Friday, 1 November 2019

A Professor’s Final Journey in Bassett

   When David Hall is asked to describe the people likely to be interested in his services he says that people from all walks of life have shown interest in the 1950 Leyland Beaver and the spectrum ranges from Professors through to Scaffolders, although he has had more of the latter and little of the former. However, all was to change when the family of an English Professor saw a picture of the Vintage Lorry at a Funeral Director in Bassett.
When David is asked to quote for a funeral his wife undertakes detailed research to establish where David can park the lorry before a funeral and a price is never given until David is satisfied that the right arrangements are in place for him to undertake the job in a professional highly dignified way. The Funeral Director was in a parade of shops, near a busy road junction with double yellow lines in front of it. The rear entrance was on an unmade up road that was used by other shops, making it impossible to park the lorry for the time it may take to wash it, load the flowers and then load the coffin.
David’s wife found a church with a small yard some 200 yards from the Funeral Directors and David contacted the Reverend Sarah who spoke with the Church Elders. They confirmed that the church was prepared to help and David took on the funeral.
David found out that there were only limited flowers, in fact a Sheath of Lilies was the only Floral Tribute and David was concerned how these flowers would stand up to the hot weather, being exposed to 28 degrees for around 45 minutes. The Florist was equally concerned, however, there was no way to contact the family as the order was sent via the internet. So David and the Florist agreed that she should create a coffin spray which would have the stems pushed into oasis which David could water once the Floral Tribute had been loaded
On the morning of the funeral David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0600 hours and was in the yard of the church by 0815 hours having taken the old A3057 road through Stockbridge and Romsey. The first thing David does when he arrives at a destination is to telephone his wife to tell her that he has landed safely as he puts it. However, on this occasion David encountered a problem with his phone as he couldn’t speak to his wife and had to resort to texting which wasn’t easy on an old simple phone. Fingers that were used to turning spanners were not ideal to pressing diminutive keys the number of times required to generate the correct letter. As David struggled manfully to create a text he thought how much technology hasn’t changed over the years when you think about Wireless Operators in U-Boats in WWII using the German Enigma machines in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to transmit messages to Lorient.
Having managed to send the text to his wife, David then evaluated the impact of having no mobile phone, especially when the Funeral Director, David Eason, was due to call to arrange a time to load the coffin. David sat back in the seat and gazed over the giant steering wheel of the Leyland Beaver and thought back to the 1950s the era before mobile phones and in fact a limited number of phone boxes on main roads. At the time the only way to contact help was to use an AA Box to which AA members had a key and these proved invaluable to Drivers in the 1950’s. However, Lorry Drivers had another method of communication. The owner of a haulage fleet who needed to contact one of his drivers would contact a number of Transport Cafes on the route and ask the Café to put out a blackboard with a message for the driver. This thought encouraged David to write a note for David Eason and post it into the Funeral Directors which would open later that morning. David first went to get a paper and some refreshments. A local Café owner made David a toasted teacake with a mug of tea and allowed him to use their toilet. She offered David the opportunity to use her mobile phone if David needed to contact anyone, however, all the numbers he needed were back in the cab.
As David walked back from the Café he passed the Funeral Directors but his idea of posting a note to the Funeral Director was thwarted because there was no letter box. David was not deterred, he managed to squeeze a note and one of his business cards through a gap in the door.
As David walked towards the Leyland Beaver in the church yard his inability to communicate was the least of his concerns when he saw a lady in a hatchback unloading items and then taking them into the church hall. The lady told David that she had a playgroup that would start at 1000 hours and run until 1200 hours. David suddenly saw the horrendous situation that could unfold with a coffin being transferred from the hearse onto the vintage lorry around 1200 hours in the full view of parents with young children.
David explained his problem with the lady and it was obvious that there had been some communication glitch, however, there was nothing anyone could do about it.
The first issue that the Leyland Beaver caused was that parents were arriving from 0945 hours with no where for them to park in the yard. David just sat tight in the Leyland Beaver and read his paper, however, he was more concerned about the reaction from the parents around 1200 hours.
At 1015 hours, David Eason arrived in a hearse and explained to David that he wasn’t arriving to transfer the coffin, he was on another funeral and he just popped in to check that the Leyland Beaver had arrived safely. This gave David the opportunity to explain the difficulties that the scheduled transfer at 1200 hours would create and David Eason said that he could arrive with the coffin fifteen minutes earlier.
At 1145 hours a transit van arrived with the coffin which was swiftly transferred onto the lorry as parents were starting to arrive. David made all his necessary checks of the load, jumped into the cab and within seconds the Leyland Beaver was pulling out of the church yard. There were no pictures taken of the Vintage Lorry in the church as there was no time available and also it is now not appropriate to take any photographs that might include children.

The family home was less than 300 yards from the church and David Eason stopped the traffic on the busy A35 road to enable David to reverse into the street and next to the family home. The widow came out to meet David and to his surprise she handed over an A4 envelope that was labelled ‘Information for the Driver’. Normally information for David to write Obituary articles is often sparse and most difficult to come by and getting it on the day of the funeral with voluminous hand written notes and pictures was certainly a first.

It was at this point that David realised that he knew the Deceased whose hobby was restoring vehicles including a Morris Breakdown Lorry. This used to partake in the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Road Run and often ran just in front of the Leyland Beaver in the days when David took part. Recently the Deceased had concentrated on the restoration of vintage cars like a 1926 Bean 12 Tourer which he had used in the Daffodil Run and won a prize, a picture from this day was included within the display at the head of the coffin.

David Eason had undertaken detailed research of the best way from the house to the crematorium on the east side of Southampton avoiding low bridges, vehicle width restrictions and areas with known high traffic densities.
The Leyland Beaver pulled into Wessex Vale Crematorium some 15 minutes early and the huge crowd gathered for the funeral watched intently as the lorry was positioned beneath the porte-cochere. The coffin spray had travelled very well and the lilies looked fresh. The picture of the Deceased was quickly removed from its stand and was placed with the coffin during the service.
When David got home he had a cup of tea with his wife and found that his mobile phone was working again. He also told his wife about the events of the day and reminisced about the 1950’s and the AA Boxes. David pulled out his ring of keys which included an AA Box Key from the 1950’s. David remarked that something that was felt invaluable in the 1950’s had no use now apart from being the tool of choice to remove foreign material from the soles of his boots.

No comments:

Post a comment