Month: July 2015

An Unlikely Visitor

Terry, seemingly oblivious to the heartache he has caused, kindly tolerates my fussing and cooing before the boredom becomes intolerable and he hops from my arms to saunter around the Armingford Room as if he owns the place. Amongst the small chaos of the disarranged buffet, he finds a central spot and sets about meticulously cleaning his rear end, leg thrust resolutely into the air.

I feel a twinge of shame that my small fellow is making such a spectacle of himself, especially as it was his pursuit of The Master’s Cat that caused such disarray in the first place. The boys and girls of the thin blue line seem to be taking the messy mishap in their stride and with good humour, as one might reasonably expect. Some of the lower ranks of The Fellowship look horrified at the culinary casualties splattered about, but Head Of Catering has sent in his very best chaps to rectify matters. Luckily, the bride and groom are finding the whole thing uproariously funny. DS Kirby, in particular, is enjoying herself immensely. With her head thrown back and mouth wide and laughing, her sleek dark bob bouncing with delight, I cannot help but think that she is quite the most beautiful woman when she is happy. Porter, too, seems to have acquired a subtle sheen of spruce, afforded to him through the love and joy in his life. I think perhaps that all people are at their very best when they are truly happy.

Professor Duke and I are people-watching. We have found ourselves a perch at the far end of the room which offers both comfort and a great view. With ample supplies of the slightly squashed offerings from the wedding buffet, we are settled in for an enjoyable evening. For the last half an hour, we have been observing a slightly tipsy Head Porter working his magic on a clutch of female friends of the bride.

“Now, an interest, the sudden,” says the Professor, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “Head Porter is a totally different animal, when with the ladies! Look, they seem to hang on his every word. He seems to have a way with women. Why do you suppose he’s been on his own for some time?”

“Well, he is quite a difficult character, as you know” I reply. “And a bit self-centered. He doesn’t do it on purpose, I don’t think, but he isn’t particularly great at thinking about other people.” I pause and have a little think. “He is definitely getting better, though.”

“And then there’s The Dean, don’t you know,” continues the Professor. “I have known him for a long time. He had quite a wild romantic past, you know…”

“Really?” I am quite taken aback at this, to be honest.

“Oh, yes and absolutely! Some very…excitable ladies. And ladies of all types and sizes.

“That surprises me, in fact. He always seems so… indifferent towards things of that nature.”

“Ah, well, there is a reason for that,” Professor Duke licks his lips and moves closer so that he might lower his voice. “You see, that The Dean had his heart broken horribly and viciously by one woman in particular…”

The Professor trails off as he realises that I am staring in shocked fascination at a slight yet menacing figure gliding ominously towards us.

“I say!” gasps the Professor. “Is that..?!”

“It is indeed,” I reply, more than a little nervously. “Junior Bursar!* What the devil is he doing here?”

“Well, we have to ask him at once!” the Professor exclaims, leaping to his feet and straightening his jacket. “Let’s attack!”

Junior Bursar seems quite pleased to see us, on the surface at least. Displaying the well-practiced visage of absent-minded bumbling that masks his understated threat, his face lights up as he greets us, conveniently forgetting the last time we saw each other.

“Well, Deputy Head Porter!” cries Junior Bursar, apparently oblivious to my shock and, it has to be said, slight fear. “How lovely to see you! And isn’t it a surprise to see you in a dress. What a wonder.”

“All in honour of Porter’s wedding, of course” I reply, my voice barely wavering. I bet he can smell my fear, though. He practically thrives on it.

“Oh, so this is what this is?” Junior Bursar replies, although I doubt be could be confused about the matter. “I did wonder what the fuss was all about.”

“Well,” says the Professor, “some might think it’s obviously a wedding, since there’s a bride and groom and a cake.  Those three are never together otherwise.”

Junior Bursar continues, “I thought, perhaps, it had something to do with the Holy Grail being discovered in an ancient monastery beneath Apple Tree Court.” There is an icy pause as he fixes me with that all-too-familiar gaze that takes a firm hold of your soul by the very scruff its neck. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“We might know a bit more than you, can you believe,” says the Professor. “For instance, did you know that it isn’t the real Holy Grail?”

“Well, of course I know that, dear boy!”

“But how could you possibly know that?” I ask.

“Because I have the real Grail. Right here, in fact.”

*Old College used to have two Bursars, not so very long ago. A Junior Bursar and a Senior Bursar. Junior Bursar electrocuted his senior colleague then had several attempts at killing off myself and Head Porter, before fleeing to Tuscany after his final attempt to throw me off the Flag Tower proved fruitless. It was decided, after that, that one Bursar was more than enough for any College.

With Professor VJ Duke

In My Own Words…

… Or, at least, Joe Whitwell’s interpretation of them! Read what happened when I met up with the quirky interviewer one sunny morning in Cambridge…

And an earlier interview, which I did when I was still a real Deputy Head Porter… oops!

Buffets & Philosophy

“Deputy Head Porter, are you actually crying?

The Dean looks at me, bemused, as we make our way from the Chapel and towards the buffet currently being laid out in the Armingford Room.

“No, Sir,” I reply. This might be a lie. “I’ve got confetti in my eye, that’s all.” I am indeed adorned with a light sprinkling of capricious confetti from the slipstream of the bride and groom.

