Wednesday, 31 July 2019

A Funeral in Barnton Part One (Preparation)

David Hall received an email from a Funeral Director in Crewe requesting a price for a funeral in Northwich, however, before David provides a price he undertakes detailed research regarding the location of the Funeral Home, family house and crematorium or cemetery. The Funeral Director worked for a large company with many locations throughout Britain and it was very difficult to speak with him as he was always conducting a funeral. After speaking to two helpful ladies David eventually found out that the funeral was not in Northwich but Barnton just outside Northwich and a lady called Claire confirmed that the funeral would be departing from her location, but she had no further details as she had no contact with the family.
It transpired that this large company had decided to make the Funeral Director the sole point of contact with the family, which David felt was wrong. The normal situation is that a Funeral Director may request a price but all other details are with the Funeral Arranger, whose prime function is to arrange the funeral. David had to accept the situation, which was far from ideal and sent an email to the Funeral Director with a guideline price.
Nothing was received back from the Crewe Funeral Director and David thought that the opportunity had gone, however, after three days David received an email to say that the family were considering using the lorry but a date had not been finalised. Some two days later, David received a short email from the Funeral Director specifying the date and time of the funeral. No one ever told David that he had got the job, he just had to infer it from the email!
So David had the location of the Funeral Home and the crematorium together with the time and if David was a normal Carriage Master he would have had all that he would need. However, unlike other Carriage Masters who just arrive with their vehicle, load the coffin and stuff the flowers around the coffin, David’s main aim is to personalise a funeral using the flowers to create an eye-catching display with perhaps a picture of the Deceased somehow incorporated.
It was the Tuesday before the August Bank Holiday and David knew that he had to have all the information he required before the end of Thursday. Friday would the last working day, given that Monday was a holiday and that the Tuesday needed to be a day of rest to prepare for the 180 miles journey to Barnton on the Wednesday.
The Funeral Arrangers at Barnton Claire and Pat were very good, however, it was difficult for them to pull information from Rob, the Funeral Director, because he was always focusing on the funeral he was conducting at that time, rather that arranging a funeral some days in the future. David couldn’t understand it, in his simple mind a Funeral Director is there to conduct a funeral and Funeral Arrangers should be there to arrange them. He told Claire and Pat that in his experience he has met only one Funeral Director who retains all the contact with the family and does the dual role successfully and that is Catherine Benefield in Bristol. Catherine conducts funerals up to 1600 hours and then arranges future funerals in the evening and if she receives an email she will answer it the same day irrespective of the time of day. Catherine always gives David a contact number for the family and from this everything flows, the Florist is contacted, the detail of the flowers is established and a design emerges.
David had no problems with Rob personally, it was just the position he was placed in. David believes that in some situations a Funeral Director may be the first person to meet a family, say if a home visit was required and the family lived in a remote farm building. However, when David found the location of the family home he reckoned it was only walking distance from the Funeral Home and this fact was proved on the day of the funeral when the Funeral Director paged the lorry from the Funeral Home to the house.
The deadline of 1630 hours on Thursday passed with no information received and whilst he was waiting for details of the Florist and a picture of the Deceased he did some research on the area He found that less than a mile from the house was the Anderton Boat Lift, built in 1875 to transfer barges from the River Weaver up through a height of 50 feet to the Mersey and Trent Canal. David had longed to see this piece of Victorian Engineering since he was a little boy and he felt it would be wonderful if he could fit in a visit on Wednesday afternoon the day before the funeral. Ideally David wanted to get a picture of his Leyland Beaver in front of the Boat Lift, however, detailed research proved that it was not possible to get the lorry close to the structure. In looking at Google Maps David spotted that Anderton Concrete was situated just across the wharf from the Boat Lift and he envisaged that a good picture could be stage from their yard.

