Monday, 27 February 2017

A Taxi Drivers Funeral in Newbury



Vintage Lorry Funerals Leyland Beaver is 67 years old and although the maintenance is much simpler than modern truck one job on the old lady tends to lead to another one. Changing a front tyre before a Salisbury funeral turned into a nightmare when one of the wheel studs turned with the nut. ATS Euromaster put the nuts, which they had already removed, back onto the studs whilst David Hall phoned John Satchell, his mechanic, who told David to get a replacement stud. John runs John Satchell Motors, employs 5 mechanics and is responsible for the maintenance of over 500 vehicles and trailers in North Wiltshire. However, he always manages to find time to check over the lorry before a funeral, often arriving at David’s home not before 1930 hours having been on the go since 0500 hours! John always appreciates the light snack that David’s wife prepares for him. David was given a trophy at the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Run for having one of the best kept lorries, however, David didn’t believe that he had earned it and gave it to John Satchell to keep it for the year in recognition of all he had done.

Vintage Lorry Funerals support network includes Mark Pyatt, who along with his four Brothers, restores vintage Leyland Lorries at weekends and Mark provides replacement parts for the Leyland Beaver in a service which David affectionately calls Pyatts Parts. A package arrived within two days with two wheel studs and nuts, not the single wheel stud and nut which David had requested. A plan was put in place so that after the Salisbury funeral the 1950 Leyland Beaver would travel to Westbury, the home of John Satchell’s 5 bay workshops. The funeral in Salisbury went well and the Family were delighted with the replica Flat-Bed Lorry that David had built to prominently display the ‘POPS’ Floral Tribute.

David arrived at Westbury around 1600 hours and John Satchell guided David as he positioned the Leyland Beaver over a pit. John and a young mechanic immediately went to work on the wheel and with much physical exertion they eventually removed the wheel and drum that evening. John telephoned David on the Tuesday to say that both replacement wheel studs had to be used and he had organised ATS Euromaster to change the tyre in his workshop. David suggested to John that the wheel problem was caused by Eastern European tensions, because the original tyre was from Romania which didn’t want to be replaced by the new tyre which was from Czechoslovakia.
The problems caused by pot-holes on the old A-Roads has resulted in cracks in the wooden framework of the 1950 Cab and whilst the Leyland Beaver was at Westbury David arranged for Atech Coachworks, who undertook the original restoration of the lorry, to make a repair job. However, whilst the Leyland Beaver was in West Wilts Trading Estate, David took a phone call from Camp Hopson Funeral Directors in Newbury regarding a Taxi Drivers Funeral on Monday November 3rd. It had been explained that the lorry was off the road, however, having been assured that the funeral would be minimalistic and involve just a Coffin Spray, David, not wanting to disappoint a Family, took on the job.
David telephoned Kevin Lucas at Atech and explained his predicament which would require the work to be completed in two days. Mike Hunt, Kevin’s business partner met David on the Thursday morning and drew out how the steel bracket would resolve the problems and Gregorz Malek worked very late on Thursday night to make and fit the brackets.
At around noon on Thursday David was given the Florists contact details and he was surprised to learn that there was no Coffin Spray, as had been suggested by the Funeral Director, but ‘SIDS TAXI’, two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards , a 23 inch x 15 inch ‘Cat’ , a 15 inch ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’. In addition the Family had asked that the Deceased’s Taxi Sign should be carried on the lorry, not the metal sign which is fixed to the boot but the plastic ‘Top Hat’ which is fixed to the roof of the Taxi.
With the lorry being away in Westbury David evaluated the best way to secure the flowers in an eye catching way. He visualised that if the ‘SIDS TAXI’ could be split into two 4 lettered words, then if the ‘SIDS’ was secured above the ‘TAXI’ and then the ‘Top Hat’ taxi sign fixed above ‘SIDS’ then David would have the main items to create a replica of a rear of a Taxi Theme. What is more, the basic elements were already in place on the lorry from the Salisbury funeral, however, a complete dismantling would need to take place to get the ‘SIDS’ in the same plane as ‘TAXI’ if he was to replicate the rear window of a hatchback Taxi.

David’s main concern at this point was how to secure the ‘Top Hat’ sign and Angela at CABCO, for whom the Deceased had worked, was brilliant in providing measurements and describing the function of the powerful magnets within the sign. Joan Watton, Funeral Director, Camp Hopson kindly sent a picture of the underside of the sign and David realised that the best way to secure the sign was by sitting it on two metal strips that David had previously used a number of times to secure a ‘Cross’ on top of a coffin.
When David arrived home with the Leyland Beaver at 1600 hours on Friday he knew he had the equivalent of three days work complete in only two days. David, with the sound of Van Morrison’s Here Comes the Night ringing in his ears, worked until 2200 hours on the Friday night, completing the first fix of the front display. David normally spends Saturday morning reviewing the paper, whilst listening to Sounds of the 60’s on the radio. However, on this Saturday morning Brian Matthews show was recorded and the weekend papers were never looked at. Having started in his garage at 0815 hours and within the first 30 minutes finding stained wood of exactly the right length to connect ‘SIDS’ and ‘TAXI’, David knew that things would work out how he had planned and the length of metal strips were exactly right for the ‘Top Hat’ sign magnets to latch onto.
The rear display had to incorporate two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards, a ‘Cat’ a ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’ and what is more the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ had to be secured with a quick release mechanism as these Floral Tributes were to be placed on top of the Coffin at the Church and the Cemetery. David devised a pyramidal structure with the Designer Boards loaded back to back, with the ‘Pillow’ facing rearwards and the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ facing the head end of the Coffin. By using wooden boards a similar shape to a Floral Tribute David can make the flowers appear to float apparently unsupported. The triangular shaped board that was used to support the ‘Cat’ had previously held a similar Floral Tribute in Hungerford, a ‘Car’ in Bristol and replicated a ‘Wingtip’ in Gosport. By 2100 hours on Saturday the first fix of the rear display was in place and this meant the Sunday could be spent on the second fix of both displays in which David equips his Floral Tribute Fasteners with a colour to match the flowers as closely as possible.

