celebration

Secret Diary Of Terry – The Final Chapter

My lair was indeed alive with the most lavish of preparations for the great celebration of my arrival. People were really making quite the effort – I even saw a lady creature dressed as a princess in a big white dress. For all I knew, an actual princess had decided to take up residence with me. I’m not sure how Onion Flower would feel about that but I am sure she would get used to it in time.

Speaking of Onion Flower, her scent had definitely returned to my new territory. Shouting Whiskey and Cherry Noodle’s, too. She has returned! I imagine she and her friends simply could miss my festivities. The vaguely repugnant creature smells were not the only thing to grace my nostrils, either. My food building was emanating the most fantastic aromas know to cat. This was indeed going to be a wonderful time.

It was whilst idly hunting for Onion Flower that I became somewhat distracted. But what a distraction! I was in the courtyard with an apple tree in it when it caught my eye. Like a fallen star, it nestled in the grime of the gutter, glinting with the remnants of fading hope. A Shiny Thing!

And what a Shiny Thing. It was perfectly round and almost luminous. In its centre was a swirl of colour, like a tiny galaxy dwelling within. Of course, all I could think was that this precious item must be a gift for yours truly. A princess and a Shiny Thing. It almost brought a tear to my eye.

But all was not to be well. Barely moments later, a familiar voice disturbed the moment.

“What have you got there?” came the unmistakable growl of The Master’s Cat. “Get away from it – it is mine!”

“I think you will find that it is very much mine!” I replied with as much indignation as I could muster. Being a cat, that’s quite a lot. “My lair, my Shiny Thing.”

“Foolish boy! This is my lair!”

Was your lair. My lair now.”

The Master’s Cat twitched her tail and rose her flabby hackles. Her hiss was rather vicious, although a little too wet-sounding to be truly chilling. Her cold, green eyes stared through mine and straight into the back of my brain as she extended a defiant paw, reaching for my Shiny Thing. I unleashed my well-practiced and blood-curdling professional hiss, being sure to showcase my fine fangs. The paw did not retreat. In fact, it inched a little closer.

Well, I wasn’t having any of that.

Determined to see the back of this foul fiend for good, I launched my attack. With claws drawn and teeth a-gnashing, my hind quarters unfurled their full kinetic capabilities and I flew at her piggy face, landing a direct hit right across her nose. Wailing like a toddler with a scrapped knee, she turned and fled.

I decided to mount a pursuit, keen to see her off my territory once and for all. She moved with surprising swiftness for such a waddling beast. I tore after her, my ears flattened against my skull and tail rigid with determination. I was barely aware of where I was running, focused entirely on my quarry. She darted into an open doorway and I followed rapidly after.

And how lucky that I did – for she led me straight into the middle of my arrival celebration! The room was full of delighted human creatures, eating and drinking in my honour. Even the princess lady in the big white dress was there and she looked happier than anyone. Marvellous!

The Master’s Cat headed straight towards the huge tables, upon which was laid my own feast. The very nerve of her – first she wants my lair, then my Shiny Thing and now my feast! But her abject terror was evident as she leapt from the tables and straight out of an open window. There was a pause, followed by a low growl and finally, a sort of desperate splash. And then, I heard no more.

Well – even I could not have predicted the extravagance my creatures would go to in order that I might be welcomed to Old College. I was rather taken aback. But I quickly remembered my dignity and hastily began the grooming process, in order to be at my very best for my adoring public.

A minor event – I was briefly reunited with my beloved Onion Flower, but the weightier matter of the Shiny Thing was sitting quite heavily on my mind. I allowed myself a modicum of fuss before politely making my excuses and slipping away. Groomed and feeling very special (it must be said), I returned to find my treasure happily untouched. But I was sure that it would not stay that way for long and decided upon my intent to hide it very carefully.

I experimented with various places of seclusion, an endeavour that took up a good portion of my precious time. But this was an important matter. Eventually, I settled on the cunning ruse of burying the Shiny Thing in one of the few flowerbeds that I had not used for my announcements. Although digging is not a tradition feline activity, I am rather good at it. But just as I was covering over my cherished find, my whiskers detected the unmistakable waft of danger in the air.