David rang the Anderton Concrete switch-board and spoke with a young lady, telling her what he did with his lorry and how he wrote a blog about interesting people he had met on his travels or the interesting places he had seen. David told her, ‘You won’t get anything more interesting than that marvellous piece of Victorian Engineering behind you.’ She told him that she would speak with the Manager and get back to David as soon as she had any information. Within 15 minutes David received a phone call advising that he could bring his lorry on site provided it was after 1600 hours and that he was wearing a hard hat, hi-vis jacket, steel toe cap boots and goggles. David was also given the mobile number of the Yard manager Rob Green so that he could ring Rob on the Tuesday to finalise arrangements.
David felt it was amazing that people who were supposed to help you couldn’t and people who had no reason to help you, stepped up to the plate.
Luckily on the Friday afternoon David received an email from Claire detailing the mobile number of the Daughter of the Deceased and he immediately phoned Kate. Kate took the call and was happy to speak with David and within 15 minutes he received pictures of her Dad, Ted. David was told how Ted had been influenced by pictures of starving, head shaved, terminally ill Romanian orphans that had appeared on TV News Reports in the 1990’s. Whereas, most people were horrified by these images, Ted decided to do something about it. Ted, a Tanker Driver, took early retirement from ICI, hired a Tractor & Trailer and undertook 15 trips to Romania taking out building materials, spending up to a month there helping to create an Orphanage before returning for the next load. Kate also told David that Ted was one of ten children and he had nine Sisters, seven of whom were still alive. David asked Kate if she could also email a picture to the Funeral Director as it was needed for the Order of Service document and if David had not said what he did the Funeral Director would have struggled to get the Order of Service printed.
It was now around 1600 hours on the Friday and David’s Wife changed her priorities to work on the picture of Ted, which needed to be cropped before sending it to Andy Walden who owns Tech Office in Trowbridge. David phoned Andy and told him the urgency and Andy said he would enlarge it and laminate it as soon as it arrived. David jumped into his car and arrived at Tech Office before the email had landed and Andy did his usual brilliant job before he closed for the night.
David still did not have any details of any flowers beyond the sheath of red Roses from Ted’s widow and he was running out of time. But fortuitously Claire, the Barnton Funeral Arranger, knew the Florist socially and sent David an email which landed at 2030 hours to inform him that in addition to the sheath of red roses there would be two ‘Names’ ‘DAD’ and ‘TED’, however, he didn’t have name of the Florist, which Kate then provided at 2100 hours.
It is tricky for David to decide which ‘Name’ should be given preference when designing a layout and normally ‘DAD’ would be the highest positioned Floral Tribute, however, given that Ted had nine Sisters David felt that both ‘TED’ and ‘DAD’ should be at the same level. David also felt that the two names side by side wouldn’t look right so he scrapped his idea about fixing the picture of Ted onto the head-board and create a display in front of the coffin which had Ted’s picture between ‘DAD’ and ‘TED’.
The sketch was sent to Kate on Saturday morning and she immediately responded that she was very happy with David’s ideas.
Next month David will reveal some interesting details about his journey up to Barnton
and the funeral itself.

Monday, 1 July 2019

The funeral of a 17 year old in Bognor Regis

In July 2018 David Hall was asked to take a 17 year old on his final journey, Angus Jones, who had tragically lost his life in a road traffic accident near Chichester. Some 17 year olds look like men, however, when David was given a picture of Angus he saw a young lad with angelic features. In working on funerals of young people it is important to always anticipate the unexpected, because grief can affect people in different ways. Having previously undertaken the funeral of a 14 year old boy in Horfield David was suitably experienced and decided that he would do all that he could to make the display on the lorry perfect.

Finding out about the flowers wasn’t easy as the main Florist was Angus’ Mum, who David didn’t want to bother too often given that she had tragically lost her Son in such a horrendous accident.  Also the second Florist was a lady who worked in a Market Garden during the day, could only be contacted on her mobile between 1800 and 1830 hours and texts were the only way to relay messages. Both were lovely ladies and experienced Florists so minimal communication would suffice. Two Floral Tributes created by the Angus’ Mum were Picture Boards on plywood boards, 48 inches x 24 inches and 15 inches by 15 inches with a Floral Design attached to the centre, the larger one featuring a life sized Guitar. The other Floral Tributes were ‘Ace of Spades’ 36 inches x 24 inches, ‘SON’ and a ‘Single Note’, a Floral Tribute which David had never had the pleasure of carrying before.
Initial evaluation of the design options determined that the ‘Guitar’ 48 inches x 24 inches and the ‘Ace of Spades’ 36 inches x 24 inches were too wide to go side by side against the headboard with the other Floral Tributes. David decided to place them back to back, fixing them to a roof like structure at the rear of the deck. David had used this technique previously and looking at his contemporaneous notes, which are included in the plastic wallet for each job, he knew the best strategy to pursue. David used existing timber to form a central support which was only an inch thick and he envisaged that this would enable the Family to be able to look through the rear structure and have an uninterrupted view of the coffin and the display at the front of the deck.
Having never carried a ‘Single Note’ before and having no possibility to email drawings to the Florist, David decided to contact Val Spicer Designs who make the oasis bases. David spoke with Charlotte, explained his predicament, and asked if a ‘Single Note’ base could be taken from the warehouse and a trace made on some cardboard. David is indebted to Jay Spicer and his team for all the help he received as the template arrived via DHL and was fundamental in the design of how the ‘Single Note’ would be secured. The ‘Single Note’ was 24 inches x 12 inches and this determined the height of the front display as it was desirable to keep the ‘SON’ and 15 inch x 15 inch board at the same height and by raising these two Floral Tributes, space was then created underneath to offer positions for any third party flowers that may arrive.
David took advice from his own Daughter, who is talented at playing the piano, about how best to present the ‘Single Note’ Floral Tribute. By placing the Floral Tribute between the second and third of 5 black lines on the board then this would depict ‘A’ when played with a right hand at a keyboard, thus emphasizing the first initial in Angus .