On the Monday morning David got up at 0500 hours and was away by 0545 hours. After collecting his paper in Calne Post Office he arrived at Camp Hopson’s Newbury facility at 0815 hours and John Firth and Joan Watton watched David reverse into their immaculate building. The first hour was spent washing the lorry, removing the dirt which had accumulated on the chassis, caused by the previous night’s rain. Paul Stag then took David and Joan on a dry run to enable David to make a judgement on the best manner to approach St. John the Evangelist Church. Paul made David aware that people used the Church car park as a free facility for shopping or working in the locality and it was obviously a huge concern as it was a factor outside anyone’s control. So rather than drive into the car park like a hearse would, David elected to reverse into the car park from the main road. David paced out the distance to the parked cars, he also shifted a wheelie bin and he confirmed that he could complete the manoeuvre provided the situation didn’t deteriorate.
David Left Camp Hopson with Joan alongside him in the cab and she informed him that over 40 taxis would follow his lorry to the church. She had advised the Police about the potential impact on traffic flows, however, they declined to get involved in a way that they often do at Traveller funerals or those for Hell Angels.
At CABCO Taxis the 1950 Leyland Beaver stopped for the Deceased’s colleagues to show their respects. David spoke to the Head Taxi Driver and expressed his concerns about keeping 40 cars together without a Police presence. However, the man said, ‘Don’t worry we’ll sort it ourselves.’ As the vintage lorry moved off from CABCO two taxis broke off from the cortege and went ahead to block traffic at any junction that may inhibit the progress of the cortege. In this way all the Taxis remained in line behind the lorry to the Church, however, David admonished a Policeman driving a Police Car who was attempting to come between the lorry and the first taxi.
Normally a Funeral Director recruits some extra part-time gentlemen to help at a Church and often these men can appear to be reluctant to participate when David requests any help. However, this wasn’t the case for Camp Hopson staff. As David approached the Church, Paul Stag, driving the hearse in front, pulled right across the road bringing the traffic to a halt leaving space for the vintage lorry to reverse off the road into the car park. David could see that Gerrard had created a total exclusion zone close to the entrance and managed cars wanting to get beyond the exclusion zone with the same enthusiasm as East German Guards stopping people getting into West Berlin. The Leyland Beaver moved slowly into the entrance watched by Terry and as the lorry pushed through the undergrowth at the edge of the drive it was evident that someone had left their car sticking out from the line. The only way through was to virtually touch the car with the rear wheel of the lorry before David applied full lock on the Steering Wheel as quickly as possible. Luckily Terry was on the same wavelength and didn’t try to stop David getting so close to the car, which a younger less experienced person would have done.
A number of mourners congratulated David on his reversing skills and David found out that the car which was parked jutting out from the line was parked by the Vicar conducting the service no less! David took pictures of the flower displays whilst the service was taking place.
As the vintage lorry approached the grave in Shaw Cemetery it became clear that someone had parked their car on the path leading to the grave blocking the only route for the coffin to reach the grave. David said to Joan, ‘Some joker has parked his car just where you need to be, and I know that car, it was the one that I wiped the dirt off the front corner at the Church’. Joan looked up and saw that vicar, robes flowing in the breeze, pacing up and down, oblivious to the problem he was about to cause.
For the first time ever the Family were the last out from the cemetery and each member came to David to shake his hand to say thank you for all that he had done. 






Monday, 30 January 2017

The involvement of children in funerals



David Hall was a child in the 1950’s, an era where children should be seen but not heard and youngsters were chastised if they spoke out of turn or interrupted an adult who was speaking. This concept was the essence of the song Little Children by Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas which was No. 1 in 1964.
However, in recent times the watchword has been transformed to children should be heard with young people now encouraged to partake in decision making committees at school, some make TV programmes one each year for the BBC and some become Authors at an early age.
The following interesting interactions have taken place with children who David has met whilst undertaking their Grandad’s funeral.
The marketing of Vintage Lorry Funerals started when David gave Richard Simpson, Editor of Trucking Magazine, the exclusive on his business venture and Richard ran a 4 page feature on the 1950 Leyland Beaver’s new role. A Photographer left his home near Ashford in Kent and drove to Bradford-on-Avon to undertake a detailed photo shoot of the vintage lorry. At the end of the session David asked if he could have his own picture and climbed into the cab, placing his right forearm on the open cab door window, adopting a 1950s Lorry Drivers pose. At that moment the sky changed and an atmospheric picture was captured, featuring a John Constable like sky. David has used this picture as his main marketing image for the past 14 years.

Just about this time a young Grandson would travel with his Lorry Driver Grandad during his school holidays and the young lad was shown the Trucking magazine featuring the Vintage Lorry Funerals article.
Sadly within 3 months the Grandad passed away whilst taking a 45 minute break in the middle of a journey in the Midlands. His children met in the front room of a house in Ross-on-Wye, evaluating what they should do for their Dad’s funeral whilst the children were banished to the kitchen. During the discussion there was a knock on the door and the Grandson who had travelled with the Deceased walked in and said, ‘If you go through Grampy’s cab you will find a Trucking magazine and a story about a bloke from Bradford-on-Avon who uses a 1950 Leyland Beaver in funerals.’
This lead to Vintage Lorry Funerals first opportunity in Ross-on-Wye and to reward the young man for his help David offered to take him in the cab, sitting him on the engine-cover, between David and the Funeral Director. The young man was obviously upset loosing his Grandad so David decided to distract him by showing how to double-de-clutch. David said that he would act as a robot and only act when the young man instructed. So when changing up into top gear the young man was instructed, when David put the Leyland Beaver in neutral, to count to 5 to let the engine revolutions die down before shouting ‘change’ and David then put his foot on the clutch and moved the gearstick into top gear. On the journey to the cemetery a number of gear changes took place and this proved to be an ideal distraction. The picture below was taken to provide the young man with a lasting memory of the day, and it is understood that he is now a skilled Motor Mechanic. It wasn’t a day to smile for the camera as the young man had just seen his Grandad’s coffin being lowered into his grave.

