A Right Royal Piss-Take

What just happened there then?

Why were friends and acquaintances I had always found to be entirely sane and discerning now displaying more grief at the demise of a woman they had never met than they had on the death of their own parents? And why were some taking so personally my calling out the Queen’s funeral pomposities as I saw them, as excessive, ridiculous, even obscene?

“There is a time and a place,” I was repeatedly told. But I reside in a place that was never on the Queen’s map, and — seeing as I had just endured ten days of mawkish tosh being trotted out from every UK media outlet (including by journalists who I knew did not believe a word they were saying) — the time seemed just fine too.

The deification of the Queen this past fortnight — culminating in an OTT, stage-managed funeral that made Speer’s rallies look like a 70s NF march down Eltham High Street — appeared to me like collective hysteria bordering on mental illness.

So what is it all based on then, this monarchy thing? The divine right of kings?

If you have spotted the “divine” in our adulterous new King, who throws tantrums over leaking fountain pens, then please do let me know where. Or if you have seen it in his brother — reportedly the Queen’s (one-time, at least) favourite son — who at best fraternised with a notorious sex trafficker and paedophile, and at worst raped an underage girl. Or in his younger son, whose idea of a lark was dressing up as a Nazi . . . though perhaps this one should not entirely surprise, seeing as all manner of uncles and aunts actually were Nazis, married to them, or a little bit partial to a soupçon of Nazism.

I mean just how gullible can people be about a family of such preposterous, unearned and undeserved wealth and privilege? And who in their right mind would actually look up to such a largely dysfunctional lot? Now that the Queen has left us, I can’t think of a single role model amongst them. Indeed, to come up with a family as unsavoury, I have to think back to some of those I came across during my training in Criminal and Family Legal Aid.

The supersensitive friend (now ex-) most enraged by my “obscene” observation — and that is pretty much all it was — on Facebook is a fellow Leeds United fan who once Sieg Heil-ed in my presence in a Madrid bar. (Nothing to do with me, you understand, rather the unannounced playing of a U2 song . . . they are Irish, you know!) I suppose different things offend different people.

The Queen always came across to me as a decent human being. But that was all she was . . . a human being, if with a heightened sense of duty and moral rectitude, who performed an essential “check and balance” under the curious British Constitution.

Growing up, I would look at Mrs Hart — our lovely “daily” on Edgeworth Crescent, who worked tirelessly for her family on the local estate — and ponder the unjust randomness of things. To me, as a boy, she and Elizabeth Windsor even resembled one another. Pat Hart, though, had not been born into a family anointed by an absurd fiction. “Good morning, Doctor Isaacson,” Mrs H would always merrily call out to my father. But on the occasions that Prince Philip visited him at King’s College Hospital, my father, a brilliant consultant physician, was not even permitted to initiate conversation with the Duke.

The main conclusion I draw from the sometimes surreal past fortnight is that people are looking for meaning that organised religion — including my own (I was simply aghast at how many Jewish friends bought into the mass hysteria) — cannot provide. I mean even an avowed apikores (non-believer) like me would rather hedge my bets with a Higher Being, with credentials stronger and a reign longer than those of a family characterised by at least as much bad as good.

Queen Elizabeth II (credit: Julian Calder for Governor-General of New Zealand)

David Baddiel: Britain’s useful, go-to Jew

Exiting Stamford Bridge twenty years ago on a wave of euphoria after Hapoel Tel Aviv had dumped Chelsea out of the UEFA Cup, who should I walk straight into . . . but TV celebrity David Baddiel. Though feeling more or less meh about Baddiel back then, it was too good an opportunity not to greet the proud Blue, but also fellow Jew, with a cheeky “Who were you rooting for, David?”

“Chelsea, of course,” came the scornful reply, Baddiel’s face contorted into the expression of sourness my late mum used to observe on certain folk when they spoke to or about Jews. (There is a great Yiddish word, which escapes me, that she always used to describe the look.)

I had been somewhat provocative. I kind of knew, even then, that Baddiel’s loyalties would not be as divided as mine would have been (and were, the following year, when Leeds United came up against Hapoel). But he supports a club that I dislike intensely — both as a Leeds fan and as a Jew (Chelsea supporters have always been notorious for their antisemitic chants at games) — which had just been humiliated by the minnows from the Jewish State (to which I had emigrated some five years earlier). It felt, however, like there was something more to his caustic retort.

No one has ever accused me of lacking humour when it comes to my Jewishness, but I never liked the way Baddiel played on his on telly, continually allowing his sidekick Frank Skinner to get a cheap laugh out of every silly, ignorant and often offensive Jewish stereotype in the book. In one 90s sketch (click here), Baddiel and Skinner manage to bring Tottenham Hotspur, insurance fraud, Volvos and hassidim into a nauseating pantomime featuring (“using” might be the more appropriate word) the late Avi Cohen, the first Israeli footballer to play in England. (Baddiel has also been widely criticised for his use of blackface to poke fun at a black footballer.)

Baddiel has since, of course, reinvented himself as the self-styled kick antisemitism out of football tsar, lecturing Spurs fans on how they can no longer identify — as they do quite harmlessly for every Jew (and there are quite a few) that I know — as “the Yids”.

Baddiel’s talent for self-publicity has made him the British media’s go-to Jew. And if the BBC and Guardian couldn’t give a hoot about his hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to anti-racism, they absolutely lap up his sellout stance on Israel. It is the perfect symbiotic relationship: Baddiel loves the spotlight and sound of his own voice — at the same time winning brownie points with fellow (if more ideologically sound, i.e., rabidly anti-Zionist, many would say self-loathing) ‘progressive’ left Jews, such as Miriam Margolyes and Alexei Sayle — and the anti-Israel British media cherish their useful, celebrity Jew who never fails to deliver, proudly regurgitating his “meh” attitude towards the Jewish State at the mere sight of a keyboard or microphone.

David Baddiel (Specsavers National Book Awards by TaylorHerring)

The appointed mouthpiece of British Jewry has been making lots of media appearances this past week to publicise his new book on antisemitism. (He can’t be suffering too badly when one of his main gripes is non-Jewish actors being chosen to play Jews.) And he has been at it again about the Jewish State: “My own position has always been kind of meh about Israel . . . obviously in the last twenty years — not for not good reason on many occasions in terms of the behaviour of the Israeli State — Israel has become a pariah.” (last Thursday’s Nihal Arthanayake show, BBC Radio 5 Live)

One would have to be a bit dim — one accusation that could never be levelled at Baddiel — not to understand the centrality of Israel to so many Diaspora Jews. Polls show that in excess of ninety percent of British Jews identify with the country, feeling that the very existence of a Jewish State protects and empowers them. And one would imagine that an intelligent bloke like Baddiel might see how his mother’s family (not to mention millions of others) may have been spared its calamity in 1939, having to flee Nazi Germany for its lives, had Israel existed then. But even if he doesn’t (or pretends that he doesn’t), to continually publicly denigrate it — especially at a time of increasing antisemitism (on left and right) — is selling out of the most distasteful kind.

Baddiel’s arrogance is matched only by the fragility of his ego — not a particularly attractive combo — as he insults and then blocks (on Twitter) anyone who dares challenge his self-promotional circus. Odd that, from someone who claims to champion free speech. A few years ago, he defended as “comedy” a YouTube video of someone repeating “gas the Jews” — “an artistic decision,” wrote Baddiel (full article) — to his girlfriend’s dog, which he had trained to give the Nazi salute.

I heard that Baddiel didn’t much care for my references to him in my blog post about his cousin, Rabbi Osher — a Baddiel anti-Zionist of the unprogressive Jewish right — who taught at my school. In a failed attempt to entice Osher into appearing in ‘his’ episode of the BBC geneology series Who Do You Think You Are?, Baddiel made some cringeworthy reference to his ultra-Orthodox cousin while standing outside a Golders Green bagel bakery. Osher recalled to me how the documentary’s producer had spent two and a half hours in his Stamford Hill home, over tea, trying to persuade him to participate. But even the very little Osher knew about David — including the “goyishe girlfriend” and partiality for seafood (“Even goyim don’t eat oysters!”) — was enough to convince him that a family reunion should not be on the menu.

Thankfully, neither Osher nor David Baddiel speak for British Jews. But Osher at least is a genuinely proud, practising one. David, on the other hand, knowingly and seemingly happily undermines the interests of the huge majority of them with his continual, selfish, entirely “meh”, entirely me, public pronouncements on Israel.

