Jottings of a Domestic Bursar

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Peter Tranchell was Domestic Bursar and Keeper of the College Courts and Gardens 1962-1966. Editorial notes have been added in square brackets.

Michaelmas Term [1962, but covers incidents over the previous two years when Prof Patrick Hadley was Precentor]

Mountaineering Society climb walls of newly redecorated Bateman Room. Housekeeper cross. I said: Be thankful they didn’t vomit.

New garden-boy back from course. Still illiterate except for signing name. It’s now discovered he can’t climb a ladder. Fell through second rung. Ladder toppled. Head Gardener’s cloth cap torn off, two gardeners sent sprawling. Several young bushes destroyed.

Recent renovation of Gate of Honour gave evidence whole structure was painted in Tudor times. Architect’s proposals for new painting-scheme received. Purple, pink and ice green predominant. Rejected by Fellows. No paint after all.

Affray at 10 p.m. outside Gate of Humility. Gang of town lads assault several freshmen, & kick in the teeth of two. Much dentistry, & the freshmen now have a very clean front-rows. The affair started by taunts and missiles from upper windows of Caius.

McKendrick’s new Citroen appears in Fellows Garage. None of the controls in the usual place (Brake on ceiling, clutch behind driver’s seat, starter in boot).

Dean Montefiore receives note from Precentor [Prof Patrick Hadley] stating Precentor regrets impending absence at morning service in about 5 days’ time, as he will be “indisposed”. Is Precentor secret drinker? I say: Not secret. Dean cross.

Sneak thief enters S.C.R. during Fellows’ dinner on High Table and removes silver candlesticks & sugar bowls from the dessert table laid ready. Sugar emptied onto table. Fellows cross.

Master (Mott) brings in posse of French topologists visiting for conference. Grace at dinner greeted by catcalls, jeers and spoon rapping. This is just undergrad discourtesy and occurs regularly. Topologists cross. They think it an orchestrated demonstration against their having collaborated with enemy in 2nd War. Difficult to dissuade them. All conversation at High Table was in French. Après vous avec le moutarde.

Bed maker at Springfield gives notice. Has seen a vision of a complete luncheon-party in icy silence in large garden-room on the ground-floor facing Queens’ Road, which must have been Lady Jebb’s dining-room aforetime. Won’t enter the house again until it’s exorcised.

On preparing site for Harvey Court, builder removed all the top-soil he could, and sold it to Selwyn to fill their sunken garden. Thus back-end of building is over 3 feet below level of garden. Architect wants a canal dug into garden from JCR windows to alleviate feeling that JCR is a basement. He suggest removal of all trees and shrubs to give uninterrupted view of far garden wall, and the planting of aubrietia and such plants on steps, this latter to give the impression that building is derelict ruin of Cretan Minoan period. I say: Time will see to that. Young farm-hand hired with bull-dozer and instructed to make mounds in rear part of garden. As many trees as possible then planted to obscure the view of garden wall. Architect cross.

Council appoint new Senior Tutor different from one proposed by Master. Master cross.

Dean Montefiore takes to celebrating Eucharist from behind the altar, so he can keep an eye on the congregation. Organ Scholar in loft is coatless with lurid red sweater which puts Dean off [this happened in 1960 see 19 Dec 60 letter]. He has told Organ Scholar to wear something different, five times, and has been ignored. As he has just told Precentor to take medical advice about alcoholism he’s lost him as ally. Precentor cross. Dean cross. Asks me to intervene. I catch Organ Scholar in Caius Court and give message. Organ Scholar says: The Dean can f-ck himself. I reply: Most unlikely; and watch out you that these drains by our feet aren’t bugged: The Dean might be listening-in. Later I go to Catering Manager’s office to do some business. The Dean already there with a cup of coffee. First thing Dean says is: I don’t have microphones concealed round the College. The following Sunday Organ Scholar had discarded red sweater. Instead he wore an even more lurid yellow one knitted by his aunt specially. Dean crosser.

Undergraduate given to sitting in Munro Room near door to White SCR complains of clock striking in SCR. Chimes are too loud. Arranged for clock to be re-sited.

Junior Bursar (Dr Powell) (Maths) complains that new English Fellow requires exorbitant amount of book-shelving. New Fellow must be content with small portable book-case.

Bed maker reports that Chaplain’s bed was provided with a parquet of toast-squares under the bottom sheet. Was this a fixture? It made the bed difficult to make. Turns out the Chaplain retired after an evening with the Boat Club so as to be unaware of the toast laid for him by some of the members. Bed maker re-assured.

Senior Tutor nearly knocked down by cyclist in Trinity Street. Suspects cyclist bribed to do so by Master. Cross.

Committee set up to design a new plates, since old plates much chipped by new washing-up machine.

