My, how standards have fallen! Things just ain’t what they used to be. When I was at school, the teachers used to arrange for inspirational icons of society to present the annual awards to students. But, this week, the poor kids at Earlston managed to get lumbered with me.
If I recall correctly from my dim and distant past (probably more dim than distant), I once attended a speech day where Roger Bannister was dishing out the prizes – not that I received any. And on another occasion, I was actually presented with a certificate by Delia Smith.
So what on earth was the Head Master thinking? I never ran a sub four-minute mile and I certainly didn’t teach a whole generation to cook – although I have successfully followed an excellent recipe for mulled-wine sorbet from Delia’s Festive Cookbook.
I googled the name Jonathan Garratt, thinking that it might be a case of mistaken identity, and sure enough: I share my name lots of other people, the most high-ranking of which is a potter who ‘has been crafting distinctive and unusual terracotta outdoor pieces for nearly 30 years’. He’s based in Shaftesbury, Dorset, so it seemed like a bit of a long-shot, but I asked the Head Master if he wanted me to talk about the merits of different types of clay…
“No.” He said, “I’d like you to share some experiences from your career in racing and inspire the children.” Inspire them? Crikey. Tall order!
“Should I give them all a tip for the weekend?” I asked, thinking that I might be able to capitalise on last week’s 33/1 winning selection. But apparently they’re not that big on promoting betting in schools, so I didn’t tell them about Court Duty – Saturday’s tip in the 2.30 at Newton Abbot.
It got worse when I arrived. The Head Master gave an inspiring speech about pushing personal boundaries to achieve success. “We must strive everyday to be the best people we can be, the very best versions of ourselves,” he said, “which means applying the five core values of the school: honesty, excellence, commitment, responsibility and respect.”
Well I was floundering a bit at ‘honesty’ and was completely stumped by the time he got to ‘excellence’. I mean I’ve seen excellence on the race track many times and of course I know what it’s like to work with fantastic people who show many excellent qualities. But rarely can I remember the word being applied to me personally.
So I told them what I always tell teenage children when I get asked to speak at a school. Which is that all boys are horrible at that age… And not to worry too much if you are a teenage boy or you’re obliged to sit next to one, because they’ll grow out of it eventually.
Secondly, I told them that horse racing is, for me and many thousands of others, the very best industry in the World to work in. And it you are fortunate enough to be involved in an industry about which you are passionate, then you bear a significant responsibility to ensure that you do your best – meaning that it is even more rewarding when things turn out ok, or quite good, or sometimes even excellently.