Category Archives: Hasmo Legends

I did it mike’s way . . .

“You’ve got too much to say,” I was repeatedly told, in my youth, by a French-teaching Welshman.

Since excitedly bashing out Virginal Meanderings, however, one typically dull commercial lawyer’s morning back in November 2008, I fear that I may now have said it all.

“Why do you have to write about things like that?” has been my poor mother’s refrain over those four years as I would ask her to proofread each and every new effort before hitting the Publish of no return.

“What would you like me to write about,” I would respond, “the crisis in the eurozone? People don’t read blogs for stuff like that . . . or, at least, not this one.”

“Gotta go,” she would then hang up, on her marks to dash to her PC, always calling back, minutes later, with something like: “It is actually quite good. You know who taught you to write like that . . .”

In each of their own individual ways, I take considerable pride in my 188 posts to melchett mike (far more than I would have imagined possible on that distant November morning). They are the book that I never wrote (and which, in spite of continued encouragement from various quarters, I see no point in writing).

In recent months, however, I have lost much of that urge to write.

I still, of course, have important questions. Like . . .

Why do Russian women feel the need to pose for every photograph – even at sites like Har Herzl and Yad Vashem – by pinning themselves up against the nearest wall or tree, as if for a Playboy shoot?

And why are charedim such God-awful drivers? Check it out for yourselves: Aside from the inevitable wankers in their 4x4s, the drivers obstructing the fast lanes of Israel’s highways nearly all have beards (Ivan “It is always the frum ones” Marks, it would seem, knew of what he spoke).

I also continue to enjoy fascinating encounters in my seeming unending search for the future ex-Mrs. Isaacson . . .

I mean what could have given my most recent JDate the idea that I would want to treat her – on our first (blind) date, scheduled for a mid-afternoon – to a meal in a boutique hotel? “I will be hungry by three o’clock,” Irit informed me, after we had finalized a time. “And I would like to eat at the Montefiore,” she added, as if arranging a shopping-and-lunch date with her Ramat Aviv Gimmel mother.

“Dog food again please,” by way of contrast, is the only demand ever made of me by the lovely female (see photograph below) with whom I am currently shacked up. “And that fetid bowl will do just fine.” A woman or dogs, then? Now there’s a toughie . . . oh yes, and there was no first date.

But I am set to embark, in November, on the next chapter in my continuing, studious avoidance of anything that could reasonably be called a career. And I am reliably informed that the two-year Israeli Tour Guide Course requires more diligence than comes naturally.

In a scene chillingly reminiscent of Marathon Man’s “Der Weisse Engel”, Ole Nipple ’Ead himself (who says the Law of Return is too exclusive?!) was recently spotted and confronted on Jerusalem’s King George Street by my old classmate, Paul Kaufman, giving me a great idea for a future tour . . .

  • From the Footsteps of the Prophets to the Doorsteps of the Despots: Join ex-Hasmo hunter, melchett mike, as he surprises retired ‘teachers’ – DJ, Jerry, and many more – in the suburbs of Jerusalem.

So I log off, but do not shut down. melchett mike – the “Never forget” aid for damaged, eternal North-West London schoolboys – will always be here for your amusement, reminiscence and comments . . . and even perhaps, when I re-find the urge, the odd post (indeed, the best Hasmo Legend could well be yet to come, awaiting a combination of circumstances beyond my control).

In the meantime, thank you to all the commenters (all 7,502 of you) – from the sublime to the Shuli – who have contributed to making this such good fun.

Over . . . but not out.

http://www.justgiving.com/melchett-mike

Hasmo Legends XXVI: Upper Sixth, 1978/79

Following my request, at the end of Hasmo Legends XXV: Lower Sixth, 1962/63, for more photos of the nuthouse, I was inundated with precisely two – and then both from the same reader (though even that was an improvement on the precisely none who responded to my appeal for donations in Hasmo Legends XIX) – but boy did Danny Amini come up with the goods!

The photographs below – click on to enlarge (you will then be able to zoom in) – were taken a few minutes apart, circa June 1979, the first (“With Willy”) official and the second (“No Willy”) rather less so. They both, however, give rise to the same burning question . . .

What the bloody hell happened to Hasmonean in the mere 16 years between 1963 and 1979?!

 The former’s Lower Sixth (see photograph) comprised 36 immaculately turned out boys, each one with uniform blazer, shirt and tie (done up), neat hairdo, appropriate smile, and general demeanour of derech eretz.

The following, on the other hand, display a collection of scallywags – or, as Rabbi Cooper would refer to us, a “rotten lot” – who look as if they had been given ninety seconds to run into Oxfam and throw on whatever they could find (because they would then draw attention away from the state of the building and window frames behind them?)

Back row (left to right): David Silber, Simon Maybaum, Jeffrey Glausiusz, Daniel Amini, Simon Lawrence, Shimon Goldstein, Zvi Israel, Jonny Solomon, David Josse, Mark Neuberger, Daniel De Lange, Harvey Perlmutter, David Miller, H.P. Cohen, Eric Dangoor, Manny Ezekiel, Michael Churn. 2nd row from back: Shalom Orzach, R.D. Cohen, José Frohwein, Yossi Davis, Elliot Stefansky, Daniel Drukarz, Martin Freedman, Danny Roper (obscured). 2nd row from front: Meir Jacobson, Yechezkel Hepner, Jonathan Abt, Benjy Dorman, Jeremy Davis, Laurence Foux, Julian Rose, Shmuli Orenstein, Manny Nissel (arm on shoulder), Ronnie Joseph, David Sagal (back), Brian Cohen (front), Jonathan Kovler, Yisroel Chalk, Naftali Reiss, Ricky Kahan, Stuart Gnessen, Ian Shiner, Adrian Warren, Mark Engelman, Mr. S. Posen, David Dunitz. Front row: Solomon Cohen, Arthur Weller, Jonny Silver, Martin Reich, Mr. W.W. Stanton, Rabbi P. Greenberg, Dr. L. Finkelstein, Mr. C. Johnson, Mr. A.H. Bloomberg.

Take David Miller (back row, fifth from right), for obvious instance. “This boy” – seemingly not satisfied with his lack of blazer, white v-neck, and shaggy black pooch perched on his head – was allegedly referred to, long after his departure from Holders Hill Road, as the “wretch with the Ray-Bans.”

Talking of the Legendary Welshman (front row, extreme right) – who, sadly, passed away last Thursday, aged 88 – he is clearly longing for just a few minutes’ peace with his Telegraph; while Michael Churn (back row, extreme right) is, judging by the pained expression, even more desperate for some privacy. A dodgy (as if any weren’t!) slice of Mrs. B’s meat loaf?  Whatever the cause, “Churn by name, churn by nature” doesn’t hang around for No Willy . . .

Back row (left to right): R.D. Cohen, José Frohwein, Yossi Davis, Elliot Stefansky, Daniel Drukarz, Danny Roper, Manny Ezekiel, David Sagal, Eric Dangoor. 2nd row from back: Shalom Orzach, Shmuli Orenstein, Ronnie Joseph. 3rd row from back: Zvi Israel, Meir Jacobson, Jeremy Davis, Laurence Foux, Martin Freedman, Jonathan Kovler, Simon Lawrence, Brian Cohen (obscured), Yisroel Chalk, Stuart Gnessen, Harvey Perlmutter, Mark Neuberger, Mr. S. Posen, Daniel De Lange. 2nd row from front: Adrian Warren, Arthur Weller, Jonathan Abt, Jonny Silver, Martin Reich, Shimon Goldstein, Simon Maybaum, Daniel Amini, David Silver, Jeffrey Glausiusz, Ricky Kahan, Manny Nissel, Naftali Reiss. Front row: Benjy Dorman, Julian Rose, David Miller, H.P. Cohen, Solomon Cohen, David Josse, Yechezkel Hepner, Mark Engelman, Jonny Solomon, Ian Shiner (on lap), David Dunitz (crouching), Rabbi P. Greenberg.

I invite Ian Shiner, perched on the lap of Rabbi Greenberg (of all people) – and looking as if he is rather enjoying himself, too – to explain himself . . . especially since, with this single, seemingly voluntary, act, he undermines the various allegations of teacher impropriety made by commenters to Hasmo Legends. (It is traditional, or so I am told, for lap dancers, after they have done their stuff, to have a little something slipped into their underwear. Let us only hope for the boy Shiner – who looks somewhat disappointed, in With Willy, that neither Mr. Bloomberg nor Mr. Johnson were up for a dance – that this custom was honoured merely in the breach.)

Conspicuous by their complete absence from these photographs are future pedagogues, and co-authors of Hasmo Legends VII: “Woody” Woodthorpe Harrison, Daniel Marks and Nick Kopaloff. The former is said to have been expelled from Hasmo just days earlier – for mimicking the subject of his aforementioned tour de force in the act of picking his nose – while the latter, I am reliably informed, was most likely to be found in Starkey’s Turf Accountants down the road.

And what about the eponymous TonyW? Can it be that the son of a future President of the Board didn’t make it into the Hasmonean Sixth Form?! Surely not . . .

Your responses are welcomed.

In memory of Alan Hyam (אבא חיים בן משה) Bloomberg, born 12 November 1923, died 17 May 2012 . . . the ultimate Legend.

[Thank you to Danny Amini. Also to Graham Summers – who had left Hasmonean for Kilburn Poly (now, no doubt, Edgware Road University) – for identifying all patients/inmates. And, again, the address for old photos/memorabilia: melchettmike@gmail.com]

Hasmo Legends XXV: Lower Sixth, 1962/63

Ex-Hasmo Stewart Block (1957-64) has come forward with the following photograph, of the 1962/63 Lower Sixth, which I feel is worth posting . . . and not just because it contains a certain Stephen Posen.

Seymour Popeck and Alfie Hecksher (you can’t get any more kosher than that) must both – along with my old mate Pinchos Chalk – be strong contenders for the most original Hasmo name of all time.

And is that Keith Fisher of Brent Street hairdressing ‘fame’? An ex-Hasmo?! If you are reading, Keith, I would like to thank you (if somewhat belatedly) for Morelle, who provided invaluable “food for thought,” if you get my gist, in my frummie adolescence.

Back row (left to right): Seymour Popeck, Gabby Handler, Ronald Hoffbauer, Mark Schimmel, Keith Fisher, Stewart Block, Anthony Finn, Stephen Leveson, Robert Josse, Peter Bloomberg, Samuel Abudarham, Richard Feinmesser, Stuart Plaskow, Anthony Goorney, Leon Storfer. Middle row: Robert Lewy, Robert Coe, Howard Bluston, Alfie Hecksher, Monty Frankel, Michael Neuberger, Mr. Z. Greenbaum, Ronald Feutchwanger, Barry Schechter, Michael Schine, Steven Greenman, Geoffrey Gilbert, Lucien Jacobs. Front row: Stephen Posen, Jack Berger, Menachem Persoff, Ivor Mindel, Eliezer Grunwald, Nathan Schiner, Esmond Goldfield, Paul Cohen, Moishe Tesler. (Absent: David Eckhardt, David Lopian, Malcolm Lewis, Michael Harper.)

To view a larger image, click on the photo; or, for a clearer pdf, on the following link (and, if you ask one of your children nicely, I am sure that he/she will show you how you can zoom in) . . .

Lower Sixth, Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys, 1962-63

Thank you, Stewart (and for taking responsibility for name misspellings). If other readers are in possession of old Hasmo photos, or related memorabilia, the address is melchettmike@gmail.com!

The Witriol Diaries, Part V (Hasmo Legends XXIV)

Goodbye Joe

Thursday, 11th December 1975, 9 p.m.

A peculiar development in the article on Jewish Forenames [submitted to the JC, for which dad was an occasional contributor]. I wrote later on asking Geoffrey D. Paul [Features/Deputy Editor] to print G-d, Israe-l, etc. because I wanted to avoid offending my Hasmo colleagues. I mention all this because at the “naming” ceremony at the School Rabbi Schonfeld mentioned en passant the “trefa Jewish Chronicle” (it has mildly criticised him in the past) and last Monday, I think, Philip happened to mention that a master had told him that boys ought to get their parents to subscribe to the Jewish Tribune because the Jewish Chronicle was “anti-Orthodox”. Anyway, the Monday night I kept on worrying about this and got into a panic. Could Schonfeld get me sacked for writing for the J.C.? (As a member of the staff of an Orthodox school he might be able to use my writing for an “anti-Orthodox” paper as an excuse. He might not give this as a reason, the story to me might be that he was re-deploying staff. First thing in the morning I wrote to Paul asking him not to publish the article.)

The fear of the sack may be far-fetched, and although both Ellman and Sam Balin are over 65 and employed part-time, the School has the power, as has the Borough Council, to retire me compulsorily anyway at 65 [dad was 63 at the time].

All this is probably grotesquely alarmist, but at the least, I think, Philip would have been exposed to anti-J.C. comments by certain members of the staff who take him, so that I still felt I did the right thing.

Sunday, 21st December 1975

Felt a bit off-colour on going into school on Friday morning, last day of term, but survived the morning. Daniel Rickman told to sit by the side of the HM in assembly, in honour of his having gained open scholarship to Oxford. Must plug this for Philip and Max, the latter is again “creating” about leaving Hasmo, but I hope I will manage to get him to stay for the last two years.

Monday, 18th January 1976, 2.30 p.m.

Spent about 5 hrs last night and this morning marking, mainly mock MH. Not more than six at the most of my boys stand a chance of a “C” – AM [Albert Meyer] has a class of about 35 at the moment. If he has six or more who he thinks don’t stand a chance of a “C”, it might give me an extra three free periods – my six could join his class. On verra.

Wednesday, 17th February 1976, 8.45 p.m.

