Monday, 1 July 2019

The funeral of a 17 year old in Bognor Regis

In July 2018 David Hall was asked to take a 17 year old on his final journey, Angus Jones, who had tragically lost his life in a road traffic accident near Chichester. Some 17 year olds look like men, however, when David was given a picture of Angus he saw a young lad with angelic features. In working on funerals of young people it is important to always anticipate the unexpected, because grief can affect people in different ways. Having previously undertaken the funeral of a 14 year old boy in Horfield David was suitably experienced and decided that he would do all that he could to make the display on the lorry perfect.

Finding out about the flowers wasn’t easy as the main Florist was Angus’ Mum, who David didn’t want to bother too often given that she had tragically lost her Son in such a horrendous accident.  Also the second Florist was a lady who worked in a Market Garden during the day, could only be contacted on her mobile between 1800 and 1830 hours and texts were the only way to relay messages. Both were lovely ladies and experienced Florists so minimal communication would suffice. Two Floral Tributes created by the Angus’ Mum were Picture Boards on plywood boards, 48 inches x 24 inches and 15 inches by 15 inches with a Floral Design attached to the centre, the larger one featuring a life sized Guitar. The other Floral Tributes were ‘Ace of Spades’ 36 inches x 24 inches, ‘SON’ and a ‘Single Note’, a Floral Tribute which David had never had the pleasure of carrying before.
Initial evaluation of the design options determined that the ‘Guitar’ 48 inches x 24 inches and the ‘Ace of Spades’ 36 inches x 24 inches were too wide to go side by side against the headboard with the other Floral Tributes. David decided to place them back to back, fixing them to a roof like structure at the rear of the deck. David had used this technique previously and looking at his contemporaneous notes, which are included in the plastic wallet for each job, he knew the best strategy to pursue. David used existing timber to form a central support which was only an inch thick and he envisaged that this would enable the Family to be able to look through the rear structure and have an uninterrupted view of the coffin and the display at the front of the deck.
Having never carried a ‘Single Note’ before and having no possibility to email drawings to the Florist, David decided to contact Val Spicer Designs who make the oasis bases. David spoke with Charlotte, explained his predicament, and asked if a ‘Single Note’ base could be taken from the warehouse and a trace made on some cardboard. David is indebted to Jay Spicer and his team for all the help he received as the template arrived via DHL and was fundamental in the design of how the ‘Single Note’ would be secured. The ‘Single Note’ was 24 inches x 12 inches and this determined the height of the front display as it was desirable to keep the ‘SON’ and 15 inch x 15 inch board at the same height and by raising these two Floral Tributes, space was then created underneath to offer positions for any third party flowers that may arrive.
David took advice from his own Daughter, who is talented at playing the piano, about how best to present the ‘Single Note’ Floral Tribute. By placing the Floral Tribute between the second and third of 5 black lines on the board then this would depict ‘A’ when played with a right hand at a keyboard, thus emphasizing the first initial in Angus .

Staff members at Reynolds Funeral Service were excellent, very attentive and most immediate. John, who conducted the funeral, was known to David as they had previously worked together when John was employed by Southern Cooperative for funerals in Peacehaven and Worthing. John measured the Pictorial Board Floral Tributes which arrived the day before the funeral and the thickness of the boards, was as David had expected, which would enable an innovating method of securement to be used. One problem was that the 15 inch x 15 inch Pictorial Board was in fact 16 inch x 16 inch and this precipitated 30 minutes work for David, changing the support structure so that this Floral Tribute would still appear to float.

The journey down to Bognor Regis from Bradford-on-Avon took 3.45 hours and involved travelling on lesser known roads, like the unclassified Morestead road near Junction 10 of the M3 near Winchester, which no one knew about 15 years ago, however, many commuters now use this as a rat run. David took the B2150, turned left towards Clanfield and picked up the B2149 to Emsworth. David then took the A259 which runs parallel to the A27, before joining the A27 and the queuing traffic stacked back from the A259 Bognor road roundabout.
David arrived at 1045 hours, 15 minutes earlier than he had suggested telling Reynolds staff, ‘You are better off looking at me, than looking for me!’ John came out to meet David and made him a cup of tea. A number of cars travelling along the street stopped to admire the 1950 Leyland Beaver and some people commented how good the old lorry looked. John explained the route that was required including a visit to the Church Hall, where people from the village would say their good-byes to Angus and the Tangmere Airfield Museum which Angus used to visit as a boy, fascinated to hear peoples’ experiences from WWII. The route would avoid the A27 but the cortege would pass the Chichester District Council site where Angus had worked as a Bin Man.

Vier, who is the Handyman for Reynolds Funeral Services, helped David load the large tablet Floral Tributes and Vier was amazed how well the Floral Tributes fitted into their allotted space. However, it wasn’t until David got out his camera did he realise how good the clear view was under the large Floral Tributes, towards the coffin and the Floral Tributes at the front of the deck and he reflected that this was perhaps one of the best displays that he had ever created.

As David approached Tangmere Airfield he saw the Chichester District Council Bin Lorry which would follow the 1950 Leyland Beaver and David drove slowly past the planes and the line of people who had stopped work in respect for Angus. David was then invited to drive on the old runway to turn and he saw the old Traffic Control Tower, for which funds are being raised for it’s restoration. Money in lieu of flowers was destined for this fund and David felt it was most fitting to restore a facility which had played such an important role in WWII. Tangmere was one of the main airfields used during the Battle of Britain and Douglas Bader was based there before being shot down in his Spitfire and it was also the place which many SOE Agents last saw of England before being dropped behind enemy lines. Violette Szabo left Tangmere on June 8th 1944, two days after D-Day on her second mission, was captured, executed by the SS at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and subsequently awarded the George Cross. David drove back through the Airfield Museum and took photographs of the F4 Phantom Jet whose colour scheme was not too different from the 1950 Leyland Beaver.