His self-serving arrogance and hypocrisy need to be called out at every opportunity.

Hasmo Legends XXXI: A Life in the Circus

by Tim Messom

In my final year at Millfield, I was cast as Shylock in the school production of The Merchant of Venice. I identified very strongly with this cruelly put upon outsider and the role was highly therapeutic for me. I too had felt ostracised and excluded, partly because of my total lack of ball skills in a sports mad environment. It made me think deeply about the historical treatment of Jews in so many parts of the world, how they were prevented from undertaking most forms of work and how non-Jews were ever anxious to borrow their money before reviling them for daring to make a living in one of the few ways open to them.

Just before starting my Exeter University degree in English and Drama, I took part in a rehearsed reading of a documentary play called The Investigation. It consisted entirely of witness statements from the Nazi concentration camps. More food for thought. So when I responded to a Times Ed advertisement for an English teacher at what was then the Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys, I had high expectations of exceptionally gifted, highly motivated pupils with a love of learning. There were some of those . . .

My interview with Mr Stanton was brief and I was, to my surprise, sent to a private house in Highgate to meet a Rabbi Schonfeld, the very image of an Old Testament prophet with his long white beard and piercing eyes. I had quite fancied my Religious Studies knowledge, but failed to answer his questions concerning the Torah. It didn’t seem to matter – my appointment as third in the English Department to Mr Soester and Mr Marks, with some Junior History in Mr Johnson’s Department, was confirmed. I was delighted to find out about the early winter closing on Fridays and the October holidays, perfect for a jump racing enthusiast like me!

Mr Soester, who became a lifelong friend, started on the same day as me but came with a wealth of teaching experience and knowledge of the ways of Orthodoxy. I quickly became aware of his philosophical detachment and sense of humour, strengths which were to prove invaluable in the face of the consistent air of disapproval which our presence seemed to provoke in some of our colleagues.

That was in September 1973. It was my second year as a full-time teacher. My first had been in what was then the Friern Barnet Grammar School, a one form entry private school for boys run on a wing and a prayer. The headmaster lived in fear of complaints from the parents and, from time to time, would summon me from my lessons to answer why I had clashed with one of my more obnoxious pupils. My exit from the classroom would be accompanied by much cheering, my students delighted I was on the mat once more. I longed for the end of each day, though on one occasion my departure was delayed because mysteriously my car tyres had been let down. My popular name there was ‘Minced Morsels’, my lugubrious manner being somewhat similar to that of Clement Freud, famous for advertising that variety of dog food. It was time for a fresh start.

Although hysteria quickly and unpredictably bubbled to the surface amongst Hasmo boys, there was little of the personal malice I had previously experienced. Indeed many of my new pupils were charming and well able to sustain an adult conversation. But the slightest incident would have the younger boys rushing into a screaming, whooping pack. In class, too, there was the sense of a powder keg of barely restrained hysteria. Gradually I came to understand that this intense energy, which had to be suppressed much of the time, was particularly characteristic of the Yeshiva Stream boys. And no wonder, when they had such a long day, arriving early and staying late to learn, learn, learn the ancient texts. Moreover, physical exercise and competitive sport were not integral to the school’s ethos so there was limited opportunity for letting off steam in a healthy way. When they weren’t testing my patience to boiling point, I felt sorry for them. It was evident that some of my colleagues were only truly interested in the boys bound for Gateshead and the Rabbinate. 

Just as there was an all too clear division amongst the boys, so too in the staff room. Fortunately there were two rooms available and the more intensely religious, who may have wished to avoid overhearing profane discussions, could withdraw to the ‘quiet’ one. Others were more relaxed. Mr Taylor, inveterate chain smoker, was always ready for a chat and often full of foreboding for those of us whom he felt had few prospects of advancement where we were. Mr Lawrence kept up our spirits with his sense of the ridiculous, though in gloomier moods he would look at the tree through the staff room window and be all too aware of the passing of time as the seasons changed. He eventually escaped by joining one of his brightest sixth form pupils in setting up a property management business. Mr Bloomberg was a kind, gentle soul who strove to retain early to mid twentieth century standards and teaching materials – undoubtedly a little trying for his French Department colleagues, Mr Tarrant and Mrs Schneider.

An early endeavour to heighten interest in English Literature and provide some creative relaxation was to attempt a simplified production of Oliver Twist. In Noam Gottesman we had a very promising Oliver and there was some interest as we began to cast other parts and have some rehearsed readings. We were stopped in our tracks very quickly. We hadn’t reckoned on the storm of protests our apparently innocuous idea would arouse. A veritable tide of objections: Should the boys be participating in such a frivolity when they could be studying the Torah? What material would any costumes be made from? Remember no male must impersonate a woman! Was Dickens anti-Semitic? Our initial enthusiasm quickly . . .

Few authors escaped the suspicion of anti-Semitism and, if they did, the issue of what was unsuitable material for the boys would be raised instead. Romeo and Juliet was the subject of a regular tug of war over many years. Like most schools, spending on new books had to be contained within a budget, so when an old set of H. E. Bates’ Fair Stood the Wind for France was dug out from the dusty library shelves it seemed likely this story of heroic endeavour against the Nazis would make an engaging second form reader. After several weeks’ work, and when interest was indeed being ignited, an anonymous complaint caused it to be withdrawn overnight. The only potentially offending words that we could find: ‘He reached up and touched her breast.’

It was strange to reflect that many of my colleagues believed the world to be five and a half thousand years old and that women, who should always keep their hair covered in public, are unclean and should not be touched for a chunk of each month. Yet many of the boys seemed relatively untouched by the extremes of religious dogma.

My first sojourn at the Hasmo lasted a mere five terms (though it seemed longer!) I chanced across an advertisement for a circus ringmaster and it so happened that I had been brought up with an interest in circus through the friends my father, a professional photographer, had made in that world. I made a special study of this branch of the performing arts as part of my degree. So the decision to join Circus Hoffman (billed as ‘the Wildest Show on Earth’) was not quite as extraordinary as it might seem. Moreover, it was a way to gain membership of Equity, the actors union, and in those days the stage still beckoned me. I was interviewed and accepted, probably because of my loud voice and a certain facility, honed after years of boarding school life, for talking my way out of trouble – a skill that would turn out to be essential in my new role! Two good Hasmo memories from this time: Mr Stanton telling me I would always be welcome to return to the school and my GCE class clubbing together to present me with a beautiful leather whip as a farewell present.

Mr Harrison had tipped off the Evening Standard and so supplied the first of many media stories about my change of occupation, usually along the lines of ‘Teacher Tim Runs Away to Join the Circus!’ Over the next couple of years there were television appearances and radio interviews and I appeared in a short film for schools’ television. Amongst the more colourful adventures were flood and fire, the lions escaped on one occasion and the monkeys on another, there was a pitched battle on the Isle of Wight between rival factions on the show, and a disastrous attempt to include a version of The Planet of the Apes that frightened the little children so much that audiences walked out en masse and the show had to pack up and leave Newcastle in a hurry. All very different to life at the Hasmo. And no, contrary to popular invention, my wife did not run off with a lion tamer. I wonder who thought up that one . . .

Five years on and, having changed occupation but discovered I was not cut out to be a commission-only life insurance salesman, it was time to fulfil the prophecy inherent in Mr Stanton’s promise. I had come to the conclusion there was much to be said for a salary, a pension scheme and paid holidays. By this time Rabbi Roberg had taken over as headmaster. As he remarked to Mr Soester about my appointment, ‘Better the devil you know . . .’

Little had changed in my absence: Mr Harrison was no longer there to study the Financial Times each morning and Mr Balin, with his memories of observing the Sidney Street siege, had taken a well earned retirement. But Rabbi Angel, with his beautiful assistant Goldie, who lived nearby and rarely entered the staff room, still ruled the Art Room. I replaced a certain Mr Lent who I was told had gone into business in the North of England as a baker. He was remembered for having incurred Mr Stanton’s wrath by conducting a private reading lesson during an Ofsted inspection, thus leaving the inspectors nothing to inspect! Assemblies still had the same atmosphere of murmuring and restlessness, as if a full scale riot could break out at any time. Indeed, throughout the day there were the same shrieks, shouts and banging of desks and drawers that I had known before. The suspicion of what corruption the English Department might be peddling seemed to have intensified. I was shocked to discover that boys coming to interview for a place at the school would be routinely asked where their parents bought their meat and whether they ever went out in the car on a Saturday.

