Saturday, 1 July 2017

Southbourne & St. Albans

David Hall received a phone call from the Daughter of the Deceased about a funeral in Southbourne, near Chichester, however, an inquest was required and there was no firm date for the funeral at this stage. It emerged that the Deceased had been a Van Driver but his passion was the Land Rover which he had used each day to drive to work.
When David found out that the main Floral Tribute was going to be a 3D Land Rover he quickly got the contact number for the Florist, Flowers by Allison. The vintage lorry had previously carried Floral Tributes created by Allison Hiderah over 8 years ago and by looking back at the old file for a Waterlooville funeral David found his contemporaneous notes, ‘quality flowers that travelled well.’
Allison was pleased to hear from David and understood his request that three dimensional Floral Tributes should be created on a wooden board. Allison said that her Husband would make the stand for the Floral Tribute, however, she couldn’t make any estimate of the width, length or height of the Land Rover Floral Tribute.
Five days before the Southbourne funeral David still hadn’t heard anything about the 3D Land Rover Floral Tribute, but he had to start building the support structure for the Floral Tribute. Wanting to exceed the Family’s expectations, David decided to customise the support structure so that the Floral Tribute would appear to be sitting on the bonnet of a Land Rover in the position that a spare tyre was often positioned.
On a Thursday morning David was having a cup of coffee, reflecting that he still had no measurements of the main Floral Tribute for the Monday Southbourne funeral, when the phone rang about a funeral in St. Albans. In his email that requests information about the funeral, having experienced problems with the Southbourne funeral, David stressed to Kerry, that he required a timely response. Within 40 minutes of sending the email David received a reply to most of his points, which included the name of the Florist for the St. Albans funeral. At 1600 hours David received a phone call from Kendalls Florist and Emma informed him that the flowers would involve ‘DAD’, ‘POPS’, a Coffin Spray and the Gates of Heaven. She also provided the measurements for each of the Floral Tributes. The Gates of Heaven is an exquisite but delicate Floral Tribute which is hated by Funeral Directors because there is no way to secure the Gates of Heaven in a hearse, however, David has developed securement techniques which ensure that this Floral Tribute is never damaged on the vintage lorry.
David couldn’t believe what had happened. He was still in desperate need of information for a funeral in 4 days, but he already had all the information he needed for a funeral in 14 days!
Kerry, from the St. Albans Funeral Director, was excellent, the most immediate person David as ever met in the funeral industry. She also had an in-depth understanding of what was required for loading the coffin and Kerry confirmed that the Leyland Beaver would fit into their covered loading area. Kerry also checked that the vintage lorry could park overnight within the Funeral Directors’ garage and recommended a cost effective hotel for David nearby.
On the Friday morning David sent an email to Flowers by Allison asking that the board beneath the Floral Tribute should be no longer than 36 inches and no wider than 12 inches. The only response David received was that Allison would meet him to handover the Land Rover Floral Tribute at 0800 hours on Monday in Southbourne Farm Shop.
David always evaluates the best route to a Funeral Directors and often there is conflict in his head with part of him wanting to stick with the roads he knows but another part keen to explore new areas and perhaps uncover a gem, like an unclassified former Roman Road that has a good surface, is straight as a dye and not much traffic.
David decided to divert from his trusted B2150 through Hambledon & Denmead and opted to go via Clanfield, picking up the B2149 & B2148 which lead directly to Ensworth, the next village to Southbourne. Getting away at 0430 hours, David was at the Clanfield turn off by 0710 hours and he couldn’t believe his eyes. The main B2150 through Hambledon was closed for night tarmac operations and if David hadn’t opted for the Clanfield road he would have been in serious bother. David often believes that things are meant to be.

David arrived at Southbourne Farm Shop at 0745 hours and when Allison handed over the Floral Tribute he instantly understood why she couldn’t provide an early indication of size. Traditionally three dimensional Floral Tributes are made by Florists gluing blocks of oasis together, however, Allison’s Husband had made a lifelike scaled wooden model of the Deceased’s Land Rover which she had then covered with sheets of designer board oasis and then added the flowers. The flowers were of secondary interest with one’s eye immediately attracted to canvass cover, wooden wheels and radiator grille. It was the most realistic Floral Tribute David had seen to replicate a 4x4 vehicle.
Moores Traditional Funeral Directors were excellent with attentive Bearers with Les Whigman, in charge who conducted the funeral. David always asks the person travelling with him, ‘How would you fancy sitting there for 10 hours and accompanying me on a trip to Great Yarmouth?’ Everyone so far has declined the offer, citing too noisy, too hot, not enough leg room, but Les Whigman said, ‘I’d love to spend 10 hours in this seat, I love old equipment, the sounds and the smells’.

