John Gardner at Home

Memories from Prince Saprai

Dear John,

I think the first proper conversation we had was at King’s when I was 19 or 20. Ray Davern was my Jurisprudence tutor and he had asked me to go and see you because he could not answer a question that I had about Raz. Ray was like that: he would not bullshit. I go to your office with a copy of The Morality of Freedom in my hands. I had not booked an appointment. I sit down and explain the problem. Raz says autonomy has intrinsic value, everyone knows that. But I’ve been reading the Introduction to the book and there Raz says that autonomy’s intrinsic value is contingent or conditional on autonomy-supporting cultures. I don’t get it. How can the value of autonomy be both intrinsic and contingent? You spent about half-an-hour talking me through it but like an equal.

I wrote an assessed essay off the back of that conversation. I used it for my BCL application. I emailed you from Birmingham Public Library about applying. By then you had moved to Oxford and I had moved back home to Birmingham. I reminded you who I was, sent you the essay and asked whether you could help me with the application as well as be my referee. You replied before I had even left the library. You said that the essay was good and would show Oxford what King’s students could do. You said the personal statement though was ‘sycophantic’ and I had to scrap it and start again. I looked up what that word meant and re-wrote the statement until you were happy. It took a few drafts.

I don’t know why you helped me so much, but you did, and it changed the course of my life.

Here’s a quote that I keep from Kenny Dalglish:

‘I’ve been lucky, I played for Celtic and Liverpool with all those great players and managers. But they were very humble and kind. It seemed not a bad idea to follow their lead’.

I thought back then that it was not a bad idea to follow your lead, and I’m still trying.

Best wishes,