More Memories of Dave Carncross

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Blog Memories of Dave CarncrossMore of Dave’s dilightful memories, particularly: ice cream matters, Richmond Hill and Ellerby Lane Schools, the street May Grove, Emmett’s news agents and sledging

 

 

                            THE MEMORIES OF DAVE CARNCROSS

 

 

ICE CREAM MATTERS

Ice-cream usually took the form of a cornet, a twist or a sandwich.  Big Lena from Granelli`s used to push a handcart with two tubs of ice-cream -vanilla and strawberry – well, they were white and pink anyway – up and down Easy Road. She would station herself outside the Easy Road Picture House in time for the punters going in and out between the first and second `houses`. She had a peculiar accent and a very deep, resonant, hog-calling voice which could be heard for miles. It was only years afterwards that I realised she was Italian.

Walls` Ice Creams came into the picture around 1949 sold through the local sweet shops. Even so, initially they were only available on Fridays and over the weekends because of restricted availability.

Then came that marvellous Saturday afternoon when we found “The Box“ lying on the unmade road between Red Road and Black Road. The box was right in the middle of the path and Brian Cox first aimed a kick at it expecting it to be empty but, when we heard the dull thud,  we were all over it like hyenas. It was a very big, plain brown cardboard box and we were amazed to find it full of ice creams of all kinds and flavour – most of them being family sized cartons. Reasoning that it must have fallen out of the back of a van (vehicles would use this road as a shortcut to the Osmondthorpe estate because Red Road was blocked off to traffic) and that somebody would soon come back looking for it, we partly hid it and went back a bit later to find it still there. This time, we carried it back in triumph to Easy Road and shared it out. It all had to be eaten quickly because it was already going soft and none of us had refrigerators. I sat on our step eating my share from a baking bowl with a big spoon. That was the only time in my life that I ate ice cream in truly industrial quantities. I had very little interest in it for quite some time afterwards.

SCHOOLS

 

RICHMOND HILL SCHOOL

I went there to Infant’s School along with my pal, George Hargreaves. My Mam says I went quite willingly as long as she promised to sit outside on the wall and wait there all day until I came out after school. Well, you always believe what your Mam says, don’t  you ?? Apparently, George was a different matter, however. His mother had to be dragging him there every day for quite a while until he got used to it. He would walk normally until they got to the Yorkshire Penny Bank and then dig his heels in. My Mam said it was easiest for her to take us both because he didn’t play her up as much and being with me also distracted him a bit.  The only clear memory I have of Richmond Hill is of lying on my back on a folding type cot in the hall looking up through the windows at the clouds going by and wondering why the grown-ups wanted me to go to sleep during the day. The cots were on caster wheels and George remembers that we would propel them around the wooden floor while we were laid face down using our hands as paddles.

ELLERBY LANE SCHOOL

 

We all migrated to Ellerby Lane from Richmond Hill but I can’t remember the transition itself. It was a seamless operation somehow. I remember Miss Sheridan very well. She always seemed nice to us. One day when we would be about eight or nine years old, she was talking to us about the wartime and we got onto the subject of bombs and explosives. She asked us if we knew any of the different names and one of the kids said `dynamite`. Any more she asked?? I think she was hoping for TNT but not many of us could say `trinitrotoluene`. Anyway, I had a vague idea of another name which was `gelignite`. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember it properly and came up with `gelatine`. She fought valiantly not to laugh, God bless her, but she had to give in and leave us on our own. I can still hear her howling uncontrollably in the corridor to this day – no doubt visualising the Luftwaffe trying to subjugate the natives of East Leeds by carpet-bombing us with pink blancmange and incendiary jelly. “Tonight ve vill use ze  strawberry and if zat does not do zer job zen tomorrow ve vill finish zem off mit der orange und apricot  !!!  “

Chuck Holmes was a stern taskmaster who firmly believed in getting his retaliation in first. He wouldn’t take an ounce of cheek from anybody – most of the lads got caned at one time or another and I was no exception. I got it lots of times before concluding after much deep thought that my best strategy was to stop being an idiot. There was an unspoken acceptance that being caned was a rite of passage for the lads and it was not the done thing to show you had been hurt. There was an unusual, multi-coloured form of stone freely available in vast quantities down the navvy which was reputed to possess magical, pain-barrier qualities if rubbed vigorously on the palm of the hand. The kids all called it  `Cane-Snap`. With enthusiastic co-operation from Old Chuck, I conducted controlled experiments with this rock and I can conclusively state that it didn’t work.