During a Southampton funeral the Son of the Deceased travelled with David in the cab and he told David about his family, including a young boy with learning difficulties who didn’t attend mainstream school and his autistic tendencies were a major concern to his family. The Family left the service at the crematorium at some distant from where the vintage lorry was parked and suddenly, without any warning, the young boy darted across the car park and ran towards David. As he approached he thrust out his right hand and said, ‘I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you on behalf of my family for giving my Grandad a good send off.’ David then invited the young boy to become his little helper and David watched the 7 year old carefully roll up the ratchet straps as he had been shown. David then gave the young boy a guided tour of the cab and explained what every switch did as the young boy pointed to it. His Mum & Dad apologised that their Son had caused a problem and David replied, ‘Meeting your Son was a privilege not a problem.’

John Blackstock had been an International Truck Driver who had taken his two Sons with him in his Volvo Double Sleeper Cab during their summer holidays. In their teens the boys followed different paths and went their separate ways, one became an I.T. Director in a big company however, the other, through tragic circumstances, had never worked. As the two ‘boys’ would be together the first time in years for their Dad’s funeral David decided to build something that would remind them of happier times. Next door to the Funeral Directors in Coventry is a school and young school children passing the vintage lorry started to hum the Death March. One young boy looked up at the replica Volvo Double Sleeper Cab and wanted to climb up onto the deck and play in the cab. A more nature girl said, ‘No, you can’t to that, this model has been built because the man who has died probably drove a lorry like the model.’
David was taking pictures of a Traveller’s funeral outside a house on a busy main road in Mitcham, South London. David was standing on the opposite side of the road with a young Traveller boy close to him. David asked the young boy to get one of the adults to stop the traffic so that he could get a good picture. The young boy, to David’s horror, ran out in front of an oncoming lorry, waving his arms above his head shouting, ‘Stop the (expletive) traffic’ and repeated this 5 times. David was mortified.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Two Funerals in January, one at the beginning and one at the end



The first funeral was in Guildford on Monday January 4th the first working day back for many people after an extended Christmas Break. Being Self Employed, the best Christmas present anyone can be given is a job as soon after the New Year as possible. However, trying to get information from Florists, Funeral Directors and Crematoriums is not easy at this time when a thing called Christmas provides a huge distraction. Rather than fight through the major traffic congestion that was envisaged for the Monday morning, David elected to travel to Guildford on the Sunday but finding undercover storage for the 1950 Leyland Beaver wouldn’t be easy with most locations still closed after the Christmas Holidays. Luckily the Daughter of the Deceased lived on a farm and she kindly arranged for space to be cleared in their workshop and this location proved to be the most atmospheric setting the 1950 Leyland Beaver has parked in.
The Deceased had been a Mechanic who had worked on vehicles like David’s at the start of his career, however, after retirement the last third of his life was dedicated to his garden. So rather than having a Floral Tribute made from flowers his Daughter arranged for a an exquisite display of vegetables to be created which would be placed in front of Gardening Tools, a  Fork, a Spade and a Wheel-Barrow.

Bed & Breakfast accommodation wasn’t easy to find in this rural area, however, a local farmer took in guests at his Manor House in a way to diversify away from his traditional income on a Dairy Farm which had sold its Jersey Herd a long time ago. It was certainly a grand setting, however, there was no chip shop at the end of the street so David changed his normal mode of operation, keeping his sandwiches for his tea and having a hot meal at lunch time in the Bull Inn at Bentley on the A31.
Part of the instructions from the Family was that David should not wear black but a grey shirt and pullover was requested by the Daughter of the Deceased. However, when David was collecting the vehicle in the morning the Deceased’s Son-in-Law, a colourful character, took a dim view of David’s dress code and presented him with a red jumper. David explained that had he known that a more colourful outfit was required he would have provided one. David went on explain that on two previous occasions he has been asked to impersonate the late Fred Dibnah and the Son-in-Law then asked David to become Fred Dibnah for the next hour explaining, ‘You even look like the old (Expletive) in those thick 1950 style spectacles.’ David is pictured below in his Fred Dibnah guise, however, David believes he is only poor representation of the great man who was a renowned Steeple Jack in the 1960’s .

