by Peter Pencewing
What you are about to read is absolutely true and, although it happened to me, it could just as easily have happened to you. You see, last weekend – after a frightfully fearsome week spent in the Bodleian cramming for an essay due at the precise time of 2:37 p.m. on Friday (my tutor insists on strict punctuality) – I decided to take Saturday completely off. I slept in and enjoyed a light breakfast of l’air sur l’essence de toast chased by a bracing cup of tea. I opened the curtains of my High Street-facing room and beamed out sunnily at the atypical grey sky framing the University Church. I basked luxuriously in my leisurely reveille and soaked in a moment of peaceful silence – unmoved by the cacophony of cars honking merrily beneath my bower.
But, I am getting ahead of myself: my name is Peter Pencewing, a second-year allegedly reading medieval history – discipline I chose after spending a summer frantically rubbing brass at all small parish churches in Essex; there not being much else to do during the Essex summers. While my ardour for medieval history had cooled significantly over the last year, my enthusiasm for brass rubbings remained and I even had a friend or two in college with whom I went a-rubbing. As my Saturday was unscripted, I hoped to nip over to Scriptum, buy some paper and chalk, and entice a friend to go find a hitherto un-tested brass at Magdalen.
I began preparing myself for my daily ablutions, checking to see that I had all the necessary accoutrements: a chunk of soap, a dollop of shampoo, etc. I then stripped, shod myself in slippers, and wrapped myself in a towel before walking out of my room and towards the shower. What followed was Elysium itself. I warbled Ed Sheeran, sluiced myself with warm water, and languished in a soapy lather whilst contemplating my plans for an enjoyable afternoon. Then, happily contented and glowing like Yvaine in Stardust, I shut off the tap and towelled myself dry. I whistled as I gathered my things and then, re-slippered, I exited the washroom and went back to mi casa. It was only when I attempted to enter my abode that I realised the immensely grave situation in which I found myself. In my eagerness to bathe and be about my day, I’d forgotten my key. My whistle stopped mid -istle and I wiggled the handle a few times hoping for a miracle. In despair, I raised my eyes heavenward – but no aid to me cometh-ed. I was well and truly screwed.
Now, some people—not Americans as they are far too prudish—would simply shrug and wander off to the Plodge for relief. But, alas, I lack the confidence a rower or other similarly chiselled chap might have and, though corpus meum is singularly undistinguished from the average, its lack of inspiration left me apprehensive about wandering, midst the tourists, to the First Quad and the Plodge. I decided to knock on a neighbour’s door and see if release from this purgatory might be found—but after knocking every door on my staircase, I realised: I was on my own.
Now, dear reader, you might have been impressed, as a child, with stories of heroic and daring deeds – men and women scaling Kilimanjaro, knights on white horses, or the incredible endurance of Denis Thatcher – I certainly was. However, the bright and cheerful grey sky I had espied this morning now seemed to me grim, sombre, and cold. With a great deal of trepidation and shame – and a strange modicum of excitement – I forcefully re-wrapped my towel, laid down my bathing implements, and marched forth like Lawrence Oates, without fanfare, towards my doom or deliverance.
As I reached the bottom landing and peered out the door, my face was slapped by a cold wind. I grimly remembered the forecasted Ophelia and self-consciously checked the security of my towel. Then out into the quad I strode, thinking all the while, ‘half a league, half a league, half a league onward’.
I passed through Second Quad unseen and unmolested. Gaining confidence, I rounded the corner into First Quad—not quite teeming with tourists. In shame I made eye-contact with the ground and measuredly trod onwards—midst the clicking of Canons to the right and Canons to the left. I’m sure my naked torso and bowed head were shot several times and adorn the holiday-books of families from half the world over. Finally, battle-toughened and half-numb by cold and trauma, I entered the Lodge.
The warmth of the Lodge was the first thing I noticed. The second was, strangely, that the song ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ seemed to be echoing in the corners of my mind – but these before me were not the blood-hungry trolls from the opera but the kindly porters. I looked up and beheld all eyes on me.
‘Sorry,’ I mumbled, ‘I think I may have left my key in my room’.
‘Did you check?’, replied one of the porters.
I patted down the sides of my towel where on trousers, pockets would have been. ‘Quite sure, sorry.’
The porter sighed and looked around for the appropriate key. Each clang seemed to sound as one of the trumps in the Revelation of St John and I began to anticipate my final doom. I resisted the urge to shout ‘Miserere Mei Deus!’ But exclaimed or not, the heavens smiled down upon me and the porter held up the key. ‘I’ll walk you back to your room and let you in then, shall I?’ he said.
Calmness swept over me, my ordeal was at an end. Soon, I would be home. I could still go about my brass rubbing. Eagerly, I followed him out of the Lodge and back towards my stairway, mercifully oblivious to any tourists or fellow college members. Giddy with glee, I climbed the stairs when suddenly my slipper betrayed me – like Achilles heel of old – and my left foot went down. I let out a yell! The porter turned and reached for me but missed. As I skidded down the stairs my towel snagged and bared to all on earth and above I continued to plummet down the stairs. When I regained my equilibrium and found the broken pieces of me scattered amongst the remains of my towel on the floor of the second landing I unsteadily rose to my feet. The porter, in shock, ‘Are you alright?’
I nodded, to which he replied, ‘That’s right then, walk it off.’ He unlocked my door and then, quite too bruised for rubbing and ruing that great British invention of gravity, I inelegantly slunk into my room – past the barely concealed chuckles of the porter and resolved to remain inside with a bottle or three for the remainder of the day. It was then that I realised, my traitorous slipper remained somewhere on the step – like Cinderella’s. I sank to the floor, behind my door – took off the other slipper and flung it!