Chuck remains a hero to me though because he decided that he was going to teach us Spanish which, in 1948/9 was astoundingly inspired forward thinking. We didn’t get very far through our text book (which we had to buy and which I still have) “Primeras Lecciones D`Espagnol“, but he awakened in me an interest in foreign languages which served me very well in later years.  He had taught my older brother and sister before me and many, many years later, he would sometimes bump into my parents in Crossgates and ask after us and he remembered all of our names as well.

I remember Mr. Consterdine very well as, I should imagine, does every lad who went to Ellerby around that time. His fearsome reputation preceded him by a considerable distance – about the length of Easy Road, I’d say. He frightened me into being a model pupil from minute one. I definitely did not want the cane from him – he was said to use a drumstick rather than a cane but it looked more like half of a billiard cue to me. There was another teacher whose name I can’t clearly remember (Conway??) who used a rubber soled gym shoe or runner as we called them then to belt you across the backside and the backs of the bare legs (we all wore short pants then). That hurt far more than the cane and called upon one’s last reserves of determination not to be `soft`. I copped for a couple of breath-taking, eye-watering doses of that and found them to be more than sufficient.

The Headmaster, Mr. Wood was a lofty figure who didn’t have much to do with us on a day-to- day basis. I was taken into his office one afternoon for first aid treatment when my left thumb was smashed between two brass-bound swing doors and came out with the injured digit bandaged to about the size of a Zeppelin. Somebody took me to the dreaded Dispensary in a Morris Eight and left me there awaiting the anaesthetic-free insertion of seven stitches and the eventual arrival of my Mam. It seemed a long way home on the bus counting my heartbeats through my thudding thumb.

One year our class teacher was youthful Mr. Bacon. His nickname was “Egbert` (egg but no bacon).  In that classroom was a tropical fishtank and I remember being very envious of the monitor who came in periodically to clean the tank out, He used to drain the water off into large buckets by sucking the rubber drain tube to promote the down-flow siphon effect. My mental processes could not at that time reason out how this worked and I thought he was a genius unsung. The thought that getting a mouthful of dirty, fishy water might be a dubious privilege never occurred to me at all. I thought that that job was a really desirable one – maybe even on a par with ringing the dinner gong or being the milk monitor.  `Egbert` once tried to explain to us how sucking the air from the rubber pipe was able to induce the water upwards first of all and then downwards into the bucket. Since this involved variations in volumetric pressures, he might as well have been speaking in Urdu and eventually he gave up.

I used to feel aggrieved that I never got a free daily dose of malt and cod liver oil. There was a perception that the kids who got it were a favoured few – certainly not that they were deemed to be poorer and more in need of it than the rest of us. I used to ask my Mam to get some for me and she always said she couldn’t afford it either ??  At this distance, however, I do wonder at the wisdom of giving them it all from the same spoon which remained unwashed from one day to the next as far as I can remember.

Immunisations were a terrible trial. Word would get round that “The Nurses“ had come. We couldn’t have been more terror-stricken if Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes had ridden up East Street astride prancing, coal-black stallions looking to press-gang child soldiers. The medics would set up shop in one class-room. We would sit in class feverishly trying to persuade ourselves that they hadn’t actually come for us but they always had and we would be called out, ashen faced, in twittering twos and threes to receive our injections. The hypodermic syringes then were gleaming; fearsome tools with finger-holes for leverage big enough to accept pork sausages. No attempt was ever made to hide them from our view – far from it; they were joyfully wielded in front of us in all their functional, stainless steel and glassy glory.  The same two needles were used on everyone and would be pretty blunt after a while. A perfunctory swish in surgical spirit and then a refill with one while the other was being drilled into someone’s arm. You could fair hear the skin pop under the pressure.  There was one occasion when they gave us two injections at the same time – one in each arm. We were outraged – that was cheating, that was. Not a Christian thing to do at all. The other thing I noticed was that the nurses always seemed to be amused and that didn’t sit very well with me.