Bad day at school. Clouted no one, but unseemly shouting: “How much does your father pay to keep you at the school?” – no wonder there’s so much scandal attached to the school.

Sunday, 21st March 1976, 8 p.m.

Have just returned from bunfight at Hasmo celebrating marriage of Dr Schonfeld’s son. He seems a charming boy, apparently left the school about a year before I came. Wished him mazal-tov, to which he responded something which I couldn’t quite catch. I asked him, and he said it was boorekh tihyeh – which I suppose is more sensible than saying “Thank you!” or “please G-d by you”.

I introduced myself to Dr Schonfeld, saying I taught at Hasmo. “Ah yes, you teach science”. “Not quite,” I replied, “modern languages, no doubt there is a connection”. Ugh! As E. [my mum] said afterwards, it would have been tolerable if I had said, at least, that I taught French scientifically.

Easter Monday, 19th April 1976, 4.30 p.m.

A fine day, have been doing nothing except reading Maariv. I have this idea that when we get back to school on the Monday, Meyer may ask me to give the Hebrew Yom Atzmaut speech. I should say the odds are about 33-1 that he won’t [sic, will], but just in case, I want to get into the feel of things.

Wednesday, 5th May 1976, 11 p.m.

Today, Yom Atzmaut, the school was closed by order of Dr Schonfeld. It has caused a bit of a scandal. The Israel Society at the school had invited the Chief Rabbi, and so I heard, suggested to Schonfeld, more or less, that perhaps he would care to come along too . . .

Monday, 12th July 1976, 8.45 p.m.

I do not want to drive everybody mad, but today has been better [pain in his left foot had persisted since mid-May]. Can only keep my fingers crossed. Symptoms still present, but milder, perhaps much milder. Anyway, although I hired a car to go to school this morning, and the morning itself was easy (first period cancelled for some reason; for my normal second period – Extra French, a difficult period – I was asked to take five visiting French Jewish boys, and I continued with them in the 3rd period, which I would normally have had free; period 4 I attempted to teach the 3rd year – needn’t have done, could just have said get on with something quietly, which is what in fact I did do period 5, 2nd year French) – although, as I say, the morning was easy, the fact remains that I carried out a normal programme afterwards.

Tuesday, 13th July 1976, 8.30 p.m.

Bad again. Sod. Although finished school at 4.15 today, in terms of physical exertion, or strain on foot/leg, yesterday was much worse.

Wednesday, 14th July 1976, 10.20 a.m.

Yesterday did a lot of standing, attempting to teach instead of telling the kids to do what they liked, quietly, as would have been legitimate at this stage of the term. Did not feel too uncomfortable while doing so – at any rate did not say I ought-not-to-be-in which I usually find myself unable to avoid saying when I’m under the weather.

Thursday, 15th July 1976, 7 p.m.

Very easy morning at school. Went by car, and sat in for two periods only, rest of morning paper work in staffroom.

Monday, 19th July 1976, 10.30 p.m.

A full Monday, no car. My impression is that there is rather a little less actual pain.

Wednesday, 21st July 1976, 11.30 p.m.

Usual programme. Caught bus outside Ashby’s in High Road, walked to school from bus stop outside Allandale Avenue. No teaching, except, ex gratia, last period, when I really did succeed, I think, in teaching some 23 boys Ah vous dirai-je maman (my excellent book of songs borrowed from the library explained that the tune went to “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. I had hoped I would be able to say to one of the [i.e. his] children, at any rate, “Play this for me on the piano [me]/violin [my brother, Max]/clarinet [my sister, Susannah] – but a nekhtiger took. If I had enough energy, I could browbeat Philip or Max into playing the music, but the result wouldn’t be worth the energy I’d have to expend).

Saturday, 24th July 1976, 10.45 p.m.

Well, I managed to get through the term. The big question is will I be able to get through a full winter/spring term. Summer term is always a cinch: the fifth form go on study leave at least six weeks before the end of term, which gives me three extra free periods, four weeks from end of term the exams start, which means that teaching practically finishes. There are examination questions to get banda’d [copied], scripts to mark, reports to do, but all this is sedentary and no problem.

Friday, 27th August 1976, 1 p.m.

Max’s “O” level results came this morning: AA Maths; A Eng Lit (!); B Eng, Phys, Chem; C French (B oral); C Brit Con, Art. The twit had put a 6½p stamp on the s.a.e., so his results arrived after his pals (who presumably had had the sense to frank their envelopes 1st class, with an 8½p stamp) had got theirs.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a weight off my mind, I had been preparing myself for his getting a D in French. This wouldn’t have been a disaster, as I told him, but it would have been a nuisance – I think it would have been advisable, had he failed, to re-enter him in Jan. He himself was quite ala keyfik (2nd world war army slang, Arabic – in case any of the children read this = couldn’t care less, indifferent), I brought him up the envelope while he was in bed, and he opened it with a comment “B in English” – my hands would have been trembling.

One of his pals Stephen Gerber, got 6 “A”s – somehow, I thought of his pals as being all nice lads but, shall we say, non-academic.

Monday, 20th September 1976, 9 p.m.

I can get through a week’s stint, meno male, but there is still some pain and discomfort. Lots of odd bods have appeared: Mrs P. who came along last year to take over some “C” French groups (leaving me with the “D”) seems now to have consolidated her position, she takes a small (3 boys) 6th form group; a Mr Lesser takes MH and Fr. and/or German, a Mr Pearce takes Fr. and Germ., and today a Mr Staiger [unclear] turned up wanting to teach MH and is being taken on – or consideration will be given to his being taken on – just like that. So I shall be expendable next year.

In the evening Jonathan Martin came. He was a contemporary of Philip at school. I remember him as being a particularly black bête noire when I had him in the 3rd form, then in the 5th he came into my C set, did no work at all, but sat as good as gold. If this was because he did not want to embarrass a friend (Philip) whose father taught at the school (or embarrass a teacher with whose son he was friendly) he showed more tact than any of Max’s pals did – or perhaps I should say rather more tact than most of Max’s pals did.

He got O levels only in Eng, Eng Lit and Biology (the last-named “fascinated” him, he said – he couldn’t “relate” to physics or chemistry). He wants to take up male nursing, a commendably off-beat choice as I told him. He’s quite a charming boy, well mannered – thanked E. for tea, said to Philip, as he went off to do something to his moped, he would be back to say good-night to Mrs Witriol. He is working pro-tem at a book shop in the West End.

Monday, 6th December 1976, 6.30 p.m.

A fairly strenuous day at school, but fortunately it didn’t go off too badly. Free till 1020, then four periods till lunch break, then did some marking after lunch (instead of my usual shloof), then three periods after lunch. Period 6, the period after lunch, was in “the Old Library” a room next to the staff marking room (with members of staff marking intently eavesdropping) and the office (to which WWS seems to betake himself these days). WWS came in: “A noisy class Mr Witriol.” Actually I had taken about 20 kids for French for a double period in the morning in the same room, and had flattered myself on having the situation under control. In the afternoon I had, I suppose, 35 kids for MH – the usual shlepping in of chairs. Anyway, WWS sat in and was privileged to take part in my MH lesson. At the end he said it was a great privilege to learn Hebrew – not “to learn Hebrew with Mr Witriol”, as he should have said of course. It was just as well that I had, by chance, the lesson well prepared – I had given the kids back a test they had done, which I had marked, sod it, and of course the lesson went like clockwork.

Saturday, 5th February 1977, 7.15 p.m.

It looks like the chopper is going to chop. About a fortnight ago Stanton showed me a letter from the office in connection with 2000 unemployed teachers in Barnet and suggesting Mr Witriol’s position be examined. W.S. said I had come (or was coming) to the end of the road. I said I hoped not, and that I had three children to put through University. He said I would be in a parlous (rather nice rococo touch) position financially if I could not carry on. I agreed. He will play on replaceability-only-with-difficulty, though in point of fact he can get plenty of teachers for MH, German and French.

Tuesday, 31st May 1977, 9.55 p.m.

Chadwick, who is about 62, has resigned. He hates Hasmo, though I think he was lucky to get a scale IV post. He is a good teacher – geography and maths – of the old school. He has a degree, but I do not believe he has ever taught the sixth, perhaps not even the fifth. He says he’s not worried about the financial side, says he’s had offers of jobs, but in any case can draw unemployment benefit. In his case he’s probably right, as he will probably get a pension of half his salary, whereas I got a pension of only about three eighths.

Meyer, too, is resigning. This time apparently for real. Seems he was befrunzelt because he was not invited to a meeting of senior staff, though as Nachum Ordman pointed out, he can’t be expected to receive an invitation to a senior staff meeting if he’s only on part-time. I had been thinking I would have to have two months’ notice, but it has been put to me that as a part-timer I am entitled to only one month’s. So I must assume that I cannot avoid the chop. Susannah [daughter] mentioned that one of her teachers [at Henrietta Barnet] had said that Barnet Council would not be replacing retired teachers (which makes sense, if staffing economics are to be effected). In that case who will take MH at Hasmo if Meyer, myself and Heckleman [unclear] (the shaliach, whom I have not seen this week, and whose tour of duty ends, I believe, at the end of term) go? There are other teachers who could “have a go”, but I doubt if they are as well qualified as AM or myself and, it only occurred to me some weeks ago, when AM put me in touch with an Israeli girl pupil whom I am coaching for A Level MH, that AM himself would not know how to start teaching A level MH literature.

Monday, 13th June 1977, 9.15 p.m.

First day back at school, without any “trouble”. It’s true I had only to teach for five periods, by kindness of the 5th form who are taking their “O” levels, but on the Friday before mid-term I had only one period to take but was unable to avoid – I can’t remember whether I actually clouted a boy or whether there was an unseemly fracas.

Sunday, 24th July 1977, 8.30 p.m.

I perhaps ought to have written out my retirement oration and memorised it. I have started on bits and pieces, but am just bearing in mind some brief heads and will trust to luck.

Will present R. Gothold, in charge of stock, with a jar of chalk “accumulated over a period of time” – “bit of a wag”, as Philip would say.

Friday, 29th July 1977, 4 p.m.? (watch stopped, can’t be bothered to go downstairs to check) [I cannot help but note the symbolism which, untypically, seems to have escaped dad's eye for such things]

Well, I’m fully retired, as a schoolteacher anyway.

The retirement went off more or less ok. But neither Chadwick nor I were asked to sit on the platform, which I thought a bit much even for Hasmo. I followed Chadwick into the back of the hall, hardly believing it possible that we would not be asked to go on to the platform. Stanton mentioned from the platform that we were leaving, and David Solomons spoke about Chadwick, and Gerry Laver [Garry Lauer?] spoke very briefly about me. All I heard him say was that I was leaving a “deposit”, viz. Max – he meant pledge? hostage? I then told Chadwick we should go on to the platform. Chaddy said his career had been a sandwich (laughter, the younger kids are not familiar with the metaphor): Army – school (his previous school) – Hasmo. He told me in the staffroom he wanted to convey they’d both been traumatic experiences. As I had imagined, he spoke briefly – though I had been prepared for even a couple of sentences: good luck, thank you – which meant I couldn’t go to town. However, a few kids and members of staff said it was O.K., even D.J. quietly wished me shkoich and Baddiel said it was a change to hear someone saying something – a brokh tse de yoohren.

…..

Postscript: Lid off Hasmonean

Sunday, 23rd October 1977

Hasmonean has been in the news in the J.C. recently, so concocted an article “Hasmo” this p.m. [for published article, click on link below to dad's yellowing cuttings book]. About 1½ hours flat. Suppose it will be rejected, pathetic how every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to get something in, but I can’t. However, it shows, I suppose, I’m still alive.

Sunday, 30th October 1977, 6.15 p.m.

Should I have written the article for the J.C.? Philip read out their “billing”, in their issue of 28/10, for November: the attractions for the issue of Nov 4 included “Hasmonean: A View from the Inside by a Teacher”. It is mildly critical of the school, I speak of the extreme Orthodox right wingers, but the only “hard” criticisms I make are of the attempt to get boys in the football team to have some form of covering on their heads and the abandonment of the attempt to get boys to shower because “Nudity is repellent to us” (as one mother had written).

Did I do it because I wanted cheap publicity, wanted to see my name in print at last? Yes. So what.

I suppose it will embarrass Max. Fortunately, Stanton has signed his UCCA form. Perhaps, in a way, it’s just as well this hadn’t occurred to me, or I probably wouldn’t have submitted the article, and I don’t see why I should refrain from allowing the J.C. to publish two articles which they would have been prepared to accept.

“Lid off Hasmonean” by Joseph Witriol (Jewish Chronicle, November 4, 1977)

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son's IntroductionII, III and IV, click here, here, here and here. Thank you to Philip Witriol for transcribing the Diaries, and for his patience with my ever-so-slightly obsessive attention to detail!]

The Witriol Diaries, Part IV (Hasmo Legends XXIII)

CHICH, BOSOMS, AND A BEARDED COCKNEY: HASMO, THE NEXT GENERATION

Monday, 4th September 1972, 7.35 p.m.

Rentreé. Many new faces in staffroom; bearded rabbinical, mostly. I have no form this year. Rabbi R said I was being given a “respite”. Is this because Stanton is not sure that he can rely on my being available full-time this year, or because he thinks I was a lousy form-master? Ivan Marks said the latter inference was not necessarily drawable; he himself had not been given a form this year. Nor have I a Fifth Form this year. 5C has been given to a Miss Krollick, a dumpy, bosomy bespectacled girl who, I am told, took a degree in philosophy and Italian in U.C., has spent a year in Italy and a year teaching in a comprehensive school in Upminster. It may well be she will have them just where she wants them. All the same it seems wrong to give a young woman – and the only woman on the staff – a class with a high proportion of oafs in it. The only compensation for my ego, is that I have been given an “A” form, 2A.

