Saturday would have been Grandad R.’s birthday. He was born February 13th 1878!

He wasn’t my real grandfather, (all my grandparents died before I was born), but a distant cousin of my mother.

The first time I remember meeting him was when I was 4 years old. My mother, exasperated by me wearing out the toes of my shoes trying to emulate the dancers I had seen in the fairytale world of the theatre, had decided to take me to a dancing class.  I was obsessed and, encouraged by Aunt Cis and her ukulele playing, pranced around at every opportunity.

He did not look like one imagines a dancing teacher. He was not tall, rather round and had a cherubic face  under a bald pate fringed with silver hair. He always wore a three piece suit and a bow tie, whatever the weather.

He ran a small dancing school which had been started by his wife, Marie, many years before. Sadly both Marie and his daughter had been victims of Spanish ‘Flu in 1919 and he had lived alone with his dog ever since. The dog, Dollar, was the most recent of a succession of dogs acquired from the PDSA over the years. The name , I think, came from the first dog whose licence cost a dollar (25p)  as the dollar exchange rate then was four to the £.

He and Marie shared a love of dancing and had been medal winners in Ballroom dancing in their youth.

The top floor of his house had been turned into a dance studio with large mirrors and barres on two sides, a cottage piano and a wind up gramophone in one corner.  A small room next to this housed wardrobes and chests containing costumes for the twice yearly concerts.

The Saturday class was the largest class where everyone started out. This was a very eclectic mixture of ages and talents. It started with what Grandad called “health exercises” (a mixture of warm up exercises and acrobatics), next came the ballet exercises, then tap and finally ballroom. He had two young lady assistants who taught the ballet and tap and he taught the ballroom. This was held in the local Liberal club. 

Monday evening was ballet for those taking the RAD exams, Tuesday was rehearsing concert items and Wednesday rehearsing solos and duets. These evening sessions were all held in the studio.

 His main business was a printing business and the dancing school was his hobby. I don’t think it made him any money as he paid the assistants and provided all the costumes for the concerts and the proceeds from these were all given to his two favourite charities, Nazareth House and the PDSA.

On Saturdays he had a tea party for the older pupils. These were quite formal affairs. He sat at one end of the large dining table and when he had a housekeeper she would preside over the silver teapot at the other. When I was older I took over this duty during the periods between housekeepers. He was not difficult to work for but he did have rather rigid ideas on standards and if they did not measure up they had to go!

To begin with I called him “Uncle Harry” as was the custom in our family with elderly cousins, but over the years as I grew older  and he took me out more to  the theatre and dancing exhibitions, we were frequently mistaken for grandfather and grand daughter, so he became grandad.

He taught me so much more than dancing, he taught me Bezique, tried to teach me chess (not very successfully), fostered my love of theatre, gave me an interest in politics, he was a died in the wool Liberal, and current events. I think it was by associating with him that I lost most of my Nottingham accent!

He was a very organised and fastidious person right to the end of his life. He had been in hospital once and had had a colostomy made. He thought this was a temporary arrangement and expected everything to go back to normal after the second operation. I was already nursing by this time, and coincidentally was staffing on a gastro-intestinal ward. He hated the colostomy and was constantly asking me to tell him if he smelt.

When he visited the consultant, just before his second operation, I think he was told that the colostomy was permanent. He came home, sold his business, killed his hens, gave his dog (the successor of “my” Dollar) to the neighbour who had been caring for him, went into hospital and died on the operating table.

It is nearly 40 years now since he died, but I still have vivid memories of him and, after my immediate family, he was probably one of the main influences during my growing years.

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