by

Dave Carncross has kindly allowed us to peep with respect into his epitaph of a true East Leeds Legend – Richard Chappelow.  In our old East Leeds society the virtues we admired most of all were to be brave and to be tough. Rick had both in abundance.  That he was a little injury prone only added to his charisma and made us love him the more

My Hero

By Dave Carncross

By the time we were ten years old or so, we were all veteran cinema-goers – the main venues being the Easy Road Picture House, the Star and the Princess. We liked anything which involved soldiers, cowboys, cartoons and comic book characters. We all had our own favourite film heroes but I had a real one much nearer home – next door but one to be precise. His name was Richard Chappelow.

The Chappelows were a lovely family. Jenny was like an extra sister. She was the same age as me but always seemed older. She was fiercely intelligent and always seemed to regard me with an amused tolerance and affection – as though I was a big, daft dog or something. David was the eldest and a really nice lad. Richard was, well, just Richard. Their Dad, Alf, left them when Richard would have been about thirteen years old and I never heard any of them mention his name again. May, their mother, had an uncanny resemblance to the film star June Allison and was just as nice. She went on in later life to write a few romantic novels and got them published. Jenny married another good local lad, Jim Croll, had a family and found the time to get a BA degree in her thirties through the Open University. David married and ended up inAustraliaalthough I think he had a spell inSouth Africafirst.

Richard was without doubt the toughest, most resilient lad I ever met in my entire life. This is not to say he was a hard case, far from it, he was a gentle, good natured, easy-going sort and universally popular. We junior males in East Leeds at that time always set great store by not being perceived as being `soft` and tried to take the knocks as they came without any outward show of being hurt. This was not always easy even for kids who only had to endure their own fair or average share of misfortune. The difference with Richard was that, if there was an accident waiting to happen, it would invariably be waiting for him. Whatever occurred, he would always behave the same, never cried or whinged and had seemingly bottomless reserves of mental fortitude. When anything happened to him and bear in mind that I had plenty of practice, I would closely watch his face for any sign of normal frailty but never saw any.  Perhaps a tightening of the jaw muscles or a momentary closing of the eyes would be all that escaped his iron control. I was always amazed and mightily impressed by how he dealt with the `slings and arrows` which were constantly besieging him and I always knew for an absolute certainty that I would be found badly wanting in similar circumstances.

The first time I ever visited the dreaded `Dispensary` on North Street it was just to keep Richard company while the medics reassembled whatever part of his anatomy had been damaged that particular day. We were greeted by a groan from the Sister of `Oh no, not you again Richard !! ` He was a regular client there and was probably on first name terms with most of the practitioners there as he was at the LGI and St. James` casualty departments as well.  If we’d had such things then, it might have proved cost-effective to assign a personal paramedic to follow him around at all times. Perhaps a prescription for a full-body suit made of Kevlar for protection against impacts of all kinds, fully wired to afford insulation against electric shocks and corrosive chemicals would have come in handy. There must be many doctors who served their apprenticeship repairing bits of Richard. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had been invited to their graduation ceremonies, been made Godfather to their children and attended the odd retirement party or two.

We decided to paddle in the small lake atRoundhayParkone hot summer’s day just next to the sign forbidding us to do exactly that. Nothing happened to any of us except Rick. He stood on a broken milk bottle which cut deep into his foot damaging a tendon in the process. He had an operation and finished up with a plaster cast right up to his knee to hold his foot in a downward direction. To have to wear a `plaster` was like being the given a Queen’s Medal for Gallantry and all the lads were deeply envious. He kindly allowed us to draw on it and sign our names. Rick had always been very fleet of foot and, although the operation left him slightly flat-footed for a while, it didn’t seem to affect his running speed at all. He was still quicker than me even flat-footed. Mind you, he was quicker than virtually everyone else inEast Leedsat that time. I even tried running in a similar manner just to see if my sprinting improved but it didn’t.

Once, during a stone fight on t`ollers, we were sheltering behind our brick barricade sorting out fresh ammunition. I ventured a quick look over the parapet and saw a roofing slate scissoring through the air towards me and ducked instinctively as you would do. The slate sliced a neat furrow along my scalp but Richard had bobbed up behind me and it hit him dead centre in the forehead with a dull thud. I had a very satisfactory, showy but superficial cut which bled impressively but didn’t hurt really. Richard, however, went off to renew acquaintances with his old contacts at the Dispensary and added further to his ever-expanding stitch collection.

