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 Café. 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 editor@volkswagencamper.co.uk 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.   

Friday, 30 November 2018

How David became interested in lorries.


For those of you who regularly read this blog, it may have occurred to you, how did David Hall become interested in lorries? An interest that led to Vintage Lorry Funerals being established in 2002 started when David was an infant.
David came from a humble background in County Durham, an area dominated by Coal Mines in the 1950’s. He lived in a two bedroomed house, commonly called a two up, two down, however the front room downstairs was never used. It was reserved for Christmas Day, any Wedding or a funeral, where the Deceased would lie in their coffin and the room essentially became a Chapel of Rest. The rear ground floor room was the hub of the home with a settee and a dinning table with the centrepiece being a coal fire, which in addition to housing an oven, it was the only source of heat. Vegetables were cooked in water and a kettle boiled on swing-out rings that were suspended above the fire. The fire was also the place where David was bathed in a tin bath that hung on the outside wall when not in use. Water from the kettle was used to heat up cold water in the bottom of the bath. A clothes-horse draped with towels became a modesty screen, David at the time thought that this was the clothes-horse’s prime function!
The toilet was at the end of the yard and it was cold and dark on a winter’s night, although a skylight sometimes let in the moonlight. David slept head-to-toe with his baby sister and he often remembers the ice patterns that would grow on the inside of the window during the winter.
1, Smiths Terrace, Easington Lane had no front garden and the front door opened out onto the A182, a busy trunk road that linked Newcastle to Hartlepool. Opposite the house there was the main manhole for the street, with a top which didn’t fit properly and rattled every time a lorry went over it. So David’s earliest interest with lorries occurred during the night when he was woken with the jangling of the manhole cover. He became skilled in determining whether the lorry was a 4 wheeled rigid, a 6 wheeled rigid or an 8 wheeled rigid, based on their distinctive sound patterns.
Also to keep young David entertained, his Mum used to lift him on top of the radiogram (there was no TV in the house) so that David could wave at the Milk Tanker Driver who was collecting from a nearby farm.
However, the main reason for David’s interest in lorries stems from when their family van broke down on its way to Cumberland. David’s Dad was a Clerk at the Colliery and earned just enough to feed his family, however, there was nothing spare for luxuries, including holidays. There were no family holidays in the 1950’s, David’s family used to visit a farm in Cumberland, as it was known in the day, where David’s Mum had been evacuated during WWII. When a bomb from a Heinkel He 111 hit the side of the rail bridge in South Hetton and exploded in midair, glass from windows was shattered at a radius of 100 yards. This encouraged the owners of the Fish & Chip shop in South Hetton to send their young child over the Pennines in the knowledge that if the bomb hadn’t had a glancing blow on the bridge and had hit the ground, then none of David’s Mum’s family would have survived.
So in August 1957 David’s Mum & Dad, David and his sister Susan in her carrycot were on their way to Unthank in a second hand Austin A40 Van. Initially the journey went well along the A690, apart from David being car sick in Crook, however, as the van was climbing the steep gradient towards the summit of Hartside there was a horrendous bang and the van came to a sudden stop. David’s Dad knew that it was serious and he obviously needed some assistance. In the 1950’s there weren’t many cars on the road and David vividly remembers the silence with only sheep bleating in the distance. After some time a motorbike approached and David’s Dad waved the rider down and he gave David’s Dad a lift to the Helm Wind Café, now called the Hartside Café, which sits on the summit, with stupendous views to the west to Lakeland and beyond. David’s Dad used his AA Key to unlock the AA Box and phoned the Farmer with whom they were intending to stay. The motorbike rider then took David’s Dad back to the stricken A40 van. It now seems incredulous the some unknown stranger should be so kind, however, in the 1950’s random acts of kindness were common place. With not many vehicles about it was the unwritten law of the road that you never ever passed a broken down vehicle without offering some assistance.
It seemed a long time before the Farmer arrived in his Morris Minor Shooting Brake with a tow rope. The Farmer towed the A40 van to the top of Cross Fell and then let David’s Dad, on his own, coast some 6 miles downhill to the farm in Unthank, near Gamblesby. David’s Dad’s first concern was finding the money to pay for repairing the van and he decided that he should go straight home and get back to work. The Farmer took David’s Dad, David’s Mum and David’s baby Sister in her carrycot back to Easington Lane but there was no room in the car for David.
So in August 1957, David aged 4 years and 4 months was left with the Farmer’s Daughter-in-Law, Alice Threlkeld. It was a strange situation for David because he had never been away from home before and he had never slept on his own before. It was also strange situation for Alice Threlkeld who was a young Farmer’s Wife who at the time had no children of her own. However, she was experienced with young children being a Sunday School Teacher at Gamblesby Methodist Church. Alice need not have been worried about looking after David because she had an ace card up her sleeve, her Dad was Albert Kelso who owned Fellside Transport and operated nine lorries mainly on livestock movements.

