Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A Number of Firsts for Vintage Lorry Funerals in Frome

When David Hall in 2002 first started Vintage Lorry Funerals he contacted a number of Funeral Directors close to his Bradford-on-Avon base to ask if they would be interested in taking a Marketing Pack, which includes a framed picture of the 1950 Leyland Beaver. The gentleman who answered the telephone at a Funeral Director in Bath declined to take a Marketing Pack and told David, ‘There will never be a need for your type of vehicle in our part of the city!’ Whereas this would have put off a younger person, David was in his 50’s and has a high level of resilience and conversations like this made him more determined to succeed.
One of the Funeral Directors in Bath that has been most supportive is Carol Spalding who acquired Clarkson’s in 2004. She has transformed the business, building up an excellent reputation and has opened further Funeral Homes in Frome and Saltford.
David Hall was contacted by Dr. Alex Starkie in 2014 and was given his first funeral for Clarkson’s in Frome. It was also the first time that David Hall has ever worked for a former Forensic Scientist and Alex’s attention to detail and quality of planning were transferable skills from her previous employment. The funeral was for a former Coach Driver and as this was the first Bus Driver that David Hall had carried on his lorry, David agreed with a member of the Family that he would create the rear of a School Bus in front of the coffin.

As this was the first time that Vintage Lorry Funerals was asked to go to Mendip Crematorium in Shepton Mallet, David asked that the height under the Porte Cochere be measured. Given that the clearance to the top of the cab was less than 2 inches David decided to visit the site to check whether the slope of the ground would dictate a specific angle of approach. The staff members John and Bethany, at this Dignity facility, were very friendly and were very interested that the Vintage Lorry would be visiting their site. 
David also looked at a number of options for strategic parking around Clarkson’s Frome location. This would allow the lorry to be parked in a  0730-0800 hours window, whilst the Funeral Director was opening up the facility and moving out two vehicles, clearing space to accommodate the 26 feet long Leyland Beaver. Within 100 yards of Clarkson’s there is a property that was previously a Fuel Station but was now manned by Car Washers, who were from Eastern Europe and spoke little English. David gave one of the men a Vintage Lorry Funerals business card, which features a picture of the lorry in action, pointed to Clarkson’s and wrote the date and time that he would require temporary parking on the back of the card.
Two days before the funeral David became aware that his own Father was critically ill and arranged that once he had returned from Shepton Mallet he would immediately drive in his car to Coldsprings Care Home in Penrith.
David left for Frome at 0645 hours and for the first time ever he took no packed lunch with him. The Vintage Lorry arrived at the Washing Facility at 0715 hours and David found that the security chain had been removed, making access possible. As David was reversing into the yard one of the Eastern Europeans, who was starting work, put up his thumb to signify that everything was alright and David reciprocated the gesture. The thumbs up or down gesture is apparently recognised outside Britain, however, it probably originates from Sunday Night at The London Palladium , when Norman Vaughan was the Compare, taking over from Bruce Forsyth in January 1962. Norman used the thumbs up and down gestures with his catch phrase, ‘Swinging or Dodgy’.
Reversing into Clarkson’s facility wasn’t easy given the slope of the road and angle of the wall and David was disappointed that he didn’t get in on his first approach. Alex Starkie was very interested in how the coffin would be loaded onto the vehicle and turned on the deck, and decided to use a Mortuary Trolley, given that only 3 staff were present. This was the first time that when using such facility that the coffin was loaded and turned in the same motion. Alex explained that no limousines had been booked with the Family meeting at Mendip Crematorium. So for the first time the 1950 Leyland Beaver went on its own, from the Funeral Directors to the Crematorium. With no one in the cab with him, David cruised down the A361 and no one tried to come past him, with drivers displaying a high level of respect.
The Mendip Crematorium is situated in open country with the access being on a narrow road out of Shepton Mallet. Just before the entrance, heavy rain the previous day had caused water to stream off the fields and caused a flood on the road and this was the first time that the Leyland Beaver had to go through a stretch of water before a Crematorium.
As David spun the Leyland Beaver under the porte cochere some of the mourners looked aghast worrying that the cab may catch the main support timber of the structure. David smiled and used the thumbs up signal to relate that he would have no problems.

After the funeral David took a picture of Alex Starkie ,on the right, and Bethany Welch, Memorial Consultant at the Mendip Crematorium being on the left. David felt that the picture he took was very interesting as it contained Dr. Alex Starkie, a former Forensic Scientist like those featured in Silent Witness, next to a lady with more than a passing resemblance to Dr Nikki Alexander, of Silent Witness.
From the cab of the Leyland Beaver David sees a lot of interesting wildlife on his travels including badgers, foxes, deer and all types of birds particularly Red Kites in certain parts of the country. Coming north on the A37 out of Shepton Mallet David saw an 8 foot deer fawn for the first time, not in a field but on a concrete plinth outside the Babycham Factory.

When David arrived home he jumped out of the lorry and into his car reaching Coldsprings Care Home at 2200 hours. David’s sister made him a cup of tea to quench his thirst (first) after a long day. David and his wife spent some quality time with his Father before he passed away on a Saturday morning at 0300 hours.

In the Historic Vehicle world there is competitive tension between people who own a bus and those that own a lorry and this manifests itself at gatherings with lorries parked at one end of the tarmac and the buses at the other end. So David was very pleased that he had taken his first Bus Driver on his final journey and he approached Coach & Bus Week to see if an obituary article could be submitted. Gareth Evans, Editor, was very interested and printed 500 words with one picture and he told David that he was keen to push the boundaries in everything he did. He also confirmed that this was the first time a lorry had appeared in Coach & Bus Week.         

Monday, 30 November 2015

Situations encountered on the Road

There is always a massive change in people’s perception when David Hall leaves the crematorium after a funeral. Whilst he is leading the cortege the Family of the Deceased think that his lorry is wonderful, however, when he is out on the open road most people believe that a vintage lorry trundling along at 30 mph is a nuisance at best or an obstruction holding people back which is amplified at both end of the working day. 30 mph was fast in 1950 when the speed limit on lorries over 3 ton was 20 mph, however, it is painfully slow for the modern motorist.
David does detailed planning before a funeral to identify roads which cars can overtake the Leyland Beaver with ease. Lengths of Dual Carriageway on a country road are a Godsend to reduce the frustration of drivers trapped behind the lorry, however, David is often left to encourage people to overtake him on standard roads and his success rate varies with the time of day. In the early morning, Businessmen and White Van Men come past the lorry at the first invitation. David uses his right hand out of the window to wave people past or he makes 3 flashes with his left indicator. A lot of the old A-Roads were 3 lane carriageways in the 1950’s and despite the large volume of white paint creating hatched areas or cycle lanes, the road surface is wide enough for vehicles to travel 3 abreast. David hogs the nearside kerb often using cycle lanes which have seldom any occupants on country roads and encourages people to come past. The Police are happy for David to do this, giving him a thumbs up once as they glided past on the A31 because David was using his initiative to reduce frustration. So before 0800 hours drivers are fearless on 3 lane roads and come past at speed despite an oncoming stream of traffic, but after 0800 hours timid drivers are most reluctant to come past and a queue quickly builds up behind the vintage lorry.
When a queue builds up behind the Leyland Beaver invariably the first car is always driven by ‘Little Miss Timid’ who won’t come past no matter how many invitations David makes. Some misunderstand the meaning behind his 3 flashes from his left indicator and assume that the lorry is about to turn left and brake suddenly causing a potential collision with the cars behind. Normally car number 4 or 5 in the queue has ‘Mister Aggressive’ behind the wheel who will attempt to come past oblivious to the amount of double white lines, blind corners or blind summits.
Three incidents on the road stick in David’s memory of interesting situations he has encountered:-
On his way to a Basingstoke funeral David was on the A303 Dual Carriageway travelling at 28 mph up a gentle slope. David saw in his wing mirror that a Snows Timber lorry had got out into the second lane early and was approaching him at approximately at 50 mph. No problems here, David thought as he got his right hand ready to apply his headlights to signify to the Snows Timber Driver that he was clear and that he could move back into lane one. However, as the Snows Timber Lorry got within 50 yards of the Leyland Beaver, David noticed that a white sports car was undertaking the Snows Timber Lorry and approaching at around 80 mph. A highly dangerous situation existed because David sensed that the white sports car driver would try to come between the Snows Timber Lorry and the Leyland Beaver and that there was a risk that the sports car would crash into either lorry. David steered his lorry into the kerb and kept going as fast as he could. The Snows Timber Driver must also have sensed the danger and he moved his lorry over with one wheel on the central reservation tarmac close to the barrier. The white sports car was in the Snows Timber Lorry Drivers blind spot, the area along the nearside of a lorry which the driver can’t see from his wing mirrors. So at 0645 hours on May 24th 2013 on the A303 Dual carriageway three vehicles were travelling abreast with only inches between them for a short period of time. David was shattered and feeling guilty that his slow speed was almost the cause of an accident which may have had at least one fatality. Why had the Sports Car Driver been so reckless? Did he feel trapped behind the Snows Timber Lorry getting out early into the second lane? The story doesn’t end there, however, because three miles on in a lay bye the White Sports Car Driver was squaring up to the Snows Timber Lorry Driver. The White Sports car Driver wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer because the Lorry Driver was built like a brick outhouse and there would only be one likely winner.