One dark winter’s night, we were engaged with loads of the lads in a vigorous game of Relieve –Oh when he took a bad fall on the cobbles. He got up holding his arm and immediately asked me to go home with him.  For him to ask for any sort of help was a first so I asked him why and he said “ I’ve dislocated my elbow“. I asked how he knew and he said “ I’ve done it before“. We walked back to his house but his Mam and Dad were at the pictures and his brother David didn’t believe him. We went to our house and my Mam took one look at his ashen face and told my Dad to ring for an ambulance. The ringing had to be done from the local call-box so we all went down together and waited for what turned out to be a car driven by an ambulance driver. Dad had to go to work (on nights) so I went to the LGI with Richard by myself. Bear in mind that I was about twelve, he was a year or so older and it was about 10pm by this time. The doctor in Casualty had a quick feel through his jacket and said `X Rays – wait here`. Rick said `Carny, quick get me shirt off! ` I asked why and he said `cos me vest’s black bright`. I managed to get his shirt and vest off and nearly fainted when I saw his arm at the elbow. It looked as though the bones had been moulded into a figure of eight and it was grossly swollen. I think by then that I must have looked as bad as he did. The doctor reappeared and ushered him off into the next room leaving me profoundly glad to follow his instructions to sit there and wait while they put the arm back into place. I heard the odd muffled, stifled whimper and they came back about 20 minutes later and Rick’s arm was in a sling. He already looked better and we were just deciding what to do next when Rick’s Mam arrived so we all went home together – me with the offending vest still stuffed up my jumper.

During the school holidays us kids were more or less free agents because our parents were all at work. In some ways I think we very quickly became aware that we were responsible for ourselves and the independence from virtually constant supervision that prevails in these days made us better at risk assessment in general. From the age of about eleven, we used to go all over on our bikes – Otley. Ilkley, Wetherby, Collingham and the like and never gave it a second thought. I often wonder if my Mam and Dad ever really realised just how far afield we wandered.

Collingham was a favourite venue for swimming. We used to go to one of our secret places which was reached by much fence climbing and running crouched down like Indian trackers alongside hedges, all the while dragging our bikes along. It just occurred to me now to wonder how we knew how to get there? Perhaps it was received knowledge passed down from generation to generation of East Leedsers. We used to sneak our swimming trunks out from home and, if we were lucky, a towel as well. If no towel, it was get dried the best way you could – usually on your shirt or wait until the sun did the job for you. Fate decreed one day that it was time for Rick’s next accident. He told me he would show me his newly acquired racing dive technique and prepared to launch himself off the bank. Now, swimming and diving were the only athletic pursuits at which I was definitely better than him so I stopped him, pointing out that the water was far too shallow at that point. He wouldn’t have it, argued that a racing dive only took you just under the surface and launched himself out energetically almost parallel with the surface. He seemed to stop dead as soon as he hit the water and I heard an unearthly, gargling underwater shriek at the same time. He stood up slowly, turning towards me with the water lapping gently just under his knees. He looked as if he had just been wrestling a wolverine or had had a lively encounter with a honey badger which was particularly out of sorts that day. All down the front, from forehead to feet, he was one giant graze – spitting out a mouthful of bloody gravel through busted lips with small stones dropping at intervals into the water from his numerous lacerations. In a very matter-of-fact voice he said `You were right about that, Carny` and retired to lick his wounds. We always thought it was best to leave him alone at these times as long as we were sure he hadn’t actually broken anything again. Later on he came to the conclusion that the water should have been deep enough but that he’d made a minor miscalculation on his angle of entry.  I felt that `minor miscalculation` didn’t quite cover it – a bit like setting off due west fromLiverpooland somehow managing to miss Ireland but we didn’t fall out about it.

In brief, there were the times …………………

When he was wrestling with his elder brother David and brought his head up sharply so that David’s top teeth cut a perfect semi-circle into his forehead.  He explored that wound with expert fingers and pronounced conclusively that it didn’t need stitches.

