It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t sleep particularly well last night and am hence back at Old College at the very crack of dawn on the morning after the strange evening in the Chapel.
The day starts with an unseasonal warmth to the air and I decide to park at the rear of College to take the scenic route to the Porters’ Lodge; a meandering stroll alongside the River. The towpath is carpeted in a blazing swath of fallen foliage, which is sadly too damp to illicit the simple pleasure of scuffing and stamping. Actually, it is rather dicey under foot and I am persuaded to take a more leisurely pace than I would normally employ. This brings its own benefits, however, as it enables me to enjoy the scatterings of dew-laden spider webs, draped liked bejewelled gossamer upon the thinning shrubbery as it reluctantly surrenders its leaves to Mother Nature.
A moist haze gathers about me as I make my way beside the River and I feel that I could almost be in the middle of nowhere, until I spy a familiar figure making a jaunty approach towards me.
“Many greetings, Deputy Head Porter!”
“Good morning, Professor!” I reply. “You’re up early.”
“Oh not at all, see,” replies Professor Duke. “In fact, I am up very late. I haven’t been to bed at all so it’s still yesterday as far as I am concerned. It’s a wonder.”
“Oh, I see. What have you been doing all night?”
The Professor does not reply, but smiles and taps the side of his nose. It’s probably better not to know, I am thinking.
“But I’m on my way to see Mr. Dean,” the Professor says, adjusting his top hat.
“Is that hat still giving you bother?” I ask.
“It is!” he replies. “I think it’s cursed. Always itching; always vexing. In fact, I bet it has microscopic worms. But there is no time for that now. I shall drop around to the Lodge directly after my meeting. And if you are going for breakfast I should advise you to avoid the sausages. They are so horrid, you wouldn’t believe it. I should know – I ate at least five to be sure. Yucketh.”
This is useful information. The last time I ate a dodgy sausage it tried to kill me from the inside out*. I make a mental note of this and bid my unusual friend adieu for now.
As I reach the Lodge, the resplendent Night Porter is just leaving. How a chap can appear so dapper after being up all night never fails to astonish me. I should ask him what his secret is.
“Morning, ma’am,” Night Porter’s dulcet tones are as charming as ever. “I’d tip-toe in there if I was you. Our brave and fearless leader is having a little snooze.”
“Head Porter is in already?”
“He’s been in there all night. Tucked away in his office with the laptop. He has barely said a word to me all night. Whatever he’s been up to, it must be very important.”
I thank Night Porter for his advice, everyone is full of such wisdom this morning! and quietly make my way towards Head Porter’s office. I find him slumped across his desk, snoring loudly and dribbling with enthusiasm. He seems so peaceful that I decide to leave him and fetch us both the one thing that no morning should be without – a fabulous cup of tea.
When he finally stirs, Head Porter seems both confused and a little embarrassed to see me. I feel I must be kind to the poor fellow as he looks even worse than I do. Besides, I want to find out what he has been up to. A couple of inklings pitter-patter at the back of my mind but I want to be sure. It takes me several cups of tea and half a packet of hobnobs, but I get to the bottom of it in the end.
Finally, Head Porter beckons me into his office and indicates that I should close the door. He briefly pokes at his laptop before swinging it round for me to see. Aha. Before me I have what can only be described as a chaotic profile on an online dating website. The most prominent feature on the screen is a black and white portrait shot of a heavily airbrushed Head Porter, wearing silver rimmed sunglasses. Is that even his actual hair?
“I’ve decided to widen my net, Deputy Head Porter!” he says cheerfully as I eye him sceptically over the screen. “I’ve set up my stall on the global market. No doubt there are ladies far and wide who would want to sample my wares. What do you think?”
Well. Where to start?
“The photo is… accomplished,” I reply, tactfully. He seems encouraged. I look closer and read some of his profile. Oh. Lord.
“Head Porter – what is this?” I point out the offending passage on the screen. He squints at it, before smiling broadly. He is proud of this, I sense.
“They’re lyrics from a song! Music is romantic, you know.”
“Okay.” I clear my throat and read aloud the romantic missive Head Porter has deemed perfect for wooing ladies. “ ‘You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals / Let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel’** “
“Yeah” Head Porter nods slowly and looks ridiculously chuffed. “I’m edgy.”
Before I can launch into a passionate tirade of all the many kinds of wrong that are happening on this screen, the office door opens abruptly. We both sweep our heads across to see a stiff-looking Professor Duke standing in the doorway. With a face that is difficult to read at the best of times, the array of thoughts fighting for a place in his expression make things no easier today. He narrows his eyes at us.
“I had my meeting with The Dean.”
**’The Bad Touch’ / Bloodhoung Gang / 2000 Geffen Records