There was a steady increase in staff meetings: utterly boring and pointless because so little ever seemed to change. They seemed to go on forever and, just as closure seemed imminent, the ever enthusiastic Mr Bokor would introduce a new topic and add a further quarter of an hour to proceedings. I was sure our leaders used to speak as slowly as possible in order to fill up the designated time. I succeeded in removing myself from this once weekly torture by signing up for a Barnet counselling course for teachers which happily coincided with the times of the dreaded meetings.

Counselling skills were little in demand at the Hasmo. On one occasion I confided to Rabbi Roberg that I felt I should get to know the boys in my form better. ‘Better not to get to know them too well, Mr Messom’ was his response. He did have a sense of humour. On another occasion I confided that I was worried about the behaviour of one of his sons, who would sit in my lessons with his fists clamped over his ears, presumably lest my words should in some way corrupt him. ‘Horrid boy, take no notice’ was the headmaster’s response. Funnily enough, it was another of his sons who was observed, to the amazement of a friend who had come to collect me one afternoon, outside the school rolling himself repeatedly from the pavement into the road and back again, gathering much dirt and dust in the process.

One ritual I instituted that lasted for many years was the Thursday Lunch Club: for those of a liberal disposition to take a lunch break at The Mill pub (now a nursing home) just down the road. School lunches left much to be desired, though it must have been a hard task to produce strictly kosher on what was undoubtedly a strictly limited budget. Our once a week excursion was a very welcome break from the shrieks, howls and hammering on the staff room door that did nothing for our digestion. DJ, I believe, particularly despised our Thursday exodus. Not that he said so – he rarely spoke to us – but there was a certain look, a heavy sigh, a look at his watch on our return, that spoke volumes. On one occasion I returned to find that my car had been damaged by some of our pupils ignoring the school rules, as was their custom, and chasing each other around the cars. I wanted to claim from the school’s insurance and when I put this to Rabbi Roberg, DJ intervened to say that, surely, as it was a Thursday, I would have driven to the pub. Oh the joy of being able to reply that I had travelled with Mr Johnson!

I was also required to help poor Mr Chishios in the Games Department (he was more up against it than we were in our attempts to convey the glories of English Literature). You would hardly think of my fellow sufferers, Mr Marks and Mr Soester, either, as muddy field enthusiasts! Mr Marks was very much more interested in the works of James Joyce than in the challenges of the football pitch and I had gone through my own school days using all my ingenuity to avoid team games, so it was way beyond me to now become a referee and adjudicate on the subtleties of the offside rules. Another of my roles was to be in charge of the library. In this I was greatly helped by an intriguing boy who liked to be known as ‘Tricky’ Tropp – he had trained himself to perform magic tricks and be an entertainer at children’s parties. I believe he kept a collection of reptiles at home. I wonder if he went into show business . . .

Such charm as our eccentric school had once held for me quickly withered when Mr Soester was replaced as Head of English first by Mr Benjamin and then – when he surrendered to the full force of repression lined up against the liberal arts – a Mrs Masterson, for whom I didn’t care. Mr Benjamin apparently didn’t realise what a conflicted establishment he was joining. He was an enthusiastic advocate of the now discredited 100% coursework for GCSE English and English Literature. What he failed to take into account was the string of private tutors that many pupils of the Hasmonean kept in tow, making it impossible to assess what percentage of the final submission was the candidate’s own unaided efforts. I think he finally gave up when, having arranged for a group of professional actors to come to the school to present a version of Macbeth, the event was cancelled at the very last moment. Something was said about it being unsuitable for boys to watch a woman on the stage, as their passions might be inflamed. The secret censors had struck again!

What I now think of as the moment when I knew I had to be on my way was an end of term assembly led by Rabbi Bondi. He reminded the boys that, since the Jews are at the head of Creation and superior to all other forms of life, they should not sully themselves by mixing with Gentiles during their holidays. Where did that leave me? Amazing, really, that I was accorded any degree of respect or acceptance, though I did know that there were many in the hall who would have taken little notice of the Rabbi’s admonitions.

The Hasmo had been good to me in many ways, had provided secure employment when I most needed it and there were always some pupils and colleagues to whom I could relate. But it was more than time for a change. After all, my second sojourn had lasted the best part of ten years. If I had any vocation as a teacher, it was to share what Literature and Theatre mean to me, and in 1989 I was lucky enough to find a post at the nearby Mount School for Girls where such aims could flourish unimpeded.

I was given a warm send off by my colleagues, but there was one last disappointment: Rabbi Roberg explained that, although the boys had all contributed to a leaving present, the one in charge had forgotten to bring it! I never did find out what it was . . .

See also Hasmo Legends X: Mad Dogs and English Teachers

Hasmo Legends XXX: Sick in the Head . . . in Cyprus!

“Come on! Let’s go to Cyprus to find Chishios!”

The throwaway idea came from ex-Hasmo Michael Murgraff while we were walking the dogs one early Jaffa morning, seven or eight years ago. No sooner had he proposed it, Murgraff, having a life, no doubt immediately forgot it . . . but he had unknowingly planted in me the tantalising prospect of a nostalgic quest for the Legendary scourge of the spastic.

The idea lay dormant for years. But, a few months ago, having completed my latest project and with too much time on my hands (I am looking for writing/editing work should anyone hear of any), I contacted George (aka “Joj”), with whom I had corresponded at the time of my original post on his father — see Hasmo Legends IV: Sick in the Head – Mr. Chishios — with the proposal that I visit Cyprus to interview him.

I doubt as much negotiation went into F*ckface Von Clownstick’s summit meeting with Kim Fatty III, but, on 5th March, I received the news that I had been hoping for: “I saw my dad yesterday and he said he was fine for you to come and see him.” Get in!! Within a couple of days, I had finalised my two-night trip to Nicosia.

The whole idea seemed a tad crazy, even to me, but the opportunity of meeting up with one of the ultimate Legends after all these years was simply one I could not pass up. (Thank you to the various ex-Hasmos with whom I could not resist sharing news of my impending trip for keeping it under your school caps. Henri Berest’s reaction best summed up my own excitement: “oh f*ck off. no way.”)

While it was lovely to finally meet George — who, in 1986, aged 15, accompanied his dad back to the island to take up his new teaching post — I found myself looking nervously over my shoulder all the time we were supping on our KEOs. Mr. Chishios is 80 now, but it was almost as if the memory of him, upside down Dunlop (toe forward) menacingly in hand, had been wired into my psyche. I had no idea what to expect. George had expressed concern, in our correspondence, as to whether his father’s memory might disappoint. And, to avoid that disappointment, I had prepared myself mentally for a meeting with a doddery old man.

I needn’t have. Spotting the Legend for the first time, as he walked purposefully towards us, I intuitively knew that my trip would prove worthwhile. Chishios looked great and, after exchanging a warm hug, I must have told him so about half a dozen times. In fact, it felt more like four years had passed than 34. And I was so indescribably pleased to see him again.

We sat down and jumped straight into Andreas George Chishios: The Early Years. Little details that I had forgotten came flooding back as we talked animatedly . . . the vigorous, overactive right index finger, for notable instance, though thankfully on my knee now rather than my breastbone.

Chishios moved to the UK to further his education in 1956, aged just 18. His determination to advance, he recalled, was illustrated by his weaning himself off The Sun and The Mirror, and onto The Times, in order to perfect his English. And his first teaching post, at Fulham’s Henry Compton School in 1970, explained a lot about his Legendary “shock and awe” approach to discipline.

“It was a rough school. One fellow teaching English ended up in a psychiatric hospital. The headmaster gave me a cane and told me to use it. I had written permission for two strokes. ‘If they realise you are weak,’ he said, ‘you are finished. Be tough from the beginning. If you can teach here, you can teach anywhere.’” 

“Very early on, I had trouble in the gym from a cheeky Indian boy. I looked around. There was no one there. I said ‘OK, I’ll fix you.’ I punched him in the chest and he fell down. I punched him again. ‘Patel,’ I said, ‘I am a Cypriot and I kill people!’ ‘Don’t kill me, sir,’ he begged. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘but tell the others he is a Cypriot and he kills people.’ I had very little trouble after that.”

