A Decent Proposal

If there is one thing of which I am particularly fond, it is a proper breakfast. I am quite open-minded about the actual components of the most-important-meal-of-the-day (so declared by my Nan, who surely knows absolutely everything) so long as they leave my tummy rounder than it was when I woke up. Sausages, for example, can make a tummy splendidly plump – not least when accompanied by their close relation, bacon. Toast is acceptable, but only as an aside to the main event. And always with proper butter. Breakfast is not the time to be counting calories (when is?)

But I digress. Our continental breakfast at the charming Chinon inn was perfectly delectable. The Dean took some convincing, at first, that the spread laid out was fitting for the manly appetite. It was the copious arrangements of fruit that unnerved him, I think. But once we got him past the fruit and onto the pastries (which absolutely are breakfast food, no matter what they might tell you) he seemed to perk up. By the time we reached the cured meats and cheese he was jubilant.

Finishing up with a pot of tea (from my own collection, of course), talk turns to what might be occurring at Old College in our absence.

“Head Porter tells me that The Bursar has ordered the immediate excavation of Apple Tree Court,” I say, recounting our missives from the previous evening. “He is convinced that the Grail is hidden in some long-forgotten monastery there, you know.”

“He’s wrong as usual,” the Professor chimes in, theatrically brandishing a tea-cup. “I think that’s his business: being wrong. Anyway, we know that it can’t be hidden there.”

“Although that Bursar is a damned fool,” says The Dean, absent-mindedly flicking crumbs across the table, “Something tells me that he is far too clever for his own good. We should keep a beady one on him, I say. He is a friend of The Master and that never bodes well.”

“Aren’t you a friend of The Master?” Professor Duke inquires.

“Oh, buggering hell, no!” The Dean replies. “I forced my way into the Deanship. No one handed me my job on a plate, I tell you.”

“In other news,” I continue, keen to keep the mood light. “Porter has proposed to Detective Sergeant Kirby!”

The Professor claps his hands together in delight, his top hat wobbling gleefully.

“What super news! And that can mean only one thing – a great, big party!”

“That’s right,” I reply. “I think they plan to get married rather swiftly, too. Head Porter did say that we shouldn’t dally here longer than we need to.”

“Why the rush?” The Dean ponders. “You don’t suppose he’s got her in the family way, do you?”

“That’s none of our business,” I reply sharply, uttering a silent thank goodness! to myself. “What’s important is, there is going to be a party.”

“You don’t suppose it’ll be fancy dress, do you?” asks The Dean, no doubt sensing an opportunity to don his much-loved Zorro outfit.

“If it is, I shall come as a… uhh…uhh…a 17th century king!” the Professor says. “You know, one of those fellows who wore that blasted white wig thingy. Which isn’t quite as fancy as my usual attire but then, you can’t get much fancier than that anyway.”

“I shall just be pleased to wear something not adorned with the College crest,” I mutter.

With fancy dress very much at the forefront of our minds, we make our way to the grand and historic Chateau de Chinon. It is a breathtakingly imposing structure, as one might expect of the preferred residence of Henry II. Much larger than I was expecting, the Chateau looks as if it could eat Old College for breakfast and still have room for Hawkins and Wastell. It is a place that would take quite some Portering, certainly.

Turrets and towers of the great stone leviathan soar above us, bringing about a feeling of sudden insignificance. Probably not in the case of The Dean, but I definitely feel it.

“Do you suppose we just go in?” asks Professor Duke, eyeing the main entrance with suspicion.

“I expect so,” I reply. “It is a tourist attraction, after all. Let’s just go in like ordinary sight-seers and see what we can find out.”

“Wait!” cries The Dean, holding up a hand. “Surely an undertaking of this perilous nature calls for a disguise of some description?”

“Yes!” exclaims the Professor. “Wait. Why?”

“In case we are recognised, man!”

“Who on Earth is going to recognise us?” I ask, genuinely confused. I imagine that The Dean finds it impossible to comprehend that he isn’t instantly recognisable to absolutely everyone, everywhere.

