Menage a Trois

Escaping the cosseted confines of Old College is both exhilarating and rather unnerving at the same time. One gets so used to the all-encompassing existence of College life that it is quite possible to forget that there is a whole world out there, going about its business with little regard for our academic alternate reality.

The Professor, or course, is a renowned traveller and adventurer and is actually a little disappointed that the French scenery does not appear that differently to that of England, although it is ‘much tidier’, apparently.


I have become somewhat accustomed to the grand tattiness that typifies much of the Green And Pleasant Land. I feel rather defensive, all of a sudden. This gorgeous Gallic rural representation simply feels like it is showing off. And there has been not a sign of a stiff upper lip since we arrived. Nor a pothole, neither, I have to give them that. It is an unusual feeling, to travel by road without the onset of sciatica threatening every hundred yards.

The weather is kind to us and the scenic journey is punctuated by several stops for refreshments of breads and cheeses, pastries and buns and a sneaky crepe or two. I am pleased to have brought along my own dear tea set and accompaniments as the local brews simply cannot compare. The coffee is quite wonderful, though and good enough to have kept The Dean from his whiskey for the entirety of our travels. Evening is well established as we reach the medieval town of Chinon at the very heart of the Val de Loire, restingby the banks of the majestic Vienne river.

Although tempted to announce our arrival by immediately storming the Chateau – one-time holding place of the imprisoned Knights Templar – our ardour is somewhat dampened by the mortal requirements of refreshment and refuge and the decision is made to find lodgings for the evening.

Chinon is not that dissimilar to our very own City, being of a similar era and sharing a quaint, haphazard design. Little shops, inns and cafes jostle for position along the winding streets which lead up to the Chateau, themselves cobbled with elderly stones dating back to near on the fifteenth century. Timber houses of a similar age add to the impression of a town caught in a bygone era, which is quite a comfort so far away from home.

“This place is a wonder and a few,” remarks the Professor as we make our way towards a likely looking inn. “It is so like Old College it’s as if we never went anywhere at all! Humdinger.”

“The Templar obviously had a liking for places of this ilk,” agrees The Dean, looking around appreciatively.

“I’m not sure that they were here entirely by choice,” I say.

The inn is an unostentatiously historic building, its timbers well maintained and paint work humble yet immaculate. Inside, the warm glow of candlelight and delicious aromas of roasting pork are as welcoming as the red-cheeked young lady who is waiting for us at what passes for a reception desk. The faint sounds of a badly played accordion and voices raised in song taper invitingly from a place beyond and I am overcome with an urge to dance raucously. That urge will have to wait to be satisfied, however.

The Dean approaches the pretty girl at the desk with what I can only assume is his attempt at a charming smile.

Bonjour!” he offers, gamely. “We are looking for lodgings for a night or two, can you assist?”

Monsieur, we have only the one room left,” the girl replies with a voice as pretty as she is. “But it is a very large room and maybe you can all share, oui?”

Oh, no. I bet The Dean snores dreadfully.

“Well, I am tired and hungry and interested to find out more about that singing through there,” says The Dean. “So I think we should take the room.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, I fear,” says Professor Duke, puzzled.

“A few stiff drinks and it soon will, my good man. Let us have the keys, madame!”

The girl blushes to the tips of her ears.

“In fact, monsieur, it is mademoiselle!” she coyly twirls a thick curl of chestnut hair between her fingers and regards The Dean with a manner that I would reserve for a sausage sandwich. She slides the room key slowly across the desk.

Oblivious, The Dean snatches up the key with one hand and his suitcase with the other.

“Come on, chaps!”

The inn is a higgledy-piggledy place comprised of narrow staircases and crooked corridors and I almost feel that I should be doing some Portering whilst I am here. The journey to our room is something of an adventure in itself.

“My goodness, this reminds me of Old College!” exclaims the Professor. “Now then – I don’t suppose they have those Bedder things here, do you? I’m not sure my constitution will stand up to another invasion of that kind. I think I nearly had two heart attacks—at once.”

