Thursday, 1 September 2016

A Cardboard Coffin in Snodland

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 August 2016

Three Sad Funerals

Although Vintage Lorry Funerals uses the Marketing Phrase of ‘Bringing some colour to a dark day’, sadly the events around some funerals makes this aim impossible and here are three examples where the background to the funeral had an emotional effect on David Hall.
David was contacted by a Bristol Haulage Company to take one of their Drivers on his final journey but the date could not be finalised as their Driver had died abroad. The Deceased was divorced and had taken his four sons on holiday with him to Portugal. Tragically on the second night of their holiday the Deceased collapsed and passed away in front of his boys, whose ages ranged from 6 to 16 years.
The Haulage Company provided Tractor Units to take the mourners to the Funeral Directors and thence to Westerleigh Crematorium. The picture below was taken in Downend Bristol and it captures the moment when the four brothers naturally arranged themselves in age order alongside their Dad’ coffin.

The youngest person to travel on the 1950 Leyland Beaver was a 13 year old boy from Bristol who died from San Filippo Syndrome, a genetic disorder that limits the life of a child to 14 years as a maximum. David met the Family at their home and drew out how he could arrange the Floral Tributes on his vehicle so that everyone was visible. As the Family did not have a computer David agreed to prepare a Photograph Album of all the pictures he would take.
A number of events occurred on the funeral day which touched David emotionally. Whilst sitting in his lorry on Filton Road in the early morning before the funeral, children were on their way to school. One group of girls approached the lorry and a blond haired young lady smiled at David. As the group passed by the front of the cab, David heard a gentle tapping knock on the passenger side door. David climbed out of the cab to investigate and the blond haired young lady stepped forward and introduced herself as a cousin of the Deceased and she reminded David that she had met him at the Family home. She then asked David to climb up onto the deck and explain how each Floral Tribute would be positioned.
Whilst David was reversing down the street towards the house, school children from the same class as the Deceased stood to attention on either side of the road, forming a guard of honour.

When David was loading the Floral Tributes he noticed that each Flower Card contained a picture of the Deceased. Having loaded over 20 Floral Tributes, each with the young lad smiling at him, David felt very sad for the parents who had also lost the Deceased’s sister to the same genetic disorder the previous year.
Vintage Lorry Funerals was chosen to take a 32 year old Electrician on his final journey after he had lost his life beneath his own car. It is believed that he was struggling to replace a gearbox from his car which came off its axle-stands causing him horrendous injuries and he passed away two days later.
The Deceased’s Mum was looking at the range of vehicles available in the Funeral Director’s Pack and she felt that the 1950 Leyland Beaver was most appropriate not only because her Son was interested in ‘anything with wheels’ but also because following his accident she didn’t want his coffin enclosed.
The Deceased left a young wife and two young children, a boy almost 3 year old and a girl almost 1 year old. During the service the young mother had to attend to her children’s needs with David and the Funeral Bearers doing all they could to provide some privacy. It was pitiful to see in the cemetery two young children wandering around the headstones oblivious to why they were there. This prompted David to write an obituary article in Heritage Commercials, and whilst these articles are normally written for the benefit of the widow, in this case it was written primarily for the two young children so that they would have something by which they could remember their Dad.

David is always professional and never lets any emotions show on the day of the funeral, however, he often thinks through what happened on the day, evaluating if he could have done anything more to help the Family.    

Friday, 1 July 2016

Going back to Scole

David Hall and his wife lived at Lowestoft in the late 1970’s and David’s memories are of the large apple stores and windmills, including a magnificent one near Scole. It has a rotating top which allows the sails to move to take the best advantage of a change in wind direction. One day David and his wife were climbing up the staircase inside this windmill and then stepped out onto the top turret balcony to get a wonderful view of the flat East Anglia countryside. David turned and stepped back into the windmill and just as his wife was about to follow him the direction of the wind changed. David’s wife went for a ride, whilst he was laughing from inside the structure and it is a moment that they will never forget.