Albert and his wife, who everyone called Ma, visited Alice on the Sunday and there was an immediate chemistry established between David and Albert who christened him ‘Mr. Crockett’, after the western character Davy Crockett. Albert and Ma took David back to Lazonby in their Standard Vanguard and he spent the next two weeks there whilst the Crankshaft of the A40 van was replaced. The Austin van was repaired by Lace Brothers Garage in Lazonby who were great friends with Albert Kelso and it is understood that Albert encouraged Howard Lace to give the A40 priority and also to sharpen his pencil when it came to their costings.
Ma Kelso always called David M’Lad and held his hand as they went up the stone staircase of Croft House, leading David to an enormous bedroom. That night David slept right through with no lorries going over manhole covers to keep him awake, only the sound of sheep bleating in the fields.

David spent the next two weeks in the cabs of livestock collection lorries taking sheep, cattle and pigs from farms into the Auction Mart at Penrith, which was then in the middle of the town but now is a Morrisons Supermarket. David was normally a bad traveller on car journeys, however, he never felt sick in a lorry which was much higher and he could see animals in the fields over the top of hedgerows.
 Albert Kelso had built up a very successful business buying second hand Leyland Beaver chassis from BP and other oil companies who had discarded their vehicles after 5 years, in line with their large company depreciation policies. These chassis cabs were painted grey with red mudguards, and a wooden deck, with a lift-off livestock container which was created by the team at Fellside Transport.
Albert was a great admirer of Leyland Beavers as the vehicle was robustly built, a 120 b.h.p. engine that would go up Shap Fell on the A6 in top gear and had an amazing lock which meant that a Leyland Beaver could get into a tight farmyard entrance that other lorries couldn’t access.
In 1957 Albert gave David a Leyland Cap Badge which David still uses today on his Beret as he drives his Leyland Beaver in funerals. John Kelso took over the business when Albert passed away in 1971 and in 2004 David received a package in the post from John and Ma Kelso. It was an AA Badge that had been on one of the lorries. The picture below shows David in Cwmbran with his Drivers Qualification Card, which all Lorry Drivers must now possess.

In 2018 sadly only Alice Threlkeld and Alan Kelso, Albert’s Grandson are still around. David regularly writes to Alice updating her of developments and he often recalls that during the 1950’s she was the only person in Unthank who had a telephone, everyone else gave the number of the call box in the centre of the village as their ‘personal’ phone number. When the phone rang any passerby would answer it, ask who was speaking and who they wanted to contact, before running to tell Eric Mason that a relation was on the phone. The ladies of the village used to take turns in cleaning the Telephone Call Box.

