Month: March 2016

I Told You Nuns Were Bad

“The time has come for the katana,” whispers the Professor, reaching within the folds of his nun’s habit.

“No!” I hiss back. “Let’s trying being nuns first. If that fails, we’ll move on to the swords.”

Not a phrase I use often.

“Rats and a Heifer! If you insist, I suppose. Still, I’m quite in the mood to be done nunning. I’d much prefer a sword fight, the sudden.”

The fast approaching footsteps echo sharply on the stone floor, sending little gasps of sound bouncing all the way up to the elegantly arched ceilings. Professor Duke and I adopt the very best nun poses we can muster and await our new friend, benign smiles masking a fair amount of uncertainty.

The door to the vestry creeps open and a bowler hatted head pokes itself cautiously through the gap. It can only be a Porter.

“Goodness, he’s uglier than he has a right to be,” remarks the Professor.

“Hmm! His face looks like a ferret licking a wasp.” Time to channel my inner nun. I turn to face the Porter and smile my sweetest smile. “Good morning to you, child. We are Sisters from the Sisters Of The Nighttime Order. You might not have heard of us as we are quite secret – but I can assure you that we are well known to people of certain standing within the University.”

The Porter seems to relax just slightly and comes through the door to join us. He looks us up and down and it is clear he is still wary. I can’t say I blame him.

“Yes… I am sure I have heard of you, in fact,” the Porter replies, nodding adamantly. “I have the ear of many of the higher ranking persons of the collegiate, you know. But the thing is, we have had a report of a nun waving about a Samurai sword in Great Court. You two ladies wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”

The Professor shoots a crafty wink in my direction. It appears that he has this covered.

“Oh, it couldn’t be us, we’re too weak for that sort of thing. I’m sure it was an epic nun warrior. A beast, even.”

Not quite the eloquent explanation guaranteed to ensure our escape I was expecting, but still. The Porter doesn’t seem entirely convinced, either. He tilts his head and scratches his chin, narrowing his eyes as rusty gears in his brain creak into life.

“Now then… I don’t think you two are nuns,” he says slowly but with surprising authority. “In fact, you aren’t even women, are you?”

Ouch.

“I don’t know what your game is, fellas, but you can explain it all to the police…”

The Porter fumbles in his pocket for his phone and I turn to the Professor. I don’t mind admitting I am feeling somewhat concerned about current events.

“Professor, I think we should just knock him out and make a run for it.” Another phrase I don’t use often, but admittedly probably more frequently than the previous one. 

“Oh goody,” he replies, nodding. “Let me fetch him out!”

I have no say in the matter as Professor Duke launches himself at the unsuspecting Porter, landing an impressive fist on his cheek. The Porter looks perplexed for the briefest of moments, before tumbling awkwardly to the floor. There is a mournful groan from the resulting pile upon the ground and he reaches a tentative hand to his face.

“Must go now!” exclaims the Professor. “Run and double-run!”

Leaping over the prone Porter, we hitch up our habits and make a dash for it, out of the vestry, through the chapel and out the huge wooden doors. I stop briefly to lock them behind us – I have no idea way, it seems unusually cruel, don’t you think? – before discarding the chapel keys into a conveniently placed  bush.

We exit the grounds of Hawkins College through the little side gate that leads out onto Prince’s Street and sprint along the elderly cobbles towards our very own Old College. We have completed the marvellous plan with quite some aplomb but I rather regret the vicious assault on the Porter. Of course, returning to Old College presents problems of its own. No doubt The Dean, Headmistress and The Master’s Wife will be soon recovering from their unexpected slumbers and wanting explanations.

Except The Dean. He will probably be wanting some form of retribution. And likely blood.

The Habit Of Being Armed & Dangerous

Our footsteps fall softly on the smooth grey flagstones as we make our way through the cloisters of Hawkins College, bathed in the milky moonlight of a sky that bears the beginnings of the taste of dawn. There is the faint tinkling sound of metal on metal coming from Professor Duke, which is strange as it is I who carries the cumbersome  keys to the College chapel.

I glance across at him and he smiles back, evidently enjoying himself. I have to admit, even I am becoming accustomed to being dressed as a nun. The habit is a surprisingly comfortable garment and the wimple negates the need to worry about what to do with one’s hair.