In front of me at Mincha was David Marx [see 30th June 1972 in Part III]. I had a presentment, which proved correct, that he would say Kaddish. I wished him long life, for which he thanked me.

Monday, 2nd October 1972, 8.25 p.m.

School resumed to-day after a week’s Succos break, itself occurring after we’d been back only three weeks. One Peter Thomas, a local M.P. and a Cabinet Minister (“member of the cabinet” on the invitation cards – is there a difference?) spoke on Foreign Affairs to inaugurate the new hall. He was the typical Conservative Q.C.: well built, hair brushed back, plummy voice. However, he spoke well for half an hour, reading cleverly from his script. In spite of Schonfeld’s bumbling, there was a sense of occasion, and as usual Mitchell Taylor organised very competently.

Tuesday, 7th November 1972, 6.10 p.m.

I got up, if anything, a little earlier this morning, it being Rosh Chodesh. I arrived at school as usual, looking forward to my pre-Assembly siesta, only to find there was some marking I hadn’t done. I spent fifteen minutes on the marking, and had about five minutes shut-eye. I anticipated disastrous consequences, but the morning passed off peaceably. In the break, Chichios, the new P.E. man, a Cypriot, asked me if I would supervise the table-tennis club in the lunch hour. I agreed, and so forewent my lunch hour siesta. Again, the afternoon went off without incident, I was impressed by the fine fettle I was in. I was shouting of course, but in one of the lessons, at least, I had a distinct impression of possibly teaching someone something. When I came back [home] the reaction set in.

Saturday, 13th January 1973, 7.45 p.m.

Albert Meyer, a Yekke, who was in at the start of the Hasmonean Boys’ School and is in charge of the Modern Hebrew, Classical Hebrew and, jointly I believe with another Yekke, Leonard Cohen, of German (he does the A level literature), also music, after threatening a number of times to resign – all before my joining the school six years ago – “finally” resigned last term, only to turn up again on the first day of this term. I had been given his German O level and A level language class on the assumption that he would not be coming back. Having made the necessary emotional adjustment to giving up these classes, and having told myself that at my time of life I couldn’t care less whether I took the Upper Sixth or a second year C stream, so long as I got the money, I found myself retaining AM’s ex O and A level German classes. The latter consists of two lads, one a German boy, the other a Sabra who came over here when he was three, and who has no German background at all.

It is humiliating that I should have to owe any improvement in my teaching load to “Buggin’s turn”. Thirty years ago I would have enjoyed the “yichus” of a sixth form, but now, in my last year of full-time teaching . . .

AM’s case is peculiar. All right, as he once said, is it any wonder I’m “difficult” after all I’ve been through, but Cohn, presumably, and others, went through as much – and Cohn served in the forces and went on to get a degree at Birkbeck and yields nothing to AM in Orthodoxy. It appears that AM couldn’t stand certain things that went on in the school. I don’t know what things – he did start mentioning the subject to me in the last few weeks of last term, then had to go off to take a shiur. Apparently he complained about Stanton to Schonfeld, in a letter. The latter passed the letter to the former, who was understandably incensed.

I couldn’t understand how AM could afford money-wise to carry out his threat. He’s 58. I’d heard that he’d sought a post, unsuccessfully, at JFS. He hasn’t a car, so even if he’d got a job at JFS he’d have to face an irksome journey. As it is he’s always cadging, with scrupulous politeness, lifts to Golders Green. Rabbi Roberg said the financial side was not important, he’d got Wiedergutmachung, but Wiedergutmachung hier, Wiedergutmachung her, one doesn’t chuck up £2,700 a year or more. It should be said that although he is a man of fine culture, he has no English teaching qualification, so that I doubt whether he could get a job in a non-Jewish school.

Tuesday, 6th February 1973, 9 p.m.

Back to school today [dad's beloved older brother, Sam, had passed away on 28th January].

Monday, 26th February 1973, 4.45 p.m.

First day of two-day mid-term holiday.

Letter from Stanton. He’s unable to commit himself to re-engaging me on the “39/55″ basis I had requested. Sod. In many ways I’d like to teach elsewhere, but it would almost certainly be out of the frying pan into the fire. And I’ve got into the “observant” groove. I’ve tried to pin him down to offering me at least three full days, any days, but I doubt whether he’d even do that.

Tuesday, 8th May 1973, 7.10 p.m.

I had avoided making further entries till now [Max, my younger brother, had been in hospital for three weeks with peritonitis].

Stanton recommended Philip [me!] to do a reading at the Yom Atszmaut service at St. John’s Wood Synagogue on Sunday. Willy came into the Staff Room and said Philip had done very well, “nice boy”. Well, well, well. Anyway, as I told him, it’ll do him no harm to keep in with Willy. I can’t see him being Head Boy, I think this might go to a froom lad, but it will help with his UCCA form.

Am feeling generally virtuous. To-day was an easy day, it is true – only four periods teaching. Even so I spent the first of my two free periods marking, contributing to my feeling of virtue. I have three free periods to-morrow morning, with no marking to do, so that I could, and probably will, spend them preparing my afternoon lessons – whether the preparation will have any effect I don’t know.

Thursday, 13th September 1973, 8 p.m.

Started school last Friday. The rentreé was on Thursday [dad was now on a three and a half day week].

Thursday, 4th October 1973, 6.30 p.m.

Have been timetabled to do games with the 4th. I don’t think I’m really necessary. Chishios the P.E. man goes down together with Hacket, the one-day-a-week bloke, and Rabbi Schmall, ample staff for even eighty boys, which is the number who should attend. In point of fact, as a number of boys, including Philip, do art, we’ve only been having about sixty. When the sub-standard artists, including Philip, are weeded out, no doubt there will be 70-80 boys turning up.

Still, I have been joining in. Yesterday, I pulled a muscle? sprained? my thigh endeavouring to tackle Rabbi Schmall, who is quite an athlete – plays every Sunday at Stamford Hill. Actually your humble servant did not do too badly, for a sexagenarian; I managed to kick the ball well and truly at least twice, averted a dangerous situation by correctly kicking the ball to my own goalkeeper, and once charged nebbich, a dangerous forward, knocking him over. [Dad played for Birkbeck 3rd. Had it had a 4th, he always said, he would have played for it.]

Saturday, 27th October 1973, 9 p.m.

A Mrs Jones has taken over my fourth year French B group and I have been given a second year MH class and an Upper 6th MH group, consisting of Doron Segal, whom I took for German last year, Eli Joseph (the boy whom I invigilated in hospital [see 12th June 1972 in Part III], he’s a Revisionist, or Herutnik as I think they are these days) and Adrian Frei, a froomer, but whose MH is extremely good.

Tuesday, 12th March 1974, 6 p.m.

Poor Max in trouble. Found him facing the wall this morning. As Meyer pointed out to me “facing the wall” has terrible associations for Jews. I have in the past told kids to do so, but won’t again. Apparently he has a detention to make up. He complains that two other boys were let off but his J.S. master, one Roston, who seems, I must say, a very decent sort of chap – no beard, no protruding tsitsitt – not that these are stigmata of course – you know what I mean – said he would see that Max did not get off. Unfortunately, too, at registration this morning, he piped up with some facetious remark and Cyril, the —, gave him an eight-page essay.

Wednesday, 16th October 1974, 8.35 p.m.

On Monday evening I felt queer, though never actually reaching the point of vomiting. Yesterday was a ghastly day. Fortunately I had only four periods of teaching. (On the Monday morning I genuinely, but conveniently, forgot I had a 3rd year German lesson to take; Stephen Posen stepped in and said he enjoyed himself!) To-day, however, I was in brilliant form, taking everything in my stride, paternal, benevolent all through seven periods straight off the reel (the last period I stood in for the master who should have taken the first year and “did” a passage in their history books with them).

Sunday, 3rd November 1974, 6.15 p.m.

I am beginning to doubt whether I shall find much consolation in [my] kids. Of course, of course, health for them above all, but I am becoming less sanguine about their “making good” conventionally. Neither of the boys strike me as Oxbridge, certainly not Oxbridge scholarship material. Philip natters about doing A levels at Barnet College, he’s not interested in the idea of becoming a prefect (which might count in his favour). Max has no ideas about a career. Perhaps the simplest answer might still be to turn Philip into a solicitor and Max into a Chartered Accountant, and bugger Harrison’s mickey-taking of our Philistine (from his viewpoint, they’re not interested in King’s College, Cambridge – from the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint this is the last thing the Yeshiva Stream Boys are) “Char-erd Ekuntant.”

Saturday, 11th January 1975, 11 p.m.

In the event [dad had had a tooth extracted at an evening surgery during the week, having been unable to get it seen to during school hours] I was glad; I went into school and didn’t miss any lessons. I did go into the office to see if they had any aspirin, but Klein, the school officer, kindly gave me some of his own “Panedeine”, which I found analgesically effective. Though, as I always do when I’m a bit under the weather, I find it impossible to avoid laying it on in the classroom (“Of course, I know I’m a fool to come in”). What is interesting is that on Wednesday morning I was a bit late, so I took my coffee with the Panadeine, into my German class and, in an endeavour to המחיש “concretise” the lesson I drank the coffee (ich trinke den Koffee was tue ich?) in front of the kids. I couldn’t remember whether I had taken the tablets.

Sunday, 9th February 1975, 7.50 p.m.

Walking home from school on Friday, I found Maxie seated on the bench by the bus stop near Kinloss. I assumed he’d “bunked” – I had left early – but he told me he’d fallen on to the concrete and bumped his head while playing football in the P/G.

Thursday, 27th February 1975, 4.20 p.m.

Boobba’s [dad's mother's, our grandmother's] Y/Z to-day. I stayed on at school last night for maariv, and went to school today for mincha. On the way to school I noticed a boy getting on to a bus, one Lorrimer, in the second year. He lives with an elder brother, having lost both father and mother. While I was in the staffroom last night the caretaker came in and said the brother was worried because the boy hadn’t arrived home – this was at about 5.30 p.m. As he was getting on the bus today I asked him why he got home late, and he said it was just the usual delay.

I was thinking, in my capacity of vigilant schoolmaster, of reporting the matter so that the kids could know that Big Brother is always watching (he may have had a legitimate excuse, of course). But Big Brother was watching. B.B. was Stephen Posen who caught Maxie bunking. The kid panicked and said he had a dental appointment and wants me to cover up, but I don’t see how I can really. Agreed, some kids can omit some lessons with advantage. Agreed the two periods of J.S. he missed are counter productive, but I have always stood for the principle that kids cannot just take time off when they feel like it. In Maxie’s case, no harm would have been done, as it’s unlikely he would have derived any benefit from the missed lessons, and he was productively or at any rate harmlessly occupied at home, but one can’t run the risk of hordes of schoolkids roaming all over the place between the hours of 9 and 4 p.m.

A few days ago Maxie fell on his nut again – he came home early then, too, whether with or without permission, I don’t know. It’s all a shame, I received complimentary remarks from Dr Gerber, who takes him for maths – he said Maxie was the only one who could answer a question he put to the class, and it’s a good class – and from Ivan Marks on his English.

I saved the cigar we received [at a wedding] and, ministered to by Philip, took one or two puffs at it, whereupon I was told enough! Philip was violently sick in the night. He too bunked on Monday last, but he wasn’t caught.

Wednesday, 30th April 1975, 9.30 p.m.

Yesterday went with 70 3rd year boys to Leith Hill on Lag B’Omer outing. In charge was one Paley, a bearded Cockney character who is froom. Strange combination. He is obviously an experienced orienteerer, if that’s the word I want [footnoted correction, over a year later, to "orienteer"]. He had prepared a number of neat route-maps. His intention was to send the boys off in groups, each group to find its own way cross country with the aid of the “drawrin”, a procedure which to me seemed very insouciant. He did in fact do some to-and-fro-ing getting everybody together. We did a fairly stiff scramble up a slope at one time in the course of which one boy, very much overweight, panicked and was unable to dodge some stones dislodged by boys in front. He was bleeding a little and was generally in a bad way. However, I told Paley he was “covered” as – he said – he had told the boys there was an easy way up (though I hadn’t heard him). Moreover, he was to have had Chishios (the P.E. man) with him, as well as Rabbi Angel and myself, but Chishios was unable to come as he had sprained his back. Incidentally, full marks to Rabbi Angel. I saw him gallantly worming his way up the slope. He is a tall, saintly-looking man, and I’ve no doubt he could have avoided going with us had he wished – but perhaps he didn’t envisage the terrain being so difficult. As I said, Paley is rather a curious combination. He had all the boys up by the tower at Leith Hill and said that “in our religion we attach great importance to nature” and that “God is redeemed from the ground over which a Hebrew prayer is spoken” and so perhaps God might be redeemed from this spot where perhaps for the first time the sounds of Hebrew had been heard. We benshed, led by a bruiser called Brown who I fortunately don’t take but whose reputation had preceded him – he benshed excellently. A very enjoyable day, it was gratifying to find that the jaunt seemed quite mild to me [dad was a keen rambler]. On the way back a boy, Solomon Cohen, engaged me in fluent French conversation. His accent is impeccable, but other boys in his group are better at the written work he tells me.

Wednesday, 25th June 1975, 10 p.m.

A somewhat heartening incident yesterday. I take 3C for French. There are about 35 boys on the register of whom about 32 – eventually – turn up. I should say at least ten boys are without text-books, as I am (if one asks Sam Balin to do something about it he will discourse on the iniquities of Roger Gothold who “looks after” stock, on his (S.B.’s) multifarious responsibilities – so I don’t approach S.B. on the subject). Ten chairs, at least, have to be brought in. One or two of the kids have behavioural problems, a dozen are completely uninterested and natter, fidget with complete indifference to the teacher. Some of the boys, it is true, are very keen and exemplary in behaviour, though very, very weak. To cap all, we have been minus a door. The last few days an elderly carpenter has been fixing up a new one for us.