David reversed into the car park of the Village Hall which was lined by around 100 people. Everyone was silent and then suddenly everyone started to clap and some shouted Angus Jones’ name.
David entered the grounds of Chichester Crematorium and found that a Guard of Honour was there made up from Bin Men each with a Green Bin and there must have been over 200 people at the crematorium. David vacated the canopy quickly moving the lorry some 20 yards to create space so that the area under the canopy, or porte cochere to give it the official title, could be used as an extension to the chapel.

The journey home coincided with the evening rush hour, however, David minimised the delays by taking the Havant turn off the A27 and then taking the B2177 to Wickham and then towards Junction 11 of the M3. David took a break at Sutton Scotney Services and got back to Sainsbury’s in Melksham to fuel up just before the site closed. The Leyland Beaver was the only vehicle there and the female attendant was most interested in the lorry. She asked if she would see the lorry again and David said, ‘More than likely, I have a funeral in Portsmouth in 4 days time and one in Southampton on the last day of the month!’
David got home just before the 15 hours shift length limit and reflected about the events of the day in which the Leyland Beaver had definitely brought some colour to a very dark day.               

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Leyland Beaver carries a John Wayne Theme in Hanham

David Hall received his third funeral from a Bristol Funeral Director and was told that the coffin would come from Colourful Coffins in Oxford with a John Wayne livery, incorporating pictures and sayings from the great man during his roles in Western Films.
Apparently the Deceased had been a big John Wayne fan and this struck a cord with David whose own Dad also loved the Duke. David came from a humble background in the frugal 1950’s and David’s Mum & Dad took on extra jobs solely to put food on the table. The only night out that David ever had with his Dad was a trip to the Odeon Cinema in Sunderland, during 1969, to see True Grit in which an aging John Wayne played a one eyed Marshall called Rooster Cogburn. 
John Wayne also played an important role in David’s Dad’s life towards the end of his time on this earth in a Care Home in Penrith. David’s Dad had fallen out of bed, cracked a vertebrae in his spine, was in constant pain and always very restless. David arrived one Saturday night at the Care Home just as a John Wayne Western was featuring on his Dad’s TV. David sat with his Dad and watched the whole film during which his Dad never complained about his pain and thanked David for being with him. David’s Dad passed away the following week.
David wanted to personalise the Bristol funeral and initially looked at the concept of incorporating a saddle within the display of Floral Tributes, however, the Daughter of the Deceased asked for a lower key Western Theme. David and the Daughter of the Deceased agreed that a rail should be created like those outside a Livery Stable, that horses were tethered to, in Western Films. The Floral Tributes were a ‘Pillow’, an ‘Open Heart’ and a 2 feet by 1 foot designer board with the Deceased’s hat fixed to it. David envisaged that it could be fastened onto the ‘Horse Rail’ and secured at 45 degrees with no apparent support. David felt that if he got the angle right for the Floral Tribute containing the Hat, then, when viewed from the rear of the deck, the scene would depict footage from the Mclintock Film when John Wayne throws his hat towards a weather-vane.
David looked through the stack of wood in his lean-to and found a 3.75 inch diameter post that had been in the ground since 1950 and was only replaced when the bottom rotted away. Having located the timber that could be salvaged for the ‘posts’ part of the ‘Horse rail’, he had to find a ‘rail’ and develop a strategy of how to fix the ‘posts’ to the deck of the 1950 Leyland Beaver.
On Saturday May 19th 2018 whilst most of the population in Britain were watching the Royal Wedding in the morning and the FA Cup Final in the afternoon, David and his trusty helper Geoff were using a 1960’s hand tool to create a 3.75 inch diameter in two lengths of 8 inch by 2 inch timbers. Geoff’s Uncle had bought the implement in 1961, confirmed by the receipt which was still in the wooden case, but had never used it. David & Geoff have used it a number of times in the past 16 years to create holes of various sized diameters which were a cardinal element of the particular Theme that David was working on at the time. 
Two 4 inch half round fence rails were purchased from Mole Valley Farmers and fixed onto the posts. The support structures for the ‘Open Heart’ and ‘Pillow’ were  fixed in front of the rail and David felt it would be fitting if  the Floral Tributes could be tethered to the rail, in the same way that horses had been in Western Films. David knew who could help, Charlie Todd, who is a member of the Vintage Lorry Funerals Support team, as she has three horses. David had taken Charlie’s Dad on his final journey on March 31st 2005 and has kept in touch with her ever since. Charlie provided a Horse Bridle which was the centre piece of the rear display for a Travellers funeral in Liss on November 30th 2010. Charlie was delighted to hear from David and asked him to come to her home to collect the reigns. Charlie and her husband Kev were very pleased to see David and introduced him to their friends who were visiting. Kev said, ‘There is never a week goes by without Charlie and me talking about what you did for her Dad and reliving various aspects like when you went down the hill at Haycombe Crematorium. All the people in front of you were pointing for you to go to the right to avoid the canopy but you went left and went straight under the canopy with less than an inch to spare either side.’ David said, ‘I couldn’t do that now, because they have built an island in the road to stop me,’ however, he was humbled by the fact that Charlie and Kev still talk about the funeral some 13 years on.
The Bristol funeral was for a Funeral Director whose main office is in the centre of the city, the location from which David did the funeral of Gerald Sleith aka ‘Santa Claus’ on April 25th 2013. David had no problems getting into the yard at 0630 hours, however, when he was due to leave on the funeral his exit was prevented by the inappropriate parking of cars. The choice was either to wait for the Police to come to lift the car out of the way and miss the slot at South Bristol Crematorium or to force his way past the obstacle. David had no choice and opted for the later, however, in his attempts to avoid damaging the car, which was blocking his path, he elected to catch the Funeral Directors gate damaging the rear of his lorry and the wrought iron gate. David always includes a Lessons Learnt sheet in the plastic wallet for every funeral, so David asked if he could load the coffin and the flowers for the John Wayne Themed funeral in Hanham at the Funeral Director’s satellite office.

