fancy dress

Cat Fight

Time was when many of the parties I attended featured a bout of fisticuffs of some description. People may say that this is a sign of a mis-spent youth; I beg to differ. Partying and fighting is a very apt way to spend one’s youth, as such things are most calumnious when carried into proper adulthood.  One needs to get that sort of thing out of the way early on. However, something tells me an imminent return to such times is upon us.

Professor Duke opens the door to reveal the mystery person who has been taking liberties with his doorbell. It is none other than The Master’s Wife, who at least seems to be entering into the spirit of things; she is wearing a costume. I say ‘wearing’ – this is a generous term for the adornment of three sheer scarves draped artfully across her body and the type of shoes my mother warned me about. Whatever she has come as is clearly a character that is very short on clothing.

“Good evening, daaarrrrlings!”

“Bloody hell,” Organ Scholar gasps. “Who invited her? And what… what is she… I mean… is that a costume?”

“Avert your eyes, Organ Scholar,” I reply, taking a large mouthful of unusual beverage. “This is no sight for a young gentleman.”

“Oh, just you, dadblameit,” sighs the Professor. “I thought it might’ve been a ghoul or something rather terrifyingly interesting. The Professor would tell you to come in, but you weren’t invited, see. And you aren’t really wearing anything of note, double-see.”

“But the dear Head Porter is here, isn’t that right?” She replies, her perfect frozen features managing a hint of a smirk. “And I cannot believe he would want to be at such an event unaccompanied by a lady.”

“Well maybe he’s got…a lady!” Professor Duke flaps his habit viciously in an attempt to scare her off. “But here’s the thing, I don’t think you’re a lady. Ladies don’t wear nothing, they wear something. Plus, we’re stock filled with ladies. Too many ladies. Ladies coming out of the rat holes—as they say.”

“Oh, but surely, my dear sweet Professor, this eclectic ensemble proves that I am very much all woman…”

She leans in close to him, her breath on his neck as the Professor very nearly cartwheels backwards in an attempt to avoid her advances. It’s no good. She is determined to come in.

Across the room, Head Porter’s face has adopted a similar shade to that of his milkman costume. His conversational companions have not yet noted the new arrival and he appears to be plotting an escape route. But she has him in her sights. And it seems that there can be no escape from The Master’s Wife.

She stalks across the room towards where Head Porter cowers like a hunted animal, flanked by Headmistress and The Dean. How she can even walk in those shoes is something of a mystery but that is the least of my worries as I place my drink on the sideboard and hurry after her. I motion to the Professor to join me, which he does, albeit reluctantly.

To my great surprise, Head Mistress doesn’t bat an eyelid at the half-naked harridan but instead scrutinises the Professor and I with great interest. A flicker of recognition creeps with a smile across her face.

“Now, aren’t you two the waiters from the French restaurant?” She asks, with a wink.

“We could be, I’m not sure, though,” replies the Professor. “This Professor usually gets mistaken for lots of people, just because. Plus, I hear being a Professor, and a Deputy Head Porter, pays way better than waiting tables, don’t you know.”

Headmistress throws back her head and releases a laugh so filthy you could grow cress in it. She is an intelligent woman and I rather wondered if she had clocked our ruse when she saw us on the River. The game, as they say, seems to be very much up.

“Oh, I think it is dreadfully sweet of you,” she says. “Looking out for your friend like that. But I assure you, Head Porter needs no protecting from me. My intentions are mostly honourable.”

“Actually,” I say “It was more of case of protecting you from…”

“This chitter-chatter is boring me dreadfully,” The Master’s Wife snaps suddenly. “And men dressed as nuns are frightfully offensive to me…”

“Hey!” I am most put out by this remark. But she is in no mood to discuss the matter and, ignoring me, turns to Headmistress.

“I thank you for keeping my Head Porter warm for me but surely you can see that he now has no further need of your company.”

Headmistress narrows her eyes and shoots The Master’s Wife quite the most fearsome and diabolical look I have ever witnessed. Which is quite something when you consider how well I know The Dean. And speak of the devil, he joins the fray with aplomb.

“Madame, The Master’s Wife you may very well be but I can tell you we don’t like this sort of thing at our parties,” The Dean declares. “Do you not think it most unseemly to continue with this carry-on?”

Now, ignoring me is one thing. People do it all the time. But ignoring The Dean can only ever end badly. The Master’s Wife remains engaged only with Headmistress.

“I shall ask you again to step aside, lady, if that is what you are.”

“I think not,” retorts Headmistress, chin jutting defiantly. “Who even are you? Ridiculous creature.”

The Master’s Wife does not take too kindly to this rebuff and shrieks, launching her fuchsia talons towards the truculent face of Headmistress. The whole thing happens in such a flash that I have barely time to move but Headmistress is quicker. Deftly catching the arm of her assailant, she twists the wrist backwards with her left hand whilst maintaining momentum with her right, which lands as a furiously balled fist right onto the dainty nose of The Master’s Wife.

