Thursday, 1 February 2018

A Funeral in Bath

Vintage Lorry Funerals first funeral in Bath was an emotional send off for a well respected man and over 600 people attended, which is documented in the Blog September 2017. Unbeknown to David, his second funeral in Bath would attract a similar sized crowd at Haycombe Crematorium.
The second funeral in Bath was for the largest Funeral Director in the City and often when visiting Bath with his wife, David would contemplate how he would manage the logistics if he was ever asked to undertake a funeral from their small yard.
David took a phone call from a Funeral Arranger who he had known from her days working in Bristol. Kim was excellent in providing the details of the funeral, including the timings and the Family’s decision that there would be no flowers. Kim advised that the vintage lorry needed to be with them by 1330 hours, however, she provided no information on why the Deceased’s Family had chosen the vintage lorry.
The 1950 Leyland Beaver is based in a garage behind David’s home, however, the street which leads to the main road can become gridlocked with cars being deposited at inappropriate places by people needing to catch a train to Bath. Obstructive Parking has prevented Emergency Vehicles getting up the street and on one occasion an elderly lady fell at home, broke her hip, and the Ambulance couldn’t get near her house. Sadly the lady had to be carried down the street and this event led to David galvanising the neighbours to demand Double Yellow Lines. The concept has been approved, however, it takes time for action to take place so, until Double Yellow Lines are installed, David will leave the street before 0730 hours.
David was left with a conundrum, where to park the vintage lorry in Bath, a historic city with Roman Baths and elegant Georgian properties but with limited parking opportunities for any vehicle larger than a car. David spoke to the Bath Spa Hotel, one of the most prestigious hostelries in the city, frequented by famous clientele such as Joan Collins. To David’s surprise the Receptionist was most friendly and offered parking for the vintage lorry whilst David could have his morning coffee, however, she omitted to mention the £15 parking fee.
The solution involved David contacting Paul Dallenty, a Funeral Director based in Twerton, the less affluent part of the city. Paul gave David his first funeral in Bath and was delighted to help, highlighting the opportunity to park in the Bath City Football Club car park or else in front of his shop. David opted for the second suggestion as he saw a way to promote potential future business for both Paul and himself.
David arrived in the Leyland Beaver at 0730 hours only to find that a Double Decker Bus had parked in the space in front of Paul Dallenty’s shop. The Bus was waiting for School Children and the Bus Driver was very interested in the vintage lorry, taking pictures with his tablet. Then some of the children got off the Bus and took pictures with their cameras.
Sue Hart, of Paul Dallenty Funerals, was extremely kind and held up the traffic whilst David turned the vintage lorry in the street. She then parked her car to prevent anyone leaving a car in front of the lorry which would have created a difficulty for the lorry to leave later in the day. Sue then invited David to sit in the Dallenty Office where he wrote his next blog by the heat of the 3 bar electric fire. The warmth of Sue’s hospitality and the warmth of the office were most welcome on this bitterly cold February day.
David left Twerton at 1315 hours and proceeded to the Funeral Director where he was scheduled to collect the coffin. There were no flowers for the funeral, so David decided to arrive only 30 minutes before the cortege was due to depart, because it wasn’t possible to get into the yard due to the volume of parked cars. The only place available was very close to the Funeral Directors wall and then to encourage those drivers wanting to pass, to mount the kerb.

A number of people walked past and commented how clean the lorry looked and how fitting it was for someone’s final journey. Whilst a Mother was talking to David, her Daughter used her mobile phone to load up the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and asked David about the most interesting Themes he had created. David described some Themes that were related to TV shows, like a 1950’s TV Set with The Lone Ranger & Tonto on the screen or his working model of Del Boy falling through the bar from Only Fools & Horses.
As this was the hub of the Funeral Directors operation, there were a number of coffins in the despatch area and David asked which was the one that he was about to load. Approaching the coffin indicated, David became alarmed that someone had left some old rags on top of the coffin and he admonished the staff for not treating the coffin with respect. One of the Funeral Director’s Staff started to chuckle saying, ‘that ain’t rubbish Dave, that’s to go with the coffin, the Deceased was a Painter & Decorator.’

As the Leyland Beaver descended the hill down to the crematorium it became evident that Deceased was a much loved and well respected man, because over 400 mourners were outside the chapel. David gave the Family Bearers instructions how to receive the coffin and as the Deceased was being raised onto their shoulders the ‘Only Fools & Horses’ Theme tune played, much to the delight of most people in the crowd. Although David appeared calm, he was raging inside because had he known more about the Deceased he could have created his ‘Only Fools & Horse’ Theme with the working model, of the counter being lifted, Del Boy falling through the bar and then springing back up again. Two of the Deceased’s Workmates declined to go into the service and decided to talk to David about his lorry. They understood David’s disappointment at not having any contact with the Family.
The men confirmed that the Deceased’s Family would have loved to see Del Boy falling through the bar and that the extra £150 would not have been a problem, they said they would have paid £75 each to see what David had described. David shook his head and said, ‘I have a limited number of skills but being a clairvoyant isn’t one of them, and if a Funeral Director doesn’t give me access to the Family how was I supposed to know that the Deceased liked Del Boy. I hate to leave a crematorium knowing that I could have done more for a Family.’

One of the men then asked, ‘Have you ever had a whole family on your lorry, you know two coffins together and then another one or two rows.’ David looked at the man and said, ‘Do you mean loading coffins side by side?’ The man nodded and David turned to the Funeral Director who had conducted the funeral and asked, ‘Why is it that a member of the public can visualise coffins side by side but people in the funeral industry can’t? David went on, ‘It is because when there are multiple bodies for a funeral a Funeral Directors eyes light up, as more coffins mean more hearses.’
The Funeral Director said that wouldn’t happen in his company, however, he accepted that David’s comments would apply to most Funeral Directors.  

