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.