The transition from Autumn to Winter has been cruelly rapid, so much as to say it has been practically non-existent. I was in short sleeves at Halloween; this morning I can barely feel my feet. My habit of leaving them dangling free of the duvet while I sleep should be reserved for the clement seasons. Regardless of the conditions outside, they always find their way free of the snuggling comfort of the bed.
And at once I can very much indeed feel my feet – far more than I would like. Another good reason for breaking this nocturnal habit is the recent addition to my little household: a new kitten. The little needles of claw that emerge from his tiny paws belie his outward fluffiness. Unchecked hands and feet quickly become pin cushions and my previous reluctance to waken evaporates faster than my breath on this chill morning.
He is a great motivator, I’ll give him that.
His name is Terry.
Once out of bed, the inclination to get to work becomes very strong. The Porters’ Lodge is warm. There is an endless supply of tea. The sausage sandwiches will be waiting. Chef’s celebrated sausage sandwiches have lured me into Old College on many a frosty morning, let me tell you. As I critically adjust my bowler hat in the mirror, I wonder idly if there will be any leftovers from last night. The feast that inevitably follows the Induction Of The Fellowship is an invariably lavish affair and, despite the well-documented gluttony of The Fellowship, there are sometimes a few delicious morsels cast aside from High Table.
The huge iron gates of Old College glitter strikingly in the early morning light, a layer of frost giving them a smattering of magic. Passing through, the warm glow from within the Porters’ Lodge spills invitingly across the courtyard but it cannot tempt me from first finding some breakfast. The Dining Room will not yet be open, but Head Of Catering will be lingering some place and he will ensure the provision of the much-anticipated sausage sandwiches.
Head Of Catering is a surprisingly jolly chap for a man who is responsible for the near-constant feeding of the fussy and demanding members of College, even at this time of the morning. I find him in his office, drinking from a large mug coffee that smells positively industrial. I rarely find common ground with aficionados of coffee, being a lady of the Assam persuasion, but Head Of Catering has become something of a fellow conspirator when it comes to the illicit acquisition of victuals. That is to say, I am very greedy and he doesn’t seem to mind.
“Hallo, Deputy Head Porter!” he says, raising his mug in greeting. “Chef has just started on the sausages. He’s running a bit behind today.”
“Oh really?” I reply, trying to hide my consternation “Why’s that?”
“The Bursar put in an early breakfast order. To be delivered to his rooms, would you believe. He certainly hasn’t wasted any time in getting his feet under the table.”
“He certainly hasn’t. What did he order?”
“Eggs Benedict,” Head Of Catering replies, putting on what he probably believes is a fancy accent. “Have you met him, at all?”
“We saw him briefly for The Induction Of The Fellowship last night, but that’s it so far.”
“Hmmm” Head Of Catering briefly turns his attention to his coffee. “Odd sort of chap. He barely ate anything at the feast. And he left before the port and cheese.”
“What?!” I am genuinely staggered. I have heard of Fellows skipping starters, but never leaving before the port and cheese. “He can’t be a proper academic. That’s not the appetite of an academic.”
Head Of Catering simply shrugs.
“Maybe he just isn’t into his food.”
“Not into his food?!” I splutter. “What the bloody hell is he expecting to do around here all day if it isn’t eating?”
“I hear that he is quite keen on educating people,” replies Head Of Catering.
“Now there’s a first.”
“I know. He is certainly not your regular Fellow, that’s for sure. Did you see his shoes? Probably Italian, I reckon.”
“Head Porter was quite taken with the shoes, certainly” I say. “Fascinating hair, too”
“Hmmm” Head Of Catering self-consciously raises a hand to his own thinning locks as he considers this. “Maybe that’s Italian too.”
I take a moment to consider this, but my mind is elsewhere. Surely those sausages must be ready by now. I must find a way to politely excuse myself in order that I may continue my pursuit of breakfast. I would use the time-honoured technique of looking meaningfully at my watch, but I don’t have one. Maybe I should just forgo politeness altogether for the sake of my stomach. There is a knock at the door.
“Come in!” Head Of Catering calls out, jovially. The door is flung open. “Ah! Porter. Good to see you, old bean. What can I do for you?”
“Morning, chap” he replies, barely looking at Head Of Catering. He turns to me, agitated, moustache twitching slightly. Never a good sign. Whatever this is, it had better not get in the way of my breakfast. “I thought I might find you here, ma’am. There’s something you should take a look at, if you wouldn’t mind.”
I don’t know what is more disappointing. The fact that something might keep me from my sausages or the notion that I am to be so easily and predictably located.
“Can it wait until after I’ve had my breakfast, Porter?” I reply, with as much authority as I can muster. Which, admittedly, isn’t much. “It is the most important meal of the day, you know.”
“I’m not sure that it can, ma’am.”
“Oh. A matter of life and death, is it?”
“Not quite, ma’am” Porter shuffles uncomfortably and thrusts his hands in his pockets. “Just the one of them two things, ma’am.”