Head Of Catering appears to be a man on the edge. On the edge of what, one cannot be entirely sure, but he is certainly teetering atop a precipice of some description. The Catering offices are often host to scenes of, shall we say, high octane activity and enthusiastic discussions. The academic world runs on its stomach and the Catering staff are often at the sharp end of an ever more demanding Fellowship.
Head Of Catering is partially concealed by a colourful array of paperwork stacked up on his desk. I notice a small bead of sweat tracing a haphazard path from his right temple, the progress of which is only mildly hampered by a throbbing purple vein twitching erratically. At present, both his desk and mobile telephones are ringing, almost drowning out the near-incessant ‘ping!’ that heralds the arrival of a new email. Head Of Catering spots me lurking by his office door and waves me in.
“Hallo, Deputy Head Porter!” his greeting is surprisingly jaunty.
“Morning,” I reply “Busy?”
“I’m a bit pushed, yes. What can I do for you?”
I am thinking that maybe I should come back later, when things have calmed down a bit. Then again, there is no telling when that might be.
“I just wanted a quick word about a thing or two,” I say. “But I can come back, if you’re busy.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, sit down” Head Of Catering indicates the chair opposite his and silences his telephones with a few swift jabs of buttons and switches. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, first and foremost we are clean out of English Breakfast tea in The Lodge” I start with the most pressing matter first. Head Of Catering chuckles.
“Oh! Well, that’s obviously a disaster, Deputy Head Porter, I’ll get that put right immediately.”
“Glad to hear it,” I reply, grinning from ear to ear “It’s a bloody disgrace, I tell you.”
Head Of Catering pulls a face that suggests he feels suitably chastised, before moving on to the other, less important, matter.
“So, I hear you’ve been lumbered with organising the party of the century, then?”
“Quite so. I’ve no idea why. It’s all very odd. Still,” I take a breath and settle into my chair “Chances are I’ll get to go as a guest, so at least I will be able to enjoy whatever delicious treats Chef has prepared for the occasion.”
“Blimey, lucky old you, eh?” Head Of Catering looks surprised. “You must be on the right side of somebody important.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” I reply.
I am keen to take up as little of my colleague’s valuable time as possible, so get straight to the point and request a copy of the proposed menu and any recommendations Head Of Catering may have regarding entertainment and decor. He is cheerfully obliging, but I cannot help but get the feeling he is a little confused as to why this particular task has fallen to me. I proffer a clumsy apology regarding this fact, but he laughs and dismisses my plea. As we approach the end of the academic year, there are an inordinate amount of feasts and events to keep the poor chap on his toes. Not to mention the highly anticipated May Ball, followed shortly afterwards by the dizzying climax of College life – Degree Day.
As I return to The Lodge, clasping reams of helpful information and suggestions in my sweaty mitts, I am struck (as I often am) by a thought. As we approach what is undoubtedly the most exciting time in the academic calendar, I am heading towards a milestone of my own. My first complete academic year as Deputy Head Porter at Old College. This is a thing of significance. My heart swells a little as I muse upon this. There is even the prickling of a tear or two and the suggestion of a lump in my throat.
I swallow back any ideas of blubbing as I enter The Lodge, but obviously not quite as effectively as I had hoped. Porter regards me with mild panic.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” he asks “You look like you’re about to cry.” Bugger.
“I am not about to cry,” I reply, cursing my crackling voice for betraying my underlying emotions. “It’s hay fever.” Porter remains unconvinced. We are joined by a flustered-looking Head Porter. Of course, he is heading off to his ‘lunch meeting.’
“I’ll be as quick as I can,” he mutters, his mind on other things.
“Take your time,” I assure him.
“Deputy Head Porter, you look like you’re about to burst into tears!” Oh for goodness’ sake.
“It’s hay fever” I reply, bluntly. “Go on, get to your meeting.”
Head Porter scuttles out of The Lodge and into the lively City streets beyond. Porter is chatting away happily at front desk to a couple of Bedders and I settle down at my desk to go through the paperwork Head Of Catering kindly provided. After a few minutes, I realise that nothing I am reading is actually registering in my head, so I push the papers to one side. Rather self-indulgently (and surreptitiously, I might add), I find myself poring over the very first entries of my Secret Diary. How naive and twee those early scribblings seem to me now. Two murders, a secret society and nine months later, Old College is almost unrecognisable from the fairytale world depicted in those first writings.
Recalling those initial thoughts and feelings on what was then such a strange new world is bitter sweet. In those early days – those early, ignorant days – my joy and appreciation of the history and magic of Old College was untainted and voracious. How quickly the rose tinted spectacles fell from my eyes, only for my more usual temperament of suspicion and cynicism to return to my everyday thinking. I sigh to myself. Has life and experience really made me this distrustful and acerbic?
But then I wouldn’t mind betting the casual assassinations have something to do with it as well.