Looking up, I saw an evil-smelling elderly gentleman hurtling across the courtyard. He was headed in my general direction and it was most obvious to even a fool that he was after my Shiny Thing! The beast! My suspicions were confirmed when I saw that this creature was being hotly pursued by none other than Onion Flower and Cherry Noodle, evidently intent on putting a stop to this heinous crime. At this point, I deployed the most mysterious and maligned of the feline attributes; an esoteric skill of which even I am not entirely sure of the inward machinations.

With deft nonchalance, I placed myself in the exact position required for tripping the chap, whilst at the same time being in the exact position not to be stepped on. He tumbled with considerable grace into the flowerbed but it was not to detain him for long. He was soon up and running again, my favourite human creatures shouting after him ferociously.

But he left something behind. What it was, I could not tell you, but it had the appearance of a drinking vessel. Its odour I could not distinguish but it spoke to me, in a way – it spoke to me from many, many centuries past. This thing spoke to me of beauty and power, of salvation and of redemption. Although it had a physical form, it was not something of the human realm, I think. Not even the cat realm. Possibly it was something greater even than cat.

How long I gazed at it, I cannot say. Time did not seem to exist in its presence. All I can say is that by the time I thought to get about hiding it (with my Shiny Thing, of course) Onion Flower and her friends had returned. The wicked old fellow was not with them and they all seemed as entranced with the object as I was. Not quite as entranced as they were with me, quite naturally, but they seemed very pleased to see the thing.

Now I had my Shiny Thing and my Onion Flower, there seemed little left to pursue that could make this wonderful day any better. Cherry Noodle had furnished me with a wonderful chin scratch and several pats and even Green Bacon had paid a degree of reverence to my good self. After all the excitement, the only thing I desired now was some peace and a little slumber. Returning to my favourite spot in the organ loft, I soon slipped into a tranquil doze and dreamed the dreams of one very happy kitten who anticipates further great adventures at Old College.

Degree Day

After some considerable and epic undertaking (the likes of which had previously only been seen in the works of Homer), I was finally able to track down the suave yet elusive Head Of Maintenance. Not that he was able to enlighten me further in my quest to identify the owner of the set of keys that almost sealed the fate of Head Porter and myself. It seems that the Maintenance staff have a rather cavalier attitude to the keeping of keys, with the swapping and borrowing of each other’s bunches being commonplace. It seems that no one even realised a set was missing. Naturally, Head Of Maintenance received a stern and solemn ticking-off, delivered with the kind of ferociousness you have come to expect from this Deputy Head Porter.

On today of all days, I do not trouble Head Porter with the disappointing news that we are no nearer to identifying our assailant. Moreover, I particularly do not wish to disturb him with the shocking revelation that his precious keys are not, in the Maintenance department at least, afforded the reverence and respect that he believes they deserve. Head Porter seems to have enough on his plate already.

And so Degree Day is finally upon us!

A time of great pride for tutors and students alike, this is the day when Old College finally reminds the world what it is really here for – academic excellence. It is all too easy to be distracted by the archaic and seemingly redundant ceremonials and practices, the enduring and intoxicating reverence of the past and the ornate pomposity (not to mention the odd corpse). I stand guilty as anyone of missing the point entirely. What Old College does (and has done for over five hundred years) in a spectacular fashion, is educating and inspiring the finest young minds on the planet. Whether this is in spite of the aforementioned or because of it – well.

That really is none of my business.

Head Porter is in his element. The Porters’ Lodge is a gleeful hubbub of proud families and relieved students, resplendent in their Sunday best and gowns, respectively. Smiling to myself, I watch the scene with interest. I note that Head Porter holds a certain charm for the families, the mothers especially. To them, he has played a vital part in the success of their talented offspring. The Porters are often the first port of call for a student in need of something. Anything. Such is the Porters’ reputation for unerring wisdom and practicality that they have been called upon to deal with anything from a broken tap to a broken heart; to discuss everything from the rugby to the meaning of life.

It is a little bit like watching a famous celebrity (shall we say, Sean Bean?) being mobbed by a small group of very polite fans. Although red-cheeked and giggling, they are on their best behavior for the man who runs the mighty Porters’ Lodge. The Porters’ Lodge – which has saved the lives, reputations and future prospects of students and Fellows alike for centuries. And, of course, he is loving every minute. If he was as personable to the Porters as he is to middle-aged ladies, we would be an unstoppable force. Still, he is getting better at that sort of thing.

