Sunday, 31 March 2019

A sign of the times for a Redfield Funeral


David received a phone call from a lady in Bristol whose father had passed away. The Deceased, like David Hall, was a member of Commercial Transport in Preservation, a club with over 130 members nationwide with an interest in vintage vehicles, and the Deceased’s expressed wish was that his final journey should be in his CTP Jumper on the back of Vintage Lorry Funerals Leyland Beaver.
David had known the Deceased, who used to buy and sell Models from a stall erected at the finish point of the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Road Run and he had amassed a wonderful collection of models, enamel signs, motoring memorabilia and mugs at his home. The Deceased had been a Window Dresser for Horne Brothers Menswear and his skill-set in arranging items was very evident in how each model or sign was exhibited in the hallway and conservatory of his home.
In thinking how David could personalise the funeral, he envisaged that a 3ft x 3 ft Shell Retail sign would look good in front of the coffin and he knew where he could borrow one, as Michael Moore, from Steeple Ashton, had previously lent David one for a funeral in Fleet in 2007. The Daughter of the Deceased was delighted with the concept that David had described, however, her Mum would be happy with anything that David did, because his beautiful lorry was all that she had expected. David has rang Michael a number of times over the years and he is part of the Vintage Lorry Funerals Support Team, however, sadly on this occasion he couldn’t help because two months ago someone broke into Michael’s garage and stole the Shell Retail Sign and other petrol memorabilia.

Not wanting to disappoint the Daughter of the Deceased David rang around his network of contacts. Jim Pethers, a landscape Gardener, who has helped David many times said that he would have loved to have made available an Esso Sign that hung on his garage door, however, someone had stolen it earlier in the year. David was scratching his head wondering who could help him and he rang Alex Mathews of Norton Garden Machinery, Kilmersdon, on the off chance that Alex may know if any of his customers collected signs. Alex said that they had a Briggs & Stratton sign in the loft that had lain there for over 30 years and David could use it if he didn’t mind cleaning it up.
The obvious solution would have been to use a sign from the Deceased’s collection, however, the Widow was living away from home and no one could access any items from the amazing collection. So David sent an email featuring the picture of the Briggs & Stratton sign which was 3ft x 2 ft and asked what she thought. As this was a small engine company sign which wasn’t in the Deceased’s collection, the Daughter was a little reluctant at first, however, she suggested that David should get some pictures of petrol signs from the internet and put these either side of the Briggs & Stratton sign.
David’s wife found Shell & Nation Benzole Petroleum signs, enlarged them to the appropriate size and Tech Office in Trowbridge laminated the signs. The layout was designed so that the Shell & Nation Benzole signs would appear to be floating unsupported as if they were at a petrol station in the distance, a bright light ahead on a lonely dark road.

It may seem ridiculous to some that David leaves for a funeral in Bristol about the same time he would leave for one in Birmingham, however, the traffic in Bristol becomes gridlocked from 0715 hours. David’s strategy is always to beat the traffic and be parked at Redfield by 0615 hours as he had done previously in two funerals he had undertaken from the site in 2002 & 2011. The staff members at the Funeral Director were good and Terry has been involved in all three funerals, he was formerly a Mobile Crane Driver for Sparrow so he knew all about David’s Leyland Beaver. Terry was also impressed with David’s CTP Jumper, which the Deceased’s Daughter had asked David to wear and Terry knew it was the same as the Deceased was wearing before the coffin lid was secured.
David elected to reverse into the Holy Trinity Church car park off the busy A420 road and had made arrangements with members of CTP to stop the traffic. David started to prepare the coffin for unloading when he was approached by the Widow who insisted on shaking David’s hand telling him that he lorry looked lovely. Wanting to concentrate 100% on his role as a Carriage Master David normally doesn’t like any distractions, however, he made an exception in this case and it was a moment that he will remember for ever.

