Darren was a grafter. A bricklayer by trade, he would pride himself in getting stuck into a project. The more he was seen as being willing to get involved, the more likely he was to be awarded the work. So, in all weathers, he’d be the first on site and probably the first to leave. Usually his materials would already be there, waiting. His trusty Hilux rarely had to carry bricks or blocks any more; operating as a sub-contractor the most he’d likely have to carry around was his tools and a couple of bags of “emergency” cement.
All of which would be ejected from the loadbed for the weekend, when the Hilux would become his leisure vehicle. Darren and his friends would work hard, play hard. Life was short so every moment of free time was worth accounting for. Living in Milton Keynes, though, was a curse for the intrepid. In his heart Darren yearned for the coast and the chance to deploy a jetski, which would bring with it a fantastic excuse to wear figure-hugging dayglo neoprene clothing.
Mark had a Jetski. In fact, he had a couple. His faithful old Kawasaki had served him well since he was a teenager and his first, tentative splashes in the water. Over time his skills had developed; the lithe, flighty Kwakker being a perfect training steed. By now, though, it was no longer enough. He craved more speed, more power, and more capacity. His wife had began to show an interest, so the next machine would be a two seater. After much exploratory research, a Polaris was placed on order…. and Mark’s long-suffering mate Darren was informed. The Kawasaki would possibly be up for grabs. Did Darren want to try it for size?
In terms of size, it so happens, the Kawasaki was spot on for Darren. He’s 5’5″ and the jetski fitted like a glove in just the same way as his old CBR400 had done before the accident. He missed that bike for the short-term relief it gave him, any opportunity to escape Milton Keynes, you know, just for an hour or so, was well worth taking. Its flick-wrist handling was such that the town’s many roundabouts were dispatched swiftly and safely, and once out onto the A421 the roads into Bedfordshire could be surprisingly entertaining. But he had promised himself: No More Bikes.
Nobody else had been involved in the off. It was his own fault; the corner was flat and wide, but he didn’t see the break in the hedgerow. Everywhere else the tarmac had been warm and sticky, but there, just there, it was wet. His line through the corner had felt so good, but when the back came unstuck he just couldn’t catch it. It was a few minutes before the next car came along, and Darren still hadn’t managed to get up off the road. He lay there, in surprising comfort, involuntarily sunbathing on that July day.
It turned out to be nothing disastrous in the end, the paramedics and the x-rays had both said he had been incredibly lucky. But the constant twinges and the lack of anybody else to blame were enough to put Darren off two-wheeled fun. By his logic, standing up on a jetski with ample opportunity to bail out if he needed it, would give him some chance of recapturing the thrills that his old Gullarm used to provide. Of course, the ideal would be to launch from a picturesque beach with a cafe and bar to head to after the end of the day’s fun, but there was no way he wanted to either relocate or trek all the way to the coast and back, and there was equally no way that his better half would join in.
The reservoir would have to do. He wasn’t alone; there was a thriving watersports scene there (the right kind, I might add) and Mark had been a member for a good while. He’d introduce Darren to the guys; they’d be pleased to see the old Kawasaki being used. A plan was forming, and a good one at that. A Friday was booked off, and after work on Thursday Darren went round to Mark’s place with the Hilux. A couple of beers were had- it had been a long, exhausting week but the house had come on a lot further than anybody expected, thanks mostly to the weather- and between them Darren and Mark heaved the jetski onto the Toyota’s loadbed.
Or, rather, Mark did. Darren had the strength, but not the reach, and he just knew that forcing things would be a bad, bad idea. Once it was up on the high loadbed it was fine, he could heave it around easily, and getting it out would be childsplay, but the concept of fun was starting to ebb away as the thought of reactivating that old bike injury started playing on his mind. Nevertheless, he now had a jetski. Next day they went down to the reservoir early doors, Darren borrowed a wetsuit (from somebody’s teenage son, embarrassingly) and a good day’s fun was had on the water. After the first couple of hours Darren’s abilities had improved noticeably; although it wasn’t exactly like being on a bike he could still access some of the skills he used to employ as a fair-weather biker.
Darren and Mark were both at Steve’s funeral on Wednesday. Steve probably had it coming, really. Lovely bloke, the heart and soul of the pub, always there when they needed him and always there to put a positive spin on things. Steve had been on hand after the accident; while Darren was off work he threw a few quid in his direction to help, you know, with things at home. Pay me back when you can, no hurry. Darren never did pay him back, but suspected Steve wouldn’t really mind.