Coming out of London one Winter’s afternoon after the last slot at Croydon Crematorium it was dark by the time the Vintage Lorry to Guildford and onto the A3. Following the rush hour the traffic died away on the A31 as the Leyland Beaver trundled towards Winchester. The traffic was very light on the A303 and virtually none existent on the A342 over Salisbury Plain. The absence of street lights meant that the stars were visible and in the total darkness all David could see was the beam of light from his Head Lights and the red glow from his Tail Lights. In checking his wing mirror David noticed that a car in the distance was approaching slowly at a speed not much faster than the Leyland Beaver. It reminded David of the scene in ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’ when they are being tracked through the night by a group of men on horse back holding torches. Robert Redford said to PaulNewman, ‘Who are these guys?’ and David had the same thought. The car came close to the lorry and David invited the driver to come past by the use of his left indicator, however, this didn’t produce a result. So David slid down his window, letting in the cold air, and waving with his hand, but the car still didn’t come past. The car was travelling too close to the lorry and David was concerned that if he had to stop suddenly for a Badger or a Deer the car would run into his lorry. No matter how much David tried to get the car driver to overtake the car would come past which was incongruous because no one else was on the road. The situation persisted for over 15 miles. Just before Stert there is a lay bye so David pulled in, fully expecting the car driver to come past him and continue its journey, but it didn’t. It pulled behind the Leyland Beaver and David was very mad. He jumped out of the cab and walked towards the car anticipating that that the driver would be some young person who had never driven at night before and would benefit from a 5 minute ‘tutorial’ at 2130 hours. However, when he got close to the car he was shocked as the driver was an elderly lady who could hardly see over the steering wheel. Before David could say anything, the old lady said, ‘I know that you want me to come past, but this A342 is a lonely old road and I feel more comfortable travelling behind you!’ David ascertained that the lady was bound for Devizes and invited her to follow him, provided she would keep 20 yards between the vehicles. David set off for Devizes with his ‘trailer’ in tow and signalled to the lady when she needed to turn off for her destination.

On his way to a Maidstone funeral, when David approached the village of Brasted, on the A25, he noticed that someone had used a cardboard sign to transpose the ‘R’ and the ‘A’, giving the impression that the village was illegitimate. As the Leyland Beaver entered the centre of the village David saw 5 boys looking menacing, sitting astride their Chopper Bikes, and he wondered if these boys were the perpetrators behind the sign change. Suddenly the biggest boy, who was apparently their leader, thrust his arm forward and the group of 5 Chopper Bikes advanced, swinging around alongside the Leyland Beaver. Before David could realise what was happening, the Leader was in front of his lorry with two riders either side, flanking the deck of the lorry at the mid point and at the rear. The actions of the boys mimicked a motor cavalcade with Police Motorcycle Outriders which is normally reserved for dignitaries such as Barak Obama However, it was highly dangerous having cyclists so close, especially the ones of the nearside who were confined between the lorry and the pavement with only inches to spare. David was relieved when he stopped at the traffic lights as at their Leader’s command the Chopper Bikes came past the lorry and raced off in a 1-2-2 formation down a side road.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

A Havant Funeral that became a ‘Missoura’ Boat Ride

Vintage Lorry Funerals undertook two Havant funerals within 5 months in 2014 and the second one was memorable for both good and bad reasons.
When David Hall is booked for a funeral he needs a lot of help regarding the information on flowers. Unlike other Carriage Masters who can cramp their flowers either side of the coffin, and consequently have little need for prior information, David displays Floral Tributes in multi-tiered eye catching displays. In order to achieve this, it is a cardinal requirement that a Florist has the time to talk to David and can accurately describe and measure each Tribute that will be included in the display. Although the Florist in the second Havant funeral produced some exquisite Floral Tributes, she was often in the shop on her own, too busy serving customers to have any detailed discussions with David. David told himself that he would probably experience a ‘Missoura’ Boat Ride.
This expression is derived from the Clint Eastwood film, The Outlaw Josey Wales, which is one of David’s favourites. Josey Wales was a Confederate Soldier who attempts to avenge the murder of his family by Renegade Union Troops. Josey is not the most popular person, being chased by Bounty Hunters and Union Soldiers and a key moment in the film involves a river crossing. The ferry is a raft being pulled along a rope by a Boatman who sings the appropriate song for the people on board. Josey and his companion get across to the sound of ‘I wish I was in Dixie’, however, the posse boards the ferry as soon as it docks on the other side. Josey waits until the raft is in midstream and with the Boatman singing ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, Josey takes his Winchester Rifle and with one shot breaks the rope. As the raft gathers speed with the current, Josey Wales proclaims, ‘Those men are going on a Missoura’Boat Ride.’ So its use in David’s parlance means that some events will happen outside his control.
The day started well with the Leyland Beaver leaving Bradford-on-Avon at 0445 hours and arriving at Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 at 0630 hours where David stops to buy a paper. Whilst walking across the forecourt David was in close proximity with two older Lorry Drivers and David said to one of them, ‘Driving this Leyland Beaver has made me a little deaf.’ The old Lorry Driver shook his head, ‘Sorry, I’m a bit Mutt n’ Jeff, too many hours in noisy old wagons.’
Over the years David has built up a number of favourite routes which are unused by the general public, often unclassified roads that are wide with an excellent surface, occasionally originally based on Roman Roads. One such road links Winchester to the A32 and goes via Molestead and enables the Leyland Beaver to travel the shortest route between Wiltshire and Havant. David arrived outside the Funeral Directors at 0815 hours just as the Lady who lives in the bungalow next to the Funeral Directors was about to depart for work. She said, ‘The Funeral Staff won’t be in for another 45 minutes, do you want me to go back into the house and make you a cup of tea?’ David held up his flask and declined the kind offer but thanked the Lady for her kindest.
It was a McMillan Cancer Open Day at the Funeral Directors and each member of staff had prepared cupcakes and cheesecakes. David reluctantly tried a cupcake and then did a poor impersonation of Paul Hollywood from the Great British Bake Off.
The flowers were supposed to be at the Funeral Directors for 0900 hours, however, when no Floral Tributes had arrived by 1000 hours David phoned the Florist. She was concerned that the cards from the Family had not arrived yet and wasn’t keen to release the flowers. David tactfully explained that it could take 90 minutes for him to secure the flowers and he needed them within 30 minutes, stressing that the cards could be attached to the Tributes at the house, which is the normal practice.
David was relieved when the Florist’s van pulled into the car park. The driver was a lovely German lady called Genia and she helped David put the ‘GRANDAD’ onto its stand. However, David’s heart dropped when he saw that ‘MO’ was 36 inches long and not 23 inches that he had estimated and he quickly evaluated what needed to be changed and the impact on the rest of the display. As the Deceased had in his youth had delivered Fruit & Veg in Lincolnshire, David arranged for S.K. Fruits in Trowbridge to supply a fruit-box that was the centrepiece of the display. The agreed layout with the Family featured 2 ‘Polo Rings’ either side of the fruit-box and David fixed one which Genia had brought with her one the first run whilst she went back for the second load.

