Wednesday, 1 August 2018

A Funeral in Denmead


Most of Vintage Lorry Funerals trips involve an early start with the Leyland Beaver rolling out of Bradford-on-Avon in the dark. The journey to Denmead was no exception departing at 0500 hours on an August day when dawn was just about to break.
David enjoys the early starts as he witnesses sights that most people don’t see. It is magnificent when the top of the sun peeks above the horizon and then slowly emerges into an orange football. David has 1950 styled sun-shades that clip onto his spectacles that can be flipped up during normal conditions, but flipped down in bright sunlight. Often in the early morning David sees animals and on this trip he had a rabbit trying to outrun the Leyland Beaver in Holt. However, the most surprising sight was a herd of White Belted Galloway cows near junction 9 of the M3, some 500 miles from home.
The other amazing thing about early morning starts is that in David’s experience people are more courteous. At fuel stations where David stops to buy a paper he can find Scaffolders who will hold the door back for you and White Van men who will say ‘after you’ as you both approach the newspaper rack.
The funeral in Denmead was Vintage Lorry Funerals first for South Downs Funeral Services, a company started by Paul Lee-Bapty in 2011 and he has built up a successful business in both Denmead and Wickham by operating services at the highest quality. In David’s experience there is a huge difference between someone who conducts a funeral for a large organisation as opposed to the man who owns the company.
Initially David was worried how well he and Paul would get along, however, his concerns were unwarranted.  On the day of the funeral David saw that Paul’s determination to achieve the highest service levels were no different to his own.

Paul wanted David to reverse the Leyland Beaver into his driveway, however, David decided to leave the lorry on the street, a decision that would later prove beneficial. As David was preparing the lorry deck to receive the flowers and coffin a number of passersby expressed interest and took a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card. These individuals included:-
  • A man was returning from the Newsagents, who used to work for Calor Gas, a company which used Leyland Beavers for deliveries.
  • A man asked to shake David’s hand, having seen and read articles about funerals in many magazines.
  • A Scotsman in a car stopped and commented how well the lorry looked. He had maintained Leyland 600 engines in the 1950’s.
  • A car driver stopped twice, once to take a Business Card and the second time to say how wonderful the lorry looked with the coffin loaded and flowers either side.
  • A young mum struggling with a pushchair and an energetic youngster was given a card after her son was transfixed by the lorry.
   David found it interesting that the South Downs email address doesn’t start with info@ or mail@ but care@ and David saw a high level of care demonstrated when Paul started to page the lorry from his premises.
In a display that in David’s opinion had a strong military feel and perhaps a small piece of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, Paul commenced the paging process by bowing towards the radiator of the Leyland Beaver. Instead of turning and walking forwards like everyone else in the funeral world, Paul stepped backwards and used the fingers on his outstretched arms to entice the Leyland Beaver out of the side road like a Lion Tamer controlling a Lion, but having no whip. Paul continued to walk backwards still beckoning the Leyland Beaver until he reached the white line in the middle of the road. With the Leyland Beaver positioned halfway out of the side road, the traffic moving toward Portsmouth was brought to a standstill on the B2150. Paul seemed unconcerned about the traffic travelling from Portsmouth which was speeding past his back, only inches away.
Paul then enacted a military turn, faced the oncoming traffic, stopped it and then continued to page in the traditional way. The military feel was also exhibited at the crematorium. When the coffin was about to be off-loaded two South Down’s men were next to the lorry, and another two were standing next to their vehicles. Paul then called out the name of one of his men standing next to his vehicle and the man then quickly walked to the lorry. Paul then called out the name of the remaining South Downs man still with his vehicle and he then also walked quickly towards the lorry.
The four South Downs men then positioned themselves into two rows of two, facing each other either side of the coffin. Paul then joined them, he faced the head of the coffin and bowed. Paul and the two men either side of the coffin then took one step away from the edge of the lorry in a synchronised way taking the coffin with them. On Paul’s command he and the two men took a further step away from the edge of the lorry, whilst the two remaining men took one step forward and touched the coffin. At this point the coffin was about 4 feet beyond the roller and with Paul’s next command everyone took a further step away from the lorry edge and the coffin was now in their hands and was held at the same height as it had been on the lorry. None of Paul’s staff spoke at any stage and you could have heard a pin drop before Paul’s command and the coffin was then lifted to shoulder height.

It was a fantastic spectacle, however, some people in the funeral world have no doubt been disrespectful about Paul’s paging and conducting style. David was impressed with the level of theatre that Paul had created and he reflected that Paul and David were not that far apart in their aims to do their absolute best for a family. In the past David has been asked to dress like Fred Dibnah, to talk like Fred Dibnah and at a funeral in Guildford David was asked to be Fred Dibnah!
On the way home David encountered queuing traffic on the M3 between junction 11 and 9 with a high volume of vehicles wanting to be on the A34 on this Friday afternoon. On the A342 David tried to get cars past whenever possible but once a queue of at least 10 cars were trapped behind the lorry at 30 m.p.h. David looked for a lay-bye. This is something that modern Lorry Drivers won’t do and some people think that David is a Knight of the Road, but David dismisses this concept saying it is only commonsense. In David’s experience he can upset some of the people some of the time but it is best not to upset all of the drivers all of the time, because frustrated drivers can attempt dangerous things. Once David pulled into the lay-bye 10 cars sped past, two or three gave a friendly toot of their horn as a ‘thank you’ but there is always one who will put his or her hand out of the window and make an offensive gesture.
The traffic was gridlocked on the Melksham bypass due to rush hour traffic and David got home at 1730 hours but the drama didn’t end there. David’s wife always walks down the street to guide David as he tries to manoeuvre around obstructively parked cars. However, on this occasion David’s wife noticed that a young toddler had escaped from a garden in Highfield and had wandered out onto Woolley Street where cars speed up the hill in a rat run to get out onto the Bath road. Luckily David’s wife acted swiftly and plucked the young child out of harms way just in time as a car raced by. David arrived two minutes later and was oblivious to what had just happened. In the garage after his wife had checked that the brake lights were working she told David what had nearly happened. David then thought what was worse, a child nearly killed by a car or parents who didn’t seem to comprehend the danger that their bundle of joy could have been in.  