At Guildford Crematorium as David was releasing the ratchet straps off the coffin, the Son-in-Law shouted in a loud voice, ‘Ladies & Gentlemen I give you Mr. Fred Dibhah.’ David didn’t disappoint telling the Bearer on the opposite side of the deck, ‘Nay then, tek this strap in thy hand and tek it t’ back of lorry.’ Climbing onto the deck David said, ‘Reet then, I’ll turn t’old lad and get im riddy t’ come off side roller.’ The mourners started to clap to show their appreciation of David’s efforts.
The second funeral was in Swanley on January 26th and this was for a former Lorry Driver who also been a Royal Marine in WWII. The Floral Tributes were a ‘DAD’ and a ‘Pillow’ and David suggested to the Son of the Deceased that he would position ‘DAD’ on the Headboard and the ‘Pillow’ would sit on a step in front of the coffin. In order to exceed the expectations of the Family, David customised the ‘step’ to appear like the back end of a Lorry.
The location that David used for many years to park the Leyland Beaver under cover the night before an Orpington funeral is now longer suitable so it was time for a new start. In recent times David has approached Tyre Fitting Companies because normally they don’t store vehicles inside their location overnight, unlike Commercial Garages with ATS and Kwik Fit being used in a number of occasions. David approaches the Manager, explains that he needs to put his lorry undercover the night before a funeral and a reward of a box of biscuits usually gets the Manager to agree. However, the Manager at Kwik Fit Orpington was initially reluctant to make a decision and said he would be more comfortable if David approached the Head Office and got them to sanction that the Leyland Beaver could be parked undercover within his facility. David was concerned as the involvement of someone from Head Office may put a stop to him approaching Managers directly and in the limited time before a funeral the last thing David needed was to spend an hour on the phone trying to find the appropriate person.
David made three attempts to find someone who could help him and fortuitously he spoke to a young lady who listened intently and promised to look at the Vintage Lorry Funerals web site before speaking to her boss. David told her that many years ago he had written to Tom Farmer, then Kwik Fit owner, about a possibility to undertake a Distribution Quotation and he got a polite reply personally signed by the great man. David thought that he had done all that he could but reckoned that there was only a slim chance that a big company would be prepared to help him. Later that afternoon whilst David was working on the deck, his wife called him back into the house because an email had arrived from Kwik Fit which stated he could park at any Kwik Fit site in Britain provided the lorry was covered under its own insurance and that the Manager was happy that it would fit. The Orpington Manager was now relaxed and he offered David use of his fridge to put his sandwiches in there overnight and some hot water to wash the lorry if required.
David had difficulty speaking with the Florist who was a friend of a distant Family member and it wasn’t until the day before he was scheduled to leave did he manage to speak with her and it was just as well he did. In addition to the ‘DAD’ and the ‘Pillow’ there was a 21 inch ‘Heart’ from the Sister of the Deceased so David quickly assembled a suitable stand which would position this important Floral Tribute near the head of the coffin. The key part of the support structure was a triangular shaped piece of wood which had already made a number of appearances already to support a ‘Butterfly’ in Snodland, a ‘Cat’ in Newbury and in Hungerford, a ‘Car’ in Horfield Bristol and used to depict a ‘Plane Wing’ in Gosport.

In timing the journey, the plan is always to arrive just before the garage closed at 1800 hours and although David knew the lorry could fit under the roller shutter door he was unsure how well the lorry would fit between the car ramps. As David drove into the yard three Kwik Fit lads came to meet him and they evaluated between themselves, similar to an American Football Huddle, which would be the best bay to accommodate the vintage lorry. One invited David to look at the space and he knew it would a close thing so he inched the lorry slowly back with two Kwik Fit lads either side of the deck watching that the vintage lorry got safely between the car ramp pillar.  After parking David was surprise how close the car ramps were away form the lorry and it was certainly a tight fit at Kwik Fit. However, one Kwik Fit lad complimented David saying, ‘You have obviously done this manoeuvre many times before!’

Cost effective B&B accommodation was available within walking distance, however, the place had no eating facilities which may have caused a problem. However, within 100 yards of the B&B was a Retail Park, so it was Nandos Chicken Burger for supper and Costa Coffee Bacon Sandwich for breakfast. One of the Kwik Fit lads offered to come in early to get the Leyland Beaver on the road by 0745 hours, however, it still took an hour to travel the short distance to Swanley.
When the Son of the Deceased saw the flowers in place he thanked David for all his efforts and he asked if he could travel in the cab with David. This was a win, win, situation because it meant so much to the Son of the Deceased and he told David all about his Dad and this made the creation of an Obituary Article so much easier.
On his way back from Eltham Crematorium David elected not to use the South Circular, which is renowned for heavy traffic and long queues but he took the A224 and the A232 on which the traffic seems to flow. Within four hours driving The Leyland Beaver glided from Eltham, through Croydon, along the A31 and into Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 where David took his 45 minutes statutory rest break. David then let the rush hour traffic to subside and he got home at 2000 hours at the end of a 13 hours day.              

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A Traveller’s Funeral in Stretham



When David Hall was asked to quote for a funeral in Stretham, near Ely, he asked for the post codes for all the locations to be visited and he asked whether there would be a lot of flowers. David was advised that the Deceased was a Lorry Driver who had come from a Travelling background and David was keen to speak to the Florist regarding the Floral Tributes. In David’s own experience there are different types of Travellers, some live in mobile homes within Traveller sites and these often have exquisite large scale wire framed Floral Tributes. However, some Travellers reside in conventional houses and normally they have standard oasis based Floral Tributes, like anyone else, but a lot more of them!
David got some excellent help from the Family and the design for the layout for the Floral Tributes evolved gradually as more and more orders were placed. The front display was quickly agreed comprising of a 3ft x 2ft ‘Lorry’ sandwiched between a ‘DAD’ and a ‘GRANDAD’.

The Deceased had sadly passed away whilst taking his dog for a walk, only taking two sips from his pint in his local pub before suffering a heart attack from which he never recovered. Considering what he was doing when he passed away, his Daughter organised for a ‘Dog’ Floral Tribute to be created by a skilled Florist. David set himself the task of integrating the ‘Dog’ in the rear section of the layout, but featuring it prominently. Luckily within 3 days enough orders were placed and were of the right shapes for David to design a multi-level pyramidal structure which would develop into the best rear display he had created to date. The bottom level comprised of the ‘Dog’, a Cushion, a Pillow and a large scale 18 inch ‘Horse Shoe’. The top level had an Open Heart back to back with a 2 ft Cross. In order to personalise the display David borrowed a lead for the ‘Dog’ from Mrs Jackie Roberts, a neighbour, who is a champion breeder of Red Setters.

