This is me, singing –
“If you want to I’ll change the situaaaaa-shun! Right people, right time just the wrong locaaaaa-shun!”
“Deputy Head Porter!” it seems that the illustrious leader of the Porters’ Lodge is not quite so keen on my early morning warblings. “You are singing the theme tune from Minder. Again. Look, I know you’re feeling chirpy at the moment but there’s no need to express yourself quite so… noisily. And tunelessly.”
“Well, that’s not very nice” I reply to Head Porter as we both set down our breakfast trays on one of the huge, polished wooden tables that dominate the Dining Room. The unsociable hour means that the place is all but deserted, save for a couple of Bedders in the far corner, enjoying an illicit hoard of black pudding.
Anyway. I have good reason to be chirpy. A recent announcement by The Master has perked me up no end. Head Porter was none too pleased, it must be said. He says it has ‘distracted’ me. Pah. He is probably still humpty with me for forgetting to audit the keys last week. He has turned his attention resolutely towards his breakfast. I look over to his plate and stifle a giggle. For his first meal of the day, Head Porter has selected two large fried eggs and a fat, bronzed sausage, which has evidently been placed by someone with a rather saucy sense of humour.
The giggle does not remain stifled. In fact, it un-stifles itself with aplomb.
“What’s the matter now?” he asks, witheringly.
“Your breakfast is making me laugh.”
“I don’t see what’s so funny about sausage and egg…”
“Ho ho! What’s all this?” The familiar booming voice of The Dean startles us both. “What’s so funny, then?”
I indicate the offending victuals with my butter knife. The Dean eyes it intently.
“Aha!” he exclaims. “Ah yes, I see. Very good!” He slaps Head Porter jovially on the shoulder and nearly sends the poor chap face first into his plate. “You’re a sly old fox, Head Porter. Now then. Shove along, I shall join you both.”
Head Porter slides along to the neighbouring seat in order that The Dean might nestle between us. He reaches out a hand to retrieve his plate but it is too late. The Dean has already picked up the sausage and is absent-mindedly chewing on it.
“So, to what do we owe this pleasure, Sir?” I ask The Dean. It is most unusual for a Fellow to join the underlings at the meal table, even for a renegade such as The Dean.
“Oh, I was getting rather tired of The Bursar, moping around on High Table, the miserable bugger,” The Dean replies. “He was putting me off my tea, I tell you. He’s been like that since The Master announced the arrival of our brand spanking new Fellow!”
I cannot help but laugh.
“Well, I suppose he would be!” I say.
“Well, I for one don’t blame him!” Head Porter exclaims, uncharacteristically bold. “Now, I know he is an old friend of yours, Sir, but whenever that chap is around there is nothing but rumbunctions. And Deputy Head Porter, here, well – she won’t get a stroke of work done once he’s here, y’know.”
“Now, now, Head Porter,” The Dean adopts a cautionary tone. “You know I shall not hear a rum word against the Professor. He has been instrumental in several College matters, as you well know.”
“Yes” I put in. “And he has a charming hat.”
“He is not due to arrive until the end of the week,” continues Head Porter, calmer now. “So I would like to politely request a few quiet, Professor-free days while we can still enjoy them, alright? Is that too much to ask?”
The Dean opens his mouth to deliver a retort no doubt bursting with curses, but is interrupted.
“Hello and a few!”
We turn as one, our gaze drawn to the entrance of the Dining Room. The figure standing in the doorway is reduced to silhouette by the glaring sunlight from outside, but remains nevertheless unmistakable. The jaunty top hat. The winsome stance. The white suit. It’s him!
“Oh, for goodness sake” Head Porter mutters.
“Ho ho, my dear, dear fellow!” bellows The Dean, rising to his feet to greet his friend. “VJ Duke! A finer Professor I never did see.”
“It’s definitely good to be back, I must say,” Professor Duke says, shaking The Dean warmly by the hand. “I know I’m a bit early, but that’s because the car was working extra fast, I’m thinking.”
“Head Of Housekeeping won’t be pleased,” Head Porter says curtly. “She won’t have your rooms ready, you know.”
“That might be a bit of a vexing matter,” laughs Professor Duke, “But I don’t mind muchly much. Why, if you have an extra corner at your place… I’ll curl up there until she’s ready with my room.”
Head Porter looks horrified but I am certainly very amused by the prospect of him having the Professor as a house guest.
“Don’t be daft,” chortles The Dean. “You can bunk down with me until the old battle-axe makes up your bed. We can stay up late and tell unlikely tales.”
“That sounds like so much fun, I can’t begin to think on it! But we must needs include the little lady here! After all, she’s good at unlikely tales.” The Professor shakes my hand furiously, beaming broadly and eyes a-twinkle.
“Deputy Head Porter has enough to do, thank you very much” says Head Porter. “I can’t have you keeping her up all night.”
“Oh, poof and nonsense!” remarks The Dean, waving a hand dismissively. “We need someone to make our tea, isn’t that so? Or, pour the whiskey at least.”
“Absolutely right!” agrees the Professor. “And that’s why you’re invited, too, Head Porter! But first – I need the assistance of our dear DHP rather more urgently. There is… a matter, of sorts—and it’s vexing, I think.”