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PorterGirl : Sinister Dexter – The Colleges

The City University is made up of 42 Colleges, each with their own histories, traditions and characteristics. In PorterGirl the action takes place within the walls of Old College, of course, but other institutions of The City exert varying degrees of influence upon events, so we might as well get to learn a little about them.

Old College

Home to our bowler-hatted heroes and one of the oldest College’s in The City, Old College was founded in 1448 by The Order of the Lesser Dragon as a direct protest against the monopoly of education held by the church. Led by the powerful and ruthless Lord Arthur Layton, The Order intended to bring new disciplines of science and enlightenment to the young minds of The City and have, by and large, succeeded with aplomb. However, an obsession with maintaining a lofty and illustrious reputation meant that any members suspected of stepping out of line would generally meet a grisly end. Even before construction of the College was completed, a young academic named Faldo was cast into the foundations along with many sacrificial peasants, after being foolish enough to question Lord Layton’s methods. This dubious tradition of bloodshed continues to this day, although in recent years more forward-thinking Fellows (assisted by Deputy Head Porter) have attempted to curb the body count.

Old College is famous for its ancient wooden bridge, which unites the grounds across the river. Even the bridge has a chequered history of its own, something we learn a little about in Sinister Dexter. The College library, stretching over four rambling floors, is the envy of The City, but it is the mysterious Old Library – set atop a tower in Apple Tree Court – that is of most interest. Kept under lock and key for the most part, Deputy Head Porter sneaks in here on occasion to rifle through the more esoteric of College records. It was here she discovered the truth about what The Master meant about ‘very old ground’ and also the entertaining (and rather racy, in parts) secret diary of the first ever Old College Porter. 

Old College was the generic name I gave to my place of work when I first began blogging anonymously about College life. I then had to come up with a viable reason for the name and hence The Order of the Lesser Dragon was born (O.L.D).

Hawkins College

The longstanding rivals of Old College, Hawkins College stands directly next to its hated foe and it is often wondered how such close neighbours became such fierce adversaries. In fact, they were once the firmest of friends. Hawkins College was founded in 1441 by eccentric wealthy polymath Lord Simon, a great friend of Lord Layton. Because of the excessively grand nature of the buildings, the College was not actually completed until after Old College, but it held the same aims and values as to the proper education of gifted young minds. The reason for the epic falling out is revealed in Sinister Dexter and, indeed, it is an argument that has stood the test of time.

Hawkins College considers itself to be above most of the other Colleges, on account of its sprawling grounds, breathtaking architecture and enormous wealth. In size and grandeur it dwarfs its neighbour, but the plucky Old College refuses to be cowed by such ostentation. The clashes between their sports teams are notorious, as are those between the students, should they find themselves at odds out and about in The City or on the river. Even the Porters are no strangers to the occasional dust-up and The Dean has clashed with members of the Hawkins Fellowship. 

Until recently, The Master at Hawkins was the mirthless Lord Bernard, but he passed away ‘peacefully in his sleep’ after a suspiciously large breakfast. Indeed, our very own Dean of College was offered The Mastership, but he turned it down after much deliberation. 

Old College forays into Hawkins territory are inevitably in disguise and swathed in subterfuge. The Dean has developed quite a taste for these activities, much to the despair of the Porters’ Lodge, who invariably get caught up in his fanciful but, admittedly, daring plans. 

Hawkins College was named after both Stephen Hawkin and a favoured student of mine from the real Old College. A wonderful fellow who seemed to have been born into permanent middle age, we had the most interesting of chats and I admired his ability to argue with members of The Fellowship completely unabashed.

Wastell College

Despite claims to prestige by Hawkins, Wastell College is actually the grandest and richest College in The City. A relative newcomer to the educational scene, Wastell was founded in 1546, but by then it had the benefit of observing the progress of its predecessors and made sure it trumped them in every conceivable way. Wastell keeps itself very much to itself and has little to do with the petty competition indulged by lesser institutions, so involvement with Old College affairs is rare. However, it does boast Detective Chief Inspector Thompson as an alumnus and the elite attitudes instilled in its students are still evident in him today. 