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Slough & Hereford with only one working day between them


David Hall received a call from a Slough Funeral Director about using his lorry for a 31 year old who had lost his life in tragic circumstances on his river boat. Given the nature of the death the Coroner would be involved and there was no definite date for the funeral.
In addition the Deceased had been a Self Employed Carpenter and initially there appeared to be no logical reason for his family choosing the vintage lorry. Consequently the family didn’t commit at an early stage that they would like the 1950 Leyland Beaver, unlike when the lorry is chosen for someone whose life has been steeped in transport.
Around the same time David took a call on his mobile from a family in Hereford and, as part of the information he requires before working out a price, David asked had any decisions been made about the flowers. The Son of the Deceased said that there would be a ‘DAD’, a ‘Pillow’, a ‘Spray’ and a ring of vegetables. David’s ears pricked up and he asked about the significance behind the ‘Vegetable Ring’ and was given some background on an amazing man. Gordon had been a Lorry Driver who took over two allotments when he retired and gave any surplus fruit and vegetables to The Salvation Army Citadel which helps needy families in the area.
David at an early stage wanted to do something special for such a special man and he envisaged creating a ‘Cold Frame’ with the ‘DAD’ Floral Tribute depicting the glass and the ‘Vegetable Ring’ being prominently displayed at an angle in front of the ‘Cold Frame’. Vegetable gardening is not as popular today as it was in the frugal 50’s when David’s own Dad grew vegetables, giving huge carrots to his Brothers & Sisters insisting that he was just thinning out, and often saying ‘you can’t eat flowers’.
David thought that the display for Gordon’s final journey could be enhanced with a collection of tools, so David approached a number of his neighbours who provided a Spade, a Fork, a Rake, a Hoe, a Dibbler, a length of Hose and a Line.
Within a 2 hour period David received confirmation of his requirement in both funerals, with Slough on Thursday June 29th and Hereford on Monday July 3rd, both being in the afternoon and within the distance so that they could be undertaken in a day from Bradford-on-Avon.
David spoke with the Mother of the Deceased for the Slough funeral and she confirmed that her Son, Max, would have wanted a minimalistic display with just his coffin and a Coffin Spray.
So David had a dilemma of being committed to create an intricate display, with tools surrounding the Floral Tributes within one working day of returning from Slough Crematorium with a clear deck. Although there was the cushion of Saturday and Sunday, both working days to a Self Employed man, however, most people only work 5 days per week. There would be a lot of pressure on David to create a complicated display within an 8 hour window if he needed any assistance from other people. There would also potentially be extra Floral Tributes from more distant Family members who would expect their flowers to be treated the same as the rest of the Family and this may lead to a re-evaluation of the display structure. David deemed that it was too risky to do it all in one day, so he did what he has previously done in the past.
He decided to build the display for the second funeral first, document it, dismantle it, and store each element in the sequential order of loading. The deck was then vacuumed for the first funeral in Slough and David’s wife did her exquisite job of polishing the lorry, in the same manner that she does for each funeral.
The Slough Funeral Director provided a picture of Max, that was destined for the Order of Service leaflet and the Vintage Lorry Funerals’ Support Partner enlarged it and laminated it. David, cognisant that Max had been a Carpenter, built a wooden structure to enable the picture to be positioned on the Headboard.

The journey to Slough initially went well with a 0500 hours starting time meaning little traffic in Wiltshire and David got past Basingstoke for 0730 hours. Everything was going well until David encountered a wall of stationary traffic at Bagshot. Mission Control, David’s wife, sent him a text, ‘M3 closed, all traffic diverted onto A30’. Cars were turning round in front of the Leyland Beaver and no doubt finding some narrow back lane to avoid the hold up, however, it wasn’t advisable for David to undertake such a risky venture. He felt that the traffic would eventually clear allowing him to be at the Funeral Directors for 0915 hours and David wasn’t wrong. After loosing 40 minutes in queuing traffic David took the A322 and then the A332 into Windsor passing Legoland on the left.
As David was waiting to load the coffin he was struggling to understand why his lorry had been chosen for the funeral. When a 31 year old passes away with a Glastonbury Ticket in his pocket a Funeral Director would normally expect that a Family may opt for the VW Camper Hearse rather than a 68 year old lorry driven by a 65 year old man.
Then a man and a lady came to talk to David following their visit to see Max and it transpired that it was Max’s Dad and his Partner, who were both unaware that David’s lorry would be used for Max’s final journey. David pointed to Max’s picture on the Headboard and he told them that he always tries to personalise a funeral. The Partner was a lovely Irish lady who looked at the rear square number-plate not realising what it was because most modern cars have rectangular number-plates. She then said to David, ‘What is the significance of the 610? I can see how that MXV closely resembles Max’s initials, but why 610?’
Max’s Dad explained that the sign was in fact the lorry’s number-plate and MXV 610 was the registration number. The Partner said that a wrist band with MV on it would be worn by Max’s cousin Anthony Watson who was representing the British & Irish Lions in New Zealand.
So as David left the Crematorium he reflected that his lorry had been chosen in the past for people who didn’t want a black hearse, for people who were too big to fit into a black hearse and some people who liked blue or red or the combination of both colours. However, now David believed that someone may have chosen the lorry perhaps solely for its registration number or is it a case of ‘Just my Imagination running away with me’, a song made famous by The Temptations.
The construction of the Gardener’s Theme went well on the Friday, in part helped by the pre-fabrication of the ‘Cold Frame’ the previous weekend. In fact the first fix was completed by 1500 hours but then David received a call about an extra Floral Tribute, a 15 inch ‘Open Heart’ from one of the Grandchildren who was close to Gordon. So David offered to position the ‘Open Heart’ between the ‘DAD’ and the picture of Gordon that was projecting out from a Produce Tray, like the kind he would have put his seed potatoes in, whilst they were sprouting. David saw that two lengths of 5 inch x 2 inch timber that had a 45 degrees cut at one end, which had been previously used as the Support Structure for a ‘Butterfly’ Floral Tribute, would be ideal to make the ‘Open Heart’ Floral Tribute appear to float.
On the Saturday morning as David was completing the second fix, including identification of which plastic fasteners to take for each Floral Tribute, another email arrived from the Florist. It contained a diagram detailing measurements for the ‘Open Heart’ and notification of a late order for a ‘Teddy Bear’. The Florist sent a further email within the hour with a sketch of the ‘Teddy Bear’ noting the key dimensions. David has never met a company like Hillman’s Florist whose staff were so helpful despite being incredibly busy on a Saturday afternoon. Luckily there was just enough room to position the ‘Teddy Bear’ next to the Spade.

