The Witriol Diaries, Part IV (Hasmo Legends XXIII)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First day of two-day mid-term holiday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


38 responses to “The Witriol Diaries, Part IV (Hasmo Legends XXIII)

  1. David Prager

    Two thoughts occured to me immediately upon reading this diary:

    1. The 3 lads mentioned in the entry dated 27/10/73 (from my year) have all been living in Israel for many many years. Is there a statistical link to be found between making Aliya and doing MH A level?

    2. It’s very strange to me that the Yom Kippur war gets no mention whatsoever in the 1973 entries. Having been in Hasmo then, I remember what a traumatic time it was to us all.

  2. “It’s very strange to me that the Yom Kippur war gets no mention whatsoever”

    Not so strange, David, when you consider that Miss Krollick’s comforting appendages were clearly present to take everybody’s mind off things.

    These apparently not-so-minor details also give me pause to think about our diarist’s observation that “it seems wrong to give a young woman . . . a class with a high proportion of oafs in it.” Couldn’t this rather be considered a stroke of rare genius on the part of Willy/Roberg? After all, what else is more likely to keep a class of sexually retarded Jewish teenagers quiet than a nice pair of . . . ?! (Without wishing to sound unduly mischievous – nothing, of course, could be further from the reality – I can’t help but wonder whether there might be some link between said objects, Chich’s requirement for a lunchtime table-tennis stand-in, and his subsequent “sprained back”?)

    Some further observations . . .

    “one doesn’t chuck up £2,700 a year”

    What? They were paid that much?!

    “[Max] piped up with some facetious remark and Cyril, the —, gave him an eight-page essay”

    Not “four on Obedience and four on Sensible and Decent Behaviour,” by any chance?

    “On Monday evening I felt queer”

    English usage is so much poorer, these days.

    Finally, if ever a passage sums up the Hasmonean I knew, it must surely be this one . . .

    “I should say at least ten boys are without text-books, as I am . . . Ten chairs, at least, have to be brought in. One or two of the kids have behavioural problems, a dozen are completely uninterested and natter, fidget with complete indifference to the teacher . . . To cap all, we have been minus a door.”

    But, apart from all of that, it was just like any other school . . . 😉

  3. Just to clarify – these entries are only those directly relating to Hasmonean and represent at a rough guess 10% of the entries. He did of course write about the Yom Kippur War in the Journal. I agree – it’s a little surprising that, unlike in 1967, no entry had a Hasmo reference.

    I hope soon, by the way, to upload his Yiddish book – some background information is here:

  4. Joe Paley’s “drawrin” has had me platzing for the last 10 minutes!

    Incredible how the Internet can bring the private musings of the late Joseph obm about the late Joe obm, to my attention at age 41, when all this happened when I was about 5…. and I’m in a heap on the floor within seconds.

    Thank you Philip, Mike, Joseph and Joe.


  5. Peter Thomas was Secretary of State for Wales (what they call here a Minister without Portfolio) in the Heath Government. I remember several froomie fourth formers initially refusing to stand up when he made his grand entrance into the Arthur Hubert Great Hall.

    As so often in my life, it was the right decision for the wrong reason.

  6. Just noticed that Cyril has morphed from Mr Witriol’s social companion in an earlier diary, when Joseph and “Alan” and their families spent an enjoyable evening together over a music collection, to “Cyril, the —“.

    Philip, can you provide any more detail as to the deterioration of that relationship?

  7. Delighted to be able provide you with occasional light relief, Dan, during those long WC1 hours!

    I look forward to Philip’s response to your query, though “the wretched Mrs. Samuels” (before your time, I believe) can confirm that it would only take something as seemingly trivial as setting a separate examination to incur the Swansean’s unappeasable wrath. (BTW, I have never asked you to find out: Has the Rabbi ever mentioned melchett mike in one of his sermons? Seeing as he never had any problem dropping in the Spurs, and that I am a former member – if a somewhat irregular one – of his flock, could little bruv please fix it for me . . .)

    Talking of the Welshman, I think that Cyril and his fellow countrymen might be rather offended, John, that you consider their Cabinet representative to have been “without Porfolio”!

