It seems very strange to be heading into Old College on a day off. Without my College tie and bowler hat, I really do not feel like the Deputy Head Porter at all. It reminds me of non-uniform days at school, which always had a faint air of anarchy about them. It is quite astonishing what an outfit can do for your mindset. If the clothes maketh the man, what does a pair of jeans and a vest top make me? I dread to think.
I decide to make my entrance through Sprockett Gate, as far away from The Porters’ Lodge as I can be. It’s not that I don’t want to see the Porters, rather I feel they would perfer not see me. It might make them a little nervous if I suddenly appear unannounced. Besides, Sprockett Gate is nearer to The Dean’s rooms and the Maintenance department.
The atmosphere in Old College today is palpable; the courtyards and cloisters have a steady stream of excitable Third Years, organising their gowns and mortar boards for the main event of the week, nay, the entire academic year – Degree Day. Head Porter seems to be quite looking forward to this. He is not usually one for the great pomp and ceremony of many College events, but I can tell he is excited about Degree Day. I think that, quite often, the graduating students bring gifts to The Porters’ Lodge – edible gifts, at that. Cakes, biscuits, chocolates… oh, I can only imagine! No wonder Degree Day is so popular. If there’s one thing a Porter likes, it’s a biscuit.
I am disappointed to find The Dean sadly absent from his rooms this afternoon. Maybe he is still chasing his new mortarboard. I decide to try Head Of Maintenance instead, when something catches my eye. I notice a very furtive-looking student poking his head around the door of the Computer Room. He looks a little pale and nervous, a sure sign of being up to no good.
I make my way over, my civilian clothing offering me a degree of camouflage. The young chap doesn’t recognise me until I am right on top of him, by which time it is far too late for him to do anything clever. I have seen this lad before, he is a First Year student studying law, I believe. He is a friend of Hershel and Penelope, who I last saw following their soggy encounter with Hawkins College on The River.
“Hello, Darwin!” I say cheerfully. His little face falls through the floor. “What are you up to, then?”
Darwin quickly looks behind him, his panicky eyes imploring to some unseen companion in the room behind him.
“I’m not up to anything, Deputy Head Porter” he replies in a manner so unconvincing that it implies the exact opposite.
I smile sweetly and gently push back the door behind him. Helpless, he walks backwards clumsily as I advance on the Computer Room. Darwin starts coughing theatrically, as if to warn an accomplice. As it happens, this is a redundant gesture as I am happily striding through the room within seconds.
Ah. I might have known. My old adversary Hershel and his little friend Penelope are furtively switching off the computer monitors.
“Good afternoon, my favourite students!” I announce. I turn to Hershel. As a Second Year, he is older than the other two and I rather feel he leads them astray. “What are we up to on this fine day?” Hershel goes to speak, but I cut him off “And don’t tell me ‘nothing’ because we all know that’s not true.”
There is a little bit of a pause. Not quite a pregnant pause, but definitely a pause that is ‘late’ and is considering weeing on a stick.
“You might as well tell her, Hershel” sighs Penelope. Oh, this ought to be good.Hershel holds my gaze with his own for a few seconds, but evidently either lacks the imagination or the compunction to come up with an excuse. He sighs, then switches on the nearest monitor to us.
“Alright, Deputy Head Porter” he says “You’ve caught us. We’re preparing a prank for the end of term.”
“I thought it was supposed to be graduates that did the end of year pranks?” I ask.
“Yes, but I thought we could play a prank or two and they would get blamed for them” is Hershel’s reply. Actually, that’s quite clever. Rather wish I’d thought of it myself.
“Go on then, what’s the prank?” I say, intrigued. Hershel indicates the monitor he has just switched on.
“Try and use this computer,” he says. I shrug and take hold of the mouse and try to launch the menu. Nothing. I click along all the icons at the bottom of the screen. Still, nothing. The files on the desktop don’t seem to work either.
“You’ve broken the computer,” I remark “Well done you.” This is about as technical as I can get when it comes to IT diagnosis.
“Actually I haven’t,” explains Hershel. “What I did was to take a screenshot of the desktop, then hide all the icons and folders in a separate folder over here. Then, I set the screenshot as the desktop background, so it still looks the same but it’s obviously only, like, a photo of it, do you see?”
Even I sort of understand this. People will be clicking on what they think are real icons, when actually they are all tucked away in this separate folder. Okay, that is actually quite an ingenious prank and it doesn’t cause any harm, really. It will probably waste the time of a fair few students, and then eventually the IT chaps as well, but all in all a rather intelligent practical joke, I feel. And I’m not even really at work today, so probably none of my business anyway.
“Have you done this to all the computers in here?” I ask, looking round at the twenty or so machines in the room. Hershel looks at his feet.
“Yes” he replies, using his best ‘little boy’ voice. I bet that works a treat on his mother.
“It’s pretty clever, actually, Hershel,” I say, to his obvious shock. “And, it’s quite funny too. I mean, obviously, if it gets back to The Dean that you’ve done this, you will be in big trouble. But he won’t hear it from me, alright?”
Hershel and his two companions look relieved and a little surprised.
“Thanks, Deputy Head Porter” says Penelope “We really appreciate it, honestly.” I wave away her platitudes with a flick of my wrist and allow her a little smile.
“I’m not even on duty today and quite frankly I’ve got other things on my mind. But if you lot get caught, I’m denying all knowledge, alright?”
My young charges seem quite happy with this result and I leave them to continue with their endeavours. As student pranks go, it’s a fairly tame one. The vague concern niggling at the back of my mind is that Hershel did mention ‘a prank or two’…
Ah, well. How bad can it really be?
Not too bad, I’m sure. Probably. I hope.
Anyway. I need to track down Head Of Maintenance and find out about these keys…