On Friday June 19th 2105 David and his wife were having coffee within Jolly’s Tea Room in Bath when David’s mobile rang. Tim Simmons explained that his Dad had just passed away and since he had once owned a Heavy Haulage Company his Family were interested in using David’s services.
David had undertaken a funeral in Great Yarmouth some eight years previously which was featured prominently in local newspapers and Mrs. Simmons, Tim’s Mum, had kept a copy but never told anyone that she had it. Tim explained that he and his Mum wanted to use the 1950 Leyland Beaver, however, his younger Brother wanted to spend time repairing his Dad’s old Diamond T Lorry for his Dad’s final journey. David’s advice was that if the Family didn’t use his lorry then they should just use a hearse as on the day of the funeral Tim should be focused only on looking after his Mum. He should not be worrying about his Dad’s old motor which hadn’t been out of the barn for some time.
Tim rang David on the Sunday evening as promised and booked the Leyland Beaver for Friday June 26th. On Sunday evening David’s wife looked for suitable facilities around Rosedale Funeral Directors in Diss which could store the 1950 Leyland Beaver overnight. After 20 minutes research there was an excited shout in the computer room as David’s wife had found Waterfield & Son in Scole, only two miles from the Funeral Director who had a tarmac resurfacing company and they had restored a 1956 Albion Claymore Tipper, which was the first lorry that they ever had. Also within walking distance were a hotel and a paper shop, so David’s wife had cracked the problem.
Some people think that people from East Anglia are unfriendly typified by David Jason’s story about when he was lost in his car near Bury St. Edmunds just after WWII. Apparently David shouted to an Old Man cutting a hedge, ‘Do you know the way to Bury St. Edmonds?’ The Old Man just continued to work and never responded so David called, ‘Hey John, do you know the way to Bury St. Edmunds?’ The Old Man put down his tools and walked across to the car and enquired, ‘How do you know my name is John?’ David said, ‘I’m a good guesser.’ The Old Man said, ‘Well then, guess your way to Bury St. Edmonds!’ as he turned away and continued to cut the hedge.
Gary Westfield couldn’t have been more helpful, he even offered to allow the coffin to be transferred onto the lorry as the Funeral Director had a narrow driveway. He told David that his men would clear space to put the Leyland Beaver undercover the night before the funeral. He asked David if he could find his way to Scole and David told Gary about him and his wife’s frightening experience in the windmill near Scole.
David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0500 hours and was the first vehicle to fuel at Tesco Tetbury as it opened at 0600 hours and the derv price was 119.9 p.p.l , the cheapest that David would see in the next 150 miles. However, coming up the A143 just after Bury St. Edmonds he couldn’t believe his eyes for at a small fuel station the derv price was 117.9. It was a very tight squeeze to get the lorry next to the pumps, however, to save 4p per litre it was worth trying to put a quart in pint pot. As David paid for the fuel he asked how the fuel was so cheap. The young girl said, ‘You’ve landed here on our cheap fuel day.’ Thinking it was a bit like the B&Q facility for OAPs, David said, ‘Have you got to be an OAP to get this discount?’ The young girl laughed saying, ‘You are welcome to it, and your lorry looks wonderful.’
David arrived at the Waterfield yard around 1400 hours, having completed the 204 miles in 7.25 hours driving. Staff in the yard were expecting the 1950 Leyland Beaver and the Yardman asked David to undertake a tricky manoeuvre as he reversed into the empty shed around a lorry with cars only inches away. When David pulled the engine stop button he said to the Yardman, ‘Have I passed the test?’