Bayley Brothers Funeral Directors in Hereford were excellent. Being based in narrow side street with rows of terraced housing either side, some people that David knew in Hereford thought that there was a chance that the Vintage Lorry couldn’t get into or out of the street. Roger Bayley explained that he would endeavour to protect the space around his location, however, if cars were parked obstructively then an arrangement was in place to transfer the coffin and flowers onto the Leyland Beaver in the additional car park at Hereford Crematorium.
The Leyland Beaver left Bradford-on-Avon at 0545 hours and was on the south side of Hereford by 0815 hours, where David took a 45 minute break in The Bunch of Carrots car park whilst the rush hour traffic subsided. David progressed to Cotterell Street and found that Bayley Brothers had parked cars on the street which enabled the Leyland Beaver to park in front of the Funeral Directors. As David was fixing the Floral Tributes to their support structures a lady, two doors down from the Funeral Director, came out to speak with David. David was expecting the lady to complain that he had taken her parking position, however, she said, ‘You are creating a most exquisite display, are you a member of the Family?’  David explained that he did funerals for a living and handed the lady a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card. She then said, ‘I can’t believe that someone employed would take so much time and effort to get the flowers just right with everything lined up with the ‘A’ in ‘DAD’ being the centre line and the flowers appearing to float.’
The Family were very pleased with David’s efforts and a large crowd was gathered at The Salvation Army Citadel.

Gordon was laid to rest, with his favourite Hoe alongside him in the coffin, near where he lived as a child in Peterchurch to the east of Hereford on the way to Hay-on-Wye. Parking outside the Church presented a challenge, however, David got out of the cab, discussed a plan of action with the Funeral Director and then told everyone what they needed to do to prevent an obstruction on the main road. It was most touching how each Family member stepped forward to take their Floral Tribute off David, before Family bearers took the coffin to the cemetery.
The return journey took the Leyland Beaver south through Monmouth and then down the Wye Valley to Chepstow and onto Severn View Service where David took a 45 minute break to let the rush hour traffic subside. David arrived home at 1945 hours and a young boy in his Father’s arms waved to David as he reversed in off the street at the end of a 14 hour day.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

A Long Lead Time for the Leyland Beaver in Highworth


The Highworth Funeral involved the longest timescale yet experienced, from confirmation of the booking to the date of the funeral was 35 days in total.
David submitted a price for a Highworth funeral on May 12th and received a call on his mobile on May 16th to say that the funeral would be on June 20th. David said to the Funeral Arranger, ‘Haven’t you got the wrong date, surely you mean May 20th?’ There was no mistake and the 1415 hours booking slot at Swindon Crematorium was advised.
David was astounded at the length of time before the funeral day and this was far beyond anything he had experienced in the past 16 years. Sometimes a long lead time can result from:-
  • Families can struggle to get a particular person to conduct the service.
  • Relatives can only fly in from America on a specific day.
  • Sometimes holidays fall at the wrong time and can’t be changed
  • Some family members choose to have a holiday before a funeral!
 The Highworth funeral lead time was not due to any of the above factors and the reason is not known. David spoke to the Widow about the flowers and treaded very carefully about the lengthy lead time in case she was unhappy about it, however, she was happy with the timescale.
David has found from his experience that a lead time beyond 7-10 days can give certain families members time to think about how the funeral could be personalised and the Highworth funeral was no exception. The Widow asked if David could accommodate within his design a Sack Barrow and sacks as her Husband had delivered bags of animal feed in the 1960’s before the advent of bulk deliveries.
Rather than trying to design securement techniques remotely, a meeting between David, the Widow and her Brother-in-Law was arranged for the sack Barrow to be handed over. This was just as well because it was an original Slingsby Sliding Wheel Sack Barrow from the 1940’s and it was extremely heavy. David explained that the price he had given to the Funeral Director was for carrying the coffin and flowers only and the creation of a ‘Sack Barrow Theme’ would involve addition time and required an additional premium, which the Widow understood.
So David was left with the challenge of how to secure the antique Sack Barrow and making it highly visible for all to see and become the main focal point in the area in front of the coffin. The solution involved David designing a rear end of a 1960’s Rigid with a ‘TERRY 1’ number plate and a ‘CAUTION AIR BRAKES’ sign. The Sack Barrow was secured to the 1960’s flat-bed Theme using wooden clamps and it was also fixed to the Headboard of the 1950 Leyland Beaver.

