Tab Meets: Porter Girl

JOE WHITWELL meets the policewoman turned Deputy Head Porter at ‘Old College’…

Cambridge interview old college Oxbridge Porter poter girl Tab

Could you describe your blog for us?

It’s really just about everyday adventures with the staff and students in the college – I left school at 16 so I’ve had no experience with higher education, and the college system seemed like the most intriguing thing. The blog started out as my thoughts and feelings on this bizarre new job and it’s evolved from that. The blog is an uneducated outsider’s documentation of Cambridge’s unique version of higher education.

You came to this from policing. How does the porters lodge compare to a police station?

In some ways it’s very similar. I describe being Deputy Head Porter as policing wonderland. Occasionally serious things happen – we’ve had suicide attempts and drunkenness, but not much violence yet. So in some ways I have found that I am using the same skills sets, just in a very different way. It’s comforting that there is something familiar for me in Cambridge. It’s quite nice, for example, when you’ve got someone who has collapsed and your immediate reaction is: “Procedure. I know what to do here!” That’s better than when someone comes in and asks for some bizarre random key for a room that you’ve never even heard of. Bloody keys…

Female porters are a rare species

Female porters are a rare species

Does being ex-police lend itself to the job?

I think it does because the police or the military is a vocation. You join because you want to serve and help and protect people. Unless you’re one of those power trippy cops who’s just going to bully the students….

What’s your impression of the relationship between Cambridge students and the local  police?

Well I’ve never worked for Cambridgeshire police, so I don’t know a lot about it but obviously they’ve been trying to recruit students to spy on university societies and things like that. Personally, I think there are better ways of building a relationship. I don’t want to criticise or say too much but it doesn’t strike me as the best way to build relationships with the community.

And I wonder what societies these are and how dangerous they actually are? The society antics that I’m aware of generally consist of drinking, dressing up, and then sometimes undressing. I don’t see why the police are that interested.

If Cambridgeshire constabulary have got nothing bigger to worry about then they must be doing a good job.

He doesn't seem to be causing too much trouble

He doesn’t seem to be causing too much trouble

Is your anonymity important to you?

Yes in some respects, but it’s not going to be the end of the world if I’m discovered, and I think some people have already worked it out. But being a writer, writing behind  “porter girl”, is great because you can be more honest. You can write more freely, saying things you wouldn’t usually say under your own name.

You said that you’ve been surprised at the interest in your blog. Why do you think there is such an interest in Oxford and Cambridge?

Oxbridge is known all over the world. My American readers absolutely adore it. They think it is like Harry Potter and it is in a way. It’s almost like a secret society which is what attracts people’s interest. The usual mundane things here are actually very very interesting to people outside. The age of it as well, and that otherworldliness. People like to look in. And the gowns. And the little hats. I think the hats have a lot to do with it. It’s the hats!

Visit “Secret Diary of PorterGirl” to follow her antics as Deputy Head Porter at ‘Old College’