I watch our soon-to-be graduates in their mortarboards and gowns, uneasy yet full of pride. You can see in their faces how the celebratory nature of the day is tainted with the realisation that it is now all over. Some may come back, of course, to pursue further studies. But many will be thrust into the sobering confines of reality, somewhere that is a very different place to Old College. Then again, they will have the piece of paper from Old College that will, hopefully, act as a golden ticket to an expectant world. And that, when it comes down to it, is what today is all about. Going to collect your piece of paper.

But this being Old College, there is far more to it than that. Apart from anything, it is a bloody excellent excuse for a good, old fashioned academic knees-up. There will be food and, by God, will there be wine. Collecting the bits of paper is something resembling a Royal outing in itself. The Master and Head Porter will lead a procession of Fellows and students through The City to Swallow House, a respectably-sized building just beyond Hawkins College. A building seemingly used to hand out bits of paper, Head Porter did not elaborate further. The winding mass of students and Fellows, all in formal academic dress, must be quite a sight to behold. Not that I will get to see much of it, as I am informed that I am to walk at the back of the procession. Apart from being traditional, I am also required to ensure that no-one gets left behind or lost. Or run over. Pah. I’m looking forward to it anyway. Oh, and I’m not allowed to wave at people, either.

I check my watch and it would seem that the hour is almost upon us. I see Head Porter notice the time and take his leave of his audience. He collects his jacket from his office and comes to join me.

“Come on, get your hat on” he says. I dutifully do as I’m told. Head Porter sighs, irritated, and starts tugging at the brim of my bowler and tutting. “It’s got to sit properly!

“You’ve never been this fussy about my hat!” I complain, trying to bat him away.

“Well, you just look scruffy. There!” He makes a final tweak and seems satisfied with the result. “You’ll need to get your jacket on, too. Come on.”

I never wear my jacket. Especially in June. But, if the moment calls for it I shall not be found wanting. On goes the jacket and I follow Head Porter out of The Lodge and on to take our places in the procession.

As Head Porter strides away to the front, I loiter somewhat sheepishly at the back. Some of the families chat with me and even take photographs. I cheer up a little at my moment of minor celebrity. In fact, I so taken with my posing and small talk that I almost miss the procession moving off. I bid farewell to my new associates and march along behind in what I hope is a graceful and dignified manner.

I had my concerns about a large and elaborately costumed procession promenading through The City in the middle of the morning. Clearly, though, the populace of The City is well-versed in this historic event and despite the fact that no roads have actually been closed, no one impedes the well-worn route. There are many spectators, in fact, lining the streets, clapping and waving. The celebration of the academic achievements of these fine young folk reaches far beyond their own family and friends. The City as a whole applauds their efforts, for they know that they are the future.

I am more than a little miffed that I am not permitted to wave. It strikes me as unnatural not to return the wave of a complete stranger. I can smile, though. They can’t stop me doing that. In truth, I can barely stop myself.

When we reach Swallow House and our young heroes-of-the-hour retire inside for the no doubt elaborate ceremony of collecting the reasonably-sized bits of paper, the Fellows gather in a wonderful little side alleyway, aptly-named Scholars’ Lane. Some have got hold of choc ices, the crafty devils. I spot The Dean reclining gracefully against the stone wall.

I subtly manoeuver myself so as to be placed directly next to The Dean, although not leaning against the wall. It is hardly my place to lean against the same wall as The Dean.

“Good show, wouldn’t you say, Deputy Head Porter?”

“Absolutely, Sir” I reply. I reach into my back pocket and retrieve a carefully placed pouch of tobacco.

“Oh, not here, for goodness’ sake” hisses The Dean.

“That Porter over there is having a smoke” I reply reproachfully, indicating a fine-looking gentleman wearing the colours of Wastell College.

“So he is,” says The Dean. “I say, he’s got a top hat on as well! fancy that!”

I admit I am a little jealous. I am immensely fond of my bowler but nothing quite beats a top hat. I had not considered it before but it occurs to me that I might look quite fetching in a topper.

“Well, that’s just showing off” I reply curtly. “What are Wastell trying to do? Trying to start a hat war amongst the Porters?”