David’s wife received a group photograph that included the Deceased and she skilfully cropped it and it was laminated by one of Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Members.
The Highworth Funeral Director is situated in a cul-de-sac and the yard is a tight 90 degree turn off a narrow road and the best way to approach the yard was by reversing in off a very busy main road. When undertaking such a potentially dangerous manoeuvre, it is paramount to attempt it when no one else is around so an early start was planned.
Working out the route was simple because Trowbridge, near to Bradford-on-Avon, is on the same road as Highworth the old A361, although an extra 4 is added as the road winds through Swindon. The old road numbering system is based on the hands of a clock with London being the centre of the clock, Newcastle is at 12 o’clock and the A1 runs from London to Newcastle and beyond to Edinburgh. The A2 runs from London to Dover and the A3 runs from London to Portsmouth and roads in the sector between the A2 and A3 all start with a 2, so the A20 runs from London to Folkestone, the A21 runs from London to Hastings and the A22 runs from London to Eastbourne. The A361, however, breaks the rules because it starts in Daventry and goes all the way to Barnstaple!
David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0515 hours and was in Swindon by 0620 hours. The Magic Roundabout, near the Swindon Town Football Ground is only magic if no one is around and David found it deserted when the Leyland Beaver cruised anti-clock wise around the first mini roundabout in top gear. David arrived at Highworth at 0645 hours and reversed in off the main road with a modern Lorry Driver holding back the traffic. The width of the yard into which the lorry had to be reversed was extremely tight, in fact so tight that David couldn’t get his sandwiches out of storage box behind the nearside drive wheel, the gap between the lorry and the brick wall being less than 9 inches. Luckily a Coop Retail outlet next door came to his rescue, although David had to vary from his normal ham, cheese and pickle sandwich combination.          
Julie, of the Memorial Department upstairs, was the first to arrive at 0735 hours and offered David a cup of tea. Vickie, also from the Memorial Department, was the next to arrive and kindly offered David the use of a private office which was a most welcomed gift on a day when ambient temperatures were 30 degrees. David used the time to write this blog and also plan out the next two funerals which were within 3 working days at the end of June and the beginning of July. Dianne from Highworth Funerals was next in at 0820 hours, her first day back from holiday, however, despite landing at a very early hour she did get the chance to make a Chocolate cake which she does for every funeral day. David  tried a piece, which was offered by Paula, who spoke with a lovely Canadian lilt. David told Dianne the cake was exquisite, but he kept his distance from Paula, who had a cold, as Self Employed people can never be ill.

Jo, who conducted the Funeral was excellent, she had no trouble getting in and out of the cab, which was commendable given her short stature, and she was very communicative advising David precisely what she wanted him to do. The cortege brought Highworth High Street to a standstill and stopped outside the Beds ‘N’ Baskets Shop that the Deceased ran with his wife.

Coming back through Swindon David got an unexpected present, he came across a Breeze Fuel Station which was card only with no attended staff, offering a saving of 6 pence per litre on current prices and the forecourt was deserted. David often finds small retail sites with cheap fuel, however, the queues are too long, regularly funnelling back onto the roadway and stopping the traffic. However, on two occasions in Wakefield and Swindon David has found card only fuel stations that were not only staff less but also customer less. Far be it for David to question the strategy of ‘Card Only’ fuel stations however it does seem odd that the two he has visited were in less affluent areas where perhaps only a small proportion of the people have a credit card.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Basingstoke Festival of Transport


With the Kelsey Media decision to merge The Classic Commercials Enthusiasts Show with The Tractor Show, David Hall looked for a new venue to widen the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals.
Having been to the Basingstoke Festival of Transport many years ago and had funeral referrals from people looking at his pictures, David, in May 2017 decided to renew his allegiance to the show which is held on The War Memorial Park in the middle of the Hampshire town. The Basingstoke Festival of Transport is run by The Thornycroft Society in recognition of the town being the manufacturing location of Thornycroft vehicles from 1897 to 1977.
David spoke to Tom Mansbridge in The Thornycroft Society to check that there would be no problems with the Leyland Beaver deck having an exhibition of 24 pictures from previous funerals. A phone call to John Bond established that the gates would be open at 0800 hours and David confirmed that he would be there around 0815 hours.

The Leyland Beaver left Bradford-on-Avon at 0600 hours on Sunday May 14th and the roads were very quiet. After collecting a paper from Popham Services on the A303, David was at the entrance gate in Crossborough Hill at 0810 hours, and the Leyland Beaver was one of the first lorries on site. Luckily the Marshall positioned the Beaver next to the walkway within the circle of stalls, selling everything from plants for gardens through to parts for vintage lorries. David looked up and saw that the line of portaloos was only 100 yards away and he envisaged that a good footfall of visitors would be passing the Leyland Beaver, and David wasn’t wrong.  Below are examples of the people who stopped to talk to David and take a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card.
Before the gates opened to the public at 1100 hours, a number of owners of vintage lorries came to see the 1950 Leyland Beaver, including John Doe from Ash who has a similar vehicle to David. John & David spoke about spare parts that are required to run Vintage Lorry Funerals.
One member of the public came forward to shake David’s hand, explaining that he had taken a picture of him in action in Dart Road in Farnborough in July 2015. David immediately recalled that it was Jamie Madden’s funeral, a very sad send off for a young man killed under his own car. The gentleman who took the picture explained that he used to work for the BBC and he promised to email David a picture, once he had been able to find it!
Later in the day one of the Funeral Bearers at Jamie Madden’s funeral came forward and introduced himself. He was a former Police Officer who had been trained to visit families to inform them that a close relative had been killed in a road crash and this empathetic skill set has proved most useful in the funeral world.
An elderly man with a white stick and a younger companion stopped to talk to David. The man was 93 and had previously worked at Thornycroft in the administration department. Once David understood that the gentleman was not partially sighted but totally blind, he took him by the hand and led him to the front of the Leyland Beaver. David then guided the man’s fingers over the chrome BEAVER letters and he spelt out, ‘ B E A..oh it’s a Beaver! There should be Leyland above it with wings either side.’ So David guided his hand further up the Radiator cover and the gentleman smiled. David asked if he could place a business card in the man’s top pocket suggesting that he should give it to someone who needs it. The elderly gentleman said, ‘That someone will be me.’

