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.