A new ice age needed

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The Independent Online
It was one of the finds of the modern age, evidence of the large, slow-thinking animals which once dominated planet earth. But then John Jenyns took his hat off the rack and returned to his native habitat of the Yorkshire village of Huttons Ambo.

Monday is meant to be the day of anticipation in racing, when writers throw forward the interest to the coming week. For once, however, there remains more interest in the throwback, the York steward who abused two television executives on Tuesday and then did the decent thing by falling on his shooting stick.

The scene of the crime, the stewards' room at the Knavesmire, is familiar to some. I entered the hallowed portals two years ago when the Jockey Club's glasnost was coming into full force. In this particular case, the invitation to Jurassic Park was an error, as the upstanding members of the Fourth Estate were introduced to folk whose near relatives had their footprints discovered in Dorset last week.

While unravelling the subject of a contentious finish, one woman steward welcomed the thoughts of her visitors as a pedestrian might greet an expelled substance that has attached itself to the sole of his shoe. Arrogance, and some mysteriously earned sense of superiority, has clearly continued to breed like bacteria in the Petri dish of the York stewards' room. The culmination was Tuesday's chapter from Tom Brown's Schooldays, when Andrew Franklin and John Fairley were ordered to remain standing and take their hands out of their trousers respectively when they attempted to debate an accepted piece of camera placement.

Some have suggested Jenyns may have got out of the wrong side of his four-poster that morning after a rough night and that this was an exhibition most out of character. Normally, it seems, he might have said "of course, sit down Andy old boy, and Fairers, you haven't got a fag in there for me have you?"

One cul-de-sac down which the story dribbled was the indignation that two TV executives should be treated in this way. The essence of the chronicle was why Jenyns and his panel of free-thinkers should think they were allowed to treat anyone in this manner.

An initial surprise was that our executives did not start unbuttoning their cuffs on receipt of their treatment. But then this reporter too was immobilised by the shock of the twittering nonsense afforded on his visit.

It is hard to imagine that human beings such as John Jenyns are representative of either the racecourse populus or the species as a whole, yet it must be remembered he was not removed from office after his deplorable display. He resigned.

Malcolm Wallace, the Jockey Club's director of regulations, was on television at the weekend and seemed to be suggesting that Yorkgate was a rather regrettable incident that would never be repeated. Dear Malcolm must think we are are a very dim bunch of johnnies indeed to accept that there are not other members of the stegosaurus club clumping through the halls of officialdom.

There are two ways to achieve the post of local steward. The old procedure is for the executive of the racecourse to nominate someone in their area, known by them or the panel to be, according to Wallace, "the right sort of person". For the sake of brevity, we can call this the old pals' act.

Option two, only recently implemented, is to write to the Jockey Club direct and apply. All manner of people, apparently, have signed up through this system, though the zaniest Wallace could come up with was a professor of economics, an adviser to a government think tank. Oh what a broad church we have dipped into.

The proper candidate is "someone who can assimilate facts quickly." Surinder at my local corner shop has swiftly understood that he is up against supermarket giants and is combating that at the same time as marshalling teams of delivery boys for their morning rounds. He is one of the best assimilators I know and as such I look forward to his swearing-in ceremony at Portman Square.

There is short shrift for anyone who does not maintain the demanding guidelines of the job. "Every steward is assessed every year," Wallace says. "He's assessed by his colleagues, and the chairman of the panel is asked to give a report each year. The racing officials give a report if someone puts in an adverse performance."

This conduct, it appears, does not extend to the skill of being able to employ common courtesy or good manners. John Jenyns started as a steward in 1979 and only latterly, we are led to believe, has he become the dreadful old boor that visited York this week. He reserves these delightful performances uniquely for the Knavesmire it seems, as our old chum will continue to officiate at Redcar and Pontefract. We await with interest to see if he keeps his job at those tracks after the next round of performance reviews.

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