When, in our early 20`s, we were both playing for one of the Leeds and District rugby league open age teams. He was a marvellous player and completely fearless as always. He was at full back and came weaving through at pace after collecting the ball from a kick through. Suddenly, without being tackled, he hopped to a stop and put the ball down carefully. He sat down on the pitch, rolled down his elastic knee bandage and there was a clean cut right across his kneecap. We had no idea how it had happened but, of course, stitches were involved again. The following Thursday night at training he turned up complete with his bag containing his playing kit. I said there was no way he could train with the stitches still in but he said he was having them out on the Friday and wanted me to take his bag home with me so that he could play on the Saturday without his wife knowing. As it happened, there was no game because the ground was too hard due to frost.

We decided to make some toffee. It was his idea and we were in his house alone during the school holidays. I didn’t know how this was done but he said he’d seen his Mam make it and produced a jar of treacle and a bottle of vinegar. I liked treacle and was all for eating it straight out of the tin with a spoon but he went ahead and mixed it with vinegar into a stiff paste somehow. This was spread into an old enamel baking dish. Their old black cast iron range oven had a gas element at the back and he tried to light it with a taper made from newspaper. The time lapse between turning the gas on and reaching in with the lit taper was too long however and there was an almighty bang and rattling of the cast iron oven plates as it exploded. It blew Rick backwards clean over the sofa. He scrambled up and shocked though I was I remembered to turn the gas off. His eyebrows, eyelashes and the front of his quiff had disappeared and his face was studded with grime and tiny pieces of rusty cast iron but he was still clutching the taper. He had a good swill in the sink and, after tidying up as best we could, he felt that we might have gotten away with it. Looking at his new bland, featureless face with its faintly curious expression and unique hairstyle to say nothing of the remains of the treacle mixture here and there on the wallpaper, I wouldn’t have put money on it but kept my thoughts to myself.

I was stung on the index finger of my right hand by a wasp in 1997. I remember it quite clearly because it was the first time in my life it had happened and was very painful. Being 57 years old at the time, I managed not to cry (well, not much anyway). During the summers of our childhood, it was a daily, sometimes hourly occurrence for Richard to be attacked by wasps, bees or any other insect which liked biting or stinging people. The cure then was to apply a dolly-blue bag or a dock leaf. I personally thought a mainline injection of morphine might have been more effective but the stings didn’t seem to bother Richard much or indeed at all so maybe he had developed some level of immunity over the years.

Richard’s brother, David, had a beautiful J.T. Rodgers` racing bike. Metallic blue with chromed forks. Richard was under a permanent but ineffective instruction never to ride it. Came the time when we crashed together at speed attempting some intricate manoeuvre and the lightweight alloy front wheel of Dave’s bike was buckled into an `S` shape. As usual, Richard was impervious to the cuts and miscellaneous contusions which he and I had suffered but we both realised the enormity of the problem we now had with the wheel. I had a spoke key at home but had no idea how to use it. By trial, many errors and intense concentration we virtually dismantled the wheel and rebuilt it. Few things in my life have given me as much satisfaction as seeing it spin straight again when we put it back on the bike. Dave never found out (unless he ever reads this).

There was a time when he had his chest heavily strapped to the point where it was difficult for him to breathe. I can’t remember now how he had broken his ribs and I’m tempted to invent some bizarre set of circumstances which brought this about such as being run over by the cricket pitch roller or a chance meeting with a water buffalo which had escaped from a private zoo somewhere. It was probably something more mundane such as being head-butted by the Co-op milkman’s horse.

I have dismissed the assortment of broken fingers, cuts, bruises, torn ligaments, broken noses which adorned Richard’s daily existence as being too trivial and numerous to mention. Falling in rivers, out of trees, trapping toes; fingers etc were just an everyday thing for him and not worth recording here. These things happened to all of us but not as frequently as they did to Richard.

Richard left school at fifteen. I had another two years to do because I was about eighteen months younger than him and also at grammar school leaving at sixteen. He joined Andrews Flooring and Tiling as an apprentice. I did think that entering a trade which inevitably involved working with sharp, pointy metal tools, glassy materials and powerful abrasive machinery might just be tempting fate a bit too far but, as far as I know, he stayed at that company which is still on the go for the rest of his working life. Perhaps he used up all his accident quotas in his earlier days. We lost touch completely by our mid-twenties. In those days, National Service, moving to another area ofLeedsand employment or social patterns could mean you would just never bump into each other again.

