Many thanks to the author of “Secret Diary Of Porter Girl” for the below guest post. If you haven’t visited her blog then you are missing out on much laughter and high jinks.
Secret Diary Of a Porter Girl began life, believe it or not, as a secret diary. It didn’t stay secret for very long, I’ll grant you, but sometime ago on a website far, far away I took to my laptop to share with close friends and family my exciting new adventure into the world of British academia.
After serving with Her Majesty’s Constabulary for seven years I decided that I rather fancied a quieter life and when I saw a job advertised for Deputy Head Porter at one of the most famous colleges in Cambridge, it struck me as imperative that I apply. Becoming the first female Deputy Head Porter in the College’s illustrious history was something of surprise. With my own education ending abruptly at the tender age of 16, I had no experience of University, let alone one of the finest academic institutions in the world.
As it happens, I was as much as an anomaly to them as they were to me. It is surprising how many remarkable ways of expressing the phrase “Oh, you’re a woman” there actually are. Quite apart from that, the College seemed to have its own unique vernacular. It took me several weeks to get my head around what people were even talking about and even then I didn’t understand what was going on half of the time. The endless fascination with keys and obsessions over flags became apparent quite early on, however. Suddenly, a whole heap of things I had never even heard of had become more important than life itself. Well, more important than the life of a Porter, anyway.
These anachronisms raised smiles and eyebrows aplenty as I recounted my strange new experiences with friends and family both through conversation and social media. Every day seemed to throw up some new unlikely occurrence – from the adventures of the Master’s Cat to the grand epic events that were mealtimes – and I soon found that I had a clamouring audience awaiting the next update. Suddenly, emails and social media statuses seemed vastly insubstantial for really setting the scene of the bizarre ceremonies, ancient traditions and downright inexplicable customs of College life. I had to come up with something rather more creative.
A blog seemed a likely solution but all was not quite so straightforward as it might be. Obviously, I was quite keen to keep hold of this unusual new position and I was sure that The Fellowship of College would take a dim view of me rambling along online about their treasured institution. I adopted the name of Old College and decided to leave almost all of my characters nameless, being known as they are by their titles or job description, in an effort to cover my tracks.
This worked well for quite some time. I found a knack for expressing the quirkiness of College life in my writing and discovered that this was something I really enjoyed doing. I was a prolific writer as a small child, spending hours at a typewriter creating worlds and creatures (usually based in outer space, for some reason) but my early teens heralded a new age of rock bands and chasing unsuitable young men and the typewriter was soon forgotten. Now, though, I had an endless source of inspiration and a captive audience.
There was also something very therapeutic about writing about my adventures at Old College. Amongst the Wonderland-esque wide-eyed bafflement, there was something of a darker side to the world of academia. The backstabbing and in-fighting both within the ranks of College servants and those of The Fellowship were widespread and, it must be said, fairly pitiful. Despite spending the better part of a decade dealing with the underbelly of society, it was within these cloisters that I came across some of the most devious and duplicitous specimens that I have ever known. I found a great degree of satisfaction in expressing some of this to my chums.
On the other hand, of course, I also met some of the most astounding and brilliant characters imaginable, the likes of which could surely never have existed outside of this eclectic environment. The ‘heroes’ of Old College have firm groundings in those astonishingly fabulous people who made my short time as Deputy Head Porter one of the most interesting and delightful periods of my life.
Indeed, it was but a short time. The blog was discovered (revealed to Head Porter by one such duplicitous individual) and was not met with quite the rapturous applause my small, but growing, online audience had expressed. By this point, I was far from Head Porter’s favourite person and I was hauled before the senior members of The Fellowship.
I was not sacked (although College folklore might like to tell you different) but was advised by the formidable Senior Bursar to ‘consider the wisdom of continuing with such an endeavour is quite so public a manner’. These stern words were balanced by a chuckling Junior Bursar, who had taken the time to highlight the bits he had enjoyed and to read back to me lines that had particularly amused him. But nonetheless, the Establishment was affronted. Needless to say, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl was swiftly deleted and abandoned. For now.
This revelation divided opinion within College and, despite my protestations that it was supposed to be an affectionate, wry take on the academic world, a collective sense of humour failure ensued. About six months later, I hung up my bowler hat for the last time and relieved Cambridge University of quite possibly the worst Deputy Head Porter it had ever seen.
I missed Old College and its colourful incumbents immensely and realised that I missed writing very much indeed. So I set up a new blog, began to repost my original pieces and resolved to continue with my little adventures. Unfortunately, I managed to upset the great and good of the University once more when several publications picked up on the blog and ran stories about it. The academic elite were particularly incensed by a headline claiming ‘Ex-Porter Reveals Sex And Drug Secrets Of Cambridge College’. Although, they were not half as annoyed as the many readers who headed over to the blog expecting salacious revelations in the style of the final days of Sodom and Gomorrah when, in reality, I had made only the briefest of references to a cannabis-smoking student and a packet of extra small condoms.
The Establishment well and truly riled, but my audience ever-growing and delighted, I decided that the only course of action was to come up with such ridiculous storylines that no one would ever consider them to be relevant to a real-life College. Inspired by my love of fictional detectives such as Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Morse, I began cobbling together extravagant scenarios and posting them as a serial.
In an attempt to put further distance between Old College and the inspiration behind it, I embarked on a vicious cull of characters that were too closely based on real people. Some met a grisly end, whilst others simply disappeared. The only surviving Old College ‘original’ is The Dean, who is so well-loved by some readers that his survival was assured following a small but definite outcry. Also, he is my favourite. So there.
Problem solved? Well, not quite. Writing extravagant serials is complex and difficult. The storylines have so many holes you could go fishing with them. I think of interesting and intelligent themes but then get distracted by something else and tend to forget about them. The fates and fortunes of the characters are often subject to the whims of the readers, who usually come up with far better ideas than I do, sending the story off in unexpected directions.
The small matter of me not being a particularly proficient writer shall not deter me. The current storyline sees us embarking on a quest for the Holy Grail – an ambitious undertaking by anyone’s standards. How well it holds together, only time will tell. Next up is likely to be a tale of intrigue and conspiracy within the College choir. Possibly.
So then, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl isn’t really a secret any more and it isn’t quite a diary. What it is, I suppose, is an amateur attempt at an epic that appears to go down quite well with some people, whilst others consider it some kind of sacrilege. But whatever else it might be, it is certainly bloody good fun.
To get even MORE laughs, visit her at the blog: https://portergirl.wordpress.com/