Cambridge

Veni, Vidi, Portavi

I came, I saw, I portered*

The great Judge Judy once said, “I think that you’re supposed to know when it’s time to say goodbye”. As I prepare for my imminent departure from Cambridge, I like to see it less as a goodbye to the city I have come to love above all others, but more of a ‘hello’ to new adventures.

Coming to the University city changed my life beyond all recognition and, despite not being a scholar or academic of any kind, I was able to realise my dreams and reach a potential I never imagined possible within the strange and wonderful walls of this esoteric world. More than that, I have been lucky enough to have you all alongside me for what has been a most unexpected emprise. And, as far as unexpected emprises go, this is just the beginning, I assure you.

But now it is time to go. There are those I love even more than Cambridge, endeavours even more pertinent than PorterGirl. Without doubt, Cambridge will always be a part of me, but perhaps more importantly, I will always be a part of Cambridge.

*Relying on schoolgirl Latin as opposed to being a Classical scholar, I struggled to find a direct translation for ‘porter’ as either a noun or verb. So, seeing as our English word porter is derived from the Latin portātor, from past participle of portāre (to carry) I decided to go with that, as it’s a nice first conjugation word and easily popped into the singular perfect tense. I am sure far better educated chaps than my good self will have plenty to say about this pitiful translation but, quite frankly, bollocks to them.

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Cricket & Gin

Sounds good, right? An afternoon partaking in that most British of summer pursuits (a bit of cricket), accompanied by a seemingly endless supply of expertly fashioned G&Ts. And so it was… for the most part. But as I type this with shaking hands, sleep-deprived and barely able to remember how to spell my middle name (not even joking – I just had to check my driving license) I’m not sure I can – or should – recommend it. Let me explain.

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A lovely gin & tonic

Sunday saw the last game of the season for my beloved Cambridge cricket team, St Radegunds. Tradition dictates that this is a jaunty family affair where all the team gathers with spouses, lovers, children and random strangers from the pub at Jesus College to play what is known as the ‘Vera’s Match’. A Vera is a double G&T – a shortened form of the rhyming slang ‘Vera Lynn’. Little did I know the rampant importance that gin would play throughout the day. But anyway.

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Jesus College, Cambridge. (Spot the tiny fielder!)

Having met in the Champion Of The Thames on King Street at midday, the team was in high spirits (quite literally) by the time the game proper kicked off at two. We lined up along the boundary to be picked out one by one to join either the official St Radegunds side, or the once-a-season-only temporary side of the magnificent Vera Lynn Appreciation Society. I was selected to play for the latter. With each team boasting a rich variety of players of all ages (I think the youngest was five) and abilities, the focus was on fun rather than a final victory either way, although I’m pretty sure someone was keeping score for at least some of the match.

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Tiddly cricketers

If details sound vague, that’s because I can barely remember anything. Everyone over the legal drinking age was required to imbibe pints of ale throughout the match. Play would be halted in order that glasses could be refilled. Not taking a pint out onto the field (be you batting, fielding, bowling or – hilariously – umpiring) meant you ‘weren’t a proper cricketer’. This seemed fairly reasonable to start with and I tried to pace myself, but as soon as someone noticed dwindling levels of beer an instruction to refill at once was issued. At fifteen overs when one would usually break for water and squash, double G&Ts were served. Liberally. I’d had about four gins before I even got my pads on.

It was quite wonderful swaying gently at mid-off in the afternoon sunshine, watching good-natured sportsmanship occurring in the crease and occasionally trying to catch a ball. Running became a bit of a struggle after a while, but no one was expecting too much so the odd wobble out towards the boundary – pint in hand – was perfectly achievable. Staggeringly, I even managed to take a wicket on the last ball of my bowling over, which is pretty good going even when I’m not three sheets to the wind.

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Just-taken-a-wicket selfie

After that, things get a bit hazy. I know I batted at number four and seemed to be out there for ages, taking some rather good balls from a teeny tiny bowler and generally running up and down a bit. A random chap ran me out, but I really didn’t mind as having a bit of a sit down was by now quite high up on my list of priorities. Now unencumbered by fielding duties, the Vera Lynn Appreciation Society had little do but wait to be called to the crease – and drink, of course.