Whilst there would be no inappropriate car parking in Hanham, never the less parking was an issue as the space behind the location was taken by Builders working at the site. David solved the problem himself by speaking with the Hanham Methodist Church which has a large car park opposite the Funeral Directors rear door and the gentleman he spoke with was very helpful and even went down to the yard to measure the clearance between the gates.
This Bristol funeral was a first for David because he had his breakfast and coffee at home before leaving at 1030 hours and this was only possible now that Double Yellow Lines have been installed in the part of Bradford-on-Avon that David lives. David was instrumental in solving the inappropriate parking issue as one elderly lady fell in her bath, broke her hip but had to be carried down the street in agony as the Ambulance was prohibited from getting up the street due to inappropriately parked cars.
David went through the centre of Bath and took the A431 road from Bath to Hanham which was totally deserted as most car drivers elect to use the A4 and the ring road. He arrived at Hanham around 1130 hours and drove into the Hanham Methodist Church’s yard which only had two cars in it. The Floral Tributes were exactly as the Florist had described, however, David was concerned about how the hat was secured to the Floral Tribute and he took appropriate measures to ensure that neither the hat nor the ribbon around the hat came off during transit.
The coffin arrived from the centre of Bristol and the Funeral Bearers remembered David from previous jobs. Two remembered the ‘Santa Claus’ funeral and the ‘Anchor’ Floral Tribute which appeared to float, with a chain attached and one was involved with the Temple Cloud Funeral that caused gridlock at Windmill Hill and how David rebuked the Police for their insensitivity towards a disabled Lady who was in some distress.
The journey from Hanham to the house in Bedminster involved going down Crews Hole Lane to avoid the City traffic and it was only possible because the Leyland Beaver is 7 ft 6 inches wide (8 inches narrower than a modern lorry), has wing mirrors within the width of the lorry (a modern lorry has wing mirrors that extend beyond the width of the lorry) and the Leyland Beaver has an incredible steering lock unsurpassed by any vintage or modern vehicle.

The traffic on the A38 came to a standstill as David reversed into Churchlands Road and stopped outside the Deceased’s house. The Daughter of the Deceased shook David’s hand and thanked him for what he had done. Walking around the rear of the lorry she commented how her Dad’s hat lined up with John Wayne’s hat which was pictured on the head end of the coffin. The Deceased Son-in-Law, commented, ‘Look at the amount of time and effort David has taken, we are lucky to have a man who likes the detail.’ 

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Piano Theme on the Leyland Beaver in Rugby

David Hall spoke with a family who had booked to use the Leyland Beaver in Rugby and found out that the Deceased had enjoyed many evenings playing a piano in local Public Houses, enthralling his fellow drinkers with his rendition of Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’. The Deceased could not read music and he had no classical training, but he was skilled at listening to tunes and then playing them by ear. So much did playing the piano feature in the Deceased’s life that his family chose a Colourful Coffin adorned with a piano graphic which looked stunning.
The Deceased had also been a Newcastle United Fan and part of the family’s request was that a Newcastle United scarf should be included in the display which would also feature the Floral Tributes, ‘DAD’ and ‘GRANDAD’. David’s prime objective is to personalise a final journey and many people think that David efforts are way beyond that of any other Carriage Master. David requested a Head & Shoulders photograph of the Deceased which David’s wife skilfully cropped and it was enlarged and laminated by Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Partner in Trowbridge. David made a sketch of his design concept which involved fixing the A3 picture of the Deceased to the Headboard. Placing the Newcastle United scarf around the back of the picture of the Deceased would then create a scene depicting the Deceased holding his scarf at a game. As the final journey would be from Rugby to Coventry, along the A45 Dual Carriageway, it was a cardinal condition that the scarf was securely fastened. David planned that the ends of the scarf should be fixed to the ends of the ‘DAD’ Floral Tribute, which would be placed above the ‘GRANDAD’ Floral Tribute.
As the scarf was being brought down from Newcastle the day before the funeral, David asked that the scarf be measured and sadly he found that the scarf was shorter than he had envisaged. The ‘DAD’ Floral Tribute would need to be raised so that the bottom of the ‘DAD’ would be the same height as the ends of the scarf. This then created a hole between the ‘DAD’ and the ‘GRANDAD’ and whilst he was contemplating his options of what to do next, he checked his email and found a picture of the Colourful Coffin. David thought a Piano Theme would be the ideal solution.

David’s role in funerals is to exceed the expectations of a family and this was the prime consideration for creating the Piano Theme, however, Geoff, Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Worker, reckoned it was mainly for several pieces of 30 inch long timber to have a ride out to Rugby. When David designs a theme he always seeks to use existing lengths of timber that are already stained in Antique Pine and have been previously used in a funeral. This strategy saves the cost of buying new timber, however, there is always a time factor involved for David to find the right piece of wood!
Notable contributors that had previously been used included:-
  • Two lengths of 3 inch by 3 inch, used as keyboard ends, were previously featured under a Flat Bed Lorry Theme in Stranraer.
  • Two lengths of 6.5 inch by 2 inch, used as the sides of the Piano, had their first appearance as part of a ‘Skittles Theme’ in Semington.
  • The two box sections, used as Piano legs were originally designed as part of a 100 Floral Tribute Display for a Care Home Worker in Walton-on-the-Naze in East Anglia.
  • A Number of lengths of 5 inch by 2 inch timbers were also used as part of the Piano legs and these have featured many times in the past 16 years, notably in a Traveller’s Funeral in Liss.
  • Also as Geoff has indicated lengths of 30 inches by 6 inch timber were used as part of the lid and these had made a number of appearance in the past including the ‘Del Boy Falling Through the Bar Theme’ in Malvern.
David previously had been given a length of Skirting Board which had been undercoated in white paint and this was tailor-made for the keyboard. David spoke with the Chief Mourner and she was delighted with the developments and agreed that the Piano Theme should be built. However, David did not disclose that the Piano lid would be held open during the journey to Coventry, and it would be closed in Canley Crematorium in order to signify that the Deceased’s piano playing days were now at an end.