The only thing I was ever afraid of at Ellerby was being put `in the locks`. Occasionally, a marauding gang of seniors would chase some poor unfortunate kid around the playground until they caught him and threaded his arms in and out of the iron railings and held him there.  Once in that position, he would be helpless and the ensuing indignities went from being rib-tickled until you cried to being de-bagged in front of the girls who, I must say, always took a keen interest in the procedures.  It didn’t do to just stand and watch because, if the original quarry proved to be elusive, the gang were quite happy to swap targets. Somehow, I always managed to escape selection as a victim but it was literally a near-run thing sometimes.

We got full use out of Ellerby because we even used to go during the school holidays and ride our

bikes around the yard to our hearts` content. We never did any damage and nobody ever sent us out.

I left Ellerby Lane in 1951 at 11 years old having passed my `Scholarship` along with what was then a record number of schoolmates apparently. From memory, there were about eight or nine of us (boys and girls).   I do dimly remember having previously been taken out of our normal classes for different lessons but only a few times. Nobody gave us a reason for this so perhaps it was extra preparation. I don’t really know but, if it was, it worked.  When we got the official `pass` documents, our parents were asked what preferences they had i.e. technical or grammar school. I wanted to go to Central High Tech because it was where I sat my exam and was the only High School name I knew. My parents were summoned to see Mr. Wood, however, and he told them I would be best off at grammar school and they took his advice. He was right because I always struggled and just got by at science subjects. He must have given the same advice to all the parents because all the lads ended up at Leeds Modern and the girls went to Lawnswood Girls next door.

It did occur to me vaguely that I might come in for some stick locally when wearing my red and black Leeds Modern blazer and cap and carrying a satchel but, in the event, it didn`t make the slightest difference. To get to Lawnswood on time, we had to catch a bus down to Town at around eight a.m. and were later home also because of the travelling time so we rarely saw the kids from Ellerby at either end of the day. I kept all my Easy Road pals just the same and had another set of mates at Lawnswood as well.

MAY GROVE

We lived at number 4. It was a short street with five houses on one side and four on our side which included Rockets` greengrocers` shop on the corner next door to us. They were old terrace houses and ours was back to back with my Aunt Minnie’s, my Mam`s sister at 3 May Terrace. This was a very handy arrangement because if they wanted each other for anything they could knock on the wall and shout through to each other. We had two bedrooms and an attic upstairs. Downstairs there was a scullery (kitchen) and one multi-function living room. We also had two cellars – one for coal and the other which again was used pretty intensively to keep food cool, keep mice, chop firewood, mend shoes, bikes etc etc. The only source of heat in the whole house was the old coal fired cast-iron oven range in the living room.

There was a set-pot boiler for washing in the corner of the kitchen. We never used that and it had a board over the top of it which was a work-top of sorts. Eventually, this was knocked out and we had a bit more useful space then. We graduated from a tin bath to one which was fixed in the kitchen. Fixed meant that it was plumbed into the drains. We didn’t have a fireback boiler so no hot water on tap but we had a free-standing gas boiler and when it was bath time (once or at most twice a week) the hot water had to be bucketed from the boiler into the bath. We had a rubber pipe which joined onto the cold tap in the sink. I was lucky in that my brother and sister were much older than me and had both got married and left home by the time I was eleven. I was always the last into the bath but at least there was only Mam and Dad preceding me. When not in use, the bath was covered by another oil clothed board so an extra work-surface was available albeit one which was custom-built for those under 4ft. in height or anybody else who was prepared to kneel down to butter the bread. We had three shelves on the wall at the back and these were quite sufficient to hold the few foodstuffs and condiments which we had in hand at any one time. That was the nearest we ever got to a fitted kitchen.