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Two Welsh Funerals

Just before Christmas 2017 David received a phone call from a Family in the Tredegar region of Wales and was asked to provide a guideline price. Given that it was almost Christmas and the distractions that this period can bring, details of the flowers, church, cemetery and Funeral Director were slow to materialise. So David worked out a price based on Tredegar.
Two days later David was informed that the Funeral Director was based in Rhymney, which is 20 miles north of Tredegar and David would have been within his rights to modify his guideline price. However, David agreed to keep the price the same, telling the Son of the Deceased that the best Christmas present that a Self Employed man can have is work during the first week in January.
David established that the Floral Tributes would be a Coffin Spray and a Lorry Tablet two dimensional tribute but the lady preparing the flowers was a friend of the Family and was difficult to contact. So David made the assumption that the ‘Lorry’ would be the normal 3 ft x 2 ft Floral Tribute that he had carried many times before, and this should be the centrepiece of the display.
Around this time the Son of the Deceased emailed to say that he had just looked at the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and asked if David could create an ERF 1950 Cab and incorporate a Welsh Flag into the design. David was dismayed because both of the proposed options would be destined for the same position on the headboard at the front of the deck, so only one would have been possible. In addition the guideline price was calculated on a standard funeral, carrying the coffin and flowers, and the creation of wooden models involves an additional premium. Also the ‘Lorry’ Floral Tribute was destined to be the centrepiece of the display, positioned prominently in front of the coffin.
David’s role is to exceed a Family’s expectations, not to disappoint and he felt very sad telling the Son that neither the 1950 ERF Cab nor the Welsh Flag were possible.
At 1930 hours David eventually managed to track down the lady making the Floral Tributes and found out that the ‘Lorry’ would not be made from a standard Smither Oasis or Val Spicer oasis base, but from  a 2ft x 1 ft piece of Designer Board that she probably she had  left over from another job. David suddenly realised that the ‘Lorry’ Floral Tribute was going to be around one third of the size of one made from the purpose built base that he had been expecting. Such a petit Floral Tribute could not be the centrepiece of the display and it would be better positioned against the head of the coffin. This would leave the front of the deck available and rather than offer to build a 1950 ERF Cab front, which would have meant an increase in the price, David elected to use a Welsh Flag fixed to the headboard.
David gets all his flags from Patsflags and he has the home number of Michael Tobyn who operates the business. By then it was 1945 hours and as David was dialling the number his wife shouted, ‘There won’t be anyone there at this time of night!’ As soon as David spoke Michael recognised his voice and quickly checked if a 5ft x 3 ft Welsh Flag was available, which was posted first thing the next day and David received it the following day. Some people use a flag only once, however, Patsflags have been used many times, the Scottish Saltire has appeared in Stranraer, Epping and Frome, the Irish Tricolour has featured in Birmingham and Corsham.
David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0445 hours and got to the Old Severn Bridge by 0600 hours. In the next 30 minutes David was at The Coldra roundabout, where he selected the Chepstow Road into the centre of Newport going over a roundabout, under a multi-storey car park, over an old iron bridge, up a steep residential street before turning right at the traffic lights onto the Risca Road. David then dropped onto the A467 Dual Carriageway before fuelling at Morrison’s at Rogerstone which had just opened for the day.
David arrived at Rhymney at 0830 hours and the Son of the Funeral Director opened the gates and made David feel very welcome. David was impressed with the quality of the restoration of this former Public House where excellent workmanship was evident in every detail. Even the ornate iron railings on top of the wall were stepped up in line with the steps in the wall.
David was taken around the proposed route and it became quickly apparent that it would be unwise to take the vintage lorry into Birthdir Cemetery. The tight entrance with an immediate right turn was a concern, however, the biggest problem was the roads in the cemetery that had no kerbs and one false move could have meant the lorry coming off the track with disastrous consequences.
It had been estimated that the Deceased in his coffin could weigh beyond 26 stones and some of the Bearers were concerned, however, they were surprised how David effortless secured the coffin, with him working alone on the deck.

Although it hadn’t been originally intended due to some steep inclines, David was asked to take the Deceased to his home in New Tredegar and the Leyland Beaver went up the steep hill in top gear. The traffic in New Tredegar was brought to a standstill with people getting out of their cars to see the Welsh Flag. The Son of the Deceased travelled with David in the cab and on his way to the cemetery David was asked to stop the vintage lorry on the open road. This location had been the former home of the Deceased before the whole street was demolished in fear of a potential landslide, following the dreadful events that took so many lives of children in Aberfan in 1966.
David emailed 20 Funeral Directors in South Wales, who market Vintage Lorry Funerals by displaying a framed picture of the lorry in their location, regarding the reaction to the Welsh Flag. Within two days David was asked to undertake a funeral in Barry and the Welsh Flag got its second trip over the Old Severn Bridge.
A key requirement from the Barry Family was that a picture of their Loved One should be included within the display and that their Aum Asian Floral Tribute should be positioned prominently. Having never carried an Aum Floral tribute before David consulted the wall charts and data sheets that he was given by Val Spicer and Smither Oasis respectively a numbers of years ago.

The due diligence undertaken regarding access to the local crematorium uncovered that the Deceased was thought to be over 26 stones and as a wicker coffin was to be used David was concerned about how it would handle whilst being manoeuvred into position on the deck. David phoned Darrell at Somerset Willow and found him to be most helpful. Not only did he provide accurate measurements so David could set his coffin stops, he also agreed to double the thickness of the plywood base to inhibit the coffin from flexing.
David found that Barry Funeral Directors were perhaps the most thoughtful and helpful he had come across in the past 15 years. When David arrived at 0745 hours he found that the top end of the street had been coned off, just like they said it would be and what is more, no one had parked inappropriately, which would have happened in other locations. Andy arrived at 0800 hours and took David through the shop to investigate the rear entrance and it was agreed that the coffin would be loaded at Barry Funeral’s garage facility. Rebecca bought David a bacon roll from Greggs and Chelsea made him a cup of tea.