David decided to use the Fosse Way to travel to Rugby and although this is the shortest way, the road has no Services and the only toilet facilities are at Tesco, Stow-on-the-Wold which are not open before 0600 hours. David spoke with Ainscough Crane Hire, a company which has a depot at Princethorpe, just south of Rugby and their management agreed that he could call in en route if a comfort stop was required. The Leyland Beaver left Bradford-on-Avon at 0500 hours and travelled the 93 miles to Rugby in 3.5 hours. Everyone at the Funeral Directors came out to see what David had created and they were amazed at the quality of his work and his attention to detail.
At Canley Crematorium the Funeral Director who was conducting the funeral gathered the family around the Leyland Beaver as David bowed towards the coffin, closed the lid and once again bowed towards the coffin before he assisted the Bearers to transfer the coffin off the vintage lorry. The Chief Mourner came to thank David after the service saying that he had created a most fitting final journey for her Father.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

A sign of the times for a Redfield Funeral

David received a phone call from a lady in Bristol whose father had passed away. The Deceased, like David Hall, was a member of Commercial Transport in Preservation, a club with over 130 members nationwide with an interest in vintage vehicles, and the Deceased’s expressed wish was that his final journey should be in his CTP Jumper on the back of Vintage Lorry Funerals Leyland Beaver.
David had known the Deceased, who used to buy and sell Models from a stall erected at the finish point of the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Road Run and he had amassed a wonderful collection of models, enamel signs, motoring memorabilia and mugs at his home. The Deceased had been a Window Dresser for Horne Brothers Menswear and his skill-set in arranging items was very evident in how each model or sign was exhibited in the hallway and conservatory of his home.
In thinking how David could personalise the funeral, he envisaged that a 3ft x 3 ft Shell Retail sign would look good in front of the coffin and he knew where he could borrow one, as Michael Moore, from Steeple Ashton, had previously lent David one for a funeral in Fleet in 2007. The Daughter of the Deceased was delighted with the concept that David had described, however, her Mum would be happy with anything that David did, because his beautiful lorry was all that she had expected. David has rang Michael a number of times over the years and he is part of the Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Team, however, sadly on this occasion he couldn’t help because two months ago someone broke into Michael’s garage and stole the Shell Retail Sign and other petrol memorabilia.

Not wanting to disappoint the Daughter of the Deceased David rang around his network of contacts. Jim Pethers, a landscape Gardener, who has helped David many times said that he would have loved to have made available an Esso Sign that hung on his garage door, however, someone had stolen it earlier in the year. David was scratching his head wondering who could help him and he rang Alex Mathews of Norton Garden Machinery, Kilmersdon, on the off chance that Alex may know if any of his customers collected signs. Alex said that they had a Briggs & Stratton sign in the loft that had lain there for over 30 years and David could use it if he didn’t mind cleaning it up.
The obvious solution would have been to use a sign from the Deceased’s collection, however, the Widow was living away from home and no one could access any items from the amazing collection. So David sent an email featuring the picture of the Briggs & Stratton sign which was 3ft x 2 ft and asked what she thought. As this was a small engine company sign which wasn’t in the Deceased’s collection, the Daughter was a little reluctant at first, however, she suggested that David should get some pictures of petrol signs from the internet and put these either side of the Briggs & Stratton sign.
David’s wife found Shell & Nation Benzole Petroleum signs, enlarged them to the appropriate size and Tech Office in Trowbridge laminated the signs. The layout was designed so that the Shell & Nation Benzole signs would appear to be floating unsupported as if they were at a petrol station in the distance, a bright light ahead on a lonely dark road.

It may seem ridiculous to some that David leaves for a funeral in Bristol about the same time he would leave for one in Birmingham, however, the traffic in Bristol becomes gridlocked from 0715 hours. David’s strategy is always to beat the traffic and be parked at Redfield by 0615 hours as he had done previously in two funerals he had undertaken from the site in 2002 & 2011. The staff members at the Funeral Director were good and Terry has been involved in all three funerals, he was formerly a Mobile Crane Driver for Sparrow so he knew all about David’s Leyland Beaver. Terry was also impressed with David’s CTP Jumper, which the Deceased’s Daughter had asked David to wear and Terry knew it was the same as the Deceased was wearing before the coffin lid was secured.
David elected to reverse into the Holy Trinity Church car park off the busy A420 road and had made arrangements with members of CTP to stop the traffic. David started to prepare the coffin for unloading when he was approached by the Widow who insisted on shaking David’s hand telling him that he lorry looked lovely. Wanting to concentrate 100% on his role as a Carriage Master David normally doesn’t like any distractions, however, he made an exception in this case and it was a moment that he will remember for ever.

The final destination was Westerleigh Crematorium and David had been there 7 times before and when he entered the site he signalled that he was intending to take the first exit at the roundabout, however, the Funeral Director shouted, ‘No, no Dave, go straight across we are heading for the new Woodland Chapel.’ David quickly realised that Westerleigh had created an additional facility in their car park that included a chapel and the Willow Tree CafĂ©. However, as David approached the porte cochere he noticed that the roadway was narrower and the turning tighter than the main chapel and the only way that he could access the covered area was to put one wheel on the grass. Once the Leyland Beaver was under the canopy it was evident that David needed to be as close to the supporting posts as possible to create space to off load the coffin. Terry stepped forward and guided David to where he needed to be, he even offered to stay until after the service to help David get out of the covered area.

One week after the funeral David received a cheque from the Widow as a gratuity and a card which said, ‘Congratulations on the wonderful condition of your vehicle. I enclose a small cheque towards the cost of the upkeep.’
David returned the Briggs & Stratton sign to Norton Garden Machinery in a slightly cleaner state than he had collected it. Whilst he was there one of the customers commented that his Daughter-in-Law, who lives in New York, had given up her job to concentrate on buying and selling old enamel signs and she makes a good living!’
Apparently the Briggs & Stratton Sign is thought to be worth $400 and the current trend of people in Wiltshire stealing signs to fulfil a demand is sadly a sign of the times.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Leyland Beaver for a Bolton Funeral

David received a phone call from a lady in Bolton who wanted the Leyland Beaver for her Dad’s final journey. The Deceased’s main interest was restoring cars and he was working on a VW Camper when ill health stopped the progress of the restoration. Given that most of the discussion with the Family was about the VW Camper Van, David was surprised that his 69 year old lorry was chosen rather than the VW Camper Hearse which is based closer to Bolton and would possibly have been cheaper.
In his desire to personalise the funeral David asked for any pictures they had of the Deceased that could be enlarged and placed on the headboard. Instead of sending a head & shoulders picture as requested, most of those that were sent were of the Deceased working on cars and eventually his Wedding picture was sent which proved to be ideal. David’s wife cropped it to size and Andy Walder of Tech Office enlarged and laminated it. When David collected the laminated picture Andy asked, ‘I didn’t realise that you were taking Tom Selleck on your lorry!’