The final destination was Westerleigh Crematorium and David had been there 7 times before and when he entered the site he signalled that he was intending to take the first exit at the roundabout, however, the Funeral Director shouted, ‘No, no Dave, go straight across we are heading for the new Woodland Chapel.’ David quickly realised that Westerleigh had created an additional facility in their car park that included a chapel and the Willow Tree CafĂ©. However, as David approached the porte cochere he noticed that the roadway was narrower and the turning tighter than the main chapel and the only way that he could access the covered area was to put one wheel on the grass. Once the Leyland Beaver was under the canopy it was evident that David needed to be as close to the supporting posts as possible to create space to off load the coffin. Terry stepped forward and guided David to where he needed to be, he even offered to stay until after the service to help David get out of the covered area.

One week after the funeral David received a cheque from the Widow as a gratuity and a card which said, ‘Congratulations on the wonderful condition of your vehicle. I enclose a small cheque towards the cost of the upkeep.’
David returned the Briggs & Stratton sign to Norton Garden Machinery in a slightly cleaner state than he had collected it. Whilst he was there one of the customers commented that his Daughter-in-Law, who lives in New York, had given up her job to concentrate on buying and selling old enamel signs and she makes a good living!’
Apparently the Briggs & Stratton Sign is thought to be worth $400 and the current trend of people in Wiltshire stealing signs to fulfil a demand is sadly a sign of the times.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Leyland Beaver for a Bolton Funeral


David received a phone call from a lady in Bolton who wanted the Leyland Beaver for her Dad’s final journey. The Deceased’s main interest was restoring cars and he was working on a VW Camper when ill health stopped the progress of the restoration. Given that most of the discussion with the Family was about the VW Camper Van, David was surprised that his 69 year old lorry was chosen rather than the VW Camper Hearse which is based closer to Bolton and would possibly have been cheaper.
In his desire to personalise the funeral David asked for any pictures they had of the Deceased that could be enlarged and placed on the headboard. Instead of sending a head & shoulders picture as requested, most of those that were sent were of the Deceased working on cars and eventually his Wedding picture was sent which proved to be ideal. David’s wife cropped it to size and Andy Walder of Tech Office enlarged and laminated it. When David collected the laminated picture Andy asked, ‘I didn’t realise that you were taking Tom Selleck on your lorry!’

