It is nearly nine o’clock in The Albatross and Head Porter and I are just about to have one drink too many. What started out as an informal chat about work has delightfully mutated in something approximating a Fairly Good Night.
From what little I know of Head Porter, he doesn’t strike me as a man much given to drinking. Or going out. Or existing much at all, outside of Old College. I thought, at first, that I was in for a bit of a tedious night as my unlikely companion seemed so uncomfortable and out of place. And, although relations between us have become somewhat warmer recently, we are hardly the best of friends.
Now, though, as he leans on the bar like a seasoned patron, giving me a Fonz-esque thumbs up, I almost want to give the man a kiss. Another glass of wine and I probably will. Oh dear…
Head Porter wobbles jauntily back to our tables, merrily sloshing our drinks (wine for me, a pint of something murky-looking for him) as he does so. He sits down heavily in the chair opposite mine and grins inanely, eyes shining with equal measure of joy and ale.
“What are you looking like that for?” I ask, taking a slurp of wine.
“I’m just… having a wonderful time!” replies Head Porter. Ah. He is a ‘happy drunk’. Excellent. “It’s not often I get to go out with friends. We are friends, aren’t we, Deputy Head Porter?”
Tricky one, this. But let’s just go with it.
“Certainly we are,” I reply carefully.
“It’s just… oh, you know…” and Head Porter sighs a sigh that sounds like it has been waiting to be sighed for years. “I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with…” and here comes the ‘reflective drunk’… “I’m not that much fun, or the most intelligent person, or the best looking chap in the world…”
Head Porter stares forlornly into his pint for a moment.
“Yes?” I try to chivvy him along a bit. He looks at me, confused.
“Yes… I’m not the greatest… hang on, where am I going with this again?”
“We were going to have a chat about work, I thought” I say, hoping that a change of subject will avert an awkward conversation. Head Porter brightens considerably.
“I must say, I’m really going to miss Junior Bursar, aren’t you?” he slurs. “I mean, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, but… but… better the devil you know, eh?”
“Yes, I shall miss him” I reply “But the old chap deserves to put his feet up after all these years, I suppose. But it makes me wonder what The Fellowship are going to do, what with him retiring and Senior Bursar dead. We will be Bursar-less!”
This last remark appears to have been the most amusing thing Head Porter has ever heard, as great bursts of cackling laughter burst forth from his reddened face. I watch, amused, as Head Porter tries to bring himself under control and resume our conversation. Eyes watering from his effusion, he finally manages it.
“I heard they are going to replace them with just one Bursar. A sort of… super Bursar!” Head Porter is lost again in a fit of mirth. This is getting a little tiresome now.
“Where did you hear that?” I ask.
“I heard Senior Tutor talking to Dr M about it. They are going to hold the interviews during the Summer Vac.”
“What? When none of The Fellowship will be around? How does that work?” This seems worryingly similar to the method by which I was employed.
“Well, they’ll have to hang around, won’t they” Head Porter takes another sip of ale “They have to have a new Bursar before the start of the next academic year.”
“Talking of Bursars” I begin, hoping to guide the conversation towards something useful “What do you make of Senior’s Bursar’s unlikely demise?”
This seems to sober Head Porter somewhat, or at least draw his scattered focus a little. The alcohol may have reddened his cheeks, but I can see the colour draining beneath the artificial flush.
“It’s like someone is tying up loose ends,” he utters unsteadily. “What with Professor K, but then, with him gone…” Head Porter trails off. I decide to take a chance.
“I know about what happened fifty years ago” I state. The air between us becomes like a sheet of ice for a moment. Then,
“Probably best I don’t answer that.”
Head Porter takes this tense pause as an opportunity to get some more ale inside him. It is probably a good idea. I follow suit with my wine and consider getting another. I think I shall be needing it…