Barry Funeral Directors is in the middle of Barry situated opposite the main Bus Stop for the town centre. Numerous people waiting for or alighting from a bus came to talk to David about his lorry and six people took business cards from David’s presentation case, never has there ever been so much interest in the vintage lorry.
With people keen on his lorry outside the Funeral Directors and nice people inside, David felt he was in a special place, as if he was part of The In Crowd and David remembered the 1965 Motown hit for Dobie Gray.
A Traffic Warden came up the street checking on cars and as the Leyland Beaver had been parked in the street for over the allotted two hours David used his normal ploy of befriending the Traffic Warden. David’s strategy worked well and a ticket was never issued. In fact the distraction strategy worked too well because the Traffic Warden was so interested in the vintage lorry he left his greasy finger prints all over the cab and David had to wash the lorry, the last thing he needed when the ambient temperature rarely got above zero on this bitterly cold day.
David met the Daughter of the Deceased at the Crematorium and he felt he knew this lady from somewhere in the past. The Daughter had recently moved from Trowbridge Wiltshire and she had probably met David in a shop. She was amazed that the lamination of her Dad’s picture was prepared in Tech Office, Station Approach in Trowbridge, which she had passed often on her way to catch a train.
David left the crematorium at 1600 hours and was home by 1915 hours, not bad considering that he hit gridlocked traffic in Newport during the rush hour. So two 15 hour days, two Welsh Flag requirements and two big send offs for two big men. 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Managing a Situation

David Hall was brought up in the frugal 1950’s when there were limited opportunities for people coming from a humble background to reach a management position. The only chance of promotion was to work hard and excel in a Blue Collar job in the hope that your efforts may be rewarded when a Foreman’s position became vacant.
Many young men became Trailer Boys and then Lorry Drivers in the 1950’s as a mechanism to fund the financial implications when a young romance unexpectedly produced a bundle that definitely wasn’t a joy at the outset. Some young men were forced to leave school at the earliest opportunity yet some had the IQ to have become a manager had they come from a more affluent background.
David saw examples of Lorry Drivers performing management roles in Fellside Transport, in Lazonby, which specialised in Livestock movements, when he travelled with Drivers during his school holidays. For local farm collections into Penrith Auction Mart, Albert Kelso, who owned Fellside Transport, would provide Drivers with instructions of how the vehicle should be loaded. However, when Fellside Transport vehicles were loading at a Lamb Sale based at a location a long distance from Lazonby, normally Driver Jack Stubbs would act as a foreman. Jack would be the point of contact for Sheep Buyers. Jack would assemble sheep into lots of 120 which would fit onto a triple-decked livestock container, assign loads to Drivers, liaise with the Auction Staff and keep Albert Kelso informed.

Another Lorry Driver who performed a role beyond his brief was Archie Stamper whose concerns for the animals in his care did not seem possible from the gruff persona he projected. Once David saw Archie take a handkerchief out of his pocket soak it in the cool water in the water trough and then placed it very carefully under the tail of a heifer cow which had just calved for the first time and was extremely sore. Archie would also closely examine the sheep he was asked to load and put any sickly looking ones on the top deck so that they would have plenty of air. On occasions if a sheep was in acute distress Archie would stop on route at a Slaughter House where he knew the staff and have the sheep humanly put out of its misery.
David, during his role with funerals, would never compare any feat he has accomplished to the exploits of the great men mentioned above, however, when you read the events below you may want to take a different view.
Windmill Hill Bristol
During a well attended funeral in Windmill Hill Bristol the streets were very congested and when the Leyland Beaver pulled up in front of St. Michaels & All Angels in Vivian Street the area became gridlocked.
No vehicle could get past the vintage lorry and cars coming up Vivian Street simply went down Gwilliam Street and found another way to get to the area beyond the 1950 Leyland Beaver. The situation was made worse by customers for the fitness classes in the Windmill Hill Community Centre, opposite the church, wanting to park their cars. Someone must have called the Police and a male and a female Officer arrived, they spoke to David and understood that his vehicle could not be moved until the funeral service had ended.
Just about this time a car pulled up close to the Leyland Beaver and a disabled lady, who needed two sticks to walk, shuffled towards the female Police Constable. The lady asked if she could leave her car where it was, go home and return to remove it after the funeral. The Police Woman adopted a highly combative and aggressive stance telling the disabled lady that under no circumstances could she leave her car in front of the lorry and the disabled lady became very distressed and started to cry. David agreed with the Police Woman’s stance but not how she put it across. The disabled lady kept shouting, ‘I need to get to my house.’
David stepped forward and asked if he could be of any help. The disabled lady kept shouting, ‘I need to get to my house.’ David found out that she lived only 50 yards beyond the lorry and quickly evaluated the best way he could achieve a win, win, situation, that was, make the lady happy but make the car disappear. The lady was shaking and sobbing so David put his arm around her and said, ‘Don’t you take any notice of the Police, if I got the drivers of the limousines to park on the pavement could you manage to drive through the gap?’ David nodded to the limousine drivers, they moved their cars and the disabled lady gingerly drove through the gap whilst the Police Officers looked on with amazement.

David got back to his Carriage Master role and got the white coffin back onto the lorry. As he was tightening the ratchet straps he felt a tug on his arm. It was the disabled lady who said, ‘I want to shake your hand and thank you for taking charge of the situation today. Did you get the number of the female Police Constable?’
David had the honour of undertaking the funeral of the last surviving Lorry Driver from W.A & A.G. Spiers Ltd from Melksham and David was told that he would have to load the coffin and flowers from the Deceased’s house. David had previously been involved in the funeral of a fellow Spiers Driver some five years before, who had lived in the house next door. During the previous funeral David became aware of the horrendous congestion around the Primary School directly across the road and a Coach Driver who normally deposited his vehicle near the school.
When David took the instruction for the last Spiers Driver he was concerned about where he could park the lorry until the coffin and flowers were delivered. Being close to where David lives he decided to assess the traffic situation on the same day of the week and at the same time as the funeral would take place. David found that the Coach was no longer allowed to park in the street and that the Deceased’s house had a double concrete drive that would be ideal to park the Leyland Beaver side by side with a hearse to enable the coffin to be transferred onto the vintage lorry.

Having established that no one was in the Deceased’s house, David, using the tape measure, which he always carries in his pocket, drew a diagram of how the operation would work with the salient dimensions documented in the sketch. David emailed the diagram to the Family and requested that certain pieces of equipment be moved and that cones should be positioned on the street to allow clear access into the driveway. Some of the Family members were initially concerned that David had entered the Deceased’s garden, however, the Deceased youngest son told them, ‘Don’t be daft, David is exactly the type of guy we need, getting into the detail, making sure everything will go to plan.’

When David emailed the plan to the Funeral Director, David suggested that he had performed a role that the Funeral Director should have undertaken. The Funeral Director said, ‘Dave, we have known you for years, this is the fifth job you have done for us, we trust you. You know the best way to undertake a job and we always leave the detailed planning to you.’