 In the mid- fifties most people had the old cast iron, black-leaded oven range fireplaces taken out and installed a tiled fireplace. Eventually a gas-fire would replace coal and that was a major step forward in easy living. This was contemporary with having the old panelled interior doors flushed with hardboard which was stained, varnished and extravagantly grained to resemble the finest walnut. Throw in a bit of painting and decorating and a hearthrug which wasn’t “pricked“ and you were acknowledged as being a social climber.

No home was complete in summer without a couple of sticky, scented fly-papers hanging in strategic positions. These quickly became encrusted in flies and it was usually my job to take them down and hang new ones up. I think most of our bluebottles and flies came from the Quarry where there were myriad piggeries and hen runs. Maybe they flew further afield to where there was less competition. Rolled-up newspapers formed part of our armoury against them as well. In those days, I was quick and accurate enough to knock them down in mid-flight although, it has to be acknowledged, that if you missed the one you were aiming at, there was usually another in the same area.

By choice, I slept in the attic for most of my younger life because it was more private and much bigger than the little bedroom. It was boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. What we would have given for a high Tog rating duvet then. I had an ancient eiderdown and several old Army blankets which were incredibly heavy – I sometimes think they were the reason I am a bit pincer-toed. In the coldest weather, we used to take one of the cast iron ovenplates from the fireside range wrapped up in an old sheet to pre-warm the bed. This was luxury indeed but it was as well to move it to one side before going to sleep otherwise you woke up in the middle of the night with your feet resting on cold metal. The other bedroom windows would ice up with Jack Frost patterns on the inside in the winters.

Our street was off Easy Road and directly opposite the end of Dial Street.  We had every shop you needed within a few minutes walk which was handy because nobody had a car. A motor bike was a rarety. The top of the street was fenced off to a good height by “The Boards“. Behind them was the railway track for the coal train which plied between Temple Newsam pit and the coal staith at the end of Easy Road. I always thought it was called the coal “stay“ until I was in my early twenties and found out the real name.  We used to sometimes climb over the boards and cross the track to climb over the boards at the other side to save walking right around through the ginnel down Easy Road. This must have startled the neighbours at the other side to see us suddenly appear over their “boards“but nobody ever said anything to us.

All the local shopkeepers and trades people were characters. None more so than Barber Nelson whose shop was just a few yards down Easy Road from our street. Young lads only had one hair-style then. My Dad’s standard instruction was “ ask for a short back and sides and a lot off the top`. This was just as well because it was the only style Mr. Nelson could do. He used hand-operated clippers for the sides and back of the neck. These were invariably blunt and he also had the habit of finishing each cutting motion with the blades closed together instead of released. This meant that, every time he did it, he rived out a clump of shortened hair. This was extremely painful and every tortured visit seemed to last about a day. I don’t know which was the worst – actually having your hair cut or waiting your turn for what seemed like hours while trying not to be unnerved by the stifled, pitiful  whimpers of the preceding customers.  When you had survived this ordeal, he used to ask if you wanted any hair lotion on. I think it cost a penny extra. By that time, I would have let him anoint my head with Yorkshire pudding batter and/or boiling chip fat as long as it got me out of the chair. This lotion was like liquid soap and used to set rock hard so the trick was to run home and comb the hair into a semblance of good order before it did. When I was a bad `un, my Mam used to threaten me with a visit to Barber Nelson rather than say she’d tell my Dad. Came the day when we started to go through the ginnel to Fletchers` Barbers. This was a father and son business and they used electric clippers. Mr. Fletcher Senior, however, was a bit old school and preferred the dreaded hand clippers sometimes so, even though his clippers were better than Barber Nelson`s, for me it was always a bit of a lottery going there as well.

Emmett’s Newsagents

It paid to be polite to Mr. Emmett if you fancied a paper round.  I did and I got one eventually which covered a fair area including the streets over the Princess bridge and right up to the `Slip Inn` pub.  I used to leave my bike at the shop and do all the local stuff thus lightening my bag and then ride up to do the top area. My time-and-motion re-organisation of the round didn’t sit well with Mr. Emmett because he liked everything to be done his way and his way was to do the top end first. He used to grumble a bit but couldn’t actually rollick me for it because everyone always got their papers and nobody complained. I did the round for about a couple of years but gave it up when my homework demands from Leeds Modern School became heavier.