The only Floral Tribute was an 18 inch ‘Heart’ and Gaynor, the Florist, was most helpful describing the Floral Tribute which helped David decide how best to secure it so that it would appear to float. The Florist was only 50 yards from the Funeral Director and it was agreed that Gaynor would deliver the Floral Tribute direct to David’s lorry. The Funeral Director explained that the Deceased would be at the family home and as the Family had paid David direct he should go to the house as soon as the ‘Heart’ had been loaded and spend time there.
As soon as a family has booked the lorry then a detailed planning operation takes place. With Bolton being over 200 miles from Bradford-on-Avon David planned to travel the day before the funeral and park the Leyland Beaver undercover as near as possible to the Funeral Directors. David has an arrangement with Kwik Fit which allows him to park the vintage lorry overnight before a funeral and luckily David’s wife spotted a Kwik Fit in Manchester Road with a cost effective B&B within 50 yards, ‘What more could a man ask for?’, David thought.
A week before the funeral the weather forecast changed and a storm labelled, ‘The Beast from the East’ was scheduled to hit Britain with heavy snow being predicted across the Pennines. Given the risk of snow David decided to equip the Leyland Beaver ready for winter conditions and placed his ‘back-box’ on the rear of the deck. This structure adds weight onto the drive axle and this is supplemented by 9 cubic feet of 4 inch by 4 inch and 8 inch by 2 inch timbers. Also in the ‘back-box’ is equipment to assist the lorry cope with heavy snow and icy conditions and the list includes shovels, road grit, mats and rolls of stair carpet.
The detailed planning for a trip includes where the lorry should be refuelled and where David can pick up a copy of the Times which he buys with a voucher each day solely for the Football and the Sudoku puzzles. David noticed that a Newsagent was next door to Gaynor’s Florist’s shop and David asked Gaynor to pop next door and ask if the owner would take the Times voucher and if a paper could be reserved for him to collect on the morning of the funeral.
The Leyland Beaver had previously been to Horwich on the West side of Bolton and so most of the route planning had already been done for the trip to Farnworth on the East side of Bolton. The old girl knew her way through Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stone, Holmes Chapel, Knutsford and Warrington. When David joined the East Lancs A580 road for a short time he remembered being on that road in the 1950’s riding in the passenger seat of a Leyland Beaver bound for Liverpool to collect animal feed. David arrived at Kwik Fit around 1700 hours and he was surprised that the Manager, Wes, was much younger than he had imagined and that he was a Jamie Vardy look-a-like. David walked to the Highgrove B&B and Debbie, the Manager, was very friendly and gave him a quiet room. David was very lucky to find space in this B&B which costs £39 per night, including a cooked breakfast as most of the rooms are block booked by contractors working locally or Travelling Salesmen visiting companies in Bolton. Debbie’s husband had been a Lorry Driver in the 1960’s and she moved a few residents around to accommodate David because he was involved in a funeral. The room was basic but clean and being called Highgrove caused David to smile as he doubted whether Charles or Camilla had ever crossed the threshold. Debbie advised David to go to Wetherspoons where he would get a cost effective meal and she wasn’t wrong. With a promotion, the price for a main meal, a pudding and a Coca Cola was less than £10 and this location was less than 100 yards from the B&B.
David looked at the weather forecast before he went to bed, heavy snowfall was expected in Farnworth in the morning but David had no fears that the Leyland Beaver would cope with any conditions and he slept soundly. David awoke to find 4 inches of snow had landed, the main road was black, however, the side roads were reminiscent of a Christmas Card scene. Debbie had the radio on as she made the breakfasts, one gentleman was listening intently as he was planning to drive to Sheffield, however, as Debbie brought the cooked breakfast she whispered in David’s ear, ‘You’ll have no problems with the old lorry in the snow’.
Wes at Kwik Fit got one of the lads to come in early to get David away before 0815 hours as rush hour conditions would mean 4 miles may take 45 minutes. David eventually got to the Funeral Directors at 0915 hours and the traffic was still gridlocked. David stopped on the main road and asked the driver behind him to hold back the traffic whilst he reversed into the side road. David drove into the other lane, stopped the traffic and everyone was patient as the 1950 Leyland Beaver spun round onto the virgin snow on the side road. Initially everything was going well, then David spotted a car in his wing mirror coming quickly towards him. The car driver then started to flash the headlights and use the horn. David stopped, went to the back of the lorry and found a woman who was shouting at him, with every other word being an expletive. She was annoyed that the lorry was stopping her getting out of the street and she drove over the pavement to get round, much to the annoyance of the drivers stopped on the main road, who had been exceptionally patient. 

Just about this time Gaynor arrived with the ‘Heart’ which David immediately fixed in place. David asked if Gaynor had spoken with the Newsagent and she said she had, but didn’t think that he would be of any help. Gaynor apologised for the behaviour of the woman driver and said that her attitude was typical for the area. Sheila, the Funeral Director overheard David talking to Gaynor about the Times and she commented ‘You won’t get a Times newspaper in this area, not in the Newsagent, nor in Lidl, you may get one in Tesco.’  Something told David to try the Newsagent and he entered the small shop, no one was in it apart from a small Asian man behind the counter. David asked if he had the Times and if he would take the voucher. The man said, ‘There is only one Times in the rack which has been specially ordered for a man who is working at the Funeral Directors today.’ David said, ‘I am that man,’ and he took the Times out of the rack, left the voucher on the counter as the Asian man looked quizzically at a man with a black beret who spoke with a North East accent, not what he was expecting, no doubt.
David drove towards the house on untreated side roads, however, the Leyland Beaver being 5.5 tons gripped the loose snow. The family had cleared the snow away in front of their house and invited David in for a cup of tea. The Daughter of the Deceased told David that the coffin was in the house, the coffin lid was off and asked if he would have any problems. David said, ‘No problem,’ and he had a flashback to the 1950’s when it was commonplace for the Deceased to rest at home the night before their funeral. Coming from a simple two up two down house, despite the cramp conditions overall, the front room was never used and kept for Christmas Day, Weddings and Funerals. So the front room was the place where the Deceased would lie in the coffin with the curtains closed, mirrors turned backwards so that you couldn’t see your own grief, David would be invited to go in on his own as a young child, say his goodbyes and gently kiss the Deceased on the forehead.