Finding a company prepared to put the vintage lorry undercover the night before the funeral proved challenging both in Ely and Cambridge. David has a network of contacts throughout Britain and he was able to park his lorry with Trevor Rowell, whose vehicles are based on a remote road in the fens near Chatteris. The Leyland Beaver rolled out of Bradford-on-Avon at 0445 hours on a cold December morning and David headed for Witney near Oxford for his first stop. Just over 2.5 hours from Bradford-on-Avon is the Co-operative Food store in Long Hanborough which has a large yard at the rear and a kind Manager who lets David use the staff toilets. David took a 45 minute rest break as usual, required by Drivers Hours Legislation before a 4.5 hour driving period should elapse, and this allows the busy commuter traffic into Oxford to subside. David arrived in Chatteris for 1430 hours, planning to use the remaining hours of daylight to wash the vintage lorry. Following Trevor Rowell’s advice David entered the yard and to phone him so that a lift could be organised to the hotel once David had washed the lorry.
David heard a guard dog bark and assumed that it would stay in its kennel. When David climbed out of the Leyland Beaver he quickly found out that his assumption was badly wrong. A huge guard dog came bounding in David’s direction. David tried to quickly assess the length of the chain but he turned to run when he knew he was within the dog’s reach. David slipped on the loose gravel, fell to the ground and the guard dog was on top of him. David was in a hopeless situation but he had the presence of mind to shout firmly ‘John sit.’ Miraculously the dog backed away and sat. What you are probably thinking is how did David know the dog’s name was John? Well most people in East Anglia are called John, aren’t they? The actor David Jason was taking his family on holiday to Bury St Edmunds in 1948. It wasn’t easy to find your way just after WW11 because most of the road signs had been removed in 1940, when Britain feared a German invasion. David Jason was lost and pulled up next to an elderly gentleman cutting a hedge. David Jason wound down the car window and asked, ‘Can you tell me the way to Bury St Edmunds?’ but the old man ignored him and kept on cutting the hedge. David Jason then shouted, ‘Hey John.’ and the old man stopped cutting, turned and approached the car. The old man, in a Norfolk, accent said, ‘How do you know my name is John?’ David Jason said, ‘I’m a good guesser’ and the old man replied ‘well guess your way to Bury St. Edmunds!’
The wife of the haulier arrived and expressed her sympathy for David who had badly bruised his elbow in his confrontation with the guard dog. Apparently the only person the dog had bitten was a Policeman, however, this was of little comfort to David as he limped into the hotel in the centre of Chatteris. David couldn’t understand why the restaurant was very busy but very few people were staying at the hotel that night. As David was watching TV before he went to bed he noticed that the church bells were chiming every 15 minutes. David assumed that the bells would stop at 2200 hours but sadly he was wrong. The chiming continued every 15 minutes right through the night, not the best preparation for a Travellers funeral. 
David had envisaged that the traffic would be light between Chatteris and Stretham but he was wrong, there were 50 cars behind the Leyland Beaver on their way to Cambridge. David stopped at the Post Office in Wilburton, just before the traffic lights at the junction of the A1123 and the B1049, a back road into Cambridge. The Postmaster had put a paper under the counter for David who handed over his voucher and then climbed back into the Leyland Beaver. In the meantime all the 50 cars were trapped behind the vintage lorry on this narrow road as they were all turning right at the lights. As David went straight over the lights, on his own, he wound down his window and waved good bye to the stream of commuters. The road ahead was quiet until David reached the roundabout on the A10 and he brought the traffic to a standstill as he reversed into the driveway of the Traveller’s house.

The Travellers were brilliant with David, an older lady made him a cup of tea and an older man handed the Floral Tributes up to David who concentrated on fixing the Floral Tributes in place. The older lady offered David a second cup of tea, for ‘the driver’. David said, ‘Currently I’m not the driver I’m the load assembler!’ The etiquette in dealing with Travellers is that you can speak only to the men and you should never attempt to even look at, never mind speak to a young Traveller girl. However, the Daughter of the Deceased was so grateful for the magnificent display David had created, in which Floral Tributes appeared to float, that she ran towards David and gave him a huge embrace in front of everyone. The old Traveller men each held up a hand to signify that they weren’t concerned and no damage had been done.
The Funeral Director arrived with 6 Bearers as the Deceased wasn’t a small man and his solid oak coffin was over 13 stone on its own. Excellent rapport was established with the Funeral Director and his team and David said that he was always interested in the backgrounds of Bearers. In David’s experience, there is always a mix of full time and temporary staff, which can be made up from backgrounds as diverse as Fireman and former Policeman. The Funeral Director said that there were 2 full time and 4 temporary staff and invited David to guess which the full time employees were. David concentrated on the younger men and guessed correctly. The Funeral Director then asked David to identify the former Policeman and the Fireman. Looking at the stature of each man, David chose the former Policeman and the Fireman was selected correctly looking at his age, assuming that he would still be employed as a fire-fighter but working for a Funeral Director on his rest days. So David got the three questions correct.