“There was another boy, a Jamaican called Brown, who was stealing other boys’ dinner money. I remember he had his thumbs in the front of his trousers, puffed out his chest and kept calling me ‘Chowman’, which must have meant something in Jamaican. I pinned him down on the bench in the gym and, with the help of another boy, dropped a one hundred pound bar on his chest. ‘What’s the matter with you, you chicken,’ I said. ‘Push it, you chicken! You are nothing. You are a chicken. If I catch you taking dinner money from boys again, I’ll murder you.’ And that was the end of that.”

In prison terms, then, Chishios’s move from Fulham — he was annoyed at not receiving a promised promotion — to Holders Hill Road in 1972 was like getting into a TARDIS at Scum and getting out at Porridge.

“Hasmonean was a grammar school. They were excellent students. Very well behaved. [mm: I kept shtum] They respected people. [mm: and again] There was no point in using the cane. When I was appointed, I went to see my predecessor, Mr. Jurke. ‘We use the slipper here,’ he said. So I did. But, after a while, it wasn’t necessary. The students knew I expected good behaviour. And I got it. [mm: and again]”

The main thing to come out of our meeting — which traversed pub, café and superb taverna, last Tuesday evening — was incontrovertible confirmation of my conclusion in my original post on the Legend: that, at Holders Hill Road, he had “unwittingly stumbl[ed] across a culture very alien to his own.”

“The non-frum students were better behaved. They listened to me. The others were much more difficult. For instance, they refused to take their kapels off when we were playing football. When you are playing football, you can’t wear that kapel with the clip. If you head the ball, it will damage your head. They thought I was against their religion, which wasn’t true. It was difficult to get through to them.”

“But the real shock for me was the people with the hats and the beards. This boy, I have forgotten his name, used to read the laws to me from a big book. [mm: The Code of Jewish Law?] ‘If I had to do what it says in here,’ he told me, ‘I’d go berserk!’ To me it is disrespectful to your wife not to sleep in the same bed as her when she has her period. How must she feel? Humiliated! And, with sex, the boy told me that the idea is not to enjoy it, but that it is just for having children. ‘Look,’ I said, ‘the most enjoyable thing in life is the woman’s body!’”

“Marks and Soester got me to talk to a 26-year old teacher [mm: who shall remain nameless here] who had three children but had never seen his wife naked. ‘You tell him about it,’ they said. So I did. I told him that one of the biggest pleasures in life is foreplay. [mm: the Legend was somewhat more explicit] ‘No, no,’  he said, ‘it’s not right! You Cypriots are sex maniacs!’”

“I will always remember one rabbi [mm: nameless again, though a couple of beers could do it!] telling me ‘The only thing I enjoy in life is my car.’ ‘But don’t you enjoy your wife,’ I asked. He didn’t reply.”

“Everything at Hasmonean seemed to be ‘kosher this’ and ‘kosher that’. But I remember Mr. Bloomberg telling me that, until he came to the school, he never knew there was even such a thing as kosher milk!”

It was clear that Chishios had a particular soft spot for Joe Paley — surprising, perhaps, since he was responsible for scratching the beloved “miniboos” — whose name he simply could not utter without the addition of the epithet “poor chap”. Until marrying his religiously “extreme” wife, Paley was apparently just a “normal guy” — not how many (any?!) ex-Hasmos will remember him — with a penchant for Greek food. “He was a very nice chap. But he couldn’t stand the religious side. She changed him completely. He went mad. I remember he used to go down to Goodge Street to pass the place where he used to eat souvlaki, just for the smell. He had a real problem with discipline, and I used to help him. Unfortunately, they got rid of him soon after I left.”

Having said all of that, Hasmonean was the highlight of Chishios’s career. “It was the best time of my life. I will never forget it. The students were excellent. I was getting results. I was teaching skills, and they appreciated it. And the staff were great. I used to get on with everybody. And they helped me a lot with the Sports Day. I was very grateful for that.”

Having taught over five thousand pupils in a career spanning thirty years, it is only natural that, while the name “Chishios” still resonates deeply with many of us, he has long forgotten nearly all of ours. Most of the names I mentioned (even those like Koffman and Elbaz) drew a complete blank, while a few others — due to their sporting ability (Felsenstein, Nachshon and Haruni) or the fact that they went on to sell his Dollis Hill home (Leigh Topol) — brought fond recognition.

Chishios hasn’t forgotten his former colleagues, though, especially the liquid lunch crew of Marks, Soester, Hackett, Joughin, and, later, Sue Schneider. Martin Hackett has visited Cyprus a number of times, and is due there again later this year.

While Chishios clearly enjoyed my recounting of the many tales told about him on melchett mike, his reaction was almost as if they were about someone else (or, at least, a past life). As well as the Legendary Dunlop — which he only used because Mr. Jurke had forgotten to take it into retirement with him — he also claimed to have no recollection of ever having used the word “spastic”. “I don’t really remember it. Perhaps I said it. If they were not working hard. If they were not doing things correctly. I might have said that. But I don’t really remember it, to be honest.”

He also had no knowledge of, and seemed genuinely surprised by, accusations of perviness which I informed him had been levelled against one former colleague of his in particular.

George sat rapt through the four or five hours of lively reminiscence and storytelling, enjoying learning new things about his father, while visibly cringing, on occasion, at his more outrageous, often explicit, utterances. My assessment of the Legend, in my original post, as more “politically wrong” than incorrect was bang on. He recalled getting seriously pissed off with his noisy new West Indian neighbours in Kilburn, as his son politely pointed out the irony of his somewhat dodgy views on the subject of immigration to the UK. “He just doesn’t get it,” George said to me in an aside.

Chishios left Hasmonean in 1986, following an offer he simply could not refuse, to become Head of PE at the English School in Nicosia. He only accepted the position, however, after the headmaster had guaranteed to build a proper gymnasium (it was completed in three years — compare that to the laughably drawn-out Hasmo minibus saga). Chishios retired, at the then compulsory retirement age of 60, in 1999.

We met at the English School, which he visits once a week to have coffee with a former colleague, the following morning. There had been no Dunlop there. “There were other ways of punishing them: detention and, in the hot weather, runs, sprints, press-ups, sit-ups and step-ups.” One former pupil George bumped into recently recalled how he had tried the old “I didn’t bring my kit” routine on his father. “Start running,” Chishios told him. “It was 35 degrees. I never forgot my kit again.”

Everyone I met told the same story about the Legend. Even the VAT refund officer at Larnaca Airport, who had started grilling me as to the nature of my visit. “To meet up with my old PE master,” I said. “He was a teacher at the English School in Nicosia.” Chishios had taught him, too! “Strict but fair,” was his assessment. And he didn’t dare rummage through my bag after that.

Chishios is enjoying his retirement, and is an active grandfather to his four granddaughters (two each from George and his daughter from his second marriage). But he has known sadness, too. The Turkish invasion of 1974 led to the theft and uprooting of the family’s beautiful and profitable fruit groves (30 acres) in Famagusta, just a few kilometres from his hometown of Paralimni (still his main home). His father never fully recovered. Chishios has little love for the Turks and, as a matter of principle, has — like many Greek Cypriots — never crossed into Turkish-occupied territory. He is very pleased about Cyprus’s increased cooperation with Israel, especially over the proposed EastMed gas pipeline.

I took my leave of Mr. Chishios with no little sadness. He had been hugely engaging and a generous host. He, too, seemed to enjoy our meetings, and was genuinely chuffed that an ex-Hasmonean would fly in to see him.

Mr. Chishios is clearly a more normal, well-rounded and compassionate individual than most of the assorted bigots, misfits and lunatics whom I recall from Holders Hill Road. According to comments following my original post, Rabbi Kahan had apparently labelled him an antisemite. That was clearly complete nonsense. If some of his language and behaviour were a tad outlandish on occasion, it probably had more to do with the shenanigans he had to put up with on a near daily basis. And, never mind get on an aeroplane, I wouldn’t even cross the road to greet any of the ‘mullahs’ who have relocated to Har Nof.

I told Mr. Chishios that a visit to Israel and An Evening with Chich would (unlike the pitifully attended Hasmo Boys’ pub meets) draw a very good crowd. He said he would certainly consider it.

My only request of him was that there be no requirement for white socks or jockstrap inspections.

“Don’t be funny, son.”

[Thank you to George, without whom none of this could have happened . . . and, of course, to his “old man” for being such a sport! For videos of the Legend from my trip, join the “Hasmo Boys” Facebook group.]

