Month: November 2015

Facing The Music

Organ Scholar looks like a man on his way to the gallows as he approaches his lectern and picks up his baton. The weight of the world upon his shoulders, he lifts his hands and we wait expectantly to sample the harmonic delights of quite possibly the most beautiful Choir in The City.

I wished we could have waited somewhat longer.

The noise that comes forth is very difficult to describe and the best I can do is to compare it to the sound Terry makes when the vet takes his temperature. Professor Duke winces visibly and The Dean claps his hands over his ears, aghast. I am struggling to make sense of what my ears are telling me.

“What key do you suppose that is they’re singing?” I ask, turning to the Professor.  His eyebrows knot together in concentration.

“I fear they’ve invented a brand new one,” he says. “Which is rather creative, but rash. I’d say that was an H Flat. But they look better than an H flat, for sure.”

The Dean snorts.

“They look damned ridiculous,” he says shaking his head. “Stood there, grinning like morons, making a sound even my bowels would be ashamed of. What kind of fresh hell is this?!”

“The Master’s Wife seems quite happy with it,” I say. She watches on, enraptured by something obviously inaudible to the rest of us, beaming proudly. She seems completely lost in the performance, her eyes moist with emotion and her foot tapping woefully out of time. The Dean laughs unapologetically.

“The woman must be tone bloody deaf!”

“She must be a bit deaf, now that you mention it,” says the Professor, fidgeting with his hat. “I might have to cut my ears off if we don’t scram.”

“Quite right!” nods The Dean. “Come on, let’s bugger off.”

“I feel a bit bad about Organ Scholar,” I say. “Shouldn’t we try and… save him or something?”

Professor Duke places his hand solemnly on my shoulder.

“There’s naught we can do for the fellow. We must save my ears first.”

The three of us nip smartly out of the Chapel during a particularly distracting chorus and make it back to the Porters’ Lodge unseen. Quite how The Master’s Wife will feel about Professor Duke abandoning their date so readily is hardly worth thinking about, but we decide that some suitable excuse can surely be conjured up with the benefit of a little thinking time.

“I shall tell her that I found the whole thing so overwhelming that I had to leave immediately,” muses the Professor, swigging merrily from a large mug of finest Earl Grey. “I didn’t want her to see me weep with amazement, see. Because I don’t weep, of course. And the funny thing is, if I’d have stayed much longer, I would have weeped! And weeped bad.”

“No, no, no – that’s precisely the last thing I want you to say to her,” barks The Dean. “If you tell her that, the bloody woman will only be encouraged. No. We must put a stop to this and you, my friend, are the fellow to do it. She will listen to you.”

“But…but…but…dadblameit!” the Professor retorts. “The woman is  clearly deaf, insane and she speaks weird. But I can’t speak to her, see, she’s deaf—she can’t listen.”

“Then you must make her listen!” The Dean sighs and begins to pace. “This little vanity project of hers is going to make us the laughing stock of The City. I mean, who ever heard of a Choir that couldn’t sing?”

“Listen,” I say. “Right now I have no idea how we can possibly get through to her. But maybe we can get through to the Choir? I mean – they must have some idea how dreadful they are.”

“This is such a ghastly business, overall,” says the Professor. “And let’s worry more about finding the old choir. Yes, that’s an idea.”

The door to the Porters’ Lodge slams.

Standing before us is Head Porter wearing a bewildered expression and what looks like half a spaghetti bolognaise.

“First things first,” I say “We find out what’s happened to Head Porter.”

All This Useless Beauty

Evening gallops across the chilled City skyline as the sun surrenders its grip upon the world. I swing idly in my chair in the Porters’ Lodge, gazing out across the courtyard at the Bridge and the to-ings and fro-ings thereon. It is not a particularly beautiful bridge but it has served its purpose unrivalled for the best part of four hundred years. That is beautiful in itself, I think; centuries of unwavering dependability embellishing the mundanity of wood and iron.