When Genia came back with the rest of the flowers, David then assessed what he saw and said, ‘The second ‘Polo Ring’ is missing!’ Genia rang her boss and told David that there was only one ‘Polo Ring’, the order had been changed to a Posey. David was upset that the display had been ruined as it was paramount that both Tributes either side of the fruit-box should be the same to provide symmetry. Genia understood and she suggested taking down the ‘Polo Ring’ that was already fixed in place and use two Poseys which were similar in size. 
At the house The Family were amazed at the display and David thought that despite his ‘Missoura Boat Ride’ he appeared to land safely. At the Crematorium after the service a lot of people thanked David for all his efforts in making the day so memorable. Just before the Head Mourners were about to get into the limousine they approached David in a line and bowed a bit like a Band thanking an audience at the end of a concert. Each one then came forward to shake David’s hand and the eldest Daughter asked David if he would be attending the wake. David explained that as he started at   0445 hours, under Drivers Hours Legislation, he had to be home by 1945 hours, and reluctantly he couldn’t attend. The younger Daughter said that she had a spare bed in her house which David was welcome to use. Both ladies were sad that David decided to go straight home, however, David knew he had to prepare for his next funeral which was early the following week. As David pulled away from the crowd someone came running after him and an athletic young man handed some money to David saying, ‘This is from the Family.’ David put his right hand in front of his wing mirror to say ‘Thank You’ and then put his side lights on and off twice, the code that Lorry Drivers used in the 1950s to say thank you.

Getting home wasn’t easy because David’s Wife, who acts as Mission Control, advised that an accident had stopped the traffic on the A34 and the queue was stacking back to the M3 junction. There was only one solution, which was to go through Winchester. In this modern era people have smart phones with many apps. However, David only uses his mobile for calling, he can read texts but can’t send them. Some people these days have Tablets, but the only Tablets that David is interested in are flat Floral Tributes that he secures at an angle and the anti-inflammatory tablets he takes to reduce the aching in his arms. David’s Sat Nav is the back of an envelope with road numbers and Landmarks observed when David is doing his due diligence, checking the route on Google Street View. David’s Wife knew that David would have no plan in his head to get through Winchester so she gave him specific instructions and the landmarks to watch out for. David got through Winchester without a problem and found a suitable place to stop to phone a Cardiff Funeral Director at 1600 hours. The Funeral Arranger asked when David would be home so that the Funeral Director could call him on his mobile. David said, ‘If all goes well, home is about 2 hours ride from here, so please ask him to phone me at 1800 hours.’

David reversed the 1950 Leyland Beaver up his drive and into his garage. He had just pulled the stop cable on the 600 engine, creating a silence, when his mobile rang at 1800 hours. It was Cardiff Funeral Director and it was on with his next job once he had emailed the pictures he had taken during the day to the Havant Family.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A Temple Cloud Funeral

Vintage Lorry Funerals second assignment for Thomas Davis Funeral Directors in Bristol involved visiting the Deceased’s home in Temple Cloud and then St. Michaels & All Angels Church in Bedminster before going to South Bristol Crematorium. As Temple Cloud is 12 miles south of Thomas Davis’ Southville base, Austin Williams, Funeral Director, asked David Hall to find a suitable transhipment facility on the A37 where the coffin and the flowers could be transferred onto the 1950 Leyland Beaver lorry.

David managed to secure the permission to undertake the operation within the car park of the Warwick Arms which is little used in the early morning on a Monday in October. Austin told David that the flowers would only involve a Coffin Spray, however, the Florist would be Eileen’s of West Street Bedminster. Austin’s concerns at this early stage were whether the vintage lorry would manage to get to the Church in Windmill Hill, an area in Bristol with narrow streets, renowned for their parking problems. The only way into Windmill Hill is under a Railway Bridge and these rows of terraced streets are isolated from the rest of Bristol creating a unique culture in which residents believe they are a law unto themselves. Residents believe that they have a right to park their car in front of their house or flat and the situation is exasperated when a large funeral takes place in St. Michaels & All Angels Church, which is opposite Windmill Hill Community Centre. When it comes to parking cars before a funeral, vehicles are deposited anywhere particularly on corners with driver oblivious to the double yellow lines. Thomas Davis had previously encountered problems with their hearse struggling to get to the church so logically the 26 foot long lorry would experience horrendous difficulties. David undertook a risk assessment and identified a route targeting wider streets with houses only on one side which would lead to approaching St. Michaels & All Angels Church on level ground.
David phoned Eileen’s Florists and spoke to Carol who had not yet heard from the Family, however, David used the opportunity to explain how the Coffin Spray would be secured. Carol explained that the shop had no internet facility but she promised to phone David as soon as any orders were placed. David rang Austin on the Wednesday and told him that he needed information on the flowers as soon as possible even if it was just a Coffin Spray. David’s wife received a call from Carol on the Thursday morning to advise that David would have to plan to load, two 3 feet long Designer Boards, a Swinging Heart, a 17 inch Heart, a Polo Ring and a Bundle of Leeks which the Family had asked to be held vertically. Carol was also adamant that her flowers should be carried flat on the deck as she didn’t want her flowers damaged!
When David got back home he was amazed at the number of Tributes for a ‘Coffin Spray only’ funeral and was concerned that if the flowers were laid flat on the deck they would be damaged and the only way that the flowers would not be damaged would be by fixing them to boards held at an angle, displaying the Floral Tributes for all to see. David put the problem to Austin Williams who spoke to the Family and reported that they would trust David’s judgement. So David phoned Carol to convince her that his strategy and tactics for securing Floral Tributes would not damage the flowers. A Florist without internet facilities is like Fish without Chips in 1950’s vernacular or Ant without Dec in today’s parlance. Without the facility to send a picture David would have to explain what he was proposing over the phone. Many years ago David worked for Gerald Ronson who used to encourage Junior Management to identify their biggest problem, be persistent in tackling it and this would create their biggest opportunity and so this proved with Carol.
David normally tells people what he does but he doesn’t reveal how he does it, however, he had to break this rule for Carol. Once she understood that David would use plastic fasteners to secure the flowers Carol was relaxed and told David the colours of each Tribute so that he could allocate the fastener in his collection of the right colour to match each flower arrangement.
Normally David would design a layout, sketch it and email it to the Family for approval, however, by noon on Friday it was time for action not planning and thinking. Carol explained that as the Deceased was Welsh she had been tasked to provide a bundle of leeks and David said that if she was struggling he would ask his friends at SK Fruits Trowbridge to help. Designing on the hoof David quickly determined that the two Designer Boards, ‘GRANCHA’ and ‘AS 1’, should be loaded together and he saw a way of creating the rear of a car with ‘GRANCHA’ forming the rear window and ‘AS 1’ being the number-plate on the boot. The remaining Floral Tributes were given individual positions on 4 sides of a pyramidal structure at the rear of the deck, with the Bundle of Leeks, held vertically, facing the Family following in the limousine.
David left home early on the Monday morning passing through Somerset villages whilst most people were still in their beds. This strategy is ideal for the narrow streets in Norton St. Philip, the site of the Pitchfork Rebellion on June 26th & 27th 1685. The transhipment of the coffin and flowers worked well with Thomas Davis employees handing Tributes up to David who secured each one onto its stand whilst rain fell steadily. As soon as the coffin was loaded the rainfall subsided which is normally the case.
As the vintage lorry followed the empty hearse towards Windmill Hill Austin Williams asked David, ‘Are you confident you can get to the church?’ David confirmed that he didn’t feel there would be a problem that he couldn’t overcome, however, he knew that Austin probably had the hearse in front as Plan B. The Leyland Beaver passed under the Railway bridge, climbed Windmill Hill and took a right into Alfred Road as David’s research had suggested that there would be less cars on this route rather than the more direct way to the Church using Gwilliam Street. As the lorry turned left into Somerset Terrace David saw that people had left cars in a hurry to get to the service, leaving them at an angle to the kerb. The hearse in front slowed down at a narrow gap and David knew that with his lorry being over 12 inches wider than a hearse then this gap would be extremely tight. David asked Austin to put his head out of the window to check the clearance on his side which was less than an inch and he said, ‘Dave you’re clear on this side, I’m confident you’ll make the church.’ Austin is a big man with immense presence, just the sort of bloke to give a half time talk at Ashton Gate after a mediocre first half display by the Robins. At the junction with Orwell Street cars had been dumped on double yellow lines on both side of the road on corner which made it extremely difficult for the hearse in front to get around. David realised that he couldn’t get around the corner in one movement, put in one shunt, wrestling with the steering wheel changing the lock as quickly as possible. Miraculously the vintage lorry cleared the cars and descended to the clear area outside St. Michaels & All Angels Church, which David likened to man dying of thirst finding an oasis in the desert.
David got out of the Leyland Beaver, shook the Vicar’s hand and asked, ‘Is this St. Michaels & All Angels, or is it St. Michaels & Cars at All Angles?’ The Vicar smiled as he urged drivers to park on his lawn to escape the gridlock. Surveying a sea of cars around him David said to the Vicar, ‘In the Good Book a bloke called Moses hit his stick on a rock and caused the Red Sea to part, creating a path to safety. Could you tap your staff on the path and create a path through these cars?’ The Vicar explained which cars were associated with the funeral and predicted that Gwilliam Street would provide the best exit.