“More to the point,” the Professor continues “What would we be disguised as?”

“It just so happens that I packed my Zorro costume.”

Any excuse.

“We have already wasted too much time,” I say in my most sensible voice. “Let’s get ourselves in there and start looking for Templar-related clues. I promise we can play dress up later on.”

“Right you are, Deputy Head Porter,” The Dean replies, temporarily pacified. “Onwards!”

And from a place unseen a watchful eye narrows in contempt. We each are digging our own holes, but some are digging naught but a place of resting finality. Persuasion has not worked. Distraction fails. Only force remains.


With Professor VJ Duke


“Bouncers!” cries Senior Tutor excitedly.

“Bouncers?” comes my meek reply.

“Yes, Deputy Head Porter, I want you to have all the Porters train as bouncers. And I want you and Head Porter to lead by example and be the first to qualify as doorme… door… people?” Senior Tutor looks to me for assurance. “Door people. Can you arrange that?”

My reply to Senior Tutor is, of course “Certainly, Sir. I will attend to it immediately.”

The reply inside my head is somewhat different. I’m not sure I could verbalise it. It would be a type of unrestrained laughter that clearly demonstrates my feelings that this is the most hilarious thing I have ever heard in my life.

Whilst spending the rest of the day researching the world of professional bouncer-ing, I begin to think that it might not be such a bad idea. The required license is quite sought-after and expensive to obtain. You no doubt think, as I do, that getting training and a recognised qualification will cheer the chaps up no end. I also know The Porters and it dawns on me that it will just give them a whole new other thing to moan about.

With my proposal and costings for the training and licenses in hand, I head towards Junior Bursar’s office, to plead with him to pay for it. I haven’t got much of a pitch worked out, to be honest. I glumly wonder how I am going to sell the idea of training (mainly) elderly, grumpy old buggers to work as ‘professional security’, as the training company so proudly (and frequently) boasts. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Eeyore-like temperament of The Porters and they do a good job. But The A-Team they certainly are not.

Junior Bursar is in a jolly mood as I sit down in the chair he indicates by his desk. The surface between us is covered completely in a comical-looking pile of paperwork, which partially blocks my view of him. There are little yellow post-it notes on almost every surface. I even spot one on my chair leg. There are books and books and books everywhere, much like the other Fellows. But there is a difference between Junior Bursar’s books and everyone else’s books. At least three quarters of Junior Bursar’s books appear to be in the midst of being read. They are off their shelves and propped open in ingenious ways all around the room. Perhaps if he read fewer books he would have time to clear up some of this paperwork. But anyway.

“This looks like a very interesting idea,” Junior Bursar seems mildly delighted by the proposal. “I imagine that The Porters would be extremely pleased to gain a qualification. Make them feel more like the rest of College.”

I put to one side the spectacularly pompous terminology and muse on the idea. I don’t think The Porters will be especially pleased to be ‘more like the rest of College’.

“And the other good thing,” Junior Bursar continues, really getting a feel for the idea now, “Is that they can do a bit of moonlighting on their nights off, if they want. They can earn themselves a bit of extra money!”

The Porters working the doors of the City’s pubs and clubs? I feel this to be even more unlikely. But, then again, you never know with these chaps.

I lean slightly to the left in order to get a clear view of Junior Bursar.

“Do you want me to go ahead and book the courses, Sir?” I ask. Junior Bursar doesn’t look up from the proposal before him. He throws a cursory glance in the direction of the costs.

“Yes, absolutely, I think you should make the arrangements as soon as possible. Keep me updated!”

Well, this is an interesting turn of events. As far as I can tell, The Porters have never had any formal training at Old College before. This will be breaking new ground. And you know how Old College feels about breaking new ground. On the upside, in a few weeks time I will be a fully qualified and licensed ‘security professional’. In the case of The Fellowship deciding that I am the worst Deputy Head Porter of all time, this could come in very handy for finding alternative employment.