Time is often thought of as the thief of beauty but that view is short-sighted. The outer façade of that which is ravaged and crumbled by time is only the superficial covering of the real beauty of what a thing is. The meaning and enduring presence of a thing is where its true beauty lies. So why do we travel so reluctantly along the passage of time, resisting with every step? Would it not be better to trust in nature to reveal what is really there? Someone should tell The Master’s Wife.

“Deputy Head Porter! What are you doing?”

Oh dear. It’s The Dean. And he is smiling. A worry.

“Good evening, Sir.”

“You’re still here?”

“It would seem that way, Sir, yes.” I decide not to mention my intention to join Professor Duke at the Choir rehearsal this evening. “Porter left early and Head Porter is… busy.”

We both glance over to Head Porter’s office, where the man himself is tapping away intently on his laptop, what appears to be the occasional giggle escaping his lips. The Dean looks curious for a moment, before returning his attentions to me.

“Now, then…” The Dean perches on the edge of my desk, managing to loom ominously when I believe his intended motive was casual camaraderie. “Have you heard that Professor Duke is personally invited to attend the Choir rehearsal this evening?”

I place a searching look on my face to try to buy myself a little time, unsure of the wisdom of disclosing my involvement with such a thing. Luckily, The Dean is too impatient to wait for a reply.

“Well, he is. By The Master’s Wife, no less.” He pauses to lick his lips and no doubt gauge my reaction. “It concerns me, Deputy Head Porter.”

The thud of wood on wood diverts our attention and we both look round to see Head Porter jauntily exiting his office.


“Hello, Head Porter” The Dean replies. “You’re in a fine mood, I see.”

“That I am, Sir.”

“Well, I’d make the most of it if I were you. I have decided that you two are going to accompany me this evening whether you like it or not…”

“Can’t this evening, I’m afraid,” says Head Porter, with unusual conviction. “Tonight I have a hot date. The digital marketing campaign of my good self is reaping rewards left, right and centre. Love is out there and I intend to hunt it down like a wild, passionate dog.”

A vague look of disgust crosses The Dean’s face. I swallow hard with shock and taste a little bit of sick. There is a moment of awkward silence.

“If that’s the way you feel I suggest you take it outside of College walls,” The Dean barks. “We can do without that sort of thing, thank you very much. Deputy Head Porter, I expect you have no such plans. Come with me.”

Despite his previous protests of keeping out of College shenanigans, The Dean declares that we are going to the Chapel. Something unsavoury is afoot, he says, and we simply cannot let it pass unchallenged. We. I don’t pick him up on that. Whatever he is planning, it seems apparent that it is going to involve the assistance of the Porters’ Lodge. Quite right, too.

Arriving at the Chapel, we find Professor Duke cornered by a frisky-looking Master’s Wife, a rictus grin plastered across an otherwise panic-stricken expression. The Choir are gathered in their proper place – robes regally gleaming – waiting for Organ Scholar to arrange himself and the music. The Professor notices our arrival and his look of relief is almost comical. He begins to wave wildly in our direction.

“Well looky! Great to see you all have arrived, at precisely this moment!” The Professor artfully disengages himself from The Master’s Wife and strides over to us rather too quickly to be polite. He drops his voice to a whisper. “What’s up?”

“There’s something unpalatable about this whole situation,” The Dean replies in hushed tones. “I know what The Master said. But I find doing as I am told very difficult.”

“Me too” I add. Well, it’s true.

The Professor nods in agreement.

“You are quite right, overall. Though, you can be wrong sometimes. This choir needs to be inspected, see. They are looking awesome.”

Undeniably, the Choir does indeed look outstanding. The sumptuous outfits are draped gloriously upon some of the most beautiful people I have ever seen in my life. The young ladies have tumbling waves of glistening hair framing elfin features, atop frames of nubile willowy elegance. Their male counterparts are tall and chisel-jawed, broad of shoulder and brooding.

Yes, but what do they sound like?

Charm Offensive

The Master’s Wife seems enthralled in a fit of pique, although her tightly wound features do not allow it to show upon her face. As I enter the fray, I am caught in the crossfire of two furious pinpricks of quivering rage peeking out from behind the plastic façade.