Old Fellow (Mr Phear) found trapped in McKendrick’s Citroen. Had been there for 4 hours. Wanted to move it to get his own car out, but once inside couldn’t find way to open the door (let alone drive the car). Too old to be cross.

Row in Kitchens. Several new employees declined to be given medical inspection to establish they don’t carry typhoid, etc. College medical consultant cross.

Bed maker complains that Fellow leaves gobs of phlegm in wash-basin without flushing them away. She will give notice if she herself has to flush them away any more. Tell Bye-Fellow as kindly as possible. Fellow cross. Perhaps it wasn’t phlegm.

Dr Message (Astronomy) and Dr Powell (Maths) have prepared a marvellous design of sundials to go where sundials originally were on Gate of Honour. They think they’ll be within a minute’s accuracy. I wonder if the sun ever shines from the north.

Bed maker for Bateman Room in revolt. Every Monday morning, the weekend’s parties have redecorated the room with spilled drink, broken glass and vomit. I say: Lucky they haven’t defecated. Housekeeper cross as well. I say: Issue rubber gloves.

Dr Needham proposes that Tree Court should be covered with tarmac as a car park for Fellows.

Prof Brink talks to Chaplain about forthcoming Concert and asks: Do you like Brahms? Chaplain replies: If I knew what they were, I might. Brink cross.

New garden boy falls through third rung of ladder. One gardener kicked, another has hand lacerated. Two small shrubs destroyed. Head Gardener off sick. But some improvement.

Lady Mott’s harpsichord, borrowed for College Concert, received inexpert attention from Bump Supper plus some claret. Also marquetry inlay disturbed. Musical Society blamed. Lady Mott cross. Will not lend again.

Fellows decide to name Harvey Court “Dame Anne’s Court” after Dame Anne Scroope. Two hour discussion rejects other proposals Harvey, Bateman, Mott, Chadwick, Prichard, Cameron, Physwick, etc, etc. Gargoyles acting as self-appointed JCR Committee say: No good. It must be “Harvey”. At the next meeting Fellows agree. Bad omen, as Harvey a scant resident.

Dr Needham tries to get his car into Tree Court at the Great Gate. It won’t go round the bend. Proposal for tarmac is dropped.

In the early 17th cent a free-standing pillar bore a weather-vane in the shape of a winged horse. Pegasus, symbol of creative imagination, was Dr Caius’s caveat about Humility, Virtue and Wisdom not be enough to merit Honour. Junior Bursar commissions a sculptor to make a model of a possible winged horse to stand on a pillar as replica of former symbol.

New Bedmaker resigns. More vomit after parties in Bateman Room. Only two notes left working on aged piano. Senior Tutor proposes rebuilding Bateman Room. Concrete floor and walls. Sluices to allow of the room being hosed down after parties. Rubber gloves issued.

Old Fellow (Mr Phear) comes out of SCR and walks into newly sited grandfather clock in passage. Falls over and blacks out. Arrange the clock to be re-sited immediately.

Senior Tutor nearly knocked down by cyclist in Trinity Street. Convinced cyclist bribed by Master and probably others. Cross.

Harvey Court J.C.R. fire-hydrant springs a leak, turning JCR into kiddies paddling pool. After pumping dry, the cork-square flooring is found to have expanded and every square lifted off like a crinkled lotus leaf.

Senior Tutor proposes pedestrian-bridge across Trinity Street from first floor of P staircase. When asked “what to” on other side of street, he proposes multistorey block to replace K, J, and Bowes and Bowes. Top floor, he says, to be College Museum to house china plate found under floorboards in Bateman Room, broken churchwarden-pipe dug up in Caius Court by gardeners, and shell of College tortoise, which, de-hibernating prematurely and being caught by undergraduates, had College coat-of-arms painted on its shell. It died of lead poisoning or shock. I say: Anything else? Senior Tutor cross. What about 700 crinkled cork floor-tiles? I add. Senior Tutor crosser.

Old Fellow (Mr Phear) dies. Funeral in Grantchester church. Terribly cold. No heating. Everybody cross. Who was in charge of church boiler? Enquiries discovered that Mr Phear had paid for the coal, lit and stoked the boiler for the last twenty years. Nobody knew. He died without lighting it for funeral.

Undergraduates complain of a lack of variety in menus. What about more dishes like macaroni-cheese? Catering Manager told.

Junior Bursar’s tame sculptor produces model of winged horse pawing the air and nobly flapping. To support it on its two hind legs, he has made its tail a very substantial member down to the ground, so that the horse looks as if it is emitting a solid stream of diarrhoea. Design rejected. Sculptor and Junior Bursar both cross.

