Month: September 2014

The Caped Crusader


“Oh, God. No” I say, barely under my breath. Hawkins Head Porter is smiling strangely. More of a macabre grin, actually.

“Prayer is the final refuge of a scoundrel” he says, without humour. “What are you doing in my Lodge?”

The Dean clears his throat and confidently launches into our carefully planned cover story. I say carefully planned cover story, thinking back it was thrown together in a rather unlikely – not to mention drunken – manner. The reason being that we never expected to have to use it. Porter was fastidious in his reconnaissance and there should have been no one else patrolling the grounds but the Night Porter, whose main duties appeared to be taking as many smoke breaks as it is possible to squeeze into an evening shift. But anyway.

“Good evening, my good man” says The Dean, adopting a slightly more silky tone than his usual bombastic style. “My name is Leonard Patterson-Smythe and I am a postgraduate from DeVille College. This young lady is a first year of yours. I am afraid to say I found her face down in the gutter on Prince’s Street having over-indulged at one of those parties the young ones are so fond of. As a scholar and a gentleman, I was escorting her back to her rooms. We were just trying to find her spare key.”

It is a perfectly reasonable sounding explanation, although the delivery could have been more convincing. I imagine it is difficult to be convincing when dressed as Zorro. That said, The Dean does seem fairly comfortable with his alter ego and is even swaggering a little. The cape is a little comical but the hat and the mask quite suit him, actually. Hawkins Head Porter appears less than impressed.

“You do look quite familiar” he says, squinting at The Dean. “If you’re a postgrad, what are you studying?”

“Law” replies The Dean, assuredly. He is a doctor* of law, after all.

“Alright then, what’s Article Three of the Human Rights Act?”

“Prohibition of torture!”

“No it isn’t”

“It bloody well is!” The Dean slips back to his more usual demeanour, hands thrust on his hips and jaw jutting defiantly. In his current state of dress, he does look rather fabulous. For my part, I am doing my best to maintain the visage of heavy intoxication and am swaying so much that I actually start to feel a little woozy. Sensing a confrontation between The Dean and Hawkins Head Porter, I reason that what we need right now is a distraction. And a way out. I can see this ending badly.

“I think I’m going to be sick” I announce.

“No you’re not,” snaps The Dean. “You’ll be fine for a moment. I tell you, Head Porter, Article Three states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…”

“D’you know, I’m not so sure that you are a law graduate”

“And I am not so sure that you are a Head Porter!” The Dean is on a roll, now. Oh dear. “For instance, what are you doing here in the middle of the night? Head Porters don’t do night shifts, save for very exceptional circumstances. I put it to you, Sir, that you are an imposter!”

Brilliant. Not only have we been caught red-handed rifling through the keys, now The Dean is insulting the Head Porter of our rival College in his own Lodge.

“I will have you know, Mister Patterson-Smythe, that there are very exceptional circumstances, actually. Very exceptional indeed” Hawkins Head Porter seems to catch himself before he says something he might later regret. He takes a step closer and lowers his voice. “If you must know, we’ve had a bit of a tip-off. We, er, we might be expecting some visitors tonight. Unwelcome visitors, if you get my drift.”

The Dean and I exchange the briefest of glances. Surely he cannot be referring to us, can he? How could he have known?

“Intruders, you mean?” asks The Dean, slipping subtly back into character.

“Could be,” replies Hawkins Head Porter. “A chap gave us the nod. I thought it best that I was on duty tonight. And I was right, wasn’t I? I’ve caught you two up to no good.”

“Who told you…” I begin, but am ordered into silence by a violent wave of The Dean’s arm.

“We will be getting along directly,” says The Dean. “I will get my young friend back to her rooms at once. We are sorry to have disturbed you.”

The Dean takes my arm and makes to head towards the door, but Hawkins Head Porter holds up a hand and blocks our path.

“Not so fast,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve seen you two somewhere before. What are you up to in my Lodge?”

“I told you…” but The Dean is interrupted by the sudden crash of breaking glass.

We gather our senses and our collective gaze falls upon a good sized rock that seems to have found its way urgently through the window of the Hawkins Porters’ Lodge. Hawkins Head Porter is clearly furious and his face looks like a bunched fist.

“What the..?” He swings round and shouts an obscenity at a mysterious figure striking a heroic pose in the courtyard. “Batman?!”

To our disbelief, there is indeed the figure of the caped crusader standing before us in the courtyard. Although, it seems he has rather let himself go in recent years and is uncharacteristically making ‘V’ signs in our general direction.

“Bloody Batman has smashed my window!” Hawkins Head Porter heads towards the door as Batman continues to make suggestive hand gestures whilst making good his escape.

“Bloody hell!” exclaims The Dean.

“Bloody hell indeed, Sir” is all I can think to say.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here before he comes back.”

The Dean and I slip out of Hawkins College and back into the relative safety of Mortlock Alley. I had the presence of mind to take the master keys with me, but now feel a bit concerned that I have committed an act of theft. Along with Batman’s flagrant demonstration of criminal damage, Hawkins College have not had a good night.

Porter is waiting for us in the shadows and, as we catch our breath, several things are running through my mind.

Who has been talking to Hawkins College?

Was that really Head Porter who threw the rock through the window?

I have left my best pair of shoes in Hawkins Porters’ Lodge.

The best we can hope for is that this little episode does not come back to bite us on the backside.