It was the first time that David could walk from where the lorry was parked to his accommodation and it was comforting to know when he was eating his supper that the coffin would be transferred onto his lorry in the Waterfield yard, making this a total Scole solution. He didn’t have to rush off in morning, enabling him to work into the early hours on Saturday morning, using the full extent of a 15 hour shift, if required.
The Deceased lived in a bungalow in the middle of the countryside with uninterrupted views in all directions. The funeral service was in the late afternoon and although David was keen to make tracks he had promised to spend some time with the Widow after the service. Leaving the cemetery at 1600 hours the Leyland Beaver did well on the country roads, getting cars past on the former 3 lane road between Diss and Bury St. Edmunds, and was on the A14 dual carriageway by 1700 hours. It was Friday night and there were a lot of people on the roads, however, there was also a number road closures from 2000 hours for night tarmac operations at Huntingdon and Milton Keynes. David knew he could beat the curfew at Huntingdon but he would need help on how to avoid the problems at Milton Keynes. Mission Control, David’s wife, had done some research and found a good back road going through Bedford, Flitwick and Dunstable before going east via Aylesbury to Oxford. David’s wife provided a series of landmarks, and stressed special attention was required due to the lack of a sign-board at the roundabout over the railway at Flitwick. Tramping on during this warm evening, David missing the right turn at the roundabout but immediately knew he was wrong. He stopped outside the Oak Public House and asked a man, who was speaking on a mobile phone, directions for Dunstable. The man, still talking on the phone, tapped on the window of the pub. An Old Man came out saying, ‘Two rights and a left and Dunstable is sign boarded from there. If I had a (expletive) tenner for each time I have had to leave my drink due to the lack of a (expletive) sign on that (expletive) roundabout I would be a (expletive) millionaire.’ David thanked the man but thought it was like a situation portrayed in Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Get it right next time.’
David got to Dunstable, came back up the A5 and then turned left onto a road he had never been on before, the A505 to Leighton Buzzard. The road was exceptionally wide, wide enough for 4 cars across, a good surface and street lights which provided excellent visibility and it was around 2145 hours. It was the same Friday as Glastonbury, however, contrary to popular belief not all young people were at Worthy Farm Pilton, in Somerset that night. David saw no vehicles at all in front of him but he looked in his wing mirror and saw a line of 5 cars approaching the vintage lorry at speed. Each car had darkened windows, air dams on the front, side skirts that almost touched the ground, and air spoilers mounted on the boot lids. These boys didn’t need any invitation to come past the old lorry trundling along at 30 miles per hour. As they thundered past they filled the fours lanes and took off reaching speeds probably in excess of triple the speed of the 65 year old lorry and the road became a racetrack. Thankfully everyone reached the end of the long road safely.
It was approaching 2300 hours when the Leyland Beaver joined the A40 just before Oxford and the motorists trapped behind the lorry were vocal in their protests as they came past on the next stretch of dual carriageway. David wears ear-defenders to protect him from the noise from the Leyland 600 engine, however, they also shield him from the abuse he receives. Finding an empty lay-bye to let people past is never easy with many populated with drivers sleeping in their Trucks, bottomless potholes or filled with mounds of tarmac for the next night operations.
Just after Burford David turned left onto the B4425, a country road to Cirencester and all the cars behind the lorry suddenly disappeared. David had the road to himself and there was a full moon. On the back road he saw a Fox and two Barn Owls. It was 0130 hours when the Leyland Beaver trundled into Bradford-on-Avon and David reversed into his garage just before the end of his 15 hour shift limit expired. Over a cup of tea he told his wife about the journey home and she said, ‘You should have turned right at the roundabout over the railway line in Flitwick as you were told!’ David thought ‘Oh dear, this is like being back to scole (school).                      

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

A ‘Tugboat’ prominently displayed in Cwmbran.

Vintage Lorry Funerals second funeral in Cwmbran was for a man who started his working life on the Tugboats in Newport Harbour during 1959. Glyn Fisher then progressed to the Merchant Navy and one of his first sailings on the Garthfield involved taking equipment for the new Nuclear Power Station near Snowdon, docking at Porthmadog. The Garthfield was a Coaster and Glyn’s ports of call included Douglas (IOM), Millom (Cumbria), Liverpool and the Clyde. However, family problems about him being away from home for long periods caused Glyn to leave the sea and he became a Lorry Driver. Although Glyn earned his living behind a steering wheel, he missed his time on the sea. He developed a passionate interest in Tugboats partly because Daniel Lynch who had worked with him as a deckhand on the Dunraven was now a Tugmaster, the Captain of a Tugboat that operated along the South Wales coast. Daniel supplied Glyn with Tugboat magazines which he avidly read in his caravan on the coast at Porth Kerry. Glyn was also given the opportunities of occasional trips on Tugs pulling ships into Newport with timber and Swansea with iron ore for Port Talbot Steelworks.

When Glyn passed away his Daughter was given a task as Glyn’s expressed wish was that he was not to go to the crematorium in a black hearse. Alison researched the internet and found that Vintage Lorry Funerals could personalise the final journey of a Loved One. Alison spoke with David and told him that she was having a ‘Tugboat’ as the Family’s main Floral Tribute, along with a Coffin Spray. David described the scene he could create using the coffin and Coffin Spray as if they were an Ocean Going Liner, which could appeared to being eased through the harbour entrance by a ‘Tugboat’.  Alison thought that this concept was brilliant and asked what David needed to achieve this and David said, ‘a helpful Florist.’
Sally of Athena Flowers was most helpful and told David that the ‘Tugboat’ would be made from a 2 ft x 2 ft designer board. Given the short lead time for a funeral, David has to make assumptions and create the support structure whilst the Florist is creating the Floral Tributes. The day before the funeral Sally took a picture of the base before it was covered with flowers and emailed the picture that contained dimensions to David, which he used to create a cardboard template. At that point he discovered that one of his assumptions was flawed. The height of the ‘Tugboat’ was half the expected height. The Florist had realistically proportioned the ‘Tugboat’ and used 2 ft x 1 ft as a base, half of the designer board and probably used the balance for another Floral Tribute. David always tries to imagine how a Florist creates a Floral Tribute and he was devastated that he hadn’t guessed the right height. Being brought up in the frugal ‘waste not want not’ 1950’s he should have known that only half of the designer board would have been used.