The room fills with horrified gasps as an explosion of crimson erupts in spectacular fashion, great thick globules finding their way to the floor.

“My rug is now suitably ruined, the sudden,” mutters the Professor, sadly. “I knew I should’ve tackled her the moment she pushed past me. Maybe I would’ve broken one of her bones. Cool.”

“Now, now ladies,” splutters The Dean, evidently taken aback by this sudden and unexpected violence. “Let’s not make a scene.”

“Quite right,” replies Headmistress. “I say we take this outside. Right now.”

Nuns, Milkmen & Cake

Parties have always played a big part in College life, in one way or another. With copious amounts of food and drink being something of an Old College tradition, I suppose parties are an unavoidable eventuality. Disguises, too, seem to be held in fairly high regard, particularly by The Dean. So it it comes as little surprise that I now find myself at a slightly surreal fancy dress party, attended by my friends and colleagues. In fact, the only perplexity is that it hasn’t happened sooner.

And, indeed, it is rather a rowdy affair by all accounts. Professor Duke has made quite the effort; I recognise Chef’s signature canapés dotted about the place and there is some curious music playing on a battered old record player in the corner. There is no sign of the marauding Shirley creature, I am happy to note.

This calls for a drink. I select a brightly-coloured beverage from a mind-boggling selection laid out on the sideboard. I nearly took the one with a feather in it, actually, but thought better of it. Having never tried a drink with a feather in it, I feel that now is not the time to start.

The Professor himself is dressed as a nun and carrying off the look with unexpected aplomb. Far more aplomb than I can muster in my own identical disguise, at any rate. I have a life-long misgiving regarding the habit inhabiting beasts but worse than that, people keep mistaking me for the Professor and persist in asking me strange questions.

The Dean is resplendent in his much-vaunted Zorro costume, although it doesn’t look like he was able to make it to the dry cleaners after all. He resembles a Zorro who is on the verge of becoming homeless. But he still manages to cut a dashing figure, brandishing a very large whiskey like a weapon and roaring with laughter (and just plain roaring, once or twice) every few minutes. He is holding court by the umbrella stand filled with swords, Head Porter and Headmistress his enrapt audience.

Of course, it was The Dean who introduced the two – his intention that of distracting Headmistress from pestering him about his nephew’s disruptive behaviour in the classroom. It is a ruse that seems to be working splendidly. Head Porter is gamely attired in his somewhat unconvincing milkman outfit, having been utterly banned from giving his beloved Batman costume another outing. Headmistress is dressed in a leather flying jacket, goggles and bright yellow scarf amusingly arranged about a coat hanger to give the impression of being in full flight. Head Porter’s explanation of his own costume was that the theme was to dress as whatever you wanted to be when you grew up. Goodness only knows what she makes of the Professor’s childhood aspirations.

Not to mention the fact that evidently Organ Scholar also had dreams of his very own milk round. He joins me by the sideboard and starts warily sniffing at the drinks.

“‘Ow do, Professor, which one of these would you recommend?”

“I’m Deputy Head Porter.”

“Love a duck! Sorry, one nun looks very much like another to me.” Organ Scholar grabs what looks suspiciously like a sherry and swallows it down in one gulp.

“Are you drinking sherry?”

“Yes, I’ve sort of got a taste for it, for some reason. Here, I don’t suppose you know what the Professor plans to do about The Dean? He looks set to go all night and we’ve got a chapel to break into.”

I shake my head.

“No idea, I’m afraid,” I reply. “But don’t worry. I’m sure it will be something quite outstanding. Look, he’s coming over, ask him yourself.”

An inexplicable and urgent spike of dread shoots along my spine as my fellow nun approaches; knowing that beneath the terrible folds of black is the dear Professor does little to temper the prickling terror tightening my chest and throat.

Pah. Nuns.

“Here I come, all nun-like,” the Professor says. “I’m getting tired of being a woman, the sudden. I admit this freely. And not too many sherries, mind. There’s work to be done.”

“That’s just what I was going to ask you about,” replies Organ Scholar. “What are we going to do with The Dean? If we try to leave he will trap at least a couple of us here until dawn.”

“The man certainly knows how to party,” I concur, nodding.

“Oh, I’ve got many plans ready to put into action,” the Professor says with a smile. “You might even call me Action, The Nun. Has anyone tested the cake, by the many ways?”

Ah, yes. The cake. Head Porter has done a fairly good job of the cake, although has chosen to cover it in a bright green icing that has proved off-putting thus far. It sits on the coffee table, untouched and anti-social-looking. Still, it is a far better effort than I could manage.