As if in answer to his question, we are suddenly confronted by an elderly, stout woman who looks somewhat like a baked potato. With her dusters and polish she in fact looks very much like a Bedder. The Professor shudders at the sight of her.

Mon dieu!” she squeals “You have startled me! So many strange-looking guests arriving today, zut alors!”

“I will have you know that we are not strange-looking,” retorts The Dean, although not entirely convincingly. “And anyway, what do you mean by that?”

“About an hour ago a very strange-looking gentleman arrived,” she replies, her English excellent although heavily accented. “He went straight to his room also. Although he spoke English, his accent was anything but. In your hats and clothes you look very like him. Maybe it is your English custom, non?”

“Actually, I’m American, and that’s the truth,” Professor Duke points out. She shrugs.

“It is all the same.”

“Listen, we’re not interested in your strange guests,” says The Dean, losing patience a little. “We are looking for our room.”

“It is here,” the lady replies, indicating the closest door. “I am just finished cleaning it. Enjoy.”

“Well,” the professor says, relieved, “since she’s finished, we shouldn’t have to expect her to come haunting about, then.”

The room is indeed large and much more comfortable than I was expecting. There is an enormous bed at the far end, preceded by a plush sitting area consisting of an over-stuffed sofa and an elegant chaise longue. I begin to unpack my tea-things.

“I say, look at the size of that bed!” says The Dean. “I reckon we could all get in that, what do you say, Deputy Head Porter?”

“Absolutely not, Sir.”

“Well, we all have to sleep somewhere and it seems a shame to waste it.”

“We have the reputation of Old College to uphold, Sir,” I reply, quickly. “We cannot very well go jumping into bed with each other at the drop of a hat.”

“Pah! You Porters have no sense of adventure!”

That is one adventure I think is best given a wide berth. Besides, my mother is probably reading this.

“I’ll take the chaise longue!” announces Professor Duke, leaping on it and making himself comfortable, legs deftly propped up on one of the cushions. “This will suit me very well indeed! It’s quite bouncy and foamy.”

I am thinking of making a claim for the sofa before The Dean brings up the subject of the bed again, but several loud thudding sounds abruptly interrupt proceedings.

“What could that be?” the Professor says, sitting up smartly.

And then, a hideous scream like a thousand pigs being slaughtered.

We leap to our feet.

An exchange of glances.

We head back out into the corridor.

With Professor VJ Duke

Adventurers Assemble

Heading back to Old College, I am as happy as a bee. The sun is shining, Professor Duke is whistling a merry tune by my side and the prospect of adventure is beckoning us with a coy wink. A warm breeze tugging gently at my bowler sets a somewhat playful tone and it is only with the greatest of self-restraint that I am not skipping along the cobbled streets.

Although sunlight falls like shards of gold throughout the courtyards, Old College does not share the afternoon’s sunny disposition. Exams are looming large on the academic calendar and a miasma of anxious tension pervades the ancient stone walls and the sun-dappled cloisters. College rivalry is at its very peak at this time, the fight for academic superiority never more fiercely fought. To make matters worse, the boat races are but weeks away and the river is cluttered with noisy youths furiously practicing their strokes and threatening all sorts to their rivals. Often quite early in the morning.

Professor Duke and I return to the Porters’ Lodge to be met with an all-together different type of tension. Picking our way through a babbling crowd of students, we see a pink-cheeked Head Porter theatrically checking his watch. His wiry hair has unfurled itself and become stuck to his dampened forehead, a sure sign that he has had quite a day of it, by all accounts. I sense some stern words coming my way.

“Now, hold on a few and for a minute, Mr Head Porter, and give me a listen,” The Professor gamely approaches with a smile so amiable you would invite it to tea. “I know I have kept your Deputy away longer than I should have. Please accept my apologies. But I can assure you that she has been working very hard, all for the good of the College.”

Faced with the slightly vicious charm of the newest member of The Fellowship and coming to the conclusion that, actually, that did sound rather like an apology in a roundabout way, Head Porter relents.

“Well, I suppose it might be seen as College business,” says Head Porter, suppressing a little smile. “So then, what did you get him?”

