A few weeks ago Rohan and I took our son Joshua and grandson River to a Diggerland Theme Park. Joshua was sure River would love it. We arrived early and stood alone in front of the main entrance next to an almost empty car park. If we were amongst the first we would avoid long queues between rides.
This Park in Strood was established in 2000 and is the oldest of four such sites in the UK. Like the others, it has dozens of giant builders’ construction vehicles dotted over an acre of land (around half a football pitch). The vehicles, all yellow, were once hired to dig, demolish, shift and excavate. Now, worn out or obsolete, their hire company has parked them up to be played on by children and the occasional adult.
Many of the vehicles remain as they were, others have been modified. A giant hoist with its extendable boom has been converted to raise customers fifteen metres into the air – the Sky Shuttle. Another, a very large bulldozer, now spins people up, down and round sitting in its three-metre wide bucket. There were also dumper trucks as train carriages, and so on. All were painted traditional digger yellow, so there was no mistaking where we were.
As we waited to go in, River, now 3¼ years old, chatted excitedly. At home he had umpteen yellow toy diggers, soon he would be at the wheel of one for real.
My position was rather different. Like him, I love construction vehicles but for me they have to be JCBs. I am a fan of their brash yellow, a colour their founder chose right from the start. Indeed, echoing Henry Ford’s black Model T, Joseph Cyril Bamford offered buyers vehicles of any colour as long as it was yellow. I also love the even brasher lettering which, on each vehicle proclaims in giant black capitals ‘JCB’. Standing in the Diggerland queue, although I would enjoy being near JCBs, I was apprehensive – I was not looking forward to a cold morning in a quasi-fairground. However, it was soon clear that River had got it right.
At 10.00am and after some COVID-19 questions and a temperature check, we were allowed in and were soon standing in front of a series of grown-up caterpillar digger trucks. Joshua climbed into the cabin of their choice and, with River sitting on his lap at the controls, earth moving began (see illustration). Gulps of muddy earth were scraped up into the digger’s bucket, and after being swung to the right were emptied out. Then it was back for more. After 20 minutes or so, and having dug a deep hole on the left and created a hillock to match on the right, a glowing River was helped down. Now it was off to drive a dumper truck. Again on his father’s knee, River, with his father’s help, steered around a windy circuit. Finally it was a ride on the Sky Shuttle – for this they were joined by Rohan.
After an hour or so in digger heaven and another thirty minutes transfixed by toy diggers and digger accessories in the Park shop, it was off home. The car park was now packed.
Over the next days River often talked about the trip, telling how riding high in the Sky Shuttle was his best. As for me, things turned out to be more complicated. First, it was indeed a delight to watch River mesmerised on the various rides. Second, it was fascinating to see how these earth-moving ‘giants’ were so popular: by mid-morning the Park was teeming with three to seven-year-olds, almost all boys; as befits, girls were few and far between! Third, and by happenstance, a few days after the visit my obsession with JCB vehicles cooled.
That next week the media was full of stories about a butler from Daylesford Organic Farm Shop who smuggled thousands of pounds worth of complimentary food into Number 10 Downing Street for the delectation of Boris and Carrie Johnson. Paying for the ‘donations’ was the owner of Daylesford’s, a certain Carole Lady Bamford. You may have guessed, she is the wife of one of the UK’s richest men who has given millions to support the Brexit campaign and the Conservative Party. Who he? – Baron Anthony Paul Bamford, the son of JCB himself. With these discoveries, JCB vehicles lost much of their appeal!
Seeing River’s excitement as he rode on his much loved ‘diggers’ in Diggerland was a real treat. I too found being near the diggers special, but since my discovery of the politics of the current JCB owners that view has been tainted, which is both a pity and predictable.
The illustration is a photo of River and Joshua at the controls of a caterpillar digger. The letters ‘JCB’, which are out of sight are printed on the back of the cabin.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank River, Joshua, Brian, Rohan and Vivien.