So as David crossed the threshold he was expecting to turn left into the front room, however, he was invited into the back room where everyone was and the Deceased lay in his coffin with his Grandchildren playing on the floor beneath and around him. David took off his Beret as a mark of respect and told the Deceased that he would take good care of him whilst he was on the lorry. The widow gave David an envelope with pictures of the Deceased restoring the VW Camper and as he sipped his tea David thought it was an honour to be invited into the house, however, he sensed that not all Carriage Masters would be comfortable with this situation.
Getting into Overdale Crematorium wasn’t easy due to mourners parking cars near and opposite the entrance and only because of the tremendous lock did the Leyland Beaver get through the gates and other large vehicles would not have been able to make the turn.
David left the crematorium at 1330 hours and was back home by 2300 hours despite refuelling at Morrison’s on the A579 and J P Nicholls in Tewkesbury. The trick to the 9.25 hours driving time was hitting Wolverhampton just before the start of the rush hour.
The following day David spoke with David Eccles, the Editor of VW Camper & Commercials Magazine who was happy to accommodate an Obituary article and David asked David Eccles if he would add,
 ‘If anyone can help the family to finish the restoration, or suggest any help with how the family might set about it, please contact me on and I will pass the information to the family.’
The Family wanted the VW restored so that the Widow could go touring with her dogs, and the whole family were extremely pleased with everything David had done for them.
During the next two days Britain was badly affected by heavy snow and high winds had caused drifting with some major roads being blocked, like the A46 north of Bath. Traffic movements were affected almost as bad as in 1964, however, there was a lot less snow and David wondered if the problems were caused by local councils cutting back on gritting and snow plough costs. In the modern era Articulated Lorries are hopeless on hills with little weight on the drive axle they get stuck on any slight incline, cars get trapped behind and snow ploughs can’t get near the problem areas to clear the roads. In 1950’s and 1960’s the world was very different. Most large haulage companies operated trunking services with lorries like Leyland Octopus eight wheelers and trailers running over night between major conurbations. These lorries were good on snowy roads with plenty of weight over the double drive axles and these regular trunk services used to keep the roads open. In addition local farmers were paid to put snow ploughs in front of their tractors and instructed to work through the night to keep a certain section of an A-Road clear.          

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Football Connections are crucial in Keynsham

David Hall’s Daughter developed a love of football at a very early age and played for a boys team in Bradford-on-Avon until she was 10 years old. She was a skilled two footed player who could read the game and became an outstanding tough tackling defender. When she finished year 5 at the Junior School she was banned from playing in a mixed team and after her final game in the boys team it was the boys who were crying because they knew they had lost their best player.
In today’s world a 10 year old girl would have no problem joining an Under 11 Ladies Football Club and most villages have a flourishing female football forum. However, back in the early 1990’s there were only a limited number of female football teams in Britain and David struggled to find a team locally for his Daughter to play competitive football games.
Luckily David heard about Keynsham Super Strikers, based 22 miles from Bradford-on-Avon at the grounds of Keynsham Town Football Club. There was a long journey to get to the training sessions each Saturday morning, taking the ‘southern ring road’ around Bath. Every time David and his Daughter passed Hilliers Garden Centre David used to say, ‘if we had a £10 note for every time we passed here,’ and his Daughter would reply, ‘we would be millionaires Dad’.
As there were only a limited number of female teams in the South West, Keynsham Super Strikers had to go on long distance journeys for competitive fixtures in towns as far afield as Totnes, Barnstable and South Moulton. In the early 1990’s a lot of David’s weekend activities were involved with football and Keynsham seemed to be at the centre of his world.
During the early 2000’s David and two of his mates, Ian Greatbanks and Kevin Beilby, ran Bristol Rovers Women’s A Team and this management team achieved an unprecedented 19 game unbeaten run, which has never been repeated. The skill sets of the three individuals complemented each other:-
  • Ian used his management skills to get the best out of the players.
  • Kevin, a technically gifted former Footballer, used to create interesting training routines.
  • David’s main role was to provide 5 minutes entertainment, helping the girls to relax before the game.

During the 2010’s David, Ian and Kevin gave up their football involvement but each December they meet up in The Ship Inn at Keynsham for an evening to reflect on the past and to update each other on developments in the past 12 months. Ian and Kevin often recount David’s best 5 minutes which was judged as being in Swindon when David gave a rendition of The Rolling Stones ‘Not Fade Away’ changing the lyrics to fit Rovers A team beating Swindon Spitfires. Ian and Kevin argue about what was best, David’s harmonica playing or the words he had constructed!

The ladies were often transfixed by some of David’s thoughts as being a distant relative of Bob Paisley, the former Liverpool FC Manager, he could pass on some gems from the great man:-
  • Retain possession, if we have the ball they can’t score.
  • Long ball, short ball, it doesn’t matter as long as it is a good ball.
  • You have never won the League until the medal is in your hand.

