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

1 comment:

  1. I've been learning a lot about funerals and planning lately, and I can safely say that this was a good one. That truck is so cute and is much more lively than the usual hearse.