I was saddened to hear that John Gardner BEM had passed away at the weekend. My relationship with John goes back to the late 1980's when we were both Labour Party members and eventually Labour councillors in the now long forgotten "South Ward" of the town. Then he had just ended a career within the boot and shoe industry where he was affectionately known as "Jingles" John used to mend the machines and always had a handful of washers and bolts in his pocket which he would jingle as he studied the task in front of him.
John had a great passion for the town and used every opportunity to talk it up, he was far more of a "half glass full" man than most and even when the Council or the Football Club were in the doldrums you could always rely on John to come up with some antidote to convince you that things were not really as bad as they seemed.
I remember once in the Guildhall at a Council meeting when the Tories were complaining about there not being enough coppers on the beat he said the following "Mr Mayor the opposition moan about there not being policemen on the streets of Northampton, but I can let them into a secret, they are there Mr Mayor, but they are just cunning, some are there in uniform, hiding in the shadows ready to pounce on any unsuspecting burglar and others (and at this point he touched the side of his nose with his index finger) others Mr Mayor they are there also, but you can't see em, cuz they're there in plain clothes Mr Mayor, in t- shirts and jeans, so watch out, because they're watching you, and they know what you are all saying about them."
This was John all over, funny, sometimes making comments completely irrelevant to the topic, but always looking to entertain, and I think that was his real role in life. John you see loved to dress up. His time in his "Fat Controller" and "Father Christmas" costumes is well recorded elsewhere but also in that wardrobe reminiscent of the changing room in the children's series Mr Benn were other costumes always waiting to be rediscovered.
There was of course his Deputy Lord Lieutenant's uniform, but next to it I like to think would have been the Cowboy outfit he wore when he rode a horse down Abington Street to promote a wild west show being played at the Derngate, and next to that would be his Japanese Admirals Jacket, claret with bold gold epaulets which he donned in his role as Commissionaire at Northampton Town Football Club.
I will miss John's welcome and words of friendship at matches, despite his lifelong membership of the Labour Party and my public divorce from it, he still supported me entirely and would always say "Don't let the b*stards get to yer Tony, keep doing what you are doing, keep up the good work and sod the party, put Northampton first"
I also remember when he turned out in the 90's at the Racecourse to open up a new basketball court resplendent in a fading red track suit which hugged him like cling film. It was from his days as a "Corner man" at the Drill Hall when the Wrestling was live on "World of Sport" on a Saturday afternoon. There," alongside Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, and Big Daddy would be JG himself with his bucket and sponge. He told me that they used to take turns at being corner man to "the baddie" as it always came with the risk or certainty of being lumped around the head by a handbag from some old dear in the front row.
I like to think that it was his love of costume and service which led to him joining the Freemasons so late in his life? I have never been a fan of their secret society, but in John they had someone who would give their all for anyone, funny handshake or not.
Politics needs it's leaders and it's intellectuals, but it also just as much needs it's entertainers and it's conscience, John fulfilled both of the later roles and was also far more intelligent than he was ever willing to let onto.
"I am just a boot and shoe worker from Northampton" he would often tell me.
No John you were much much more, you were a boot and shoe worker who was proud to be a boot and shoe worker and who was comfortable in any ones presence. You loved your music, your family, your life and above all perhaps as much as you loved your family you loved the place of your birth and you served it and us very well.
Sleep well Comrade
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