When a Lorry Driver passed away his company asked David to use the Leyland Beaver to carry the coffin and flowers and the company would provide two Tractor Units to carry the mourners. David had worked for the Downend Funeral Director a number of times and he devised a plan how he could accommodate two Tractor Units and his Leyland Beaver in front of the Funeral Director. However, in order to achieve the plan David would need to prevent any other vehicle from parking at the end of the street. So David arrived early at 0630 hours and instead of parking in his normal space alongside the Funeral Director’s building, he positioned the vintage lorry across 5 of the 6 parking bays at the end of the street, placing a traffic cone in the 6th bay. Towards 0730 hours a young lady drove into the 6th bay and started to remove the traffic cone. David leapt out the cab and told the young lady that she couldn’t park in the 6th bay as she would block the lorry from leaving. The young lady said, ‘I have parked in this spot everyday for the past 5 years,’ and David replied, ‘That may be the case but you ain’t going to park here today!’ David went on to explain the scene that he was attempting to create around 1300 hours and as this was involved with a funeral she reluctantly agreed to park further up the street.

At 1215 hours, bang on time, two Tractor Units rolled into the street and parked in the positions that David had reserved and then the photo shoot commenced. The Owner of the haulage company thanked David for everything he had done saying, ‘You are doing the wrong job Buddie, you should be behind a desk, planning and thinking, not behind a wheel, wishing and hoping.’

Friday, 10 November 2017

A Funeral in Sidcup

In October 2016 a family from Sidcup left a message on the Vintage Lorry Funerals website about a funeral on November 7th. David exchanged emails with the Daughter of the Deceased and one of his standard questions is ‘Who will be the Funeral Director?’ David told the Daughter that he would have to check that there would be no problem in the Family paying him direct, as not all Funeral Directors are happy with this type of arrangement in which they loose any mark up they would seek to invoke.
David phoned F. A. Albin & Sons Sidcup Manager, Mickey Thorpe, to introduce himself and initially the conversation didn’t go well when Mickey asked, ‘Are you the Piper?’ David explained that he was the man with the lorry and he needed to know if F. A. Albin & Sons would be happy with the Family paying David directly. Mickey explained the company would have no problem working with Vintage Lorry Funerals or with the Family paying David directly.
The main Floral Tributes were ‘POPS’ from the Deceased’s children and a ‘Pillow’ from the Deceased’s Partner. David proposed a minimalistic layout with ‘POPS’ on the headboard and the ‘Pillow’ appearing to float near the head of the coffin. In order to achieve this David asked Jane, of Sweet P Florists in Sidcup, to take a series of measurements of the ‘Pillow’ oasis base. David then found a piece of wood from his stockpile that was the same shape as the ‘Pillow’.

The accommodation for the lorry and David were quickly sourced as David chose to use the Kwik Fit location in St. Mary’s Cray to park his lorry in overnight, the third time he had used this facility in the past 12 months. The staff know David and welcome his vintage lorry every time it trundles into their yard. Men are always available to guide David as he reverses the Leyland Beaver into the MOT Bay and then David hands over two boxes of biscuits, one for the men and one for the Manager and his family. One hundred yards down the road is a low cost hotel which offers cost effective rooms but with no meal facilities. The Marie Rose offers a clean en suit room and evening meals are within 80 yards at Nandos and breakfast is available at Costa Coffee from 0730 hours or a local café from 0800 hours. David is happy to use St Mary’s Cray as his operating centre for South East London and Kent.
When David pulled up at F. A. Albin & Sons Mickey Thorpe came out to explain where David should park his lorry and one of their staff helped David to turn the lorry in a tight area, watching that he didn’t get too close to any cars or bollards. Mickey noticed that one of the Leyland Beaver’s rear tyres had scuffed a kerb and he made tyre dressing available as it was important that F. A. Albin & Son standards should be maintained.
David told Mickey that he had built up Vintage Lorry Funerals from scratch in 2002 and has developed an awareness campaign that normally generates four funeral enquiries per month on average, nationwide.
David is also the only Carriage Master who builds three dimensional displays from Floral Tributes. Whereas other Carriage Masters, (Horse Drawn, Land Rover, VW Caravanette) always load the coffin first and then try to fit the flowers around the coffin, David loads the flowers first, sometimes taking 90 minutes to check each Floral Tribute is correctly aligned.
When the flowers arrived at the F. A. Albin & Sons Funeral Home in Sidcup David noticed that the three ribbons on the ‘Pillow’ were loose and fluttering in the breeze. David thought to himself, ‘This may be OK in a hearse but they will fly away off my lorry.’ So working like MacGyver in the 1980’s TV Show, David took two elastic bands out of his equipment box and in no time the job was done. The result may not have looked pretty but it was very practical.
When the cortege left the Family home two F. A. Albin & Sons employees walked alongside the lorry, positioning themselves adjacent to the rear axle which provided an amazing display of respect. This was the first time that this had ever been done in over 300 funerals. It provided David with an added complication now having to focus on the extra width required between cars in the street as well as the distant between the Conductor, who was paging the cortege. 

The 1950 Leyland Beaver was paged in Eltham Crematorium by Pipe Major Chic Mackie, from the Black Watch – London Pipes and Drums, and whilst the service was taking place Chic spent time admiring the vintage lorry and asked David for some of his Business Cards.
Leaving Eltham Crematorium at 1500 hours David took his normal route using the back roads around Croydon and despite catching the end of the school day and the beginning of the rush hour David was at Tolworth on the A3 by 1645 hours. The trick was the correct road selection and tactics to ensure that the 67 year old lorry kept rolling and was never stuck behind a bus. David took a statutory 45 minute break at Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 which he arrived at by 1900 hours. He then refuelled at Ludgershall just before the garage closed at 2100 hours and the Leyland Beaver pulled into Bradford-on-Avon just before 2230 hours. Unfortunately a dog was loose on the street and threatened to bite David’s wife as she was guiding the vintage lorry up the driveway. David always reckons you must be prepared for anything on the road.
At 1615 hours earlier that day David was sitting at the lights on the A232 which crosses the Tram Line in the Sandiacre region of Croydon. Two things disturbed David, one was the speed of the Trams that he saw coming towards him in his nearside mirror and the second being that a bus turned right at the lights and drove onto the Tram Tracks. David had a bad feeling about the safety as motorists unfamiliar with the crossing could have followed the bus and ended up on the Tram Line. The following morning David was horrified when he put on his TV and learned about the horrific Tram Disaster in Sandiacre. 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Leeds & Coventry in the same week

