George Stait Chapman, 3 June 1929 - 21 Jan 2008 my dad.
Dad was originally an electrician, working forBorough Council and on his own. He did his national service in the RAF, at on . He then worked for the test department at Handley-Page, before finally moving to St Albans College where he lectured in electrical engineering until retirement.
Dad had a huge fund of anecdotes and stories, and he wrote up some of his life for the edification of those that follow. Many of these stories have passed into family folklore.
A comment was made by someone on reading these anecdotes and the tribute below that Dad "sounds like he was a great bloke". Yes, he was. A great bloke, and a great Dad, who taught me the things a lad needs to learn from his father, even if I subsequently forgot many of them.
Dad talked endlessly about a book, Scattergood Baines by here.- there's a great biography
- Chapter 1 - Roots, in which we meet Frances May and Robert Alfred Chapman.
- Chapter 2 - Four Four Six, in which we meet "chub", Marjorie, Dad and Rene, and Barry Harries asks "ain't yer got no fancy cakes?"
- Chapter 3 - Evacuation part 1, in which the Chapman children are "evaporated", a scion of the Eaton family exclaims "Mrs Kevern's chicken bit my doodle-um!", our hero and Chub are hungry, and the Cavalier family are introduced.
- Chapter 4 - Evacuation part 2, in which Chub becomes Jimmy, we meet Tombstone Tussler, the brothers are adequately fed, our hero earns money and gains admission to Wandsworth Technical School despite his youth and lack of spectacles.
- Chapter 5 - Evacuation part 3, in which Robert Alfred Chapman dies and our hero is .
- Chapter 6 - Home Again, in which people unwisely address Bert Cavalier as if he was "somebody ordinary", a bicycle gives sterling service, our hero makes the defining choice to be electrical rather than mechanical, begins gainful employment and receives an Invitation he Cannot Refuse from His Majesty's Government.Charlie Reed threatens to "convert this bloody aeroplane to gas".
- Chapter 7 - Conscription, in which we learn the value of volunteering before one can be conscripted, Dad begins a life-long love affair with aeroplanes, Chalky White forgets to put the gear down before landing a Lancaster, P1 Ward causes a pompous ass to be sick up his own nose, and aircraft to be tested are often to be found on night flying, to the advantage of LAC Chapman.
- Chapter 8 - Home Again, Again, in which our hero is demobbed, finds gainful employment, becomes "uncle bikey new", graduates to motorised cycling, Lyons are parsimonious, a 415V rat exterminator is perfected, and the good citizens of Fulham are sent to their rest with heads full of the Daily Express.
- Chapter 9 - Motorcycling, in which a lengthy test is inexplicably failed, a perfunctory one satisfactorily passed, a motorcycle is overhauled at enormous expense and a number of collisions are survived.
- Chapter 10 - Wedded Bliss, in which our hero commits matrimony and we meet the Andrés.
- Chapter 11 - Handley Page, manufacturers of the best aircraft in the world, where we meet Eric Abbott and Robert Hooke, and cheats death repeatedly.
- Chapter 12 - Welwyn Garden City, in which a bungalow is built, a house planned, and a Mini van is purchased.
- Chapter 13 - Air Training Corps, in which Flying Officer Chapman makes a monkey of RAF security, cadets glide, shoot and camp, and Flying Officer Chapman finally decides to stop subsidising the Air Ministry.
Chapman: His Works
So you always knew where you were with Dad: family, home and duty.
Dad was a natural teacher. He just couldn’t help it. He had such a passion for the things he knew, he wanted to share them with people. I think his students admired him – certainly when I went to Southampton University I was standing around wearing a name badge and someone came up, looked at it, looked at me and said “Ah yes, Chapman. Know your father,” and shook my hand. And Dad never could resist a temptation to lecture. I feel as if I ought really to be standing here with a n overhead projector, a set of meticulously drawn and carefully framed slides, and a test at the end. And woe betide you if you forget to include the units of measurement – you’ll get “Perceptions per square bicycle?” written beside it. Not that it matters, I have yet to meet anyone who could actually read Dad’s handwriting.