“Hmm?” I reply.

“The Master – what did you get him?”

Oh, bugger! Yes. The Master’s gift.

“Ah. We haven’t quite got it yet,” I say.

Head Porter does not looked particularly amused.

“But we’re going to get it, and very shortly too,” The Professor jumps in. “In fact, we were just on our way to get it as of now!”

“Listen,” says Head Porter “I really can’t spare Deputy Head Porter for another minute. It’s been like Piccadilly Circus in here today and she still has her duties from this morning to attend to. I am sure, Professor, that you can manage the collection of a small gift by yourself.”

“But… but… but actually no! – I need the little scamp to help me with it” replies the Professor with alarming alacrity.

“Is it heavy?”

“Kinda not.”

“Well, then…”

“It’s the… Holy Grail!” I whisper with as much gusto as I can manage. Surely Head Porter will deem the quest for the Holy Grail more pressing than checking keys? Then again…

“The… what?” Head Porter is rendered almost speechless. It is nice to know that I can still surprise the old chap, even after everything. “The Holy Grail? Really? Oh, no no no no no. I’m not having this. I just knew this was going to happen.”

I exchange a puzzled glance with Professor Duke and shrug, willing Head Porter to explain. With a drawn out sigh and solemn shaking of the head, he looks me straight in the eye and continues.

“Just when things were ticking along splendidly, nice and quiet – no dead bodies, no mysterious happenings… not a sign of ancient shadowy organisations! Along comes your top-hatted friend and all of a sudden you’re off searching for the Holy Grail. Unbelievable.”

“Who’s off searching for the Holy Grail?”

Before I can even begin to defend myself, a familiar vociferous roar fills the Lodge, followed closely by The Dean, strutting along with a serious looking tome tucked under his arm.

“Aha! VJ! There you are!” he exclaims. “I’ve been looking for you. I have got you this book, here. I thought you might like to read it, because I wrote it.”

“Now that sounds awesome!!” replies Professor Duke. “What’s it about?”

“Well, I can’t remember now, it was a long time ago,” replies The Dean. “You have a read of it and let me know, there’s a good chap. Now then! What’s all this about the Holy Grail?”

A brief, yet spirited, account of our dealings at Templar Antiquities leaves Head Porter once more shaking his head in despair, but The Dean appears to be delighted. His dark eyes shine intently beneath bushy brows and he slaps his thigh with great enthusiasm.

“Well, this is simply marvellous!” he exclaims. “You know, I was only this morning thinking that we could do with a corpse or something to liven the place up. I was of a mind to kidnap one of the gardeners myself, so this is rather good timing.”

“The best of it is,” begins the Professor, getting quite excited now “That the Grail is here somewhere in Old College grounds! We can be done and dusted in time for tea, I’ll bet you. What fun this will be and not at all vexing.”

“Hmm! Quite!” The Dean scratches his chin thoughtfully. “Now then… ‘the Grail sleeps beneath the dragon, watched over by minds of fire.’ Rather makes me think that it would be underground somewhere, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Sir” I agree. “And the minds of fire could very well relate to the academics, The Fellowship.”

“Pah!” exclaims The Dean. “Minds of fire are all very well but in the belly is where you really need it. With a bellyful of fire a chap is unstoppable!”

“But The Fellowship are about all over the place,” says Professor Duke “Where would they watch over anything?”

“I think it refers to the very top end of the academic hierarchy,” I reply. “The Masters of College. And there is somewhere quite specific where all Masters of College find themselves eventually. Beneath Old College.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see Head Porter place his head in his hands, his hopes of a quiet life crumbling before him.

The Crypt!” The Dean roars. “Of course! I bloody well knew it, you know. Right, then! Everyone to The Crypt at once!”


With Professor VJ Duke

Templar Antiquities

The Albatross has historically been the initial scene for many an interesting endeavour and I have no reason to believe that today will be any different. I am simply pleased that, this time around, I have had the chance to consume sufficient victuals beforehand.

