Going to work on my second day, I feel quietly confident. Head Porter seems to genuinely like me (he was the one who conducted the job interview, after all) and I think I got on very well with my only other female companion, Receptionist. One of the Porters was even quite nice to me. And this evening, the Junior Bursar has invited me to attend the annual guided tour of Old College, which he conducts at the beginning of every academic year and is strictly invite only. Head Porter has never been on one of Junior Bursar’s tours and I feel fairly smug about this.

If I stop to think about it too much, there is an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt that is prickling away at me; I have absolutely no idea what I am doing here. It seemed like rather a twee idea at first and applying for the job was a complete punt and not something I ever really thought about too deeply. I needed to find work nearer to home and wanted more family-friendly hours than I had been working. I didn’t really expect to get the job and yesterday brought the realisation that I am ever so slightly out of my depth.  What if I couldn’t do the job? What if I ended up looking like an idiot? I reason that I had looked like an idiot many, many times in the past and it really hadn’t been too damaging. In fact, on occasion it had worked in my favour. As the majestic gates of Old College yielded to my coveted ‘gate buzzer’ (a privilege afforded to so precious few in the College) I decide to not be afraid of being an idiot.

I arrive before Head Porter, and am greeted by the Night Porter, just finishing his shift. I introduce myself and am a little surprised when he grabs my hand and pulls me close to kiss me on the cheek. As his greying bristles scratch my face (removing most of the inexpertly applied foundation I felt was necessary for my new role), I am grateful for some genuine affection, albeit from a dishevelled old man who had been up all night and was in need of a shave. I did not even yet know his name. It reminded me of my misspent youth.

Night Porter reaches for a ring binder which bares the legend ‘Incident Book’. “There’s a couple of bits in here you will need to look at” he says gently, as if speaking to a simpleton. Ah, more familiar territory, I reassure myself. I take the ring binder and look at Night Porter knowingly, like one old pro to another. The folder feels surprisingly light and I am momentarily confused when I open the folder to be greeted by a log dated 27th August 2007. I flick through the handwritten pages and it is apparent that the logs are filed in ascending chronological order. Why would you put the most recent incidents at the back? What benefit could there possibly be in flicking through 5 years worth of old incidents to find what is relevant? But then, that’s what Old College is all about, isn’t it? Remembering the past and honouring that which came before? Still, it seems bloody silly to me and the logs should be filed with the most recent first. It’s only my second morning though, and I decide that this procedural amendment can wait.

It appears that there were two incidents during the previous evening that were deemed important enough to make it to the incident book. The first was a fire alarm being set off in one of the gyp rooms by a student’s fledging attempts at ‘cooking’. The other was a noisy party in which constituted several students (some from another College!) being found in an under graduate’s room. I asked myself how this was considered an ‘incident’ as, students by their very nature, were noisy and prone to parties. Happily, as I was musing on this problem, Night Porter enlightened me by explaining that having other students visit your room was against College policy. He punctuated the importance of this fact by jabbing his chubby little sausage finger at his immaculately written verse regarding said ‘noisy party’.  Sufficiently educated, I recall the actions of Head Porter yesterday, and take copies of the incidents and put the copies into the pigeonholes of the Junior Bursar and the Dean. For some unfathomable reason, Junior Bursar and The Dean are very interested in learning of not only the noisy parties, but of students burning toast. I can only imagine this is because they, firstly, wish to attend the noisy parties and, secondly, wish to avoid accepting toast from students incapable of warming bread properly. Unless it is something to do with fire alarms, at this early stage I cannot be sure.

Head Porter arrives and seems put out that I have already ‘dealt with last night’s incidents’. Feeling uncomfortable, I offer to make a round of tea and take solace in my solitary kitchen activity. As I fill the kettle I can hear my new colleagues having exactly the same conversation I had when I first walked in. Neither seems to notice the abject inefficiency of the ‘Incident Book’. I make a mental note to sort that out as soon as I dare.

I serve the teas with a flourish. I make good tea, this I know. The look in my eyes dares them not to like the tea. The tea is well received. I know quite a bit about tea. Head Porter says I need to know about keys. Head Porter says that the American students think the Porters carry the bags. He says that Porters are not the carriers of bags, they are the keepers of keys. And, oh my lord, there are an awful lot of keys…

Published by Lucy Brazier