Large portly cockroach appears on High Table during dinner, making its way towards Master along the centre, sniffing at bonbonnières, mustard pots and chalices en route. A Junior Fellow makes to crush it. A visiting Prof. (entomologist) guest from another College, says: Don’t. This species of cockroach is very rare. Under no circumstances kill it. When the cockroach reached the Master’s sideplate he was too busy snubbing the guest on his right (in Swiss German) to notice. The Senior Tutor said: What eats cockroaches? A neighbour said: You do, if you don’t dredge them out of your omelette. Someone-else volunteered: Hedgehogs. The Senior Tutor proposed the College invested in hedgehogs to patrol the Hall and Kitchens. I said: Do you know what their droppings are like? Senior Tutor cross. I added: They’re just like those half-blackened Japanese dwarf Artichokes (crosnes de Japon) which are garnishing your Noisettes de Porc à la manière du Chef. Senior Tutor crosser. No hedgehogs to date. At any rate, not live ones.

Have guided Wine Committee into choosing excellent menu for Perse Feast, and have made masterly seating-plan, segregating at end of table the two Fellows with the loudest voices in College.

Garden-boy falls through fifth rung of ladder. Cold frame shattered. Small sapling up-rooted. One gardener nearly castrated. Boy’s jeans (always rather tight) ripped right down rump-seam. Head gardener dubious about re-introduction of agricultural smocks.

New English Fellow continues to press for book-shelving in room. Junior Bursar adamant. Both cross.

Committee’s design for plates rejected. Suggest different type of washing-machine. Ignored. New Committee set up to consider plates again. We will probably end up with disposable paper ones.

More Harvey Court troubles. Weight of upper floors not properly calculated is pressing too hard on brick pilasters surrounding lowest range. Result is to press the bricks outwards on the pilaster damp-courses, pulverising them. Architect says: The building is settling down. I say: Do you mean, falling down? Architect cross.

Meanwhile uneven floor-levels are problem. Water from ground floor shower-room collects in changing-room, flows across passage and under door into Linen-room. Humidity causes green gunge on linen. Housekeeper cross. I say: Lucky it’s nothing worse.

Perse Feast [1962] a mixed success. Seating plan put one or two senior dons along sides of tables who considered they should have presided at heads or tails of tables. Moreover the Esquire Bedell whom I innocently placed next a Fellow rather touchy about his jewry, vociferously started the conversation: I hate Jews. Don’t you? They’re more culpable for more ghastliness in world history and economics than any other ethnic group. Gulp, replied the Jew. Speak up, said the other.

The Precentor complained that the Balkan Sobranie Russian black, gold-tipped, cigarettes served with the sorbet were bad for the Choir. I replied: Smoking at meals only compulsory for Americans.

Dean intoned Grace versicles rather wrong. The choir giggled. Some fell down. Enough left to cope with choral entries. Those in Hall itself laughed also. In interval Prof. Stratton (Astronomy) asked: Did he detect some decanal deviations? I replied: Only to the power of n. Dean: I think it went all right. Miraculously, I riposted, hiding my face in a glass.

Goodhart handed me menu annotated in red Biro corrected for French spelling, agreement of case and gender endings. There was a red mark in every single word. At the foot of the menu he had assigned it a g minus. I told the Catering Manager later. He said: Culinary French has no such agreements. It’s not the same as French. Pomme de Terre roti is equivalent of Pommes de terres rôties.

Later after dessert, the third-year scholars came into their own. The brandy and whisky was perhaps too crass a chaser to wine and port. Most of them were ill, some sick on the SCR landing and stairs. It was quite a hazard picking a way down the stairs. The choir was blamed, but this was false, as most of them were playing games such as “spinning the bottle” in the Chaplain’s room. The Bishop of Salisbury, an Hon Fellow, of great seniority, was housed in the V.I.P. Guestroom called the Gonville Room, above the SCR, for the night. When in the larger of the small-hours he elected to turn in, and had picked his way up the stairs through scholastic offerings, he was taken aback to find a naked third-year scholar asleep in his bed. Foolishly he attempted to rouse the lad, who forthwith vomited on the pillow, and then turning over half-awake vomited again on the other side, and fell once more to slumber. Episcopal blessing was far from forthcoming. Luckily there was a spare bed in the Sick Bay, where the Bishop was able to be more salubriously accommodated. Next morning, everyone was cross.

Christmas Vac. conference at Harvey Court, Caucus of Criminologists. First day, a member walked boldly through one of the plate-glass doors thinking it open. Much lacerating, he staggered around, re-enacting the circulation of the blood-stream discovered by Harvey. Another member complained he was stiff from spending the night in an undergraduate bed. I said: Did the undergraduate vomit or anything? Received a frosty glare.

College Council appoint committee to deal with Fellows’ requests for book-shelving. This is to restrain the Junior Bursar from bullying the new English Fellow and anyone-else.

Garden boy falls through sixth rung of ladder. Usual detritus.

Bed maker on N staircase, hearing of issue of rubber gloves, seeks same for making bed of undergrad given to generous nocturnal pollutions. I say: Shouldn’t he better sleep in a bath (with plug out)?

And now, Christmas is a-coming as well.