Jack Benson has left the building. Not that he ever stayed in for long. Not Jack. Walker, talker, ambler, rambler, preambler. Par excellence.
Jack, 77, of Little Eccleston, former country diarist for this newspaper, died last week. Out of deference we left it to his family to contact us when they were ready.
Daughter Kate called me yesterday. “Dad would want you to write – something,” she said. Not to dwell on his illness or the tragic timing of his death or circumstances of particular distress to his family. Just – ‘something.’ “Dad was a legend,” she added.
We were both at a loss. In every sense. I could almost hear Jack’s dry chuckle as I cried and grumbled at him in equal measure.
I’m all reet, Jacquie, he said whenever I asked how he was- knowing Lankysheer dialect wasn’t my strong point.
He was one of life’s immortals, a man whose love of life, the life that matters, the non-materialistic, surpassed all bounds. A dose of double pneumonia had made him, as he put it, “lose interest” for a while but once he started feeling better – if far from well – he made light of it with a joke. Something – there’s that word again – about thrush. Both sorts. That was Jack’s way. Leave them crying – with laughter. Observational comedy, often expressed in dialect, combined with a naturalist’s eye for detail.
He made the countryside sing for those who wouldn’t have given a greater crested country diarist a second glance in street life. Like “RGS” – our countyside writer of old – he documented changing seasons. Unlike RGS (Bob Shepherd) he injected humour – or pathos – into all he saw. Bob was a drier stick.
For years Jack wrote our Country Diary. It was a page to which I turned to escape – out into the country with Jack, to hear him talk (for he had a strong writer’s inner voice) about what he had seen, or heard, on his travels.
Our paths would cross in odd places. Such as Kirkham Open Prison where he had a writers’ group. I had to stop myself sharing a joke with Jack last weekend when a store manager I couldn’t quite place reminded me we had met when I was “doing that shoplifting thing.” She meant article. Assistants snapped to attention. Jack and I used to joke we met in prison...
Teacher, writer, musician, singer, blogger, family man, devoted husband, dad, Jack was the definitive man for all seasons. I’d like to think he’s travelling light, unencumbered by ill health or heavy backpack.
Jack’s funeral is to be held at 11am on Monday at St Anne’s Church, Copp, Great Eccleston. It will be, says Kate, “a celebration of his life.”
So I leave you with the words of another great countryman – the poet John Clare - by way of tribute to Jack.
“All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks are life eternal: and in silence they speak happiness beyond the reach of books. There’s nothing mortal in them; their decay is the green life of change; to pass away and come again in blooms revivified. Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay, and with the sun and moon shall still abide beneath their day and night and heaven wide.”