On the return journey from long distance funerals David often tries new routes to expand his knowledge of A-Roads and Service Facilities around Britain. So for the return leg from Ely David opted to use the A43 which runs from Northampton to Oxford and is mainly dual carriageway, providing ideal conditions for vehicles to get past the 1950 Leyland Beaver. Coming through Northampton David noticed that the A43 signs changed to ‘A43 follow M1 North’ and David thought that the A43 would start at the roundabout which also has the exits to the M1. However, David was wrong as traffic for Oxford was forced to travel north on the M1 for one junction and he was very worried about the consequences from his lorry only doing 30 m.p.h. and other vehicles going much faster. As David was trundling down the slip road, a heavily loaded Eddie Stobard Tractor and Trailer, not travelling much faster than the vintage lorry, was in the first lane and the Driver shook his head, signally to David that he was entering a risky venture. David shrugged his shoulders to signal that he could do nothing about his predicament and gestured that he was only going up one junction. The Eddie Stobard Driver gave David a thumbs up signal and got onto his CB Radio. The Eddie Stobard Driver got out into Lane 2 to let the Leyland Beaver onto the motorway and when the Eddie Stobard vehicle was clear of the vintage lorry David put on his head lights to inform the Eddie Stobard Driver that it was safe for him to pull back into Lane 1. The Eddie Stobard Driver then thanked David not by using left, right, left indicators, the current way of thanking Lorry Drivers, he put his side lights on and off twice, which was the way a Lorry Driver thanked someone in the 1950’s. From junction 15 to junction 15A Lorry Drivers shielded the vintage vehicle from cars travelling at 70 m.p.h. and beyond. Each Lorry Driver who passed David acknowledged his Head Lights, ‘you are clear to come in’, flash with a 1950s side lights on and off twice thank you.
David was amazed at the help the Eddie Stobard Driver was able to muster and David reflected that he had got by with a little help from his friends, remembering the Joe Cocker hit record.           

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Early Start for a Horfield Funeral



Most people may find it hard to believe that David Hall of Vintage Lorry Funerals leaves home for a Bristol funeral, only 25 miles away, at the same time he leaves for funerals further afield in Gloucester or Basingstoke. David has found that traffic in the Bristol is gridlocked in key areas at 0715 hours and this necessitates leaving Bradford-on-Avon at 0500 hours, taking the A46 north from Bath and then the A420 westwards into Bristol.
The funeral was for R. Davies & Son and the Deceased was a former Haulage Contractor who had used tipper lorries in the Avon area. It was David’s third funeral for R. Davies & Son whose main office is on the Gloucester Road, Horfield, on the old A38. The company in David’s opinion has a unique approach to customer service in having the same person who has handled all the meetings with the Family also conducting the funeral, which has not featured anywhere else in David’s experiences with large companies. Normally a Funeral Arranger meets the Family and arranges the funeral, however, a Funeral Director, who may never have met the Family, conducts the funeral. On some occasions the person conducting the funeral has less idea where the family home is than David, who always plans for this situation learning form his Father’s mantra ‘trust no one son!’
David enjoys working for Catherine Benefield as she has a detailed understanding of what David needs to know. The only problem David has dealing with Catherine is that she is often in meetings or out of the office, however, she is always contactable by email.
Catherine told David that this would be a big funeral with 3 limousines for a very popular Irishman and a large contingent from the Emerald Isle was expected at St. Patrick’s Church in Redfield and then the interment at Mangotsfield Cemetery. The Red Flower Barrow told David that the Floral Tributes would include 3 ‘Names’, ‘DAD’, ‘GUS’ & ‘MAYO’, a 6 foot Coffin Spray of Red Roses and a ‘Scania 8 wheeled Tipper’ which was advised to be created from a 36 inch x 24 inch sheet of oasis. David created a design in which the lorry would appear to be floating, apparently unsupported, and as ‘MAYO’ depicted the Irish county of the Deceased’s birth, two Shamrocks were laminated and fixed either side of the four lettered word.

David has a good working knowledge of the roads around Bristol and he discussed with Catherine her proposed route. Likely problems were anticipated with the limited parking at St. Patrick’s Church, however, Catherine knew the Deacon and arranged for the school next door to open its gates to enable the funeral cortege to turn whilst the service was underway.
The night before the funeral David rang Dave at The Red Flower Barrow to check if any last minute orders had arrived from Ireland and, adopting a trust no one stance, David asked that the ‘Scania 8 wheeled Tipper’ be measured. From previous discussions David provided a board which was 36 inches x 20 inches, however, alarm bells rang when Dave said the Floral Tribute was 44 inches x 22 inches. Although David always seeks to have Floral Tributes floating apparently unsupported, unless he made changes to the Support Structure, the ‘Scania’ would be literally unsupported.

When you are intending to be in bed by 2130 hours the last thing you want to do is to be looking for lengths of wood to sort out a problem when you should be relaxing, unwinding, preparing mentally for the next day. David knew where a 48 inch length of 4 inch x 2 inch timber would be located in his storage system and he put a support bar behind the 36 inch wide board, right at the top, anticipating a tablet 44 inches x 22 inches.
A winter storm called Kate was expected to arrive in Bristol at 0700 hours, so David’s strategy of getting to R. Davies & Son’s Ashley Down support location by 0615 hours meant that he would park up before the rain would start.
David went to buy a newspaper in the Shell Garage on Gloucester Road and on his way back he passed R. Davies & Son’s main office with its large windows in it entrance. Thinking of the Hollies hit ‘Look through any window’ David took a peek and he didn’t see ‘smiling faces all around’ as the song suggests but the Floral Tributes that he would be loading in 3 hours time, neatly arranged on the carpet. To David’s horror he noticed that the ‘Scania 8 Wheeler’ Floral Tribute was not a tablet but the oasis sheet was cut out in the shape of the lorry which meant that the 48 inch support bar would have to be repositioned lower down the board before the rain arrived.
At 0715 hours David noticed that the traffic in Ashley Road had come to a stop, Gloucester Road and other streets in the Horfield area were now gridlocked and David, sipping his coffee sitting in his cab, knew that the early start had been warranted. 
As Catherine had warned it was a big funeral with an estimated 1000 people at St. Patrick’s church. There were a lot of large thickset Irish men, the sort of men you wouldn’t have picked an argument with. During the service Jane Crouch the female Boxing Champion turned up at the church. Due to cars being parked in the school yard, David had to spin the Leyland Beaver around in the limited space in front of the church. After the service whilst David was securing the coffin an Irish man, with a grin on his face asked, ‘What sort of heater have you got in yer motor?’ David replied, ‘A 9.8 litre heater’, meaning no heater just the heat from the engine.
There was a huge crowd gathered around the grave and one person started to sing whilst strumming a guitar. One of the Funeral Bearers quipped, ‘Jane Crouch the Boxer turns up at the church and now Van Morrison turns up at the cemetery!’

