Lorry takes Keith Hart on his last motorway journey

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KEITH HART, a lorry driver, lived in Telford new town, Shropshire, and died of leukaemia at the age of 42.

'I'm more at home in a lorry than a hearse,' he had told his wife, Brenda. So yesterday they strapped his coffin on the back of an open-topped lorry and the cortege formed up behind it on the road at the bottom of his garden.

'He really loved the road,' said Mrs Hart. 'He just loved that work. He couldn't have been locked up in a factory or doing shop work. It's odd that he would have loved every minute of this.'

Some of the mourners had met him on CB radio, which he had used long ago when it was illegal. There he had called himself 'Windjammer', a name full of freedom to dream of while toiling through a traffic jam on the M1.

'He was a happy, jolly man,' said his friend Chris Berrington. 'He was very brave in the way he bore his illness. They said he should have died last Christmas time. Everyone who came across Keith' - he paused, skirting around a cliche, trying to find words that meant something - 'He was a very well-liked man.'

The cortege that formed up behind his coffin looked ordinary, except for one fat man with a large ear-stud who turned up talking on a car phone at the wheel of a two-tone Rolls-Royce.

They pulled out in good order, following the route that Keith Hart must have taken every day of his working life. Nothing seems to remain of the villages around Telford except the names of the roundabouts that link the new estates, but at last they swung on to the M54.

About 25 cars followed the two lorries at the head of the procession, slowly and cautiously. Drivers kept their distances, signalled in good time and made room for one another. It was a curious fellowship that must have been quite invisible to the frustrated strangers pouring past in the fast lane. It may have been something of the comradeship that he had felt as a lorry driver and that he wanted his friends to go on feeling.

And so we came to the outskirts of Wolverhampton in the greasy Midlands rain. When the coffin stopped at the BP truck stop, dwarfed by big articulated lorries from Co Londonderry, Boroughbridge and London, there was a brush of photographers and even a television crew that had been lurking.

Inside the cafe, Keith's favourite, the mourners drank huge mugs of tea and nibbled biscuits in the lorry drivers' bar. The coffin remained outside, strapped to the lorry, unattended. Then his friends posed with the coffin for the photographer, toasting their friend in tea as he had requested. One of their number videoed the scene.

The cortege returned along the motorway to Telford, where Keith was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Michael's parish church.

The gathering in a windy car park had been a much more genuine ritual of the modern countryside than any 300-year-old football game played with a pig's bladder. While following the coffin it occurred to me that it is lorries and not ploughmen that shape the countryside today and it is constantly being remodelled for their benefit, and ours.

The community that matters is in the mind or the heart: there was far more in a truck stop car park than you could find in the suburbs of a new town.

(Photograph omitted)