Alan Kelso is probably the youngest person to obtain a Driving Licence, passing his test at 0930 hours on his 17th Birthday driving a 3 Ton Commer Lorry from Fellside Transport. He is still involved in livestock movements, managing this part of the Armstrong of Longton business. He works exceptionally long hours, however, he is always available to discuss any points David needs advice on regarding the 1950 Leyland Beaver. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Influences early in David’s life that shaped his future



Those of you who find these blog articles interesting to read may find it hard to believe that as a 7 year old David was struggling to read and write. Having recently changed from a Primary School which concentrated on numbers, David was top of the class in maths but bottom in English at Easington Colliery Junior School. Easington was the location for the Billy Elliot film, however, there were no Ballet Dancers there in the 1960’s.
David’s Teacher saw something in him that he couldn’t see in himself, but the Teacher put a lack of progress in English down to a lack of application rather than dyslexia that wasn’t known about in schools in the 1960’s. So frustrated was the Teacher with David’s lack of progress in reading that he contacted David’s Dad at work, who had to miss part of his shift at Easington Pit and come to school. In hindsight it is evident that the Teacher had David’s best interests at heart, however, he had a strange way of showing it.
With David’s Dad standing alongside David in front of the whole class the Teacher said, ‘Unless this boy learns to read and write he’ll only be fit to sweep the streets of Easington Colliery.’ David was shocked and he didn’t know who was more embarrassed, him or his Dad.
Coming from a very humble background there was no books in the house and when the Teacher asked what David was interested in, his Dad said ‘Football’. The Teacher replied, ‘Get him some books on Football!’
Football was important to David’s family because his Dad’s cousin had married the Brother of Bob Paisley, who was then the Trainer and subsequently the Manager of Liverpool F.C., winning 3 European Cups. The relationship may appear to be distant, however, it was close enough for David to be invited to watch Liverpool play in the North East as Bob Paisley’s niece wanted some company of her own age. David once asked Bob Paisley for some tips about how to improve his game. Bob said, ‘Davey when you are on that field always believe that you are going to get hurt and it will be the last game you will ever play. Be first for every ball, don’t let the ball bounce, win every tackle, use the ball well, be determined to win. Never come off that field feeling that you could have done any more.’

50 years on, some of David’s compatriots in Alternative Funerals find it strange that he spends many hours building flower displays and Themes. Some think that David is daft and that he should have no contact with a family, turn up two hours before the funeral put on the coffin and flowers, get his cheque and leave the crematorium as soon as the coffin and flowers are off the lorry. David reminds these people that although some people get a number of chances at a marriage they get only one chance at a funeral and David always follows the philosophy of Bob Paisley and does his level best in everything that he attempts. David adopts the same approach whether he is creating a display of Floral Tributes on his lorry or arranging vegetables in an attractive pattern as he serves the Sunday lunch.

Another important influence on David, when he was 7 year old, was Dennis Donnini V.C. who was born on November 17th 1925. David was very small for his age and having changed school at 7 years old he was regularly picked upon by taller boys. David noted in The Victor Comic a story about the heroic actions taken on January 18th 1945 by Dennis Donnini who won the Victoria Cross fighting German Troops in Holland towards the end of WWII. David may have had trouble reading out loud from a book, however, he was very sharp mentally and he noticed that the Ice Cream Shop in Easington Colliery was run by an Italian family called Donnini, could this be the same Donnini? On a Monday dinnertime David left the school walked down Seaside Lane and entered the shop which was deserted. David looked around and saw that a medal was in a case on the third shelf, he couldn’t see the medal but noticed the purple ribbon. A lady then came through the curtain and asked if she could help David. David pointed to the medal in the glass case and asked if that was the Victoria Cross won by Dennis Donnini.