    Also, as someone with considerable knowledge of the “froomie” world – though who always applies its rules with an eye on common sense/modernity (ahem! ;-)) – why was it “the right decision”? And why “for the wrong reason”?

  8. philip witriol

    Dan/Mike – I would posit that you can have a pleasantish, once in a blue moon social evening with a work colleague and also, many moons later, in your private – at that stage! – diary make a slightly disparaging comment when that same individual meted out a punishment to your son! Any inference, therefore, of a “deterioration of the relationship” is not necessarily justified…

  9. Mike – My last comment was written in the haste to be expected of an accountant who charges by the half-hour even in his sleep. As you point out, it was likely to offend the odd Taffy intelligent enough to understand it, as well as to confuse the more discerning reader (ie, you).

    Let me try and put the record straight. Firstly, in an effort to appease the residents of Merthyr Tydfil , Cardiff Arms Park and Barry Island, I should like to point out that “Minister without Portfolio” should have read “Minister for the Diaspora”. As I trust that fewer dumb Welshmen will recognize “Diaspora” than “Portfolio” , I should now be safe.

    As to the rights and wrongs of not standing up for the Right Honourable Member for Hendon South, while I was politically aware at that age having campaigned in the 1970 election for the Liberal Party, the reason we did not stand was that he was not one of us (what pathetic specimens we were). Had I known that the party of Gladstone, Lloyd George and Grimond would eventually spawn the Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtle Niccolo Machiavelli Clegg, I would probably have campaigned, and subsequently voted for, Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party who was a regular feature on my ballot paper in Mrs Thatcher’s Finchley Constituency. In any event, I would not have stooped down to voting for the Tories or stood up for one of their Toffs.

  10. I suspect that The Right Honourable Mr. Thomas, even as a Tory, was considerably more honourable than most of the assorted thieves and pervs in our Knesset – as well as, perhaps, than some of the “frummies'” very own rabbis – so why would they have refused to stand for him? Is there a prohibition in the Gemara, etc, against standing up for a “goy”? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that one of the assorted idiots of the then Hasmo ‘elite’ instructed them not do so . . .

  11. Anthony Mammon

    The entry for January 25th really does describe a typical class at Hasmo. Also great description of Ms Krollick. Mr Witriol really does see Hasmo exactly as we saw it. I hope Rabbi Baddiel reads these diaries just to REMIND him of what Hasmo really was.

  12. Worse than that, Mike. I just read Thomas’s entry in the Idiots’ Guide to Sounding Intelligent. Not only does he appear to have been a very impressive human being but he was also President of the Conservative Friends of Israel.

    As one of the culprits (mea culpa), I can personally attest that the act was entirely spontaneous, without any incitement from the Politburo. In fact, the only person to comment was Ivan Marks who muttered, “Well, he is only a Cabinet Minister”. To this day, I am not sure whether Marks was being sarcastic or anarchic; after all, it was Marks who first undermined my belief in American Democracy around 1972 with a mid-class outburst about Richard Nixon who was then running for re-election – “THAT MAN IS EVIL”. Funny, Ivan, he said very nice things about you.

  13. malcolm cohen

    Puggy, John,
    great to see neither of you has any work.

    keep up the grand saga, Krollick’s appendages how to put someone off their salt beef sandwiches.

    Malcolm Cohen [semi-frummie, 1974]

  14. Simon Lawrence

    Ah – that would be Double Melon Helen. Went on to marry Charlie Heller I believe.

    Slightly confused though. I’m convinced that Helen Krollick was my form teacher in the 1st form. I joined Hasmo in September 1972 and yet Joe’s diaries indicate that she was form teacher for a 5th form that year. Roger Gothold and, I think, Steve Posen were the other 1st year form teachers in 1972/3.

    Can anyone shed any light on this?

  15. Philip, it was the switch from “Alan” to “Cyril”, that grabbed my attention above all else. Sort of changing sides. But probably not much in it, as you say!