At 1830 hours the night before the funeral there was no time for self recrimination and it was time for action, however, as he was working the chorus of The Swinging Blue Jeans hit ‘You’re no good,’  were reverberating around in David’s head. Using the cardboard template David found bits of wood the correct shape to replicate the ‘Tugboat’. As David put it, ‘When a Floral Tribute is appearing to float in midair you don’t want to see any wood.’
An early start ensured that the vintage lorry was outside Arthur Peake’s Funeral Home by 0715 hours only to find the gates locked. Don Peake knocked on cab door at 0800 hours and advised David that he should park in the Leisure Centre car park just down the road. There was plenty of space at this facility that had been taken over by the local community following recent Government cut backs. By 0830 hours cars were arriving with the occupants wearing heavy boots and woolly hats, obviously hikers. At 0900 hours a gentleman came up to David and said, ‘I never thought they would take my idea up so swiftly.’ Apparently he had recently written to the Leisure Centre suggesting that they should use the vast tarmac area as a revenue stream from events such as vintage vehicle rallies. David said that his vintage vehicle was booked for a funeral with Don Peake, pointing to his yard which backs onto the playing fields associated with the Leisure Centre.
Glyn Fisher in his coffin was thought to weigh around 25 stone and some of Don’s staff were concerned about how the coffin would be loaded and offloaded. David was helped by two Bearers on the deck when Glyn was loaded, however, Glyn was offloaded at Gwent Crematorium with David alone on the deck, supported by Bearers on the ground. Glyn’s coffin glided across the deck as if the total weight was 12 stones.

The ‘Tugboat’ was photographed from a number of angles and the picture of a ‘Tugboat’ helping an Ocean Going Liner into harbour was sent to Vintage Spirit, Tugboat & OSV and Powerboat & RIB magazines. Space for the Obituary Article was secured in Vintage Spirit and his Daughter felt that her Dad would have been very proud to be featured in such prestigious magazine.
David spoke to Daniel Lynch and got more background on Glyn time on the water. Daniel not only filled in some of the details but he made available some amazing pictures, including the ones featured here and David is grateful to Daniel for allowing these pictures to be included. David contacted Sea Breezes magazine and the Editor was delighted to hear from him. There is no doubt that Daniel’s pictures were a major help and Sea Breezes exceeded David’s expectations making almost a whole page available to Glyn Fisher in their magazine and also putting part of the article on the internet.
Alison was delighted with all David’s efforts and sent a ‘Thank You’ card with a heartfelt message.                      

Monday, 2 May 2016

Two Funerals in Wolverhampton

In the funeral world there are no predictable trends, business is brisk one week and the following week can have low activity levels. Vintage Lorry Funerals’ business profile is no different with 3 funerals in one week and the next one being 3 weeks away.
So the prospect of two consecutive funerals being in Wolverhampton, both ending at Bushbury Crematorium, both working direct for a Family and both having a ‘Teddy Bear’ Floral Tribute as a focal point in the display, seemed unreal. But it happened in March 2015.