The lady then stood on a stool, took the glass case from the shelf, opened it and put the Victoria Cross in David’s hands. She then went on to explain that her Brother was 19 years old and was in a troop tasked to take positions fortified by the Germans. With heavy rain limiting the use of tanks the infantry was asked to attack initially two machine-gun positions. Dennis Donnini volunteered to lead the charge and took out one machine-gun with a grenade thrown from close range. During this action Dennis was shot in the head and he fell on the ground. He came to and crawled into a barn dodging the enemy bullets.
After a short time he heard one his comrades crying for help in no man’s land. Donnini then put down his rifle, ran into no man’s land, under a hail of bullets, however, as soon as he started to lift the wounded soldier Dennis heard, ‘Nicht Schiessen’, the shooting stopped and Dennis dragged his comrade to safety.
At this point Dennis was bleeding profusely from his head and it is thought that he knew he had been fatally wounded. He took a bag with grenades ran down the street throwing grenades into three houses before he was killed when a bullet hit the bag with the grenades which exploded.
Any of the three events would have merited a Victoria Cross, however, perhaps, strategically the most import thing Dennis did was draw enemy fire and divert it from his comrades who attacked on the flanks and captured 30 Germans, including an Officer.
It is understood that the Wehrmacht Officer who witnessed Donnini’s actions recommended that he should by awarded the Victoria Cross and the citation bizarrely only mentioned two of  the four acts of a valour and even left out perhaps Dennis’ bravest feat which was rescuing a comrade from no man’s land.
Dennis’s Sister explained that both her Mum and Dad were detained in UK camps during WWII and there was a problem in the presentation of the medal because his parents were interned and even if they hadn’t been, no Italian was welcome inside Buckingham Palace. Dennis’ Sister showed David clippings from the local papers which told how King George met with Dennis’ parents in a pub to hand over the Victoria Cross and the King made arrangements for his parents to be released and to re-open the Ice cream shop in Easington Colliery.
David saw from the pictures that Dennis was very small, only 4ft 10 inches and David suddenly thought that being small never stopped Dennis Donnini so David vowed that he would stand up for himself and use his brains to outwit people rather than no mans land his fists.
1964 was the first year not to have 11 plus exams and pupils were sent to Grammar School solely on the recommendation of a Teacher. The seating plan in the class was for the brightest pupils to sit in order and David was number 22 in the class, however, his name was included in the list for Grammar School even though all the boys sitting near him weren’t. David was summoned to the Headmaster’s Office and he was worried as corporal punishment was the central dogma on which the discipline system was based. Canings on pupils hands were common place in front of the class and the Headmaster dealt with repeated offenders by a very severe beating across the buttocks. With fear and trepidation David knocked on the door and he was told to come in. The Headmaster leaned towards David and using his index finger prodded David in the ribs in the same place with one prod between each of the following words, ‘Now  then  young  Hall  you  have  got  to  Grammar  School  by  the  skin  of  your  teeth  do  not  let  me  down.’
By this time David knew that he had difficulty reading out loud, not being available to pick out the next sentence in the text. He worked very hard often spending all the evening doing his homework. He did quite well at Senior School but was never able to read out loud from a book. When David in later life was asked to speak at functions he would learn the speech off by heart, practicing many times and often at conferences David was voted best speaker with comments like, ‘This bloke never looked at his notes once!’
At the age of 15 Football nearly changed the direction of David’s life when a scout from Huddersfield Town showed interest having watched David play for his school team. David’s Dad said that his son didn’t have enough skill to be a footballer and apparently the Scout agreed that David’s skills set could be improved by the club. However, it was the young lad’s leadership skills, will to win and determination that had caught the Scout’s eye. David’s Dad & Mum bought him a desk and encouraged him to stick in at school and become the first member of the Hall family to go to University.
David will never forget the influence of holding Dennis Donnini’s Victoria Cross had on his life
and it always made David sad that there was no lasting memory of Dennis in his village. David felt that if Dennis had lived in Esher and not Easington Colliery there would have been a blue plaque on the wall. When David was 20 years old, his Dad found out that a picture of Dennis Donnini was on the wall at the local Miners Welfare Hall and David and his Dad went to investigate. They found a picture of Dennis and a copy of the Citation on the wall behind some men playing dominoes. David asked one of the men if he could move along the bench seat so that he could read the Citation. The man was reluctant to stop the domino game and David explained that Dennis Donnini was one of the youngest recipients of the Victoria Cross and possibly the smallest and definitely the only Italian. The domino player shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Never heard of him.’ 

Fast forward now 45 years, David was pleasantly surprised to find that a Mural had been painted to commemorate Dennis Donnini, bravest of the brave, and a Memorial Garden had been planted just up the road from the former Colliery site. David was also relieved that in this area that was devastated when the pit closed, no one had attempted to deface the mural.