Month: May 2015

The Professor’s Trousers And Other Matters

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!”

“Even cherry?”

“Even cherry.”

“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.)




With Professor VJ Duke

A Duel, Of Sorts

I should have been quicker. I could have been quicker. I suppose something mischievous deep inside held me back. As my fingertips brush against the tails of the Professor’s jacket, I cannot help feeling rather pleased that I wasn’t quick enough to catch him.

Like a top hat-wearing furious beast, Professor Duke launches himself at a wary-looking Bursar at a speed that is scarcely believable. It is as if time around him stands still as we gathered persons can only watch, open-mouthed, as what looks like the beginnings of fisticuffs unravels before our eyes.

Just as it seems as if he might tear the very nose from The Bursar, the Professor’s progress is abruptly halted by the Master’s flailing arm falling neatly between them.

“Enough!” booms The Master.

“Bugger,” The Dean mutters, evidently disappointed at the intervention.

Professor Duke kicks The Bursar smartly in the shin, causing him to emit a most unusually high-pitched cry.

“Professor!” exclaims The Master. “I must insist that you control yourself!”

“Huff-hum!” the Professor replies, crossing his arms with outraged ferocity.

“What is the meaning of this?” asks The Master, calmer now. “Surely – this is a marvellous thing that The Bursar has discovered. Not to mention, a fine gentlemanly gesture to invite you along as well. Why ever would you behave in such a manner?”

“Sir! What this beast suggests is not a great honour nor is it gentlemanly in any way,” replies the Professor. “I shall tell you what it is – it is an effrontery to common decency!”

“Oh, this is very good,” The Dean chuckles in my ear. “Do you think it will come to blows? I do hope it comes to blows.” He is really enjoying this. This is his kind of thing.

“You see, Sir,” the Professor continues “My friends and I are this close—very close—from laying our hands on the Grail ourselves. This is a thing that I had planned to reveal to you, with much spectacle and amusement I might add, at the time of the Toasts.”

“It’s all true!” The Dean shouts from our position by the canapés.

“I don’t understand this at all” mutters Head Porter “I mean, how could he…”

“I smell a rat” I reply.

“Well, I shall look forward to hearing both of your announcements during the Toasts…” says The Master, making moves to end the theatricals and continue on to the feast.

“You are not invited to France, you know!” the Professor huffs to The Bursar.

“France?” The Bursar replies, a staged look of confusion upon his face. “Why, the Holy Grail does not lie in France. No, no my dear fellow, you are bewitched by falsehood. The Grail lies right here, beneath our own dear College!”

“Ha!” exclaims The Dean in a low voice. “We’re already a step or two ahead of him, the silly bugger. Ho ho!”

Although tempting to fling the evidence of our investigations into the fray, I feel it wise to keep our counsel for now. It seems that the Professor feels the same way as he is exercising remarkable restraint at this time.

“I don’t quite understand to what ghastly place your research has led you, Professor Duke, but my own carefully considered work shows that the Grail is inarguably ensconced within the ruins of a monastery which slumbers, untouched for centuries, deep in the ground betwixt Sprockett Gate and Apple Tree Court.”

Gasps and excited mumblings erupt around the Wide Gallery, the revelation igniting the interest of the assembled Fellows and staff.

He has got this very wrong. The records clearly show that the Grail was taken to that funny little cave. No mention of a monastery. What can The Bursar be up to?

“This certainly does sound exciting, Bursar” says The Master.

“How can something deadly dead wrong be exciting?” the Professor grumbles.

The Dean decides that he has sat on the sidelines for long enough. Brandishing his glass of whiskey like a military standard, he strides across the room and places himself at the very centre of the action.

“Now see here,” says The Dean, firmly. “The way I see it, there is only one course of action open to us that will settle this matter.”

“A duel!” cries Professor Duke.

The Dean seems to consider this,

“Well, two ways, then. But my way is better – if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then both Fellows must undertake their own endeavours and the first chap to present the Grail to The Master is the winner!”

Watching the partially obscured face of The Bursar, I believe I see a flicker of doubt play across those unreadable features. Only for a second, but I am sure it is there.

“Well, gentlemen!” says The Master, clasping his hands together with glee “The gauntlet has been thrown down! Who so of you shall pick it up?”

“I accept the challenge doubly!” declares the Professor, striking a suitably heroic stance and tipping his hat defiantly. “Bursar, what about you?”

The Bursar offers a smile so slippery you could butter toast with it. He doesn’t speak. Perhaps he is worried his words might betray him.

“Then it is decided!” The Master announces. “And now, there is a feast waiting for us. Come!”

The throng of hungry academics surging towards their first course is indeed a sight to behold. If there is one thing guaranteed to get a Fellow moving, it’s a feast. Head Porter, The Dean and I join Professor Duke by the threshold.

“This is what it is! We have been challenged! Now he have to find the Grail before that dadblame Bursar!” the Professor is so riled that he is practically hopping from foot to foot. “Come on! Come on! Let’s go and pack right away. To France!”

“I am right behind you, my good man!” says The Dean

“But… but… the feast!” I wail, the unhappy prospect of an abandoned banquet looming large on my horizon. The Dean is sympathetic.

“She’s got a point.”

The Professor taps his chin and furrows his brow.

“It does seem a shame to miss out on all this…especially since we tortured Head of Catering so,” he says. “Very well – feasting now, questing… soon. There we have it.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call a plan.


