Saturday, 31 March 2018

Almost Three Steps from Heaven

At the beginning of April each year David Hall enters the 1950 Leyland Beaver in the C.T.P. (Commercial Transport in Preservation) Three Wiltshire White Horse Road Run which encompasses the White Horses at Westbury, Alton Barnes and Cherhill, on the A4, near Calne.

C.T.P. is an organisation for anyone interested in historic commercial vehicles, with meetings each month featuring talks from interesting speakers and 5 events each year when owners take their vehicle out on the road.
For David it provides an opportunity to spend a day with Stuart Smith, whose Father had his final journey on the Leyland Beaver two years ago. It is also an opportunity for members of the public to see the vintage vehicles on the road and sometimes coverage of the Road Run in the Wiltshire Times broadens the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals. David also likes to speak with fellow enthusiasts who run similar vehicles. Around 30 vehicles were on the 2017 Road Run ranging in size from a small Morris former Post Office van through to the gigantic Eight Wheeled Atkinson and Draw Bar Trailer, driven by Tony Thompson.

David also uses the Road Run to exhibit one of his funeral Themes and in 2017 it was a 1950’s TV Set with The Lone Ranger & Tonto on the screen.
David was first at the start point at Warminster and Mary Bailey, C.T.P. Events Organiser, is always pleased that David can create time between funerals to take part in Road Runs.
A number of vintage vehicles arrived and one member of the public complimented David on the cleanliness of the Leyland Beaver. The man said, ‘This Road Run is a fine opportunity for these vehicles to get out onto the roads once each year.’ David replied, ‘Actually my lorry is out and about 3 or 4 times each month’ and at the same time he handed the man a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card. The man was flabbergasted that he could have his final journey on the Leyland Beaver and he asked if he could keep the card, swiftly putting it into his wallet.
Stuart Smith arrived with his daughter Sara and they were pleased to see David again. Sara was worried that she had parked her car in the wrong place, which had been earmarked for Road Run vehicles by the C.T.P. Marshals, buzzing around in their hi-vis vests. David told Sara, in front of her Dad, not to worry about where the car was parked stressing, ‘Sara, a good looking woman is never parked in the wrong spot!’
The route involved going through small villages with very narrow streets and parked cars often providing obstacles. However, the biggest problems arose from inexperienced drivers who were unsure of the width of their cars. On a number of occasions David would pull into the side and invite oncoming cars to come through the gap, however, the inexperienced drivers would stop, unsure of what to do next. On one occasion a driver panicked, decided to reverse but stalled the car and then couldn’t easily start it again. The driver also had very poor reversing skills and eventually stopped forcing David to negotiate a tight gap, even narrower than the gap David had offered earlier to the driver. Stuart complimented David on his exemplary manners and demeanour towards other road users.