Not to be confused with Wastell Hall, a smaller and considerably less illustrious College that happens to be situated nearby and shamelessly hopes to profit from the shared named of its near neighbour.

Wastell is my family name and a tribute to my beloved grandparents. Interestingly our ancestor, Grand Master Mason John Wastell, was the man responsible for building the world famous chapel at King’s College, Cambridge. Now there’s a thing!

Two other Colleges get brief mentions in the PorterGirl series, namely Caelestis College, landlords of The Albatross – the favoured drinking establishment of Head Porter and Deputy Head Porter. The second is Saint Samantha’s College, a small and quirky College for the exceptionally gifted, and the place The Dean claims to come from when he is disguised as Zorro and accosted by Hawkins Head Porter during an ill-advised endeavour. 

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PorterGirl: Sinister Dexter – The Fellowship

‘The Fellowship’ is a curious moniker for a body of people who spend most of their time sabotaging, back-biting and occasionally murdering each other. Officially, of course, The Fellowship are the governing body of Old College, charged with the day-to-day running of the establishment, often by forming enormous committees who fail to come to any agreement about anything at all. 

The history of The Fellowship stretches all the way back to the College’s foundation by shadowy secret society, the Order of the Lesser Dragon, in 1448. The College takes it’s name from the Order’s initials (it was very nearly called Ootled College) and this was the first and last decision unanimously agreed by The Fellowship. Since then, the clutch of academics and eccentrics occupying the top tier of the Old College hierarchy have put substantially more time and effort into clawing personal benefit from the institution than they have actually running it. They place great demands upon their bowler-hatted underlings in the Porters’ Lodge, who are obliged to offer constant deferential reverence to even the most unreasonable and, often, insane of their number.

Overseeing this well-read rabble is The Master, a respected professor of economics and a Lord of the realm, no less. With a penchant for sudoku and stalking the secret passages that snake through the College, The Master is an enigmatic and vaguely threatening presence. In The Vanishing Lord we learned that he keeps secret files and compromising photographs of most of The Fellowship, no doubt as means of persuasion should any of them consider stepping too far out of line. Although he rarely lowers himself to fraternise with the lower orders, The Master’s occasional visits to the Porters’ Lodge are always met with a mixture of dread and blind panic.

One Fellow who needs no introduction is The Dean, but if I don’t give him one the consequences do not bear contemplation. Brilliant and terrible in equal measure, The Dean considers himself above the petty sniping and bickering of his contemporaries and concentrates his considerable efforts on defending the sacred reputation of Old College. A renowned professor of law, The Dean had a previous successful career in international litigation, during the course of which he befriended the dashing and adventure-loving American, Professor Horatio Fox (‘What happens in Kuala Lumpa, stays in Kuala Lumpa’), hero of First Lady Of The Keys. Always a champion of the Porters, The Dean became especially close to Deputy Head Porter after a night of drinking whisky and he is a central figure in the haphazard investigations she undertakes. With a fondness for searching for clues, one would think that The Dean would find a kindred spirit in Detective Chief Inspector Thompson, but it is not to be. The pair enjoy a fierce rivalry, despite there being distinct similarities between the two of them.

Fellows at Old College come and go – in the cases of Professor K and Senior Bursar, by way of murder; in the case of Junior Bursar, by way of escape to Tuscany after being unveiled as their murderer. Sinister Dexter welcomes two new members to The Fellowship, the first being flash ladies man Professor Palmer. Deputy Head Porter takes an instant dislike, following a perceived slight against her hat and The Dean is not impressed when Palmer announces to anyone who will listen that he intends to take The Dean’s job for himself. The Professor’s oily manner is grudgingly tolerated, but only until he oversteps the mark with young student Penelope and finds himself in the unwelcome position of being on the wrong side of both Deputy Head Porter and The Dean.

The second new Fellow to arrive is dreaded new Bursar, Professor Dexter Sinistrov… but more about him later…

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(Want a cheeky paperback in advance of the release date? Click HERE for UK, HERE for US!)

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AMAZON US