Author Tags: Fiction, Humour, Travel

"In staid old China, it's not Hu Yu Bang (Communist Party leader) who counts, but Hu Yu Know." -- Ben Maartman

Publisher and writer Ben Maartman of Errington on Vancouver Island worked as a fisherman, logger, social worker and parole officer prior to recording his pre-Tiananmen Square visit in 1986-1987 to China in The Iron Bowl Blues (1989), an often humourous look at the favoritism, regimentation and corruption within the Chinese Communist system. "You can't have Western technology without Western ideas," he told the Nanaimo Free Press, "The genie called freedom has gotten out of the bottle and they'll have a heck of a job getting it back in." The book's title is derived from Mao Tse-Tung's decree in 1949 that "all citizens must eat out of one common iron rice bowl". Three decades later Chairman Deng advised the iron bowl must be shattered into a thousand pieces. With his wife Blanche, Maartman previously visited China in 1984 and 1986. During that latter trip he taught English for a year at Suzhou College west of Shanghai.

Born in Vancouver in 1924, Ben Maartman was raised on ranches and farms in the Caribou, the Alberta foothills and the Fraser Valley. He was one of numerous promising writers who were influenced by Earle Birney at UBC and at Birney's Deep Cove cabin known as 'Hangover House' where he met Malcolm Lowry. Maartman also knew Birney and Lowry from his visits to Einer Neilsen's "Leiben" writers colony on Bowen Island.

"Lowry was always drinking," he told Birney's biographer Elspeth Cameron. "This was the trouble. He was an extremely shy guy, but a very egocentric man, too, and when he drank he just dominated everything. He could actually talk poetry when he was drunk, and Margerie was the only lady I ever knew who could actually scream and rant all in iambic pentameter. Once my friend and I were carrying a stove down and Lowry was stuck up a bloody tree. So we climbed on the stove and got him out of the tree. Then he said he'd help us with the stove and all three of us and the bloody stove went over the bloody bank. One time we had a drunken party and I passed out and when I woke up [Earle] had put a blue ribbon on my dong. I often wondered what the hell else went on."

Maartman joined the RCN as a 'boy telegraphist' in 1941. His wartime service took him around the world and climaxed when the HMCS Ontario escorted occupation troops to Hong Kong in 1945. Following his studies at UBC where he received the Brissenden Scholarship for Creative Writing, he received his Social Work degree. He wrote radio and television scripts for the CBC, mainly on social themes.

Maartman worked for B.C. and Ontario Probations services and later recorded his experiences as a Vancouver counsellor for drug addicted criminals in The Strange Thing About Miracles (1990). The title story of this collection concerns Maartman's 18-month-long experiences with 16 male, hardcore, recidivist criminal addicts who became penitentiary parolees under his care in 1962 as part of Canada's first experimental program for criminalized heroin addicts called the Special Narcotic Addiction Project. While some of the action occurs at Main & Hastings, Maartman also describes their meetings during which "the 16 poor souls had to muster their various reluctant, hostile, apathetic, glib, hopeless, needle-pocked and booze-soaked carcasses at the same long table."

Having travelled extensively to the Far East and Australia, plus spending several months of camping on the beaches of the Mexican Baja Peninsula, Maartman also wrote Marco Polo on the O.A.S. (1998), a low-budget world travel guide for all ages, arising from his travels with his wife Blanche. His young adult novel that features Belize is entitled The Lost Treasures of Yucatan. His sophisticated memoirs and stories were all self-published by Fogducker's Press from his farmhouse home in Errington where he and his wife raised seven children.

In 2005, Maartman published and wrote the memoir of Paddy Hood who came from England's Tyneside slums to the Fairbridge Farm School for Orphans and Impoverished Children, near Duncan, B.C in A Boy's Story. The following year he self-published Boots A Bad Crossing, a novel that opens with events in an emergency ward in 1998 but chiefly concerns a teenage corvetter's view of the Battle of the Atlantic, based on Maartman's own wartime experiences, including some WW photos of ships and seamen.