Hasmo Legends XXIX: The Sweet Sixty Reunion

Having been privy (dead brother’s society) to every detail of the most widely anticipated reunion since Bucks Fizz – and with participants even creakier (though none, thankfully, who planned to rip off each others’ trousers) – it seemed logical to invite melchett mike disciple John Fisher, who to my surprise was flying to London just for the evening, to guest blog on it.

Now, previous guest bloggers here – even notorious troublemakers like Nick Kopaloff and Daniel Marks (see Hasmo Legends VII) – had been willing to accept the, admittedly finicky, requirements of their host. I knew that Fisher, however, would be a different proposition altogether. I have spent the worst part of the past decade striving to get him to use punctuation – I even gave him a secondhand but apparently functioning (apt, I thought) copy of Strunk and White – and to cut his sentences down to a maximum 400 words. And I have repeatedly proposed a joint writing venture – the equivalent, I felt, of Bob Dylan asking Rick Astley to let him co-produce his new album – to preclude Fisher’s, no doubt amusing, ideas ending up as Raanana coffee mats. All to no avail.

With that generous build-up out of the way, I give you Fisher Just Lightly (when some of those sentences had me recalling that point of Seder when it’s past your regular bedtime but you’re still 17 pages from food) Cut, with the odd aside from his blogging mentor and guru . . .


The omens were not best – I received the exploratory email from our Deputy Head Boy David Levenson on September 11 – but, with the Class of ’69 (to ’76 in many unfortunate cases) finding itself tottering either side of sixty, the proposal seemed irresistible. And so it proved.

Ex-Hasmos flew in from four continents for an evening in a dank NW4 restaurant cellar [mm: “the banqueting suite under the White House Express on Brent Street” – from the invitation email – can hardly be said to have misled] and to be catapulted back five decades, to a time when most had yet to meet either Triumph or Disaster (let alone to treat those two impostors just the same).

There was a genuine buzz of excitement in the room – which, to a stranger, would have looked like it was hosting a mass speed dating event for ageing Jewish males – as former classmates rolled up, inviting curious, penetrating stares that attempted to peel away the years of hard or soft living (if not hair) that concealed teenage faces (and heads).

Wretched creatures: Fisher, Bloomberg & Marx

Recognition invariably brought a hail-fellow-well-met response, even when the abiding memory of that person was somewhere on the ambivalence-to-contempt continuum and, in other circumstances, may have prompted the recogniser to cross the road more quickly than Willy once used to upon spotting a disgruntled mother. And secure perhaps in the knowledge that he carries the most famous Hasmo name of them all (see Hasmo Legends III and XXVIII), Joe Bloomberg, grinning innocently, turned up fashionably late, the wretched creature [mm: “that he is”].

There were those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 years, and those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 minutes (several “boys” came straight from a funeral, though Moshe Arieh Kiselstein had found time to change out of his black hat and suit into a pink shirt and puffer vest). [mm: There were also those you hadn’t known you had seen: to my continuing amusement and amazement, David Marx has somehow succeeded in living in blissful anonymity on Golders Green Road – a paving stone’s throw from Reb Chuna’s, no less – for the past 27 years without even having been recognised, never mind roped in for a minyan (David tells me he is happy to be on permanent tenth man duty from now on, whatever the time).]

Uninhibited: John Gertler in full flow

The ‘reception’ Glenmorangie was a masterstroke: by the time everyone had sat down to dinner – in true Hasmo tradition, there was no seating or other plan for the evening (it would just flow, like the boys’ education, either out onto the high seas or down the nearest drain) – they were sufficiently uninhibited to make a nonsense of the organisers’ greatest fear, of a frum/non-frum divide. Indeed, Rabbi Baruch Davis did not so much as blink when the fellow – of redundant final “e” fame – sitting opposite him casually mentioned that his wife was not of the faith (fortunately, said fellow recalled enough of Jewish Studies to omit that he had tied the knot on Shabbos Shuva).

Another pair – who had been next-door neighbours, shared a classroom, and lived their entire lives in the same post code, but who (for no apparent reason) had never had a proper conversation – ‘discovered’ one other . . . though, as Ari “Pedro” Krieger will be permanently departing England’s shores next month, his newfound bromance with Alan “Hubert” Kahan will be cruelly short-lived.

The Israeli contingent, on the other hand, kept well apart . . . from each other, that is. A well-known addition to every ex-pat’s tefillas haderech is not to encounter another Israeli until check-in for the return flight. (Last, Shapira and yours truly suffered the ignominy of having to make that journey in cramped proximity to one another on a Hungarian 240 with wings, while Brazil, Citron and Head Boy Felsenstein larged it up on the national carrier.)

Eavesdropping conversations, one would have thought that not a single event worthy of mention had occurred since June 1976. Interesting, too, was the apparent total irrelevance of our former ‘teachers’ (there had been a suggestion that an invitation be extended to any still alive, but it was nipped in the bud). They were hardly mentioned, in fact, only popping up in supporting roles in tales of classmates’ derring-do. This made sense, as it was universally agreed that, while much was learnt at Hasmonean, none of it stemmed from formal education.

While the food was still as poor as in the days of Mrs. B (some achievement), the cost of dinner tickets had gone up a tad – 1/6d was now a hefty 35 quid – and there was no return to be made on your afters . . . because there were none! [mm: I am curious as to the veracity of reports, from later that week, of a silvery-long-haired fellow attempting to shift 44 parev chocolate Rice Krispies squares on Stanmore Broadway, all the while chortling under his breath: “It wasn’t my bloody year anyway!”] Moreover, the famished could not now assuage their hunger with the overpriced wares of illegal tuck-hustlers “over the bridge”, having to make do instead with the great self-deception of the middle-aged man: “Just one more chip.”

Not a chip in sight: Hinden, Cohen & Kon

After four hours of camaraderie, animated tales, hilarity and general high spirits, and with not a chip left in sight, Oberführer Levenson decreed that every person state his name, abode and an incident for which he would be remembered. Tales of sand-dumpings, ear-boxings, canings and general anarchy abounded.

Poker was clearly so rife at the school in those days that it might as well have been on the syllabus. One favourite tale – featuring Aminoff, Giles Cohen, Davidson, Feiner and Gertler – was of a game under the hall stage being rudely interrupted by an unexpected school assembly. Fags had to be hastily stubbed out, with the miscreants spending the next hour in monastic silence. The contrasting ways in which religious and secular teachers dealt with these ‘illegal’ sessions best illustrated that well-documented divide (see Hasmo Legends II): while getting copped by Jerry Gerber and Co. brought wild threats of burning at the stake, the legendary Woody Harrison is alleged to have bust a game by nonchalantly walking up, picking a card at random and tearing it in two. Brilliant!

It was the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Arnold de Vries, however, who got one of the biggest laughs of the evening. As a 10-year old, he sat in the same row at Hendon Adass as Mr. Stanton. One Shabbos, having asked to squeeze past one too many times, Willy informed him coldly that “One more time and I won’t let you into my school.” So much for the Class of ’69 being the first Comprehensive intake (it was also, incidentally, the first with a Yeshiva Stream).

״לשמור משפטי צצצדקך…״

Rather than rounding off the evening with the traditional God Save The Queen and Hatikva, there was a spontaneous, raucous rendition of Ner Leragli (clip). While nobody in that room would have been able to recite more than a stanza of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (some might have struggled with the Shema), everyone remembered every word of the school song, which only goes to prove that if you make education fun . . . [mm: or choose a Psalm with “Sid” in it.]

On a sobering note, six of the 46 or so ex-Hasmos absent on the night were no longer with us at all. Eli Bowden, Zvi Davis, Jonny Isaacson, Gary Price, Abba Stein and Mark Ward, zichronam livracha, were all remembered fondly, and the plate went round for a charitable donation in their names. [mm: A Surviving Siblings Fund, perhaps? Just a suggestion . . . ]

Parting at the evening’s end was indeed sweet sorrow, and it came with promises that we would do it again at seventy. And the greatest testament to the wonderful time had by all is that we really meant it.

Wishing everyone a kosher, or at least enjoyable, Pesach!

Attendance Register

1AB: Ray Antian, Robert Citron, David Druce, Norman “Nussi” Feiner, Andrew Frankel, John Gertler, Philip Glass, Malcolm Granat, Aaron Hammer, Michael Kleiman, Doron Korn, David Levenson, Paul Ogus, Benjy Schwab.

