Monday, 27 February 2017

A Taxi Drivers Funeral in Newbury

Vintage Lorry Funerals Leyland Beaver is 67 years old and although the maintenance is much simpler than modern truck one job on the old lady tends to lead to another one. Changing a front tyre before a Salisbury funeral turned into a nightmare when one of the wheel studs turned with the nut. ATS Euromaster put the nuts, which they had already removed, back onto the studs whilst David Hall phoned John Satchell, his mechanic, who told David to get a replacement stud. John runs John Satchell Motors, employs 5 mechanics and is responsible for the maintenance of over 500 vehicles and trailers in North Wiltshire. However, he always manages to find time to check over the lorry before a funeral, often arriving at David’s home not before 1930 hours having been on the go since 0500 hours! John always appreciates the light snack that David’s wife prepares for him. David was given a trophy at the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Run for having one of the best kept lorries, however, David didn’t believe that he had earned it and gave it to John Satchell to keep it for the year in recognition of all he had done.

Vintage Lorry Funerals support network includes Mark Pyatt, who along with his four Brothers, restores vintage Leyland Lorries at weekends and Mark provides replacement parts for the Leyland Beaver in a service which David affectionately calls Pyatts Parts. A package arrived within two days with two wheel studs and nuts, not the single wheel stud and nut which David had requested. A plan was put in place so that after the Salisbury funeral the 1950 Leyland Beaver would travel to Westbury, the home of John Satchell’s 5 bay workshops. The funeral in Salisbury went well and the Family were delighted with the replica Flat-Bed Lorry that David had built to prominently display the ‘POPS’ Floral Tribute.

David arrived at Westbury around 1600 hours and John Satchell guided David as he positioned the Leyland Beaver over a pit. John and a young mechanic immediately went to work on the wheel and with much physical exertion they eventually removed the wheel and drum that evening. John telephoned David on the Tuesday to say that both replacement wheel studs had to be used and he had organised ATS Euromaster to change the tyre in his workshop. David suggested to John that the wheel problem was caused by Eastern European tensions, because the original tyre was from Romania which didn’t want to be replaced by the new tyre which was from Czechoslovakia.
The problems caused by pot-holes on the old A-Roads has resulted in cracks in the wooden framework of the 1950 Cab and whilst the Leyland Beaver was at Westbury David arranged for Atech Coachworks, who undertook the original restoration of the lorry, to make a repair job. However, whilst the Leyland Beaver was in West Wilts Trading Estate, David took a phone call from Camp Hopson Funeral Directors in Newbury regarding a Taxi Drivers Funeral on Monday November 3rd. It had been explained that the lorry was off the road, however, having been assured that the funeral would be minimalistic and involve just a Coffin Spray, David, not wanting to disappoint a Family, took on the job.
David telephoned Kevin Lucas at Atech and explained his predicament which would require the work to be completed in two days. Mike Hunt, Kevin’s business partner met David on the Thursday morning and drew out how the steel bracket would resolve the problems and Gregorz Malek worked very late on Thursday night to make and fit the brackets.
At around noon on Thursday David was given the Florists contact details and he was surprised to learn that there was no Coffin Spray, as had been suggested by the Funeral Director, but ‘SIDS TAXI’, two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards , a 23 inch x 15 inch ‘Cat’ , a 15 inch ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’. In addition the Family had asked that the Deceased’s Taxi Sign should be carried on the lorry, not the metal sign which is fixed to the boot but the plastic ‘Top Hat’ which is fixed to the roof of the Taxi.
With the lorry being away in Westbury David evaluated the best way to secure the flowers in an eye catching way. He visualised that if the ‘SIDS TAXI’ could be split into two 4 lettered words, then if the ‘SIDS’ was secured above the ‘TAXI’ and then the ‘Top Hat’ taxi sign fixed above ‘SIDS’ then David would have the main items to create a replica of a rear of a Taxi Theme. What is more, the basic elements were already in place on the lorry from the Salisbury funeral, however, a complete dismantling would need to take place to get the ‘SIDS’ in the same plane as ‘TAXI’ if he was to replicate the rear window of a hatchback Taxi.