Rick died a good while ago from a lung complaint, I believe. Jim Croll, his brother-in-law, told me that the doctors never seemed entirely certain what the illness actually was. With Rick’s luck it would have been a unique alien ailment brought to Earth from the Andromeda galaxy by a speeding speck of meteoric dust which managed to travel for 2.5 million light years just to hit him and him only. Mind you, I don’t think he would have been much help to the Doctors in that he wouldn’t have allowed himself to tell them just how rough he felt. There was a marvellous series of comedy TV programmes many years ago called “Ripping Yarns“ and Michael Palin was the star. In one episode his character caught bubonic plague and was covered in running sores and scabs. He passed it off as “Nothing to worry about – just a touch of the bubos“. Through my laughter I thought of Rick immediately. That was him to a T. My hero.

 

 

 

                      And anyone who knew Rick would concur with that!

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8 Responses to “”

  1. Audrey Sanderson Says:

    More great memories of how indestructible we kids though we were. Lots of todays kids aren’t allowed to ride a bike unless they are dressed up in enough gear to withstand a nuclear fall out.
    The making of toffee made the hair at the back of my neck stand on end. I hated lighting the gas stove. I was sure it was going to blow up or fill the place with gas before I could make it ignite. We made what we called cinder toffee. Same ingredients as treacle toffee only you put Bi-carb soda in at the end. WOW! it bubbles up like a volcano. The second time you make it you remember to use a large pan. Cleaning burnt toffee off the stove is not easy.
    You mentioned Jimmy Croll Dave. Did he have a sister? A girl called Jean Croll was in my class at Ellerby Lane School.

  2. Dave Carncross Says:

    Audrey

    Thanks for your comments. You seem to have really got into your stride with your own writing – it`s great innit ??

    Jean was/is Jim`s sister. I think she is a member on Friends Reunited. Try her on Lawnswood High School or maybe Ellerby Lane.

    Rgds

    Dave Carncross

  3. brenda Says:

    Val Milner comments: Dave Carncross tells a marvellous tale. His ‘My Hero’ is just great. I did know Richard Chappelow, but I can’t remember him being so accident prone – I read it straight through and had a good laugh.

  4. Doug Farnill Says:

    Thank you Dave. I didn’t know your hero personally, but maybe I knew an older relative who is remembered by me simply as Chippy Chappelow who was cock of the class at Ellerby Lane round about 1944. I really enjoyed reading your stories about Richard, you write so graphically and with such great humour. You have highlighted that very strong sense of stoicism that I for one – a softy – used to be so envious of in those days. I had a mate like that too, Eddie Blair, who was always down at the dispensary for some repair or other. Sadly I heard years later that Eddie died in a motor cycle accident in his early 20’s. Please share more of your memories.

  5. Dave Carncross Says:

    Doug
    Lovely to hear your comments. I enjoy every word of everything all us lot have written. I just wish more people would have a go at it.

    Your Chappelow might have been Rick`s brother David but he would only have been about ten in 44.

    Rgds

    Dave

  6. Cindy Chappelow Says:

    Rick Chappelow was my dad!! What a wonderful story of your childhood friendship!! I remember my dad being hard as nails, he once had pneumonia and carried on working! My mam always tells me I have my dad’s constitution if I get poorly I carry on like he did and don’t show my pain. My brothers mick and Barry are also accident prone like my dad. Thank you for writing this because I never knew about my dad’s childhood he was a man of few words!

  7. Dave Carncross Says:

    Cindy

    Thanks for your kind words. I can believe the pneeumonia episode completely. He was a good mate when we were kids and as you can tell I’ve never forgotten him.

  8. Dave Carncross Says:

    Cindy. Very happy you enjoyed the article about your Dad. Really, if you read through all the stuff on the blog (including my earlier tales which inevitably include bits about Rick) you will get a proper flavour of what our young lives were like then. Rick experienced all the same things we all did. That life didn’t make him hard as nails – he was like that naturally. Lovely lad, lovely family.

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