With Professor VJ Duke

Stealing Thunder

Standing in the Wide Gallery of The Master’s Lodge, a glass of something fizzy in hand, I admit to feeling somewhat mixed emotions. Certainly, the Induction Of The Fellowship ceremony for Professor VJ Duke was a triumph. Surprisingly, it passed without incident, which is something of a marvel with the Professor involved. I had half-expected there to be mischief of sorts, but from what I managed to see from under the curtain, he partook of the solemn ritual with an earnest gravitas perfectly fitting of an Old College Fellow. In his very best top hat, too.

The Dean is jubilant at having his old friend now firmly a part of the academic family and I, of course, am beyond delighted to have such a fine chap as a regular fixture at the very top of the College tree. I cannot be sure quite what is causing my unease. It must be being here – in the Wide Gallery. This was the scene of the previous Bursar’s retirement party and goodness knows that didn’t end well.

Nothing for it but to put my misgivings to the back of my mind and have another drink. Where are those meaty things on sticks I specifically requested? I haven’t seen a single one.

Head Porter has been looking a little uncomfortable all evening, but the inexhaustible supply of fizzy drinks seem to be helping. He does not particularly savour events such as this but the Professor was most insistent that he attend. Besides, it saves him having to cook this evening. He stands with me now, listening to The Dean and Professor Duke bantering loudly, in between great mouthfuls of colourful canapes.

“Do you have your speech ready for the Toasts later, dear chap?” The Dean asks, looking slightly worried that his glass is almost empty.

“I think I absolutely do!” replies the Professor. “I have it, right here.” He reaches into the jacket of his immaculate white suit and pulls out a veritable manuscript of chaotic scribblings that even from here look to be rather scandalous.

“Ho ho, I imagine that will be some rip-roaring entertainment, old bean!” The Dean laughs, playfully jostling the Professor with such enthusiasm that his hat wobbles alarmingly.

“Yes, that’s right” says the Professor, regaining his balance and placing a steadying hand to his hat. “I have been sure to include some of my great adventurous tales and a few ripping lines. I hope they won’t be too spicy for everyone.”

“Oh, I remember when we inducted dear old Doctor T,” The Dean continues. “By the time we got around to the speeches, the best he could muster was a ribald sing-song about a fish monger and his rather accommodating daughter. Went down a treat, I tell you. Rather like the fish monger’s daughter, apparently.”

“Will there be any musical accompaniment to your speech, Professor?” I say quickly, hoping to steer the conversation away from this rather unsavoury-sounding young woman.

“Well, you know, Deputy Head Porter, I have engaged the talents of the young organ scholar to tinkle out a tune or two for later on,” he replies, very pleased with himself. “I thought he could strike up just after I make the announcement about the Grail.”

“Aha! Great plan, Professor!” exclaims The Dean. “I like the theatrics of it all. And you know, I have every intention of joining you in France. I have the very talents that might be useful when one is questing, certainly.”

“Goodly good, I say!” the Professor replies. “I had rather hoped you might join us. I say us, as Deputy Head Porter is obviously coming along too, you know.”

“What?” Head Porter splutters, fizzy drink urgently exiting his nose.

“Bloody good idea!” says The Dean.

“Of course she’s coming,” the Professor continues. “I mean, we need someone to make the tea, don’t we? Plus, she’s more useful than even that.”

“But… but… who is going to help me in the Lodge?” Head Porter sounds quite hurt. I think perhaps he might have fancied a trip to France.

“Oh, pah and nonsense!” The Dean replies. “You’ve got Porter. You can ask one of the night men to pop in or some such thing. She will only be gone for a couple of days, man, do be a chap about it, what?”

Head Porter, emboldened by copious amounts of fizzy drink, looks for a moment as if he might protest. But before he can get his words out, the great stentorian peal of the dinner gong rings throughout the Gallery.

“Excellent!” says the Professor. “It must be time for the feast.”

But as we turn towards the door, we see that it is not one of the waiting staff brandishing the gong’s striker. Standing aloof in the doorway is none other than The Bursar. The Dean utters a collection of words that I have never heard before but am sure must be rather offensive.

“I don’t like the look of this,” mumbles Head Porter.

“Ladies and, indeed, gentlemen,” announces The Bursar, hair hanging rakishly across his face so as to obscure his expression. “The feast is almost upon us. But, before we take our seats in celebration of our newest companion, I should like to offer my own humble tribute to the esteemed Professor VJ Duke.”

The Professor appears incandescent, his top hat quivering with rage. Our host, The Master, steps from the throng of curious Fellows to engage The Bursar.

“This is most unusual, Bursar,” he says. “It would be more proper to hold your testimonial until the Toasts, as is our custom.”

“Master, under ordinary circumstances I would agree,” The Bursar replies, an edge to his voice like molten steel. “But I hope to bring lively discussion to the dining table, a thing so delicious that the food itself may weep with regret.” What sort of a phrase is that, for goodness sake?!

“I say what a bummer you are, the sudden, Mr. Bursar!” cries the Professor. “You’re keeping us from the feast. Or, more correctly, MY feast! Away with him until the Toasts!”

There is a rumbling of support amongst the gathered Fellowship. No academic likes to be kept from their meal and The Bursar should surely know this.

“I have a proposal for Professor Duke,” The Bursar continues, unabashed. “An unequivocal means of assuring his place in the College Chronicles and a manner by which he might prove his intellectual superiority to those lesser persons who mingle uninvited among the academic elite.”

I’m not sure I like where this is going…

“Well, what do you propose, Bursar?” asks The Master, testily.

“A great undertaking!” says The Bursar. “I would ask the Professor to join me in the climax of my research and share the glory of uncovering, finally, the ultimate resting place of… The Holy Grail!”



With Professor VJ Duke