I am beginning to suspect that Head Porter is not fooled in the slightest by the (admittedly rather far fetched) story about me helping The Dean select artwork for his rooms. Head Porter has his moments of idiocy but this is a stretch too far, even for him.
I make a cup of tea whilst glumly envisioning the joyful task ahead of me, which shall involve sorting through an awful lot of keys. I feel that I am not as fond of keys as any good Porter should be; as fascinating as many of them are, they can become a little tedious over time. Like people. Anyway.
Head Porter joins me at the kettle and slides his elderly-looking tea mug along the counter towards me. I don’t need to ask if he wants tea. It’s always tea, with Head Porter. He looks at me and smiles in what he probably thinks is a friendly manner.
“And how is the great art hunt coming along?” Head Porter asks, genially.
“Yes. Yes.” I reply, pathetically “It’s doing really good, thanks.”
“Only, I was starting to wonder if you were actually painting the buggering things yourself, the amount of time this seems to be taking up.”
Sip tea. Think of something intelligent to say. Sip tea.
“I’m a rubbish painter. I’m more of a collage sort of a person.”
Head Porter sighs and drops the jovial pretence. I am surprised to see what looks like concern creeping in at the corners of his face.
“I’m just a bit concerned about what The Dean’s getting up to…”
“Oh, you know The Dean!” I cry “He’s always getting up to something or other. It’ll be something else next week…”
“I’m just worried about you,” Head Porter speaks gently. I feel my thoughts stumble as I become immediately conscious of the warmth and sincerity in his voice. “Honestly. I just don’t want…”
“There’s no need to worry,” I reply as convincingly as I can. “Really, it’s nothing like that.”
Well… hang on, nothing like what?”
We are interrupted, as we so often are, by Porter dashing through from the front desk. He comes, as ever, bearing news.
“Head Porter! There is a lady to see you. She’s out the front.”
“Thank you, Porter, I shall be there in a minute” Head Porter turns back to me “We’ll talk about this later” he says vaguely.
I take a few minutes to wash and put away the tea things before heading to the front of the Porters’ Lodge. There is no sign of Head Porter and his mystery lady visitor, but I spot Porter leaning against the front desk, intently watching something outside.
“Here, Ma’am, what do you reckon to this?” Porter whispers, nodding his head in the direction of the window looking out over the street. I join him at his vantage point and look out onto the busy City streets, awash with bicycles, tourists and a smattering of spring sunshine. Further up the street, on the opposite side of the road, there is a pub much beloved of Old College students. Standing by its white washed wall is the familiar bowler-hatted figure of Head Porter. With him is what appears to be (at this distance it is hard to be sure) an attractive young lady. Actually, a very angry attractive young lady. She has long red hair and a quirky patchwork coat, which comes down nearly to her ankles. I find myself wondering where she got the coat.
“I like her coat,” I remark to an unimpressed Porter.
“Never mind the bloody coat,” he says “What’s Head Porter doing rowing with a woman in the street?”
“Good point,” I reply. “Do you know who she is?”
“No idea at all.”
“Well, whatever they’re arguing about, it looks like he’s losing.”
Porter and I watch the short scene play out, until the dramatic exit stage left of the angry woman denotes the final curtain has fallen. A deflated-looking Head Porter shuffles back towards the Lodge, sullenly hanging his head. So sad is it to see a bowler hat tipped so mournfully towards the ground, I feel the urge to rush out and hug the man. But that would hardly be appropriate and I don’t think Head Porter would like it much anyway.
I move away from the front row seats and urge Porter to do the same. Somehow I don’t think Head Porter will be delighted to discover that he had an audience. We both attempt to act as normally as possible (surely the hardest thing pull off, even for seasoned actors) as he enters the Lodge with a weary shove of the door. Head still bowed, he avoids us both completely on his very direct journey to his office. The door is shut behind him with a little more force than is strictly necessary. Porter and I exchange worried glances.
“Should I go and talk to him?” I suggest.
“Rather you than me.”
I consider my options. I decide quickly that approaching a grumpy Head Porter should not be something to attempt on an empty stomach and the whole thing should be reconsidered after lunch.