John Gardner at Home

Memories from Jenny Brown


When Ben and I first got together in 1995 Ben was keen for me to meet his Law don friend, a tutor who had meant a lot to him. I met John high in a Victorian house in Crouch End, where he told us about the oldest and best bakers in London. His lively interest in people, incredible energy and intellect struck me immediately.

At subsequent dinners at ours I remember him being game - playing after-dinner games and being reliably great company whoever was at supper. Later we had supper with him and Margaret in Battersea - I recall the twin novel pleasures of homemade chocolate soufflé pots and a discussion about the rights of plants in his most elegant Battersea house.

Then a few years on - at a supper at ours, he sat on a kitchen stool and told us about his life-changing year - his father had died, he had fallen in love and was going to be a father - and then some! His happiness and excitement were so evident.

He threw himself into family life with the same whole-hearted vitality and energy - it was very apparent on wet holiday visits in Dorset. Now tempered (like fine chocolate?) by his soulmate Jenny and his engaging new family he arrived in Dorset - you were the perfect guests. You arrived with all the injection of energy that a family of 5 produces and teeming as ever with great ideas. You also arrived with armfuls of ingredients to make immense pizza for everyone, including all necessary utensils. I remember lovely long wet walks on the Dorset cliffs - John’s sheer exuberance hauling a squad of teens through Dorset rain. Talking of throwing himself in… he was the gamest of Lulworth sea-dippers on grey Dorset days. There’s rarely a visit to Dorset now when we don’t thank John for his interior design of our kitchen - he untangled our thinking about space and made it work. It’s glorious. A great practical legacy, which somehow feels right, when I think of those family feasts you both lovingly crafted.

You were the most generous guests together - you both have the gift of hospitality - genial generosity and charm. You were similarly generous when you (both) agreed to take part in the St Paul’s Girls’ Law evening. He chaired the Law debate with great judgement and warmth - he was the most natural recruiter for the joys of a degree and career in the Law.

The talks both formal and informal were always exhilarating. John listens with such grace and has the knack of showing people how to think (rather than just what to think). I was going to say I would love to have been taught by him, but I feel I was. Every conversation provided such nourishment.

He was both reassuring and inspiring for Jess and David as they prepared for Oxford, who are sending their love.

I’ve recently enjoyed the fresh air of John’s views on equality, consent, discrimination, intolerance. He has plenty of scorn for lazy thinking and simplification, but is never so jaded that his Chaucer-esque vitality doesn’t shine through. And he has the courage to tackle folly or ignorance. His courage has been much in evidence recently - taking tea at All Souls - a place that holds him so very well; flinging out superb middle-aged man tunes at his party and saying good bye - on the dais in All Souls hall.

Always curious, a lover of life, of people, of investigation and connection wherever he finds them. Being with John can leave me breathless - fizzing with new ways of seeing things and enchanted by him. His brain is so impressive, but it is his heart that defines him for me: his warmth, his generosity of spirit and his enormous capacity for fun in all its forms, wherever he finds it.