When Eric F. Box, of Dewsbury, booked the Leyland Beaver for a funeral, Andrew Box explained that the lorry was too high to fit inside their garage. David Hall told Andrew not to worry as there was a Kwik Fit just down the road. David phoned the Kwik Fit Manager and made him aware of the arrangements he has with Kwik Fit to park the vintage lorry undercover within their facilities the night before a funeral. The Manager confirmed that their door was 10 ft high and he envisaged no problems.
Sometimes finding out about the Floral Tributes can provide a challenge and the funeral in Leeds turned into the most challenging to date. The Deceased’s Partner had placed an order for a two dimensional flat-bed lorry Floral Tribute with Brian’s Flowers, a Stall Holder on Leeds Market. The landline number David was given proved to be unobtainable but undeterred David rang the Leeds Market Office and established a mobile number for man called Dave. David rang the number, however, an international ring out tone was evident and the call was quickly terminated. David then sent Dave a text that produced no response. It was vital that David got some information on the Floral Tribute because he was intending to build a wooden structure the same shape as the lorry, so that the Floral Tribute would appear to be floating unsupported.
So David ignored the cost involved and phoned the mobile and spoke to Dave who was on holiday in Spain, but he gave David the mobile number for a gentleman also called Dave who was holding the fort whilst Dave was on holiday. So David rang Dave in Leeds who knew very little about the Floral Tribute but he asked David to ring him at 12 noon on the Friday when the oasis base would arrive. David was concerned because the clock was ticking and he had only 48 hours left to design, source the wood and create the wooden support structure the same shape as the Floral Tribute. In truth it would have simpler to put the Floral Tribute on a 3 ft x 2 ft board as David had done in the past, however, David is driven to always seek improvements to enhance his service offering.
David phoned Dave at 1205 hours and Dave said, ‘Have you got a pencil and paper ready?’ Dave then told David every dimension that he required. It was first class information which allowed David to start work on the deck immediately.
As David was working out the best route to get to Eric F. Box in Dewsbury he used Google Maps to explore the roads approaching the Funeral Director. David was surprised by the building that housed the Eric F. Box operation. The modernist outside with clear lines could have graced a Grand Designs programme and David commented to Andrew that it looked more like an Architect’s building not a Funeral Home.
Earlier in the week David had received an enquiry from Coventry for the same day as the Leeds funeral, however, the Family changed the day of the funeral to secure the Leyland Beaver for the Friday following the Leeds Funeral which was on a Tuesday.
It had been a number of years since the Leyland Beaver had been in Leeds, however, the old girl knew where she was going. The journey went well with two planned stops in Alcester and Leicester North Services where David had a sandwich for his dinner. Carrying on the A46 was easy driving as large sections of dual carriageway had been installed in the past ten years. The A6097 leads onto the A614, an old three lane road from the 1950s and David was delighted that cars were overtaking him as the vintage lorry hugged the kerb, often against a stream of on-coming vehicles. The A1M was joined just north of Ollerton and everything was going well until the A638 went through Wakefield and the traffic came to a halt coinciding with the insanity which can occur at school home time. Mums launched their 4x4s into the queuing traffic hell-bent on collecting their youngster from school. Back in the 1950’s Mums used to walk to school and spend quality time speaking to the children on the way home, finding out how their day had gone. This scene seems light years away from the current day.
David was concerned that Eric F. Box would close like so many other Funeral Directors at 1630 hours. So he stopped the lorry’s engine in the stationary traffic queue and David phoned his wife who relayed the message to Andrew Box that David might be 30 minutes late. David need not have worried because as soon as the Leyland Beaver was in Eric F. Box’s yard a member of their team was assigned to work for David, helping him clean the lorry.
Andrew accompanied David down the road to Kwik Fit which was still extremely busy at 1745 hours. David tried to locate Bradley the Manager but unlike other Tyre Fitting Companies this Kwik Fit Manager’s hands were dirtier than many of his men. Andrew Box never the less shook Bradley’s hand and thanked him for allowing the Leyland Beaver to park in their premises.
In the morning Andrew collected David from the hotel and asked David if he was going to the Crematorium to test if he could get the vintage lorry under the canopy. David said, ‘No need, the space under the canopy is 107 inches and the Beaver is just over 100 inches’. Dewsbury Kwik Fit is unique in that it has its own traffic lights so getting out into the rush-hour traffic, which is normally a concern, is not an issue with this site. In addition the translucent panels on the door made sure that the Leyland Beaver was showcased for everyone one passing on the busy Huddersfield road. 

Whilst waiting for the coffin to be loaded David was given a guided tour of the Funeral Director’s premises which would have caused Kevin McCloud’s jaw to drop with a vast open plan reception having offices above. The site had been a former night club which had been tastefully refurbished with the steel roof support girders being clad in stone. Beneath the reception desk a mirror provides the deception that the green carpet extends for ever. Around this time a ‘SHAUN’ Floral Tribute arrived unexpectedly and Andrew was delighted that David had the facilities to make a feature of it within the display. 

The journey to the house in Leeds was made easier by Andrew Box arranging for some of his men to block traffic and one car operated in front of the Leyland Beaver with the passenger leaning out of the window, using an expensive camera to take some amazing pictures. With another car blocking the traffic at times it resembled ‘Smokey & the Bandit’. David was impressed with Leeds Lorry Drivers who did not attempt to speed past the vintage lorry but tucked in behind the cars in the cortege. One Lorry Driver even straddled the white line on the dual carriageway to prevent any cars racing past the cortege in the outside lane which remained empty.

