John Gardner at Home

Memories from Colin Kidd

Dear John (cc-ing Jenny - in case that's the more convenient mailbox),

Devastated to hear your news. I was so sure when we left Oxford at the end of January that you were home and dry. Everything seemed to have gone so swimmingly. And Jenny and your doctors had everything organised to a T. It all seems so long ago now.

My mind keeps wandering down memory lane and its byways. I have a notion that Jimmy Jope had a nickname for you, something along the lines of 'McVitie's Ginger Nut' (or Ginger Snap or something like that, perhaps here your memory is better than mine?) I don't think there were other nicknames.

Another thing that came back to me when I first met you was that I thought your accent was North American. I don't have any reason to suspect that there was any biographical substance to this (you hadn't as far as I know at that stage spent time in USA or Canada, or perhaps I'm wrong on that too.) But your accent - or at least my initial encounter with it - I found most mysterious.

I had also cavalierly assumed that we were almost always in the same class, but I guess you went your own way in 2G1 when I was in 2L, and I can't quite remember what happened in the third year, how settings were done. I do, however, have a vivid memory that although you had only done a year of Latin in the classroom, you turned up out of the blue to take Latin O-grade in the fourth year with 4L, and with aplomb.

Strangely - although my memories of school have gaps, everything from my six years at Colebrooke Street is still much clearer to me than our time as Prize Fellows or indeed my own sixteen years at Glasgow University.

I think I tend to see the world through Academy eyes. I noticed Lee Marvin recently with slicked-back hair in a 1960s movie bears an uncanny - and deeply disturbing - resemblance to Norrie Plowman. [Cue: Norrie, Norrie.....] And Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon: does he not remind you of a long, tousle-haired version of Lachie Robertson? Every time I see a photo of Steve Bannon I automatically think of Lachie. Something about the shape of the face and the expression.

And thinking of Lachie makes me think inevitably of Big Ian MacGregor. I know you were a packed-luncher, but this is a tale from the dining hall. One day a boy at an adjacent table in the dining hall was rattling a spoon on the table while he waited for the number to light up which would allow him to queue for his food. Big Ian marched in. Was irritated by this rattling of the spoon. And proclaimed the ever-memorable line: 'What do you think this is? Alexander's Rag-Time Band?' Two other Big Ian stories also suggest themselves. Once when there was a move to abolish the General Knowledge exam, Mortie expressed his outrage at a staff meeting: 'But it's an institution.' Big Ian: 'So's Barlinnie.' And finally: the boy in a house room - Room G, Chuck Farquhar's room - was breaking rules by eating a sandwich in the room. So when a Prefect burst in, the boy threw the sandwich out the window to avoid detection, but it was his ill luck that it landed on the head Big Ian who was passing from the Dining Hall to the Main Building.

Those were the days. What a mixture of freedom, tradition, authoritarianism and anarchy - of a sort that makes All Souls seem rather tame.

More soon.

Thinking of you all,