Before I can offer some feeble pretext as to why I don’t want to eat any cake, a strange sound distracts me. It is a sound that is familiar, yet completely out of place.

“Is that a doorbell?” I ask.

“It’s in the key of D,” Organ Scholar declares with conviction.

“It is the doorbell…but I always thought it was B-flat,” says the Professor. “Rats and a Heifer.”

“But… who could it be?” I feel somewhat concerned. “You didn’t invite anyone else, did you?”

The doorbell sounds again.

“I don’t think I did,” he replies. “I shall go have a few looks. If I don’t return within the hour, come rescue me with knives, please.”

The Professor heads towards the door. Whoever it is had better eat some of that cake.

Change Of Plan

The silence in the back room of the Porters’ Lodge could be eaten with a spoon. Not that I would advise that; the spoons in the Porters’ Lodge are rarely cleaned properly and I have it on good authority that this type of silence does bad things for the digestion.

The Dean glowers at us, sporting a wide legged-stance and quivering arms so tightly folded I fear a vacuum has been created somewhere within his jumper. He arches an eyebrow and focuses his laser-like gaze firmly on me. Why me?

Luckily, Professor Duke comes to my rescue.

“Now, look here for a few,” he says, fiddling with his hat. “The sudden, it looks as if you’ve stumbled upon our plot. This is something indeed. I say, you should just congratulate yourself a bit. A time for celebrating, see.”

“I just knew you were up to something!” Roars The Dean. “I can tell, you know, I can always tell. And after everything I said about not getting involved in shenanigans…”

“Give this professor a second or two and I can explain what’s up and down. You just might like it, see.”

The Dean’s eyebrow arches higher still and I glance across at the Professor. I recognise that familiar glint of nuisance in his eye. He is up to something.

“Very well, very well,” The Dean releases the vice-like fury wrapped about him and waves a hand absent-mindedly. “But be warned – if I don’t approve, the rage shall resume. Alright?”

“It’s a deal, don’t you know,” the Professor nods twice. “So: There is the considerable endeavour of a…surprise fancy dress party, yo! Yes, that’s it. What think thou?”

A moment of incomprehension flitters lightly across the face of The Dean, before giving way to what approaches for joy in his limited array of expressions. Very clever. The Dean LOVES fancy dress.

“R-really?” The Dean seems genuinely delighted. “A fancy dress party? Marvellous! Have I time to take the Zorro costume to the dry cleaners? I mean, if there is not time I shall wear it anyway, of course.”

“The party is tomorrow night,” splutters Head Porter, obviously keen to launch himself fully into the deception. “In Professor Duke’s rooms. Deputy Head Porter is going to bake a cake! Hahaha…” Maniacal laughter gives way to an uneasy squeak.

I glare at Head Porter. I am useless at baking.

“Oh! Well, in that case I ought to be letting you chaps get along with things,” The Dean says, clearly most pleased. “I shall give the Zorro outfit a bit of a nose test and see what I can get away with. As you were!”

With that, he spins on his heels and strides jauntily out of the Lodge, on the verge of whistling a merry tune, no doubt. Not that whistling is really The Dean’s style, you understand. He is more of a growler. But anyway.

The Professor and I turn immediately on Head Porter. He has the look of a man who knows he has slipped up somewhere along the line but isn’t quite sure where.

“What?” he says. “Was it the bit about the cake?”

“The cake was actually the good part, you stammering brute,” replies the Professor, exasperated. “Tomorrow night is the night before the Choir Competition, don’t you know!!”

“Oh, well, that’s alright then,” Head Porter exhales loudly with relief. “It means I only have to wear this ridiculous milkman outfit the once.”

“Yes, but it also means we now have to throw a fancy dress party on top of executing the daring plan at Hawkins College,” I point out. “And you know my cakes are always terrible. You can bake the cake.”

“Fine, fine, I’ll bake the cake.”

“Now, now, listen up,” says Professor Duke, adopting a somewhat authoritarian tone. “If we pull this all off—everything that we need to—I’ll be greatly impressed with our whole team, I must admit. After all, it’s going to be quite interesting. Lots to do; lots to go right; lots of everything, see. This is going to be an epic showdown, double-see. But we can do it, I say!”

“Quite right,” I nod, a great believer in the power of positive thinking. “The only concern is that The Dean will still be carousing when we need to stage our impressive break-in.”

“Ooo, dadblameit,” says the Professor. “That would be a problem or two. But! I’ve got an idea, the sudden.”

I feel it wise not to inquire further as to what this idea might be. Some things are best left very much un-inquired.

“We should be careful not to carouse too much ourselves,” I say, looking very much in Head Porter’s direction.

“Yes, that’s quite right. It shall only be cherry juice for you, Head Porter.” The Professor nods then turns to me. “Now, Deputy Head Porter, I think we need to have speaks. Private speaks. At once.”