Month: June 2015

The Curator’s Puzzle

It turns out that the fey young fellow I inadvertently assaulted is in fact the nineteen year old son of the elusive Curator (now, how’s that for a stroke of luck, eh?) I had taken him to be much younger than his years on account of his delicate appearance. His pale pointed chin is doubtful to have seen a razor and he has wrists a sparrow could peck in two. His name is Pascal and I am becoming rather fond of the little chap.

His nervous disposition is not helped by the presence of The Dean, who for some reason causes the lad to shudder every time he opens his mouth. I must have grown so accustomed to my colleague’s brusque manner that I no longer notice his terrifying tones.

Pascal is leading us through the Chateau, although he has not quite explained to where we are headed. He has, however, been telling us all about his curious father – a chap of whom he seems to be a little afraid. Then again, I get the feeling that Pascal is a little afraid of almost everyone.

It seems that the Curator shies from regular public appearances on account of some kind of deformity which was the result of terrible injuries he sustained during his military career. Pascal mentions an eye patch but is vague about what other physical abnormalities there might be. Professor Duke is quite taken with this and passes the remark that the Curator sounds very much like a pirate.

“Oh, but you must not tell him that he looks like a pirate!” squeals Pascal, horrified. “He will not like that at all.”

“How about a viking?” suggests the Professor. “Vikings are even better than pirates, since they ride in the longest boats.”

“What? What do you say, VJ?” bellows The Dean, before poor Pascal has a chance to reply. “I am not so sure that you are correct. Pirates are feisty fellows, you know, with super hats. They say ‘Aaaahhhh’ a lot and I like that.”

“But vikings had better swords, you must admit,” the Professor retorts. “And, plus, they didn’t smell as bad, which is probably something close to a fact.”

“This is an interesting and useful conversation,” I say, not meaning a word of it. “But I think perhaps that Pascal’s father should be afforded a little more respect, especially if we want him to show us the dungeons.”

Papa will never show you the dungeons, never!” Pascal exclaims, somewhat disappointingly.

“Then why the buggery are we following you about?” The Dean asks, a little put out.

“Because… I want to help you.” Pascal looks about nervously and lowers his voice. “You are knights from England! I know of the legends… that one day, the Templar might return…”

“Oh, but we’re not…” The Dean is cut short by a swift foot in the shin from Professor Duke.

“Our mission is, of course, top-secret,” the Professor continues, winking knowingly at Pascal. “Which is why I can say no more than we appreciate your help very much. And I am a knight—of sorts!”

Pascal emits a small, excited sound and his eyes shine with delight. Quickening his pace, he beckons us onwards across a grand, flag-stoned hall and towards a small door at the far end.

“I think you may have deliberately mis-led our young friend, Professor” I whisper to my mischievous colleague.

“Maybe just a bit…” the Professor replies. “And I don’t want to be a petulant teenager anymore. Now I fancy being a knight.”

There is little to do but shrug and continue after Pascal. I suppose that The Dean and Professor Duke are rather knight-ly, in a way. They both have an unlikely style of dress and violent tendencies, at any rate.

We follow Pascal through the little door and down a dusty and somewhat neglected staircase. Once at the bottom, there are a few twists and turns along what seem to be seldom-used corridors before he finally brings us to rest in a dimly lit wood panelled room. The room is empty apart from an elderly door at the far end and some poorly hung paintings on one wall.

“What is this place?” asks The Dean, looking around and pulling a bit of a face.

“Through there is the way to the dungeons,” replies Pascal, pointing at the door. “I can take you no further! If Papa finds out…”

“Hush for a few and don’t worry,” Professor Duke says, soothingly. “We shall not breathe a word about any of it. In fact, I shall deny to my dying day that I ever met you. Alright?”

Monsieur, you are most kind. But now I think I will not be of much more help.”

“Have it your own way, lad” huffs The Dean “We shall find our way regardless.”

“Ah, but you misunderstand, Monsieur,” Pascal continues. “It is not through choice that I am no longer of help. The door is secured with a coded lock and, je suis désolé, I do not know the combination.”

The Dean sighs and I can see immediately that he is sizing up the door with the intention of breaking it down. He should be dissuaded from this, I feel.

“Do you know if your father ever wrote it down somewhere?” I ask. “Would he have it in an office or something like that?”

Pascal shakes his head.

“He would fear that someone would find it. But…” he is thoughtful for a moment. “But there might be a way of discovering it. You see, Papa was badly injured many years ago and it has greatly affected his memory. He leaves himself little clues to remind himself about certain things. I think perhaps this would be some such thing, non?”

A moment of quiet contemplation descends as the four of us inspect our surroundings in search of a clue of some kind.

“The only things in the room are those paintings,” Professor Duke points out, eyeing them with interest. “It must be to do with them!”



As we approach the paintings to get a closer look, the solution becomes obvious, even to my good self.

Once you see it, you cannot miss it, can you? I thought the Curator would have been exercised greater diligence, in all honesty.