Emmett’s used to have an agency for Wallace Arnolds coach travel and I remember going en masse to Butlins for a week’s holiday when we were seventeen years old. There would be just about a full coach load of us and the bus actually picked us up and brought us back to the shop itself. Looking back, that was a pretty enterprising idea for a local shopkeeper and bus company.

SLEDGING

We used to start off from home all wrapped up warm and with our woollen scarves turned part-way inside out and pulled down over our ears. If you were lucky, you had some long fishing / football socks which were pulled up and folded back down over the top of your wellies. This was recognised as being a good `look` but was not very practical. By the time we’d been up and down the run two or three times, the head would be at volcanic temperature and prickling with sweat while the feet were going numb with the cold because your wellies would be half full of ice and snow.

Our favourite sledge run was “Ducky Hill“ just below Mount St, Mary’s Church. It started off above the old recreation ground and there was a long, slope down to a sharpish left hand bend and then the gradient increased very quickly going all the way down to East Street. There was no traffic on an evening there and, apart from the risk of being hit by another sledge, it was pretty safe.

The favoured sledging position was lying down head-first and the best sledges attained very high speeds on Ducky Hill. Braking and steering was done by shifting your weight about, spragging the feet out at the back and pushing your toes down into the snow. If it was hardened ice, this had little effect and sometimes you had to literally roll off the sledge sideways to make certain you didn’t end up in East Street.

Billy Rocket who ran the green-grocers shop next door to us had a monster sledge which had been professionally purpose-built for delivering his  `orders` on in 1947 and subsequent hard winters. It would have been at least six feet long and could comfortably seat four of us in a line or any two of us laid face down side by side. We used to borrow it from him sometimes but even we weren’t daft enough to go down `Ducky` on it. It was very heavy, rode high off the ground on beautifully bevelled steel runners and was virtually uncontrollable at speed. Fully loaded down Ducky, we could possibly have been the first to break the sound barrier on a sledge. The only place we used it was on East End Park where there was sufficient room and more gentle slopes to use it in comparative safely. It would set off slowly but gathered pace at an alarming rate and then it was best to just shut your eyes and wait for it to stop. I once went solo on it in the macho head-first position down through the trees -a still, small voice inside my head speculating that this might not have been such a good idea as it reached terminal velocity. On the final slope there was just one tree well away to the right but the sledge aimed at it like a wood-seeking missile, dismissing my puny attempts to steer it and rammed it head on. I shot down the sledge and hit the tree with the side of my face and shoulder. My facial grazes formed an interesting wood-cut type pattern from which an arboriculturist could have identified the genus of the tree itself. 

Gordon “Baggy“ Carrier decided one year that he would improve his sledge by fitting a front extension carrying a pivoting axle complete with short metal runners . He confidently anticipated that this “bogey“ inspired modification would mean that his sledge would then be fully steerable without recourse to spragging one’s feet out sideways. The prototype trials took place on a short but vicious slope leading down from the `Quarry` towards Easy Road. Gordon naturally claimed his rights as the designer and insisted on being the first to try it out. Rick Chappelow was allowed to sit behind Gordon. The chosen route aimed directly at the boiler room at the rear of the East Leeds Club and Gordon reasoned that, at the last moment, he would steer off to the left onto the short street adjacent to the Club. His calculated coefficients of weight distribution, friction and tractive forces were somewhat adrift, however, and the sledge plus occupants did not divert one millimetre from its original path. A crescendo of strangled cries and oaths rang out but were swiftly stifled by mouthfuls of snow and the coke which was piled at the back of the building for use in the boiler.  Pilot and co-pilot rose painfully slowly from the snow and splintered wreckage, brushing off pieces of smokeless fuel from their clothes, hands and foreheads. Rick was his usual sanguine self with regard to bodily injury but Baggy was pretty incoherent for a while – his visions of executing effortless figures of eight at speed on Hill Sixty at Roundhay Park condensing wraithlike into the cold night air.

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