Penelope’s Favour

The story so far… Head Porter is embarking on a continually disastrous mission to find true love. Meanwhile, The Dean is receiving hate mail from an unknown and barely literate source. More importantly, the Old College Choir is in disarray having been commandeered by the ridiculously untalented Master’s Wife, but Deputy Head Porter and Professor VJ Duke have devised a plan to engage the services of an ex-choir member. Organ Scholar has managed to convince the delightful Penelope to assist, but first she wants a favour…


Favours for students invariably make me uneasy. They are rarely reasonable and often involve a larger degree of compromise than is strictly fair. However, if we want to save the reputation of the Choir I don’t see that we have much choice.

“It’s only a small favour,” says Organ Scholar, somewhat unconvincingly. “All it will take is a quiet word with The Dean.”

“Words with The Dean are neither small, nor quiet” I reply, folding my arms. “What sort of words did Penelope have in mind?”

“When Hershel graduated in the Spring, The Dean banned him from ever returning to Old College. He has been away travelling since then but now wants to return to resume his relationship with Penelope. She would really love it if he could come and visit her at College.”

A weary-sounding sigh escapes my lips and I feel a twinge of despair. Hershel was a brilliant but problematic student during his time at Old College and was a regular at receiving the hairdryer treatment from The Dean. A combination of elaborate pranks and relentlessly obstinate behaviour made him very unpopular amongst the senior Fellowship and I had one or two run-ins with him myself. I am in no mood to bargain for his reprieve, particularly given the disposition of The Dean just lately.

Professor Duke seems to read my frame of mind directly.

“Oh, what a horrid thing,” he says. “The Dean usually never changes his mind, but she wants a favor. What a predicament. A favor is like a cherry sucker, not…this! But, if we can arrange it all, she’ll help us?”

Organ Scholar nods emphatically.

“Oh, absolutely, aye. I think, deep down, she wants to help the Choir.”

“I only believe that for a minute. After all, she’s not doing it for free.” The Professor pauses for a moment and I can almost hear the whirring of cogs beneath his top hat. “Now here’s a sudden thought: I’d say that Hershel’s presence could be of great benefit to our cause. Wouldn’t you say so, Deputy Head Porter?”

I have to think about this for a moment. The presence of Hershel is indicative of many things but benefits are few and far between, from my experience.

“I would be interested to hear the reasons behind your thinking, Professor.”

“Yes, well, I’d tell them to you, but I can’t right now,” he replies. “This professor happens to have a lecture I must run to. Now, while I’m gone, please keep Head Porter from the dating scene. It’s not fair to the ladies.”

Touching the brim of his hat and smiling benignly, the Professor takes his leave of us and bounds off towards the lecture theatre. Organ Scholar watches him go.

“What does he actually lecture about?” he asks.

“Do you know, I’m really not sure” I reply, truthfully. “But he certainly knows a lot about things I’ve never even heard of.”

“So, what should I do now?”

“Go and tell Penelope that we agree to her request – but I need good notice of Hershel’s arrival, okay? Bring her up to speed on the Choir Competition – I take it she is familiar with the piece?”

“Of course, it’s Tavener’s ‘Hymn To The Mother Of God’!” He says this as if it is a ditty I should be humming all the time. I take his word for it.

“Good,” I say, nodding. “I suppose the next thing is to see if she can get a half decent tune out of the tone-deaf buggers. Rather her than me. Anyway. I’m off to see The Dean.”

“Oh, do you think you can talk him round about Hershel?” Organ Scholar’s eyes widen in surprise.

“I’m not banking on it,” I reply, glumly. “But there might be another way.”

Assault On Hawkins College

It never ceases to amaze me how life places me in such unlikely scenarios. As we speak, I am pretending to be a heavily intoxicated eighteen year old student who has arrived at Hawkins College for her first year studying – what was it? Art history, I think. An easy one, anyway. As a Deputy Head Porter now firmly in her mid-thirties, dressed in a skimpy air hostess outfit, this is something of a challenge.

My comrade in this unlikely operation is The Dean of College, a man I have not been having an affair with for some time, masquerading as Zorro. To be fair, I should not be so surprised. My existence since joining Old College has been surreal, to say the least. This is just one other thing, in a whole great list of things, that I thought would never happen. And the fate of the Lord Layton portrait is at stake, so I focus my attentions on the matter in hand.

“Bugger!” says The Dean.

“What is it?” I ask, my head lolling towards the floor in the style of one who is helplessly drunk.