The only Floral Tribute was an 18 inch ‘Heart’ and Gaynor, the Florist, was most helpful describing the Floral Tribute which helped David decide how best to secure it so that it would appear to float. The Florist was only 50 yards from the Funeral Director and it was agreed that Gaynor would deliver the Floral Tribute direct to David’s lorry. The Funeral Director explained that the Deceased would be at the family home and as the Family had paid David direct he should go to the house as soon as the ‘Heart’ had been loaded and spend time there.
As soon as a family has booked the lorry then a detailed planning operation takes place. With Bolton being over 200 miles from Bradford-on-Avon David planned to travel the day before the funeral and park the Leyland Beaver undercover as near as possible to the Funeral Directors. David has an arrangement with Kwik Fit which allows him to park the vintage lorry overnight before a funeral and luckily David’s wife spotted a Kwik Fit in Manchester Road with a cost effective B&B within 50 yards, ‘What more could a man ask for?’, David thought.
A week before the funeral the weather forecast changed and a storm labelled, ‘The Beast from the East’ was scheduled to hit Britain with heavy snow being predicted across the Pennines. Given the risk of snow David decided to equip the Leyland Beaver ready for winter conditions and placed his ‘back-box’ on the rear of the deck. This structure adds weight onto the drive axle and this is supplemented by 9 cubic feet of 4 inch by 4 inch and 8 inch by 2 inch timbers. Also in the ‘back-box’ is equipment to assist the lorry cope with heavy snow and icy conditions and the list includes shovels, road grit, mats and rolls of stair carpet.
The detailed planning for a trip includes where the lorry should be refuelled and where David can pick up a copy of the Times which he buys with a voucher each day solely for the Football and the Sudoku puzzles. David noticed that a Newsagent was next door to Gaynor’s Florist’s shop and David asked Gaynor to pop next door and ask if the owner would take the Times voucher and if a paper could be reserved for him to collect on the morning of the funeral.
The Leyland Beaver had previously been to Horwich on the West side of Bolton and so most of the route planning had already been done for the trip to Farnworth on the East side of Bolton. The old girl knew her way through Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stone, Holmes Chapel, Knutsford and Warrington. When David joined the East Lancs A580 road for a short time he remembered being on that road in the 1950’s riding in the passenger seat of a Leyland Beaver bound for Liverpool to collect animal feed. David arrived at Kwik Fit around 1700 hours and he was surprised that the Manager, Wes, was much younger than he had imagined and that he was a Jamie Vardy look-a-like. David walked to the Highgrove B&B and Debbie, the Manager, was very friendly and gave him a quiet room. David was very lucky to find space in this B&B which costs £39 per night, including a cooked breakfast as most of the rooms are block booked by contractors working locally or Travelling Salesmen visiting companies in Bolton. Debbie’s husband had been a Lorry Driver in the 1960’s and she moved a few residents around to accommodate David because he was involved in a funeral. The room was basic but clean and being called Highgrove caused David to smile as he doubted whether Charles or Camilla had ever crossed the threshold. Debbie advised David to go to Wetherspoons where he would get a cost effective meal and she wasn’t wrong. With a promotion, the price for a main meal, a pudding and a Coca Cola was less than £10 and this location was less than 100 yards from the B&B.
David looked at the weather forecast before he went to bed, heavy snowfall was expected in Farnworth in the morning but David had no fears that the Leyland Beaver would cope with any conditions and he slept soundly. David awoke to find 4 inches of snow had landed, the main road was black, however, the side roads were reminiscent of a Christmas Card scene. Debbie had the radio on as she made the breakfasts, one gentleman was listening intently as he was planning to drive to Sheffield, however, as Debbie brought the cooked breakfast she whispered in David’s ear, ‘You’ll have no problems with the old lorry in the snow’.
Wes at Kwik Fit got one of the lads to come in early to get David away before 0815 hours as rush hour conditions would mean 4 miles may take 45 minutes. David eventually got to the Funeral Directors at 0915 hours and the traffic was still gridlocked. David stopped on the main road and asked the driver behind him to hold back the traffic whilst he reversed into the side road. David drove into the other lane, stopped the traffic and everyone was patient as the 1950 Leyland Beaver spun round onto the virgin snow on the side road. Initially everything was going well, then David spotted a car in his wing mirror coming quickly towards him. The car driver then started to flash the headlights and use the horn. David stopped, went to the back of the lorry and found a woman who was shouting at him, with every other word being an expletive. She was annoyed that the lorry was stopping her getting out of the street and she drove over the pavement to get round, much to the annoyance of the drivers stopped on the main road, who had been exceptionally patient. 

Just about this time Gaynor arrived with the ‘Heart’ which David immediately fixed in place. David asked if Gaynor had spoken with the Newsagent and she said she had, but didn’t think that he would be of any help. Gaynor apologised for the behaviour of the woman driver and said that her attitude was typical for the area. Sheila, the Funeral Director overheard David talking to Gaynor about the Times and she commented ‘You won’t get a Times newspaper in this area, not in the Newsagent, nor in Lidl, you may get one in Tesco.’  Something told David to try the Newsagent and he entered the small shop, no one was in it apart from a small Asian man behind the counter. David asked if he had the Times and if he would take the voucher. The man said, ‘There is only one Times in the rack which has been specially ordered for a man who is working at the Funeral Directors today.’ David said, ‘I am that man,’ and he took the Times out of the rack, left the voucher on the counter as the Asian man looked quizzically at a man with a black beret who spoke with a North East accent, not what he was expecting, no doubt.
David drove towards the house on untreated side roads, however, the Leyland Beaver being 5.5 tons gripped the loose snow. The family had cleared the snow away in front of their house and invited David in for a cup of tea. The Daughter of the Deceased told David that the coffin was in the house, the coffin lid was off and asked if he would have any problems. David said, ‘No problem,’ and he had a flashback to the 1950’s when it was commonplace for the Deceased to rest at home the night before their funeral. Coming from a simple two up two down house, despite the cramp conditions overall, the front room was never used and kept for Christmas Day, Weddings and Funerals. So the front room was the place where the Deceased would lie in the coffin with the curtains closed, mirrors turned backwards so that you couldn’t see your own grief, David would be invited to go in on his own as a young child, say his goodbyes and gently kiss the Deceased on the forehead.