Having started at 0830 hours David could only work until 2330 hours so leaving Dewsbury Moor Crematorium at 1400 hours and having taken 9 hours driving on the way up, it was touch and go whether David could get home that night. David came back the same way and made good progress arriving at Leicester North Services at 1745 hours and taking his tea in KFC as the rush-hour traffic became gridlocked on the A46. Leaving after his 45 minute legal rest break David took the M1 where he stayed in the inside lane down to the M69. This improves David’s safety, however, this was further enhanced by a 40 mph speed limit being imposed on the overhead signs. David’s next target was to reach P.J. Nicholls in Tewkesbury before it closed at 2100 hours. The competitive Derv price is mainly influenced by the Morrisons store nearby but the ladies behind the till know David and are always interested where he has been.
Overnight road works in Quedgeley caused a detour, however, the Leyland Beaver was just about in its garage when 2330 hours arrived. The next two days were spent dismantling the Leeds display and erecting the one for Coventry which was radically different.
Friday’s funeral in the Stoke region of Coventry involved an early start with David leaving at 0445 hours taking the Fosse Way A429 for the Funeral Director which was on the East side of the city. David had planned his working week so that another 15 hour shift, the second in 7 days, could be available.
David had advised the Funeral Director the best way to the house, however, his advice was ignored. Instead of going a short distance up Leicester Causeway and turning in a commercial garage, the hearse driver leading the cortege elected to go down the whole length of the street to avoid turning near the house. Unfortunately cars were parked on both sides of Leicester Causeway and despite it being obvious that a funeral was approaching in the opposite direction there was a stream of oncoming cars and the cortege came to a halt with the hearse head to head with a car. The cars were driven mainly by women who were talking to their passenger rather than looking ahead. The cars wouldn’t reverse so the hearse driver forced them to move over as he squeezed the hearse through the very small gap. Basically there were 4 lanes of cars on the stretch of a street where 3 cars would have been comfortable. The Leyland Beaver is 12 inches wider than a hearse and there was only a hair’s breadth between the vintage lorry and cars at either side. The lady driver in the oncoming car, still chatting to her companion, froze like a rabbit caught in headlights. David tried to get the lady to drive forward slowly because if he had moved first, with the lorry being 26 feet long, small adjustments in the steering can produce large sideways movements to the rear overhang. The lady refused to move her car fearing she would hit another car. David was frustrated that the Funeral Director, who was in the hearse, did not get out of the car to help him, after all his main role was to conduct the funeral and to ensure that the cortege should arrive at the allotted time at Canley Crematorium. However, to be fair even if he had wanted to help there was no way that he could have opened the door to get out of the hearse. David was in an impossible situation and The Animals song ‘We got to get out of this place’ seemed very appropriate. All he could do was pray for some guidance, but David’s old Dad used to say, ‘God helps them who helps themselves.’ So he put the lorry into second gear, first is reserved for going up stone walls, let the clutch out and the lorry inched forward on tick-over. David stood up so that he could judge how close the cars were in his diminutive wing mirrors and hoped for the best. The lorry touched two wing mirrors but didn’t break them.

The Family were lovely with David, they had asked for his permission to use his marketing image throughout the Order of Service booklet. It is evident that some Families want David’s lorry but some Families need his lorry. As David was leaving the crematorium one of the Deceased’s Daughters ran after the lorry demanding that David should stop so she could shake his hand. She and her Dad had met David the previous year at the Classic Commercials Enthusiast Day in Malvern.
On the way home David refuelled at P. J. Nicholls for the third time in 5 days. On entering the shop to pay for the derv David noticed a short queue of people waiting to pay for groceries for goods from within the shop. The Attendant behind the till shouted, ‘Come forward Driver,’ and David was summoned to the front of the queue just like Lorry Drivers were in garages and roadside cafes in the 1950s.                         

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Mourners rescued by Leyland Beaver

On April 20th 2011 Vintage Lorry Funerals took Roger Hurd, a Builder from Bath, on his final journey to Haycombe Crematorium.

Roger, whilst on a journey to visit his Daughter Jade in Cornwall, had picked up a Vintage Lorry Funerals card in Woody’s Transport Café at Sourton on the A30 near to Okehampton. He thought that the picture on the front was interesting and he noted that the STD code of the phone number was the same as his home town of Bath.
Sadly within a short period of time Roger had collapsed and passed away in his Brother’s arms. Roger’s Mum found the Vintage Lorry Funerals card in his jacket pocket and decided that if Roger had wanted the Leyland Beaver for his funeral then she would have no objections provided the flowers were arranged around his coffin in the same manner as in a hearse.

In the centre of Bath is a traffic system, just down the road from where Roger had lived, which prevents cars going through the centre, however, buses can travel through a set of two traffic lights. The facility is called the ‘Bus Gate’, however, it would be more appropriately called the ‘Money Gate’ because motorists, unaccustomed to the area, get confused with the sign, go through the traffic lights and end up being fined £60.
Roger was often walking through the ‘Bus Gate’ area on his way to the shops and he used to step in front of cars preventing them going through the ‘Bus Gate’ and saving them the fine. Roger was such a strong campaigner against the ‘Bus Gate’ that when he passed away his family sought Bath & North East Somerset Council’s authority for David Hall to drive the Leyland Beaver through the ‘Bus Gate’ enabling the vintage lorry to take the most direct route to Haycombe Crematorium.
With over 200 mourners expected it was decided to hold the service within the larger Chapel just inside the gates. Rog, as he was known to his friends, was then re-loaded onto the 1950 Leyland Beaver, amid rapturous applause, and all the mourners walked behind the lorry for approximately one mile down a steep incline to the Crematorium. David always waits to meet the Family after the service in case anyone would like to see inside the cab, however, on this occasion it wasn’t the cab that mourners were interested in but the deck of the lorry.
All the mourners had left their cars at the Chapel near the entrance and two ladies approached David and enquired if they could ride on the deck of the Leyland Beaver, saving them a long walk up a steep incline. David was happy to help but insisted that everyone had to follow his instructions. Using the ladder, which is slid out from a shelf under the deck, David helped the mourners onto the deck as some had inappropriate footwear. David then told the men to stand at the front of the deck and hold the headboard firmly. Ladies whose skirts may have become difficult to control in the breeze were invited to sit on the deck with their legs dangling over the sides. David admonished two young ladies who were sitting over the drive axle of the lorry telling them to move away from any moving part, ‘we don’t want to create next week’s business this week,’ David quipped.
David set off very slowly with over 30 people on board and as the Leyland Beaver climbed the hill he noticed the graves of German Luftwaffe staff who had lost their lives attacking Bath. As this was April 20th, Adolf Hitler’s birthday, David suddenly likened his rescue mission to that he had seen in a three part BBC documentary drama three months earlier about the events that took place after a U-boat sunk a Trooper Carrying Liner in WWII.
S.S.Laconia was a Liner that had been converted into a Troop-ship with guns mounted front and aft on its way from Egypt to England taking the long way around Africa to avoid German shipping in the Mediterranean. There were 2732 people on board including 80 civilians, 268 British Soldiers, 1800 Italian Prisoners of War, and 160 Polish Soldiers to guard the Italians.
On September 14th 1942 at around 2000 hours Korvetten Kapitan Werner Hartenstein in U-Boat 156 spotted the lone liner, spewing out smoke from it funnels and fired two torpedoes at a range of 2 miles, both of which hit the ship. The Laconia started to list and passengers were instructed to abandon the stricken ship, however, the Italians were locked in cages beneath the decks. Some Italians managed to break out and some sadly were bayoneted to death by the Polish Guards as they rushed towards life boats.
Hartenstein surfaced and made his way towards the Laconia in a bid to capture Military Officers. In the fading sunlight the U-Boat crew spotted floating corpses, over-crowded lifeboats and frantic swimmers crying for help. The U-Boat crew were astonished to hear ‘Aiuto, Aiuto’ the cries of help, help from Italians in the water, who at that stage in WWII were fighting on the same side as the Nazis. Hartenstein thought that he had attacked a Troop-ship but he now realised that Laconia was carrying many passengers.