Every Christmas on his journey to The Ship Inn David passes Funeralcare in Keynsham and seeing the vintage hand bier in the window he often said to himself, ‘One day I’ll get a job with my lorry from that branch.’ Each year David sends a Christmas Card to Sue Hole and Sue Beint and the two Sues welcome David’s call each November to check that everything is the same or if anyone has changed their surname since last Christmas.
Fast forward to 2018, Sue Hole rang David regarding a funeral from Keynsham to Haycombe Crematorium. David did his normal due diligence in checking out the loading facilities using Google Street View and saw that a common entrance seemed to exist between Funeralcare and the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses. David was concerned about the road being blocked by people badly parking cars. David spoke to Sue Hole and she explained that building work was taking place around the entrance and that it was best for him to come and judge the facilities for himself.
David decided to take his wife with him to give her a trip out which would include a cup of coffee in Keynsham. David knew that a large Tesco store was behind Funeralcare and he planned to park in the car park and get some groceries from the Tesco store. The first thing that David found was that he couldn’t turn right towards Tesco due to the road layout being changed and he had to go into the Kwik Fit car park, turn around, go back to the roundabout and then left towards Tesco. As David drove towards Tesco he couldn’t believe what he was seeing because the Kingdom Hall had gone, the place was a huge building site with equipment blocking the entrance into the Funeralcare yard. David then tried to park his car in the car park but initially couldn’t because it was gridlocked by people reversing out of a space but the people on the road having no space to let them out. David wife said, ‘You always say that you should reverse into a space but drive out!’ As David and his wife approached the Funeralcare entrance he could see that the builders had erected steel wired fencing which was restricting the width of the Funeralcare drive. David said to his wife, ‘I’m in for a Missouri Boat Ride when I come here next Wednesday.’ His wife asked, ‘Are you going to get Funeralcare to sort out the problem?’ David replied, ‘No I’m going to speak with the bloke over there with the hi-vis jacket as he seems to be the Site Forman.’
David introduced himself, handed over a business card and explained how he needed to get his lorry into Funeralcare’s yard the following Wednesday. The Site Forman explained that he was contracted to do the groundwork for a block of flats and although he was polite he was obviously distracted by calls on his mobile that related to his project. From the limited words which the Site Forman spoke, David detected a slight scouse accent.
David asked the Site Forman, ‘Which part of the Pool do you come from?’
When the Site Forman said ‘Anfield’, David could see a way to gain his help.
David shook his hand and said, ‘You don’t know me, but you will know a distant relative of mine, Bob Paisley.’ The Site Forman’s face lit up.
The Site Forman introduced himself as David Mullen, provided his landline and mobile numbers, and asked what help David required. David Mullen then offered to:-
  • Stop all work on the site when David arrived with the Leyland Beaver.
  • Use his men to stop the traffic entering or leaving Tesco.
  • He would guide the Leyland Beaver back into the Funeralcare yard.

David Hall phoned David Mullen the day before the funeral and David Mullen explained that the project had moved on and concrete was being poured on the Wednesday, however, he would ask the driver to make an early start so that the vintage lorry would get into Funeralcare. He told David Hall not to worry as he would help him.
Now that Double Yellow Lines had been introduced in David’s street, for the first time in 16 years David could have a lie in, have his breakfast and leave for the funeral at 0900 hours after the school rush had subsided. Previously David always had to get his lorry out of the street prior to 0700 hours in case of obstructive parking preventing the vintage lorry getting onto the main road, which meant that he went to bed early the night before a funeral. Many a night he would watch the first half of a football match on the TV before getting into the bath, however, for this Keynsham funeral he watched the whole game in which Swansea beat Notts County 8-1 in an FA Cup game and Nathan Dyer, who went to the same school as David’s Daughter, scored twice.
David was out of his comfort zone leaving at 0900 hours, however, he found the motorists on the A36 quite happy to sit behind the Leyland Beaver trundling along at 32 miles per hour. David got through Bath in 10 minutes and pulled into Keynsham slightly earlier than he had previously indicated. David approached Tesco Car Park from the Bristol Road entrance and as he turned the corner he was horrified to see that the cement mixer was still there and was occupying the space that David needed to turn right into the Tesco Car Park before reversing back into the Funeralcare yard. David spoke to David Mullen who asked if David could still get into the Tesco Car Park even though the cement mixer was in his way. David said that the lorry had an amazing lock and he would make an attempt. David Mullen got two men to stop the traffic and he wished David all the best.

When the men told him that the coast was clear, David put the vintage lorry in the lowest gear and as he pulled along side the cement mixer he assessed the task. He had to turn the old girl through 90 degrees in a distance of less than 20 feet and he had to watch that he didn’t hit the cement mixer, sign post or any car. As the Leyland Beaver edged forward on tick-over David applied full right lock as quickly as possible and then it was like watching everything in slow motion with the Beaver spinning on a sixpence and the sign post was near the corner of the cab and the rear off-side tyre was dangerously close to the corner of a car. Miraculously David got the lorry around into Tesco Car Park without hitting anything or anyone, as pedestrians were taking no notice of the Builders who were controlling the traffic.
Reversing back into the Funeralcare yard wasn’t a walk in the park because the builders had put a kink in the steel wired fence which introduced a pinch point of less than 8ft wide. David had to put in a shunt and the fence was extremely close as the Leyland Beaver, which is 7 ft 6 inches wide, went through the gap.
Sue Hole and Steve Coke were delighted that David had got into their yard. David said, ‘Normally when I get into a Funeral Director’s yard I’m then relaxed because I know that I will be able to get out, however, that may not apply today.’ David asked Steve Coke to allow 10 minutes to leave the site in case equipment had to be moved. David said, ‘Steve it will either take 10 minutes or two minutes.’ Sue Hole said, ‘Dave it will only take you two minutes because you are an excellent driver.’
David spoke to a number of the Builders and arranged for the fence to be straightened and although there was much activity whilst David was loading the flowers and soon as 1145 hours came the place was like the deck of the Mary Celeste. David got out of the yard without a problem and Steve was impressed with the performance of the Leyland Beaver on the big hills leading to Haycombe Crematorium, in fact the cortege arrived 15 minutes early.
The route from the house to the crematorium had involved going past The Ship Inn and David recounted that his football connections had been invaluable on this funeral.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Leyland Beaver used for Farmer’s Funeral