“We’ll bloody well beat them at their own game. What beats a top hat?”

I think carefully for a moment. It’s a tough one.

“A crown?” I suggest.

“A crown? Yes, that can be the only thing…” I can see the multitude of cogs turning in The Dean’s mind. “Next term, all our Porters shall wear crowns, d’you hear? I’m not being outdone by bloody Wastell College…”

We are interrupted by shouting from the far end of the alleyway. I recognise Porter making his way towards us at a fair lick, especially for a Porter.

“Is that one of our chaps?” Asks The Dean, squinting at the earnest figure bowling towards us.

“I am afraid it is,” I reply. “And he is running. This cannot be good news…”

Out In The Midday Sun

I am a big fan of parties, it has to be said. Any kind of party, really. House parties, garden parties, dinner parties, parties to celebrate, to commiserate, to integrate – even parties for absolutely no reason at all. In one way or another, I have attended practically every type of party you could possibly imagine. Even some you can’t imagine. So, on the face of it, being selected to arrange Junior Bursar’s retirement do is not such a surprise. Although, quite how Junior Bursar knows about my extensive experience in this field I cannot say. In fact, I’d rather not know.

I have been summoned to The Dean’s rooms by way of a very brief email, simply saying I should make my way there as soon as is convenient. It isn’t especially convenient, what with Head Porter out of The Lodge and my myriad of tasks to attend to, but I fancy a change of scenery.

The sun is hot today and the possibility of summer is feeling ever more likely. This being England, though, I know not to become too optimistic about these things. As welcome as this shiny warmth may very well be, my Porter’s uniform does not lend itself well to sunnier climes. My bowler hat does a fine job of shading my eyes from the bright rays, but it is also cooking the top of my head as it does so. I have every conviction that I could fry an egg up there, if I could convince it to balance.

As I traverse the bridge I gaze longingly into the waters below. Despite the knowledge that they are full of filth from The City and are home to creatures unknown, I have an urge to leap into their invitingly cool embrace, just for a second. An inadvisable course of action, for a whole host of reasons.

I pause on the bridge, as I often do, to watch the boats punting along and to listen to the whoops of delight and dismay from punters of varying degrees of proficiency. From the corner of my eye, I see Junior Bursar approach from the opposite cloister. I straighten up quickly and prepare my best smile.

“Good afternoon, Junior Bursar!”

He responds with a convincing-looking smile of his own, although he may just be squinting in the sun.

“And how are my party arrangements coming along, Deputy Head Porter?” he asks. I explain that they are progressing nicely. I have been successful in securing a celebrated local magician for the event, as well as ordering the balloons. This seems to delight the dear old chap. Talk then turns to the May Ball, an event I am anticipating with some trepidation and excitement. All the Colleges hold their own balls, but Old College’s balls are rumoured to be among the finest. I shall not be attending as a guest as I shall be working, but I am ebullient to be a part of it all anyway.

“Can you tell me, Junior Bursar, why the May Balls are always held in June?” I ask him. It is something that has puzzled me and sometimes the only thing to do with a question is ask it.

“I certainly can, Deputy Head Porter” he replies. “May Balls are a relatively new addition to College life, having only been in existence since the 1830’s. They were originally intended as celebrations following the May Bumps, so the name refers to that, rather than the month in which they are held.”

Ah, yes. The May Bumps. A complicated series of inter-College boat races that amount to little more than messing about on the river, in my view.

“Thank you, Sir, that is very interesting” I reply.

Junior Bursar appears to be in the mood to stay and chat awhile, but I have to make my excuses to continue on my way to see The Dean. Junior Bursar gives me a thin little grin.

“Is the nature of your visit business or pleasure?” he asks. It takes me a moment to comprehend what he means, but I recover myself quickly. Our pretend affair.

“Purely business, this time round” I explain. Junior Bursar seems almost disappointed.

“I am sure you will have an enjoyable afternoon, nonetheless” he says, before clasping his hands behind his back and making his way jauntily towards The Porters’ Lodge.

As I watch him go, it occurs to me that I think I shall miss the old bugger when he goes. Goodness knows, he has made my life difficult enough on occasions, but an affection of sorts has grown within me. I catch myself before I become misty eyed yet again and decide to head straight to see The Dean.

The heat must be getting to me.