Some hope.

*It has been pointed out to me that the real Dean from the real Old College is, in fact, a Professor of Law, not merely a humble Doctor. I am happy to make this clarification for the sake of delicate academic egos.

Assault On Hawkins College

It never ceases to amaze me how life places me in such unlikely scenarios. As we speak, I am pretending to be a heavily intoxicated eighteen year old student who has arrived at Hawkins College for her first year studying – what was it? Art history, I think. An easy one, anyway. As a Deputy Head Porter now firmly in her mid-thirties, dressed in a skimpy air hostess outfit, this is something of a challenge.

My comrade in this unlikely operation is The Dean of College, a man I have not been having an affair with for some time, masquerading as Zorro. To be fair, I should not be so surprised. My existence since joining Old College has been surreal, to say the least. This is just one other thing, in a whole great list of things, that I thought would never happen. And the fate of the Lord Layton portrait is at stake, so I focus my attentions on the matter in hand.

“Bugger!” says The Dean.

“What is it?” I ask, my head lolling towards the floor in the style of one who is helplessly drunk.

“Some students are coming our way. They might try to engage with us. Pretend to be sick to put them off.”

I sigh. This is not the glamorous life I envisioned as an under cover agent for Old College. As The Dean guides me towards a handy flowerbed, I heave and retch in a manner I hope will be off-putting. This performance continues until The Dean indicates that the coast is clear. I begin to rise from my unladylike position but as I do, my head is shoved unceremoniously back towards the flora and fauna.

“The Night Porter is coming!” The Dean hisses “He has our chap with him. Try and actually vomit, if you can.”

As I try, unsuccessfully, to meet The Dean’s demands, The Hawkins College Night Porter addresses us.

“Oi!” he shouts across the courtyard, in a manner for which I would chide my Porters. “Is that you, Hastings?”

“Er… Yes!” replies The Dean.

“Well, you’d better not be here by the time I get back or you’ll be up before The Dean, d’you here?”


Once he and our brilliantly disguised Porter have disappeared into the cloister, The Dean pulls me upright and suggests we make our way to the Porters’ Lodge with haste. I totter unsteadily across the uneven flagstones.

“Look, Deputy Head Porter, you don’t have to pretend to be drunk now. Let’s just get these bloody keys!”

“I’m not, Sir!” I protest to The Dean. “It’s these shoes! I can’t walk in them.”

“Take them off, then.”

I cannot believe I didn’t think of that sooner. What’s more, I can’t believe The Dean thought of it before I did. In my bare feet, I am able to keep pace with my surprisingly nimble comrade and we are soon within sight of the enemy headquarters. The Hawkins College Porters’ Lodge.

Thinking back, I can’t say that I have ever actually been inside the Hawkins Porters’ Lodge. This might prove somewhat of a drawback when it comes to locating the master keys, but from what I have seen, Porters’ Lodges tend to follow quite a familiar pattern.

As we approach the door, I feel my heart start to beat just that little faster and I am aware of a fine layer of perspiration beginning to form across my back. The late night air seems to nip at my skin as I suddenly feel very aware of myself and my surrounding environment. Hawkins College is a far grander structure than Old College, certainly. Illuminated by the scant moonlight, the towering stone walls look like they might be carved from ivory, reaching up the skies before bursting with intricately decorative masonry and soaring spires.

No wonder their Head Porter is so bloody smug. The air within these walls is thick with centuries of superiority and privilege. Even breathing it in makes me feel somewhat unworthy. But perhaps it is like tobacco, that when first inhaled is repugnant but with some careful practice can become full of illicit pleasure. And addictive.

All University Colleges are not alike. They all have their own quirks and, for want of a better word, personalities. But somehow they all find a way to keep so many of the brightest and best from ever straying too far from their walls. They are like little eccentric black holes, where people of certain persuasions find themselves unable and unwilling to escape. An uncomfortable thought.

Anyway. However amazing Hawkins College might be, I console myself with the fact that Wastell College is even better. Whilst Hawkins College might be the King Arthur of The University, Wastell College must certainly be the Sir Lancelot. And we all know what he got up to behind the King’s back. I am not sure what that makes Old College. Probably Merlin.

“Come on!” The Dean hisses at me. “I have other things to do this evening, you know.” Really? The Dean’s personal life must be more eventful than I first thought.

We breach the final line of defences, which amounts to nothing more exciting than an unlocked door, and enter the Porters’ Lodge. It is smaller than our own beloved Lodge, which is unexpected. Also, I note with feeling of immense self-satisfaction, it is not as well-ordered. This Head Porter needs to pull his socks up.

I deftly hop over the front counter and start searching the endless rows of keys for the master set.

“Hurry up, Deputy Head Porter!” The Dean says in what I am sure he thinks is an encouraging manner.

“You might give me a hand, Sir” I reply. The Dean spits out a thousand ‘bugger’s as he hauls himself over the front counter to join me in the frantic search. At this point, I realise that The Dean probably has absolutely no idea what he is looking for, but I appreciate the enthusiasm regardless. Before too long, I seem to be getting somewhere.

“This looks like a master set, Sir” I say, hauling a hefty bunch of keys from their hook.

“Brilliant!” He exclaims. “Let’s push on, then!”


The Dean and I wheel round to see the door to the Porters’ Lodge resolutely shut and a bowler hatted figure standing before us.

Hawkins College Head Porter.