Other key events which happened during November 2015 was a funeral in the Isle of Wight for a former Prison Officer at Parkhurst on the same day that Vintage Lorry Funerals was featured in the BBC 1 Wales TV Programme, ‘A Very Welsh Undertaking’ which concerned the 1950 Leyland Beaver being filmed during a funeral in Newcastle Emlyn.         

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Three Funerals in Four Working Days



In October 2015 Vintage Lorry Funerals undertook 3 funerals in 4 working days, Marston Green (Thursday 8th), Wantage (Monday 12th) and Walsall (Tuesday 13th).
The Marston Green funeral was for a former Haulage Contractor whose wife went into Franklin & Hawkins funeral home and booked a standard hearse for her husband’s funeral. However, when she was getting into her car she noticed the picture of the 1950 Leyland Beaver in the window. She then went back inside and changed her arrangements as she immediately knew the vintage lorry would provide a fitting final journey.

The Wantage funeral was initiated by the Family of a man who bought and sold classic cars and his Daughter rang David directly before contacting any Funeral Director. David was advised that the Family’s Floral Tributes would be small in size, however, distant relatives had clubbed together and had arranged for a ‘Spanner’ and ‘BARRY’ to be created by the same Florist, who was an amazing help. David provided the dimensions of his ‘nut’ and the Florist cut out the oasis sheet so that the ‘Spanner’ would fit the ‘nut’.
The Marston Green funeral involved a minimalistic approach and David was evaluating how to display the ‘BARRY’ and the ‘Spanner’ prominently at Wantage when the telephone rang. It was an enquiry from a Coventry Funeral Director and David provisionally arranged to park the Leyland Beaver in their garage overnight prior to the funeral. Sadly the Family decided that the cost of the lorry was beyond their budget and David was disappointed but relieved because the flowers for the Coventry funeral may have meant David working through the night, dismantling one display and assembling the next one. Within 30 minutes the telephone rang again and it was Roy Quinton Funeral Directors in Walsall with an enquiry also for Tuesday October 13th that involved an early morning funeral. That evening David spoke to Sean Hayward, Managing Director of Haywards of Walsall, a company that operates 85 vehicles from their base in Portland Street and a location in Yorkshire. Sean has known David for over 20 years and Sean said that if David got the funeral Haywards would lay out the red carpet for the Leyland Beaver. The following day the Walsall funeral was confirmed and David rang Sean to explain about his need to work on the deck late into the evening on the Monday night. The Roy Quinton Funeral Arranger was immediate in finding out about the flowers and it was confirmed that only a Coffin Spray would feature and a minimalistic approach was requested.
So David had a conundrum regarding how to display the ‘BARRY’ and ‘Spanner’ prominently in Wantage and then finding a way to make the support structures disappear before the Walsall funeral which was only 18 hours later. One option would have been to leave the support structures at Haywards and go back for them after the funeral but this would have involved doubling back from Streetly Crematorium. So David elected to make the support structures ‘disappear’ some where between Wantage and Walsall taking a leaf out of Jasper Maskelyne’s book. Jasper Maskelyne was a magician during the 1930’s & 1940’s who was used by Winston Churchill during World War Two to use ‘magic tricks’ to make cities ‘disappear’ from the Luftwaffe Bomb Aimers.
The Marston Green Funeral involved David leaving at 0445 hours to miss the rush hour traffic in Gloucester and he took his first break at Alcester Services, allowing the Birmingham rush hour traffic to subside. David arrived early in Marston Green for the afternoon funeral and he reversed the Leyland Beaver into the ample parking facilities in front of Franklin & Hawkins Funeral Directors. David became aware that a Union Jack was to be placed on top of the coffin and Franklin & Hawkins Staff helped David to secure it. The widow was very pleased with what David had done but sadly never got the chance to shake his hand at the Crematorium. David arrived home at 2000 hours and emailed the pictures he took to Franklin & Hawkins. The following morning, at around 1000 hours the widow rang, thanked David and provided some valuable information on her husband which enabled David to create an Obituary Article. David always likes to complete all the administration on one funeral before starting on the next. With the widow’s help and immediacy in responding an article was signed off and sent to the Editor of Vintage Roadscene the same day.

The most amazing fact about the Wantage funeral was that for the first time ever the Family changed the Funeral Director three days before the funeral! It was not for David to wonder why, he just got on with his preparation and found the new Funeral Directors, J. Godfrey & Son very accommodating. George and Faye were very helpful and expressed concern about the Leyland Beaver negotiating the sharp curve into the porte cochere without mounting the kerbs on this narrow roadway. Faye telephoned the Crematorium and arranged that David could reverse under the porte cochere.

Normally when the service is taking place at the Crematorium David takes a well earned break, sipping coffee from his flask and nibbling at his toffee crisp or eating his ham/cheese/pickle sandwich. However, on this occasion relaxation wasn’t possible and with the tune of Mission Impossible ringing in his ears he set about dismantling the ‘Spanner’ & ‘BARRY’ support structures into their component parts. These were fitted, using a meticulous game plan, into a fruit-box which was then slid under the passenger seat in the cab. So when the Family emerged after the service everything had disappeared from the deck.
The Family were delighted with all the efforts that David took especially securing the Leicester Tigers Flag and how the ‘Spanner’ was displayed so that it appeared to be floating, unsupported. David was also thanked for his caring approach which had helped the Family members through a difficult time.
Leaving South Oxfordshire Crematorium at 1530 hours David headed north joining the A34 dual carriageway before taking the A4260 to Banbury and then the A423 to Coventry. David always works on the principle that most drivers stick to the motorways and main trunk roads, leaving the old A-Road Network very quiet, and the route to Coventry was no exception. Sadly the traffic became congested on the A45 between Coventry and Birmingham and the likely arrival time at Haywards was at risk. David phoned Sean Hayward who told David not to worry, as the A452 was clear and Quinn would be there whenever he arrived. It was 1930 hours and very dark when David trundled into Portland Street, however, as the Leyland Beaver approached Haywards the lights in the garage came on and the huge garage doors were being slid open. It was like a pilot looking for landing lights on an aircraft carrier and this image was enforced by Quinn gesticulating where David should park the lorry. Quinn said he would stay as long as David required for him to check over the lorry before taking him to the Premier Inn. In the morning Quinn collected David and made him a cup of tea before he was ready to depart.