Big bloke, Steve, and it seems that his heart couldn’t keep up. He did everything properly, food, drink, he liked the good stuff. It wasn’t as if he was a glutton, just a hearty consumer. Maybe he just had the wrong kind of heart for his body? Whatever, it was crushing that a heart attack took him before he was 40. He never did have kids of his own, but his stepkids would miss him horribly. Darren watched them as they shared duties with the pall-bearers, and made easy work of lifting the heavy casket from the low floor of that Rover 800 hearse. From about 18 inches to shoulder height in one deft, smooth movement. Very impressive.
Darren should really have been paying more attention to the family and friends of the mourners that day, but he was nurturing a thought about hearses. It had never occurred to him that so morbid a vehicle could have so much to offer. It stood to reason, really, that a 4×4 like the Hilux should be, by design, so high off the ground. And there was plenty of space out back for Steve-in-a-box, his six-foot-something frame surely approached the length of a jetski, and he probably didn’t weigh an awful lot less…. Suddenly, Darren wanted a hearse.
When he went on eBay that evening he was surprised by the sheer number he had to choose from. It seemed that funeral companies were in the habit of retiring their vehicles fairly regularly; unless it was a Rolls Royce or something else timeless that takes you to your final resting place, it seems a little undignified to make your final journey in a vehicle older than your own car. Funeral vehicles were being replaced simply to remain competitive with other firms, and were evidently going upmarket, too. Darren noted that most of the hearses he had seen locally had been Jaguar or Mercedes based; meanwhile eBay was heaving with Ford Scorpio and Vauxhall Omega hearses all going for a song.
Even better for Darren, he reasoned, would be a Rover 800 like that which had carried young Steve. With front-wheel drive there’d be no need for a rear differential, so the load floor ought to be lower still. There was actually only one listed; three bids, £300 and only three hours left on the auction. And only nine miles away! Leaving his other half a little puzzled as to his plans, Darren jumped into the Hilux and sprinted to the village where his prey was waiting. It turned out to be owned by a family business, and was being moved on due to retirement, rather than fleet upgrading.
Bought brand new in ’96, just in time for Christmas, the 800 had been intended to last. The KV6 engine was whisper quiet, far better than the Granada 2.9 the business had run before. With a view to it lasting it had been serviced on the button, irrespective of mileage. Nineteen years later it was still barely run in, yet had received four sets of cam-belts in its lifetime. Roger the Undertaker was very sad to see it go, especially as it would likely end its days on an oval track like his 800 limousine had two weeks prior. Roger hoped Darren would win the auction. He did. There were no more bids and £300 saw it was his.
Katie was not exactly overjoyed to see a hearse on her driveway, but gradually came round as Darren unveiled his grand vision. Mark was called upon for additional physical grunt and plans were quickly sketched up for a “conversion”. The hearse offered a fantastic ten-foot load floor, once all the exquisite woodwork was removed (which Darren reckoned would do quite nicely as garage cabinets). A lot of fun was had that evening, several beers later the beautiful hand-crafted fibreglass rear shell was a thing of the past and some surprisingly tasty bondo-work did well to conceal that it had ever been there. Finding out how to hinge what had now become the tailgate would be the next obstacle, but it could wait. It also quickly occurred to Mark that, thanks to the position of the bulkhead which had been hastily installed, the two seats didn’t roll back very far on their runners. Thank goodness Darren was vertically challenged.
A local lad was breaking a Honda Prelude for spares, and its Momo Arrow wheels were a perfect fit on the 800, as were the twin pipes that he had fitted (although only one was actually functional). Ditching the original “prestige” wheels had help rid the car of some of it’s moribund identity, and the new backbox made the KV6 sound positively evil. On a test-drive Darren realised that the extensively lightened hearse was extremely rapid, too. Perhaps this transporter could actually deliver almost as many thrills as its marine cargo. Without the “tailgate” in place the Kawasaki slid on and off with little effort. It looked a little unconventional, and took up an awful lot of driveway real estate, but it would do the job with consummate ease while leaving the Hilux free to be the beast of burden it always was.
The Rover is far nicer to drive, anyway, with working air conditioning and a smooth automatic gearbox. In one of his more introspective moments, following a few pints, Darren thanked the late Steve for inspiring him after death. He also looked to the Rover and marvelled at the parallels. This vehicle had been used to carry the dead from one life to the next. Now it had reached the end of its own life, Darren had reborn it with new, wonderful purpose. He raised his glass knowing he had performed sterling work.
(If you are the owner of this superb vehicle and would like to replace the above work of fiction with the actual truth, please drop me a line. Images copyright Chris Haining, Redusernab 2016)