Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Keys and Porters 2
So I’m presently in the midst of a four-day stint of life admin between bouts of travel.
Today I was repacking some of my belongings into cardboard boxes in the storage room I’m using at college – and recalled the disaster I had three weeks ago moving my stuff into it.
I’ve partially afforded my recent travel by letting my room go over the summer, but this has meant storing my things. Had I been at the main graduate accommodation complex, this would have just meant schlepping everything down to the storeroom.
But I was at a college satellite property. (“Satellite” in the sense of being closer to the centre of town than, say, the moon.) I was damned if I was going to haul dozens of little boxes a one-hour return trip by bike up to the main grad site.
So I swung access to a basically disused (over summer anyway) bit of office space in college and took several big-ish boxes in by taxi, signed out the one key for the office in question at the Porter’s Lodge, took my first box up a flight of stairs, deposited it and the key on the office floor and left, the door slamming.
With. The. Only. Key. Inside.
There was no other key. Many, many people who have had the use of this room over time have dissipated all spare keys.
I did the only thing you can do in such a situation. I went for a Porter.
The Porter on duty was a big, solid chap with a strong, creased face. Had I been told he’d been hand-carved from something ancient and probably oaken, it would have come as no surprise.
He followed me into a courtyard and looked up at the half-open office window.
 “Oh, for a ladder,” he said, phlegmatically.
As it was a weekend, the maintenance department had left all their ladders locked up. We did find an old wooden ladder at the back of the carpenters’ store, in a pile of scrap wood.
“I’ll get it,” I said. “As it was me that locked the keys in, I should go up.”
We trudged back, leaned the ladder up the wall where it stopped two feet below the little mediaeval looking window, all small glass panes set in iron, half-ajar.
“Too short,” was the Porter’s assessment. “How do you feel about going up?”
“That last two feet makes me nervous,” I replied, wondering if we could stand the ladder on a nearby bench.
“Hold this a moment,” said the Porter, putting a foot on a rung.
I grabbed it, presuming he was testing it for strength. Suddenly, he was at the top, with his head in the open half of the window.
“I can see the key,” he said. “If nothing else, I can see the key. Hold on a second.”
He got his fingers inside the frame, then one shoe on the sandstone window ledge, and then he had one black-trousered leg inside the window.
I am tall, but slightly built. I was confident I could have gotten through the small opening the window offered. A man a head taller and built like something recently detached from a cliff face I worried about.
He was poised, half-in and half-out, suspended by little but his fingers. “God, I’m going to kill a Porter,” I though, envisaging him falling head-first onto the flagstones.
Then with a twist and a duck he was in. Minutes later he was standing in the courtyard, dust all over one knee, handing me the key.
“There you are,” he said. “I’ve trees this height at home. Up and down ladders all the time.”

No comments: