I am nervously adjusting my hat and wrestling with a tie that refuses to sit straight under my collar. Why is it that when one needs to look her very best, the reflection that stares back resembles something of a tramp in fancy dress?
Today is a most important day. It is the birthday of one of our best-loved travelling Fellows, the eminent Professor VJ Duke. Many of his far-flung friends and colleagues will be joining us for an elaborate surprise party at a secret location (organised by the beautiful and brilliant FictionFan) later in the day. The noise in the Porters’ Lodge far exceeds what should be deemed acceptable at such an early hour. Daddy Salami and Ruber are sulking particularly loudly.
“Hey, cur-noodle,” Daddy Salami addresses me. “I don’t see why me son Ruber couldn’t make the birthday cake. He is the world’s greatest chef, after all.”
Before I can reply, Mr Ratherquite (accompanied, as ever, by his giggling Ladies) steps in.
“Sir!” He bellows. “You are most rude and crude. Deputy Head Porter is a lady, and no lady should be referred to as a cur-noodle.”
“Shut up, Ratherquite” replies Salami. “No one even invited you.”
“Even more reason that I should be in attendance!”
“Now listen,” I say, keen to delay any arguments until the actual party itself. “Manly Man said that he would take care of the cake and I have every confidence that he will do the Professor proud.”
“Well, if you have every confidence in that dunderhead then you are more of a cur-noodle than I first thought!”
I ignore Daddy Salami’s remark and turn my attentions back to my rebellious tie. I am joined by The Dean who has brought me a much-needed cup of tea.
“I say, Deputy Head Porter” he says, handing me the steaming mug. “Do give the old boy my best. Tell him that we will catch up for drinks and escapades very soon.”
“Does anyone know how old the Professor actually is?” asks Ruber. “I don’t think he even has a proper age.”
“I know exactly how old he is!” The Dean snaps back. “Just as he knows my true age. But we swore an oath of blood never to reveal the truth.”
“More importantly,” I add “Is to make sure that blasted Amelia doesn’t turn up and cause trouble. We are all under strict instructions to keep her away, is that understood?”
The Ladies quiver as the very mention of the name, and fan themselves ferociously.
“Quite so, quite so!” Mr Ratherquite says. “That girl is an abomination. She upsets the nerves of my dear Ladies.”
I check my watch. Where is Manly Man with the cake?
“Hey honey-butts, I’s hopes you not been worrying about me,” Manly Man enters the Porters’ Lodge. “I done got the cake right here.”
He drops a heavy box on the counter, which makes a worrying clanking sound.
“What d’ya call that?” asks Daddy Salami.
“It’s the Professor’s birthday cake, like you asked for” Manly Man replies. We all gather round the box and take a peek inside. Oh, dear…
“Oi! You cur-noodle stupid brain!” Daddy Salami roars. “That’s not a cake! That’s a model of the Starship Exercise!”
“Yeah, well, if we done put some candles on it he won’t know the difference.”
“Blimey,” says The Dean “He’s going to break a few teeth on that.”
“It’s a very nice gesture, MM,” I say gently “But it was a cake we were hoping for. Still, I am sure he will like this just as well.”
“Idiot,” huffs Ruber. “I knew I should have taken care of the cake.”
Just then, the door to the Porters’ Lodge flies open and Schwarz Tauptinker bundles through.
“Chickit!” he says, by way of announcing his presence. “Whats you all doing here arguing? The party’s gonna start at 10:00, you know.”
With that, I gather together the assembled guests and we head at speed to FictionFan’s castle…