I am a big fan of parties, it has to be said. Any kind of party, really. House parties, garden parties, dinner parties, parties to celebrate, to commiserate, to integrate – even parties for absolutely no reason at all. In one way or another, I have attended practically every type of party you could possibly imagine. Even some you can’t imagine. So, on the face of it, being selected to arrange Junior Bursar’s retirement do is not such a surprise. Although, quite how Junior Bursar knows about my extensive experience in this field I cannot say. In fact, I’d rather not know.
I have been summoned to The Dean’s rooms by way of a very brief email, simply saying I should make my way there as soon as is convenient. It isn’t especially convenient, what with Head Porter out of The Lodge and my myriad of tasks to attend to, but I fancy a change of scenery.
The sun is hot today and the possibility of summer is feeling ever more likely. This being England, though, I know not to become too optimistic about these things. As welcome as this shiny warmth may very well be, my Porter’s uniform does not lend itself well to sunnier climes. My bowler hat does a fine job of shading my eyes from the bright rays, but it is also cooking the top of my head as it does so. I have every conviction that I could fry an egg up there, if I could convince it to balance.
As I traverse the bridge I gaze longingly into the waters below. Despite the knowledge that they are full of filth from The City and are home to creatures unknown, I have an urge to leap into their invitingly cool embrace, just for a second. An inadvisable course of action, for a whole host of reasons.
I pause on the bridge, as I often do, to watch the boats punting along and to listen to the whoops of delight and dismay from punters of varying degrees of proficiency. From the corner of my eye, I see Junior Bursar approach from the opposite cloister. I straighten up quickly and prepare my best smile.
“Good afternoon, Junior Bursar!”
He responds with a convincing-looking smile of his own, although he may just be squinting in the sun.
“And how are my party arrangements coming along, Deputy Head Porter?” he asks. I explain that they are progressing nicely. I have been successful in securing a celebrated local magician for the event, as well as ordering the balloons. This seems to delight the dear old chap. Talk then turns to the May Ball, an event I am anticipating with some trepidation and excitement. All the Colleges hold their own balls, but Old College’s balls are rumoured to be among the finest. I shall not be attending as a guest as I shall be working, but I am ebullient to be a part of it all anyway.
“Can you tell me, Junior Bursar, why the May Balls are always held in June?” I ask him. It is something that has puzzled me and sometimes the only thing to do with a question is ask it.
“I certainly can, Deputy Head Porter” he replies. “May Balls are a relatively new addition to College life, having only been in existence since the 1830’s. They were originally intended as celebrations following the May Bumps, so the name refers to that, rather than the month in which they are held.”
Ah, yes. The May Bumps. A complicated series of inter-College boat races that amount to little more than messing about on the river, in my view.
“Thank you, Sir, that is very interesting” I reply.
Junior Bursar appears to be in the mood to stay and chat awhile, but I have to make my excuses to continue on my way to see The Dean. Junior Bursar gives me a thin little grin.
“Is the nature of your visit business or pleasure?” he asks. It takes me a moment to comprehend what he means, but I recover myself quickly. Our pretend affair.
“Purely business, this time round” I explain. Junior Bursar seems almost disappointed.
“I am sure you will have an enjoyable afternoon, nonetheless” he says, before clasping his hands behind his back and making his way jauntily towards The Porters’ Lodge.
As I watch him go, it occurs to me that I think I shall miss the old bugger when he goes. Goodness knows, he has made my life difficult enough on occasions, but an affection of sorts has grown within me. I catch myself before I become misty eyed yet again and decide to head straight to see The Dean.
The heat must be getting to me.