Deputy Head Porter Pete Boyden shares his life and times at Gonville & Caius College.
When Pete Boyden first stepped into Gonville & Caius College as a contract cleaner, he envisaged a short-term stay. More than 30 years later, he is the Deputy Head Porter after fulfilling a variety of roles across Caius.
“I came to Caius in 1989. I had set up a cleaning company, doing bits and pieces for various places,” he says.
“At that point, Peter Lambert was the Head Chef, and during his break from cooking he cleaned the dining hall, filling his time between shifts and earning a bit of extra money.”
Peter suffered a heart attack and the then catering manager, Ed Davey, contacted Pete to take over.
He says: “My first job was polishing the dining hall floor with a buffing machine. But we used to have an old-fashioned machine, using wax. It would heat up in a pot and we’d pour it on the floor and then wax it in.
“As Peter got better, I was asked to clean all the panelling and wax all the panelling in the hall.”
It was the start of a lengthy association. Pete moved from a casual employee to a member of staff in 1990, working part-time as an Outside Porter at Harvey Court, before moving to a full-time role across the College sites.
“I’d spend my mornings in Harvey Court and afternoons in Old Courts, doing various tasks, like clearing the rubbish, cleaning, looking after the JCR at Harvey Court, and various tasks,” he adds.
Pete was promoted to become a Senior Outside Porter, leading a small team, and took on more responsibilities, like supporting early Conference business.
He then took on the additional role as a Porter, mainly at weekends, before moving across to the Lodge on a full-time basis. The shift patterns, which included evenings and night shifts, were not compatible with family life, so Pete became a Security Porter, a position which no longer exists, working on weekdays.
Although Pete kept changing roles, he was firmly part of the Caius community, and soon was a Senior Porter, in charge of Harvey Court and some of the College’s outside properties. He enjoyed managing others as part of a team, and the responsibility.
“I enjoyed trying to improve what we’ve got and make things better,” he says.
After eight or nine years in post, Pete then became Deputy Head Porter, to Russ Holmes and now Martin May.
I thought I was coming short term. I’d never have imagined this
Recalling his first steps into Old Courts, Pete says: “I thought I was coming short term. I’d never have imagined this.
“It’s a nice environment to work in. Nice surroundings. Most of the time what you do is pleasant, and it draws you in. Suddenly 30 years have gone by!
“I really like the people I work with. The present team is excellent in my view. Working with Russ I learnt from him and seeing how he did it, and his background in the army. Working with Martin I’m seeing a different aspect of things, learning from him as well.”
Pete’s wife, Michelle, is a phlebotomist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, and the couple have two boys.
He believes Porters have a paternal or maternal role to play for students.
“As a Porter, you’re a bit of a father figure at times. You’re a constant presence, providing stability, but there’s also a level of authority,” he says.
“When you’re with a group of students and you’re the only one who is sober, you’ve got to be making the decisions and they need to know that you mean that.”
Pete’s responsibilities mean he is not in the Lodge as often as before, and his interactions with students now mainly occur when there is a problem to address. Experience helps, and he recalls incidents with fondness, and relief.
“A few bops in a row these lads were getting quite drunk and I couldn’t work out why,” he says.
“They weren’t getting served a lot at the bar and couldn’t go back to their rooms. I puzzled over it for a while, but then I twigged.
“Every time they came, they had rubber ducks with them – part of what they did. The rubber ducks were full of vodka and they were squirting it into their drinks. I thought that was quite inventive.”
Thirty-two years on from his first experience at Caius, Pete is still tidying up after people, and we are all grateful for that.