The first funeral was for a former BOC Gases Tanker Driver whose main Floral Tributes were a 21 inch ‘Heart’ and a 21 inch ‘Teddy Bear’. Although David Hall knew that these would be lovely Floral Tributes, their very different shapes would mean that placing them side by side in front of the coffin would not have looked appropriate due to a lack of symmetry, which is a fundamental part of all Vintage Lorry Funerals flower displays. The solution that David came up with was to create a wooden tanker between the two Floral Tributes.
Around the same time, David had attended the Classic Commercials Enthusiasts Day at Malvern, where each year he builds a wooden Theme appropriate for a Lorry Driver’s Funeral to show the public what is possible should they decide to use his services. Fortuitously on March 5th 2015 on the deck of the 1950 Leyland Beaver was a Theme for an ESSO Petrol Tanker Driver, in line with the agreement made with the Show Organiser, Jason Lunn, the previous year.
Wendy Webb was delighted with David’s idea for her husband’s final journey and the task that David set himself was to transform his generic tanker Theme, which had previously appeared to be carrying fuel in Gosport and Malvern, and Milk in Tooting and Frome, into a BOC Gases Tanker.
David consulted with Nigel Barnes at BOC Gases and he was very obliging, sending detailed pictures of both the outside and the instruments inside the Control Compartment. David thanked Nigel for his help and the quality of the detail he had sent, however, David explained that he was only trying to create a replica, not a working model!
It was agreed that the Leyland Beaver could be parked undercover with the Funeral Director the night before the funeral and David provided the measurements of the 65 year old lorry. However, when David saw the space available he was concerned, especially when he learnt that the length had not been measured accurately, in that a tape measure hadn’t been used and the length was just paced out. David was livid on this Sunday afternoon around 1700 hours as he could have used a suitable facility with Kwik Fit just down the road, however, this had closed an hour ago. Luckily the Leyland Beaver just fitted the space at the Funeral Directors with less than one inch to spare.
There was a concern about the access into the Church so David was taken to meet the Clergyman who everyone addressed as Father, as this was a High Church of England facility. David joked with the Clergyman being called Father and asked if the coffin would be in church the night before the funeral. The Father was brilliant in that he had gained permission for the Leyland Beaver to go onto the driveway of the house opposite the church entrance. David shook the Father’s hand saying, ‘Thank you Father, you have gone farther than most people would have gone.’
The pictures of Michael Webb’s funeral were sent to BOC and they went around the Linde Group like wildfire. David was invited to submit an article which he agreed with Wendy to the BOC Staff Magazine.
David was amazed when he checked the Vintage Lorry Funerals website the day after Michael Webb’s funeral to find an enquiry from the Daughter of a Wolverhampton man who had just passed away. She explained that Roy Quinton would be the Funeral Director whose Funeral Arranger in Bushbury had seen the 1950 Leyland Beaver in action, on its way to Bushbury Crematorium the previous day.

David had noted on his way back from Michael Webb’s funeral that the return leg of the journey was 5 hours and if an opportunity for an afternoon funeral arose then he would attempt to do the funeral within a day run from Bradford-on-Avon. However, he never dreamed that this would be his next funeral.
Doing Wolverhampton and back within 10 hours driving wouldn’t be easy and required a lot of detailed planning. David operates his lorry like a current day Lorry Driver who is allowed to extend his daily driving limit to 10 hours twice a week. The legislation also allows a working shift to be extended to 15 hours twice per week.
Getting up at 0400 hours and leaving at 0445 hours meant that the Leyland Beaver was into Gloucester by 0630 hours, missing the rush-hour. In Tewkesbury the traffic was still light and the volume of cars on the road multiplied as the 65 year old lorry moved onto the Dual Carriageway sections of the A46. David took a 45 minute break at Alcester Services and let the bulk of the rush-hour traffic go. By the time he got onto the A441 into Redditch most people had got to work and the only extra traffic was due to the tail end of the school run.
By adopting this strategy the vintage lorry rolled into the space behind Roy Quinton’s Funeral Home at 1015 hours, having made the journey from Bradford-on-Avon within 4 hours and 45 minutes driving. As the Funeral Home, House, Church and Crematorium were all very close by, David was happy that he had created a 15 minute buffer that may be required on the return journey in which he couldn’t expect traffic to be so light.
In the Bushbury area of Wolverhampton the local road network interfaces with the railway and a number of low bridges exist. David had undertaken research and determined that he would have no problem with the height restriction under the arches, however, the width of the approach roads was a concern.
Scott Quinton introduced himself and asked if he was aware of the low bridges and the problem with one near the church being closed, which was forcing higher volumes of cars through the other bridges. Scott suggested that David should go with one of his men and checkout the best way around the problem as the tight timescale between the Church and the Crematorium meant that any hold ups would be disastrous. David thanked Scott for his help saying, ‘Often when a Family pay me direct, the Funeral Director has no interest in providing strategic information.’ Scott replied, ‘Dave, the only thing that matters is that the funeral goes well and that the Family are happy.’
As this was a Catholic funeral the coffin was already in the church when David arrived, as instructed halfway through the service. The coffin was loaded in front of the whole congregation and those close to the lorry were amazed at the smooth operation of the coffin as it was slowly rotated on the deck. David secured the ‘Gates of Heaven’ Floral Tribute in a way that depicted the Deceased had just passed through the Gates of Heaven and this image meant a lot to the Family. David started to apply tension to the ratchet straps when he was showered with Holy Water from the Priest. The Family asked for photographs to be taken at the church and David operated discreetly and patiently. The weather was deteriorating during the day, however, it never rained whilst Frank Gibney was on deck of the vintage lorry, but as soon as the lorry was beneath the porte cochere at Bushbury the heavens opened. 
Kim Deacon, Frank’s Daughter had asked for David to take a picture of Scott and his men in front of the lorry and David did as he was asked despite the horrendous rain.