Not all the lessons I learned from Dad were quite so positive. Take saws, for example. I spent most of my youth convinced that I was an utter dunce with a saw, and it was only when I started buying and using my own saws that I realised the problem: all Dad’s saws were completely blunt. He had built two houses with them, after all, so they must be perfectly serviceable, and a bad workman blames the tools. His approach to vehicle maintenance was similarly laissez-faire. The first time I drove the van on the road I tried to brake at the end of Tippendell Lane and nothing happened. Dad looked at me and calmly told me to pump the brake a few times and it would stop. I think he was honestly puzzled that this hadn’t occurred to me. The idea of replacing the battery also never appeared to cross his mind, so we push-started it every day for years, jumping through the open door as the engine caught. Replacement was something that happened only when the thing had completely failed beyond any hope of restoration.
Among my earliest memories is Dad assembling roof trusses for No. 60, laying timbers in a long lead trough full of Cuprinol, pouring the stuff from a galvanised watering can. There was the time he and Uncle Tom assembled our wendy house – a solid construction so heavy that we burst the mini jack trying to lift it once – in the living room of Four Willow Grove. The things Mum put up with over the years! If he had one weakness it was a tendency to lose interest once something had got to a usable state, regardless of whether or not it was actually complete. Gran used to look around the house at Mayflower Road and say “won’t it be nice when it’s finished, dear?” And indeed it probably will, if it ever is. The design of that house is Dad all over. The bedrooms are small, the reception rooms large. Who wants to spend time alone in their bedroom? The family revolved around the huge living room with its bar billiards table usually covered in stuff waiting to be put away.
Mum has, as we all know, the patience of a saint. She recalls the time that Dad decreed we would all do our own packing for the family holiday, to save Mum having to do it all. We arrived at Langton Matravers, to discover that Dad had no clothes for the week. I don’t think it even occurred to him to wonder if his regime also applied to him. There should be a special award for putting up with Dad for half a century. Reliable he was, for sure, but reliably maddening too.
But things Dad built did tend to be strong and functional. The trailer he built for the van, for example, much better than the trailer I bought from Trailers R Us, and cleverly used Mini wheels for convenience. And I tried to dismantle one of his glued and screwed blockboard cupboard units once – keeping the screws for re-use later, naturally – the thing was damn near indestructible.
As we all know, Dad had not been well for some time. The unfairness of his being deprived of an active retirement is obvious. But in the last year or two I think he had come to terms with it and regained much of his interest in life. Staying with us last year, we visited the Handley Page museum in Reading. He climbed stairs to look at the upstairs displays, and even climbed up the steps into a Dart Herald to have a look round. He regaled me with the old stories of “Hazel” Hazelden and his threats to “convert this bloody aeroplane to gas” while diagnosing an electrical fault. I found that Dad’s tale of Hazelden’s crash landing of the Dart Herald was not in the least exaggerated: it was every bit as vivid as Dad told it.
We had a little difficulty with the question of funerals. There aren’t many funeral directors who offer glued and screwedas an option for coffins, and as Mum pointed out we’d first have to see what was in the workshop and see of we could make do. What he wanted was to be buried in a cardboard box in the garden, being the cheapest option, and I wish we felt we could do that because home was the place he loved best. And that, of all the things I learned from Dad, is probably the most important.
We said farewell to Dad today, 6 February. Derek Chandler, our vicar at St Barnabas, conducted the service wonderfully well. He read my tribute, which of course I could not have read, being too overcome, and the coffin was carried by me, Mike and Andy (my "extra" brother and brother-in-law respectively), and one guy from the Co-Op. Dad's portrait, painted I think by John Northcott, was placed at the foot of the coffin during the service. During the tribute, Dad's brother Jimmy (as bad as me for being tear-choked) was chortling away as he remembered the things I described, and many more. The congregation applauded the address, I've never heard that at a funeral before, I guess I got it right. A lot of those who were there, said it had evoked their own great memories of Dad. As well as family Mike Chrisp was there, Eric Balmer, Peter Spalding, C. T. Franklin, Gerry Cullen, Anne and Albert Jarman, John and Margaret Rolfe, many others. Old friends, most of whom came back to the reception afterwards to share their memories and celebrate George the friend, brother, uncle and of course father. We sent him on his way with love and fondness.