“I might cry if we don’t get to that dadblame buffet quick-smart,” says Professor Duke, striding along with hands thrust in his pockets. “This Professor is probably hungrier than a few termites.”

He is not the only one. The wedding service was beautiful yet rather lengthy, in my opinion. I imagine these things are a lot more fun if one is actually taking part, but sat at the back with little to do but wait for the next sing-song it is dreadfully tiresome. And even when it came to the singing, the Choir cantillated at such a volume as to drown out the humble warblings of the assembly that it hardly seemed worth the effort. Still, Porter and DS Kirby appear to be enraptured with the whole affair and that, surely, is all that matters.

The enthusiasm that The Fellowship have for a decent buffet is well-documented, but their zeal for a good feed pales in comparison to that of Her Majesty’s Constabulary. Currently the two factions are heading towards their target with grim determination, whilst at the same time trying to give the impression of polite nonchalance. Even though I have every confidence that Head Of Catering will have produced sufficient victuals to sink a battleship, I suddenly feel the need to quicken my step in case all the best bits get snaffled up at once.

“Porter looks so happy, don’t you think?” I say to my companions as we exit Old Court.

“He certainly does!” replies The Dean. “It was quite a touching sight all round, actually. Almost makes one want to take the plunge ones self, what do you say, Deputy Head Porter?”

I am not sure if this is a question or an actual offer. I had better play it safe.

“I’m not sure I’m the marrying kind, Sir.”

“I was married once,” Head Porter joins in, wistfully. “It was a terrible, terrible thing.”

“Oh?” The Dean says. “Perhaps you married the wrong woman.”

“Oh no, it wasn’t that,” he replies, a little sadly. “More like she married the wrong man.”

“Listen, you piece of old fruit, here’s the thing: When you fall off, you get back up, and start over again. Just like the song!” The Professor slaps his back by way of encouragement. “The right lady is out there… Consider it like a search and destroy mission. You just have to find her is all.” Search and… destroy? I dread to think on the romantic life of Professor Duke.

“Actually, weddings are supposed to be good places for romance,” I suggest, helpfully. “Everybody is already in the mood, you see.”

Our flirtations with philosophies of the affairs of the heart takes us all the way to the Armingford Room, where matrimonial merrymaking is already picking up quite a pace. Porter and his beaming new wife have taken their places at the top table, surrounded by their nearest and dearest. I notice that Porter has only one discernible family member at his side; a round, noisy little gentleman with a fuzzy goatee beard. If I were a gambling woman I would bet on him being his brother, but whoever he might be he has clearly wasted no time in sampling the complimentary champagne.

The scene at the buffet is something akin to a well-mannered scrum. It is difficult to tell which set of guests has the upper hand; although one might expect the Police to be more experienced in subtle acts of violence, one cannot discount the effectiveness of a determined academic elbow when a meal is involved. The only guest not currently engaged in combat is the exceptional DCI Thompson, who has wisely dispatched an underling to retrieve his supplies while he reclines with a glass of champagne, idly watching the string quartet who serenade us from the balcony above.

“I say, that chap over there has the right idea,” says The Dean, nodding towards the dashing Detective Chief Inspector. “Listen, you Porters need to go and fetch me some food at once!”

Head Porter and I return looks that could strip paint.

“I don’t think we actually count as being Porters if we haven’t got our hats on,” Head Porter replies, bluntly.  “Besides, you are a fussy bugger and you’ll only moan if we get you the wrong thing.”

“I am not fussy!” retorts The Dean, his cheeks flushed. “I just don’t eat things that are green. Or look like a leaf.”

Before we have a chance to argue further, a sound like a thousand demons escaping Hell suddenly rips through the room. A sound that could only be caused by one thing; a thing that would soon chase off a thousand demons and eat a thousand more for breakfast.

The Master’s Cat.

“Oh, look who it is!” says the Professor, grinning. “It’s my old buddy!”

Watched by the startled gathering of wedding guests, the malevolent mass of fur and claw streaks past, ears flattened against his head and spitting wildly. Something has certainly upset him quite drastically, I have never seen the vicious beast quite so disturbed. He hurtles headlong into the buffet sending carefully crafted delicacies in all directions.

“What the bloody hell is that?” cries an off-duty copper, half way through a pork pie.

“Someone grab the bugger!” another suggests.

“I’m not bloody well going near that thing…”

Looking around desperately, keen to discover what horror has terrified The Master’s Cat, it is not long before the cause of the consternation becomes clear. The Master’s Cat is certainly Terry-fied.

Sauntering into the Armingford Room, tail swishing with delight and whiskers twitching cheerfully is none other than my errant feline companion, Terry. Goodness only knows what he has done to The Master’s Cat, well-known as being quite the most disagreeable creature in the whole of The City, but the mere sight of my fur-baby entering the room is enough to send him leaping out of the window, worryingly close to the the River beyond. A damp-sounding screech is inconclusive as to his fate, I am afraid.

“Terry!” I exclaim, absolutely delighted to see my little friend again. “Where have you been? Naughty boy!”

He is my absolutely favourite surprise guest at this wedding,

But he is not the only surprise guest. Oh no indeed…

Gratuitous picture of Terry

With Professor VJ Duke