Squinting in the bright afternoon sun, Professor VJ Duke and I tumble out into The City streets, just in time to see our strange new acquaintance slipping into a side street several hundred feet away from us. For someone who appears to move so slowly, he has managed to put an unnerving amount of distance between himself and us. Clutching our hats, we make after him.

The City is a maze of winding little lanes and alleys, quite unlike any other city I have ever know. Around every cobbled corner lay antiquated edifices of interest, almost organic in their feel, as if they once sprouted from the ground a thousand years ago. As we round the corner, a swinging door catches my eye.

“Look, Professor” I say. “He must have gone in there.”

Accompanying the swinging door are a quaint wooden-framed glazed shop front and a hand-painted sign bearing the legend ‘Templar Antiquities’. Both are attached to a squat, elderly building that appears to have muscled its way between its grander-looking neighbours. The door is invitingly ajar.



“I say, let’s go in after him, I suppose,” huffs the Professor. “What a wonder. Imagine playing such a game with such a fellow!”

The faint tinkling of a brightly polished brass bell announces our arrival, although inside there seems to be no one to acknowledge it. Once across the threshold, I feel that we must have hurtled backwards through time. The antediluvian aspects of the carefully arranged wares appear to have spilled out across the interior, the décor of which would not seem out of place in Old College itself. The shop is eerily quiet.

“Hello and a few! Is anyone about?” calls out the Professor. No reply is forthcoming.

There is something in the air that prickles some prehistoric instinct within me, as if something is lingering at my shoulder, always just out of sight. The slightest of shudders plays along my spine, but not so much that it would notice.

“Perhaps I was mistaken,” I say. “Maybe he didn’t come in here after all.”

“Well, huff-hum (and a rat) to that chap, I say,” the Professor exclaims, clapping his hands together defiantly. “However, this place looks like the perfect place to hunt for a gift for that Master. Let’s look!”

“There are certainly some interesting old things here,” I reply. “What do you suppose this is?” I indicate a curious little item that looks for all the world like a miniature guillotine.

“You know, the sudden, I think it’s used for dispatching with subversive fairies!” laughs the Professor. “Nah, really, Deputy Head Porter, it’s a cigar cutter. Not at all suitable for a gift, I think.”

“Perhaps not, Professor.”


A suitable gift for The Master?

A suitable gift for The Master?


“Ooo! Now how about his?” He delicately holds aloft a dangling, twinkling item that glisters merrily in the light.

“I think that’s an earring,” I reply. “Let’s call it a ‘maybe’. We should keep looking.”

“And what if we do find something suitable?” the Professor asks, looking about the place. “There’s no one to serve us. Is this a shop or a help yourself emporium, do you suppose? It’d be dadblame hard to check out with the item.” He turns his attention back to the sparkly earring, seemingly rather taken with it. “And I never supposed earrings were nice looking.”

“That is not what you’re looking for.”

The sounds of the dulcet, honeyed tones are more alarming than they should be. Except it wasn’t even a sound – more like… the words just appeared in my head. The Professor spins around on his heels to find himself nose to nose with the chap from The Albatross. He narrows his eyes and I could swear I detect a small growl.

“What now then!” he exclaims. “How dare you creep up on this professor, you creep! I might have smacked your nose off, you know. And you crept up on a lady! You must needs explain yourself—at once!!”

It’s not often that I am referred to as ‘a lady’. I revel in the moment briefly.

“Did I startle you? I really didn’t mean to. Forgive me. Over time I have become accustomed to moving quietly around my shop. I don’t want to disturb the articles, see?” The Antiques Shop Owner casts a loving eye around what is evidently his establishment.

“Yes, that makes sense,” I say, nodding. “I am surrounded by elderly things constantly. They do seem to like peace and quiet.”

“What you seek cannot be brought from a mere shop floor,” continues the Antique Shop Owner, completely ignoring my somewhat astute observation. “It is something that must be given freely and yet – at the same time – it must also want itself to be taken. Do you see?”

“I see clearly through my eyes, I think, but I still can’t make you out much,” Professor Duke snaps back at him.

“Then I shall show you. Once more, follow me…”


With Professor VJ Duke