted about something and so my interest is piqued.
“Good day, Sir” Head Porter greets him, he himself clearly unnerved by Junior Bursar’s unfamiliar demeanour. “To what do we owe this pleasure?”
“Good to see you Head Porter! Thank you for coming so quickly,” replies Junior Bursar. Head Porter slings me the briefest of looks, a wryly-raised eyebrow taking the place of a thousand words.
“Not at all, Sir!” Head Porter returns Junior Bursar’s amiable grin. Amiable grins do not suit Head Porter at all, but it’s good to see him make the effort. “Is there something we can do for you?”
“All I require from you and your men… ahem. Your people, Head Porter, is a keen pair of ears and an understanding disposition. Do you see?”
“Yes, Sir,” Head Porter replies carefully. “Porter! Come over here, will you, and… listen keenly.”
Porter, who has been ear-wigging the conversation anyway, scoots over to join us and makes a valiant effort to appear to be both keen and understanding. I myself strike the keenest pose I can muster. Which is pretty keen, I can tell you.
“Now then, Porters,” begins Junior Bursar, grandly. “I have an important announcement to make. The Fellowship have just received the same announcement and, although understandably distressed, have taken the news quite magnanimously. I don’t expect College servants to be made of quite such stern stuff, but I do hope you will do your best.” He pauses, for what he probably thinks is effect, but rather makes him appear to have forgotten what he was saying. I look to Head Porter. He is as perplexed as I am. Junior Bursar continues
“The time has come, Porters, for me to pass on the torch of Junior Bursary. The time for me to look back on a life of labours and service to Old College and a time for me to look towards the twilight of my years…”
“Labours and service?!” Porter rasps to me under his breath, incredulous “The man has barely done a stroke his whole life!” I struggle to restrain a small giggle.
“Ssshh!” Head Porter scolds. Junior Bursar is not put off his stride; I feel he may have been rehearsing this speech for some time.
“After so many years at Old College, the time has come for me to take leave of this place and enjoy the autumn of my existence in the embrace of my long adored mistress and muse…”
Three sets of eyebrows, mine included, hit the roof
“I refer, of course, to my beloved Tuscany, where to I shall be retiring at the end of the academic year!”
Well. As speeches go, it certainly had its moments. Head Porter looks to be stiff with shock, I don’t think his brain has got past the bit about the embrace of a mistress. Porter appears fairly dispassionate, whilst Junior Bursar basks in the after glow of his performance, like a Shakespearian actor awaiting the applause of his audience. I feel I had better say something.
“That is marvelous news, Sir!” I say enthusiastically. Junior Bursar looks slightly crest fallen at this response. “I mean – not that you will be leaving us, rather that you have such a lovely, er, mistress to, um, retire to. What I mean is, we are very happy for you”
“But… but very sad for the College, of course,” Head Porter comes to my rescue “How will we manage without you?”
“Well, quite, Head Porter!” says Junior Bursar, far happier with Head Porter’s response. “But I am sure Senior Bursar will do an admirable job of keeping Old College on its toes following my departure.”
“They won’t be… replacing, you Sir?” asks Head Porter.
“I shouldn’t expect so,” is Junior Bursar’s reply. “I think you will find me quite irreplaceable” another smile. “If you must know, The Master has decided to keep an open mind about finding a new Junior Bursar. He seems to think Senior Bursar will be quite able to maintain the status quo on his own. We shall soon see about that, I suppose.”
There is a brief, bitter silence in The Lodge as these last words settle into the background.
“Well! Thank you for coming to tell us your news, Sir” Head Porter seems keen to usher Junior Bursar on his way (I imagine before he comes up with some errand or task for one of us) “We will take a moment to let this… startling news sink in.”
“Yes, you do that, Head Porter” Junior Bursar allows himself to be guided towards the door by Head Porter “I expect to see you at my leaving party?” Head Porter, I can see, is quite taken aback by this. An invite to Junior Bursar’s leaving do? This is quite something for a humble College servant. “I shall be needing someone to keep an eye on the coats and what not and I believe you are just the man for the job!”
I see Head Porter do a grand job of keeping his annoyance in check as he agrees, through gritted teeth, to act as cloakroom assistant.
When Junior Bursar is safely out of the way, I say to Head Porter
“I must say, I wasn’t expecting that!”
Head Porter shakes his head.
“I think you’d better put the kettle on again, Deputy Head Porter”.