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.]