So.

Much.

Drinking.

And eating, too, but it didn’t matter how many sausage rolls I shoved into my little face, they were not enough to soak up the oceans of gin and ale now coursing through my veins, probably giving me a blood group that was now 70% proof. At one point we tried to cajole a group of non-English speaking tourists to join the game. They went away quite swiftly.

 

Still drinking at the pavillion

I’m not sure who won, or even if anyone was still keeping score. It was probably a draw, but the result was irrelevant as it became imperative that everyone got back to the pub as quickly as possible, because we had run out of booze. Obviously, the one thing we all really needed at this point was lots more booze. Now things get really sketchy. There was a lot of singing, I know that. I distinctly remember leading the throng in a rousing rendition of Invisible Touch by Genesis. There were other, St Radegunds-specific, songs that were sung at people and instructed them to drink gin very quickly indeed. These were very good songs.

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Back at the pub

At some point, the pub closed. I don’t know when this was, but it was definitely morning. The chap who ran me out clearly still felt bad about the matter and invited my good self and a couple of others back to his place for some wine. He turned out to be a splendid fellow, actually, and we had a lovely chat about things I can’t remember before we spilled out onto the streets of Cambridge at about 6am. 

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No idea what this is, but it was on my phone

And so you find me now, trying to get on with my day (failing miserably) while watching Inspector Morse and wondering if I will ever see straight again. The moral of this story, if there is one, is probably not to drink with cricketers. Or ever drink anything ever again.

Until next season, obviously.

One Night With Head Porter

There is nothing quite so good for the spirit as a proper old-fashioned catch up with those who know you best, not least when recent events of a friend’s death and an unexpected house fire weigh heavy on your mind. And so it was I found myself on Saturday evening piling through bottle after bottle of some nice fizzy stuff with everybody’s favourite Head Porter, Paul Butterworth, and his delightful better half, The Headmistress.  

It was a balmy evening in South Cambridgeshire and Paul greeted me with with open arms and that huge smile of his. He had an air of casual elegance about him, dressed as he was in a crisp white linen shirt and fashionably cut jeans. 

“You look great!” I exclaimed. “Did The Headmistress dress you?”

“Yes…” Paul replied, seemingly amazed I was able to guess this. 

We headed straight outside, through the managed tangle of wildflowers and crazy paving, to the small clearing at the bottom of the garden. Seating ourselves at the patio table that is only a little bit wobbly, Paul narrowly avoided smashing all three crystal glasses in his enthusiasm to pour drinks. 

After glossing over the minor incident of my home almost burning to the ground, we celebrated the successes of PorterGirl and discussed the future. Paul expressed great enthusiasm for donning his bowler hat once more and I assured him that the readers would be delighted. Especially as there is the continuing assumption that there is a romantic connection both on and off-screen – neither of which is true but no amount of assertion on my part can convince the readership otherwise. Paul is openly chuffed about this and The Headmistress gamely suggests we should ‘give the public what they want’. However, this would involve drastic alterations to the plot and the disappointment of other characters, so perhaps things are best left as they are.

Paul regaled me with his eclectic tales from the world of television and film, as well as recent adventures taken with The Headmistress. He recounted fondly how is son, Josh, has recently graduated from Manchester University with a degree in film making and was already making waves in the industry with his short films. My little heart burst with pride – for it was I who gave him his first ever paid directing job when he took the helm for the initial PorterGirl book trailer. 

As well as making me laugh until a bit of wee almost came out, Paul gave me sound advice about bringing PorterGirl to screen, not dating the wrong sort of chaps and how leaving Cambridge could be a wise move (more about that another time). But, for now, it’s back to work for me with renewed vigour.  The sudden and interesting developments to Project Britannia mean it absolutely must take priority right now, but with an evolution for PorterGirl in the pipeline and Who Shot Tony Blair? up in the air following the loss of our Chancellor of the Exchequer, this is perhaps for the best. Priorities, you see.

One of which is definitely drinking fizzy stuff with Paul, obviously.

Paul Butterworth in action…