The best New Year’s gift for a Self Employed man is a phone call about a job early in the New Year and David was pleased to get a call on January 3rd from Emma Clay Funeral Arranger at John Stuart Funeral Directors in Melksham, Wiltshire. Melksham has proved to be a good location for Vintage Lorry Funerals. The Leyland Beaver has previously worked in the town for Bewley & Merrett and 5 times for D.J. Bewley whose premises are on Bank Street, on the opposite side of the road to John Stuart Funeral Directors.
The opportunity arose because a Farmer’s Family had asked Emma Clay if she could find a Farm Tractor to pull a trailer to carry their Dad’s coffin and some hay bales, however, the Tractor which John Stuart had previously used for a Farmer’s Funeral was deemed to be too modern. As the Family were looking at the photograph of the ‘modern’ Tractor the Son of the Deceased happened to notice a framed picture of the 1950 Leyland Beaver and said, ‘That wagon is of the right age’, and it is the first time that David has been given a job solely because of the lorry’s age of 69 years.
Emma phoned David, explained that the Family would like hay bales to be carried on the lorry, then she sent a copy of a picture of the Farm tractor pulling a trailer with a coffin and hay bales. Emma said that the hay bales were important and the Family could provide them if David couldn’t find any himself. The Family didn’t want the modern round shaped bales but the old fashioned rectangular bale shape which was initiated in 1936. The traditional way that Farmer’s funerals are undertaken is for hay bales to be loaded onto the deck of the trailer, single stacked, forming a C shape and thereby enveloping the front part of the coffin, which in David’s opinion looked wrong. His idea was to stack the bales in front of the coffin to create a display with significant height, which everyone would see, and have the coffin distanced from the hay bales so that it could also be clearly seen. David then designed a Hay Rig Theme using 5 bales stacked in three levels, depicting hay bales being collected off the field and taken to the farm.
For those of you who have never worked on a farm then you should know that handling rectangular hay bales is a nightmare because parts of the hay become untangled from the bale and leave pieces of hay everywhere. David envisaged that if the Family had provided the hay bales that there would be horrendous implications for John Stuart Funeral Directors, carrying hay in their vehicles and for West Wiltshire Crematorium, as the hay bales would have been deposited in the flower area for someone else to collect.
The solution was for David to supply the hay bales, fix them in place in his Garage at Bradford-on-Avon and keep them on the lorry during and after the funeral. David also knew a man who could help him, Jim Pethers, one of Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Team, who has a Landscape Gardening business and he also has a small holding with cattle. Jim has been an amazing help to David over the years providing a number of items, notably a Victorian Rail Porter’s Sack Barrow, a 1950’s Milk Churn and a series of antique gardening tools. Jim arrived on a Saturday afternoon with 4 hay bales and one bale of straw and David showed Jim a sketch of how the Hay Rig Theme would look, with vertical poles at the rear to stop the bales slipping backwards.

The key flower tray which would support the hay bales has been used many times before. It supported a Sack Truck in Highworth earlier in 2017/2018 and has been part of some of David’s memorable Themes, including ‘A Dolls House’, ‘Del Boy falling through the Bar’ and a ‘Tanker Refuelling a Plane’.
The vertical poles had also previously been used during a Frome funeral, in a horizontal way as part of a ‘Horse Jump Theme’ for someone who loved horses, but unfortunately the crematorium was too far away for a Horse & Carriage to travel.
As the hay bales were being stacked onto the support structure David’s wife became aware of all the pieces of hay that were falling off the bales and she informed David that he should allow extra time after the funeral so that she might hoover the deck telling him, ‘that hay will get everywhere, we will still be finding strands of it for months.’
So a plan was in place for David to use the bales during the funeral and afterwards he would take them back to the farm in Southwick, offload them and then help feed the cattle.
Emma when providing information on the coffin, made David aware that it was made of plywood which would be strong enough and exposure to rain wouldn’t matter for the short journey down the A350 road to West Wiltshire Crematorium at Semington. However, the weather forecast didn’t look great for January 23rd so David decided to use his see-through sheet which can keep a coffin dry no matter how heavy the rain is.

 It is David’s opinion that some Funeral Directors may try to highlight a perceived wet weather weakness for Vintage Lorry Funerals in an attempt to dissuade a family from using the lorry. The truth of the matter is that David has carried the see-through sheet in a cover beneath the deck of the lorry since he started undertaking funerals in 2002. It has been rarely used, only twice previously for the funeral of a man in Nunney whose Family wanted him sheeted like a load, despite there being no rain and a Cardboard Coffin in Snodland for which the sheet was used solely to secure the coffin on a sunny day. David normally finds that although it can rain whilst he is loading the flowers, invariably the rain stops when the coffin is presented to the side roller on the deck. The only issue Vintage Lorry Funerals has regarding bad weather is that David Hall hasn’t marketed the use of his sheet well enough to confirm that his lorry is one for all seasons.

So David and his wife put the sheet in place in their garage the day before the funeral and David slept well cognisant that he had in place the right facilities for a plywood coffin. When David got up at 0600 hours there was torrential rain and as he ate his breakfast he knew that he had made the right decision with the sheet. However, as David was putting on his boots he noticed that the rain had stopped and it never came back during the funeral.
The back roads in Wiltshire were covered in water spilling off the fields, however, the 1950 Leyland Beaver was in place in the car park behind John Stuart Funeral Directors for 0745 hours. Emma arrived at 0815 hours and gave David a Car Park Permit. The coffin arrived from Devizes in a hearse and the team helped David put the sheet in place once the coffin was loaded. Everyone was amazed how quickly the sheet was secured and how it protected the coffin. One of the Bearers, who had an old Fire Engine, was very interested in the quality of the paintwork on the Leyland Beaver and he found it hard to believe that most of the paintwork was untouched since 1996, with David’s wife providing regular protective coats of polish.

This funeral provided many good things:-

  • The Farmer’s Family were delighted with everything David had done.
  • The Short Horn Beasts were happy with their hay.
  • West Wiltshire Crematorium staff members were pleased that no hay was left at the Semington site and quickly agreed to an article for ICCM, which goes to all crematoria sites, highlighting the steps that David took to help them. 
  • Atech Coachbuilders are likely to restore a Fire Engine
  • Pictures from the funeral will appear in a number of magazines and hopefully take the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals to a new level with the use of the see-through sheet dispelling any wet weather concerns. A man once told David that you should never complain about the rain, just wear a better coat.