So my first May Ball experience at Old College wasn’t quite what I was expecting. If not for The Dean, it would have been my very last experience. Of anything. Ever.
Junior Bursar has been good enough to allow Head Porter and I a few days off following our near-final trip to the Pearly Gates. Well, that is probably a little dramatic. Some smoke inhalation and a vague threat of soiled trousers (the latter relating to Head Porter more than myself, naturally) didn’t do much to enhance the evening but we came out of it fairly well, all said and done.
By lunchtime of the second day of convalescence, I am bored. I am also willing to wager that Head Porter is bored, too. A few text messages confirm this and I decide to afford the old chap the pleasure of my company.
I have only visited Head Porter’s house once and I wonder at first if I will be able to remember which one it is. A fear unfounded, of course, when I spot his immaculate front door, painted in the Old College colour of morro blue.
When he answers the door, there is a brief, strange moment where we both see each other for the first time without our Porter uniforms. Obviously, we are wearing other clothes instead. Head Porter, for example, is wearing a fetching checked shirt and trousers from the late 1990’s.
As our eyes meet we both realise that we are thinking the same thing and have a little giggle. Ooh! I’ve never seen you with your clothes on! Hilarious.
I am invited in and ushered straight through the kitchen and then out into Head Porters’ garden.
The garden is quite surprising. It looks a little wild, but closer inspection reveals organisation, of sorts. I don’t think I have ever seen so many things growing in such a small space. There is a bit at the back that looks like it could be a vegetable patch.
“So, how are you feeling?” asks Head Porter, handing me a mug of tea.
“Not bad, all things considered” I reply, taking the tea and chinking mugs with him. “I won’t be attending any barbeques for a while, though.”
“I’m with you there.”
I take a sip of tea and my eyebrows rise involuntarily. It’s pretty good tea.
“The bunch of keys hanging in the door. Do you know who they belonged to?” I ask.
“Well, I had to leave them at College so didn’t get a proper look, but I’d say they were one of the Maintenance bunches.”
“What, just a standard Maintenance bunch?” I must admit I am quite crestfallen. I was rather hoping they might belong to The Master, or someone exciting like that.
“Looks like.” Head Porter replies. “I wonder which of our Maintenance guys is missing his set of keys?”
I take another, longer sip of tea. This doesn’t sound entirely practical to me. Why would anyone from Maintenance want to lock us in a burning boiler room? Unless they were assisting someone else. Someone who would probably love to lock us in a burning boiler room. But who would want to do that? I need to work this out quickly, before whomever it is tries again.
“You haven’t got anything a little… stronger, have you Head Porter?” I enquire innocuously, emptying the dregs of my tea onto what I suppose he calls his lawn.
“It’s only lunchtime” there is an air of caution in Head Porter’s voice. “But I have got the rest of that sherry from last time?” On second thoughts…
“Nah. It’s okay,” I say after some deliberation. “Probably best to keep a clear head. Right, well I reckon we should find out exactly who those keys belong to and take it from there?”
“Right. First thing tomorrow.”
“Or we could pop in now?” Head Porter looks none too impressed with this suggestion. “Problem?”
“Oh. No…” I can tell that there obviously is a problem. I give him my best ‘oh, really?’ look. He caves in graciously. “I’ve just got the complete Sharpe box set. I was hoping to enjoy my last afternoon of recuperation in front of the box.”
This is a lie. I know he does not have a DVD (or video, for that matter) player, nor any kind of digital or satellite equipment. Just that old, clunky television set in the corner of his sitting room.
“Oh. Alright then…” I reply “I’ll just pop along there myself. I need to thank The Dean, anyway, for saving our lives. D’you think he knew we were down there?”
“He had dropped by The Porters’ Lodge, looking for us” explains Head Porter. “Porter explained about the fire alarms and he came down to find us.”
“Really? I wonder what he wanted” I muse. Head Porter shrugs.
A moment of silence falls between us and I am uncomfortable and a little hurt that Head Porter has been untruthful about his plans for the afternoon. Whatever, he obviously just isn’t in the mood for investigating. Unless he wants me to join him? Hmm. Surely the investigation takes precedence over a twenty-year-old period drama, even if it has got Sean Bean in it. A rare, starring role for Sean Bean, where he doesn’t die halfway through. He gamely stays alive for the whole sixteen episodes, would you believe.
“Okay then,” I announce, eventually. “I’ll get down to Old College, then.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” says Head Porter. “Be careful, won’t you, on your own.”
“I shall be perfectly fine. I only seem to get myself into trouble when I’m with you!”
I step out of Head Porter’s front door and into the street and turn to say goodbye. It has been a rather strange visit. The tea was nice, though.
“You know something, Head Porter” I say before I go. “I’ve been to your house twice now and we’ve even been out for s drink. Maybe it’s time we called each other by our actual names?”
Head Porter just gawps back, confused. He splutters a little before finally getting his words out.
“I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”