Porters are the gatekeepers to the Oxford world; treading through their lodge is like wandering through that wardrobe into Narnia. However, I think our porters are an under-appreciated bunch. There’s a lot more to this lot than just handing you a spare key when you’ve locked yourself out your room, it’s midnight, and you’re only wearing a towel. The room where my porters sit is hallowed ground. The feet of students are not to cross its boundary, and yet here I am, standing on its threshold, foot tentatively toeing the line waiting to step across into the inner sanctum. It’s like that moment in ‘Stars in their Eyes’ when the doors open and the smoke pours out and Janet from Barnsley has been transformed (if you squint) into Madonna in her Like A Virgin heyday. Except it wasn’t quite that spectacular; it was just a tiny bit warmer than outside and tea was in abundance. I soon realised that I wasn’t about to be catching thieves breaking into the grounds or dispersing fights outside college. Rather, I had to put the mail in the correct pidges (A LOT harder than it sounds. Who knew so many people had the surname Smith?!), make sure no-one was taking coffee into the library (it turns out we get fined for that) and stamp some envelopes. To be honest, most of my time was spent looking at the CCTV cameras or dealing with some form of stationery. I got the impression that it’s a bit of a lonely job; sure, people come and talk to you, usually to ask for keys or the way to a meeting room, but most people wander through the porter’s lodge without even a glance at the friendly face just waiting to say hello. I was itching for a change of scenery when I finally got to take a wander round the quads ‘to check everything was OK’ – a trick to get me out of the plodge for a few minutes I reckon. You see, I wouldn’t say being a porter is boring, you’re always on your feet showing someone where that is, or handing out this, or sorting out something else, but I definitely don’t think it’s a job for everyone. Then again, maybe I just picked the wrong shift. Perhaps I could have been fighting crime, but knowing my luck I would be guiding a drunk student back to their room.
Did you know that George is a real person? I know! This was only one of the revelations I had during the short shift I spent behind the counter at G&D’s. Ben, the duty manager, started with a guided tour of their store room and bakery. Downstairs, I met Olivier, one of the bakers, whipping up the most incredible smelling batch of brownies, whilst blasting out some rousing classical music. All G&D’s baked foods are cooked in the St. Aldates’ shop and all their ice-cream is homemade in the Little Clarendon street one. Upstairs, I was set my first task, a deceptively easy sounding espresso. Ben looked scared when I told him that I was allergic to caffeine, but having reassured him I could handle coffee, I set about creating my first, and probably only, caffeinated masterpiece. Having succeeded slowly on that front, it was feeling rather pleased with my coffee making skills, that was, until a woman who wouldn’t listen to my protests that I didn’t actually work there demanded I get her a pain au chocolat and a latte. Pain au chocolat I could do, but even my now expert barista skills couldn’t compete with an espresso and a lot of warm, frothy milk. Scooping ice-cream is again a lot harder than it looks. They’ve got scales at the back for the trainee staff to measure the weight of the ice-cream so I was back and forth adding a bit at a time, trying to get the right weight. It’s a blessing I don’t actually work there; all the ice cream would be melted by the time I’d got the weight correct to a hundredth of a gram. Just towards the end of my shift, Andy, the ice-cream technician, arrived with the new ice cream and invited me over to the Little Clarendon shop to watch them make it. I was expecting something like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but instead it was just a lot of freezers and cream. Apparently, G&D’s sell on average a tonne of ice cream a week and they can make almost any flavour in their ice-cream machine. Cucumber and Brie & Bacon have been the weirdest flavours Andy’s had to make; Brie & Bacon, as it turns out, ‘didn’t sell that well’. Having found out that they get a free scoop of ice-cream and a bagel every shift, I think I might have discovered the best place to work in Oxford.
Libraries are the lifeblood of Oxford – we have the largest university library system in the world dontcha know? I frequently make myself a nest in my college library: I take my shoes off, shield myself with a wall of diet coke cans and settle in for the night. It gets to the point sometimes when I’m reluctant to leave. That would involve going outside where it’s Cold (with a capital C). The librarian knows me by an affectionate nickname, I feel sick at the thought of someone else in My Spot and I’ve developed hilarious slang for all library activities. I get library embarrassment; you don’t want to be seen in there for a frivolous amount of time and you definitely don’t want to be gone for lunch too long. Other people are judging you. Study is a public activity in a library, and your fellow academics are the judge and jury. Clearly I have something of an obsession, I thought I’d make the perfect librarian. In reality however, I don’t think it’s actually all that fun – and clearly my definition of ‘fun’ is broad and loose. A shift in my library involves a lot of shelving. That I can appreciate: order, a numerical system of organisation, I like the smell of books etc. etc. Unfortunately, upon investigation I discover the library does not use the Dewy decimal system. What. The. Fuck. Different sections seem to have been located wherever there is room when they are created. For example, law books marked with ‘L’ are next to engineering books marked ‘XE’. Oh the inhumanity. Working in a library, you have to be content with the company of your own thoughts. You have to value your alone time. It’s not exactly party central. Let’s face it, library time is not many people’s idea of a hip, happening evening – librarians have made a career out of other people’s misery. Not only do you have to read the dire books, you’re fined when you have them too long. The most telling aspect of the whole affair was that when I asked my fellow librarians for any witty anecdotes about their jobs, they all, independently, talked about the cat. Yes, the college cat is the most entertaining aspect of library life, after all ‘once you’ve sat down to give him a stroke, he won’t let you get away!’
The Turf is everyone’s favourite thirteenth century ale house. Nestling behind Hertford, it’s not exactly built for the tall, but at least it has plenty of character. Luckily, once I get through the front door, my height isn’t so much of a hindrance and I can concentrate on the task at hand: serving my fellow students. Surely this is a social minefield? How do you make the transition from equal to servant without either conceding your inferiority, or retaining too much familiarity? I suppose a general attitude of deference will have to do. According to a seasoned veteran, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the more regular Oxford University students and the rarely sighted Brookes. Some of the former definitely live up to the stereotype: apparently no one should be behind the bar pulling pints for minimum wage when you could be living it up, getting ‘lashed’ and ‘chundering’ into your mortarboard. Unfortunately, the perks don’t seem to make this social nightmare bearable. 20% off two meals twice a month is no G&Ds.