As David was sitting reading his paper at Roy Quinton Funeral Directors he reflected that in an ideal world the Walsall and Marston Green funerals would have been on the same day, as the timings would have enabled them to be done one after another. However, as we all know this ain’t an ideal world.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A Cardboard Coffin in Snodland



A family in Snodland contacted David Hall after their mother had passed away. She had been a Lorry Driver for most of her life and it was her expressed wish not to have her final journey in a black hearse.
Her other wish was to be cremated in a cardboard coffin and she bought a coffin from Greenfield Creations when she was in the final stages of her life. Her family helped her to decorate the coffin with Butterflies.
When David Hall was told about the cardboard coffin he spoke to Greenfield Creations and voiced his concerns over the rigidity of a cardboard coffin and whether it would stand up to David’s handling techniques as the coffin is loaded, turned, positioned and secured. David sent a number of photographs of himself in action on the deck during a funeral that was televised on BBC 1 Wales and Andy Honeywell offered to supply David with a coffin and let him try it out in his garage.
David and one of his Support Team loaded the cardboard coffin with sufficient 25 kgs bags of Water Softener Salt to replicate the Deceased’s weight and to both their surprise there was no deflection in the plywood base at any stage. A wicker coffin will deflect, bending as much as 1 inch over the length of the coffin if it supported only near the ends. However, the Greenfield Creations cardboard coffin operated like a standard coffin as it didn’t deflect at all. Two concerns remained however, regarding the securement and how to keep the cardboard coffin dry. David normally uses ratchet straps to secure the coffin, however, this action would have been inappropriate and would have damaged the coffin as soon as any tension was applied. The solution to both problems was the use the use of David’s transparent sheet.

The Funeral Director had limited parking facilities and the Family contacted Newton Transport to provide space in their yard for David to load the flowers. Due to Newton Transport’s night loading operation it was not possible for David to park the 1950 Leyland Beaver undercover with this company so David contacted Mid Kent Vehicle Services, a garage that specialises in cars & vans. The manager Phil was most helpful offering David space for his lorry and took him to the Premier Inn at night and collected him in the morning. Phil is a most diligent guy, he even left a note on David’s seat to remind him to collect his sandwiches from their fridge.
David was concerned about loading the cardboard coffin from the Funeral Directors where there was no protection from the elements. He knew the coffin would be safe once it was beneath his sheet, however, what would happen if a shower occurred whilst the coffin was being wheeled out from the Funeral Directors facility. David telephoned Bob Osborne of Newton Transport and expressed his concerns over bad weather. Bob explained that his warehouse activities peaked during the evening, however, if required during the day he could make space available, withdraw his men from the location and enable the coffin to be transferred from the hearse onto the lorry undercover.

The Floral Tribute layout involved a front display depicting that a ‘Butterfly’ was leaving a Coffin Spray on its way to ‘LEE’. The rear display involved a 3 dimensional ‘Frog’ hovering over ‘MUM’ as Lee loved both Frogs and Butterflies.

During the morning the flowers were delivered to David and he assembled the display without any problems. The ‘Butterfly’, which was made by a different Florist, had not yet arrived so David went to get a newspaper. Whilst he was away the ‘Butterfly’ was delivered and to keep it safe Newton’s staff put it onto a pallet and located it into the warehouse. David returned and was oblivious to what had happened and rang the Florist, who stressed that it had been delivered. The ‘Butterfly’ Floral Tribute was to be the centre piece of the display but it was nowhere to be seen and David was getting concerned. He went across the yard and spoke to Bob Osborne who said, ‘Don’t worry Dave, our blokes booked it into the warehouse!’
David let the Florist know that the ‘Butterfly’ was safe and she asked him to send her a picture of the Floral Tribute once it was installed into the display. David said that he would take a picture and email it to her when he got home. She was upset that David couldn’t take a picture with his camera and send it immediately. David said, ‘Cameras are for taking pictures and phones are for phoning.’ 

At lunchtime the sun shone and the Newton Transport safety net wasn’t required, however, David will never forget the kindness shown by Bob Osborne and his staff.
Whilst the lorry and limousine were waiting outside the Family home a young boy on a bicycle approached David and bombarded him with questions.
‘Why is your lorry in my street?’
‘Who has died?’
Where is she now?’
‘Can I see her?’
He didn’t understand what David meant when he said that the coffin was sealed. The little boy asked David if he could see inside the cab of his lorry, however, the little boy accepted that it was not appropriate and that dignity must prevail over being inquisitive. David made the young boy promise that he would stay by his bicycle on the pavement until all the cars had left the street.
The Leyland Beaver performed magnificently going from Blue Bell Hill Crematorium to Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 in 4 hours, taking a route to bypass the rush hour traffic at Guildford. David arrived home at 2330 hours and his wife immediately downloaded the pictures from his camera. The Husband of the Deceased had insisted that David should send a ‘home safe’ text, however, David did one better sending the pictures at the same time. David always tries to exceed expectations.