After the service the Vicar admired the Leyland Beaver and asked if he could ride alongside David to South Bristol Crematorium. However, David didn’t think it was wise to put Austin out, as David was always taught that the Paymaster is the Saymaster.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Interesting People in the Cab

Over the years David Hall has had some interesting people travelling with him in the cab, or riding shot-gun to use a transport vernacular phrase.
During a funeral in Birkenhead, Merseyside, David Hall witnessed both the good and bad sides of the ‘scouse’ culture. Travelling through one of the less affluent parts of Birkenhead at night David saw a group of people gathered on a street corner after a fight had developed. David was flabbergasted when he realised it was two women trading punches and what is more, men, not intervening, but egging them on and holding their handbags.
Sadly swearing is commonplace in modern day culture where in some circles it can be called Industrial Language to give it some form of respectability. Most people realise that decorum necessitates no swearing at funerals, however, on this day in Birkenhead decorum disappeared with expletives being every other word emitting from most people’s mouths. When David was asked to take the Deceased’s Grandson with him in the cab David dreaded the worst.

From the outset the young man, probably in his late teens, spoke quietly and never swore. To break the silence David asked him, ‘What do you do for a living?’ The young man replied ‘I’m just getting re-established. I have just got out of prison.’ David replied ‘Oh,’ and said nothing further on the subject and encouraged the youth to watch him double-de-clutch when changing gear just as his Grandad had done in the 1950s. As time went on David wondered why such a mild mannered young man should ever have ended up in prison. However, just before the Church the Leyland Beaver’s progress was halted by a Refuse Collection vehicle whose staff, collecting the bins, were slow in alerting the driver to the problem. The young man became visibly upset and the veins on his temple were protruding and throbbing. He shouted obscenities at the men and started to climb out of the cab to resolve the situation with violence. David grabbed him and begged him to remain in the cab and let David sort the situation by persuasion. By this time the Refuse Collection vehicle had pulled to one side and David put the Beaver into 3rd gear and gently overtook. The volatile situation with the young man quickly evaporated much faster than it had emerged.
As the cortege passed a Police Station David said, ‘Keep your head down,’ and the young man smiled. When the Leyland Beaver came to a halt at the graveside, the young man said, ‘Mr. Hall it has been a privilege to travel with you today and I would like to thank you on behalf of our family for everything you have done to make this day so special’ He then asked David if he would not mind him taking a photograph of David wearing his beret and requested that he could use this picture on social media. Before he left the cab he put his right hand forward to shake David’s hand. There were no high fives, no man hugs just a simple hand shake 1950’s style. David thought that The Animals ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ was appropriate for this young man.
When booking the Leyland Beaver for a funeral in Pencoed, Wales, the Funeral Director asked if the Deceased’s eldest Daughter could travel in the cab with David. Getting into the 1950 lorry is not easy. Modern lorries have three short steps, however, getting into the Leyland Beaver involves a short stretch onto the axle hub and then a giant leap onto the step above the wing. David explained to the Funeral Director that it was like Armstrong landing on the moon. To protect a lady’s dignity David normally suggests trousers, however, some ladies are rather petit and don’t have enough strength in their arms to pull themselves into the cab. For these situations David has modified the pull out ladder, which he uses to get up onto the deck, so that it can have a second use facilitating females to get into the cab.

When David arrived at the house he was introduced to Linda Mckay a spritely 62 year old who had no problem getting into the cab without the help of the ladder. When the Leyland Beaver engine fired up Linda started to smile and said that the sounds and smells of the 1950 lorry brought back memories of her childhood. She particularly remembered the loud sound of the engine and hiding beneath ropes in the foot-well, out of sight, when her Dad was loading at The Abbey Steelworks in Port Talbot. David told Linda about his first ride in a 1950 Leyland Beaver in August 1958 when on a trip to Hawick with a Livestock Driver he could only speak to the Driver when the lorry was going down hill and the roar of the engine had subsided. As a young 5 year old David thought on the journey to Hawick that the soft material beneath his feet was a carpet, however, it turned out to be the Driver’s sheep dog snuggling in the foot-well, warmed by the heat from the engine.
In the cemetery Linda was keen to give David her email address, however, as she was leaning on the boot of the Funeral Director’s limousine, the car took off leaving Linda stranded in the cemetery. However, she wasn’t worried as someone would turn up for her and sure enough someone did. Before she got into the car she complimented David on getting his lorry into some tight gateways at the Church and Cemetery and whilst people watching on the ground didn’t think he would make the manoeuvre, she was confident in the amazing lock of the Leyland Beaver and David’s ability to move the steering wheel quickly through his hands.
David’s Wife never normally accompanies him on funerals as her main role is acting as Mission Control. This involves undertaking detailed research to identify potential traffic problems and the most appropriate place to refuel as derv prices vary dramatically from garage to garage with no apparent logic. David’s Daughter lives in Cardiff so when an early morning funeral in Cardiff necessitated travelling the day before, his wife decided to come with him.
David’s Wife was amazed at being able to look over hedgerows and seeing wildlife in the fields, however, the bumpy ride necessitated a comfort stop at Aust Services. On the Old Severn Bridge there was only one lane open and the cars in front of the Leyland Beaver quickly disappeared from view and the road ahead was clear for as far as your eye could see. David’s Wife asked, ‘Where have all the cars gone?’ David replied, ‘Look in your wing mirror, they are all trapped behind us.’ When the lane restriction ended David steered the vintage lorry into the first lane and cars sped past, like a squadron of Messerschmitt 109’s attacking a lumbering Lancaster Bomber.