“Is everything alright?” A stupid question, but I don’t really know how else to begin.

“What? What?” squeals The Master’s Wife. “What sort of thing is that to ask me, young man?”

“Well, I was simply wondering… hang on a minute – ‘young man’?”

“Deputy Head Porter is a woman, ma’am,” says Head Porter, helpfully. Perhaps his knowledge of the fairer sex is more comprehensive than I gave him credit for.

The Master’s Wife is stunned into silence, but sadly only for the briefest of moments.

“Oh, rearrrrly?” her perfect forehead refuses to crinkle in puzzlement. “In that case I should advise you to push your chest out a little more, daarrrrlink. You rearrrly aren’t doing yourself any favours, you know.”

“Yes, go on, Deputy Head Porter,” says Porter, stifling a chuckle. “Make the effort.”

“Your input is as valuable as ever, Porter” I reply, quizzaciously*. “Look, will someone please just explain what the problem is.”

“It would seem that something unfortunate has happened to the new choral robes,” Head Porter explains, panic clearly evident in his eyes. His voice is shaking a little. “Which we know nothing about, obviously.”

“My gorgeous new robes!” The Master’s Wife wails. “They have been mercilessly soiled overnight. A frightful fate for anything of fancy, I’m sure you will agree.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” I huff.

“No, no, I can’t imaaaagine you know much of things of fancy,” she concedes, rather too sincerely for my liking. “Now, I shall tell you what I intend. That one of you servant-types take them to the drycleaners at once – and not that tatty place on Rosemary Crescent either, it smells so foreign in there – the robes must be immaculate for the dress rehearsal tomorrow night, do you hear?”

“Do my ears deceive me, a dress rehearsal?” Professor Duke has appeared at my elbow, gliding into the conversation as silkily as butter off a hot knife. “I must say, my dear lady, that sounds sorta grand!”

I shoot a questioning look at the Professor, whose sudden gush of charm is notably uncharacteristic. He returns a knowing wink, before turning his mega-watt smile back towards The Master’s Wife.  Her face might be incapable of natural expression, but this is clearly not an affliction shared by Professor Duke. He arranges his features to display a dashing visage, dripping with charisma.

“Now, here’s the thing: your singers must look quite awesome when they do the singing,” the Professor’s voice is like molten honey and seems to be melting the icy barricades of our furious visitor. “So, I understand your concern about the robes and whatnot. You know, just by looking at you, this professor can see that you are a lady of lots of…musical…coolness. Forgive me for being so forward (or backward), but little would delight me more than to see you and your protégés in action.”

A perfect smile breaks across the face of The Master’s Wife and I swear I detect a slight weakening of her slender knees. She flicks a flaxen curl from her shoulder and giggles only very slightly.

“Well, Professor, if you rearrrly are so very interested, you must join us in the Chapel after Evensong tomorrow and my boys and gels will delight you with their vocal range.”

“Capital, I say!” the Professor replies, a clap of his hands accentuating his enthusiasm. “I shall see you then. It’s a date of greatness! Now, if you will excuse me, I have some important lecturing to attend to.”

“I don’t recall you telling me upon what you lecture,” purrs The Master’s Wife, suddenly very interested.

“Well, you know, it really depends on the hour,” says Professor Duke, waving a hand dismissively. “Whatever comes to mind, really. In the meantime, I have no doubt that our lovely Deputy Head Porter will make sure the robes are cleaned up somewhat and all spicy for the rehearsal. Right, DHP?”

I nod and smile, fearing that if I open my mouth something unpleasant might spring forth. The Professor winks at me again before sauntering off towards the cloisters, whistling an unlikely tune. Good work, on his part. The Master’s Wife is onside and we get a ringside seat at the Choir rehearsal tomorrow night. If he was this charming more often he would be rather dangerous.


*Supposedly the least-used word in the English language. I say ‘supposedly’ as I don’t really know, I just read about it on the internet.