Month: June 2014

Aftermath

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.

DSC_0067edit

“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.
“Ask him.”
“I will.”
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!”
“Good point.”
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.”

You Can Keep Your Hat On

There’s another noise. It’s another type of alarm.

And… sprinklers! Oh, the sudden sound of sizzling showers of water makes the world feel like a better place.

Just ahead of me is Head Porter, on his hands and knees making his way back towards me and the door. I crawl towards him, clumsily extending my arm in a rather pathetic gesture of encouragement. Beneath the thickening layer of smoke, our flailing hands meet awkwardly and together we shuffle our way back to the door.

While hardly a comfortable environment, the sudden and very welcome arrival of gushing arcs of water has improved morale, if nothing else. Head Porter and I adopt positions somewhere between a crouch and a huddle and hold hands.

“It’s getting a bit warm in here, Deputy Head Porter” Head Porter points out, once again displaying his talent for spotting the obvious. “Do you think we should take our hats off?”

Had I enough breath in my body to laugh, I would have. A crackly snort comes out instead.

“Oh, come on Head Porter” I reply. “Things aren’t quite that bad.”

“Just out of interest, at what point do things get bad enough to take our hats off?”

“Things can never be bad enough to take your hat off,” I say with some certainty “I’m not taking my hat off. You can bury me in this hat.”

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”

A strange and rapid sensation of heavy shunting comes over me. Bewildered, Head Porter and I topple forward onto the ground. Oh, God, this isn’t how it ends, is it? Am I literally being shoved off the mortal coil?

But it is not death that approaches. It is something somehow far more terrifying. It is The Dean.

“Bloody hell!” he says (well, that’s not actually what he says but I am not prepared to repeat his exact phrasing).

The door bangs against my leg as it is flung back. Instinctively, I scramble towards the opening as The Dean is battered back by an unexpected face full of smoke. Head Porter is right behind me as I crawl into the hallway, just as Head Of Maintenance comes careering around the corner at the far end.

“What happened?” asks The Dean

“Checking fire alarm. Got locked in” I splutter, the sudden influx of cleaner air evidently a shock to my system.

“But.. how…” The Dean is momentarily lost for words. That is even more memorable than being trapped in a burning room.

“The Fire Brigade is on the way,” Head Of Maintenance comes to a breathless stop beside us “What the hell happened?!”

“Someone locked them inside, look” The Dean points towards the set of keys hanging in the lock.

The keys!

“Wait, grab that set of keys!” I croak. Head Of Maintenance hushes me and places my arm around his shoulder.

“Never mind that, we should get you two out of here…”

“I’ll get the keys,” says Head Porter, lurching towards the door. “Bugger, they’re really hot!”

“Come on,” says The Dean “You need to get to see Nurse”

“Whose keys are they, Head Porter?” I ask, ignoring The Dean. Head Porter is fumbling the smouldering keys on his jacket cuff.

“I’m not sure, I’ll have to wait until they’ve cooled down.”

“You two to the medical bay immediately!” The Dean has run out of patience. “Bring the blasted keys with you, if you must.”

The sequence of events that follow are somewhat hazy and something of a blur. But clear in my mind is the one thought that shines like a beacon in my mind.

The keys.

These keys are going to do more than unlock doors.

Don’t Look At The Light

Head Porter and I bang furiously on the boiler room door, yelling at the very capacity of our lungs. The fact that our lungs are quickly filling with sebaceous and smutty air is a drawback, certainly. I do not think anyone can here us.

Think. How can we get through this door?

We abandon our tactic of shouting loudly as we realise that oxygen should be used much more wisely in the current circumstances. We need to get through that door.

“We could unscrew the hinges off the door” I suggest breathlessly.

“Have you got a screwdriver?” wheezes Head Porter.

The boiler room is certainly living up to its name. Absurdly, I remember being in the kitchens earlier today and musing that it reminded me of Hell. That was a far, far less gritty version of Hell than the one I have before me now. The kitchens were like the cartoon Hell, with mischievous –looking red devils with pointy boots and a pitchfork, dancing around a few small, localised fires. This is something else entirely. The heat is becoming so intense that even breathing in and out results in searing pain.

Think. Think again.

They say that just before you die, your whole life flashes before your eyes. I suppose no one really knows, but there is a sensible-sounding explanation as to why this might happen. The theory goes that, in a desperate eleventh-hour attempt to save your life, your brain goes through each and every memory, trying to find information that might help you survive, based on the experiences you have gained from previous threats and so forth. Your mind becomes the survival encyclopaedia that your subconscious is hurriedly flicking through.

Well, my brain obviously hasn’t got quite that desperate yet, as although it has already reached for the encyclopaedia it at least knows what chapter it should be looking up. This should save some valuable time.

I become partially aware of a sound in the room. A very loud sound. I can hardly string a cohesive thought together in this state. It takes me a few moments to recognise it. The fire alarm.

You need to stop thinking about silly things and concentrate on getting out of this room.

“I need to stop talking to myself”

“I said the fire alarm’s going off!” says Head Porter “That’s got to be a good thing.” I admire his positive approach but I doubt anyone will hear it. Porter will hear the fire panel go off in The Lodge, but he’s single manned and will probably think it’s us trying to fix it anyway. How long before he comes to check on us?

“Get down, below the smoke” I say, grabbing Head Porter’s arm and pulling him down into a crouching position.

The way I see it is that we have several problems here. The room being on fire is the most obvious one. The other is that we cannot open the door, which is also a bit of an issue. The other sticky wicket is that we cannot summon help. Or…

“I’ve got an idea,” I say to Head Porter. Speaking is difficult now, every brief utterance sends tiny white hot daggers down my throat until they are stabbing at my lungs. “If we can break something down here, cause a drop in pressure or something – won’t an alarm go off in the Maintenance office?”

“Smashing things up could make things worse,” Head Porter points out. He notices the delicately-singed soles of his shoes, defiant little whirls of pale grey smoke spiralling into the fetid air. “Let’s give it a go.”

I am afraid to say I am little help to Head Porter. The smoke and limited oxygen have become so disorientating I have no idea where to begin. Head Porter is surprisingly focused, however. I watch as he fights his way through the gloom with distinct purpose.

Every inch of my flesh is screaming at me to lay down on the floor and close my eyes. Great bursts of white-hot explosions detonate behind my burning eyeballs as if my brain is going into supernova. The brilliance of the white light is blinding me from the optic nerve outwards

Don’t look at the light. Ignore the light.

I take a deep breath to clear my head but it turns out to be a very bad idea. My chest fills with choking blackness but the coughing fit that ensues as least thrusts me right back into the present…