With Professor VJ Duke

Porters & Knights

Without doubt, my biggest mistake in the early days of my Old College career was trying to apply my hard-earned real-world logic and thinking to the academic environment. It has taken me a long time to tuck away the intellections of Her Majesty’s Finest and finally wrestle my mind towards the Machiavellian and contrived thought processes that govern the internal workings of Old College.

In fact, you almost have to approach thinking as if you were a person who had never thought at all. It really is that random. Having considered this at some length, I can only conclude that the academics have heads so full of dusty nonsense that there is little room for much else. Porters have plenty of room inside their heads. That is what makes them such a wily and adaptable breed.

And this is precisely the thing that will be of help to us here in Chateau de Chinon. Having learned from the Antique Shop Owner that the Templar carvings in the cave resembled markings found in the dungeons of the Chateau, our next point of progress seems clear. It is gaining access to the buggers that could prove difficult.

“If the Curator and his staff are the only people who have access to the dungeons, there must be keys or a device that controls entry,” I say to my captive audience of The Dean and Professor Duke.

“That stands to reason,” replies The Dean.

“Do you suppose the Curator might give us a tour?” asks the Professor. “Especially if we asked nicely?”

“Maybe,” I reply. “But probably not. Judging by the young lady’s reaction to our mention of the dungeons I would suggest that it is a place they would rather keep to themselves.”

“So we need the keys, then” The Dean says, his feet shuffling against an urgent need to pace. “Well, I’m up for a scuffle as much as the next man but taking them from the Curator by force could land us on the wrong side of the Gendarmerie, you know.”

“I have heard,” continues the Professor “That those fellows don’t have a right side. Imagine going through life with no right side, too. Poor chaps.”

“For once, I don’t think violence is the answer,” I reply.

“If not violence, then what?” asks The Dean, genuinely perplexed.

“A place like this must have hundreds, maybe thousands, of locks,” I say. “And that means lots and lots of keys. They must be kept somewhere. The Chateau must have a sort of equivalent to our very own Porters’ Lodge. Keys can be difficult articles and they most definitely demand a place to be kept.”

“Wowawee, you’re right, Deputy Head Porter!” exclaims the Professor. “Genius! I imagine, though, it’d be hard to find the place where they’re kept, you know.”

“Hmm, my thoughts exactly,” I reply. And then, I say something that I feel cannot go unsaid. “But it is not a task that should be attempted on an empty stomach. Breakfast was ages ago, you know.”

We are able to obtain a delectable selection of crusty breads, meats and cheeses from the visitors’ canteen and set up a cheery little picnic in one of the courtyards. The afternoon air is fuddled by a warm breeze, skipping its way from the Vienne River and we watch happily as children explore the corners and crevices of the courtyard, no doubt imagining themselves as Knights of old. It is quite the perfect accompaniment to our lunch.

A watchful eye from a place unseen bears the dark sheen of a sadist’s delight. If truth is what they seek then let them find the truth. But truth is naught without eyes to see and ears to hear and air to breath. A helping hand to guide to truth is what I gift you now…

“You know, I’ve been thinking twice over,” announces Professor Duke, between mouthfuls of brie. Oh, this should be good. “With the crypt, the cave and now the dungeons, it strikes me that the Templar spent quite a lot of time underground.”

“Well, they were greatly persecuted, after a time,” The Dean remarks. “If you were accused of heresy and threatened with execution you would hardly be strutting about the landscape, would you.”

“Oh, I bet so,” the Professor retorts, defiantly. “I would strut about proudly, and then accuse them of heresy and threaten them with all sorts of evil things…”

I hop to my feet to shake off the inordinate amount of crumbs that have accumulated about my person. The saddest truth about crusty bread is that far too little of it finds its way into the mouth. As I am performing my little jig, I am startled by a hand snatching at the hem of my waistcoat.

“Hey!” I swipe it away rather too enthusiastically and find myself back-handing an unfortunate young man who now looks absolutely terrified.

Je suis désolé!” he wails, holding both hands to his stricken cheek.

“Oh.” I struggle to come up with much more, other than “Sorry about that.”

“Now what’s up here?!” Professor Duke leaps to my side and gives the young French gentleman a hard stare. “You can’t go about grabbing…people! It’s not appreciated, you beast!”

“Oh, he’s French,” says The Dean, waving a lump of cheese around dismissively. “It’s probably a sport to him.”

Looking down at my waistcoat, I suspect the thing he was so interested in was the College crest embroidered on one side. I look from the crest to the lad and the face he returns suggests that this is the case.

“You have a coat of arms?” the lad asks me in hesitant English. “You are Knights?”

“Of a sort, I suppose,” I reply kindly, not wishing to upset the chap further. He is clearly no threat to us. “We are on something of a quest. Following some other Knights who came before us, a long, long time ago.”

“Very famous Knights, no less!” says the Professor. “They were kept here in the dungeons, back when the Chateau was brand new. And, yes, I’m a knight of sorts.”