Realising his mistake, Hartenstein immediately launched a rescue operation. Women and children were crammed inside the U-Boat, with the German Officers giving up their bunks to survivors, many people stood on the upper deck of the submarine and 200 survivors were in 4 lifeboats that were tied to the U-Boat with rope. Hartenstein used his Enigma machine to contact Admiral Donitz who immediately dispatched 7 U-Boats to support the rescue mission. Adolf Hitler found out about the rescue and forbade U-Boats being taken off their fighting roles. Admiral Donitz then took a very brave step and countermanded Hitler’s order sending U-506 and U-508, captained by Erich Wurdeman and Harrd Schach, which arrived around noon on September 15th. Donitz took the decision mainly to bolster the morale of the U-156 crew.

Sadly a Nurse, Doris Hawkins, was travelling with a 14 month girl called Sally and the young girl was lost as she was being transferred from the lifeboat to the U-156. Doris was distraught and the crews of the three U-Boats used search lights and spent considerable time looking for the little girl but Sally was never found. U-507 loaded 491 people, including 15 women & 16 children and U-506 loaded 151 people, including 9 women and followed Hartenstein, who was towing 4 lifeboats.
Hartenstein flew a Red Cross Flag and broadcast in English on an open channel, ‘If any ship will assist the ship wrecked Laconia crew I will not attack, provided I am not attacked by ship or airforce.’
The three submarines had remained on the surface for about 2.5 days but for safety reasons the three U-Boats split up and provided a separation between the vessels. On September 16th at 1125 hours an American B-24 Liberator Bomber from Ascension Island circled around U-156 and Hartenstein’s first thoughts were that it was going to drop supplies. However, despite the Red Cross Flag, people on the deck and four lifeboats in tow, the Liberator attacked and dropped depth charges which landed between two of the four lifeboats immediately wiping out half of the boats and their survivors. Hartenstein submerged U-156 very slowly to allow the people on the deck to swim free and the two remaining lifeboats headed for Africa. One with 68 people on board, lifeboat No. 9, reached the Liberian coast with 16 people alive, including Doris Hawkins and the other lifeboat was rescued by a British trawler after 40 days at sea but only 4 of the 52 occupants were alive.
U-506 & U-507 escaped the bombing run by the USAAF Liberator and continued to pick up survivors who had swam off the deck of U-156 before it submerged and all the survivors on the U-Boats were transferred to Free French vessels and landed in Dakar on 24th September.
The Laconia incident had far reaching consequences:-
The American Bombing of U-156 caused Donitz to issue an instruction that in future all rescue operations were forbidden.
Lieutenant James D. Harden, who flew the Liberator that attacked U-156, and his crew were awarded medals for the alleged submarine sinking whereas in truth they had only hit two lifeboats killing a number of survivors.
During the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, Admiral Donitz’s legal team used the rescue of the Laconia survivors to help the judgement of the Death Penalty to be commuted to 11.5 years in prison. Donitz survived World War II and lived to an old age, passing away on Christmas Eve 1980.
Werner Hartenstein, holder of the Knight’s Cross, Germany’s highest military honour, and his crew were not as lucky because 6 months after the Laconia rescue, the U-Boat was depth charged by a Liberator off the coast of Barbados and U-156 was sunk with all hands lost in March 1943.
Of the 2732 people who left Egypt on the SS Laconia only 1500 survived.
There was, however, a better outcome regarding the motorists fined for going through the Bath Bus Gate. Almost three years after Roger Hurd passed away Bath & North East Somerset admitted that the signs were confusing and refunded £250,000 of the fines already paid. You could sense that Roger Hurd would be looking down and smiling. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Heavy Weight Funeral in Bloxwich

Whilst David Hall was taking a break on his way to a funeral in Reading he received a call on his mobile from a lady in Bloxwich. She said that she had found David’s number from the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and wanted to know the cost of a funeral in Bloxwich. David asked if the Deceased was her Dad, however, the lady replied that the lorry was for her Husband who was only 53. Having recently been to Walsall, which is the next town to Bloxwich, David could provide an instant answer on the price. The Deceased’s only wish was that he should be taken to Streetly Crematorium on a lorry. The lady had enquired if her Husband’s former employer could have provided a lorry, however, the company pointed her towards ‘a bloke in Bradford-on-Avon who has a Beaver.’
Whilst David was on his mobile, he noticed that a young man in a Grundon uniform was waiting to speak with him. David had previously undertaken his Dad’s funeral in Newbury on February 2nd. He shook David’s hand and said, ‘We will never forget the brilliant job you did for our Dad and the excellent Obituary article you wrote for Vintage Roadscene.’
David then phoned Sean Hayward who runs Haywards of Walsall a transport firm with over 80 vehicles, with whom David parks the 1950 Leyland Beaver the night before a Midland’s funeral. Sean said it was no problem and he would get Quinn Holmes, his Fleet Engineer, to make space available in the garage and Quinn would take David to the Premier Inn and collect him in the morning.
David’s next phone call was to the Bloxwich Funeral Director and Marie who answered the phone asked if David was a friend of the Family. David was disappointed that despite his marketing efforts, not for the first time, someone in the funeral industry had never heard of Vintage Lorry Funerals. Marie asked the height of the side roller and then expressed her concerns as all her employees were female and the Deceased in his casket was thought to be 36 stones. David responded, ‘You’ll need to find some blokes to lift the coffin onto my lorry.’