At the end of yesterday’s lesson, he said: “I’d like to be one of your pupils.” Why? Because I had spoken interestingly about French deriving from slang Latin (tête < testa, cheval < caballos, etc.). “Of course,” he said, “I shall soon be 79, but that’s no reason why I shouldn’t carry on learning.”

This morning I tried to exploit the tale in class, without much success (“If he’d been doing his job, he wouldn’t have heard what you said”). You can’t win.

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son's IntroductionII and III (of V), click here, here and here. Coming soon on melchett mike . . . The Witriol Diaries, Part V: Goodbye Joe.]

The Witriol Diaries, Part III (Hasmo Legends XXII)

A WALL IS A WALL AND A SCHOOL IS A SCHOOL: DECONSTRUCTING MARX

Wednesday, 26th November 1969, 9 p.m.

An uninterrupted treadmill at school, except for last Thursday, when eight or nine N.U.T. members of the staff went on strike. The rest of us were told by Stanton to report from 9.30 to 10.30 a.m. in order to qualify for pay as usual. I spent most of the day at school doing some marking and waiting for Naomi [school secretary?] to finish a typescript she was doing for me. I gave her £12 for it, but will get £60 from the Wellcome Foundation [for a translation].

Developed cold on Sunday. Stoic act at school on Monday, not completely cleared up, but managing.

Monday, 22nd December 1969, 6.40 p.m.

The cold mentioned in the previous entry cleared up, but last Friday week – the Friday before the Thursday (18th) on which we broke up – I developed what may have been some kind of “flu”y condition. I repeated the Spartan act, but on the Thursday on which we broke up I felt all-in, and had to cry off cheder in the evening.

I don’t seem to have recorded that we went to the Jewish Secondary Schools Movement 40th anniversary a few weeks ago. At the Central Hall, Westminster. Most impressive. About 400 guests, dinner-jacketed mostly. Organisation first-rate – Sam Balin said meal was mediocre, but for a non Lebemann like me, it was good enough. There was even wine – Israeli – which I found quite strong – Harrison had been alarmed at the prospect of the thing being completely “dry”.

Monday, 30th March 1970, 10.30 p.m.

We “recce’d U.C.S. [University College School] where Philip sits for his free-place examination to-morrow. As I told Edith, it is not vital he gets into U.C.S. – he will be able to get as good O & A levels from Hasmonean as from U.C.S. and will stand as good a chance of getting into University from either school. U.C.S. will enable him to pass as an English gentleman, a concept to which I personally still attach some importance. Hasmonean will make it easier for him to become a Talmid Chacham, which also represents an ideal.

Thursday, 16th April 1970, 9.30 a.m.

He didn’t get the U.C.S. place, my comments above still stand. It’s been a bit of a battle against E., who is not favourably disposed to Hasmonean. It’s understandable. Most of the staff, though worthy, do not speak the kind of “distinguished” English which might be able to influence Philip’s own London, semi-cockney accent. (I include myself in the speaker of non-distinguished English.) Also, I suspect, the proportion of boys not able to pass “11+” is higher in Hasmonean than in other grammar schools.

However, the fact remains that there are a number of bright boys in the school and every year we get our proportion of 6-9 “O” levels and 3 “A” level passes. (It is impossible to make comparisons with other schools. A high proportion of boys who sit the exam from Hasmonean pass, but to make significant comparisons one would have to know what proportion of an original 11+ plus intake sat and passed, and, if one wanted to refine the comparison, at what levels. In making an overall comparison, too, one would have to “debit” the Hasmonean performance with the amount of extra paid-for coaching some Hasmonean boys receive, often from Hasmonean masters. The proportion of boys receiving private coaching is higher at Hasmonean, I am pretty sure, than at other schools. This is not because Hasmonean teachers are worse, but because Hasmonean boys are dimmer and/or because Hasmonean parents can pay for extra coaching whereas other parents either can’t or won’t.)

There are the other disadvantages of Hasmonean: very little woodwork or art is taught, athletics and sport come off worse than they do in other schools. Even here, though, one must be fair. Boys do take “O” level art, though how Mr Rothschild can manage I don’t know. He must be over seventy, and he’s not a sprightly septuagenarian as Dr Lewis is a sprightly octogenarian – he shuffles around, nebbich, but still, he takes his classes and every year a couple of boys get “O” levels. Sport: two of our school teams did beat Hendon County recently, Jurke did represent Germany, I believe, in the Olympics, we do have a bona fide athletics afternoon and swimming gala, Jurke is chairman of the Barnet swimming association.

Undoubtedly, too, Hasmonean enables a boy who is reasonably receptive, as Philip is, to practise Judaism if he feels so disposed. Although most of the Hasmonean boys either go to outside Chedarim on Sunday mornings and/or two or three evenings a week, or are in the “Yeshiva” stream – extra Jewish studies three evenings a week and Sunday mornings, and, I believe, shiurim every morning – or have extra morning shiurim at school, I am prepared to let Philip be content with the Jewish studies he receives during normal school hours.

Thursday, 21 May 1970, 7.30 p.m.

In bed yesterday and day before, as a result of sore throat followed by cold. My conscience is quite clear. In the 10+ terms I have been at Hasmo I have taken off, including the two days previously mentioned, only 3 days altogether; the other day was to assist in conducting an oral exam for the Institute of Linguists. On Tuesday, I could not even have staggered in, and on Wednesday I might have been able to stagger in but doubt whether I could have lasted out (Wednesday is the hardest day: no free periods and my toughest class – 2nd yr. C group French).

Saturday, 6th February 1971, 8.30 p.m.

The general picture is pretty gloomy. I smacked a boy on the cheek on Friday morning. As so often happens, a likeable, cheerful boy – a little high-spirited at times, so what. As also tends to happen, the situation was dramatised by his nose bleeding as a result. He himself didn’t say a word, no dumb insolence, nothing.

I don’t think there will be parental repercussions, but I can’t be sure, and as a result am going through a phase of humiliation which by now I ought not to have to go through. There is no excuse, or very, very little (the actual casus belli was the boy’s waving a playful finger at me, I forgot apropos of what), but it is appalling that I have so little self-control.

Wednesday, 10th February 1971, 9.45 p.m.

Mood of depression, arising from headaches accruing – figurative headaches, I mean – from school journey to Paris I have foolishly attempted to organise. One Hersh, who runs a Travel Agency in Golders Green Rd., offered to quote us – his son is in the first form. His quotation, I found was rather less favourable than the price I calculate I could have operated at myself, but on calling to discuss matters with him, he gave me the alarming, and I hope, alarmist news, that there might be no accommodation for us. His wife, French-Jewish, had phoned the Foyer at Paris, or rather Neuilly, where the Comité-whatever-it-is had said they could accommodate us, and the lady at the Foyer said they had booked about 30 boys for a party from London – on reflection I am hoping this may be the ‘about 20′ I had said I wanted to have accommodated, and perhaps 10 JFS pupils – I have an idea that I heard somewhere or other, I can’t think where, that the JFS were going to stay at the Neuilly Foyer, too.

There were no repercussions over the boy I smacked. Must, must try never to smack a boy again – impossible not to touch them – when they turn round I find I have to screw their heads back to face front again. But must try not to do this, even.

Parents evening last night. As always, touching to hear how they worry about their kids.

Sunday, 21st February 1971, 7 p.m.

I did crush a boy’s face into his desk on Friday – they will turn round. Nose-bleed. Jurke came into the lesson – did I have X and Y in my class? At first I said no, then realised they should in fact have been in my lesson. They were in fact in the P/G, where Jurke had caught them. Suggested J. take them to W.S.S., which he was going to do, anyway. I went up to the Headmaster’s study at the end of the period, where I found Jurke and the two culprits. W.S.S. asked me to cane them. I felt all in, my cold was recrudescent, and took off my jacket to do the job. This must have alarmed Stanton – he asked me not to lay it on too hard. Two strokes each. Yes, yes, it will make heroes of them, no, no, there was no sexual stimulation for me whatsoever, and I am pretty sure it will stop those two particular boys cutting any lessons in future.

Yes, our accommodation at Neuilly has evidently been pre-empted by JFS. A boy whose sister is going tells me they are paying £49-10-0 for 10 days, compared with the £30-0-0 I was charging for 7 days.

I rang up M. Paul Maidenberg, who had written to say he could accommodate us, to ask him to find out if he could get us other accommodation.

Thursday, 27th May 1971, 11 p.m.

Holiday to-morrow. Harrison had been expostulating on beauty of a film “The Wanderer” (“Les Grand Meaulnes”) he had seen at a cinema in South Kensington. I said I would like to see it, but begrudged the time, to which he said – not superciliously, he is not supercilious, but that it was rather amusing of me to think my time so valuable – again I have got myself in a muddle – “to which he rejoined” perhaps, that there was nothing particularly important I could do with my time, anyway. Sub specie aeternitatis this is true, but sub specie of my mundane daily existence: I have a letter to write [a list of other tasks follows] . . . and I cannot see how I can [do all that] and shlepp to South Kensington.

Moreover, I’m supposed to be on what is a short enough holiday, and I don’t want to have to rush. Harrison will no doubt – not quite despise, he doesn’t despise, I rather think he likes me, secure in the knowledge of the superiority of his major’s rank to my lieutenant’s – this is probably a fair reflex of the difference between, or rather in, or does it matter, our calibres.

I “managed” school to-day, having had a fair night’s sleep. If I go to bed after midnight and don’t fall asleep straightaway, which I usually don’t, I’ve “had” it, and school becomes purgatory.

Wednesday, 14th July 1971, 10.50 p.m.

Wondering if I could get a 70% post at Hasmo or elsewhere from Sept 1972, and if so whether I could carry on on that basis for another ten years. In fact, with 13 free periods a week this year, I have had an “80%” job compared with my Friern Barnet or Barnsbury jobs, but next year I shall have only 8 free periods.

Tried to be bang on target with a lesson on the French Revolution to-day, but as usual, don’t really know the subject. Ah well, als naynter vee vaater, only 8 days to go.

Sunday, 18th July 1971, 7.15 p.m.

To a reception to EJF – Mr Frank, Deputy Head, Hasmo – given at the school to-day. A very nice affair, organised by Mitchell Taylor. Tea and bar professionally catered. Stanton made a good speech, in which he said he had little Latin and less Greek (not his ipsissima verbai), but he had raked out a quotation from Horace which he would quote in English, as (his words) the Philistines on the staff wouldn’t understand the Latin and he didn’t want to make Mr Frank wince by his (Stanton’s) scansion of the Latin. The quotation: Eheu fugaces etc and monumentum aeri – EJF had created his memorial by impressing his personality on generations of boys. He also said, what was very true, that Frank was the epitome of the ideal that the School had in view when it was founded: the pious Jew who had a wide secular culture.

EJF is indeed a remarkable character: A Cambridge classicist (I think he told me he once got the Parson prize for Greek verse – apropos of something or other, he wasn’t bragging), a musician (he taught himself the piano), a Wagnerian (I once said to him that Wagner could not be anything but anathema to anyone with a Jewish consciousness, but he was sublimely unbigoted in this respect), neo-Orthodox (he ran the school Minyan) and, not merely Orthodox, completely unruffled by his daughter’s marriage to a Stamford Hill Chassid and his grandchildren’s peoth, but peoth.

Sunday, 25th July 1971, for time see below

I estimate the time to be about 7 p.m. Finished school on Friday. Slept till midday in bed yesterday, and then most of the afternoon. Have felt extremely depressed, for a number of reasons. One, seeing people controlling their lives, e.g. Frank, Winter – at 60+ – young Macleochlon, deciding to spend two years in England and getting in a trip to the States as a member of the Hendon Rugby team en passant. He left to an ovation from the boys. He deserved well of them, really giving them a chance to do some games. He scored 43 for the Staff against the School, incidentally. The School won by 1 run with 2 balls to go – sorry, the Staff won, the first time I could remember them doing so, said Stanton. I did not distinguish myself. The Walter Mitty dream of, if not the brilliant catch, at least the sound, reliable catch, remained a dream. A fairly hard ball came for me, but like the stoat I seemed to be paralysed by fear. Had I run forward two yards I could have caught it. As it was, I partially atoned for the missed catch by stopping the ball with my jaw (or was that another ball; it was on the bounce, anyway, and not particularly painful) and thus stopping a possible extra three runs. Another reason for depression: Mitchell Taylor, who always captains the team, was flat on his back the next day, and dragged himself to school on the Friday afternoon with a stick. If only I could be sure of keeping as fit over the next 13 years as I have been over the last! Perhaps this is hubris – to use one of Harrison’s favourite words.

Wednesday, 8th September 1971, 6.05 p.m.

Back to school. It’s going to be a very hard year. The “honeymoon” last year, when I had 13 free periods, will not occur again – at least, it would be very unwise to assume it might. This week, sorry, year, only 8 free periods – and larger classes. Already a disastrous day yesterday, but better to-day.

Friday, 8th October 1971, 4 p.m.

I must brace myself to ten weeks, or just under, at school without a single break.

The 10% minimum increase awarded by Burnham [committee for determining teachers’ pay] as far back as July, perhaps earlier, will not be paid till the end of October.

There can be no question that I must try to semi-retire and re-engage with a 70% post from next September.

Wednesday, 5th January 1972, 10.15 p.m.

[Not Hasmo-related but this entry, on dad’s first trip to "Arets" since a period of leave during the War, bears reproduction here.]