The lorry was parked at the Funeral Director’s garage and one of the staff kindly gave David’s Wife a lift to his Daughter’s flat. David spent the night in Splott, his Wife and Daughter slept in Penylan. The following day David’s Wife made a Taxi Driver smile, when, carrying her suitcase, she asked to go to Thornhill Crematorium. The Taxi Driver said, ‘Normally people don’t go there for their holidays!’ David had arranged to meet his wife after the service, however, she got some strange looks striding up the main roadway with her suitcase in her hand. One of the Crematorium Staff kindly conducted David to a quiet spot so that he and his Wife could have their sandwiches out of sight of the public. Nottingham is a regular destination for the vintage lorry and David’s Wife’s Sister lives just outside the city, however, David’s Wife has turned down every opportunity so far. Three hours maximum is the time she can tolerate in the lorry and the lack of suitable toilet facilities at regular intervals on the old A-Roads is also a problem

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Funeral in Maidstone

When Vintage Lorry Funerals was booked for a funeral by Doves Funeral Directors, Maidstone, David Hall was delighted that the call came from Sally Arnold who had worked with David before within the Laurel Management Empire. Sally knew that David needed secure undercover storage for the 1950 Leyland Beaver lorry the night before the funeral and Sally said that she would evaluate if Doves Garage on site could accommodate the 26 feet long lorry.
When Sally phoned David she said there was bad news and good news. The vintage Lorry was too long for her garage and David thought that he would now have to find a suitable facility himself, which is normally the case. However, Sally said that the problem was sorted as one of her staff knew the manager of Kwik-Fit, just around the corner, who was happy to help. David spoke to Wayne Wallace, Kwik-Fit’s Maidstone Manager, who stressed that the vintage lorry should arrive between 1730 and 1800 hours.
Hitting a specific time window some 180 miles away can be a high risk venture, so David’s strategy, which has been used many times before, is to find a holding area close to the overnight storage facility. Detailed internet research highlighted that Dunelm had a large parking area behind their Maidstone store and a telephone call gained permission to park in the yard, use their cafĂ© and toilet facilities.

The journey to Maidstone involved travelling over Salisbury Plain on the A342, trundling up towards London on the A31 before heading east on the A25 that cuts across the Surrey Hills, with some steep inclines, which the 65 year old vehicle cruised up in top gear. The Leyland Beaver made good time on the hilly sections of the A25 and the A20, arriving at Dunelm’s Car Park ahead of schedule. Ryan Stone, a Son of the Deceased, had arranged to meet David to hand over a steel profile of an E-Type Jaguar as the Deceased had been a Steel Fabricator whose business had repaired containers. Ryan told David when he arranged the meeting that his lorry had been chosen following a detailed examination of the Vintage Lorry Funerals website which demonstrated to Ryan and his Family that David was a detailed and caring individual.  The temperature, on this hot August day had reached almost 30 degrees that afternoon and David took shelter under edge of the Retail Store’s roof which cast a shadow on the pavement. Ryan arrived to find David sitting on some cardboard rescued from the Dunelm skip, looking like a homeless person, as he wrote an article about a previous funeral. The steel profile was unfortunately bigger than had been indicated so David modified the support structure and positioned the artwork on the rear of the deck.
At 1745 hours the Leyland Beaver joined the queue into the centre of Maidstone arriving at Kwik-Fit just before the store closed. The traffic was horrendous and David parked in front of the Fishermans Arms Public House and the Barman had a business to business chat with David, ‘What proportion of your business arrives from Lorry Drivers and Mechanics?’ ‘Your prices obviously reflect the distance travelled, so in this economic downturn have you seen less long distance funerals?’ Wayne Wallace, Kwik-Fit Manager, is a large man of immense presence and he walked out in front of the rush hour traffic, stopped it and watched David slowly reverse into the Kwik-Fit garage which was spotless. David is like a Spanish Lorry Driver taking his sandwiches with him for the whole trip and these were located in the fridge at Kwik-Fit overnight along with the box of chocolate biscuits which David had brought for Wayne and his team.
David checked into the Premier Inn and sat on a table next to a Southern Water Capital Project Manager, a rotund colourful character, for his evening meal. David ordered ‘Hunter Chicken’ which was late to arrive and David remarked, ‘maybe they are hunting it!’ The man on the next table said, ‘No they ain’t, I’m eating its wings.’ David had noticed that the lifts in the Premier Inn had been made by a Swiss Company called Schindler, same spelling as Schindler’s List and the entrepreneur who actions had saved over 1200 Jews by masquerading them as ‘special workers’ in WWII.  David made the man on the next table aware of this information and when David was still waiting for his main course to arrive the colourful character called over the waitress and said, ‘ I know my friend here was helped from his room by Schindler but he don’t want saving, he wants feeding!’
In the morning David drove the 1950 Leyland Beaver around the corner to Doves and reversed into a tight space in Doves yard which was a tricky manoeuvre with drivers desperate to get to work squeezing past the front of the lorry as it inched its way off this busy main road. Doves share the yard with Wilts Electricals, whose Head Office is only 10 miles from where the vintage lorry is based. Whilst loading the flowers a number of passers by stopped to have a chat with David. One elderly Gentleman  took a business card and said that the lorry reminded him of his youth, he beckoned David to come closer and whispered in his ear, ‘We will meet again, you will see me but I won’t see you.’
When David is asked to load 3 dimensional Floral Tributes he is concerned to find out how they will be made. For this funeral the Tributes were built by a 22 year old lady, granddaughter of the Deceased, who acted as if she had over 30 years experience and her exquisite Tributes travelled well. David did a risk assessment on the Tributes and elected to strengthen the rigidity of the ‘Tractor’ to stop it shaking as the Leyland 600 Engine vibrates on slow tick-over.

The Family home was in Allhollows on the Isle of Grain, situated on the North Kent Coast. During the 1930’s it had been destined to become a seaside resort and a railway line was installed, however, WWII put paid to the development and the plan was aborted. Today this idyllic setting seemed to be in a different world and David marvelled at the vast open fields of corn almost ready for harvest as the lorry climbed the hill to the house, where further Tributes were added to the display.

Ryan and his Mum followed the lorry in an E-Type Jaguar and with 10 vehicles in the convoy the cortege set out for Blue Bell Hill Crematorium. David used assertive driving to keep his 10 ‘trailers’ together as the cortege wound through Chatham. Black smoke spewing from the crematorium chimney was the signal for David to depart and he set off for home at 15-30 hours, catching the evening rush hour at Guildford. The hot conditions meant that David had consumed all of his drinking water by the time he got to Ropley on the A31. David went into the Shell Service Station and the man behind the counter looked like a Ronnie Barker character from the Balkans. David saw a sign, ‘Two Drinks for £1’ and the man behind the counter said, ‘Ya Two Drinks £1.’ David selected Cola and Lemonade bottles and waited in the queue to pay. David presented the two bottles to the Balkan looking attendant who said, ‘Two Colas £1’. It was now almost 2000 hours and having been on the road since 0800 hours and very thirsty, David was not amused. He took the drinks back to the cabinet exchanged one bottle, rejoined the queue, paid and drank one bottle before he left the shop.
David took a break at Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 to allow the congestion caused by a car fire on the A303 to clear. The 1950 Leyland Beaver arrived home at 2245 hours and progress reversing into the garage was halted to enable a baby hedgehog to escape, ushered to safety by David’s wife who watches the vintage lorry back up the drive no matter what hour it returns. David took his boots off at 2300 hours, the end of a 15 hour shift. He had a warm feeling not caused by the heat from the Leyland 600 engine but by the thought that his lorry had once again brought some colour to a dark day

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Funeral in Stranraer (Part 2)