  16. David Prager

    Hi Malcolm,
    Good to hear from you!
    The only one who ate salt beef sandwiches then was yet another accountant – Mark Freed.
    You and I were trading dinner tickets in those days….
    Or running the tuck shop?
    Or the advertising campaign for the school magazine.
    Or studying the Fundamentals of poker under the stage under Aaron Cohen’s tutelage.
    Or playing for the school football, cricket, table tennis or chess teams.
    In short – anything other than actual formal education.
    Yet somehow we turned out all right.
    Nissim veNiflaot…..

  17. Malcolm,

    Everything I know about looking busy when I am doing nothing I learned from you. You were my first “boss” at Stoys back in 1981. I remember lots of laughs and very little work – especially when, after consulting George’s Assignment Board, I asked you innocently if our next audit was a firm of solicitors. You looked at me quizically and informed me that Emerson, Lake and Palmer were not lawyers. What did you expect from a Hasmo boy? I did, however, learn from my mistakes and refrained from asking you before our next assignment “Who’s The Who?”

    Save a dance for me at the wedding.


  18. philip witriol


    The name switch is perhaps from the influence of hearing Max and I (and other pupils?) use the nickname.

    Similarly, I imagine he used boobba to refer to his mum in the Thursday, 27th February 1975 entry here, because of using that term when talking to us kids.

  19. “In fact, the only person to comment was Ivan Marks who muttered, “Well, he is only a Cabinet Minister”. To this day, I am not sure whether Marks was being sarcastic or anarchic . . .”

    Sarcastic is my guess. Probably a dig at “(it’s always) the frummers.” He was probably remarking, “Why would you stand up for a Cabinet Minister when you are standing up for men of the calibre of DJ and Rabbi Greenberg, every day?!”

    Ivan Marks has let me down on this blog. However unreasonably and unrealistically, I had visions of him being my man (who had been) “on the inside.” And I imagined that he would revel in the opportunity of getting all those years of frustration out of his system on melchett mike (and in the language, and form of expression, that he loves).

    Shimon (son of Jeff Soester, who is still in touch with IM), do something useful (he lives on kibbutz!): have one last go at requesting a response from the great man. Failing that, we’ll take your dad. 😉

  20. anthony davidson

    John – how are you doing mate? Still in Ra’anana? And is Perry Shapira still with you? What’s going on then? We had Joe Witriol as our form master (2W) in 70-71 but that year seems to be absent from his diaries…a shame.

    Regarding your comment about voting Tory, I don’t think I would have let you into Finchley let alone Kinloss Gardens or my home had I known that at the time. Of course, I campaigned for Maggie in the 70s and received some nice letters from her.

    I think Nancy Krollick initially came on board to teach C group French.

  21. Anthony, Tony, T…..

    Would be good to catch up off line – the blogger extraordinaire has my (and your) e-mail address.

    Weren’t you invited to Hendon Town Hall for Maggie’s Poll Count in ’79 when she became PM?

  22. anthony davidson


    Also at a meeting in Finchley in 1974 when I skipped school (well actually, skipped skipping school) and had my picture prominently displayed in the Finchley Times which Hasmo wasn’t too happy about.

  23. Talking of Rabbi Angel . . .

    I went to a talk at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, yesterday evening. Having learnt nowt about art from said Rabbi, and not having dedicated myself to it sufficiently since, I was suddenly keen to remove myself from the category of philistine (in which I most definitely now fit, at least in this regard).

    And following the most entertaining talk (by Senior Curator, Dr Doron Lurie), I woke up this morning with great enthusiasm to commence the process. And, with free entrance to the Museum (thanks to my particular credit card), I had even more incentive.

    Clicking on Current Exhibitions on the Museum’s website, however, I just took a look at the first displayed: Avi Ganor’s RealityTrauma. I got to the second paragraph . . .

    “His works deal with the necessity of using forced metaphors, and the fluid moderation of the relationships between actuality and physical existence, between trauma and reality. The exhibition presents some 30 works from the series “RealityTrauma” (2003–2010), in direct “close to home” documentary diary style, through an allegorical poetic observation of both concepts and their conversion into a third, unified concept into which they collapse. In their reductive manner, the works offer a way to deal with horror as the concept of trauma escapes an appropriate interpretation, whether literal or visual. Beyond description, they seek to represent the indefinable, conducting a complex, tortuous discourse with the medium and with the way various genres deal with representation.”

