It is something of a truism that Hasmo boys fared far better in maths and sciences than in the arts and humanities.
This owed rather more, however, to factors extrinsic to Hasmonean – such as the greater emphasis placed on the former in most (especially more traditional) Jewish households – than to the pedagogical skills and talents of the school’s maths and science teachers.
In fact, Hasmonean should have churned out ambitious would-be physicians, scientists and mathematicians “for fun”. But, for all the geniuses that we all knew from our Hasmo days – the four and five As maths and science A-Level students – how many went onto careers (never mind distinguished ones) in those fields? With the raw talent at their disposal, Jack, DJ, Steve, Flop and crew should have produced numerous top academics and professionals, but these ‘educators’ did not foster love of their subjects, merely high levels of competence in them.
In spite of my late father having been a brilliant mathematician and physician, I was hopeless at both maths and the sciences. Indeed, Hasmo’s science labs were as uninviting to me as its gym was for some of the more pasty NW11 and N16 frummers (the sensitively-named, by Chich, “spastics”). I hated the places (my only enjoyment being to poke a sharpened pencil through the inviting – what other purpose did it serve? – slit in my neighbour’s high stool).
So, if you have been eagerly anticipating a warm melchett mike reminiscence about Hasmo’s maths and science teachers, stop reading now – revisit, instead, my posts on Cyril, Chich, Sid, and Big Al – because, with the exception of DJ, I was utterly indifferent to nearly all of them. (As always on melchett mike, however, if you have warmer recollections of these individuals – or tales of those I have failed to mention in detail, or at all – please post them as comments below.)
As well as the absence of truly unforgettable characters (such as the aforementioned), my indifference was also due to the attitude and/or incompetence of Hasmo’s teaching staff in those, my weaker, subjects. Like the advice on how to make a million dollars in Israel – make Aliyah with ten – it is oft said about Hasmonean (correctly in my view) that, if you came with ability, you did well; if not, they would let you rot.
I have received more “When are you going to do Flop?” queries, since my first Hasmo Legends post, than I can recall. I have been rather reticent to write about Lionel Finkelstein (middle row, extreme right [ignoring the little fella], in the staff photograph in Hasmo Legends I), not out of any sense of loyalty to him, but because he is still apparently squawking and spluttering his way through the physics syllabus on Holders Hill Road. I was even contacted by someone senior at today’s Hasmonean, specifically requesting that I let him off the hook for that very reason. And the truth is that I originally agreed . . . though I am no longer quite sure “Whyyyyy”.
No Nobel Prizes in Physics for guessing how Dr Flop earned his nickname. I vividly recall even the (what should be) perfectly straightforward Ticker Tape Timer experiment – for measuring velocity – going horribly and repeatedly wrong. And it was often Hasmo’s poor, meek lab assistants, Mrs. Kadoo, though more usually the hapless Michael (I don’t think he had a surname) – neither of whom were ever heard to utter a word – who would have to shoulder the blame for this incompetence. Indeed the oft-heard bellow, from the physics laboratory, of “Miiii-ccchael” usually bore all the reasonableness of Stalin’s scolding of his mistress, Getya Keksov, for the relative failure of his Second (1933-1937) Five-Year Plan.
Flop, in appearance a kind of Semitic Brian Blessed, was a strange bloke to say the least. His behaviour could vacillate between the genial and the almost cruel (sideburn yanking being his punishment of choice), and his fondness for Bissli snacks (barbecue flavour) usually resulted in more finding their way into his unkempt beard – nestling there for the remainder of the school day – than into his not insubstantial stomach. And those squawking noises – “Urrrggh, Isaacson . . .” – have not been heard outside the Star Wars movies or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Hasmo’s other physics teacher was the unassuming Nachum Ordman (middle row, seventh from left, in the aforementioned staff photograph), the younger, more reserved sibling of Jack, head of maths. It is a little known fact that the ubiquitous Na Nach mantra and stickers, visible all over Israel, relate to Nachum’s slight stutter rather than – as believed by those loony, pogoing Chassidim – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachum always seemed the most gentle of men, so it would be a shame to waste any more melchett mike inches on him.