Last month David Hall described the amazing efforts everyone made to get his lorry to Stranraer and this month he explains some noteworthy events that happened in Stranraer and on his way home.
Stuart Caldow, Brother of the Deceased, William Caldow, took David in his car to Stranraer from Castle Kennedy, where the lorry was parked overnight, and undertook a dummy run of the journey the cortege would be taking the following day. William Caldow had planned his own funeral and his last ambition was to the first person buried in the new section of the Glebe Cemetery, which is based on a hillside with a very steep slope. William achieved his wish to be in the first grave to be dug in the new section of the cemetery, which was near the entrance at the bottom of the hill. David and Stuart walked up the hill and from the highest point there was the most wonderful view of the Ayrshire Coast, including the island of Ailsa Craig, a granite outcrop from the sea, from which most curling stones were made. David looked back down the hill to William’s grave and said to Stuart, ‘Your Brother has been buried in the wrong end of the cemetery. He would have loved this view and it would have been uplifting for his family visiting him in years to come.’ Stuart agreed, so David suggested to Stuart that in the morning he would drive past the grave and take William to the top of the hill for one last look. Stuart thought that this would be a wonderful thing to do, however, he agreed to keep this development a secret.
Stuart took David to the Bed & Breakfast that William’s family had arranged and the owner kindly agreed to get up early in the morning to make David a cooked breakfast as he would have a long day ahead of him. As David hadn’t eaten anything since 0345 hours that day he walked into the town to find somewhere to sit down and eat. As it was now approaching 2000 hours most places were closed with their lights off, however, David stopped at a restaurant with half its lights on, he tried the door and it was open. As David entered the restaurant a Waitress rushed forward to advise that they were just about to close. David said, ‘It says on your window, ‘All Day Breakfasts’ and there are 24 hours in a day, I haven’t eaten since 4 o’clock this morning and I driven 400 miles from Wiltshire to undertake William Caldow’s funeral in the morning!’ The Waitress then went to speak with owner who invited David into the back room to have a fish supper with him and his family.
That night David walked along the seafront to clear his head and he noticed two things. A miniature railway ran around a park and where the track crossed a pathway there was a sign ‘Beware of the Trains’, however, someone had obliterated the ‘T’ and ‘Beware of the Rains’ proved very prophetic for the following morning. David also saw a monument to all those killed on January 31st 1953 during which an horrendous storm hit the UK and over 130 people perished when the Irish Ferry Princess Victoria, bound from Stranraer to Larne, went down around midday. The precise number of dead was never established because in those days foot passengers boarding the Ferry were never logged onto the manifest and one of the lessons learnt from this disaster was that in future the details of every foot passenger on any sailing would be documented. David was brought up in Easington on the North East coast and being born in 1953 he has always been interested in the impact which the storm had, however, previous to seeing this Monument he had always thought most of the damage occurred down the east coast of England.
Heavy rain fell overnight and in the morning as David loaded the Floral Tributes at Frazer Hare Funeral Directors, the main Funeral Director in the Port, who uses a grey fleet for weddings as well as funerals. Frazer Hare and his family made David feel very welcome and braved the conditions, passing the Floral Tributes up to David who fixed them into place. Rain continued to fall as the Leyland Beaver trundled eastwards along the A75 to Inch Church where William’s coffin had resided overnight. As the Leyland Beaver reversed close to the wall of the church, awaiting the arrival of the coffin, the rain stopped and the sun started to shine as William was carried out of the church. Stuart helped David on the deck of the Leyland Beaver and instinctively knew what he needed to do without being told as the coffin was turned on the deck and secured in place.

 As the Cortege approached the grave in Glebe Cemetery, David pointed with his finger indicating that instead of turning right like the following limousines, he was going straight ahead up the hill to the top of the cemetery. Everyone was dumbfounded and did not know why David hadn’t follow the instruction, however, all been clear as David climbed out of the motor, walked back towards the coffin, removed his beret and pointed to the stupendous view.

David then drove down the hill to the grave and witnessed William being interred before he tidied up the deck ready for the journey home. By this time the wind was very strong and every member of Frazer Hare’s family helped David put the tarpaulin onto the deck. One person held onto each corner and David started at the headboard and progressively put a rope across the deck doing dolley knots and tightening the rope onto the rope hooks on each cross member. The backboard blew off its holding rods and three people helped David wrestle against the wind and finally managed to fix it back in place.
As most of Frazer Hare’s staff were involved in a Wedding that afternoon Frazer’s Father was tasked to help David get the Leyland Beaver back onto the trailer. David declined the offer of his assistance as the elderly gentleman seemed to be outside his comfort zone and David drove out to the garage in Castle Kennedy thinking that he would have to perform the task himself. Luckily two Mechanics were just finishing up for the day at the garage and David enlisted their help. The older Mechanic didn’t fill David with much confidence with imprecise instructions and David ended up with the 1950 lorry not square on the deck and in great danger of tumbling off it, if David had left it in that position. David was furious with the older Mechanic and told him he was about as much use as a chocolate fire guard. David then turned to the young 16 year old lad who stepped forward, and listening intently to David’s instructions. Gingerly David reversed the Leyland Beaver off the trailer and then followed the lad’s instructions to position the vintage lorry in the middle of the deck. The lad had no fear and indicated with his fingers which way David should steer, and using two thumbs up to indicate when he was on the right line. When the Leyland Beaver was on the trailer David apologised to the older Mechanic and gave him two £5 notes for him and the lad. The older mechanic said that this was too much money saying ‘This Stranraer not Sydenham!’ He gave David one £5 note back and handed the other to the young lad.

It was now almost 1530 hours and David set out on the long trip home, as the deal with Barry Rygor was that the low-loader was needed to be back at Westbury to enable a driver to leave on Sunday morning at 0600 hours. Earlier in the day, Leisa McHattie, William’s Daughter, had expressed her concerns about the length of David’s forthcoming day but David said, ‘I have to get home tonight. This wagon is a Cinderella wagon, the Mercedes will transform into a pumpkin at midnight somewhere down the M5’. Whilst driving the Mercedes Benz articulated lorry David reflected how amazing the young 16 year old lad had been and recounted the amazing events that happened at a John Mayell’s Blue Breakers concert at The Hop Community Centre, Welwyn Garden City, in 1965. The Blues Breakers played the first set without a guitarist as Eric Clapton was not well. During the interval a sixteen year old school-boy Mick Taylor walked up onto the stage and told John that he knew most of the material and asked if he could fill in for Eric during the second set. He so impressed John Mayell that night, that 2 years later when Peter Green left the Blues Breakers, John gave Mick Taylor a full time job. Mick Taylor later replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones. On July 19th 2003 Mick Taylor was invited to play with the Blues Breakers to celebrate John Mayell’s 70th Birthday in Liverpool.
There were less and less vehicles on the motorway as David glided southward, and David, after taking all the necessary breaks, rolled into the Rygor yard at 0100 hours. The yard was packed with over 40 vehicles and the only space was down the centre so David left the Mercedes Benz and trailer in a position so that all the other lorries could get out, before jumping in his car to drive home. Whilst tiredness had never been a problem whilst he was driving the lorry, David became very drowsy driving his car and had to stop and walk around it twice on the way home.
On Monday morning David took the train to Westbury and when he walked into the Rygor yard he was astounded by the transformation. Saturday night the yard was jam packed, Monday morning everything was gone apart from the low-loader trailer with the Leyland Beaver still on board. David spoke to Barry Rygor about the trip and drove the Leyland Beaver home.
The only time that Westbury and Stranraer appear on the same map is during the BBC Weather graphics and each night David reflects on the momentous day he had in Stranraer and the journey up and back.

Monday, 1 June 2015

A Funeral in Stranraer (Part 1)

The second week in June 2007 was an important time for David Hall, of Vintage Lorry Funerals, as his Daughter’s 21st Birthday celebrations were likely to coincide with a funeral in Stranraer, Scotland, some 397 miles from the company’s base in Wiltshire.