One lady looked at the Lone Range & Tonto on the replica 1950’s TV set and said ‘Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels.’
Roy from Kent and his mate John expressed an interest in how David uses reclaimed timber to create support structures for the Floral Tributes. David said that the most significant use of previously discarded material was the 1950 Leyland Beaver. David explained that lorries that had run up and down the country in the 1950’s were put off the road overnight in the 1960’s. Construction & Use legislation failed the ratchet hand-brake of the Leyland Beaver, the 7ft 6 inches wide deck was too narrow for sea going containers and the top speed of 30 mph was deemed too slow for the forth coming motorways. David said that one of the Leyland Beaver’s biggest perceived weaknesses in the 1960’s was now one of its greatest strengths as the 7ft 6 inch width is ideal for the gates of most cemeteries.
David was attempting to draw a comparison between Vintage Lorry Funerals and Motown Music where Berry Gordy had found a new use for Jazz Musicians whose heyday had been in the 1950’s. David said to Roy, ‘Everyone knows about Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye but most people have not got a clue with regards to who played the instruments.’ John then interjected, ‘ Dave, it was the Funk Brothers. Earl Van Dyke on piano, James Jamerson on bass, Benny Benjamin on drums, Robert White on guitar, Jazz Musicians in the 1950’s who were used by Motown to produce that unmistakeable sound. So Barry Gordy did the same as you did Dave taking something from the 1950’s that had been written off in the 1960’s and finding a new use that couldn’t have been evident at the time’ David thought that he couldn’t have put it better himself. John then explained that he was in a Rhythm & Blues band.
Roy told David that he worked for McLaren Racing and he agreed with David that he modern Racing Drivers weren’t the same standard as Jim Clark in the 1960’s and Juan Manuel Fangio in the 1950’s. Roy recalled how Fangio had arrived at the start of the 24 hour Le Mans race, where two drivers take shifts to drive one car, only to find that his Co- Driver had not arrived. So Fangio decided to drive non stop for 24 hours and he won the race because he saved time not having to stop to change drivers. His great weakness proved to be his greatest strength. David confirmed that this was also his understanding and when the hot sweat was dripping down Fangio’s back he pretended that it was cold water from an alpine stream. Roy said that it was all about mental strength and David explained that long distance funerals often involved him off-loading the coffin at the crematorium and then having an 8 hour drive home.  On the way home, David goes through towns during the evening rush hour, incurring the wrath of motorists and a total shift of 15 hours. David needs a touch of Fangio’s mental strength as the concentration during a 15 hour shift is immense. Imagine if you are going into work at 0900 hours and you are still there and about to leave at 2400 hours!

Bob Ledger spoke to David about his love of Leyland Lorries that he had driven in the 1970’s. So strong was his love for Leyland Lorries that his Mum knitted him a jumper with LEYLAND emblazoned across the chest. David asked if he could take his photograph for this blog and Bob asked if he could have a copy of the picture sent to him through the post as he didn’t have a computer. Bob offered to pay for the postage but David declined the offer saying that he would gladly do this once he had finished preparing for his next funeral.

The van parked in front of David bore the logo, Service, Civility and Satisfaction which was used on a local delivery vehicle from a village store in Hurstpierpoint. Civility is a word from the 1950’s which is seldom exhibited in today’s brash culture. However, David thought that the order was wrong, surely it should be Civility, Service and Satisfaction! 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Almost Three Steps from Heaven


At the beginning of April each year David Hall enters the 1950 Leyland Beaver in the C.T.P. (Commercial Transport in Preservation) Three Wiltshire White Horse Road Run which encompasses the White Horses at Westbury, Alton Barnes and Cherhill, on the A4, near Calne.

C.T.P. is an organisation for anyone interested in historic commercial vehicles, with meetings each month featuring talks from interesting speakers and 5 events each year when owners take their vehicle out on the road.
For David it provides an opportunity to spend a day with Stuart Smith, whose Father had his final journey on the Leyland Beaver two years ago. It is also an opportunity for members of the public to see the vintage vehicles on the road and sometimes coverage of the Road Run in the Wiltshire Times broadens the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals. David also likes to speak with fellow enthusiasts who run similar vehicles. Around 30 vehicles were on the 2017 Road Run ranging in size from a small Morris former Post Office van through to the gigantic Eight Wheeled Atkinson and Draw Bar Trailer, driven by Tony Thompson.

David also uses the Road Run to exhibit one of his funeral Themes and in 2017 it was a 1950’s TV Set with The Lone Ranger & Tonto on the screen.
David was first at the start point at Warminster and Mary Bailey, C.T.P. Events Organiser, is always pleased that David can create time between funerals to take part in Road Runs.
A number of vintage vehicles arrived and one member of the public complimented David on the cleanliness of the Leyland Beaver. The man said, ‘This Road Run is a fine opportunity for these vehicles to get out onto the roads once each year.’ David replied, ‘Actually my lorry is out and about 3 or 4 times each month’ and at the same time he handed the man a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card. The man was flabbergasted that he could have his final journey on the Leyland Beaver and he asked if he could keep the card, swiftly putting it into his wallet.
Stuart Smith arrived with his daughter Sara and they were pleased to see David again. Sara was worried that she had parked her car in the wrong place, which had been earmarked for Road Run vehicles by the C.T.P. Marshals, buzzing around in their hi-vis vests. David told Sara, in front of her Dad, not to worry about where the car was parked stressing, ‘Sara, a good looking woman is never parked in the wrong spot!’
The route involved going through small villages with very narrow streets and parked cars often providing obstacles. However, the biggest problems arose from inexperienced drivers who were unsure of the width of their cars. On a number of occasions David would pull into the side and invite oncoming cars to come through the gap, however, the inexperienced drivers would stop, unsure of what to do next. On one occasion a driver panicked, decided to reverse but stalled the car and then couldn’t easily start it again. The driver also had very poor reversing skills and eventually stopped forcing David to negotiate a tight gap, even narrower than the gap David had offered earlier to the driver. Stuart complimented David on his exemplary manners and demeanour towards other road users.