So as David crossed the threshold he was expecting to turn left into the front room, however, he was invited into the back room where everyone was and the Deceased lay in his coffin with his Grandchildren playing on the floor beneath and around him. David took off his Beret as a mark of respect and told the Deceased that he would take good care of him whilst he was on the lorry. The widow gave David an envelope with pictures of the Deceased restoring the VW Camper and as he sipped his tea David thought it was an honour to be invited into the house, however, he sensed that not all Carriage Masters would be comfortable with this situation.
Getting into Overdale Crematorium wasn’t easy due to mourners parking cars near and opposite the entrance and only because of the tremendous lock did the Leyland Beaver get through the gates and other large vehicles would not have been able to make the turn.
David left the crematorium at 1330 hours and was back home by 2300 hours despite refuelling at Morrison’s on the A579 and J P Nicholls in Tewkesbury. The trick to the 9.25 hours driving time was hitting Wolverhampton just before the start of the rush hour.
The following day David spoke with David Eccles, the Editor of VW Camper & Commercials Magazine who was happy to accommodate an Obituary article and David asked David Eccles if he would add,
 ‘If anyone can help the family to finish the restoration, or suggest any help with how the family might set about it, please contact me on editor@volkswagencamper.co.uk and I will pass the information to the family.’
The Family wanted the VW restored so that the Widow could go touring with her dogs, and the whole family were extremely pleased with everything David had done for them.
During the next two days Britain was badly affected by heavy snow and high winds had caused drifting with some major roads being blocked, like the A46 north of Bath. Traffic movements were affected almost as bad as in 1964, however, there was a lot less snow and David wondered if the problems were caused by local councils cutting back on gritting and snow plough costs. In the modern era Articulated Lorries are hopeless on hills with little weight on the drive axle they get stuck on any slight incline, cars get trapped behind and snow ploughs can’t get near the problem areas to clear the roads. In 1950’s and 1960’s the world was very different. Most large haulage companies operated trunking services with lorries like Leyland Octopus eight wheelers and trailers running over night between major conurbations. These lorries were good on snowy roads with plenty of weight over the double drive axles and these regular trunk services used to keep the roads open. In addition local farmers were paid to put snow ploughs in front of their tractors and instructed to work through the night to keep a certain section of an A-Road clear.          

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Football Connections are crucial in Keynsham


David Hall’s Daughter developed a love of football at a very early age and played for a boys team in Bradford-on-Avon until she was 10 years old. She was a skilled two footed player who could read the game and became an outstanding tough tackling defender. When she finished year 5 at the Junior School she was banned from playing in a mixed team and after her final game in the boys team it was the boys who were crying because they knew they had lost their best player.
In today’s world a 10 year old girl would have no problem joining an Under 11 Ladies Football Club and most villages have a flourishing female football forum. However, back in the early 1990’s there were only a limited number of female football teams in Britain and David struggled to find a team locally for his Daughter to play competitive football games.
Luckily David heard about Keynsham Super Strikers, based 22 miles from Bradford-on-Avon at the grounds of Keynsham Town Football Club. There was a long journey to get to the training sessions each Saturday morning, taking the ‘southern ring road’ around Bath. Every time David and his Daughter passed Hilliers Garden Centre David used to say, ‘if we had a £10 note for every time we passed here,’ and his Daughter would reply, ‘we would be millionaires Dad’.
As there were only a limited number of female teams in the South West, Keynsham Super Strikers had to go on long distance journeys for competitive fixtures in towns as far afield as Totnes, Barnstable and South Moulton. In the early 1990’s a lot of David’s weekend activities were involved with football and Keynsham seemed to be at the centre of his world.
During the early 2000’s David and two of his mates, Ian Greatbanks and Kevin Beilby, ran Bristol Rovers Women’s A Team and this management team achieved an unprecedented 19 game unbeaten run, which has never been repeated. The skill sets of the three individuals complemented each other:-
  • Ian used his management skills to get the best out of the players.
  • Kevin, a technically gifted former Footballer, used to create interesting training routines.
  • David’s main role was to provide 5 minutes entertainment, helping the girls to relax before the game.