Stuart and David decided to stop for their sandwiches on the A4 in a lay-bye opposite Solsbury Hill and Stuart commented how lucky they were to find such a spot, saying, ‘People come from all over the world to park here and see this ancient burial mound’. Within 5 minutes a large Mercedes Benz pulled in front of the Leyland Beaver and out stepped a well dressed man in his 40’s and an olive skinned young lady, who showed interest in the lorry. She asked if she could take a picture and explained that in her homeland, Sri Lanka, similar lorries are still on the road. David gave the young lady a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card, explained the lorry’s use and invited her to look at the 1950’s TV Set Theme. David said that some of the words that Tonto said are still relevant 60 years on, like “White man speak with forked tongue”. The olive skinned young lady then looked very sternly at her companion and David felt guilty that he had stumbled on a sensitive area.
As Stuart and David were having their lunch David pointed out some of the changes he had made to the Leyland Beaver since Stuart was last in the cab. Included, was the picture of David’s Grandson, who sadly passed away aged 15 months on June 9th 2014, and the laminated picture of him smiling is now fixed above the windscreen on the right hand side of the wiper motor.
Coming through a wooded area just after Seend there was a massive bang with something falling from the sky and hitting the Leyland Beaver. It all happened very quickly with David and Stuart seeing a black & white flash in front of the windscreen. David couldn’t stop with a number of vintage lorries travelling behind the Leyland Beaver, so he pulled into the next lay-bye.
Four other vehicles followed David into the lay-bye and the drivers rushed to check that David was alright. An external inspection revealed that the cab was dented just above the windscreen.
Tony Thompson who was driving an Eight Wheeled Atkinson and Drawbar trailer knows David from him undertaking Tony mate’s funeral in Chichester. Tony is an Eddie Cochran look-a-like at night and Lorry Driver by day. Tony looked inside the Leyland Beaver cab and said, ‘Dave, I don’t know who the little boy is, but he must be your Guardian Angel. I saw what happened, a huge branch fell from a tree and hit the top of the cab. If you had been half a second slower the branch would have come through the windscreen and you wouldn’t be doing someone’s funeral next week, someone would be doing your funeral. Eddie Cochran used to sing about Three Steps to Heaven but you Dave were only three inches from Heaven.’
David remarked that it was just like being back in the 1950’s when it was common place for other Lorry Drivers to stop and investigate if they could be of any assistance to a Lorry Driver broken down by the side of the road.
At the end of the Road Run at Crockerton Retail Park David laid out on the deck of the lorry three magazines featuring Obituary Articles that he had written, ranging in size from a quarter of a page, half a page and a two page spread. David said that only one of the families had thanked him for getting the article into the magazine and he asked Stuart and Sara to select which article had generated a response from the family. Sara chose the magnificent two page spread, however, her Dad chose the smallest article and Stuart was correct.
Tony Thompson asked if David was alright and offered to polish out the mark the branch had made on the cab. There was a suggestion from Mary Bailey, C.T.P. Events Organiser that next year the April 2nd date for The Three White Horse Road Run may have to move until later in the month. David mentioned to Tony that the Road Run should be moved to the Sunday nearest April 17th and Tony agreed, suggesting a small detour to Rowden Hill in Chippenham and stopping at the Eddie Cochran memorial.
Eddie Cochran performed his last concert at the Bristol Hippodrome on Saturday April 16th 1960. On Easter Sunday April 17th Eddie was in a taxi on its way to Heathrow, however, the car crashed on a bend on Rowden Hill and spun around into a concrete lamp post. The injuries that Eddie suffered were fatal and he passed away at 1610 hours in St. Martins Hospital Bath with his girl friend Sharon Sheeley by his bedside.
On Monday April 3rd David’s wife washed and polished the lorry whilst David dismantled the Theme and prepared the deck for a minimalistic funeral in Westbury on Tuesday April 4th. It was amazing that during the Sunday Road Run the 1950 Leyland Beaver had been past Arthur W. Mays, Funeral Director, in Warminster Road, Westbury four times and David commented to Stuart that the narrow alleyway seemed to be getting narrower each time the lorry went past the entrance.

On the Tuesday Arthur W. Mays staff stopped the traffic and gave David all the time he needed to reverse to the end of the drive. Anthony handed over a cheque inside a blank envelope and David thanked him for the cheque and for not writing on the envelope, which would enable David to reuse it. David thought to himself that Arthur had taught his men well. Since this funeral, Arthur has sadly passed away and the business is now run by Simon and Anthony.
Whilst the Leyland Beaver was being paged into Semington Crematorium, Trevor Porter, Photographer, popped out from behind a tree and a picture of David behind the wheel appeared in the Wiltshire Times the following week.
The second funeral in April was for Fred Stevens Funeral Directors in Nailsworth and the Deceased was one of the Bearers who had assisted David when he last worked there in 2010.
The Deceased had been a Model Collector with over 630 model vehicles, never out of their boxes, stored on shelves in a temperature controlled room, from which light had been excluded. David created a replica Model Toy Box and the Family were delighted with his efforts.