Two incidents [from the trip] stand out. Friday evening went to the Kotel with EJF [Mr Frank]. As I had always envisaged the Kotel left me unmoved; it was a wall, and a wall is a wall is a wall. There were numerous minyanim davenning, the one we attached ourselves to comprising Stamford Hill types – boys with curled peot, men with shtreymlech, nothing to get excited about. Then a group of yeshiva bachurim came down and formed a circle, right hand on shoulder of bachur in front, chanting yasiss alayich elohayich kimsoss chatan al kallah from the lecha dodi. They beckoned to EJF and me to join them, which we did, and then I found the tears coming, or was it later, as I was walking home with EJF. Perhaps because, as EJF said, the boys were normal, well built most of them. After the davenning they formed up again, with us, and we all marched up some crude wooden steps constructed in the scaffolding – “like a film set” as EJF said – and went into their Yeshiva, the Yeshivat Ha-Kotel, where their Rosh Yeshiva – presumably – gave a derasha.

I boarded an Egged bus for the return journey [from Eyn Feshka on the Dead Sea]. The driver told me he had come down empty. I said sherut zeh sherut, service is service, and he said ken, sherut zeh sherut. I was the only passenger on the way back. He told me he was a sixth generation Jerusalemite, had been captured by the Jordanians in 1948. En bayot, he said, they’re no problems. Sadat’s talk about 1971 being a year of decision – ehya; I can’t reproduce the scornful sound. Kol zeh shayach li, he said, all this belongs to me, pointing to the Judean and the Jordanian hills. But if he claimed the Jordanian territory this was koach ha-egroff, I said; the power of the fist. Ma zeh koach ha-egroff, he said, what’s this about koach ha-egroff? The Iraqis expelled the Jews with only the clothes they stood up in, the Jews were driven out of Egypt, Morocco (?) – they could, we couldn’t? Don’t worry, he said, I bet I sleep more soundly than you do in London, our army is the finest in the world, if the Arabs want to work, O.K., if they want a fight (he used the English word ‘fight’) they’d get it, en bayot, bo-u bahamoneychem, come in your masses. And again I found the tears flowing.

Friday, April 21st 1972, 5.30 p.m.

Sixty! No philosophising.

A routine day at school, i.e., wandered around with class in search of an empty classroom, eventually entered art-room, for first period. Second period could find no classroom at all, was told afterwards that lower library was available (would be available this particular period in future?), also hall (workmen banging, fifth formers doing alleged private study) and gym changing room (!).

Nevertheless, got through day without having to close eyes after lunch; did, even, a little marking (marked a whole class’s [?] grammar [square brackets in original, presumably questioning apostrophe use] test in less than a period – in my only “free” period, in fact, when I sat in with a class who were mäusestill), and although breathing fire and slaughter, managed to avoid sending anybody to WWS. My general feeling, that particularly if I didn’t have to go to shool every school morning [his mother had died in March], I could manage full-time school quite easily.

Ikkar, almost, shachachti. We – 2W – had raised £75 for the J.N.F.and Dr Levy, the Director, had said he would like to present the certificate. Because it was such uphill work getting them to be quiet, I told the kids I would ask Dr Levy not to come. I did, and he didn’t, but he sent a Jewish Observer photographer, and so yours truly will have his phiz preserved for posterity, presumably, in next week’s issue.

Tuesday, 9th May, 1972, 6.30 p.m.

Going back from the school’s swimming gala in Jack Ordman’s car we heard that the Israelis had freed all the passengers and crew [of a Belgian plane hijacked at Lydda].

Rabbi Cooper and Gerald Lever were in the car. Obviously jubilation. A ness. Baruch Ha-Shem. As Rabbi Cooper said, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth among Israel’s enemies. Israeli policy seems to be vindicated all along the line. Even Mr Jacobson, an Israeli Shaliach on the staff, said Israel would have to accede to some of the terrorists’ demands, but J.O. was firm that Israel would be quite firm, and he was triumphantly right.

Monday, 12th June 1972, 6 p.m.

On Friday morning I conducted the French dictation and aural at the Hospital of St John and Elizabeth (Roman Catholic) for Eli Joseph, a pupil in my “B” set. I knew his parents came from Egypt and were French speaking, and in fact his French was fluent, though pitted with grammatical errors.

From what WS had told me the previous day (“he’s got a twisted testicle or something”) I had imagined he would be sitting up fairly cheerful. In fact, he did the 3-hr paper in bed, obviously under great strain. His mother, a young, pretty woman told me her G.P. had said he (Eli) had developed a condition which might be fatal if not tackled immediately.

For me it was a restful morning: the peace of a quiet room with one other person in it, keeping quiet, after the hurly-burly of coping with classes of 20-30 rowdy kids (“after the hurly-burly of the chaise longue, the deep deep peace of the double bed”, as I mentioned to WH [Woody Harrison] – Mrs Patrick Campbell, he said (what did she say it apropos of?)).

Friday, 30th June 1972, 7.15 p.m.

A terrible latter part of the day yesterday. It was the 17th of Tammuz, and all I had had was a cup of tea before leaving for shool. And yet I had got through the morning, and had only one lesson to take in the afternoon, when . . . A boy, one David Marx (3rd year MH) had, as his is wont, been one of the last to come in to the lesson. There was, as is still not unusual in Hasmonean, no chair for him. (I think we must be one of the few schools in which a teacher goes into a classroom without being sure there will be a chair and a desk for every pupil, and a chair for the teacher.) I told him to stand in a corner. He sat on a desk, a broken one I think. I cannot remember the exact sequence of events that followed: I imagine he argued (“What’s wrong with sitting on the desk?”) or was tardy in standing up – Anyway, I grabbed him by the lapels, pushed him against the wall and then cuffed him on the head. It’s no use: I vow every day I will not touch a boy, but hardly a day passes when I don’t clout someone. He came forward. I said: “Where are you going?”. He said: “I’m bleeding”. He was, and his shirt was bloodstained. He said, after the lesson, there was a nasty cut on his head. I suppose I was fortunate there was no delegation to WWS. I don’t know whether I’m out of the wood yet, but no parent breathing fire and slaughter turned up to-day, and the assumption is that by Monday the signs of the assault will be less prominent than they were to-day. I even had fears he might have had to stay at home owing to his injuries (which looked bad – blood and bruise always do, take it from a professional sadist who always tries to beat up his victims without leaving any traces).

The tragedy is that the boy is not the blackest of my bête noires. He had told me, before, that his father was seriously ill, and in fact a few days previously I had stormed at him in class and said that it was only because of this that I was showing him indulgence.

Sam [dad’s brother] had had a reversion to his I’ll-get-a-divorce mood, which I suppose didn’t help. However, I can’t make excuses. IT MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN (yes, H.L. [see 22nd December 1966 entry in Part I], keep your eyes open to see when it will).

I think perhaps I should have tried to retire on a 38/55 basis, which would have meant, presumably at least a 30% approx less chance of these incidents occurring.

Monday, 17th July 1972, 9.05 p.m.

Coals of fire. Stanton read out a letter from Mrs Marx to the staff on Wednesday or Thursday. She mentioned no name of any teacher; they were having Mr Marx at home – he has cancer – so that he could spend his last days in comfort. David was a helpful boy at home; she did not object to reasonable punishment (I think she even wrote she did not object to reasonable physical punishment), but no hitting on the head.

I wrote a letter to her making the amende honorable, as far as any amende was possible, and as far as any amende could be honorable. The idea was my own, though A.M. had said he would have done this in my place, “though you don’t have to do what I would do,” etc.

To-day I was completely in control, including at cheder, though I gave formal lessons (some masters have started on the be-reading-quietly-while-I-get-on-with-this-marking/these-reports a few days ago). Almost certainly because I was in bed by 10.45 last night. If I could do this every night there will almost certainly be no trouble.

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son's Introduction – and II (of V), click here and here. Coming soon on melchett mike . . . The Witriol Diaries, Part IV: Chich, Bosoms, and a Bearded Cockney: Hasmo, the Next Generation.]

The Witriol Diaries, Part II (Hasmo Legends XXI)

Yankings, Twankings, Cuffs and Clouts

Monday, 6th November 1967, 9.15 p.m.

An unconventional mercy to-day at school: the heating was not functioning in the annexe, so Stanton dismissed the first three years. My luck was in; it meant I had the afternoon free.

It seems fantastic after eighteen years, but I still find myself dreading certain classes. Not perhaps with the same degree of dread that I have dreaded other classes at other schools, but still – “dread” is the word. It’s terrible. In each class there is a nucleus of boys whose behaviour is irreproachable, while in the fifth there is a minority of raggers and in the fourth the rest of the class just talk quietly, or chew quietly, or get on with other work than mine quietly. The mechanics of the school don’t help. No blackboards can be turned over (as with the obsolescent blackboards on easels) or covered prior to their being used for a particular lesson. Hence one has to write with one’s back to the class. There is only one break (apart from the dining hour, and it is just one hour), and even if I were prepared to sacrifice my own break by keeping boys in, I couldn’t, as my own form room is occupied. I do have two or three boys “outside the staff room”, but will have to change this, as it looks bad vis-à-vis the rest of the staff. One of the troubles in the 5th is that half of the class haven’t got the slightest interest in French. They don’t need it for O-level and so are a nuisance in class.

Sunday, 19th November 1967, 9 p.m.

Have had trouble at school – “twanked” one fifth form boy. I wish people who think of masters using the cane as sadists could have my feelings: the point of no return, thinking, why must I be the only one to cane (Stanton had recently said any boy etc. will be caned, and had, at a staff meeting, told the staff they could cane without reference to him).

Actually, I’m hoping not to have further 5th form trouble. At another staff meeting, Stanton said boys could be dropped from certain subjects (at Head of Dept.’s? Set Master’s? discretion) in the course of the next month or so, there was to be no “mock”. Am interpreting this as the green light to tell those boys who don’t want to take “O” level French to drop the subject and keep quiet, and I will leave them alone.

Sunday, 24th December 1967, 5.10 p.m.

On Tuesday last, I think, Ordman read out a report he’d written which went something like this: “Unless there is a change in his outlook the continuation of the course . . .” Here Ordman said he’d got stuck, would it be all right to finish “will be questionable”? I said I thought so, “will have to be reconsidered” or “will be questionable”.

Sam Balin, next day in the staff room, said he did not think the word “questionable” was right. I was tired, and was busy writing my own reports, so made no comment, merely thinking: a) that “questionable” was perfectly all right (one knew about the “questionable” taste that Sam mentioned, but, I think “questionable” can have the neutral, literal meaning, with no pejorative suggestions, of “arguable” “debateable”) b) that Sam himself had written on one report: “More determined necessary” (obviously he had meant to write “more determined efforts” or “more determination necessary”, but in the hurry his pen had slipped into “more determin necessary”, which he had then mis-amended to “more determined necessary”).

In commenting on one boy’s conduct I had written: “Good, (except for his tactlessness in trouncing his form-master at table-tennis)” – he had beaten me in the staff v. School table-tennis. As I expected, it was returned by Stanton with a note to the effect that facetiousness was to be avoided. I did a little routine grumbling in the staffroom, saying I could see Stanton’s point, but felt it was not necessary to make me inconvenience other masters by asking them to re-write their comments on a fresh report. Sam Balin, after a certain amount of friendly discussion by other people about all this, observed that it might be as well for Stanton not to get the impression that all Masters were like this. “What,” I said, “all as facetious as this?” “No,” he replied, “all as unintelligent.” And then things escalated. I made one or two cracks – trying to play it cool – on the lines of “I don’t know whether I’m intelligent enough to make this suggestion, but . . .” whereupon Sam: “If I were you I shouldn’t boast about your lack of intelligence,” to which I: “Since you’ve chosen to promulgate my lack of intelligence I’ll give it maximum publicity – and – if I’m not too unintelligent to be allowed to quote a French saying: Toute vérité n’est pas bonne à dire,” winding up with: “And although I hadn’t wanted to say anything about this, you wrote on a report ‘More determined necessary’”. Sam made no rejoinder, somewhat to my surprise. He could see I was het up. Anyway I phoned him up today to wish him a Chag Sameach, which was the best way I could think of intimating to him that I still hold him in the highest regard – which I do. (But the crack about unintelligent was not necessary, surely: it was not as if it had been made in a bantering tone. If he’d said: “Johnny, you can’t put this kind of thing in a report . . .” I wouldn’t have worried.) And, finally, I still don’t think my facetious comment was so terrible. It’s true I may give a boy lines for facetiousness, but this is only because his facetiousness holds up the lesson.

Sunday, 28th January 1968, 6 p.m.

Parents’ evening at the School last Tuesday. Again, the sort of thing one should write up: The parents: “He’s got a kopp.” One mum: “Oi vai, he won’t work, norr football.” This mum’s husband: “You haven’t changed, Mr Witriol, since you taught me English for Foreigners at the Stepney Institute eighteen years ago.” By contrast the professional-class parents worried about their boy. All rather touching, how parents strive for their children. School itself continues to be a daily battle. I can only be sure of surviving the day without major disasters if I am in bed by 11 p.m. the previous night.

Wednesday, 21st February 1968, 9.45 p.m.

