Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating a most auspicious day indeed – the release date for PorterGirl: First Lady Of The Keys is upon us! Those of you who have gamely pre-ordered will find your devices just that little bit more British this morning, not to mention having a sudden overabundance of buggers. The book is now live and available for purchase, with the hard copies being available within a week. In honour of this, I thought that today we would get up close and personal with the little lady at the very heart of Old College – the one and only, Deputy Head Porter.
As we all know, our heroine is the very first female Deputy Head Porter at Old College. This is a notion that at first excites her, but soon becomes something of burden as there are many in College who believe that firsts should apply to degrees only. She arrives at the iconic iron gates fresh from the Thin Blue Line, drilled in the disciplines of procedure and teamwork. The arbitrary disposition adopted by Old College and the highly political nature of both The Fellowship and the Porters’ Lodge put her firmly on the back foot and she begins to wonder if this is an altogether good idea. The expertise and skills upon which she so prides herself are of little use in this arcane and esoteric environment and she quickly realises that this isn’t going to be the jolly jape she thought it might be.
Through her eyes, the inner workings of the academic elite are tantalisingly revealed to us, usually with a degree of wry humour but often in awe-inspired veneration at this intricate and ancient establishment. Although she has moments of doubt, fear and even great sadness at Old College, Deputy Head Porter offers little resistance to its magnificent allure and allows herself to be fully ensconced within the rich legend that is College life. She launches herself into incident and adventure with great aplomb, quickly making powerful friends and even more powerful enemies. Although often leaning towards the diplomatic and tactful approach, Deputy Head Porter sometimes struggles to keep her thoughts to herself, which only occasionally works in her favour.
For someone quite so verbose, she remains remarkably tight-lipped about her personal life. Apart from brief references to a few family members and the occasional nod to her previous employment, Deputy Head Porter does not share very much at all. We do know that she left school with no qualifications, but with a surprising proficiency in Latin and great enthusiasm for the Classics. A spirited (if ultimately unremarkable) youth provided plenty of opportunity to develop a fervent reverence for shenanigans, but she didn’t really hit her stride until joining Her Majesty’s Finest several years later. Deputy Head Porter embraced this challenge with her usual equanimity and found herself capable of far more than she ever imagined. She put these achievements entirely down to the fact that she now wore a hat to work and her belief in the power of hats has been unshakable ever since.
We are never told exactly why she felt obliged to leave not only her job but also her home town, although she hints that it may not have been by her own choice. Nonetheless, Deputy Head Porter shows no signs of this encumbering her avidity for her somewhat random new life and sets about cheerfully getting on with things. Buoyed by endless cups of tea and as many biscuits as she can steal, Deputy Head Porter places great importance on plentiful victuals and often finds herself being steered entirely by her stomach. This is a fairly effective gambit at first, but then things take an unexpected turn and self-preservation should really be her first consideration. And sometimes it is.
I am loathe to tell you too much more, not just for the fear of spoilers but also of the need to ramble endlessly as I pontificate over each and ever aspect of a character that I know far better than I could ever know myself. And many of you know her too. She is a character who was built, post by post and comment by comment, right here on this blog. When I first gathered a small but trusty gang of readers, their kind words and encouragement emboldened my writing. As my confidence grew, so did that of Deputy Head Porter – and her character evolved from someone caught in the intimidated thrall of Old College, to the feisty venturer we now know and love.
In many ways, this was a reflection of my own circumstances at the time. Although Old College is portrayed very much as an eccentric playground for the over-educated, the reality behind it all left me a little bruised and questioning my own significance. I was still in mourning for what had come before and I struggled for awhile to find my place again in the grand scheme of things. I needed a plan. Without a plan, I am nothing. Once I realised that PorterGirl could be the plan, things made much more sense and I was off, once again, on a brand new adventure.
There is one thing about life I know to be true.
This is not a dress rehearsal.
I know this to be true because it is one of my Grandfather’s famous Words Of Wisdom. I can thoroughly recommend it as a design for life.