David took shelter in his cab, eating his sandwich as the service took place. Kim braved the storm to thank David and Kate’s Mum shook his hand saying, ‘I love the way the things you do.’ The way she said it, it was very similar to The Temptations 1965 hit record, ‘Ilove the way you do the things you do.’

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Funerals in South Wales

After 4 years of undertaking funerals with his vintage lorry, David Hall did a strategic review and determined that a large proportion of his business had arisen from brick built terraced houses rather than country cottages made from Cotswold Stone. David had previously worked in the Newport area and had noticed the number of Haulage Companies and the preponderance of terraced streets. Consequently David sent Marketing Packs to Funeral Directors in Newport and surrounding areas which in time resulted in 40% of Vintage Lorry Funerals business during August & September 2014.
David’s Daughter lives in Cardiff and it is a journey that he has undertaken many times in his car and the 63 miles can take between 80 and 90 minutes using the Second River Crossing. For most Welsh Funerals the key strategy is to get past Newport before 0700 hours and David gets up at 0400 hours, leaving his Bradford-on-Avon base at 0445 hours. His route involves going north on the A46 and using the A432 to cut through Chipping Sodbury and Yate towards the Old Severn Bridge. The 1950 Leyland Beaver normally arrives at the Toll Booth at 0600 hours and the Bridge Attendant is pleased to speak with David. The Old Severn Bridge is not often used by normal traffic and the Bridge Attendants in the Toll Booths often see very little traffic through the night. The Ladies in the Toll Booth are interested in the role David performs with his lorry and want to start a conversation and David told one lady, ‘I would love to chat with you a little more but I’m off to do a funeral in Cardiff and I must get past the Coldra before 0645 hours.’
Coming off the M48, immediately after the Old Severn Bridge, David takes the A466 north to Chepstow before joining the A48, the iconic road from the 1950’s that was replaced by the M4. Along the level sections of the A48 the Leyland 600 engine sounds like a sewing machine which is very similar to John McNally’s guitar in The Searchers 1963 hit ‘Sweets for my Sweet, Sugar for my Honey,’ The Leyland Beaver normally gets to the Coldra roundabout on the east side of Newport by 0630 hours and David often looks up to the bridge above the roundabout to see the traffic on the M4 heading westwards getting denser by the minute. David then takes the A48, which runs on the south side of Newport, which is a Dual Carriageway with minimal traffic lights and roundabouts. At 0645 hours only lorries use this road and the traffic is light with car drivers always gravitating towards the M4, which soaks up traffic like a sponge.
It is around 0655 hours when David stops at the Esso Service Station at Carlton for his paper and at 0700 hours the vintage lorry is on the A48 going under the A470 intersection or trundling down Newport Road in Cardiff.
So a car travelling at 70 miles per hour on the M4 achieves the journey in 90 minutes and one would expect the Leyland Beaver with a top speed of 32 miles per hour, travelling on A Roads, with traffic lights and roundabouts, should take over twice as long as a car. But it doesn’t. The lorry regularly does the journey to Cardiff within 135 minutes and there is no logical explanation why. Congestion on the M4 during peak periods has encouraged The Government to look at a new express road on the south side of Newport, however, David reckons they have already got one, it’s called the A48!
Three memorable funerals in South Wales are contained in this article.