During the 2010’s David, Ian and Kevin gave up their football involvement but each December they meet up in The Ship Inn at Keynsham for an evening to reflect on the past and to update each other on developments in the past 12 months. Ian and Kevin often recount David’s best 5 minutes which was judged as being in Swindon when David gave a rendition of The Rolling Stones ‘Not Fade Away’ changing the lyrics to fit Rovers A team beating Swindon Spitfires. Ian and Kevin argue about what was best, David’s harmonica playing or the words he had constructed!

The ladies were often transfixed by some of David’s thoughts as being a distant relative of Bob Paisley, the former Liverpool FC Manager, he could pass on some gems from the great man:-
  • Retain possession, if we have the ball they can’t score.
  • Long ball, short ball, it doesn’t matter as long as it is a good ball.
  • You have never won the League until the medal is in your hand.

Every Christmas on his journey to The Ship Inn David passes Funeralcare in Keynsham and seeing the vintage hand bier in the window he often said to himself, ‘One day I’ll get a job with my lorry from that branch.’ Each year David sends a Christmas Card to Sue Hole and Sue Beint and the two Sues welcome David’s call each November to check that everything is the same or if anyone has changed their surname since last Christmas.
Fast forward to 2018, Sue Hole rang David regarding a funeral from Keynsham to Haycombe Crematorium. David did his normal due diligence in checking out the loading facilities using Google Street View and saw that a common entrance seemed to exist between Funeralcare and the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses. David was concerned about the road being blocked by people badly parking cars. David spoke to Sue Hole and she explained that building work was taking place around the entrance and that it was best for him to come and judge the facilities for himself.
David decided to take his wife with him to give her a trip out which would include a cup of coffee in Keynsham. David knew that a large Tesco store was behind Funeralcare and he planned to park in the car park and get some groceries from the Tesco store. The first thing that David found was that he couldn’t turn right towards Tesco due to the road layout being changed and he had to go into the Kwik Fit car park, turn around, go back to the roundabout and then left towards Tesco. As David drove towards Tesco he couldn’t believe what he was seeing because the Kingdom Hall had gone, the place was a huge building site with equipment blocking the entrance into the Funeralcare yard. David then tried to park his car in the car park but initially couldn’t because it was gridlocked by people reversing out of a space but the people on the road having no space to let them out. David wife said, ‘You always say that you should reverse into a space but drive out!’ As David and his wife approached the Funeralcare entrance he could see that the builders had erected steel wired fencing which was restricting the width of the Funeralcare drive. David said to his wife, ‘I’m in for a Missouri Boat Ride when I come here next Wednesday.’ His wife asked, ‘Are you going to get Funeralcare to sort out the problem?’ David replied, ‘No I’m going to speak with the bloke over there with the hi-vis jacket as he seems to be the Site Forman.’
David introduced himself, handed over a business card and explained how he needed to get his lorry into Funeralcare’s yard the following Wednesday. The Site Forman explained that he was contracted to do the groundwork for a block of flats and although he was polite he was obviously distracted by calls on his mobile that related to his project. From the limited words which the Site Forman spoke, David detected a slight scouse accent.
David asked the Site Forman, ‘Which part of the Pool do you come from?’
When the Site Forman said ‘Anfield’, David could see a way to gain his help.
David shook his hand and said, ‘You don’t know me, but you will know a distant relative of mine, Bob Paisley.’ The Site Forman’s face lit up.
The Site Forman introduced himself as David Mullen, provided his landline and mobile numbers, and asked what help David required. David Mullen then offered to:-
  • Stop all work on the site when David arrived with the Leyland Beaver.
  • Use his men to stop the traffic entering or leaving Tesco.
  • He would guide the Leyland Beaver back into the Funeralcare yard.