1BB: Gabriel Aminoff, Jonathan “Yoini” Apter, Joe Bloomberg, Giles Cohen, Stephen Cohen, Ahron Ebert, Kenneth Jason, David Jay, Moshe Arieh Kiselstein, David Marx, Jerry Schurder, Moshe Stimler, Danny Tannen.

1L: Avi Brazil, Anthony Davidson, Barry “Baruch” Davis, Arnold de Vries, Danny Felsenstein, John Fisher, Michael Greene, Allan Kahan, Ralph Kon, Victor Korman, Aryeh Krieger, Benny Last, Eli Perl, Alan Rubin, Perry Shapira, Eran Winkler.

Class of his own: Mike Hinden.

Original draft: John Fisher

Revised & edited: melchett mike

[Your observations and recollections are, as always, welcomed as comments below.]

The Curious Incident of the Indian with the iPad

We worry and worry, but it is always the problems we never foresee. Four and a half month old Mika, flying for the first time, was on her best behaviour. Instead, it was her father, four and a half months shy of fifty, who was cause of all the trouble.

A first trip to London was some kind of compensation for Avivit, Mika’s mum. Her utter selflessness since my fifteen seconds of glory towards the end of last March had rendered my very existence all but pointless.

Some half an hour into our Luton-Tel Aviv return flight, following a lovely week in the Smoke, and with the fasten-seat-belts signs extinguished, I unbuckled and stood up, eager to parade – under the thinly disguised pretense of attempting to quell some mild whimpering – our beautiful daughter up and down the easyJet (even generosity has its limits) aisle. But, after squeezing past Avivit and picking up Mika, I was at once confronted by the suddenly psychotic Anglo-Indian female who had hitherto been seated mouselike in the window seat to my left.

‘You cracked my iPad! [And more loudly] You cracked my iPad!’

I had no clue what she was on about, and was seriously nonplussed – the serious nature of the accusation on the one hand; my always being tickled by hysterical Indians (all that politeness, all that pent-up rage) on the other.

‘You threw your seat belt onto the screen!’

‘I didn’t throw anything,’ I responded in mock calm, keen not to allow the growing hubbub at the rear of the aircraft to escalate. I am no good at scenes – the usually unflappable Avivit had by now snatched Mika back from my clutches and was herself parading her up the aisle – and, in spite of some experience, even less good at furious women.

The to-ing and fro-ing of accusations and denials clearly not getting her anywhere, the thirty-something – well dressed, spoken and seemingly educated (though clearly not in dispute resolution) – chose to play her Joker: the male friend in the window seat opposite.

‘He smashed my iPad! [I had preferred “cracked”. And, again, more loudly] He smashed my iPad!’

Having removed his Sennheisers, friend stared back blankly, and as fortune would have it – he was a large friend – returned at once to his Coldplay (spinelessness my yardstick) without so much as a word. A joker, indeed.

What you always want and need, I find, in such situations is for a religious female American settler to be seated in the row behind. ‘I’ll tell you what you can do,’ the busybody, having sprung to her feet, very uninvited, proffered. ‘Give her 250 shekels and have done with.’ I thanked her, when what I really wanted was to tell her what she could do and then gag her with the tablecloth on her head.

Then the squeeze of shame back into my seat. The iPad was still functioning, though I could see The Hindu e-Paper having read better with the screen fully intact. I gave affability my best shot, enquiring of the woman – visiting Israel for a Jewish wedding (I spotted the invitation out of the corner of my eye later in the flight) – as to whether she had travel insurance (she did) and providing her with my contact details (12 Edgeworth Crescent, Hendon NW4). I also tried explaining to her – as if that was going to help – what I could only imagine must have happened (my standing up had flung the seat belt buckle, resting on my left leg, onto the iPad on her lap).

But my schmoozing was to no avail, failing to trigger any symptoms of humanity. Indeed, for the remainder of the flight, her expression remained one of a woman biting on a Naga chili that had mysteriously found its way into her Chicken Korma (though that may also have had something to do with the charedi kids climbing and swinging on the back of her seat).

Guilt feelings ever to the fore, I checked with Avivit as to whether I should just hand over some cash. ‘No,’ came the unhesitating reply: the woman had not been very nice or shown any understanding – shit does happen (Jonathan Sacks, I believe) – and was operating an Apple Store out of an easyJet seat (she was working with a MacBook Pro and two iPhones on her tray table, and an iPad on her lap). ‘What had she expected?!’ (I love Israeli simplicity when it suits me.)

I resisted the strong urge to hand over the offended iPad every time flight attendants walked past requesting ‘any rubbish,’ and the remaining four or so hours passed without further tumult. A few specks of Similac did end up on the MacBook keyboard as I was preparing Mika’s bottle. Some splashes of milk, too, as I was shaking it. Nothing too bad, though.

A new recruit for radical Islam, perhaps? One thing’s for sure . . . there’s no need to coop yourself up for months studying Koran in a dodgy Finsbury Park mosque, when you could just sit next to me – and in front of some charedi kids – on an easyJet flight to Tel Aviv!

Hasmo Legends XXVIII: AHB Unplugged

I could have been forgiven for feeling somewhat less than enthused upon receipt of that WhatsApp message, some three years ago.

Yes, it informed me that there was in existence an audio recording of a Cyril lesson. But the message was from Grant Morgan – a boy of such Hasmo-honed piss-taking pedigree that I hadn’t even believed him when he told me, around the same time, that an ex-classmate had died (I am still not convinced: Sam Michaels, if you are reading this . . . ) – and the tape was supposedly in the possession of none other than Eric Elbaz, the undisputed lout of our Class of ’78.

I did not, however, heed my inner skeptic. How could I? If there were indeed extant a Room 1 recording of the Great Swansean, it would be a coup for Hasmo Legends of Dead Sea Scrolls proportions. So, for the past three years, I have been nagging and attempting to cajole Morgan to get the tape off Elbaz, and, from time to time, even called the Moroccan myself (putting his failure to ever pick up down to some unsettled debt).

I was even more persistent, however, on a recent visit to London; and, last week, I received my holy grail (converted by Morgan to MP3 format).

Considering that it was made by Elbaz – with a concealed Aiwa walkman from his single desk at the front left of Room 1 – in November 1983 (over 32 years ago), the 31:25 minute recording has stood the test of time remarkably well. No forensic examination is required to verify its authenticity – this Legend was truly inimitable – and what a joy it has been to once again hear those dulcet Welsh tones . . . even (especially?) when uttering niceties such as “Oh, what an idiot!”

The opening seven or so minutes of the fifth year class give a somewhat muffled, though still entertaining, taste of the much acclaimed Cyril & Elbaz Show that ran – with a one-year hiatus that enabled Elbaz to terrorise Marion Rosenberg as well – between 1978 and 1984. (For those who never had the pleasure, Elbaz – or “Ell-baz”, as Cyril would call him – is the creature beseeching “Can you shut that door . . . it’s getting rather drafty in here!” and who has lost, or pretends to have, his “expensive” Parker pen.) And the general hubbub of those opening minutes exemplifies the complete lack of both pupil derech eretz and teacher authority so typical – in those days at least – of Holders Hill Road.

The sound quality is even better from the start of the lesson ‘proper’ – at around 7:20 – in which Cyril reviews an English-to-French translation assignment, An Honest Woman (Une Femme Honnête), from the previous week.

The recording – discovered when Elbaz’s mother moved home three years ago – exhibits lots of lovely (and less than lovely) Cyrilisms, which I hope the reader/listener will enjoy as much as I have . . .

Your observations, as always, are welcomed as comments below (rather than on YouTube, please).

Chag sameach!

[As well as to the wretches Elbaz and Morgan, my gratitude and thanks to Daniel Greenspan, and especially to Alan Rubin for uploading and arranging the audio and accompanying slideshow.]

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XXIX: The Sweet Sixty Reunion

Careful what you wish for, Israel

In the civilized Kingdom from whence I came (up, I was always told), one’s voting preferences were very much a private matter. Indeed, any inquiry as to the identity of the political party for which even a close friend or relative intended to exercise his or her democratic right would have been as welcome as asking them whether their style was more missionary or doggy (currently, I’d take either).