Another oddity of Flop-like proportions was Hasmo’s biology teacher, Steve Posen (middle row, third from left). Apparently, Steve can still be seen belting along Bell Lane (Hendon), destination unknown (even to him), sporting his bright red shirt on Rosh Chodesh. Steve’s behaviour also spanned the full gamut, one minute warm and approachable, the next wielding his favourite slipper as if he had shares in Dunlop. Even his attitude towards the biology lab’s living creatures – and I don’t mean Hasmo boys – could suddenly swing, with no apparent warning, from the gentle to the brutal.
Steve’s straight-man sidekick in Hasmo’s biology department, Liam Joughin (back row, fourth from right), would observe his colleague’s oddball performances with a deadpan expression, never betraying the absolute incredulity he must have experienced on a near daily basis. A man neither loved nor loathed, Joughin was best known for his dry sense of humour and expressions such as “leave it a-lone” (despairing at Hasmo boys’ insistence on fiddling with apparatus before experiments had even begun) and “minkerisation” (Joughin for mincha, the afternoon prayer).
In fact, so remarkably normal, by Hasmo standards, was Joughin – and a good teacher to boot – that one had to wonder what he was doing at the nuthouse, when he could so easily have been enjoying a position amongst “his own” at a decent English grammar school.
At one stage, Joughin shared the role of Deputy Headmaster of Hasmonean with chemistry teacher, David Jacobson (front row, third from left), known to all merely as DJ. My opinion of this man is well known to readers of melchett mike, and I don’t intend to darken my summer mood by expanding on it here (though, again, readers’ comments and stories will be gratefully received).
Whilst Hasmo’s other chemistry teacher, Kevin O’Connor, seemed a genuinely nice bloke, even the Dalai Lama could not have tempted me to spend a second more in DJ’s classroom than I absolutely had to, and I “dropped” the subject as soon as I could.
For five long, unforgiving years, I sat in the maths B group of Simon Lesser (back row, fifth from left). If he had explained his algebra and geometry in some obscure dialect of Urdu, I would have had no less idea of what he was on about. And, for half a decade, my end of year maths results always hovered around 30 to 35 percent.
Less than six months before the O-Level examination, one of my mother’s bridge four, Wendy Lederman, who taught maths at Hasmonean Girls’, offered to “have a go”. I got an A. What that says about Mr. Lesser’s teaching (as well as Mrs. Lederman’s) I leave to you, the reader.
At some point, we stopped being deterred by the lines Lesser would dish out like an overzealous Nigerian traffic warden slapping out parking tickets in Central London, and – unsentimental teenagers that we were (how sentimental could we be about a man who would make us write “Homework must be done and submitted on time” two hundred times and more?) – started taking advantage of his failing eyesight and hearing. Our class even formed an instrument-less jazz rhythm section, employing mouths, hands, heels and desks to perform improvised compositions, as Lesser – in an attempt to decipher figures – pressed his nose against textbook or whiteboard.
In cricketing terms, Jack Ordman (front row, second from left) was Hasmonean’s Geoffrey Boycott or Graeme Hick: one of the finest maths teachers of his generation, but – like Boycott and Hick, batsmen who didn’t quite fancy it against the very toughest of bowlers – Ordman only took on the ‘challenge’ of the A group. This was the kind of perverse arrangement typical of Hasmonean, allowing Ordman to preserve a very fine, but somewhat misleading, average.
“Uncle” Jack did, however, teach Gemara to our delinquent Yeshiva Stream group after school, displaying that very same caution and/or fear that prevents him from going down as a true great: for the last fifteen minutes of every class – in an attempt to wake us up with some actual interaction before our journeys home – he would conduct a question and answer session on halacha; but, whenever we would pose even the most slightly problematic of questions, he would proclaim “Boys, I am not a rabbi. The school has got a very good one. Ask Rabbi Cooper.”
This seemed to defeat the very purpose of the session . . . though, couldn’t that be said of nearly everything that went on at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys?!
[REMINDER: In keeping with Hasmo Legends ‘rules’, comments must be truthful, with true identity of commenter provided.]
Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XIII: A Legend (Osher) Strikes Back [followed by The Background]