A routine day at school. Every day I resolve to take things in my stride, every day I blow my top. Amazing to think I have been doing this two hundred days a year for nearly twenty years. I find it hard to believe my lessons are all that much duller than those of other teachers. Typical incidents to-day: 1) Audible announcement by boy in 4th year group: “I hate French”. No action taken. When I had kept the boy in previously and had told him and another lobbess I didn’t care whether he found French boring or not, he reacted with “I never said I found French boring” and in fact when I question him in class he’s obviously interested and has at least some sort of clue. Deflect your attention from him to someone else, or to the class in general, and he engages in conversation with his neighbour, or asks can he have a drink or indulges in any of the other chicanes, each one of which is insignificant, but the cumulative effect of which is to make one want to throttle a kid. 2) Three lobbesses came in after, eventually, had settled down to another lesson. They were three I had warned the previous day for coming in last. Sent them up to Stanton. He sent them down to me at the end of the lesson. Have told them to lose every mid-morning break, and quarter-of-hour at beginning of lunch break. 3) Another boy, in another lesson, sucking orange. Confiscated orange. Subsequently boy reading a non-book (i.e. not the text-book for the lesson) or doing something else he shouldn’t have been doing – can’t remember what. Yanked him out with controlled violence. A harmless boy, nebbich, just bored by the lesson (but, H.L. [see 22nd December 1966 entry in Part I]), smart Aleck, there were some boys, at least, who were not bored, and you give thirty lessons a week none of which will ever bore anybody), and during the change-over to the next lesson he was in tears over a scuffle with another boy. And this is how it goes, every day.

Monday, 26th February 1968, 8.45 p.m.

A good day at school to-day. Sic, yet note well: Free first period. Second period 5th year French, now whittled down to nine. After a few routine warnings told one Alan Marks to get out. His sparring partner, Landsman, said it was his (Landsman’s) fault. Told them both to exit, which they did. A few minutes later, a brush with Lebor, sitting with legs outsprawled. Either then, or previously, I had asked him why he hadn’t his text book. He: “If you saw my house, you wouldn’t ask.” (He moved house, from North Finchley, incidentally, a few days ago.) A propos of something or other I said to him: “I can do without you.” Lebor: “I can do without you, too.” Whereupon I told him, too, to exit, and not to give me any work to mark. He went out, taking with him, I believe, some HW he’d given me to mark. Period 3 – marked. Period 4 – German 2nd year, and Period 5, German 3rd year – no incidents. Check – Period 4 was French 4th. No incidents, in considerable part due to the fact that the French Assistant took six of them off my hands. Period 6, after lunch, French 3rd year. No incidents, but following one boy asking me the French for “miser” – I was giving them questions on “Combien d’argent de poche recevez-vous par semaine?” – and my writing up “L’Avore”, I told four boys whom I had booked to write me twenty lines on Molière, or to quote ten lines from any one of his plays, or at least ten of his works. Period 7, German 2nd – no incidents, Period 8 French 2nd also passed off without undue strain, due possibly to my adopting carrot- (house-mark) rather-than-stick policy.

Wednesday, 28th February 1968, 9.15 p.m.

Air of mourning in staff-room this morning. Infant child of Jacobson had died suddenly. He is a young man of 29. Had been telling us only a day or so before that he owed his life to a miracle. His parents were on the train leaving Germany taking him, then ten months old, with them. The Gestapo threw all other Jews off the train; but left his mother, who was feeding him, and his father alone. He is head of science at school, rigidly orthodox, and had just moved into a bigger house to accommodate his bigger family – the infant who died was his fourth child.

Anyway – death, cabinets, bathroom plugs [in this entry dad also noted with some satisfaction his DIY efforts], vanity of vanities – I must keep repeating this as a corrective to my fairly euphoric mood. Due probably to the fact that I went to bed not too late last night, and hence was able to cope reasonably today (after being told politely but explicitly by a charming – I am not being sarcy – boy yesterday that it was notorious that I could be played up without any difficulty).

Wednesday, 12th June 1968, 10.15 p.m.

Went to bed after midnight yesterday. Expected to have a bad day at school in consequence, but strangely enough was serene all through. This is not to say that I did noticeably less bawling, less hands-on-heads-ing, but I had the feeling that I could see it through. But the reaction came this evening. The kids [me, my brother and sister], delightful really, high-spirited, shouting, screaming, squabbling – but one just wanted to sit down in an armchair and read in complete silence.

Thursday, 4th July 1968, 9.45 p.m.

Last Sunday, on way to Cheder, a boy in a track suit came running up to me and greeted me with “Hullo Joe”. It was one Waldorf, whom I take at Hasmonean and who is also a pupil at Cheder. I had warned him a couple of days previously at school about uttering the word “Joe” in my presence (to forestall the “Please, Sir, I was speaking to Joe Plotak” ploy). Somme toute, I cuffed him – in the street. A woman’s head emerged from a coach: “Why did you do that?” A man standing on the pavement outside the coach, presumably the father: “Why didn’t you reprimand him?” Me: “I’ve reprimanded him, given him lines, detention, it has no effect. The only thing that’s any use would be six of the best.” He: “Why don’t you give them to him then?” Me: ? (I think I said something like “It’ll come to that,” but I can’t remember what I really did say – I couldn’t very well say “because I’ve been the only master at the Hasmonean to have used the cane this session – fact,” and yet Mr Myer says to me: “Sie sind, viel zu anständig, Mr Witriol.” He: “What’s your name, first name, address?” I gave them to him. So far I’ve had no Court Summons, but it’s a possibility I must reckon with till the end of term. After that I shall feel safe. The kid himself is one of the school’s half-dozen blackest sheep, but if I survive this business unscathed I’m hoping I shall benefit inasmuch as from now on, at last, I will keep my hands off boys unless I cane officially, and I don’t want to do that, even. Take a running jump at yourself H.L.

Yesterday, while invigilating during my form’s exams, four bright youths flicked ink on my summer light-weight jacket. I got their names by correct C.I.D. tactics: “If the boy doesn’t own up will keep whole form in.” “Please Sir, I wasn’t the only one, etc.” Reported the incident to Stanton, who wrote letters to parents. Myself, after the Waldorf incident, all passion spent. One of the boys’ mums came up to me to apologise. Told her she had nothing to apologise for. She told me (what I already knew) that her husband had left her two years ago, that the boy had seen a younger sister die, that he looked after his mother’s blind mother, and, I think, had at one time looked after the mother’s blind grandmother. She drove off in a swish car. She said she kept him on a tight rein at home. Simon [not clear] was in bed by eight-thirty every night.

Ah well, as I believe I said before.

Monday, 21st April 1969, 8.45 p.m.

My 57th birthday coincided with the rentreé . . . one or two boys at school wished me a happy birthday – apparently I had told them last term when my birthday was – and the news spread quickly.

The usual lack of enthusiasm on my part for the return. Instead of, as one would think, after ten years or so of teaching French, being able to turn on my lesson like a tap, I still find myself wondering what to do, and reduced within five or ten minutes of starting the lesson, to saying – not even “Open your books at”, but “Where did we get up to?” It’s going to be a long term – 13 weeks, with only one day off for Shavuot and another for Whit Monday.

Wednesday, 7th May 1969, 5.15 p.m.

School finished at 3 p.m. today as we have an evening for parents of third-formers to-night.

There seems to be a slight air of demoralisation generally. Classes seem to be disintegrating, what with Lag B’Omer holiday yesterday afternoon, which gave my small French “O” Level group a chance to evade the lesson they should have had last period in the morning, and when I try to get down to marking in the staff-room people are always nattering.

Wednesday, 4th June 1969, 9:30 p.m.

Gave a drooshe in school the other day, on Adon Olam. Won’t write about it here, taped my recollection of it. Seldom have to give more than four lessons a day, as my three 5th year groups are not in school, on study leave. Even so, each lesson seems an ordeal. I cannot say less than thirty times a day on average: “I won’t tolerate it, I’ll deal severely with the next boy, you will lose your break, stay in at four-fifteen, et palati et palati” – How do I survive? How does Klopholz, from Israel, with his fractured English, survive? (But I suspect he may not be much happier with his classes in Israel either.) Ah well, must live for the next hour, perhaps a read, a spot of telly. (Incidentally, does Sam Balin pinch my Times? We finished the X word yesterday – I had started off with about half-a-dozen clues – a record.)

Wednesday, 25th June 1969, 9.30 p.m.

On Monday I clouted a boy. It was at the end of the lesson, he was holding a chair in his hand, in what may have been a mock – or genuinely menacing – fashion, at another boy. He fell to the floor and then sat down holding his hand to his face.

He’s a nice lad, red-cheeked, who does a wonderful “Gemooorra laurnèn” act. I was as usual dreading a father or mum coming up and making “shvarts Shabbes” – the boy had a sticking plaster on his head the next day. He heaped coals of fire on my head by smiling at me on his way home last night.

I say, I keep on saying, I will keep my hands to myself – but it doesn’t help. If only I could remember, if I must touch a boy, to push him on the shoulder or something.

I delivered another drooshe the other day – on mevorchim ha-chodesh. I taped it, the recording, technically speaking, was quite good.

I sometimes find myself doing Times X word puzzle with Sam. If I am doing really well I can solve about 1/4 to 1/3 unaided, and Sam (Balin) finishes it off. Harrison almost invariably does it unaided.

I’ve made a note of three clues . . . think I’ll remember them to-morrow – a nekhtiger took (incidentally, a good example, surely, of independent lexical development in Yiddish, about which I was arguing some time ago with Sam B. He was trying to say, or rather was saying, that every phrase in Yiddish was straightforward German or Hebrew. I tried to point out that there were cases where Yiddish had put German words together to make a phrase which did not exist in German, or if it did exist, did not have the meaning it had in Yiddish. The first time I had this argument with Sam I couldn’t think of any examples, the second time I came up with geh in drerd. Another example is in shteyns gezoogt.)

Anyway, here are the X-word clues . . . “Pious saint and Latin version of matter in question” – POINT AT ISSUE (incidentally, it was Bloomberg, not a crossword addict, who “saw” the clue “Pious saint and (Latin); version of; = matter in question.”)

Friday, 18th July 1969, 5.30 p.m.

The back of end-of-term has now definitely been broken. I teach only about four periods on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday morning only a couple of periods and then we break up. In any case no doubt one of those periods will be spent with form masters, and for the last couple of days I can take the line of least resistance and let the kids do as they like short of inflicting mayhem on each other.

I doubt whether I shall ever have such a cushy year again. I had three fifth year classes, all of which, after the mock, were small. This meant that for a couple of weeks study leave preceding O level, for another couple of weeks during O level, and for the rest of the term afterwards (when the 5th form followed the Upper 6th time-table) I had an extra eleven free periods. I had no form this year, clearly because Stanton thought me incapable of controlling a form, which I should find humiliating, but don’t, or not particularly humiliating. (Young P. [dad’s initial], who was given a second-year form – I had a second-year form the previous year – was not able to keep his form room in a more salubrious state than I had. The difference is that when I came into his form room and found it littered with orange peel and other refuse, I merely got some boys to clear it up. S.B. would dilate on the filthy condition of this or that form room and say he wondered whether a sha’ale ought not to be asked about the permissibility of davenning in such a room.)

In spite of the cushiness, the struggle persists. Not a day passes without my laying hands on a boy. Well, I won’t go into all that now.

Thursday, 7th August 1969, 10 a.m.

[The Monday before last] we [our family] went to see The Merchant of Venice at the Open Air Theatre [in Regent's Park] . . . I went largely because I understood the “school” was organising the visit, and seats normally 17/6 could be got for 7/6. In the event, I doubt whether more than ten boys were present from the school, and I was the only master.

The evening turned out to be disastrous – on the way back Edith [my mum] said we couldn’t really afford the time, which I felt to be pretty ungracious. I said nothing, but there was tension.

All this because the Bloombergs [Alan and family] were coming round on the Wednesday. In the event their visit proved quite enjoyable. I was afraid that we would be unable to entertain them. They have a fine collection of records; it so happens that even our tape recorder had gone kaput – the tape had twisted, probably because I had moved the knobs too violently. But the time went, and they didn’t leave till past eight.

[For The Witriol Diaries, Part I (of V) – followed by A (Hasmo) Son's Introduction – click here. Coming soon on melchett mike . . . The Witriol Diaries, Part III: A Wall is a Wall and a School is a School: Deconstructing Marx.]

The Witriol Diaries, Part I (Hasmo Legends XX)

[Followed by A (Hasmo) Son's Introduction]

Out of the Friern pan . . . into the fire

Saturday, 19th November 1966, 6.55 p.m.

Have been seconded to Hasmonean Grammar School. Zemla (or Birch) [local education authority officers responsible for Friern Barnet County School] apparently heard of the vacancy, told Stanton, Hasmonean head, my story [presumably disciplinary problems at Friern Barnet], who nevertheless was not put off. The vacancy, Grieves [Headmaster at Friern Barnet] said, was to have been advertised in the J.C., but it wasn’t, because it was only a part-time post. I saw Stanton, and he agreed to take me. He seems a decent, pipe-smoking type. Said he didn’t think I would have any disciplinary problems, of the kind I have at F.B.C.S. Halvai.

Thursday, 22nd December 1966, 8.55 p.m.

Second day of holidays. Went to Hasmonean to look round, at Stanton’s suggestion (I had also seen him at his home previously, one evening, at his request).

Stanton, when I saw him chez lui, had asked about “outside activities”, and then said he’d like a “cercle Français” or “cercle polyglote” resuscitating. Apparently the idea is I would run this in the dinner-hour (which is sie wei sli short enough – 55 mins – the idea is the kids would eat their sandwiches in 10-15 mins, & then come along) every week. Stanton says the idea is – which I agree – that the kids should realise languages are something you speak, not something you pass exams in. But if I’m supposed to speak French/Hebrew once a week . . . ! However, perhaps I’ll manage. I must make an effort – Stanton said he would endeavour to maintain my allowance [from previous post], though it might be necessary to let it lapse for a time. It seems to me that my success or otherwise in running the Cercle will decide whether he thinks I’m worth the allowance or not.

I have been given a very easy timetable at H.G.S. – 13 free periods ( I notice that teachers are asked to “sit-in” when other members of staff are absent) and I think I must arrange for hospitalisation [for a minor operation], if any, to take place in holidays.