David Hall phoned David Mullen the day before the funeral and David Mullen explained that the project had moved on and concrete was being poured on the Wednesday, however, he would ask the driver to make an early start so that the vintage lorry would get into Funeralcare. He told David Hall not to worry as he would help him.
Now that Double Yellow Lines had been introduced in David’s street, for the first time in 16 years David could have a lie in, have his breakfast and leave for the funeral at 0900 hours after the school rush had subsided. Previously David always had to get his lorry out of the street prior to 0700 hours in case of obstructive parking preventing the vintage lorry getting onto the main road, which meant that he went to bed early the night before a funeral. Many a night he would watch the first half of a football match on the TV before getting into the bath, however, for this Keynsham funeral he watched the whole game in which Swansea beat Notts County 8-1 in an FA Cup game and Nathan Dyer, who went to the same school as David’s Daughter, scored twice.
David was out of his comfort zone leaving at 0900 hours, however, he found the motorists on the A36 quite happy to sit behind the Leyland Beaver trundling along at 32 miles per hour. David got through Bath in 10 minutes and pulled into Keynsham slightly earlier than he had previously indicated. David approached Tesco Car Park from the Bristol Road entrance and as he turned the corner he was horrified to see that the cement mixer was still there and was occupying the space that David needed to turn right into the Tesco Car Park before reversing back into the Funeralcare yard. David spoke to David Mullen who asked if David could still get into the Tesco Car Park even though the cement mixer was in his way. David said that the lorry had an amazing lock and he would make an attempt. David Mullen got two men to stop the traffic and he wished David all the best.

When the men told him that the coast was clear, David put the vintage lorry in the lowest gear and as he pulled along side the cement mixer he assessed the task. He had to turn the old girl through 90 degrees in a distance of less than 20 feet and he had to watch that he didn’t hit the cement mixer, sign post or any car. As the Leyland Beaver edged forward on tick-over David applied full right lock as quickly as possible and then it was like watching everything in slow motion with the Beaver spinning on a sixpence and the sign post was near the corner of the cab and the rear off-side tyre was dangerously close to the corner of a car. Miraculously David got the lorry around into Tesco Car Park without hitting anything or anyone, as pedestrians were taking no notice of the Builders who were controlling the traffic.
Reversing back into the Funeralcare yard wasn’t a walk in the park because the builders had put a kink in the steel wired fence which introduced a pinch point of less than 8ft wide. David had to put in a shunt and the fence was extremely close as the Leyland Beaver, which is 7 ft 6 inches wide, went through the gap.
Sue Hole and Steve Coke were delighted that David had got into their yard. David said, ‘Normally when I get into a Funeral Director’s yard I’m then relaxed because I know that I will be able to get out, however, that may not apply today.’ David asked Steve Coke to allow 10 minutes to leave the site in case equipment had to be moved. David said, ‘Steve it will either take 10 minutes or two minutes.’ Sue Hole said, ‘Dave it will only take you two minutes because you are an excellent driver.’
David spoke to a number of the Builders and arranged for the fence to be straightened and although there was much activity whilst David was loading the flowers and soon as 1145 hours came the place was like the deck of the Mary Celeste. David got out of the yard without a problem and Steve was impressed with the performance of the Leyland Beaver on the big hills leading to Haycombe Crematorium, in fact the cortege arrived 15 minutes early.
The route from the house to the crematorium had involved going past The Ship Inn and David recounted that his football connections had been invaluable on this funeral.