When I was in my teens I used to go with other young men from the bakehouse to ballroom dancing classes. I was always rather nervous and shy, but here you had to get up and dance with girls who were on the staff to teach you. Later, I was always glad that I’d learned to dance.
I lived in the village of Lockwood on the outskirts of Huddersfield. In the next village, Netherton, about two miles away lived my mother’s brother Harold and his wife Ivy. I’d go across to see them regularly. Ivy went to a leatherwork class. They had two small children, so while she was away Harold and I would baby-sit and play chess. Neither of us was brilliant at the game, but as we were evenly matched we always enjoyed it.
One day Harold showed me a circular which had been sent round by the new headmaster of the village school, Mr Melia, saying that now with the stress and worry of the war behind, how did people feel about taking part in some social activities? Most thought it was a good idea. So we went to the school and the social activities were a great success.
In those days evenings were not spent glued to TV sets, because nobody had them. There were dance classes and numerous other classes during the week, there was a football team and a badminton team, and on most Saturday nights there was a whist drive and dance. We enjoyed Saturday nights. All the local boys and girls turned up for the dances. We liked to go to the whist drives (where my luck was phenomenal) which were held in one of the classrooms. The dancing started while the whist was in progress. When the whist finished we joined the dancers, and we all had tea and cakes, then the dancing continued until about 11.30 p.m.
One night when we were playing whist, Harold said ‘Out in the corridor a girl keeps coming and looking through the window, I’m sure she keeps looking at you!’ The girls in the dance hall often stood in little groups, they were all local girls and knew each other, and this particular girl was one I’d danced with – as I had with most of them – but she was very young.
I made regular trips to Netherton every week, always on Wednesday to dance classes (after the classes there was then normal dancing) and on Saturdays to the whist drives and dances. It was obvious this young lady was taking some interest in me, and as the time passed my interest in her began to grow. She was a lovely-looking girl, fair hair, brown eyes, lovely complexion…and also very shy. My interest grew into something more than mere interest. I found I only wanted to dance with her, not anyone else, and I began to learn more about her. Her name was Sheila, and one of the girls whom she was always with was her sister Mavis. Their father had died when Sheila was nine years old and they lived in Netherton with their mother. The group, it appeared, had found out a little about me, but they didn’t know my name. I used to catch the bus at Bentley Street so they had christened me ‘Mr Bentley Street’.