Not so, however, in the jungle I now inhabit. On a par with every Israeli’s entitlement to know how much you forked out or received for your home is his right to be informed as to whether you will be assisting to put in place his government of choice. And not possessing the Briton’s finesse for small talk – NW4’s and 11’s “Who are you eating/davening byyy?”, for familiar instance – the native has no inhibition accosting even a virtual stranger with “Who are you voting for?”

My stock four-letter response these past months, “Bibi”, has raised quite a few eyebrows in my midweek Tel Aviv stomping grounds (though rather fewer in those of the Jerusalem of my long weekends).

Polling day for the 20th Knesset is this Tuesday, but I have taken little or no interest in the campaign . . . a sign, I am sure, of my (still) having one foot out the door, but also of having been relaxed in the knowledge that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would still be in Residence at the top of Rechov Aza when I return, at the start of May (coalition building in the jungle can take a good month and a half), from watching England lose its Test series in the Caribbean.

Yonit LeviBut, getting my thrice-weekly Yonit (right) fix a few evenings ago, I was rudely interrupted by her lead item: it seems that my having taken for granted a Likud victory has been more than a little misplaced, with the centre-left Zionist Union alliance now two or three seats ahead in the polls . . .

Well, I almost spilt my box of Kleenex! The thought of that spineless runt Isaac Herzog – co-leader of the alliance, but who has only been in charge of Labour for 15 months and possesses all the charisma of a lentil seed – running the country is a terrifying one, and a sure sign (if the polls are correct) that many of the natives are losing all reason. Although our late fathers were friends, the sole encounter between their sons left this one somewhat less than enamoured: see Curbing My (Irish) Enthusiasm – in just a few seconds, I had seen the ‘man’ (and my instincts in such matters are generally reliable).

In the interests of even-handedness, the following is the most flattering English-language interview with Herzog I could find . . .

“You wanna know something . . .” Dear, oh dear! Just the drone of those adenoids is enough to make one lose the will to hear. Should Herzog, heaven forfend, become Prime Minister, the ch’nun (nerd) will be exposed to non-stop media scrutiny (and bias), with every non-hearing-impaired person who cares about this country begging for their Bibi back.

Netanyahu is running for his fourth term (third consecutive). It is not difficult to see how familiarity has bred contempt (or merely boredom). And it has become über-trendy to bash him. Of course he could have done some things better. But, if you believe Israel to be “broke” merely because many of its citizens cannot afford to buy apartments in its financial and cultural capital, or that the way to go is to be more conciliatory to the Arabs, then perhaps – like the “idiots” and “lunatics” proscribed by UK legislation – you should not be allowed to vote at all.

So, come Tuesday, I will be voting along “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” lines. Bibi has steered a remarkably steady ship through extremely turbulent waters and years, during which for much of the world – cowed by and cowering before Islamofascism, or influenced by its all-pervading disdain for the Jew – Israel could do no right.

With Islamic State now on our borders and – thanks to that jug-eared nob in the White House – a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran, the security situation will get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. And, if Herzog becomes Prime Minister, Hamas and Hizbollah will be laughing all the way to their tunnels. It is not difficult to imagine the next war in Gaza. It is, however, to imagine Isaac Herzog leading us through it.

Changes, as Dovid Bowie once proclaimed (“I still don’t know what I was waiting for . . . and every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet”), are not always for the better. And those now pining for Bibi’s demise may, with a limp dick like Herzog in his place, have plenty of time to repent their naivety in having fussed over who owns what in and around Rothschild Boulevard. Bibi and Buji (November 2013)

Heidis, Milkies and Amalekites

It is no secret. I am not settled here. I need a change. I was originally thinking Cork (I bottled it). Now on the radar is Berlin.

MilkyAnd the brouhaha stirred up last week by an Israeli in the German capital encouraging others to join him is about far more than the price of chocolate pudding with a splurge of whipped cream (Times of Israel).

I can’t put my finger on what exactly has made me so unsettled here. The illness and passing, last year, of my lovely mum – I have now lost all three members of my immediate family (it is not quite as dramatic as it sounds) – won’t have helped, though my feet were already itching about a year or so beforehand. My aunt is convinced it is my still being single. But, while a wife and kids would not have left as much time for indulgent introspection, I don’t share her conviction that being tied to this country would have made me any more contented in it. Perhaps I am just experiencing some kind of mild, mid-life malaise.

Like “Pudding Man”, I still consider myself a Zionist. What I need, however, is some time (to draw on the Hebrew idiom) out of the Land. I look back at some of my more fervent postings here and wonder if it was really me who authored them. I recently deleted, as unrepresentative of it, “this miraculous little country” (though it is undoubtedly that) from the bullets under About This Blog. The locals now irritate me even more than they always have. The charedim appear more preposterous, the Tel Avivis more arrogant, and the working classes (I had better not get any more specific) more primitive. Tel Aviv feels ever more superficial, and while Jerusalem is more like home, it is also suffocatingly parochial. And there is little escape. The north disappoints (especially knowing the Lakes and Highlands as I do), and the south holds no appeal at all.

Soon into my Tour Guides’ course (which I was anyway forced to abandon in order to care for my mother), it became very apparent that my love for this place was on the wane. The sandstone was of as little interest as the lime, and the myths had lost all their meaning. On a Succot outing last week, our (excellent) guide’s enthusiasm just left me cold. And I have long stopped reading the Israeli press.

My reasons for wanting a break are not typical. They are neither economic nor security-related (though I thank the dear lady who, on the steps of Raleigh Close on Rosh Hashana, and with a grave wink hinting at the unspeakable, assured me that there would always be a spare bedroom for me in NW4 . . . should I “need it”). Unlike the Milky protesters – and there is genuine discontent amongst many Israeli twenty and thirty-somethings – I thankfully need neither cheaper housing nor grocery bills. The missiles, too, don’t faze me. It is more the arseholes who never let you into traffic, drive with a finger on the horn, jump red lights, and don’t stop at pedestrian crossings.

On Thursday evening, a delightful Jerusalem police officer chose to curse my mother in Arabic after spotting me raise my eyebrows as he overran the red light and stopped his marked 4×4 on the crossing. And, more upsettingly (who expects anything from Israeli police?), I recently witnessed the owner of the café where I drink my morning juice eject a frail gentleman in his seventies, who could only shake his head in disbelief, because he was deemed to have been sitting with his newspaper for too long following his last sip of hafuch.

I am sometimes assured, by those attempting to assuage the recent black moods, that such experiences are one-offs, exceptions and not rules. If only. I witness similar things here nearly every day. And they are signs of a society lacking class, boundaries and respect.

I am not comfortable about publishing much of the above, and apologise to anyone it offends (or depresses). But I have always endeavoured in these pages to tell it as I feel it (what otherwise is the point?) And if Yair Lapid wishes to label me an anti-Zionist, or even a traitor, I can live with that. But there is a great big world out there, and just because we have been hounded wherever we have gone in it, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t wish to experience it for longer than an Israir Special.

All in all, then, fresh surroundings and challenges clearly can’t come too soon.

Berlin is a wonderful city. Resonant with history, stylish, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and, yes, affordable. It is, I imagine, somewhat similar to the city of my birth . . . before it lost its identity and soul (just sit and observe, as I did a few weeks ago, from the top deck of an Ealing to Golders Green 83). And its main downside is not that history, but the very folk I need a break from: “You got rid of the very cream of world Jewry,” I always remind Oliver, my German lawyer, “and have ended up with tens of thousands of Israelis . . . serves you right!”

Resonant with history: the Neue Synagoge at dusk

Resonant with history: Berlin’s Neue Synagoge at dusk

Even though Angela Merkel’s Germany is arguably Israel’s most loyal and trusted ally (at a time when we don’t have many), on hearing “Berlin”, many of the reactions to my proposed move fall between shock and horror, often accompanied with the expression of someone biting on a pickle that has turned.

But why are we so insistent on clinging to our former enemies? Because of the shortage of current ones? Say I have a short memory, but even if the Germans are (as I was recently informed) the descendants of Amalek, Hamas, IS and Iran all cause me rather more sleep loss than the Amalekites (whom, incidentally, I would take over the Palestinians quicker than you can shriek “Allahu Akbar” and detonate your suicide vest).

Some of the double standards I have encountered have been hilarious, from friends and family whose kitchens could moonlight as AEG/Bosch/Miele/Neff/Siemens showrooms to the elderly relative who I discovered, soon after learning that he was Berlin-broyges with me, had been nailing a local fräulein while serving King and country in Allied-occupied Austria!

Perish the thought . . .