David’s lorry got a wonderful reception in front of the Family house in Hambrook and everyone was delighted with David’s efforts to customise the display. Two days after the funeral, apparently the Land Rover Floral Tribute was back in the Flowers by Allison shop, taking pride of place on a shelf with everyone remarking how wonderful it was.
The preparations for the St. Albans funeral were straight forward with all the information being available at the earliest stage possible. David arrived early at the Funeral Directors and within 40 minutes the Leyland Beaver was parked undercover and David was in his hotel and tackling a Sudoku puzzle. David had allocated 90 minutes to wash the vintage lorry, however, the glorious sunshine meant that the lorry had arrived in an immaculate condition.
The following day David walked to the Funeral Directors and had a cup of tea whilst their morning meeting took place. David was then taken to collect the 1950 Leyland Beaver and the Funeral Director’s employees stopped the traffic whilst the vintage lorry was slowly reversed into their facility with less than 9 inches either side through the doorway.

David was made to feel like part of the Funeral Directors family sitting in their restroom sipping tea and chatting to the men. Kerry handed David the cheque and also his sandwich box which had spent the night with the milk in the staff fridge. As the sandwiches were handed over the men laughed and one said, ‘Don’t you know that the crem has got a café?’
Jim had an in-depth knowledge of the engineering in the 67 year old vehicle having been a Coach Driver in the 1950’s & 1960’s. Rob, the limousine Driver, asked David which part of the North East he originated from. It transpired that Rob was originally from Murton, the next Pit Village to Easington Colliery where David has gone to school. David said that his Great Uncle Bob Wallace had worked at Murton Pit and Rob said that his Father had also worked at Murton Pit and he had often heard him talking about Bob Wallace, which is not surprising as Bob was a Deputy at the Pit. Within the Mine a Deputy was in charge of a group of Miners, responsible for achieving production targets but more importantly the safety of his men. In the 1950’s accidents were part and parcel of the risks the men took and the Deputy would listen carefully for cracks from the wooden pit props being a sign that he should get his men out quickly. Bob Wallace on occasions had to take horrendous decisions if a man was trapped with rocks on his hand. It was an instant decision that Bob had to make whether a man had to loose his fingers rather than loose his life and a number of men were saved by Bob’s actions. Bob Wallace’s left hand was severely crushed in a mining accident and Surgeons managed to save three digits and moved his little finger making it his thumb. It was humbling for David to learn that 40 years after his death people still remembered Bob Wallace. Another interesting fact about Bob Wallace is that he came back from the Somme, surviving some horrendous injuries, however, just after the battle he was put on a charge and briefly imprisoned for an act of kindness. Bob had given a starving German Prisoner a piece of his bread.
The gates at the West Herts Crematorium were 9 ft apart and set near the road where people attending a nearby school would abandon their cars. Luckily the funeral day coincided with a Teachers Strike day and the road was empty. As it was imperative to get the Leyland Beaver straight in line with the gate posts, David slowly drove past the posts before quickly applying full lock on the Steering Wheel, the Leyland Beaver spun on a sixpence and the cab slowly came round as David took off the lock and ended up exactly in the middle of the gate posts, 9 inches clear each side. Kerry and the Deceased’s two Grandsons, who were in front of the lorry, gasped as if they had seen a Paul Daniels magic trick.
Something amazing happened whilst David was offloading the Flowers, Adam Ginder from Ginder Funeral Directors stepped forward and took the ‘DAD’ Floral Tributes from David’s hands. Never before has David seen rival Funeral Directors help one another. The Funeral Director’s employees were correct that West Herts Crematorium does have a café, situated next to the flower area, and it was doing a very good trade. People leaving the café saw the vintage lorry, expressed a lot of interest and David has never given out so many business cards at a crematorium.

David’s journey home involved the old A4, which had been a three lane road in the 1950’s but drivers behind the vintage lorry were reluctant to pass with traffic coming in the opposite direction. David reflected about his Uncle Bob’s left hand and how as a 5 year child David would ask if Bob would take it out of its mitten for David to look at it and asked questions that an older person wouldn’t have raised on ground of sensitivity. However, the inquisitive young boy helped Bob Wallace’s confidence and a great relationship was established.
So David thought he could best convey that the A4 was a three lane road was by putting his thumb and first finger together and allowing three fingers to protrude, like his Uncle Bob’s left hand. David steered the Leyland Beaver as far left as he could, displayed the three finger sign with his right hand, a Van Driver approaching understood David’s gesture, moved towards his left and a huge gap opened up. Suddenly the penny dropped, a reluctant female Driver edged past, then a Van, then a Sports Car. So it gathered momentum and over 200 cars passed the vintage lorry using the ‘middle lane’ between Thatcham and Calne, with Drivers paying no attention to the hatched road markings. Drivers coming past were delighted and expressed their thanks by a friendly toot on the horn, a brief spell of 4 way flashers or more sedately simply putting their hand in front of their driving mirror, as drivers would have done in the 1950’s.