As a Hasmonean I must now be Orthodox – and keep my mouth shut. But before you start jeering at me, H.L. [an abbreviation frequently-used, standing for hypocrite lecteur, Baudelaire's hypocritical reader] – I told Stanton my theology was my own. I don’t have to tell him I think Judaism is a load of poppycock, since I don’t think it. The way of life of the school is for staff to wear kappels and come to school wearing a hat, and I’ve not the slightest objection to conforming.

Saturday, 31st December 1966, 10.15 p.m.

I can’t get down to thinking about and preparing for Stanton’s Cercle Polyglote (but I will call it Linguists’ Circle). He said he had some ideas.

Sunday, 15th January 1967, 3 p.m.

Started at H.G.S. Difficult to make a fair appraisal of the school, too much influenced by externals perhaps: the cramped staffroom compared with the spacious staffroom of F.B., the rather drab hall compared with F.B.’s impressive hall. In any case, the main thing is – I think – that I shall be able to teach here without dreading any lesson, and that I shall never need to pronounce – let alone use – the word “stick” or “cane”.

Of course, I have to face the fact that, towards the end of my teaching life, I am at the bottom of the Hasmonean hierarchy, but since I’ve always been at or near the bottom of the school hierarchy, I can’t worry too much about this.

Rather moving, after seventeen years of Christian assemblies, to hear the boys singing Ma Tovu – yes, the eyes misted over. But still felt guilty about the separatist aspect; if we want to be separate, then we must have a separate country. Unless, indeed, we accept the position of a national minority – but has there ever been a national (as opposed to a religious) minority in which relations between minority and the dominant, governing majority have been good? I do not think we can consider ourselves a religious minority, since the majority of Jews are only nominally religious, as are the majority of Christians.

Meanwhile, I find myself trying to conform more and more, observance-wise at any rate. I would indeed like to go to shool on Shabbes without fail and getting there on time.

Monday, 6th February 1967, 10.10 p.m.

Presumably I’m in at the HGS. Have been given 4A as form. Some of them tell me they have reputation as tough form, but I see no louts among them. When I told them I was taking over, I let slip the word “induction”, which they pounced on. In a trice they had drawn up an order of service. Actually, they davenned a Mincha de circonstance, repeating the Amidah, loud responses, etc. I felt it would be improper to intervene once they had started, and put on an indignant act about being reverent, etc.

Have changed the induction service to a conversazione, which Eli (“Acker”), the form captain, has duly affiche’d in the form room – which has duly attracted good-humoured comment from rest of staff.

Wednesday, 8th February 1967, 9.15 p.m.

This lunch hour 4A welcomed me with a conversazione. I believe I had said about a week ago “Well, I’m taking over from Mr Ordman (their previous form-mentor: a physicist who takes a shiur(!) at the school in the mornings and hence is not really available for form duties), I don’t suppose an official induction is necessary.” That was enough. Before you could say Ashrei Yoshvei they had seized on the idea of an induction service, floral and choral. However, on the way home I realised that “induction” was no go, and managed to switch to a conversazione. One of the boys’ mother made a cake inscribed J.W. and there was another inscribed 4A. “Acker” (his proper name is Eli Pick), the form captain, sported a topper for the occasion, there were two photographers and somebody taping my speech. “Acker” said there was a passage in the Musaf Rosh Hashana service, after the blowing of the shofar, that was familiar to them all: Am cabanim rachmanoo – their teacher should show them mercy, too, as they couldn’t be expected to be good all the time. He drew attention to the roshei tevot – A-C-R = Acker, which I thought was very good.

Eli "Acker" Pick welcomes Joseph Witriol, the latest Hasmo "lamb," to 4A

Responding, I said how moved I had been to hear Ma Tovu on the first day of term – my first day at the school – at assembly. I found my voice momentarily breaking. I said that Mr Balin (the only other master present – they all received invitations, but of course I didn’t expect any of them – even Sam [Balin and dad were distant cousins] – to sacrifice their meagre lunch-hour) had said I would find it “different” with Jewish boys and though I did not distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish pupils, nevertheless, when I heard Ma Tovu, it was plus fort que moi.

Monday, 20th February 1967, approx 5.30 p.m.

Not all honey at H.G.S., though I still can’t see it not being tolerably viable, whereas at Friern Barnet (or any other Sec Mod. or Comprehensive school) viability would be problematical, or at best, would be achieved only in the way one achieves viability in a prison.

Tuesday, 14th March 1967, 7.55 p.m.

Went to bed about 12.30 a.m. yesterday. Result – wanted to close eyes all day. But have noticed, when tired, below weather, fly much less off the handle than when feeling rested, completely fit. (Strange, dragooned into a brains trust this dinner hour. One of the questions – a good one: “What do you think is the most expressive idiom in English? Which is your favourite idiom?” Could think of nothing at all – wish had been able to think of “fly off the handle”.)

About the brains trust. Sam was originally to be one of the team, but following an offensive criticism of him in a sixth-form news-sheet he had mentioned in the staff-room that he would withdraw from the team. Frankly, I had not expected him to keep his word, but he evidently had. Dr Lewis, a Gentile member of staff, who was to have been one of the team, had evidently forgotten his engagement, and I was summoned by a boy to take his place. I agreed on principle, and in spite of my tiredness – not so much tiredness, as the feeling I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I acquitted myself reasonably well. On reflection, perhaps I should have declined, in sympathy with Sam, but I’m pretty sure Mitchell Taylor, who was in the chair, was present in the staff room when the offensive comment was discussed, and if he didn’t see any reason to back out, I don’t see why I should have. Someone had reported on a football match with another school which Sam had reff’d (pretty good going at sixty, all said and done) and had written: “Mr Balin, who knows little about football . . .” I have – genuinely – every sympathy with Sam over this, but as I say, I don’t think I was called upon to take any action, and my participation was a morale booster.

Sunday, 26th March 1967, 4 p.m.

Winter, who teaches Maths at H.G.S., is a buddy of Stanton’s and a macher type, asked me if I would do a class at Kinloss Gardens (Finchley Synagogue Hebrew classes) vice Mrs Gerber (the sister-in-law of Dr Gerber, also – Dr Gerber – on H.G.S. staff) while she is having a baby. Fee £1 an hour “off the record”. I said I liked to declare everything. He said, “You’re a mug. Y [my "Y"] is an accountant and he doesn’t declare everything.” He went on to say that Rabbi X on the school staff had justified halachically tax-evasion.

Sonnerfeld [footnote reads "Schonfeld, I mean – or Shonfeld. Schonfeld, I think."] confirmed my appointment at H.G.S., with grade I post. Meno male [a favourite Italian expression, usually meaning "thank goodness," though, sometimes, "it could have been worse"], H.G.S. is not all honey by any means – I have found myself taking boys out of classroom by scruff of neck, calling another boy – quite a nice lad, really – a “yob” (which he resented deeply) – but it is fair to say that if I prepare my lessons reasonably I can cope and even get some satisfaction from the job.

I am taking French, German and Modern Hebrew with the fourth year – “B” groups in F. and M.H., just the one group in German – and presumably will carry on into the G.C.E. year. I feel, that with reasonable luck, I will get a fair share of passes in all three subjects. Possibly no merit of mine, except in French, where I feel reasonably conscientious and reasonably competent teaching will get reasonable results with reasonable pupils (reasonable in the sense that they conscientiously do H.W. which I conscientiously set and mark; they may muck about in class, but only when I haven’t a complete grip on the teaching situation – how like an educationist he talks).

I have committed myself to giving a drooshe at next Friday’s assembly – every Friday a volunteer master talks about the next day’s sidra. My sidra is Shemini which concerns itself with sacrifices or impurities or something and – what I shall talk about – the dietary laws in Lev XI. Can I pick holes in them!

I would not now play [tennis] on Shabbes. I want to play the game as far as Shabbes is concerned. I told Sonnerfeld [see above] I was a shomer Shabbes. He interviewed me a month or so ago. I found him not the ogre he has been alleged to be in the past. He said “You won’t find one of the staff here who aren’t froomers.” I told him about the Borough Shool [which dad attended in his youth] and he mentioned something to the effect that he supposed I knew you mustn’t carry on Shabbes. I said of course, and he said you didn’t learn that from Rosenbaum [the Minister at Borough Synagogue]. I said I didn’t guarantee not to carry a handkerchief in my pockets – he said he wasn’t going to look in my pockets, which is really extraordinarily liberal.

Monday, 3rd April 1967, 10.30 p.m.

My drooshe went down well. Perhaps I will copy it out here if I get a chance. On the morning I deviated slightly from script. Stanton said “Excellent”, and there were plenty of Yishor Koach’s. Again, Meno Male. Sam B. was conspicuous by his non-reference to my drooshe, but he told me that he disapproved of lay staff preaching, in principle, so – fair enough. My review on Heine – commissioned in May last! – appeared [in The Jewish Chronicle] last Friday also attracting publicity at the school for me.

Monday, 17th April 1967, 9.30 p.m.

Term ended on Friday with no mishaps. The reports which I twice thought would be lost, turned up, and Stanton signed without comment. Two open evenings. Rather moving, the concern shown by parents in their kids. Some parents’ remarks rather revealing – Mr X never seems to give them homework, Mr Y is regularly drunk (one had heard something to this effect about Mr Y from the kids, but had not observed it oneself).

Winter was involved in a car smash on leaving the parents’ evening last Wednesday. I saw him in bed, to get my form’s reports from him. He has stitches in his legs, but is irrepressible – a slim energetic boisterous young grandfather.

Much to be done, but I know, of course, I shall not do it. No moral fibre. Had even thought of getting to shool in mornings so as to be dressed and ready for work by 9 a.m. Not of course that this would be on. Yet Frank, senior master of HGSB, gets to the morning minyan at the school (0815), has the “breakfast” (Cereal, bread ‘n butter ‘n jam), is taking boys on few days walking tour, often has a lunch-hour lesson – and he must be in his sixties (he too a grandfather).

Sunday, 7th May 1967, 9.45 p.m.

Started school, which now finishes 4 p.m. Fridays. I have only one free period, now, on Friday, which makes this the hardest day.

Thursday, 18th May 1967, 8.45 p.m.

Difficulties at school, but if I face up to (– to you H.L.) doing 3-4 hours marking a week next year, feel I can get by. For this term, with my 13 free periods, 1-2 hours marking should be adequate.

Thursday, 25th May 1967, 8.40 p.m.

Israel crisis, perhaps most serious yet.

Armchair strategists, geo-politicians in staff room; tehillim at school minchas and assembly. As Sam Balin said, that’ll put the wind up Nasser. But, in fairness, it does no harm, and if I don’t make the gesture of flying out and grabbing a rifle there is no point in my condemning tehillim – and I am getting to know the tune of Esa Enai [I will lift up mine eyes. Ps. 121].

Feel humiliated about all this. As I told Gamliel, an Israeli on the staff, feel there will always be Arab trouble. Basically, I want to be the big “English” brother and don’t want to give the Israelis an opportunity for heroics or martyrdom.

Monday, 5th June 1967, 8 p.m.

War broke out this morning. What may happen does not bear thinking on. An Arab Sheikh said on T.V. the Arab’s aim was to exterminate Israel. Harrison, a goy on the staff, said you can’t exterminate three million people. Hitler exterminated six million.

Friday, 14th July 1967, approx 7.30 p.m.

Gave my drooshe today on Parshes Bollok (sic – but I pronounced it Bay-lack and Bullock (first syllable as in “but”)). Tony Brown said he’d never had any trouble with Parshes Bollock. The double entendre was new to Meyer; I notice he pronounced it Boòleck yesterday morning. Strange, I spent literally months thinking what form I should give the drooshe, trying to draw topical analogies. In the event I kept it all anodyne.

Anyway, mood of euphoria now. Nine working days to go, and then, as usual, won’t know what to do first in holiday.

[Coming soon on melchett mike . . . The Witriol Diaries, Part II (of V): Yankings, Twankings, Cuffs and Clouts.]

A (Hasmo) Son’s Introduction

My father, Joseph Witriol (1912-2002, Hasmonean 1966-1977), kept a hand-written Journal from 1957 for around forty years, running to some 17 volumes.

Some of what he wrote is highly personal, but there is also the trivia of daily life; the detailed observations of people and places; the sometimes extraordinarily analytical retelling of events; the philosophical, religious, political, cultural, and linguistic insights and musings. And, of course, his wife Edith (1922-2006), children (myself, Philip, born 1959, Max, born 1960, and Susannah, born 1963), other family, friends and work all feature. All expressed with a deep sense of morality and humanity, lightened though by an urbane, self-deprecating, cynical, and occasionally, ahem, vitriolic style.

"Thank you for the umbrella . . . ": My bar mitzvah speech, in-between mum and dad (Woodside Park Synagogue, 20th February 1972)

The overarching theme is the feeling of being a failure. Among the many things this ‘failure’ did was to write his (as yet unpublished) memoirs, Also Lived – An Autobiography of a Failure, chronicling his life up to the time the Journal begins. His hope, often expressed in the Journal, was that his children (especially I, his first-born) would not repeat his mistakes and would make something of their lives.

However, had I not stumbled across the superb melchett mike blog (in true failure style, from Googling my brother’s name during an aimless, late night surfing session), I doubt whether I would have even thought of ‘uploading’ these Hasmonean-related entries. More typically for me, another ‘project’, to transcribe and eventually publish in some form the work probably closest to my father’s heart, Mumme Looshen – An Anatomy of Yiddish, still remains uncompleted more than four years after I began working on it.

A recurrent theme of dad’s school-related (both Hasmonean and previous schools) entries is the struggle to control his temper in the face of pupil indiscipline, and his more than occasional recourse to physical punishment. This may shock even the most non-PC of readers. In dad’s (partial) defence, I would point out that this was in the late Sixties/early Seventies, before the enlightened, student-centred attitude of our own day.

