Back in the Lodge, Porter is looking harassed. It is becoming a regular look for him and, as one responsible for his welfare at work, I am sorry for that. But what’s a girl to do? Harassing stuff just keeps happening.
To be fair to the old chap, not only does he have a small gathering of dissatisfied conference delegates crowding around the front desk, but a gaggle of Japanese tourists are photographing his every move. The more he tries to indicate for them to leave the Lodge, the more excitable they become. I see Head Porter in his office getting increasingly irritated by the commotion. He is doing that thing where he rearranges his spectacles at infinitesimally small intervals along the bridge of his nose. Experience tells me that any minute now he will slam down his pen and… There we go!
Head Porter marches out of his office and pushes past the grumbling delegates to tackle the squealing sightseers. He has his much-vaunted Head Porter glare already in place as he comes to face what I can only assume must the most important-looking interloper. I can see Head Porter preparing himself for that most British of exhibitions, the famed act of speaking to foreign people in a very loud voice. Obviously, in English. As if volume alone could transcend the Tower Of Babel.
A strange scene then unfolds. For reasons unknown, the younger female tourists find Head Porter’s display as something akin to Shakespeare and are stood agape, devouring his every word and gesture. Of course, Head Porter is delighted with this unexpected adoration and is playing up to the role of Stern Gentleman beautifully. My enjoyment at this comedic interlude is cut tragically short.
“Ma’am, have you got a minute?” Porter pokes me unceremoniously in the shoulder.
“Ma’am, these gentlemen here are with the Unlikely Law Association conference. There’s a problem with one of the rooms.”
I turn my attention to the foremost of the gathering and am met by an athletic-looking blond man who clearly needs to get something off his chest. I cheerily bid him a good afternoon and introduce myself. He appears unimpressed.
“What appears to be the problem, Sir?” I ask in my very best ‘concerned’ voice. In a broad Lancashire accent, he proceeds to tell me exactly what the problem is. It seems a pigeon has found its way into one of the party’s rooms and… well. I perhaps will not use the lexicon favoured by my blond friend here, but you know what pigeons do. A large number of unwanted offerings have been generously garnered upon numerous belongings.
Artfully suppressing a schoolgirl snigger, I apologise profusely. This occurrence is not unheard of in Old College; they get in down chimney stacks and through the eaves sometimes. Seeing me struggling somewhat to keep a straight face, Porter sees fit to make the situation even worse.
“’Ere,” he says, suddenly. “That’s supposed to be good luck, that!”
Again, I am afraid I shall have to amend the exact reply of the delegate for fear of lowering the tone somewhat. The general gist of the proposal was that the delegate should do to Porter what a pigeon did to his shoes and see how lucky he feels after that. Not very, I’d imagine.
Declining the inviting offer to view the room for fear of further barely controllable mirth, I attempt to reassure our guest that the situation will be resolved to his complete satisfaction. I feel I am doing a fairly good job of winning him over as Head Porter comes sauntering over to see what is going on.
Head Porter holds a better poker face than I do and furrows his brow convincingly as the great pigeon debacle is retold, somewhat more dramatically this time round. The consummate professional, Head Porter directs Porter to make the necessary arrangements with Maintenance, Housekeeping and the drycleaners. It seems the Unlikely Law Association are placated.
I leave Head Porter to his now genial conversation with the Unlikely Law Association and subtly guide Porter away from the front desk. In hushed tones we turn our attentions to weightier matters.
“The first part of our plan is in place,” I explain. “Housekeeping have been informed that the Lord Layton is away for urgent refurbishment. This should give us a little breathing space, at least.”
“What’s the second part of our plan?” whispers Porter. Right. The second part of the plan.
“That’s obviously to find out where it’s gone,” I reply. “It might even still be in College grounds, hidden somewhere. But just in case, you should check the CCTV. The boundary gates are all covered and you would think we would notice it being smuggled out.”
“What’s this about smuggling?” Head Porter has joined our clandestine conversation.
“The painting, being smuggled out,” I explain. “In the meantime, you and I should search the College. Make sure it hasn’t been stashed away.”
“Okay,” replies Head Porter “You know, we should ask that Unlikely Law chap to help out. Pigeon poo is a good omen. A pigeon pooed on me last Saturday on the way to the shop. When I got back, I found one of the eggs I had bought was a double-yoker! Now, if that’s not good luck then I don’t know what is. With the amount of omens he has in his room he would probably find the thing in no time!”
Head Porter certainly seems to have cheered up considerably, which is something for which to be thankful. I sit down to think on the matter of searching Old College. With so many possible hiding places, not to mention impossible ones, I am seriously considering standing under a pigeon who has recently digested his lunch.