In May, Leisa McHattie , Daughter of a former Lorry Driver in Stranraer contacted David to advise him that her Dad, William Caldow was terminally ill and wanted to plan his own funeral. William had been a Lorry Driver all his life spending most of the time travelling down the A75 which is mainly a single carriageway road between Gretna Green and Stranraer. What most car drivers don’t realise is that Commercial Vehicles are limited to 40 miles per hour on single carriageway roads and the A75 which runs for 82 miles is one of the longest stretches of single carriageway on a major arterial trunk route. The A75 is notorious for Policemen setting covert speed traps for Lorry Drivers rushing to catch the Irish Ferry and William was caught on a number of occasions over the years and for a time his HGV licence was suspended. William had a strong sense of humour and apparently the reason for choosing Inch Church, some 15 miles to the East of the Scottish Port, for the service, was that  William would have his last ride at 30 miles per hour on a vehicle that originally in 1950 was limited to 20 miles per hour. Thus when William was planning his funeral he knew would be technically exceeding the speed limit by 50% had the journey occurred before 1957 and he chuckled at the thought.

The price was agreed with Leisa and some of the likely Floral Tributes had been advised. The concept of the layout, featuring a DAD 1 registered Flat-Bed had been discussed, however, the final layout had not been signed off, when David received a phone call at 1530 hours on Wednesday May 30th to advise him that William had passed away at 1500 hours. In order for David to attend his Daughter’s 21st Birthday Celebration on Saturday June 9th, Leisa asked if it would be possible to do her Dad’s funeral on Saturday June 2nd.  Apparently it was one of William Caldow’s requests that his funeral should be on a Saturday as this would avoid people loosing wages to attend his funeral. When David realised that he was being asked at 1530 hours on a Wednesday to have his 1950 Leyland Beaver some 400 miles away in Stranraer on Saturday at 1030 hours, he said, ‘Hold on, Gene Pitney was 24 hours from Tulsa, and I’m being asked to be at Stranraer in 48 hours in a lorry that will take 48 hours to get there and I need a day to build the Support Structure for the flowers.’

Some how David had to find a way to take 24 hours out of the timescale and the only way he thought to do this was to use a vehicle capable of travelling twice as fast as his lorry to take the 1950 Lorry to Scotland. During his early years in the funeral business, David Hall, between funerals, used to do HGV Agency Driving for companies local to Bradford-on-Avon. One company who knew David was Rygors of Westbury and they had a low-loader trailer. David had previously floated the concept of using this facility so he immediately jumped into his car, arriving in Rygor’s yard at around 1600 hours.

David walked into the Traffic Office and asked if he could borrow the low-loader trailer and a unit, however, unfortunately the funeral fell in a 4 day week and the Rygor fleet were flat out. With no likely spare vehicle emerging, David was told by the Traffic Manager that sadly on this occasion Rygors couldn’t be of help. David, was saddened by the news and stood in the office crestfallen, contemplating if there was anything else he could do. As David was leaving the office he bumped into a rotund colourful character who said to David, ‘Do you know who I am?’ David said, ‘You are Barry Rygor, the Boss.’ The colourful character replied, ‘No I’m the (expletive) Yardman!’ Having overheard part of David’s conversation with his staff, Barry Rygor shouted across the office, ‘Find this man a (expletive) motor, we ain’t going to let this family from Scotland down.’

Barry told David that the trailer wasn’t a problem and that he should bring his lorry down to Westbury on Thursday afternoon, load it onto the trailer and Barry would somehow find a Tractor Unit. During Thursday David prepared the deck of the Leyland Beaver for the funeral, sheeted the deck and travelled to Westbury as he had been instructed.  With the help of a Mechanic David gingerly drove his pride and joy onto the trailer, strapping it together with the demountable ramps and made a point of talking to Paddy the Shunter who he had known for a long time. When asked about the prospects of Barry magically resourcing a Tractor Unit from thin air, Paddy said, ‘Don’t worry Dave, get to bed early, get back here for half past four  in the morning and I’ll have the Tractor Unit coupled into the Trailer.’

As David drove into the Rygor yard in his car at 0425 hours he couldn’t believe his eyes, a brand new Mercedes Benz Demonstrator Tractor Unit was coupled to the Trailer and the whole rig had been washed. Paddy handed David the keys and said, ‘Go steady Dave, watch out for the Kojaks with the Kodaks on the A75.’

The Mercedes Benz cruised along at 56 miles per hour on the M5 & M6, twice the speed of the Leyland Beaver but sadly using twice the amount of fuel that the 1950 vehicle would have used.

David kept at 40 miles per hour on the A75 and didn’t need the multitude of warnings issued by oncoming vehicles about a speed trap further up the road. Some young Lorry Drivers flashed their lights, risking a booking by the covert Police, positioned all along the road, for warning other drivers. However, older men simply put their right hand out of the driver’s window with their thumb pointing downward, a technique established in the 1950s. Just after Newton Stewart, David was flagged down by a motorist, it wasn’t a Highwayman but Stuart Caldow, Brother of William, the Deceased. He shook David’s hand and thanked him for finding the low-loader at short notice, however, William had apparently left instructions for a Plan B which would have involved Stuart and a mate double-shifting a Stranraer based low-loader down to Bradford-on-Avon and back within a 16 hours working shift.

Stuart Caldow then took David to the undercover storage that the Family had arranged for the 1950 Leyland Beaver. Stuart helped David unload the vintage lorry and assisted David as he prepared the deck for the following morning. As David manoeuvred the articulated low-loaded into a space in the yard, he couldn’t help but notice the wide open countryside and high hills. This brought back memories of the views from the cab of lorries in the 1950s when David was a little boy travelling with Drivers collecting sheep from Scotland. Little did he think then that eventually he would end up with his own Leyland Beaver. 

Next month David will describe what happened when he arrived in Stranraer.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Travellers Funerals

Travellers make up a proportion of the Vintage Lorry Funerals business as David Hall has developed a reputation within their community for creating memorable Floral Tribute layouts and a simple no nonsense communicative style that Travellers like.
Traveller funerals were there at the very start of the business in 2002 accounting for 2 of the first 4 funerals undertaken by the lorry. The opportunity to carry a high profile Lady Traveller for his second funeral, by David’s own admission, came earlier in his funeral career than he would have wished. As David explained, ‘It was like a 17 year old Footballer making his debut in the World Cup Finals, and I’m no Pele.’ David had no contact with the Family and the Leyland Beaver inched slowly into the Traveller Encampment, near Swindon, with David having no knowledge of what flowers were to be loaded. Gaps between the Travellers vehicles were very narrow and Travellers watched David struggle to get past cars with less than one inch clearance, rather than move their vehicles. The flowers were thrown onto the vehicle by Travellers and David’s perception was that he was being ostracised because he was not a Traveller. David felt uncomfortable and the chorus of Leon Russell and the Shelter People’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ was reverberating inside David’s head.

As the 1950 Leyland Beaver pulled into Abingdon there were hundreds of mourners all dressed completely in black and David had to drive into the crowd to park the lorry in a position to off-load the white casket. Everyone wanted to touch the lorry, the crowd around the cab was 6 deep and David couldn’t open the door to get out of the lorry. It took David’s wife over two days to remove all the finger prints.
So when the second Traveller funeral arrived for a Leeds Family David insisted from the start that he wanted to be treated as if he were part of the Family. David arrived in Keighley around 1730 hours and someone came up to him and asked, ‘Are you hungry Driver?’ Somebody else arrived in 20 minutes with a Fish Supper and would take no payment. As David was washing the lorry in the evening sunlight a young boy asked David, ‘How much is the lorry worth?’ David said he wasn’t sure, but he had seen similar vehicles for sale at £10,000. David was surprised when his bed for the evening turned out to be the chair in front of the coal fire, however, he did recall insisting that he should be treated as if he was part of the Family. At 0700 hours there was a knock on the window and someone, who David had not met, handed in a bacon butty for his breakfast.

