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.