“Some students are coming our way. They might try to engage with us. Pretend to be sick to put them off.”

I sigh. This is not the glamorous life I envisioned as an under cover agent for Old College. As The Dean guides me towards a handy flowerbed, I heave and retch in a manner I hope will be off-putting. This performance continues until The Dean indicates that the coast is clear. I begin to rise from my unladylike position but as I do, my head is shoved unceremoniously back towards the flora and fauna.

“The Night Porter is coming!” The Dean hisses “He has our chap with him. Try and actually vomit, if you can.”

As I try, unsuccessfully, to meet The Dean’s demands, The Hawkins College Night Porter addresses us.

“Oi!” he shouts across the courtyard, in a manner for which I would chide my Porters. “Is that you, Hastings?”

“Er… Yes!” replies The Dean.

“Well, you’d better not be here by the time I get back or you’ll be up before The Dean, d’you here?”


Once he and our brilliantly disguised Porter have disappeared into the cloister, The Dean pulls me upright and suggests we make our way to the Porters’ Lodge with haste. I totter unsteadily across the uneven flagstones.

“Look, Deputy Head Porter, you don’t have to pretend to be drunk now. Let’s just get these bloody keys!”

“I’m not, Sir!” I protest to The Dean. “It’s these shoes! I can’t walk in them.”

“Take them off, then.”

I cannot believe I didn’t think of that sooner. What’s more, I can’t believe The Dean thought of it before I did. In my bare feet, I am able to keep pace with my surprisingly nimble comrade and we are soon within sight of the enemy headquarters. The Hawkins College Porters’ Lodge.

Thinking back, I can’t say that I have ever actually been inside the Hawkins Porters’ Lodge. This might prove somewhat of a drawback when it comes to locating the master keys, but from what I have seen, Porters’ Lodges tend to follow quite a familiar pattern.

As we approach the door, I feel my heart start to beat just that little faster and I am aware of a fine layer of perspiration beginning to form across my back. The late night air seems to nip at my skin as I suddenly feel very aware of myself and my surrounding environment. Hawkins College is a far grander structure than Old College, certainly. Illuminated by the scant moonlight, the towering stone walls look like they might be carved from ivory, reaching up the skies before bursting with intricately decorative masonry and soaring spires.

No wonder their Head Porter is so bloody smug. The air within these walls is thick with centuries of superiority and privilege. Even breathing it in makes me feel somewhat unworthy. But perhaps it is like tobacco, that when first inhaled is repugnant but with some careful practice can become full of illicit pleasure. And addictive.

All University Colleges are not alike. They all have their own quirks and, for want of a better word, personalities. But somehow they all find a way to keep so many of the brightest and best from ever straying too far from their walls. They are like little eccentric black holes, where people of certain persuasions find themselves unable and unwilling to escape. An uncomfortable thought.

Anyway. However amazing Hawkins College might be, I console myself with the fact that Wastell College is even better. Whilst Hawkins College might be the King Arthur of The University, Wastell College must certainly be the Sir Lancelot. And we all know what he got up to behind the King’s back. I am not sure what that makes Old College. Probably Merlin.

“Come on!” The Dean hisses at me. “I have other things to do this evening, you know.” Really? The Dean’s personal life must be more eventful than I first thought.

We breach the final line of defences, which amounts to nothing more exciting than an unlocked door, and enter the Porters’ Lodge. It is smaller than our own beloved Lodge, which is unexpected. Also, I note with feeling of immense self-satisfaction, it is not as well-ordered. This Head Porter needs to pull his socks up.

I deftly hop over the front counter and start searching the endless rows of keys for the master set.

“Hurry up, Deputy Head Porter!” The Dean says in what I am sure he thinks is an encouraging manner.

“You might give me a hand, Sir” I reply. The Dean spits out a thousand ‘bugger’s as he hauls himself over the front counter to join me in the frantic search. At this point, I realise that The Dean probably has absolutely no idea what he is looking for, but I appreciate the enthusiasm regardless. Before too long, I seem to be getting somewhere.

“This looks like a master set, Sir” I say, hauling a hefty bunch of keys from their hook.

“Brilliant!” He exclaims. “Let’s push on, then!”


The Dean and I wheel round to see the door to the Porters’ Lodge resolutely shut and a bowler hatted figure standing before us.

Hawkins College Head Porter.


An Uninvited Guest

This post was first published in November 2013, but was taken down in March 2014 following some rather sensationalist headlines, which some of you may remember. Although I rather enjoyed my brief moment of ‘fame’ as a ‘leather-clad’ former Deputy Head Porter, the University were not happy at all about the salacious stories of sex and drugs in College appearing in the press. Personally, I do not think that this post is offensive in the slightest and the upset over extra small condoms was most unwarranted. But make up your own minds.