David was directed to follow a 4×4 vehicle to the house of the Deceased and was instructed to park on the pavement. On this occasion the lorry was booked to only carry the flowers with the Deceased’s coffin being transported in a Horse Drawn Carriage. The Leyland Beaver was chosen specifically because The Deceased’s favourite colour was blue and John, the man who had phoned David initially acted as the liaison with other people. The Widow made John the first cup of tea and David was honoured when he was offered the second cup of tea. People gave their flowers to John and John instructed David where to position them on the lorry deck, those relations closest to the Deceased had their Floral Tributes loaded nearer the front of the deck closer to the headboard.

In the cemetery after the interment John gave David a roll of notes, which he put in his shirt pocket as his main focus at the time was fixing the sheet in place as the wind was gaining strength in the late afternoon. John asked David to count the money as he was roping the sheet down and David replied that he trusted that the money would be right. John insisted that David should count the money as it was Traveller Culture to do so. David was unaccustomed to counting notes, and started to turn over the £20 notes slowly one by one. Totally frustrated John grabbed the bundle of notes and counted them quickly like a card player shuffling a deck of cards. Having finally secured the sheet, David was having a drink from his flask when he was approached by two hugely built men in heavy overcoats. One man pulled two massive rolls of money from the pockets on the overcoat and said, ‘Here’s £10,000 for your motor.’ David was perplexed, however, John was in close proximity and stepped between David and the two men saying, ‘The young lad last night asked what the motor was worth, he never ascertained if it was for sale, there was no shake of hands.’ David had never seen such hugely built guys so disappointed and these weren’t the type of guys who normally take disappointment in their stride. However, taking a broader view David believed that progress had been made in that he had direct contact with the Family.

Fast forward 10 years on and Traveller Funerals are treated just like any other funeral in that a Family member provides information on the Florists involved, who are relaxed to provide information once David has confirmed the member of the Family he had spoken with.
A good example of a Traveller’s funeral working brilliantly was the final journey of John Buckley who had tragically passed away following an accident at home. His Sister Mary Lee provided information on the flowers which included exquisite giant wire framed ‘Names’ including ‘BIG JOHN’. A ‘Cornflake Box’ Tribute was ordered because when friends visited John in hospital he would always say, ‘I’d love a bowl of cornflakes.’ Cognisant that the ‘Cornflake’ Tribute would accompany a ‘Cup & Saucer’ Tribute, David created a Breakfast Table with a table cloth.

When David arrived at 0730 hours, Floral Tributes had already started to be positioned on the grass area in front of the house. Mary Lee provided David with a cup of tea and introduced two men who had been assigned to work for David whilst he was assembling the Floral Tributes on the lorry. At 0930 hours two smaller lorries arrived to load friends and more distant Family members flowers. The agreement with Mary included the provision that David could have the choice of requesting any extra tributes from the grass area if these would enhance the display on his lorry beyond those included in the layout sketch previously agreed by Mary. David approached the men loading the smaller lorries who willingly gave up any specific tribute that David requested.

On a Travellers funeral no person will look inside the vintage lorry’s cab without first gaining David’s expressed permission. The cab door is never locked and valuables including a digital camera are often in plain sight, however, nothing has ever been taken. Travellers can get a bad name, however, in David’s opinion we could all learn from how a Traveller respects their dead.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Brighton & Portchester in the same week

Vintage Lorry Funerals sent a marketing pack to Mother & Daughter Funerals in Hove on March 10th 2014 and it generated a funeral on April 9th, a record timescale response to a marketing pack, less than 4 weeks! The Deceased had been an avid collector of model lorries so David Hall offered to position two of his own models either side of the Family’s ‘G’ Floral Tribute. The design for the layout had been signed off by the Brighton Family and the support structure was built during Wednesday and Thursday April 2nd & 3rd respectively.

On Friday April 5th David was having a break, reading his paper, reflecting that all the preparation work for the Brighton funeral had been completed, when the telephone rang.

A Lady apologised for the late notice, however, she wondered if Vintage Lorry Funerals could help her. The funeral arrangements for her Father had been finalised but she wanted to do more for her Dad, who had stated that he didn’t want his final journey to be in a black hearse. Her Dad had been a Fireman until his retirement when he set up business as a Landscape Gardener. She had made enquiries regarding a Fire Engine to carry the coffin, however, these phone calls had proved fruitless. The Lady explained how she had looked at the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and noticed that David had previously carried a Lawn Mower in front of the coffin and she enquired as to what David could do for a Landscape Gardener. David has experienced similar conversations in the past 12 years and often Families tell him what they think they need, however, the skill is to channel their desires into something he can achieve within the tight timescales.

So David asked, ‘What have you got in mind?’

What happened next resembled Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, from the 1970’s, in which contestants tried to remember items that they had seen pass before their eyes. The Lady said, ‘A Wheel Barrow, a Spade, a Shovel, Tree Cutting Equipment…..’ David was tempted to say, ‘A cuddly toy’ but he didn’t. It was agreed that David would gather together relevant tools from people near his home in Bradford-on-Avon and assemble the load the day before the funeral. David always works on the premise that if the design stays in place from Bradford-on-Avon to the Funeral Directors, it will stay in place from the Funeral Directors to the Crematorium.

David made a series of phone calls to his support network and identified a number of options for equipment that could be lent to him for this funeral. In order to ensure that the tools could be loaded and held securely, David decided to dissemble the Brighton display that was in place on the lorry and erect the Landscape Gardener’s Theme during Saturday April 6th and Sunday morning April 7th. If all went well, during Sunday afternoon, the Landscape Gardener’s Theme would be documented, dissembled and put aside, with each tool assigned specific securement facilities, ready to reload on Thursday April 10th. Then the Brighton support structure would be put back in place and David would be back to where he was before the phone call about the Portchester funeral.

On Saturday mornings some members of the Vintage Lorry Funerals support team come to David’s garage for their coffee and cakes, provided by his wife. These retired gentlemen have engineering backgrounds and their advice has proved invaluable when major themes are being created. The centrepiece of the display was the Wheel Barrow and a novel securement technique was devised using small pieces of angled wood. Securement of the Spade and Shovel provided the biggest challenge and one of the old guys joked, ‘It won’t be any good if the Spade flew off in a Town Centre, creating next week’s business for a Funeral Director.’ One of David’s neighbours knocked on the garage door and offered her new Wheel Barrow, however, David explained that the look he was attempting to create involved tools appearing to have just completed their last job.

Jim Pethers, Landscape Gardener, arrived on Saturday afternoon and gave David the option of various tools. The final selection was made related to which items were of a similar height, to create a balanced design, and which items wouldn’t mysteriously disappear when David stopped for a comfort break at Sutton Scotney Services. So Jim left with the Chain Saw and petrol powered Tree Cutters still in his van. The Landscape Gardener’s Theme was sketched and the Deceased’s Daughter was delighted with the layout and the price. When she suggested to David to round the price to the nearest hundred, she meant round up not down, as many other people may have done.

The Brighton funeral worked well as David had organised undercover storage for the 1950 Leyland Beaver less than a mile from the Funeral Directors. David exceeded the expectations of the Family by tilting the cabs of his two model lorries as the coffin was discharged from the lorry at The Downs Crematorium. The lorry arrived home at 2030 hours and David’s wife started to clean the vehicle’s cab, immediately it was stationary. On Thursday April 10th David loaded and secured the tools with a mixture of wooden wedges and cable ties.

David would be interested to hear from you regarding an estimate of the number of cable ties that were used in the Landscape Gardener’s Theme.