Stuart and David decided to stop for their sandwiches on the A4 in a lay-bye opposite Solsbury Hill and Stuart commented how lucky they were to find such a spot, saying, ‘People come from all over the world to park here and see this ancient burial mound’. Within 5 minutes a large Mercedes Benz pulled in front of the Leyland Beaver and out stepped a well dressed man in his 40’s and an olive skinned young lady, who showed interest in the lorry. She asked if she could take a picture and explained that in her homeland, Sri Lanka, similar lorries are still on the road. David gave the young lady a Vintage Lorry Funerals Business Card, explained the lorry’s use and invited her to look at the 1950’s TV Set Theme. David said that some of the words that Tonto said are still relevant 60 years on, like “White man speak with forked tongue”. The olive skinned young lady then looked very sternly at her companion and David felt guilty that he had stumbled on a sensitive area.
As Stuart and David were having their lunch David pointed out some of the changes he had made to the Leyland Beaver since Stuart was last in the cab. Included, was the picture of David’s Grandson, who sadly passed away aged 15 months on June 9th 2014, and the laminated picture of him smiling is now fixed above the windscreen on the right hand side of the wiper motor.
Coming through a wooded area just after Seend there was a massive bang with something falling from the sky and hitting the Leyland Beaver. It all happened very quickly with David and Stuart seeing a black & white flash in front of the windscreen. David couldn’t stop with a number of vintage lorries travelling behind the Leyland Beaver, so he pulled into the next lay-bye.
Four other vehicles followed David into the lay-bye and the drivers rushed to check that David was alright. An external inspection revealed that the cab was dented just above the windscreen.
Tony Thompson who was driving an Eight Wheeled Atkinson and Drawbar trailer knows David from him undertaking Tony mate’s funeral in Chichester. Tony is an Eddie Cochran look-a-like at night and Lorry Driver by day. Tony looked inside the Leyland Beaver cab and said, ‘Dave, I don’t know who the little boy is, but he must be your Guardian Angel. I saw what happened, a huge branch fell from a tree and hit the top of the cab. If you had been half a second slower the branch would have come through the windscreen and you wouldn’t be doing someone’s funeral next week, someone would be doing your funeral. Eddie Cochran used to sing about Three Steps to Heaven but you Dave were only three inches from Heaven.’
David remarked that it was just like being back in the 1950’s when it was common place for other Lorry Drivers to stop and investigate if they could be of any assistance to a Lorry Driver broken down by the side of the road.
At the end of the Road Run at Crockerton Retail Park David laid out on the deck of the lorry three magazines featuring Obituary Articles that he had written, ranging in size from a quarter of a page, half a page and a two page spread. David said that only one of the families had thanked him for getting the article into the magazine and he asked Stuart and Sara to select which article had generated a response from the family. Sara chose the magnificent two page spread, however, her Dad chose the smallest article and Stuart was correct.
Tony Thompson asked if David was alright and offered to polish out the mark the branch had made on the cab. There was a suggestion from Mary Bailey, C.T.P. Events Organiser that next year the April 2nd date for The Three White Horse Road Run may have to move until later in the month. David mentioned to Tony that the Road Run should be moved to the Sunday nearest April 17th and Tony agreed, suggesting a small detour to Rowden Hill in Chippenham and stopping at the Eddie Cochran memorial.
Eddie Cochran performed his last concert at the Bristol Hippodrome on Saturday April 16th 1960. On Easter Sunday April 17th Eddie was in a taxi on its way to Heathrow, however, the car crashed on a bend on Rowden Hill and spun around into a concrete lamp post. The injuries that Eddie suffered were fatal and he passed away at 1610 hours in St. Martins Hospital Bath with his girl friend Sharon Sheeley by his bedside.
On Monday April 3rd David’s wife washed and polished the lorry whilst David dismantled the Theme and prepared the deck for a minimalistic funeral in Westbury on Tuesday April 4th. It was amazing that during the Sunday Road Run the 1950 Leyland Beaver had been past Arthur W. Mays, Funeral Director, in Warminster Road, Westbury four times and David commented to Stuart that the narrow alleyway seemed to be getting narrower each time the lorry went past the entrance.

On the Tuesday Arthur W. Mays staff stopped the traffic and gave David all the time he needed to reverse to the end of the drive. Anthony handed over a cheque inside a blank envelope and David thanked him for the cheque and for not writing on the envelope, which would enable David to reuse it. David thought to himself that Arthur had taught his men well. Since this funeral, Arthur has sadly passed away and the business is now run by Simon and Anthony.
Whilst the Leyland Beaver was being paged into Semington Crematorium, Trevor Porter, Photographer, popped out from behind a tree and a picture of David behind the wheel appeared in the Wiltshire Times the following week.
The second funeral in April was for Fred Stevens Funeral Directors in Nailsworth and the Deceased was one of the Bearers who had assisted David when he last worked there in 2010.
The Deceased had been a Model Collector with over 630 model vehicles, never out of their boxes, stored on shelves in a temperature controlled room, from which light had been excluded. David created a replica Model Toy Box and the Family were delighted with his efforts.

Two days before the funeral, David became aware of a massive hole that had been dug, but not re-filled, on the roadway into the Funeral Directors. David believes in providing solutions not problems so he brought with him lengths of 4 x 4 inches timber and created a ‘raft’ so that the 68 year old lorry could gently descend into the hole and then to climb out of it. The Deceased was a very practical guy and David felt that he was looking down and smiling as David gently manoeuvred the Leyland Beaver over the problem area.
The Deceased’s Family came to the Funeral Directors to see their Dad on the vintage lorry and they wanted a photograph of his wife and children in front of the coffin. The Eldest Daughter was organising the photo-shoot when she sadly realised the battery was low on her mobile phone. David stepped forward and offered to help saying, ‘Can I be of any assistance? I have something in the cab called a camera!’ Everyone laughed and this provides a good example of how David uses self deprecating humour to create a distraction for grieving families on their darkest day.
The crematorium selected on this Easter Saturday was Westerleigh, near Bristol, and the journey involved travelling 35 miles mainly down the A46. The first challenge was the very steep hill out of Nailsworth, however, assertive driving at the roundabout in the town centre enabled David to slip the 68 year old lorry into top gear and the old girl cruised up the hill at 25 m.p.h. Getting cars past in the early part of the journey wasn’t difficult with little traffic volumes and the long straight stretches of this former Roman Road. However, when the A433 from Tetbury joins the road the traffic density was increased. With over 50 cars trapped behind the Leyland Beaver at 30 m.p.h. David opted to pull over into a long lay-bye to let the cars past. Twenty cars roared past but the Driver of a grey Range Rover saw that David was coming towards the end of the lay-bye, he flashed his head lights twice and invited the Leyland Beaver, which was still in top gear, back onto the carriageway. The Range Rover was driven by someone attending the funeral, and he followed the Leyland Beaver all the way to the crematorium.
The Range Rover Driver introduced himself to David after the service and explained that he was also a Lorry Driver. David said that he had deduced that from what he had done on the A46. Not only because he had flashed the Leyland Beaver out of the lay-bye but he had also demonstrated his knowledge of Lorry Drivers’ Signalling Code, which was prevalent in the 1950s ( Two Short Flashes means you come out, but one long flash means hold back because I’m coming through).
Also at the Crematorium was a Photographic Student who took numerous pictures, one of which is exhibited below. David is indebted to Kieran Wakefield for allowing his images to be used to develop the awareness of Vintage Lorry Funerals. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Leyland Beaver for a Funeral in Wells