Two days before the funeral, David became aware of a massive hole that had been dug, but not re-filled, on the roadway into the Funeral Directors. David believes in providing solutions not problems so he brought with him lengths of 4 x 4 inches timber and created a ‘raft’ so that the 68 year old lorry could gently descend into the hole and then to climb out of it. The Deceased was a very practical guy and David felt that he was looking down and smiling as David gently manoeuvred the Leyland Beaver over the problem area.
The Deceased’s Family came to the Funeral Directors to see their Dad on the vintage lorry and they wanted a photograph of his wife and children in front of the coffin. The Eldest Daughter was organising the photo-shoot when she sadly realised the battery was low on her mobile phone. David stepped forward and offered to help saying, ‘Can I be of any assistance? I have something in the cab called a camera!’ Everyone laughed and this provides a good example of how David uses self deprecating humour to create a distraction for grieving families on their darkest day.
The crematorium selected on this Easter Saturday was Westerleigh, near Bristol, and the journey involved travelling 35 miles mainly down the A46. The first challenge was the very steep hill out of Nailsworth, however, assertive driving at the roundabout in the town centre enabled David to slip the 68 year old lorry into top gear and the old girl cruised up the hill at 25 m.p.h. Getting cars past in the early part of the journey wasn’t difficult with little traffic volumes and the long straight stretches of this former Roman Road. However, when the A433 from Tetbury joins the road the traffic density was increased. With over 50 cars trapped behind the Leyland Beaver at 30 m.p.h. David opted to pull over into a long lay-bye to let the cars past. Twenty cars roared past but the Driver of a grey Range Rover saw that David was coming towards the end of the lay-bye, he flashed his head lights twice and invited the Leyland Beaver, which was still in top gear, back onto the carriageway. The Range Rover was driven by someone attending the funeral, and he followed the Leyland Beaver all the way to the crematorium.
The Range Rover Driver introduced himself to David after the service and explained that he was also a Lorry Driver. David said that he had deduced that from what he had done on the A46. Not only because he had flashed the Leyland Beaver out of the lay-bye but he had also demonstrated his knowledge of Lorry Drivers’ Signalling Code, which was prevalent in the 1950s ( Two Short Flashes means you come out, but one long flash means hold back because I’m coming through).
Also at the Crematorium was a Photographic Student who took numerous pictures, one of which is exhibited below. David is indebted to Kieran Wakefield for allowing his images to be used to develop the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Leyland Beaver for a Funeral in Wells

On a Saturday afternoon David Hall got a call on his mobile from a family in Wells whose Dad had just passed away. David is always deeply moved when a family ring him first before contacting a Funeral Director. The funeral date couldn’t be advised as the death had not been registered yet as nothing can happen until the Death Certificate is produced.
The Funeral Director from Wells rang to say that they had a low archway. As the Leyland Beaver couldn’t get into their yard the Funeral Arranger suggested that the funeral should be transferred to a Funeral Director in the same group at Shepton Mallet, who had a sizeable yard. As the Deceased’s home was in Wells, David elected to use the Wells Funeral Director and sit on the Double Yellow Lines outside the location whilst he loaded the flowers and then move down to be opposite the archway when it was time to load the coffin.
The Floral Tributes were ‘DAD’, a ‘Horseshoe’, a 17 inch ‘Heart’, a ‘Polo Ring’, a Coffin Spray and a ‘Teardrop’. David designed a layout in which every Floral Tribute was visible and spoke to the three Florists involved regarding the measurements that he required. Mundys Florist in Radstock, who supplied the ‘Horseshoe’ were emailed a sketch of a horseshoe with key points being highlighted that needed to be measured. From the data supplied by Colin Mundy, David created a scaled diagram, a cardboard template and thence a wooden support structure that would be invisible behind the Floral Tribute. Very few people understand the time and effort David takes to get a Floral Tribute to appear to be floating in mid air.