I am so fed up with having my meals interrupted. If eating is such an important part of College life, why do crises always happen at mealtimes?

Today, it is the Full English that will lie sadly uneaten on its plate. Junior Bursar, the constant factor in my mealtime disruption, is bearing down on me, incident book in hand.

“A student in Old Court was caught smoking in his room in the early hours of this morning,” Junior Bursar smells of fried eggs and black pudding. “The substance he was suspected of smoking is cannabis!”

Well, I suppose that smoking cannabis is actually against the law. More importantly, it seems, it is also against College policy. The problem with College policy being law is that it only operates during office hours (this is something that strikes me as in need of reform). When the offence was committed, College Justice was safely tucked up in bed. In the cold light of day, the scene is cold but justice must be seen to be done. Head Porter and I are to conduct a search of the student’s bedroom.

Now, any sensible person caught smoking cannabis in the wee small hours has plenty of time to dispose of the evidence before The Fellowship roll up. Even an insensible person would probably have smoked their stash by now, anyway. Still, I am rolling up my sleeves and putting on latex gloves stolen from the first aid box.

Mercifully, Head Porter agrees to search the bedroom / bathroom area, leaving me to search the living / study area. Although I have been up to my elbows in far more hideous scenes than this, somehow sorting through a teenager’s boxers and toiletries is unthinkable.

I focus on the task in hand. My search technique is methodical and thorough. I am naturally nosey and have always loved sorting through the mundane personal effects of others. In past times is has made me feel so much better about myself. As I sifted through the grubby personal effects of suspected drug dealers on their filthy bare floors, I would feel so lucky that life had not led me down that path. This gives me almost the same feeling, but in such a different way.

The student in question (a 19 year old white male with the obligatory floppy blond fringe, retreating jaw line and over-fed mid-drift) is studying politics. He writes neatly, but ineffectually. He banks with Coutts. He is ashamed of his sexual conquests. How to I know all this? I’ve read his essays. I’ve seen his cheque book. I have found his secret stash of used condoms and their wrappers! I shudder to think what he will eventually grow into. The over-pampered educated classes of our society are a real worry.

So obviously, I find no cannabis. What I do find is even more shocking (to Junior Bursar). Another item banned by College legislation.

It is badly hidden under a discarded coat. The main giveaway is the tell-tale squeak of the wheel. I discard the coat to reveal the expected hamster cage. I realise that the hamster is suspected of no offence, so therefore I really shouldn’t search his house. Then again, It’s only a bloody hamster so why not?

The hamster is not concealing a consignment of drugs. However, it is still an illegal immigrant in itself. Seeing an opportunity, I usher out Junior Bursar with the promise of dealing with this incident. The student is clearly a good friend of Mary Jane, judging by the stack of king size silver Rizla I find in his room. Then again, kids will be kids and the student is obviously a posh boy away from home for the first time. Easily sorted.

Junior Bursar returns to his office and Head Porter returns to the Lodge. I wait in the room for the arrival of the student. He arrives back soon after the departures of my superiors. He doesn’t seem that alarmed to see me. While we were conducting the search, he was being read his rights by the Senor Tutor. He is just praying that the College don’t call his parents.

As he walks through the door I am sitting at his easy chair near the desk. I introduce myself. He asks if we found any drugs in his room. Like he needed to ask. I tell him that we didn’t. I tell him what we did find. The look on his face is priceless. Then I tell him about the hamster.

“What’s his name?” I ask “What’s the hamster’s name?”

“His name is Murray” the student replies, already on the back foot.

“Murray? Nice name for a hamster” If I had an over-sized cigar I would have taken a drag. “You know pets are banned, right?”

“umm, well, I don’t really know…”

“Well they are. If you don’t want Murray passed into the custody of The Master’s cat I suggest you find somewhere outside of College to smoke your weed.” I take a breath and look into his eyes. Cocky little bastard. “I’m serious. If I hear your name in College again I’m feeding Murray to the fucking cat. Stay out of the Porters’ way.”

With that, I stride from the easy chair and out the room, never letting my gaze leave that of the student. I know it, he knows it. For both of the incidents of copulation he has engaged in since the start of term, he has used extra small condoms. Killing Murray is one thing, destroying his opportunity of sexual gratification for his entire student life is quite another. I feel confident he will pose no further problems.