David always tries to stay off the M4 with his lorry, however, sometimes the geography in South Wales with steep hills and deep valleys means that the use of the M4 is unavoidable, like the journey from Risca to Cwmbran Crematorium. Whilst waiting outside the Church in Risca for the service to be completed, David Hall was worried about travelling on the M4 at 30 miles per hour with cars thundering past at 70 miles per hour and beyond! David looked up and couldn’t believe his eyes as a Police Car pulled alongside his lorry. The Policeman told David that the Police Car would lead the cortege from the church, through the village and on the roundabout before the M4 the Police Car would go around it twice and position itself behind the lorry. As the Leyland Beaver trundled down the slip road the Police Car positioned itself at 30 miles per hour outside the lorry in lane one, forcing all the cars on the M4 into the outside lane. The Police Car then travelled alongside the Leyland Beaver until the next junction when the lorry took the slip road, the Policeman saluted David and sped off. David is not aware that a Police presence was officially requested and apparently it was a case of a concerned Policeman acting on his own initiative.

One feature of Cardiff houses is the narrow back alleys that are used to access the rear of properties. When a funeral was arranged from a Funeral Home with a narrow rear access, the Funeral Director organised parking within St. Mark’s Parish Church on the busy A470 North Road. Three days before the funeral David was concerned about the width of the back alley behind the Funeral Directors, although at that stage it was never envisaged being used. Andy Lawrence, who designed and created a garden for David’s Daughter has remained a close friend. At 1920 hours David phoned Andy’s mobile and asked him to check out the width of the back alley behind the Funeral Directors the next time he was in the area. At 1950 hours Andy phoned David to say that the width of the alley was 9 feet. David asked, ‘Is it 8 ft 9 inches, 9 ft 3 inches or 3 paces?’ Andy replied it was 3 paces, however, he warned David about telegraph poles which reduced the width. He also thanked David for getting him out of the house whilst ‘soaps’ were monopolising the TV screens. On the day of the funeral David joined the A470 at 0720 hours just as traffic was starting to build. Turning left into the tight Church gateway necessitated David moving into lane two with his left indicator flashing. Nine car drivers comprehended what David was attempting and patiently waited in line behind the Leyland Beaver. As David approached the narrow gate, just as the vintage lorry was about to commence turning, David sensed that a car was about to come past him on his nearside and he braked. At that moment a young lady shot past him, ear plugs in place, listening to music, totally oblivious to all around her. After loading the flowers in St. Marks car park the Funeral Director saw that if David could reverse down the back alley to receive the coffin, he could find another job for his hearse. So Andy Lawrence’s research was of paramount importance and David inched his way down the alley keeping his eye out for the telegraph poles, which fed telephone lines to a number of locations.

For the funeral of a man who loved horses David created a facility so that a ‘Horseshoe’ Floral Tribute appeared to float. Whilst waiting on the roadway outside Thornhill Crematorium a passerby knocked on the passenger door window. The gentleman said he was at school in 1952 when he saw a Leyland Octopus going up the hill. On seeing the wing embellishments glistening in the bright sunlight he was smitten and during the 1950’s he always looked out for Leylands with the wings. He thought it was unbelievable that 60 years on he could see a Leyland Beaver on the same road, glistening in the sunlight and he told David that they would meet again one day.                      

Monday, 29 February 2016

Assertive Driving in South London

For reasons that will become evident, the names of the Funeral Director, their staff, and the location of the Crematorium have not been disclosed.
 Vintage Lorry Funerals was booked for a South London funeral by a lovely Family who sadly believed that they hadn’t done enough for their Dad towards the end of his life and consequently they wanted to ensure that he had a great send off. David Hall’s wife was involved in detailed planning for the funeral at an early stage as there was no parking allowed outside the Funeral Home, which was surrounded by double red lines. Luckily internet research identified an area marked ‘loading only’ on part of the road in an adjoining street and after some involved discussions the local Council reserved the facility and reluctantly waived their normal charge.

