Sitting somewhere near the back of the Old College Chapel with only the merest hint of a hangover, I shuffle uncomfortably in my unfamiliar attire of a modest dress and pinching heels. At the head of the aisle stands Porter, fussing with the cuffs and hem of his morning suit, every inch the nervous groom. Although always smartly dressed in his Porter’s suit, in his tails and waistcoat he is quite a sight to behold. His greying thatch of fuzz atop his head has been tamed into a neat side parting and some effort has been made to discipline his unruly moustache, which appears to be fighting back against a thick layer of styling oil.
I am joined on the groom’s side of the Chapel by an effusive Professor Duke, evidently in high spirits and unabashed by our late night carousing the previous evening. Obviously more sensitive than he seems, the Professor has sensed my concern at the disappearance of my beloved Terry and has sought to comfort me by talking non-stop about anything and everything in order to keep my mind from it. In fact, there was even an exultant moment during last night’s proceedings where I became absolutely convinced of his imminent return, probably with a clutch of small furry creatures to be presented to me as gifts. I have no choice but to remain positive – the Professor makes any other mindset beyond impossible. Besides, he is quite the vision in his dashing white suit and top hat and the continual tap-tapping of his silver-topped walking cane is something of a jovial melody.
Not wearing quite so well is Head Porter. He is sat awkwardly next to me, looking sheepishly at the floor and nursing a badly sprained ankle. For someone whose relationship with alcohol is so fleeting, he is surprisingly enthusiastic when such occasions present themselves. This invariably leads to ill-advised acrobatic behaviour, followed swiftly and decisively by a plethora of injuries about his person. As impressive as last night’s hip-thrusting, high-kicking tabletop dance routine was at the time, it has left him rather disadvantaged this morning.
Across the other side of the Chapel sits the bride’s party. A fair number of them are very obviously Detective Sergeant Kirby’s esteemed colleagues and they look even more uncomfortable in formal wear than I do. Apart from one chap, of course – the suave figure of Detective Chief Inspector Thompson reclines elegantly in the furthest pew, looking effortlessly dapper in an immaculate three-piece. I doubt the man ever breaks a sweat at all, you know. Right at the front is a lady I take to be the mother of the bride – a tiny woman with an enormous fuchsia hat and quite frankly the filthiest laugh I have ever heard in my life. She appears to be directing ribald comments towards her future son-in-law, possibly in an attempt to ease his nerves. It does not appear to be having the desired effect.
“I’ve got a question: Deputy Head Porter, where’s The Dean?” Professor Duke whispers into my ear.
“Good point,” I reply. “I haven’t seen him this morning. He said he would definitely be here.”
“He’d better come as greased lightning, or he’ll miss things, I fear.”
The Professor is right. Proceedings are certainly gathering pace as the young Organ Scholar flits between the Organ Loft and the assembled Choir, issuing instruction and advice in a manner that is becoming ever more urgent. He seems something of a quiet chap, the Organ Scholar, until you get to know him a little. He has musical knowledge and ability that goes beyond being simply gifted and skirts around the edges of genius. Unusually for one of such staggering aptitude, he is quite the most down-to-earth young chap I have come across at College and has launched a fledgling career as a DJ to supplement his meager student income. He also manages to pull off the rather effeminate traditional red robes of his role very nicely.
“I think I need another paracetamol,” Head Porter grumbles.
“You just sit where you are!” I reply “They’re going to start in a minute.”
A great clattering, accompanied by a colourful selection of salty expressions, announces the probable arrival of The Dean. As the whole of the Chapel swivels collectively in their seats, my suspicions are confirmed. He has apparently tripped on his way in, sending hymn books and sundries flying in every direction. He glares at the stricken objects briefly, before striding over to join us.
“It’s these buggering shoes!” he exclaims, before any of us can say a word. “You see, in recognition of this most auspicious event, I have decided to side very much with tradition. These shoes aren’t even mine!”
“There’s a tradition about wearing other people’s shoes at weddings?” asks Professor Duke.
“They’re borrowed, old boy, borrowed!” The Dean replies, jabbing a finger at them to further make his point. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. See, this tie is old, I’ve had it for simply yonks.” It rather looks like it, too, I am afraid to say. “My undergarments are completely new, but I shan’t show you them here on consecrated ground, of course.”
“Oh, quite right, please don’t.” the Professor retorts, sarcastically. “Save it for the speeches. It’ll make them that much better.”
“Well, if you say so, old bean, whatever you like. Anyway. The shoes are borrowed from Head Of Maintenance, would you believe. His feet are perversely large, you know. And, of course, my trousers are blue.”
I am not sure whether The Dean does not attend many weddings, or he simply believes that he is to be the centre of attention whatever the occasion. Either way, he has made a cracking effort at being a bride.
Not quite as much of an effort as the actual bride, of course. Before we can comment further upon The Dean’s outfit, the opening chords of the Wedding March strike up and the soon-to-be Mrs Porter appears like a vision at the Chapel doors. Beaming from ear to ear, her obvious delight radiates from the pinkness of her cheeks to the sparkly tips of her princess shoes, bathing the assembled congregation in a joyful glow as she passes by.
Decidedly unromantic at the best of times, I often find occasions such as this feed into my ever-growing cynicism at the human race. But looking into the faces of my dear Porter and his exquisite bride, the two of them brimming over with happiness and love, it is all I can do to wrestle back a tear or two and hope that the lump in my throat clears in time for the first hymn.