David’s main concern at this point was how to secure the ‘Top Hat’ sign and Angela at CABCO, for whom the Deceased had worked, was brilliant in providing measurements and describing the function of the powerful magnets within the sign. Joan Watton, Funeral Director, Camp Hopson kindly sent a picture of the underside of the sign and David realised that the best way to secure the sign was by sitting it on two metal strips that David had previously used a number of times to secure a ‘Cross’ on top of a coffin.
When David arrived home with the Leyland Beaver at 1600 hours on Friday he knew he had the equivalent of three days work complete in only two days. David, with the sound of Van Morrison’s Here Comes the Night ringing in his ears, worked until 2200 hours on the Friday night, completing the first fix of the front display. David normally spends Saturday morning reviewing the paper, whilst listening to Sounds of the 60’s on the radio. However, on this Saturday morning Brian Matthews show was recorded and the weekend papers were never looked at. Having started in his garage at 0815 hours and within the first 30 minutes finding stained wood of exactly the right length to connect ‘SIDS’ and ‘TAXI’, David knew that things would work out how he had planned and the length of metal strips were exactly right for the ‘Top Hat’ sign magnets to latch onto.
The rear display had to incorporate two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards, a ‘Cat’ a ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’ and what is more the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ had to be secured with a quick release mechanism as these Floral Tributes were to be placed on top of the Coffin at the Church and the Cemetery. David devised a pyramidal structure with the Designer Boards loaded back to back, with the ‘Pillow’ facing rearwards and the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ facing the head end of the Coffin. By using wooden boards a similar shape to a Floral Tribute David can make the flowers appear to float apparently unsupported. The triangular shaped board that was used to support the ‘Cat’ had previously held a similar Floral Tribute in Hungerford, a ‘Car’ in Bristol and replicated a ‘Wingtip’ in Gosport. By 2100 hours on Saturday the first fix of the rear display was in place and this meant the Sunday could be spent on the second fix of both displays in which David equips his Floral Tribute Fasteners with a colour to match the flowers as closely as possible.

On the Monday morning David got up at 0500 hours and was away by 0545 hours. After collecting his paper in Calne Post Office he arrived at Camp Hopson’s Newbury facility at 0815 hours and John Firth and Joan Watton watched David reverse into their immaculate building. The first hour was spent washing the lorry, removing the dirt which had accumulated on the chassis, caused by the previous night’s rain. Paul Stag then took David and Joan on a dry run to enable David to make a judgement on the best manner to approach St. John the Evangelist Church. Paul made David aware that people used the Church car park as a free facility for shopping or working in the locality and it was obviously a huge concern as it was a factor outside anyone’s control. So rather than drive into the car park like a hearse would, David elected to reverse into the car park from the main road. David paced out the distance to the parked cars, he also shifted a wheelie bin and he confirmed that he could complete the manoeuvre provided the situation didn’t deteriorate.
David Left Camp Hopson with Joan alongside him in the cab and she informed him that over 40 taxis would follow his lorry to the church. She had advised the Police about the potential impact on traffic flows, however, they declined to get involved in a way that they often do at Traveller funerals or those for Hell Angels.
At CABCO Taxis the 1950 Leyland Beaver stopped for the Deceased’s colleagues to show their respects. David spoke to the Head Taxi Driver and expressed his concerns about keeping 40 cars together without a Police presence. However, the man said, ‘Don’t worry we’ll sort it ourselves.’ As the vintage lorry moved off from CABCO two taxis broke off from the cortege and went ahead to block traffic at any junction that may inhibit the progress of the cortege. In this way all the Taxis remained in line behind the lorry to the Church, however, David admonished a Policeman driving a Police Car who was attempting to come between the lorry and the first taxi.
Normally a Funeral Director recruits some extra part-time gentlemen to help at a Church and often these men can appear to be reluctant to participate when David requests any help. However, this wasn’t the case for Camp Hopson staff. As David approached the Church, Paul Stag, driving the hearse in front, pulled right across the road bringing the traffic to a halt leaving space for the vintage lorry to reverse off the road into the car park. David could see that Gerrard had created a total exclusion zone close to the entrance and managed cars wanting to get beyond the exclusion zone with the same enthusiasm as East German Guards stopping people getting into West Berlin. The Leyland Beaver moved slowly into the entrance watched by Terry and as the lorry pushed through the undergrowth at the edge of the drive it was evident that someone had left their car sticking out from the line. The only way through was to virtually touch the car with the rear wheel of the lorry before David applied full lock on the Steering Wheel as quickly as possible. Luckily Terry was on the same wavelength and didn’t try to stop David getting so close to the car, which a younger less experienced person would have done.
A number of mourners congratulated David on his reversing skills and David found out that the car which was parked jutting out from the line was parked by the Vicar conducting the service no less! David took pictures of the flower displays whilst the service was taking place.
As the vintage lorry approached the grave in Shaw Cemetery it became clear that someone had parked their car on the path leading to the grave blocking the only route for the coffin to reach the grave. David said to Joan, ‘Some joker has parked his car just where you need to be, and I know that car, it was the one that I wiped the dirt off the front corner at the Church’. Joan looked up and saw that vicar, robes flowing in the breeze, pacing up and down, oblivious to the problem he was about to cause.
For the first time ever the Family were the last out from the cemetery and each member came to David to shake his hand to say thank you for all that he had done.