David kept the Son of the Deceased updated as the build of the various support structures progressed and he replied, ‘I have complete confidence in what you are going to do and everyone is looking forward to seeing the results of your work.’
Two days before the funeral David asked the Funeral Arranger to put out cones north & south of the Double Yellow Lines on the assumption no one would park on the Double Yellow Lines. However, David’s rational was shattered when the Funeral Arranger said that she could not guarantee that no one would be on the Double Yellow Lines when David arrived.
In preparation of what to do if someone was parked on the Double Yellow Lines, David phoned Wells Police, who said it was the responsibility of the Council, who said it was the job of the Highways Department, who said it was the duty for the Police to lift a car off the street if it was causing an obstruction!
So David decided to follow his old Dad’s advice that ‘God helps them that helps themselves.’ David formulated a strategy of arriving early in Wells at around 0700 hours when most people were still in their beds and contractors working at houses on the High Street hadn’t yet arrived. Also in order to minimise the impact of fuel price increases, David tries, wherever possible, to use Food Retailer Sites. Most Retail Service Stations don’t welcome lorries that find turning in front of the shop to be a very tight manoeuvre. The best time to visit a Retail Service Station is just after it has opened for the day when there are no cars, only White Van Men. So David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0530 hours and rolled into Tesco Shepton Mallet at 0630 hours and was on the Double Yellow lines in Wells at 0715 hours.

To David’s surprise, the Funeral Arranger had left the cones on the Double Yellow Lines and not north or south of them as he had requested. He was baffled why the Funeral Arranger had protected the Double Yellow Lines as the law demands that no one should park on them and although it is sometimes misunderstood the owners of Disabled Blue Badges can only park on a Double Yellow Line for 3 hours maximum. Double Yellow Lines do allow unloading or loading to take place but not parking, so David was puzzled why the Funeral Arranger had protected a stretch of road that in his opinion didn’t need protecting. However, all became clear to David when the owner of the house situated beyond the archway into the Funeral Directors yard offered David a cup of tea. He told David that one Saturday night when he was going to take his Daughter to the airport, he found that someone had left their car on the Double Yellow Lines opposite the archway and this prevented him from getting his car out. The man had to call a taxi and bear the cost of taking his Daughter to the airport.
David’s overall strategy had worked as by 0815 hours a resident left for work and vacated the space up the hill from the Funeral Directors and David reversed the Leyland Beaver off the Double Yellow Lines. As David sat in his lorry waiting for the Funeral Arranger to arrive, he admired the view from the cab and thought that Wells was one of the most atmospheric places that he had visited with his vintage vehicle.

The Funeral Arranger arrived and was relieved that David had found the space he required and she told David about the problems she had encountered with cars being left overnight obstructing the Funeral Directors premises. On one night staff had collected a body from a local Care Home but couldn’t access their own premises due to inappropriate and illegal parking. On this occasion the Police were called and a Recovery Company lifted the car off the street during the night.
Wanting to post a letter David asked where the nearest post-box was, which turned out to be just down the street and only 100 yards from Wells Cathedral. David’s only regret was that he didn’t post the letter 5 minutes earlier as he could have witnessed an amazing spectacle. The Wells Cathedral Clock dates from 1390 and is the oldest working clock in the world. Every fifteen minutes inside the Cathedral two figures from the 14th or 15th century strike a bell with a hammer and on the outside two rings of jousting knights appear to be charging at each other some 100 feet above the ground. The clock was wound by hand for over 100 years by descendants of Paul Fisher a Jeweller and Horologist in the town.
The Son of the Deceased had originally intended to travel in the cab with David, however, at the last moment he declined as he was needed in the limousine to comfort his Mum. So a gentleman from Liverpool, called ‘Scouser Steve’, travelled with David from the house in Wells to Shepton Mallet Crematorium. As David changed gear Steve smiled and his eyes lit up as the sound and smell from the Leyland 600 engine reminded him of the happy times he had spent with his own Dad, travelling in a Leyland Octopus along the East Lancs A580 Road in the early 1960’s.

After the service the Son of the Deceased shook David’s hand and thanked him for his professionalism and his attention to detail. Unbeknown to David the funeral was videoed for Somerset Live and was posted on the internet which is one of the best marketing opportunities that Vintage Lorry Funerals had been involved with that had not been initiated by David.

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 cafĂ© 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.