Entries have not been altered unless an error is obvious or the meaning completely obscured. Indeed, dad sometimes noted his misspellings and wondered if they were Freudian slips. The occasional solecism, for example, is, perhaps, natural in an entry usually compiled after a day’s work. There are also minor inconsistencies which may reflect changes of style over time (such as various spellings of compound words, such as “staff room”). He sometimes, as in writing about the induction, in Part I , inadvertently repeated himself. And dad was not given to short paragraphs. Or sentences.

I have overcome my mixed feelings about printing ‘juicier’ items. Given the passage of time and the nature of such revelations, I have opted for disclosure. However, where something is too sensitive, I omit. Sometimes, dad would use a person’s initials if a comment was derogatory. He may have foreseen the possibility of his entries reaching a wider audience. He did refer to his children and grandchildren reading it decades hence and in one passage stated we should be allowed to communicate or publish (my emphasis) their contents. Reading some passages (for example, the description of colleagues) I am also tempted to feel he was not just writing for himself.

I have tried to keep my comments [in square brackets, thus] to a minimum. I rarely explain words and expressions merely because they are dated or obscure. Against my own deepest waffling instincts, I avoid explanation or interpretation. Occasionally, dad imagined how a future Ph.D. student/editor of his Journal (and his Autobiography) would exhaustively footnote a minor point. I hope the reader will get a feel for my dad’s character through his words without any ‘prompting’ by me. Nevertheless, in addition to the general remark already made about corporal punishment, let me break my own rule and make one other: In public, and when speaking with us at home, dad was very modest (and not in a false way). In this medium, however, he did indulge in self-praise from time to time.

Putting his feet up: Dad, photographed for the school magazine at our North Finchley home, on his retirement (July 1977)

Dad was a polyglot, etymologist and linguist who, without affectation, frequently used foreign words and phrases in his writings. Above all, he was a lover of, and expert in, Classical and Modern Hebrew. As well as a superb academic knowledge of Yiddish, he had grown up with a mother whose first language it was. The aphorisms of mumme looshen were imprinted on him. I keep his transliteration of Hebrew and Yiddish words (italicised for ease), even though these may sometimes seem unusual to the modern reader. The accurate copying of foreign words and expressions – whether in French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish or Yiddish – is limited by the original’s handwriting and my lack of knowledge of the languages. Rather than labouring to decipher them myself, I hope the meaning is usually inferable(ish) or that research by the still-curious reader will yield results.

Philip Witriol (Hasmonean 1970-1977), Muswell Hill, N10

Rosh Hashanah Caption Competition

Forget the Mossad: The tentacles of melchett mike spread far and wide. And its operatives don’t get caught by CCTV cameras in bad-fitting tennis gear and piss-poor stick-on moustaches.

On Friday afternoon, as I was preparing to welcome in the Shabbos bride (or, more truthfully, whatever bint the evening’s activities might throw up), I received an e-mail from a melchett mike operative working in London NW11 under the code name “Whistle Blower”, containing the photograph below.

The e-mail, titled “A week before Rosh Hashono, noch!”, read as follows:

“What kind of man would spend ten minutes in the Corner Shop leafing through the newspapers, and then leave without buying one? Woe to the Sons of Jacob!”

The most humorous caption submitted by comment below will – and I am feeling extremely generous today – win its author half a Goldstar in the Tel Aviv drinking establishment of his/her choice, together with a free lifetime subscription to melchett mike. And I have it on good authority that, in this particular case, it would not negate one’s Selichot!

I have no idea who you are, “Whistle Blower”, but sterling work!

Wishing all readers of melchett mike a happy, healthy, peaceful, and thoroughly irreverent New Year.

melchett mike,
Rosh Hashanah 5771

http://www.justgiving.com/melchettmike/

Hasmo Legends XIX: The Return of the Rotter-in-Chief

At some point last year, at the height of Hasmo Legends mania, I was contacted by Rabbi David Meyer, the Executive Headteacher of Hasmonean (Boys’ and Girls’). “Dave”, who was in the year above me at Hasmo, was concerned at the damage the series might cause to the careers of the few teachers – in particular, a Bissli-scoffing one whom I had not yet documented – still at the school.   

At the end of our conversation, Dave – who has taught at Hasmo for around 15 years – invited me back to the school on my next visit to Blighty. Dave probably forgot the offer the second after he made it . . . but how could I?! In fact, not only did I not forget it, but, straight from Heathrow, on that sunny late-March afternoon, I caught the Tube to Mill Hill East and, then, the 240 up Holders Hill Road.   

As I approached the front gate, one of the few Hasmo landmarks still in the same place since I left the nuthouse almost 25 years ago, I was half expecting to be confronted by a crude East End hunchback effing and blinding about DJ (“the facking cant”). Instead, two young Eastern Europeans – folk known to excel in guarding Jews – now manned Jack Rose’s former position. They took my suitcase, and instructed me to report to the school reception just inside the main entrance (beneath the headmaster’s office, adjacent to the hole allocated to the aforementioned Benippled Forehead when he, so shortsightedly, was appointed Deputy Head in the early Eighties).   

The first familiar face that I spotted – and it was the last that I had wanted to – on the other side of the locked double doors between the reception and Dave’s office was that of said Bissli scoffer (aka “Flop”). Even though, as a result of my promise to Dave, Flops, Greater and Lesser had been rather less unkind than it otherwise might have, I immediately suspected that Dave might be laying on a warm welcome – never underestimate an ex-Hasmo, even an Executive Headteacher, in the practical joke department – with Flop lying in wait for me in his office. The image of being put across the knee of the big man – who is no doubt relishing his ‘new’ title of “Urrrggh . . . Director of Management Information Systems” – and having my bottom dealt with, but this time aged 42, brought me out in a cold sweat. But I was being unnecessarily paranoid.   

After hanging around for ten minutes (and after Flop had already departed the scene), I reminded myself that this was still Hasmonean and that Dave probably had no idea that I was even there – after all, how many times had Rabbi Roberg had me standing outside his office for an entire day, only to mutter irascibly, at four-thirty, “What are you doing here, boy?” – and, as it transpired, he didn’t!        

I knew Dave (right) in our school days – when he was universally known, as though his names were conjoined, as “DaveMeyer” – primarily as the cousin of the Hasmo boy with the least imaginative parents: “Sod it,” Dave’s uncle and aunt, the parents of Meyer Meyer (who was in my year), had clearly resolved, “let’s just call him ‘Meyer’.” But I recalled Dave as a particularly likeable bloke. And he still is.   

Warm greetings over, Dave immediately took me into the playground – which seemed a lot smaller to a 42-year old – where an immaculately observed fire drill was taking place. How was our generation to take such rehearsals seriously when, as we would pile back into the school building some half an hour later, we would witness the spectacle of “Cyril” calmly descending its main staircase in his trilby and mac?!   

In some strange sense, perhaps because I longed to rejoin the “louts” of my day for the afternoon, I was disappointed that these boys looked so human, and were not fighting, shouting, gobbing, and/or pulling each others’ ties (there was absolutely no sign either, during the course of the afternoon, of a black market in confectionery, penny up the wall, or of searches for spare chairs). But it was just so inexplicably wonderful to be back, a feeling of elation and enthusiasm that lasted well into the evening.  

I again avoided Flop in the playground, but instantly recognised, in the distance, my 1BK form master from 1978/9. Even though he claimed to have only “heard about” melchett mike (characteristic diplomacy that I immediately understood), it was lovely to catch up briefly with Jonny Bokor (right), who – against all the odds – appears to have maintained both his sanity and geniality.   

There followed a tour of the school – which, though still no architectural wonder (there is talk of a move to a new site), is at least now replete with proper, pukka art, wood and metalwork, music and computer rooms, and even a couple dedicated to cooking (“food tech” they call it) and plumbing – throughout which, so completely have the buildings changed, I had to repeatedly ask Dave where we were vis-à-vis the Hasmo of yesteryear.         

Despite the physical changes, the place, for me, was still full of Legends past. So, whilst the old gymnasium may have gone, I could not help but imagine a mad-eyed Cypriot, wielding a white Dunlop tennis shoe, emerge from around every corner. And in Room 1 (right) and Room 12 “over the bridge”, I sat in the very same spots that I had enjoyed the happiest, and most hilarity-filled, hours of my life (in the presence of the Legendary son of Swansea, of course).  

Whilst elated to be back, I could not help but feel a tinge of regret that our generations were denied the opportunities on offer to the Hasmo boys of today. Entering each classroom and being introduced to young, enthusiastic, and, most shockingly of all, normal teachers (right), was oddly incongruous on the grounds of Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. Those who joined that Hasmonean kissed goodbye to any chance they otherwise might have had of learning about art, music, geography, or indeed any of the humanities, in any real depth or at all. Moreover, those who were not motivated or self-starters had very little chance in maths and the sciences either (though we were taught how to execute a basketball “lay-up shot” and not to “double dribble”).   

Indeed, I am of a generation of ex-Hasmos for whom Art meant being chased up and down a long annexe by a white-bearded lunatic wielding a plank of wood – that he proudly named “Whacko” (though it should probably have been spelt “Wacko”, after its maker) – with a protruding nail strategically positioned at its tip for good measure. So, witnessing the quality of art on display in the Hasmo Art Room (below) was a total revelation . . . like someone reared on Sam Fox and Linda Lusardi chancing upon some private pics of Penélope Cruz.   

Today’s Hasmonean also offers pupils a wide array of educational trips and excursions. Whilst Boulogne is still in the brochure (though the Hasmo boys of today probably don’t re-cross the Channel armed with flick knives and pornographic playing cards), pupils can also now visit the art galleries of Paris and the World War One battlefields of Ypres. There is a trip, too, to Poland, and even one to Spain and Gibraltar to learn about Sephardic history (Hasmo’s former religious ‘elite’ would have loved that!)         

I was more than a little amused to learn that melchett mike had been raised by concerned parents of prospective new Hasmos, and also flattered that every teacher to whom Dave introduced me had read – and enjoyed – Hasmo Legends. Indeed, in the very office that, on more than one occasion, I had begged (God knows why?!) to be allowed to continue at the school, I discussed with Headteacher (Boys’) Andrew McClusky (above) specific stories that I had written. I was amazed by the particularity of his interest, singling out as he did a story (search “Rabbi Fine”) that had tickled him way back in Hasmo Legends II. And it said much to me about the man and his insight, because – however seemingly insignificant – that story speaks volumes about the attitudes prevalent in the old Hasmonean.  

The new Hasmonean is winning both plaudits and awards, and not just for examination results – as a result of deft manipulation of which pupils were allowed to enter which exams, it won those even when it was crap – but also for a progressive, imaginative approach to education, which takes into account that it takes more than Limmudei Kodesh to produce a well-rounded adult. 

The best example of this is the so-called “Enrichment Programme”, devised by the two Headteachers. This has nothing to do with brown envelopes stuffed with salary supplements (for JS teachers only, of course!) – as alleged in comments to melchett mike – but rather with providing Hasmoneans with a broader, more rounded education. Allotment Gardening, Aromatherapy and Basic Knitting – and I haven’t even got to “C”! – are amongst the eye-opening courses on offer (apparently without fear that one such might, chas vesholom, trigger a sexual self-realisation before a commitment to a double life, and years of frustration, in Gateshead).  

In life, however, every silver lining can also have a cloud. And a truly wonderful afternoon was soured somewhat on my way out through Hasmo’s corridors by a chance sighting on a notice board – like a recognition whilst watching Crimewatch – of a photograph (right, snapped while Dave’s attentions were elsewhere) from its summer walking tour.   

“It can’t be . . . surely,” I so wanted to convince myself. “Nahhh, not after all these years. Probably just looks like him.”   

Apparently, DJ will, at the end of this current term, have been teaching at Hasmonean for fifty years. A scary thought, considering that I gave up Chemistry O-Level because I couldn’t take another forty minutes of him. Anyway, the school will probably be planning some kind of event to mark the occasion (the West Hendon branch of Al-Qaeda may well be able to come up with something appropriate).   

But I was not going to allow even so nasty a surprise to spoil such a special afternoon.   

“Everyone told me I was mad to invite you,” Dave confessed. Well, Dave, thank you for ignoring them! I am not naive enough not to realise that Dave’s kind, if impulsive, invitation had more than a little to do with his desire to have something positive written about the changes that have taken place in Holders Hill Road under his stewardship. But that is fair enough. As Dave points out, “probably our hardest battle is explaining that the Hasmonean of today has the same name, but is not the same school as that of the past.”   

The odd fact remains that I would not necessarily choose to be schooled in today’s Hasmonean rather than our’s: the total absence of “Yoks” – the school, these days, operates a strict Shomer Shabbos policy – must, almost by definition, take away much of its former colour, just as its newfound normalcy must its unique humour and chutzpah. But would I prefer my children to be schooled in the old Hasmo? No, probably not.   

The fact that the “Rotter-in-Chief” was welcomed back at Hasmonean, while the Legend who gave him the title can now only rant from the safe distance of Stamford Hill – and those of his ilk have been replaced by proper, responsible educators – suggests that Dave Meyer & Co. are doing a fine job of dismantling an “institution” . . . but of building a school.          

The Two Daves . . . and he's not talking on his mobile in this one!

Postscript Dave informed me (without any request for assistance) that Hasmonean is running at an annual deficit of around £450,000 (security costs, alone, total over £100,000). If you have enjoyed Hasmo Legends, and feel that you would like to contribute to your former alma mater, please say so via a comment below (but without specifying an amount, to avoid others feeling that what they can – or are willing to – give may be insufficient). I will then forward your e-mail address (from the comment form) to Dave. An extremely generous ex-Hasmo has pledged to match, pound for pound, donations up to a total of £300,000 for each of the next three years . . . so your money will count double!