“Oh!” exclaims the French lad, suddenly seeming quite enthralled with us. “I know the Knights you mean. S’il vous plaît – you will follow me!”


With Professor VJ Duke


Family Ties

Entering the Chateau de Chinon puts me in the same mindset of awe-filled wonder that I felt when I first entered Old College. Although on a much larger, grander scale, the Chateau is a breathtaking example of architecture from a by-gone age. It seems that I am forever destined to wander such ancient places; it is as if my soul is called towards them.

The Dean harbours no such romantic notions. Although, romantic notions of another sort may well be on his mind. Standing in the grand stone entrance hall, dwarfed by dramatic tapestries and towering columns like watchful sentries, The Dean seems to lose none of his stature and presence even while the Professor and I appear diminished and shrunken.

“Now then, chaps, this is the plan,” says The Dean, hands firmly on hips to stop him from pacing about. “Considering the lack of immediately available disguises, I say we need a cover story. I have been thinking on it, for several minutes I might add, and this is the very best option.”

Professor Duke and I exchange nervous looks and ready ourselves for quite literally anything. The Dean continues, unabashed.

“You and I, Deputy Head Porter, are a well to-do couple from London and this is our errant, tear-away son… Dominic!” he indicates the Professor, who looks more than a little surprised. “We have brought Dominic here to educate him in various matters, but particularly those concerning crime and punishment, in an attempt to curtail his mischievous ways. That way, the buggers are sure to show us the dungeons where the Templar were held!”

There is a considered silence while we muse upon how quite to respond to this announcement. It’s not the first time The Dean and I have been a ‘couple’ and previous dalliances with this form of pretence did not end well.

“Sir, if I might point out,” I begin, carefully “That I believe the Professor is actually older than me… I think.” I apply some scrutiny to the Professor’s features. Actually, it is impossible to tell how old he might be. He just has one of those faces.

“Poppycock!” retorts The Dean. “The chap will be the perfect petulant teenager, won’t you old boy?”

“I must say: it’s all a wonder, mostly,” the Professor replies. “You know, here’s the thing: Perhaps we don’t need a cover story at all? See? Being a petulant teenager would be so vexing, I’m thinking.”

“Absolutely we need a cover story!” snaps The Dean. “We can’t just stroll in here, demanding the Holy Grail and stamping our feet!” Oh, really? Because from what I know of The Dean that was exactly what I thought we might do. “See here, if I say there is a cover story, then there is a cover story – understand? Now then, wife and child follow me directly.”

At a loss of anything better to do, we follow The Dean deeper into the Chateau. Chateau is such a romantic word. This place is more like an elegant fortress. Taking our new-found roles very seriously, The Dean and I begin to vigorously educate the fruit of our union on historical matters. The poor Professor is actually scolded on several occasions for breaking from character and appearing too interested in things.

Before too long, we are approached by one of the many tour guides who sweep silently through the Chateau, presumably searching for visitors to instruct. She is in fact most interesting and entertaining in her extensive knowledge of the place and we pass an hour or so quite pleasantly in her company. When mention of the Knights Templar is made, The Dean leaps to action, like an over-weight gazelle.

“Aha, how interesting that you should mention the Templar, madame,” says The Dean in his most charming manner. “You see here’s the thing, my… wife… yes, my wife is descended from one of the Templar families and family legend has it that one of her forefathers may very well have been held here!”

“Forefathers?” says the Professor, puzzled. “Does that mean I have four grandfathers, then? And that’s too many grandmothers.”

“Hush… Dominic!” hisses The Dean. The Professor shakes his head.

“Dadblameit to you!”

“Ignore my husband and son,” I say, trying to keep things from descending further into chaos. “They are quite mad, haha. But it’s true – do you think the Wastell family might have been held in the dungeons here?”

Our previously unflappable tour guide, until so recently filled with gallic charm and mirth, becomes somewhat flustered.

“Oh, well,” she stammers, her English suddenly stilted “The dungeons are not accessible to the visitors, no. You cannot go down there. Only the curator and his staff may enter the dungeons.”

Not a word is exchanged between us, but it is clear my husband and son are as vexed by her reaction as I am. Quite what part of this simple enquiry has perturbed her so greatly is difficult to say.

“We thank you for your time, madame,” The Dean says, a polite means of dismissing her for which she seems much relieved. “Well, that was an unusual thing, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yes—and you made it stranger, my man!” says Professor Duke. “Deputy Head Porter didn’t say a word about actually seeing the dungeons.”

“But at least we now know that the dungeons are still there,” I say. “And what’s more, they can be accessed.”

“Yes, but only by some blasted curator,” The Dean mutters darkly. “And his staff.” A brief pause. “I say we acquire the uniforms of the staff and…”

“No! No…” I feel the need to interrupt this current thought process.

Think, Deputy Head Porter – think!

“Sir, I believe this is something very much up my street. It is at such times like these that one needs to stop thinking ordinarily. Now is the time to think like a Porter.”


With Professor VJ Duke