On a Saturday afternoon David Hall got a call on his mobile from a family in Wells whose Dad had just passed away. David is always deeply moved when a family ring him first before contacting a Funeral Director. The funeral date couldn’t be advised as the death had not been registered yet as nothing can happen until the Death Certificate is produced.
The Funeral Director from Wells rang to say that they had a low archway. As the Leyland Beaver couldn’t get into their yard the Funeral Arranger suggested that the funeral should be transferred to a Funeral Director in the same group at Shepton Mallet, who had a sizeable yard. As the Deceased’s home was in Wells, David elected to use the Wells Funeral Director and sit on the Double Yellow Lines outside the location whilst he loaded the flowers and then move down to be opposite the archway when it was time to load the coffin.
The Floral Tributes were ‘DAD’, a ‘Horseshoe’, a 17 inch ‘Heart’, a ‘Polo Ring’, a Coffin Spray and a ‘Teardrop’. David designed a layout in which every Floral Tribute was visible and spoke to the three Florists involved regarding the measurements that he required. Mundys Florist in Radstock, who supplied the ‘Horseshoe’ were emailed a sketch of a horseshoe with key points being highlighted that needed to be measured. From the data supplied by Colin Mundy, David created a scaled diagram, a cardboard template and thence a wooden support structure that would be invisible behind the Floral Tribute. Very few people understand the time and effort David takes to get a Floral Tribute to appear to be floating in mid air.

David kept the Son of the Deceased updated as the build of the various support structures progressed and he replied, ‘I have complete confidence in what you are going to do and everyone is looking forward to seeing the results of your work.’
Two days before the funeral David asked the Funeral Arranger to put out cones north & south of the Double Yellow Lines on the assumption no one would park on the Double Yellow Lines. However, David’s rational was shattered when the Funeral Arranger said that she could not guarantee that no one would be on the Double Yellow Lines when David arrived.
In preparation of what to do if someone was parked on the Double Yellow Lines, David phoned Wells Police, who said it was the responsibility of the Council, who said it was the job of the Highways Department, who said it was the duty for the Police to lift a car off the street if it was causing an obstruction!
So David decided to follow his old Dad’s advice that ‘God helps them that helps themselves.’ David formulated a strategy of arriving early in Wells at around 0700 hours when most people were still in their beds and contractors working at houses on the High Street hadn’t yet arrived. Also in order to minimise the impact of fuel price increases, David tries, wherever possible, to use Food Retailer Sites. Most Retail Service Stations don’t welcome lorries that find turning in front of the shop to be a very tight manoeuvre. The best time to visit a Retail Service Station is just after it has opened for the day when there are no cars, only White Van Men. So David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0530 hours and rolled into Tesco Shepton Mallet at 0630 hours and was on the Double Yellow lines in Wells at 0715 hours.

To David’s surprise, the Funeral Arranger had left the cones on the Double Yellow Lines and not north or south of them as he had requested. He was baffled why the Funeral Arranger had protected the Double Yellow Lines as the law demands that no one should park on them and although it is sometimes misunderstood the owners of Disabled Blue Badges can only park on a Double Yellow Line for 3 hours maximum. Double Yellow Lines do allow unloading or loading to take place but not parking, so David was puzzled why the Funeral Arranger had protected a stretch of road that in his opinion didn’t need protecting. However, all became clear to David when the owner of the house situated beyond the archway into the Funeral Directors yard offered David a cup of tea. He told David that one Saturday night when he was going to take his Daughter to the airport, he found that someone had left their car on the Double Yellow Lines opposite the archway and this prevented him from getting his car out. The man had to call a taxi and bear the cost of taking his Daughter to the airport.
David’s overall strategy had worked as by 0815 hours a resident left for work and vacated the space up the hill from the Funeral Directors and David reversed the Leyland Beaver off the Double Yellow Lines. As David sat in his lorry waiting for the Funeral Arranger to arrive, he admired the view from the cab and thought that Wells was one of the most atmospheric places that he had visited with his vintage vehicle.

The Funeral Arranger arrived and was relieved that David had found the space he required and she told David about the problems she had encountered with cars being left overnight obstructing the Funeral Directors premises. On one night staff had collected a body from a local Care Home but couldn’t access their own premises due to inappropriate and illegal parking. On this occasion the Police were called and a Recovery Company lifted the car off the street during the night.
Wanting to post a letter David asked where the nearest post-box was, which turned out to be just down the street and only 100 yards from Wells Cathedral. David’s only regret was that he didn’t post the letter 5 minutes earlier as he could have witnessed an amazing spectacle. The Wells Cathedral Clock dates from 1390 and is the oldest working clock in the world. Every fifteen minutes inside the Cathedral two figures from the 14th or 15th century strike a bell with a hammer and on the outside two rings of jousting knights appear to be charging at each other some 100 feet above the ground. The clock was wound by hand for over 100 years by descendants of Paul Fisher a Jeweller and Horologist in the town.
The Son of the Deceased had originally intended to travel in the cab with David, however, at the last moment he declined as he was needed in the limousine to comfort his Mum. So a gentleman from Liverpool, called ‘Scouser Steve’, travelled with David from the house in Wells to Shepton Mallet Crematorium. As David changed gear Steve smiled and his eyes lit up as the sound and smell from the Leyland 600 engine reminded him of the happy times he had spent with his own Dad, travelling in a Leyland Octopus along the East Lancs A580 Road in the early 1960’s.