Cognisant that an all female team would be at the crematorium, David thought of how he could revise his handling techniques which would enable him to operate on his own on the deck, supported by one person on the ground, treating the Deceased as if he were 15 stones.
David can never recall having achieved so much whilst taking his 45 minute legal break from driving, parked in a lay-bye on the A4 in Thatcham.
David worked out the best way to Bloxwich which involved going round the old inner Birmingham Ring Road the A4040, which has stretches of dual carriageways in dense populated areas. With no toilet facilities on this route David spoke to Neeley Transport at Stechford and asked if he could take a comfort break at their facility. The man who answered the phone said, ‘The old man would love to see your wagon’.
The journey went well and David made his first stop at Alcester Services on the A46. Having experienced no hold ups David was surprised when the traffic came to a standstill on Maypole Lane due to road works under the low bridge on Colebrook Road. A long delay was envisaged with cars turning around in front of the Leyland Beaver attempting to find an alternative route. David spotted in his wing mirror two workmen returning to the road works after a shopping expedition to buy sandwiches. As they passed the vintage lorry David pointed to the ‘Funeral In Progress’ sign in his windscreen. The men then started to run and took over the management of the traffic lights manually overriding the system. They stopped the oncoming traffic travelling toward the Leyland Beaver and frantically waved the cars in front of the vintage lorry through the lights and as David passed the men they took off their hats and bowed. It is said that a picture is better than a 1000 words but on this occasion a sign was better than any words.
When the Leyland Beaver trundled into Neeley’s yard their transhipment operation came to a halt. All of the Fork Lift Operators were older men who had been Lorry Drivers in the 1950’s and as soon as they heard the Leyland 600 engine they jumped off their Fork Lifts and surround the Leyland Beaver. They said, ‘Sounds Good…That Slow Tickover….The restoration is immaculate.’
David was instructed to park in the corner of the yard and with the transhipment operation being performed in front of his eyes, David was transfixed, whilst he ate his sandwiches. In a multiple delivery transport operations the consolidation between consignments is paramount to achieving profitability and this rests with two people, the person who routes the load and the person who loads the trailer. The former usually gets most of the credit in the office, however, in David’s opinion the person on the Fork Lift has a more important role as he has to find the best way to fit the consignments onto the trailer so that nothing is damaged and the Driver will have the minimum of pallets to shift at a delivery point. Loading a trailer from one side has its’ challenges and planning must take place to determine which face of the pallet should be up against the far curtain. Normally a Traffic Manager tries to get a quart into a pint pot and the Fork Lift Driver must decide which consignments can be double stacked. To see Fork Trucks moving at speed, turning a pallet of the ground, positioning it on the deck using side shift and reach facilities was fascinating to watch.
A man with a clip board was checking the consignments and came over to David and had a chat about his lorry. The penny then dropped that this was Mr. Neeley and David apologised for not recognising him. He didn’t fit the persona projected by his staff and the ‘old man’ description conjured up an image of a much older man. Mr. Neeley provided an insight into his business and he was interested that David had previously managed a frozen food groupage operation some 30 years ago which had the same characteristics of making a good margin on small consignments. As David and Mr. Neeley watched the transhipment operation David quipped, ‘You could sell tickets to watch this super show.’ Mr. Neeley laughed and said David could stop there as long as he wanted and indicated where the toilet facilities were.
Having previously arranged to meet the Funeral Director at 1500 hours David drove through Walsall and took the road to Bloxwich. The plan was for the Funeral Director to see the lorry and for David to explain how the coffin would be loaded, with the need to establish how many men would be available in the morning being the cardinal consideration. Within 10 minutes of David being there the Widow arrived and took an envelope containing cash out of her handbag and gave it to David. She was there with her children and a friend of the Family who looked at the lorry and said to the Widow, ‘You have done him proud.’ David was intending to measure the coffin and the Widow offered that he should do this without delay as David had been on the road a long time. However, David said the most important thing was for her and her family to say their last good byes and he had all the time in the world as Haywards weren’t expecting the lorry until 1730 hours.
David got to Haywards at 1645 hours and the entrance gate into the part of the site he would be parking was blocked by a lorry and a car. Having been there many times before everyone knows the vintage lorry and the vehicles moved off just as Quinn was opening the gate. Quinn watched David reverse into the garage which had been swept an hour earlier to ensure no metal got into the tyres of the 66 year old lorry. Quinn made David a cup of tea and David embarrassed the Fleet Engineer with his rendition of Manfred Mann’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. David handed over two boxes of biscuits and put his sandwiches in the fridge, before Quinn took David to the Premier Inn. Quinn had arranged to collect David at 0745 hours but instead of a car coming down the street David saw a Haywards Service Van that was equipped to escort Abnormal Loads. When David saw the ‘Abnormal Load’ sign on the head board he thought this was very apt knowing that he was about to load a heavy weight coffin.
A number of men helped David load and turn the coffin on the deck, however, at the crematorium David use a lever mechanism to lift the head end of the coffin and he turned the coffin himself on the deck supported by the Funeral Director on the ground. After the service an elderly couple came to shake David’s hand to thank him for the dignity he showed in manoeuvring their relative on his vehicle.

David came back using the A452 which is a fast dual carriage way in parts that goes around the east side of Birmingham in which the traffic flows and his first stop was at Tewkesbury where David normally refuels with competitively price diesel.
For once David got home in time for his tea, however, whilst his wife was making the meal David sent pictures to the Widow.