“Date went well, did it?” asks The Dean, arching an eyebrow. Head Porter struggles to find his voice.
“It was all going brilliantly!” he wails quietly. Head Porter removes the best part of his dinner from himself and into the bin before shuffling over and settling into a seat. Thankfully, there is just enough tea in the pot to offer our failed lothario.
“Shall we…well, shall we have speaks about it?” asks Professor Duke, adopting a sympathetic expression.
“Everything was just lovely,” explains Head Porter, a few mouthfuls of tea bringing him a degree of focus. “She was a comely wench and no mistake. Maria – an Italian! I took her to the little pasta place down by the Mill Pond. She was giving me all the right signals, you know – after me like a dog with a frisbee, she was. Very keen.”
“So what went wrong?” I ask, dreading the reply.
“Well, she was a bit too keen, actually,” Head Porter continues, the recent memory still holding for him some mild horror. “She got a bit physical over the main course, I’m afraid. And when she moved in for a kiss… I panicked a bit.”
“Oh no, did you bump noses?” I ask, kindly. A potentially disastrous move for romance but a surprisingly common occurrence, nonetheless.
“Actually, it was more of a bite than a bump. It was supposed to be a playful gesture but I gave her a proper bite on the nose. There were even teeth marks. She was furious.”
“You know, I don’t think ladies like the biting,” says the Professor, a little amazed. “Except in very exceptional circumstances. And even then, never over dinner.”
“Those are wise words,” nods The Dean. “You should mark them carefully, Head Porter. Now, the thing you need to remember is that there are three types of women: those that will, those that won’t and those that look like they won’t but probably will after a bit of persuasion. Tell them I’m right, Deputy Head Porter.”
A direct order from The Dean is difficult to refuse.
“The trick, of course, is know which one is which.” The Dean slaps Head Porter cheerfully on the shoulder, causing a small puddle of tea to escape down his chin. “Come on, old chap. Let’s get you cleaned up and I can give you the benefit of my extensive experience over a large scotch.”
“Oh, thank you, Sir,” Head Porter replies, humbly delighted. He rises stiffly to his feet and makes to follow The Dean. “Just out of interest, Deputy Head Porter, which of the three types are you?”
“I’m not the type to go wasting a perfectly good spaghetti bolognaise down the front of a chap’s shirt, I’ll tell you that,” I reply. “Let’s just leave it there, shall we?” Head Porter and The Dean bid us good night and leave the Professor and I to enjoy a rare moment of quiet in the Lodge
“Speaking of spaghetti bolognaise, I’m starving,” I say, finally. “If we hurry we might just catch the end of Formal Hall.”
“In truth, here’s the truth: I’m a bit worried about hanging around the College tonight,” replies the Professor, keeping his voice low as if the walls themselves might betray us. “I think the Master’s Wife just may be a bit cranky with me, which is fine, mind you, but still.” He shudders and fidgets with his hat.
“Is that thing still giving you gip?”
“Of course not! Well, maybe a bit. I’m the reigning beast, see. But it fights me all the time.”
“I really think you ought to tell me about that hat,” I say, narrowing my eyes a little to show that I am serious. The Professor relents.
“If you insist, madam. But it is rather scary, I think. Plus, can’t do it on an empty stomach, the sudden. Let’s go to that pasta place by Mill Pond. The spaghetti Head Porter was wearing smelled delicious.”