Perish the thought . . .

Indeed, folks’ greatest dread on hearing that I might move to Berlin is, of course, that I could end up in some kind of unseemly liaison with an athletic, fair-haired female with bone structure out of a human biology textbook. I don’t even want to think about that. Much. But anyway, at 47, should I still be placing national survivalism before personal happiness? (And even if Heidi has midos like the pair nearest the camera?)

Some of the ‘caring’ souls who have provided unsolicited opinions as to why I “can’t” move to Berlin are, curiously, the very same who went entirely AWOL during my mother’s illness and the second that I got up from shiva. My oldest friend, Shuli, though, is certainly an exception to that. And, while I am loath to compliment him, I do know that he genuinely cares. After I had successfully repelled his latest attempt, last week, to persuade me to pursue a future with a couple (though separately) of completely unsuitable women – his former search criteria for me long having been reduced to a criterion (i.e., Jewish) – he threw his hands up in the air and exclaimed “Don’t tell me you are happy when you are sitting alone at home with Stuey and Dexxy!” The hard truth is, though, that most dates leave me longing to get back to them.

As for Deutschland, I have a few rather loose ends to tie up here first, but am already looking forward to the new challenge. I have some exciting business ideas and the feeling that my “fascination for the [former] abomination” (to quote Joseph Conrad) could be the impetus for a renewed vigour for writing (both blogging and even something more tangible). Who knows, it might even recharge my flagging Zionism.

And, to all you young Israelis who feel the need for a change, go for it I say! The experiences, culture and Weltanschauung that many of you will eventually bring home will serve this ‘island’ far better than the arrogance and hypocrisy of those who criticise and condescend from their villas in Caesarea and Ramat Aviv.

To all my readers, a very happy, healthy and gevaldig 5775!

Looking ahead (with Vladimir Ilyich, Prenzlauer Berg)

Looking ahead: with Vladimir Ilyich, Prenzlauer Berg

An open letter to Andy Kershaw (and other useful idiots)

Dear Mr. Kershaw,

My attention was recently drawn to your 12 July posting to your Facebook page [click here or search FB for “Andy Kershaw Todmorden”]. And I must admit to having been somewhat taken aback that a former Radio 1 DJ whose show I very much enjoyed in my student days – you see, you never knew you had “Zionist” listeners! – would want to label my home of 18 years “a backward, infantile, thuggish, thieving, racist, terrorist state.” Don’t hold back now, Andy.

As with most others who have had the temerity to crash the Kershaw Self-Promotional Circus, and to dare challenge its strutting ringmaster, you quickly barred me from further entry. But, having borrowed a friend’s Facebook identity, it soon became very apparent that said posting was no mere one-off, a response to the latest flare-up in Gaza. I spent Monday evening wading through your postings since 2012, and – aside from a couple of mentions of Vladimir Putin, a single one of Syria (though none of the 170,000 civilians killed there in the past three years), and another of South Sudan – it became very clear that you are obsessed with Israel to the exclusion of all else.

I am not, I promise, a member of any of “the organised Zionist Facebook squadrons”, as you imagine and call them (without any mention, conveniently, of the scores of mindless drones who “Follow” your every Facebook word). I am also, you may be surprised to hear, in favour of a Palestinian state, existing peacefully, side by side, with ours.

Andy KershawYou are clearly well-educated and highly intelligent, which makes your willful ignorance of the history and realities of this painful conflict all the more puzzling. I emigrated to Israel in January 1996, a mere two years after the high hopes of Oslo and that memorable handshake on the White House lawn, amid a spate of Hamas “suicide” – they were more homicide – attacks which blew up scores of Israelis on buses and in cafés and were aimed solely at torpedoing any hopes of peace (here is a list of them). So for you to keep trotting out the same shite about sieges and settlements is an insult both to your intelligence and to ours (if not to that of your Facebook-following fuckwits). Hamas is not interested in a two-state solution. Only in a Final one.

Today you posted: “Israel – You are an offence to civilization, a violation of humanity, and a moral disgrace.” Apart from sounding like you never really left the University of Leeds Student Union, where, for instance, is your outrage at the treatment by Hamas (and by all Islamofascist regimes) of women and gays? Oh . . . but I forgot, “[Hamas] do not rule by fear” (another one of your gems, from Monday).

Your obsession with this country is often disturbing. On 24 November 2013, you labelled Benjamin Netanyahu “a cheap thug” and “an ungracious fat wanker”. And why? Because he didn’t attend the Nelson Mandela memorial service! To your expertise on World Music must surely now be added Studies in the Overseas Visiting Habits of World Leaders. And, on 11 January this year, with real class, you headlined the passing of Ariel Sharon with “Fat Thug Dies”, later once again adding the adjective “cheap”. Interesting.

Your complete detachment from Middle East reality, however, is most amusingly highlighted by an 18 November 2012 posting in which you preface a link to Gerald Kaufman by describing the odious tosser as someone “considered to be a friend of Israel.” Perhaps like Jimmy Savile was of young girls.

You must be sorely missing the limelight since your ignoble fall from grace, being sent to prison for harassing your former partner. But how ironic that a drunken bully and cheat, who has never taken one ounce of true responsibility for terrorizing his own family, repeatedly accuses others of “playing the victim card” (here is your side of the story . . . though the subsequent comments of “Laura” and “Family friend”, I suspect, paint a rather truer picture).

Now I really do want to believe your repeated protests that you are not an anti-Semite. But your “Lik[ing]” of comments such as the following – from an Ian Dixon, on Sunday, regarding Facebook’s (alleged) removal of a Jon Snow piece on Gaza – do not exactly enhance your claims:

“And of course it being removed all the time has nothing to do with the owner of FB being Jewish! . . . I have never seen a religion or people hold so much power over free speech as I have this country, its people and religion.”

I can just see Mark Zuckerberg fretting over his Honey Nut Cheerios because of some anti-Semite (with zero credibility) on Channel 4 News. Then, yesterday, you actually “agreed” with a delightful-sounding character named Harry Reed, who wrote (amongst other assorted bilge and filth):

“The people of Palestine will recover their land and cleanse it of the stench of thieves, robbers, rapists and child-killers. They will recover their stolen books and art, throwing the parasites into the streets. The Palestinians will have their day. Already, over 100 racist thugs from your SS have been eliminated . . . fuck off back to Brooklyn with your racist philosophy, your race-myths and the rest of your pseudo-Nazi yarn about your supposed homeland . . . The resistance should refuse – you can’t sit at a table with Nazis. The Palestinians have eliminated over 100 members of Israel’s SS so far and they should finish the job.”


So what are we supposed to believe about Andy Kershaw the man (not, I am sure, that you care)? To my annoyance, I actually found myself quite drawn to other aspects of your page – we both have schnauzers (though Stuey is rather more bastardized than Buster) and are passionate about lots of the same things (Dylan, Neil Young, even Wasdale) – but your postings on the situation here smack of unbelievable crassness and ignorance (though I still hope nothing more).

I am continually fascinated by people like you . . . about whether their Israel-only bashing is derived from: parents (or, in your case, I understand, grandparents), an unpleasant experience at school or university, or merely bad character. History shows us that scarred types – and you don’t deny being that – are more likely to develop an obsession with all things Jewish (and you would be in the ‘good’ company of lots of other rubbish, the latest scrap being footballer Joey Barton).

At a time of the worst anti-Semitism that many of us have known, you have a responsibility as a celebrity (however faded) not to continue in this vein. Otherwise, you will go down (no jail pun intended) as little more than someone who encouraged and facilitated, through willful disinformation, the hatred of Israel and, thereby, the large majority of Jews.

I invite anyone with the time and inclination to visit your sewer of hate – I haven’t covered even one percent of it – and also invite you to respond below if you feel that anything I have written is unfair or misrepresents you (though spare us, please, the vacuous cut-and-paste Facebook soundbites).

Yours sincerely,

melchett mike

[I trust that more than one of my readers will post a link to this blog on Mr. Kershaw’s Facebook page.]

Update (1 August): Andy Kershaw, brave man and champion of free speech that he is, is deleting all comments linking to this post, and blocking the poster, from his Facebook page. He clearly hasn’t yet discovered that, due to the huge number of “hits” on this post (4,000 in a day and a half), melchett mike is coming up first on most related searches of him! So, if you haven’t yet done so, please take a minute to cut-and-paste this URL after as many of his hateful postings as you can.