I suppose, years ago, there was a Bedford market without old Ben. Can’t have been much of a market though. Anyway, as long as I, or everybody else I've asked can remember, old Ben has been down the market on Saturdays. Maybe he worked on the stalls as a young chap, but for the last twenty or thirty years he's been down the market just being old Ben. His favourite stalls are the fruit and veg. You might catch him trimming a cauli on John Hardy's “Selected Early Season Fruits and Vegetables” stall. When not, he'll sit up front advising the customers.
“How are Edwards Ben?”
“Not up to much, Whites are best today.”
“I was looking for some Spring Greens Ben.”
“Doubt you'll find any, they've bolted, they're not worth the picking.”
Some days there's a touch of sun down the river end and he'll move his pitch to get a bit of it.
“Getting a tan, Ben?”
“You don't see much sun these days, may as well make the most of it while it lasts.”
On rainy days he'll move over to Pratt's garden tools, with a bigger tarp. There he sits among the spades and forks looking out of place with all the foreign makes. Time was they were all made by Bedford Plough, but that's long gone.
“Grab a spade, Ben, got ten poles want turning over, but I ain't got all week.”
“I've turned ten poles before breakfast in my time mate, and got the spuds in before dinner.”
“You and your cultivator I bet.”
“Bloody cultivators weren't heard of them days, it was my old Bedford spade and my Dad's dibber for the spuds. Clay soil too.”
The market closed down, he will trudge off, up Commercial Road past the Harpur Central, across the cattle market and over the Prebend Street bridge. I never knew where he lived but it must have been somewhere near the Black Diamond.
Ah, you say, the Commercial Road's not what it was, the Harpur Central is long gone and there are no more cattle on the cattle market. True, but maybe they kept corner for old Ben. Next time you're on the market of a Saturday watch out for him. You won’t find him among the aubergines, the Argentine onions, the Dutch tomatoes or the Kenyan beans, but maybe, on a corner stall with a few bedraggled Biggelswade runners or Potton sprouts, you'll spot him trimming a cauli.
A memory shared byon Feb 21st, 2012.
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