May Week through the eyes of the Porters

Declan Murray - Features Writer 29 June 2009

For the vast majority of us May Week is seen through the bleary eyes of Pimms-induced beer goggles as we glide, or rather stumble, from garden party to champagne breakfast; only occasionally stopping to don the black, or indeed white, tie for an expensive night of dining, dodgems and donuts.
From excess and debauchery at the balls to Pimms and water fights on The Cam, May Week is appreciated university-wide. It is an excuse to let our hair down and celebrate the fact that we have survived, without too much emotional scarring, an entire year at such an esteemed academic institution.

Enlightening and somewhat surprising it may be then to learn that some people have to endure such a time entirely sober and, worse than that, on shift. Yes that’s right, whilst we are out punting our punts and wrestling in jelly, the cheeky chaps in waistcoats and ties are still busy working to maintain and run the colleges we call home. But rather than the usual, and quite frankly, mundane tasks of collecting post and fixing light bulbs, the May Week job description of a Porter is somewhat different and in our opinion, much more exciting!

Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the week itself, even the Porters at my own, incredibly friendly college seem to be more on edge than ever. One can almost sense the fear and anxiety in their short grasps of breath as workmen and students alike trample the grass they have spent all year defending. Unfortunately, yet somewhat amusingly filling all chasms of cliché were the tales of one of our beloved female only colleges.
One of The Cambridge Student’s (TCS) sources, for example, was taking a pleasant nap on the night shift whilst a resident student showed out her male guest. Or rather that is all she thought she had shown him when she was awoken from the entrance hall floor the following morning. It turns out that the CCTV footage and discarded underwear that lay beside her suggested otherwise. The student in question, however, made a quick getaway leaving the porter to deal with the footage as he saw fit..

There are, of course, many legends about the things that the Porters are forced to endure on the night of their college’s May Ball. Most of us would have heard of some in Fresher’s week. Take for instance, the poor souls in the Plodge of one of our newer colleges. Little did they know at the beginning of the evening that three young chaps would surprise them in the wee hours of the morning by hijacking the JCB, currently in use for onsite renovations. The said vehicle was then driven out of the college gates and along the road for several seconds of pure hedonistic bliss. That was, of course, until it was crashed into the glass front of the hotel opposite. Needless to say, that college was not permitted its annual event for several years after, after being forced to ban all future events by the City Council.

But it is not just the students that enjoy the freedom of May Week, however, as Chief-Head-Boss-Porter of one city-centre college described to TCS an interesting shift in his early days at the helm. Rather than having to carry a bedraggled student to a local college room, he was left with an altogether bigger task. Indeed, he was forced to move a colleague who was in his words ‘fully-grown in all dimensions’ from the lodge where he had fallen asleep (hip flask in hand) all the way to his family home a mile out of town!

And, of course, there is always the issue of party crashers! Despite thousands upon thousands of pounds being spent by all colleges on security, there is naturally still a reliance on our noble guardsmen to ensure that those without tickets are kept firmly out. Thanks to extensive publicity, our end of term gatherings are famous the world over. It is no wonder, therefore, that many a tourist has tried to sneak in, however the lengths that they will go to does seem a little extreme.

One report tells of how one unlucky tourist was picked up and swiftly removed after attempting to swim their way into the Ball. Needless to say, they were still treated with the friendliness and politeness that we are all so accustomed to. In fact, the perpetrator was treated to a mug of Hot Chocolate and a warm towel before being sent on their way back to their hotel.

So, do the Porters enjoy the week, or is it seen purely as the final hurdle before the pesky students pack up and leave for the long vacation? The overall response from our questioning suggested that No! They most definitely do not have the time of their lives as we are indulging in ours. That being said, a few of our question-ees admitted knocking back one or two glasses on the night, in order to ‘put up with that outrageous racket!’

So perhaps next time you’re out riding the iron horse at four in the morning; or constructing a giant phallus of library-books in the Fellow’s Garden; or taking a bath in the Backs; or are caught being sick in first court or even wake up in a gently rocking punt…why not spare a thought for the one who has to put/drag/pull you to bed that night.

To the Porters!

Declan Murray – Features Writer