“No, no I told you – I won’t need to sell the house now. No, I’ve sorted it all out, I promise… cough cough”
I am rather ashamed to say that I am eaves-dropping on a seemingly very private telephone conversation between Head Porter and a hitherto unknown other party. I have never known Head Porter to smoke, but at present he is trying his best with a foul-smelling cigarette, possibly to give him an excuse for lurking in this far-flung, deserted smoking shelter. His voice is strained and anxious and he is obviously very distressed at whatever this situation might be.
I am a little hurt he has not thought to confide in me. We have had our differences in the past, but I had hoped the death-defying events from last term had elevated our relationship to something special. Not that I would be much help in a financial crisis, of course, a Deputy Head Porter’s wages do not allow for vast savings to be accrued. But I could listen and offer sympathy. And, in drastic circumstances, help him mug someone.
As the telephone conversation comes to a close I slip away quietly, unnoticed. Surely whatever is upsetting Head Porter would not lead him to do something he might regret? I think back to what The Dean said about him being susceptible to bribery, but quickly push the thought from my mind. Not Head Porter. Never.
It has been several days since The Dean devised his dubiously brilliant and daring plan. In the Porters’ Lodge, we have had our hands full with the wave of brand new students attending Old College for the first time. Freshers’ Week is a notoriously tumultuous affair, with many excitable and naive young people being willfully led astray by the older, (and somewhat sadistic) more experienced students. This time last year, Senior Tutor was fretting over his newly formed Committee For The Prevention Of Drunken Behaviour, of which I was a reluctant member. It can only be a matter of time before The Committee is recalled.
The Dean has been unusually occupied with something other than shouting at people. He has been very productive around the matter of discovering more about the new Bursar. It appears that he is an old acquaintance of The Master, although in what capacity is still a mystery. The Dean has confirmed that he is an alumnus of the other great English University, the name of which cannot be spoken within The City. It must be known simply as The Other Place. But what we do know is that he is a Professor of chemistry and he has recently returned from a protracted period of research in Russia. Incidentally, it seems that the devilishly handsome chap so berated by my male colleagues has found himself a job at Wastell College. Pah.
Porter has been something of a James Bond type recently, his evenings hijacked by the mission of spying on Hawkins College Porters and gaining an insight into their nightly patrol rituals. We will be well prepared for any chance encounters with the Porters by way of our ingenious disguises and fiendishly clever cover stories. But, just in case the disguises and cover stories are not quite as fiendish as they might be, we plan to avoid contact as best as we possibly can.
Which brings me onto the subject of the disguises. After a sleepless night and a breakfast of Scotch, this all seemed like a super idea. Thinking about it on a more sensible head, I am beginning to have reservations. The Dean’s idea was to take advantage of the cover of Freshers’ Week, during which many fancy dress parties take place. I am to be ‘disguised’ as a student as, in the words of The Dean, ‘it will be night-time and you look a lot younger in the dark’. The Dean himself will be, apparently, a post-graduate who is returning from a party dressed as Zorro when he comes across a helplessly drunk Fresher (my good self) and is doing the chivalrous thing by walking me back to my halls of residence. Porter is rather more difficult to disguise, on account of the fact that he refuses to shave off his moustache for the occasion. As most students do not sport greying, bristly moustaches, it was decided that he would play the role of a University Groundskeeper, who had received urgent news of a dog trapped in the College. As luck would have it, Porter plays darts with a University Groundskeeper and has secured the regulation overalls and cap for the evening.
Head Porter is a little more problematic to disguise, instantly recognisable as he is to the Porters of Hawkins College. The only option open to us is to go down the fancy dress route once again and to pick a costume which would cover most of his face. The Dean thought that Batman might be a fitting alter ego, something Head Porter is silently rather pleased about, I can tell you. The only stipulation is that he cannot under any circumstances speak to anyone. His distinctive Northern twang is too easily identified.
Taking the long way back to the Porters’ Lodge, I realise that I am rather looking forward to tonight’s excursion. Not only does it involve dressing up, something I enjoy immensely, but there is danger and adventure involved also. What an excellent way to make the most of Freshers’ Week. And who better with which to indulge in such derring-do than my Old College comrades?
I can almost taste the celebratory breakfast that will follow, no doubt.