Ben Martin was a joker: his loud booming voice delivering random snippets of quirky wisdom about anything and everything could be heard all across Wicksteed Park Lake.
He worked there for nearly forty years as the park’s Chief Engineer.
His workshop was on the edge of the water, hidden behind some bushes – out of sight of the thousands of day trippers who descend on Wickies Park in the summer. ‘The Lady of the Lake’, ‘King Arthur’ and ‘Cheyenne’ were his babies. He knew every single nut and bolt and took them to bits, serviced them and put them back together again endlessly. How many people enjoyed a ride around the lake on the miniature railway, kept safe by Ben’s meticulous maintenance on the trains? How many children squealed with pleasure on the roller coaster, not realising how much dedication went into keeping it in perfect working order?
When Rob was a little boy, Ben decided to take him on some mad expedition or another involving a farm, pigs and lots of mud. The only thing was, eight-year old Rob didn’t have any wellies with him. Did that matter? No, course not. Don’t be silly – there’s always a solution somewhere! Seven pairs of socks and a pair of size 10 wellies was the answer. Rob says he could hardly drag his little legs along the track, let alone through all the mud and pig muck.
When Rob and I were sixteen we helped him push an old green Morris 1100 across a field from the farmyard to Ben’s house in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside (please don’t ask why!). I laughed so much my sides ached for a week afterwards, as he kept telling me to push harder, because the herd of cows that were following us were catching us up fast.
He told me I was beautiful on my wedding day – in a very loud and embarrassing voice! When we eventually had children he sat them on his lap and pretended to steal their nose and find it behind their ear. Once my boys were big enough he helped Rob teach them how to mend their cars for themselves, and how, if they couldn’t find a part that needed replacing, they should have a go at making one.
His big hands were always grubby, his fingernails caked in oil. His overalls did actually stand up themselves in the corner of his workshop. Everything about Ben was big, loud, jolly and fun.
Rob and my boys (and Ben’s son, Scott) are all Land Rover mad. They’ve all got one – it’s Landy City around here and Nicky can’t wait until his insurance comes down so he can have one too.
Ben also loved Land Rovers. I couldn’t help but laugh watching them all, getting in each others way. They were all like great big kids playing with giant meccano sets!
Sadly, Ben died in the early hours of Saturday morning of a massive heart attack. No warning. No nothing.
He left his legacy though. On Friday he was in the middle of mending a tractor. It’s now in bits on his front drive in a glorious rendition of his last joke! Rob’s Auntie doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
So Benji, if you are up there reading this, no-one knows where all the bits go. Can you come back and give them a hand!
24.7.38 to 5.7.08