Staff members at Reynolds Funeral Service were excellent, very attentive and most immediate. John, who conducted the funeral, was known to David as they had previously worked together when John was employed by Southern Cooperative for funerals in Peacehaven and Worthing. John measured the Pictorial Board Floral Tributes which arrived the day before the funeral and the thickness of the boards, was as David had expected, which would enable an innovating method of securement to be used. One problem was that the 15 inch x 15 inch Pictorial Board was in fact 16 inch x 16 inch and this precipitated 30 minutes work for David, changing the support structure so that this Floral Tribute would still appear to float.

The journey down to Bognor Regis from Bradford-on-Avon took 3.45 hours and involved travelling on lesser known roads, like the unclassified Morestead road near Junction 10 of the M3 near Winchester, which no one knew about 15 years ago, however, many commuters now use this as a rat run. David took the B2150, turned left towards Clanfield and picked up the B2149 to Emsworth. David then took the A259 which runs parallel to the A27, before joining the A27 and the queuing traffic stacked back from the A259 Bognor road roundabout.
David arrived at 1045 hours, 15 minutes earlier than he had suggested telling Reynolds staff, ‘You are better off looking at me, than looking for me!’ John came out to meet David and made him a cup of tea. A number of cars travelling along the street stopped to admire the 1950 Leyland Beaver and some people commented how good the old lorry looked. John explained the route that was required including a visit to the Church Hall, where people from the village would say their good-byes to Angus and the Tangmere Airfield Museum which Angus used to visit as a boy, fascinated to hear peoples’ experiences from WWII. The route would avoid the A27 but the cortege would pass the Chichester District Council site where Angus had worked as a Bin Man.

Vier, who is the Handyman for Reynolds Funeral Services, helped David load the large tablet Floral Tributes and Vier was amazed how well the Floral Tributes fitted into their allotted space. However, it wasn’t until David got out his camera did he realise how good the clear view was under the large Floral Tributes, towards the coffin and the Floral Tributes at the front of the deck and he reflected that this was perhaps one of the best displays that he had ever created.

As David approached Tangmere Airfield he saw the Chichester District Council Bin Lorry which would follow the 1950 Leyland Beaver and David drove slowly past the planes and the line of people who had stopped work in respect for Angus. David was then invited to drive on the old runway to turn and he saw the old Traffic Control Tower, for which funds are being raised for it’s restoration. Money in lieu of flowers was destined for this fund and David felt it was most fitting to restore a facility which had played such an important role in WWII. Tangmere was one of the main airfields used during the Battle of Britain and Douglas Bader was based there before being shot down in his Spitfire and it was also the place which many SOE Agents last saw of England before being dropped behind enemy lines. Violette Szabo left Tangmere on June 8th 1944, two days after D-Day on her second mission, was captured, executed by the SS at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and subsequently awarded the George Cross. David drove back through the Airfield Museum and took photographs of the F4 Phantom Jet whose colour scheme was not too different from the 1950 Leyland Beaver.

David reversed into the car park of the Village Hall which was lined by around 100 people. Everyone was silent and then suddenly everyone started to clap and some shouted Angus Jones’ name.
David entered the grounds of Chichester Crematorium and found that a Guard of Honour was there made up from Bin Men each with a Green Bin and there must have been over 200 people at the crematorium. David vacated the canopy quickly moving the lorry some 20 yards to create space so that the area under the canopy, or porte cochere to give it the official title, could be used as an extension to the chapel.

The journey home coincided with the evening rush hour, however, David minimised the delays by taking the Havant turn off the A27 and then taking the B2177 to Wickham and then towards Junction 11 of the M3. David took a break at Sutton Scotney Services and got back to Sainsbury’s in Melksham to fuel up just before the site closed. The Leyland Beaver was the only vehicle there and the female attendant was most interested in the lorry. She asked if she would see the lorry again and David said, ‘More than likely, I have a funeral in Portsmouth in 4 days time and one in Southampton on the last day of the month!’
David got home just before the 15 hours shift length limit and reflected about the events of the day in which the Leyland Beaver had definitely brought some colour to a very dark day.