The Deceased had been an avid Arsenal Fan, with the ‘Arsenal Shield’ being the centrepiece of the display in which every Floral Tribute was red & white. So in the heartland of Crystal Palace Fans, David was loading Arsenal themed flowers, however, no derogatory remarks were made by passersby. David took pictures and sent them to Arsenal F.C. who featured the funeral in a Match Day Programme and it is understood that Arsene Wenger was very happy about the respect shown for his club south of the river.
David had longer than usual to take pictures because the three limousines that were booked to follow the 1950 Leyland Beaver were running late. It was Friday afternoon, the funeral was booked for the last slot at the Crematorium, however, the limousine drivers were on their 4th job of the day and were delayed. In these situations David doesn’t get stressed out and remembers one of his old Dad’s sayings, ‘Don’t worry about things that you can do nowt about.’
Eventually the limousine drivers arrived, the coffin was loaded and although 45 minutes had originally been allocated to travel from the Funeral Home to the house, only 15 minutes were left. The task looked impossible to everyone involved and the mood amongst everybody was very low.
The female Funeral Director, who had worked with David before, paged the cortege onto the busy main road, turning right across two lanes of oncoming traffic and into the right hand lane as a right turn was required at the traffic lights one hundred yards down the road. As David approached the lights he noticed that there was no specific right turn filter light and given the high volume of oncoming traffic he would have to wait until the light went from green to red and then move across the two lanes, this type of operation has been sanctioned by Police in South London.
However, as David waited at the traffic lights showing a red light he knew that waiting for a gap would loose further time that he didn’t have in the first place. He looked across the yellow lined box junction towards a Bus in the first lane and a car in the outside lane alongside the Bus, and he put the Leyland Beaver in a high gear. When the light turned green, David let out the clutch and the 1950 Leyland Beaver shot out into the oncoming traffic. The Bus Driver realised what David was doing and stopped, however, the car alongside the Bus didn’t stop and a collision seemed imminent. The Funeral Director, sitting in the passenger seat, was petrified, but luckily the car stopped and David continued across the boxed junction, seeing in his wing mirrors that the three limousines had followed the Leyland Beaver.
Near the Crystal Palace ground there was a steep inclined road with cars parked on the left hand side of the road. With a stream of cars coming down the hill towards the Leyland Beaver, the sensible thing to have done would have been to wait at the bottom of the hill until a gap appeared in the traffic. However, David sensed that the road was just wide enough for three vehicles and he put his foot down and the Leyland Beaver shot up the hill doing 28 miles per hour. Experienced drivers coming down the hill got over and David passed by with only inches to spare. Inexperienced drivers panicked and some mounted the pavement to get out of the way.
David pulled up at the house 30 seconds earlier than planned with the Family oblivious to the problems and the journey that was originally planned for 45 minutes was actually achieved in 14.5 minutes. David got out of the cab as if nothing had happened to see if any extra flowers were at the house. The Lead Driver from the first limousine didn’t go to the Family as normal but rushed towards David and gave him a huge hug, ‘I ain’t never seen assertive driving like that.’

Leaving the house the Funeral Director was using her Sat Nav and said to David, ‘Tom, Tom says turn left.’ David said, ‘Dave, Dave says straight across,’ cognisant that his detailed research had highlighted that taking the second left rather than the first left was advantageous due to wider streets.

On the way to the Crematorium the Lead Driver in the first limousine flashed his lights repeatedly signifying that David should stop. Unfortunately the 3D Lorry and Trailer Floral Tribute which was ever so lifelike was becoming more real than expected in that the ‘Cab’ was beginning to tilt as if the ‘Lorry’ was being serviced. The Lead Driver asked David, ‘How are we going to fix this?’ David said, ‘No problem’, taking out a length of green wire and two small polystyrene sheets from his tool box. The ‘Cab’ was straightened and secured in no time and the Lead Driver said, ‘You have done that better than Macgyver!’
As the cortege entered the Crematorium David sensed that something was about to happen as before the limousines had come to a stop the doors were being flung open and mourners were racing to confront a group of people all holding yellow flowers. There were fists flying, the language was atrocious and that was only the women! The people with the yellow flowers started to throw individual stems towards the coffin on the deck. One of the mourners instructed David to climb up onto the deck and stop the yellow flowers landing amongst the red ones. The yellow stems rained down like French arrows at the Battle of Hastings and David was struggling manfully to catch each one in flight. Onlookers oblivious to the dangerous and inflammable situation may have thought it was like a scene from ‘It’s a Knockout’ which was on TV screens during the 70’s & 80’s.
David was astounded when the diminutive female Funeral Director got between two burly men and begged them to stop fighting. She then requested the people with the yellow flowers should not enter the chapel and respect the wishes of the mourners. Then for the first time in 10 minutes order was restored and silence prevailed. David gathered up the yellow flowers into a nice bunch and thought that he would take them home for his wife. However, David’s good intentions were undone in 10 seconds when one of the mourners stamped on the flowers. David learnt that the Family lived at some distance from the Deceased and it was alleged that some of the people with the yellow flowers had developed an unacceptable relationship with the Deceased and it was also alleged that some of the Deceased’s funds may have been misappropriated.
The Lead Driver from the first limousine came up to David and shook his hands saying, ‘Thank you for all your efforts today, we were in a huge hole but the actions you took saved the day and saved our bacon!’