“Professor, slow down. Nuns don’t go marching about the place. We need to be more nun-like.”

“Well, this is it: it’s not easy being nun-like when one has three swords hidden beneath the habit thingy,” the Professor replies. “And plus, I’ve got itching powder in my pocket that I really, really want to get rid of, I must admit.”

“Sorry – you’ve got what under your habit?”

“Dadblame itching powder.”

“No, the bit before that.”

“You mean the awesome swords?” Suddenly, the Professor breaks stride and strikes a gallant pose, brandishing an impressive looking curved sword from within the folds of black material.

“Where did that come from?” I am breaking into mild panic, now. Waving weapons around is one sure way to draw attention to oneself, nuns or no nuns. “Put it away!”

“I’ve got two more such beautiful things hiding about in here.” The Professor nods. “One is for you, and the other is just in case my first choice breaks. Which it won’t. But it might. You know what they say: One is none, two is one, and three is two. Which means I have one since I’m giving one to you… Rats. Didn’t think about that.”

Well, you can’t argue with logic, I suppose.

Reluctantly, the Professor returns his sword to beneath the mysterious folds of his habit and we continue on our way. The chapel looms into view as we exit the courtyard, a towering cacophony of soaring spires, stabbing the night sky with their marble-like magnificence. The sight of it catches my breath for a moment; the awe fails to diminish no matter how many times I set eyes on this structure. Its presence is entirely different to that of the humble ancient beauty of our own Chapel. This is a place that wears piety with vanity as if the two things were the same. It does not inspire the familiar feeling of quiet reflection, but rather a kind of bewitching unease.

The Professor keeps watch as I wrestle with the aged keys, the cold metal heavy with history in my hands. I have become quite the expert in difficult keys and it seems that those of Hawkins College share a similar querulous disposition to our own. The lock grinds into reluctant movement and there is a sigh from the hinges as I push open the door.

Stepping into the chasmal body of the chapel, our eyes soar involuntarily upwards to gaze upon the enormous fan vault, one of the largest and finest in the world. The chapel has an illustrious history and took over a century to build. When the old King commissioned its design, he was keen to ensure that it would be without equal in both size and beauty. Although late gothic in style, the chapel displays some remarkably modern feats of architecture for its time. I fight the crush of humbling awe that presses down upon me, some how heightened by the starlight that falls like a scattered rainbow through the stained glass.

“This place disturbs me, I must admit,” whispers the Professor, his hushed tones echoing lightly about the carved marble statues that reside with quiet dignity in alcoves all around the walls. “In a good way, of course.”

“Come on, we’d better get on with it.”

We try to walk with gentle steps but nonetheless their careful patter resounds all about us as we hurry to the vestry. The choral robes are easy enough to spot, displayed as they are in readiness for the Choir Competition which is now mere hours away. They are most regal with their purple velvet and fine gold embroidery and I cannot help but feel that these Hawkins types really do have ideas above their station. My previous misgivings about our underhanded tactics evaporate with the urgent desire to look down on these robes with a smug smile of victory.

The Professor fusses beneath his robes and retrieves the package of itching powder. He sets about liberally applying the vicious dust in a manner that suggests he might have done this once or twice before. Satisfied that our work is done, we allow ourselves a moment to bask in our achievement. So pleased I am with our endeavours, I could almost hug the chap. But I doubt he would like that much.

“Let’s get, faster than two snails,” the Professor says. “Plus, I’m in the need for a sandwich or something.”

Before I can reply, an ominous sound catches our ears. We fall into an urgent silence and strain to hear what it might be.

Footsteps.

And – wouldn’t you just know it – they’re coming our way.

The Plan Commences

 

With blood and violence already playing quite a large part in the night’s proceedings, I can only hope that the remainder of our endeavours play out rather more discretely. Hershel has made his scurrilous telephone call to the Hawkins College Porters’ Lodge – with impressive theatrics, at that – and the next act in this preposterous play involves two bold milkmen, bravely entering enemy territory…

There is a distinct air of concern circulating the Hawkins College Porters’ Lodge. Well, it’s either concern or whatever remains of the Porter’s dinner. The Porter, Foxton, gingerly replaces the handset of the Lodge telephone and sweeps away a bulging splotch of sweat with a chubby hand. He is used to getting unusual phone calls in the middle of the night – within College life it’s a given – but this phone call was rather different. He wasn’t quite sure how but there was a persistent niggle in what passes for his mind that this wasn’t a student prank.

