As the first pink fingers of dawn pinch at the horizon, we Grail-hunters gather, sleepy-eyed, in the Porters’ Lodge. Professor Duke seems something of a fluster and I incorrectly assume that this is because we shall be leaving before the kitchens open. No one would relish such a journey on an empty stomach.
“Professor, old chap, are you quite alright?” I ask, exchanging a worried glance with Head Porter, who insisted on coming in to see us off on our travels.
“I have had rather a vexing start to the day, I am afraid to admit,” he mutters, quite clearly not his usual self.
“What’s the matter, you daft bugger?” asks The Dean, evidently nursing a post-feast hangover of epic proportions. “I told you, we can stop for breakfast on the way.”
“Dadblameit! I am not so sure that I could stomach it, to tell you the truth.”
This must be serious.
“Goodness, Professor, are you unwell?” Head Porter inquires, with some concern. “Maybe something at the feast disagreed with you.”
“The Bursar, for one thing” I mumble, not quite under my breath.
“The Bursar is a fine piece of dadblamery that I must bear, but he is not enough to keep this Professor from breakfast,” the Professor replies. “No. I’ll tell you what happened. It happened early. It happened fast. And it’s quite scary. Are you ready for it? I was just getting out of bed and thinking about which trousers to put on, when the door to my rooms was flung open by this… this… it must have been a woman, judging by the way it wobbled in certain places. Anyways and a few, it came in, brandishing a feather duster and gave me quite a fright! I said to it – ‘Madam, I am not the kind of gentleman who appreciates or condones this sort of thing!’ and the thing bustled out again like a herd of wildebeest. Can you imagine? What do you think that was all about!”
Head Porter, The Dean and I stifle sniggers. Despite his numerous visits, this is the first time the Professor has stayed overnight in College grounds. An early morning encounter with a Bedder can be quite distressing, it is true.
“Oh, that would just be one of the Bedders!” I giggle
“A Bedder?! Goodness. What is that!” the Professor splutters. “I tell you, I don’t want of those things intruding on me first thing in the morning… or ever, actually.”
“They are the Housekeeping staff,” Head Porter explains, gently. “They come in to clean the rooms and such. She probably expected you would have vacated your room already. They really are not so dangerous.”
“That’s a matter of opinion!” barks The Dean. “I had one appear unexpectedly once. Frightened the life out of my fish, I’ll have you know. The poor bugger has been swimming backwards ever since. Those Bedders can be vicious creatures.”
“Now, I’m just so spooked, I could hide, I think,” the Professor grumbles. “I was in such a state, I couldn’t begin to think about my trousers and just put on the first pair that came to hand. Pah!”
Professor Duke seems to dress exclusively in white suits, so I fail to see the problem here, but it has perturbed him nonetheless. I decide to try to cheer him up a little.
“I have packed my very best tea set,” I say convivially “And all sorts of wonderful teas. Even fruit teas!”
“Things are looking up already!” exclaims The Dean.
There is a resounding Beep! Beep! from just outside the Lodge. Our transport has arrived. As we fumble for our cases, Head Porter suddenly becomes a little anxious at our impending departure. He would never admit to it, but I rather think he might miss us a bit.
“Now, make sure you take good care of Deputy Head Porter!” he instructs The Dean and the Professor. “I need her back in one piece. Deputy Head Porters are not easy to come by, you know.”
“Don’t worry, old chap!” replies The Dean playfully elbowing him in the ribs. “We shall return her to you in first-rate condition!”
“I need her back in time for Degree Day,”
“I love Degree Day!” I declare. “We shall certainly be back for then. Promise. Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Hope to die? Goodness. We shouldn’t hope for such things” says Professor Duke. “That’s rather extreme.”
“Alright then,” I reply. “Cross my heart and hope to be spanked until my bottom turns purple.”
This appears to be acceptable to Head Porter, who proceeds to bid me farewell with an unexpected embrace followed by a friendly squeeze. The same treatment is not afforded to my travelling companions, much to their obvious relief.
And with that we are off to France and in search of the Chateaux de Chinon in the Loire Valley and the secrets that it holds…
(Incidentally, for those concerned about the welfare of my feline companion whilst I am away, Head Porter has kindly agreed to take Terry as a house guest for a few days. I hope he is better behaved for Head Porter than he is at home.)