After the service the Son of the Deceased shook David’s hand and thanked him for his professionalism and his attention to detail. Unbeknown to David the funeral was videoed for Somerset Live and was posted on the internet which is one of the best marketing opportunities that Vintage Lorry Funerals had been involved with that had not been initiated by David.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A Funeral in Bath



Vintage Lorry Funerals first funeral in Bath was an emotional send off for a well respected man and over 600 people attended, which is documented in the Blog September 2017. Unbeknown to David, his second funeral in Bath would attract a similar sized crowd at Haycombe Crematorium.
The second funeral in Bath was for the largest Funeral Director in the City and often when visiting Bath with his wife, David would contemplate how he would manage the logistics if he was ever asked to undertake a funeral from their small yard.
David took a phone call from a Funeral Arranger who he had known from her days working in Bristol. Kim was excellent in providing the details of the funeral, including the timings and the Family’s decision that there would be no flowers. Kim advised that the vintage lorry needed to be with them by 1330 hours, however, she provided no information on why the Deceased’s Family had chosen the vintage lorry.
The 1950 Leyland Beaver is based in a garage behind David’s home, however, the street which leads to the main road can become gridlocked with cars being deposited at inappropriate places by people needing to catch a train to Bath. Obstructive Parking has prevented Emergency Vehicles getting up the street and on one occasion an elderly lady fell at home, broke her hip, and the Ambulance couldn’t get near her house. Sadly the lady had to be carried down the street and this event led to David galvanising the neighbours to demand Double Yellow Lines. The concept has been approved, however, it takes time for action to take place so, until Double Yellow Lines are installed, David will leave the street before 0730 hours.
David was left with a conundrum, where to park the vintage lorry in Bath, a historic city with Roman Baths and elegant Georgian properties but with limited parking opportunities for any vehicle larger than a car. David spoke to the Bath Spa Hotel, one of the most prestigious hostelries in the city, frequented by famous clientele such as Joan Collins. To David’s surprise the Receptionist was most friendly and offered parking for the vintage lorry whilst David could have his morning coffee, however, she omitted to mention the £15 parking fee.
The solution involved David contacting Paul Dallenty, a Funeral Director based in Twerton, the less affluent part of the city. Paul gave David his first funeral in Bath and was delighted to help, highlighting the opportunity to park in the Bath City Football Club car park or else in front of his shop. David opted for the second suggestion as he saw a way to promote potential future business for both Paul and himself.
David arrived in the Leyland Beaver at 0730 hours only to find that a Double Decker Bus had parked in the space in front of Paul Dallenty’s shop. The Bus was waiting for School Children and the Bus Driver was very interested in the vintage lorry, taking pictures with his tablet. Then some of the children got off the Bus and took pictures with their cameras.
Sue Hart, of Paul Dallenty Funerals, was extremely kind and held up the traffic whilst David turned the vintage lorry in the street. She then parked her car to prevent anyone leaving a car in front of the lorry which would have created a difficulty for the lorry to leave later in the day. Sue then invited David to sit in the Dallenty Office where he wrote his next blog by the heat of the 3 bar electric fire. The warmth of Sue’s hospitality and the warmth of the office were most welcome on this bitterly cold February day.
David left Twerton at 1315 hours and proceeded to the Funeral Director where he was scheduled to collect the coffin. There were no flowers for the funeral, so David decided to arrive only 30 minutes before the cortege was due to depart, because it wasn’t possible to get into the yard due to the volume of parked cars. The only place available was very close to the Funeral Directors wall and then to encourage those drivers wanting to pass, to mount the kerb.

A number of people walked past and commented how clean the lorry looked and how fitting it was for someone’s final journey. Whilst a Mother was talking to David, her Daughter used her mobile phone to load up the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and asked David about the most interesting Themes he had created. David described some Themes that were related to TV shows, like a 1950’s TV Set with The Lone Ranger & Tonto on the screen or his working model of Del Boy falling through the bar from Only Fools & Horses.
As this was the hub of the Funeral Directors operation, there were a number of coffins in the despatch area and David asked which was the one that he was about to load. Approaching the coffin indicated, David became alarmed that someone had left some old rags on top of the coffin and he admonished the staff for not treating the coffin with respect. One of the Funeral Director’s Staff started to chuckle saying, ‘that ain’t rubbish Dave, that’s to go with the coffin, the Deceased was a Painter & Decorator.’

As the Leyland Beaver descended the hill down to the crematorium it became evident that Deceased was a much loved and well respected man, because over 400 mourners were outside the chapel. David gave the Family Bearers instructions how to receive the coffin and as the Deceased was being raised onto their shoulders the ‘Only Fools & Horses’ Theme tune played, much to the delight of most people in the crowd. Although David appeared calm, he was raging inside because had he known more about the Deceased he could have created his ‘Only Fools & Horse’ Theme with the working model, of the counter being lifted, Del Boy falling through the bar and then springing back up again. Two of the Deceased’s Workmates declined to go into the service and decided to talk to David about his lorry. They understood David’s disappointment at not having any contact with the Family.
The men confirmed that the Deceased’s Family would have loved to see Del Boy falling through the bar and that the extra £150 would not have been a problem, they said they would have paid £75 each to see what David had described. David shook his head and said, ‘I have a limited number of skills but being a clairvoyant isn’t one of them, and if a Funeral Director doesn’t give me access to the Family how was I supposed to know that the Deceased liked Del Boy. I hate to leave a crematorium knowing that I could have done more for a Family.’

One of the men then asked, ‘Have you ever had a whole family on your lorry, you know two coffins together and then another one or two rows.’ David looked at the man and said, ‘Do you mean loading coffins side by side?’ The man nodded and David turned to the Funeral Director who had conducted the funeral and asked, ‘Why is it that a member of the public can visualise coffins side by side but people in the funeral industry can’t? David went on, ‘It is because when there are multiple bodies for a funeral a Funeral Directors eyes light up, as more coffins mean more hearses.’
The Funeral Director said that wouldn’t happen in his company, however, he accepted that David’s comments would apply to most Funeral Directors.