“Randall?”

Foxton calls out to his colleague, who emerges with a casual swagger from the key room. He is a short but well-built chap with greying ginger hair and a face like a stoat licking a wasp. He yawns and returns a withering look to his colleague’s perturbed expression.

“Randall, I’ve just ‘ad a phone call.”

Randall briefly raises an eyebrow and shrugs.

“It was from the British Choir Federation. They said they’d had reports of our kids using performance enhancing drugs – they’re threatening to conduct an official search first thing in the morning!”

Randall looks thoughtful for a moment. Then,

“I wonder how one would go about conducting an unofficial search?”

“Well we might ‘ave to find out, mate” Foxton licks his lips and scratches at the newly-forming stubble on one of his many chins. “If them lot turn up here tomorrow poking about, The Master will go spare.”

“If they find anything, our reputation will be in tatters,” nods Randall.

“I think it’s best we go shake a few of our Choir people, see if there’s any truth in it.”

“And leave the Lodge unattended?” Randall is incredulous. “No no, we can’t both go. I’ll go and search the rooms whilst you mind the Lodge. The sight of you at this hour might be too much for the lady students.”

Randall throws on his woollen greatcoat and saunters out into the night, almost toppling a timid female student in his enthusiasm. He continues without apology and she quietly makes her way towards the pigeon holes. Foxton glances up; she seems somewhat familiar but he can’t put a name to the face. But it is very late and he is tired. Everyone looks the same at this time of night.

Returning his attentions to the sport section of the local paper, Foxton struggles to focus. Perhaps it is time for a cup of coffee. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He is about to heave his considerable girth from the chair when the door to the Lodge jerks open awkwardly and two unusual gentleman stride through. Foxton rubs his eyes and squints. Yep. Milkmen.

They approach the front desk and the older one slams his hand on the counter. The ever so slightly manic look in his eyes dissuades Foxton from taking too drastic a recourse. The younger one stands behind him, huffing impatiently. Milkmen have always been an odd breed, Foxton had always thought that.

“Can I help you gentleman?”

“Yes! You certainly can!” The older milkman announces in a pitch not previously known to mankind.

But no further explantation is forthcoming. The look in the eyes progresses from manic to wild. The younger milkman steps forward, evidently the brains of the outfit. The other bugger must be the muscle.

“‘Ow do,” he says, gruffly. “Now listen here, we have been sent by the dairy on very important business. Hawkins College has an outstanding debt with our company and as much as we respect your esteemed establishment, even the great and good of the academic world cannot expect to drink milk for free.”

Foxton takes a moment to consider this statement. He only understood about half of the words. It was worse than talking to a Fellow. The older milkman appears to recognise his confusion and takes pity.

“The College hasn’t paid it’s milk bill. We need paying or you ain’t getting any more milk. Okay?”

Foxton is struggling to understand how or why this is his problem, but nonetheless two fairly serious looking milkmen are standing in front of him, demanding money. This is a new one, even for a Porter. In fact, he is so engrossed with attempted comprehension that he doesn’t even notice the quiet female student slip behind him into the key room.

“Well… how much is the milk bill?” asks Foxton. Running out of milk would not be a good thing. He should try to avert this disaster. “I could see if the till float will cover it.”

There is a brief but pertinent exchange between the two milkmen followed by a silence that can only be described as tense. Foxton is just becoming suspicious as the female student slips silently from the key room and makes her way towards the door.

“Do you… have the bill with you, er, mate?” the older milkman asks his colleague.

“Actually, now you come to mention it, I think I left it back in the office.”

“Oh, what have I told you about forgetting the bills, boy?” he shakes a fist at his assistant and rolls his eyes meaningfully at Foxton. “Honestly, they haven’t got the brains they were born with these days, have they? Tsk.”

With that, the milkmen beat a hasty retreat, admonishing each other for negligence and much more besides. Foxton decides that this is a very strange night shift indeed. But, to be fair, it wasn’t nearly as strange as when that goat turned up in the lecture theatre last Christmas. Every door and window locked and the smelly bugger still managed to find its way in and treat the place like a stable. The Bursar was furious, especially.

Scratching his head, Foxton makes his way towards the kettle. It really is time for a coffee.