Over the stable door: Tribute to the lovely man with the gavel from the old school

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It is MOT time for the equine brood at Brookleigh. Not only do the stables get a full spring clean but the physio and dentist make their twice-yearly visit to overhaul the team. A few old injuries are causing slight aggravation to the older horses but nothing too serious to overcome.

It is MOT time for the equine brood at Brookleigh. Not only do the stables get a full spring clean but the physio and dentist make their twice-yearly visit to overhaul the team. A few old injuries are causing slight aggravation to the older horses but nothing too serious to overcome.

Winged Farasi was never happy running on the slippy ground at Carlisle recently. Stiffness in a hind quarter has been located and treated, hopefully resolving the problem before it becomes a major setback.

Sad news in farming. The county has lost a memorable and prized character, leaving a gap the size of a crater in the Wharfedale valley. The auction market at Otley was shrouded in sadness a few weeks ago – there was no laughter from office staff, no banter over the auctioneer’s microphone. Farmers wandered around in another world.

Word spread in quiet disbelief that the director, auctioneer and virtual foundation stone to the farming community, Ben Atkinson, had passed away that morning, the exact time he would once take to his rostrum and kick off the day’s selling.

Ben was an overflowing presence in so many people’s lives, full of old school charm and charisma. His enthusiasm (like his temper) was fuelled by the need to do good. My first memory of this well educated, enthusiastic gentleman was as a youngster when I would follow my father round the auction like a lost shadow.

As a child, attending the cattle markets was a fascinating but petrifying experience. You were either ignored (farmers don‘t notice children until they are old enough to work) bawled at (they are always in the way of a rampaging bullock) or spoken to like a baby still in nappies until you hit double figures.

Children are not ideal accessories when farmers are busy dealing or laughing at each other’s dirty jokes so I was surprised when this elegant, well dressed man (Ben’s boots were always polished, the lack of an ingrained layer of cow dung set him apart) stopped to have a normal conversation with me – an insignificant seven year old.

It wasn’t more than a few sentences but I felt as grown up and worthy as any farmer when he walked away from me that day.

One day 55 years ago Ben, who was working as a trainee at Bridge End Market in Otley, had a minor fall out with old Fred, a cattle dealer.

A potato was stuffed up the exhaust pipe of Ben’s old Riley which, a number of miles down the road, Ben located and dislodged. But not before it had blown up his exhaust pipe – something which, on a trainee’s wage, he could ill afford.

Ben planned his revenge a week later. No word of the potato was mentioned as the two men chatted in passing. The dealer was offered some chocolates from Ben. Old Fred accepted them and readily tucked in.

A short time later he was struck down with violent stomach pains. A hasty trip to the gents ensued, followed by another. So it continued and before long he realised the last laugh was with the young trainee. Ben and his laxative chocolates became infamous.

More recently I bumped into our by now retired auctioneer on Thursday nights in the supermarket whilst he shopped for his devoted wife, Ann. He told me of their recent short holiday to Northumberland. “Oh Jo, it was wonderful,” he enthused, “I called at Ulverston on the way up, then Longtown, Hexham and even managed to squeeze Bentham in on the way home.”

“Did Ann enjoy her touring holiday too?” I asked. “No,” he replied, surprised by the question. “Ann doesn’t come with me to the cattle markets, especially on holiday. She went walking on her own but I saw her at night.”

Happily married for 48 years, Ann was well aware she shared her husband with a third party – his work. Such fulfilment and enthusiasm for everything in life made him unique and our world a far better place.

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