Ben Maartman died of emphysema on September 16, 2008, although he had quit smoking twenty years before. He was the last living child of Ben and Hilda Maartman.


The Iron Bowl Blues and other Peeks Behind the Bamboo Curtain (1989)
The Strange Thing About Miracles & Other Stories (1990)
Marco Polo on the O.A.S. (1998, in association with Granville Island Publishing)
The Lost Treasures of Yucatan (2004)
A Boy's Story (2005)
Boots A Bad Crossing (2006)

[Fogduckers Press, Box 144, Errington, B.C. V0R 1V0]

Alan Twigg [BCBW 2009] "Travel" "China" "Humour" "Lowry" "Belize" "Fiction"

The Iron Bowl Blues (Fogducker's Press $11.95)

IN STAID OLD CHINA," WRITES BEN Maartman in The Iron Bowl Blues (Fogducker's Press $11.95), "it's not Hu Yu Bang (Communist Party leader until 1987) who counts; bu Hu Yu Know." Teaching English at Suzhou College west of Shanghai, Maartman observed how privileged Communist party members were suppressing the democratic wishes of the majority. As a result the Vancouver-born Maartman has returned home to Errington, B.C. to write his memoirs subtitled "A Prelude to the Beijing Massacre."

[BCBW Autumn 1989]

Boots a Bad Crossing
Promotional Information (2006)

The story in the present takes place in the last week in June, 1998, culminating in a long overdue resolution of a disastrous family skeleton. Seventy-four year old Boots Bootsman accompanied by Brenda, his wife of fifty very odd years, is checking into the Chamino Bay Hospital for a hip replacement but objects when the orderly deposits him in a wheelchair; his Ferrari. Brenda chides Boots to do as he’s told, pretend you’re back in the navy, and then adds: but don’t pick up any nurses in your Ferrari—especially if they’re CWACS! The unexpected words surprise even Brenda, and more so Boots. She has opened the door on a long hidden family skeleton
The new revelation causes Boots to start reviewing his life during the pre and post operative periods—along with the help of a morphine drip pack that alternately provides tremendous life vistas from the crests of the waves alternated with plunges into the black gaping troughs. The same revelation also causes Brenda to review her life with the help of the best of Boots’ blackberry wine, out in their old haunted farmhouse in Boots’ beloved blackberry-shrouded Lousy Acres in breathtaking Tah Valley by the Pacific.
Boots’ life review starts in Esquimalt naval base, 1941, when he accompanies his pal, Boy Seaman Freddy Biggs, home on leave to Freddy’s west coast family including twin-sister Brenda. Brenda’s ok on the outside, Freddy warns, but cross her once and you’d rather live with a wolverine. However it’s mutual love on first sight and soon they are pledged.
The love is complicated by Freddy and Brenda being born leaders and achievers while Boots is a follower and dreamer, a naval anti-hero marching to his own drummer. There is a further complication when Boots and Freddy are sent to Atlantic convoy duty. Eventually they head home on refit leave, Boots to marry Brenda, Freddy as best man. But with the help of a keg of rum rations the two sailors debark the train in Montreal with two young ladies for a brief sally into the perils of St Catharines Street. Under Freddy’s chaotic leadership they are soon in handcuffs headed back to Halifax and more convoy duty, with disastrous results.
Sometimes the tragedies of war cannot be forever hidden in peacetime closets. This is the conundrum faced by Brenda and Boots during his week in hospital. Their three children get in on the family puzzle; the two oldest have developed an underwater sport and research enterprise including the planned sinking of a World War Two corvette, HMCS Cowichan, as part of an artificial reef, the sinking set for July First. Only Boots and Brenda know that once he and uncle Freddy had long ago served aboard Cowichan—part of the family skeleton.
As July First approaches, Boots is also into darkest withdrawal after the removal of the morphine pack, while Brenda knows that if she is ever to realize a life-change it is now or never. As the clock ticks Brenda and Boots face a senior’s common quandary: is this the end of the beginning—or the beginning of the end?

-Ben Maartman