    What the f***?!

    Think I’ll be sticking with music (popular) and footie! 😉

  24. Mike – your candidate for Private Eye’s “Pseud’s Corner” beats my previous favourite.

    As an example, (I hope) of juvenile humor, my children bought me a tube of Dead Sea Prestige After Shave Balm for my last birthday. Almost a year later the tube remains intact since I cannot bring myself to frighten the rugged contours of my face with it.

    In any case, in a country where the name of my city is spelt differently at each of its three entrances ,the remarkably (almost) accurate English blurb on the back goes like this:

    “A light textured balm rich in cooling plant-derived emolients calms and hydrates freshly shaven skin. This non-greasy moisturizer retains skin’s moisture and fights off free radicals. Tones the skin and reduces lines and wrinkles.”

    The effort, clearly, eventually became too much for the copywriter who finsihed off:


  25. Other than for those unfortunates who listen avidly to the BBC Shipping Forecast, the Witrileaks series, which is about to face its denouement, has frankly been a bit of a bore. However, whatever the motives of Witriol’s son in deciding to publish, Melchett Mike made an honest assessment of the potential interest among ex-Hasmos and has proceeded faithfully with the series to its driveling end.

    The same cannot be said of that insult to fish-and-chip-wrapping, Haaretz, which yesterday published the “long awaited” Israeli Wikileaks. What became blatantly clear from the first sentence of editorial blurb was that, despite reviewing 10,000 (ten thousand!) documents relating to Israel, they had found ABSOLUTELY NOTHING of interest. And they still decided to publish.

    Haaretz is the pig in the Midrash that sticks out its cloven hooves to claim that it is Kosher. Hiding behind the fact that it is the last broadsheet in Israel (apart from Mekor Rishon, which is vastly superior – and I am no right-winger), it truly reflects its core readership – wannabe western liberal intelligentsia. But wannabe is as far as it goes. It is an excuse for a newspaper that, in its English version, competes for the gutter with that refuge for soiled diapers, the Jerusalem Post. I would have cancelled my subscription long ago were it not for the fact that it arrives as the uninvited escort of the International Herald Tribune which, like Single Malt and English Tea, I cannot survive without.

    From now on, I intend to restrict my reading to the front page and sports headlines which, incidentally, are often in horrible English ironically reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa.

  26. John, even aside from my usual defensiveness re all things melchett, I think you are being a tad harsh on The Witriol Diaries.

    Clearly, Joe Witriol was no Joe Paley or Osher (not necessarily a bad thing!), and – while The Diaries contain more than the odd gem – they, admittedly, are not a laugh/rant an entry romp through the Hasmonean of the mid-60s to mid-70s.

    They do nonetheless provide a unique and interesting – even, dare I say, important (as far as anything relating to Hasmo can be!) – insight to the ‘school’ of the time, and the frustrations of having to teach in it. And, as the publisher (however unwitting) of the “Hasmo blog” (there is no use in fighting it!), I am privileged to have been able to host them.

    Of course, I would still love to receive that message from Ivan Marks, informing me that he is finally willing to spill the beans about “(it’s always) the frummers.” Until I do, however, The Witriol Diaries are among the very few existing testimonies by an ex-Hasmo teacher (and they are all on melchett mike!), and I thank Philip and Max for allowing me to publish them.

    Clearly, John, life as a tax accountant is not as dull as we had all believed!

    PS Agreed re Haaretz . . . I am positively loving my week without it! But I do still enjoy reading a newspaper (cf. online), and have learnt to just skim/skip the objectionable – and, what is worse, utterly predictable – opinion pieces by the usual, self-hating suspects.

  27. Mike

    I am inclined to agree with your response, which incidentally is far more lucid and logical than the average Haaretz op-ed, but do think that the diary could have been edited down to a more user-friendly length without losing the gist:

    “I got the sack from some school somewhere when I was 54. I went to work at Hasmonean. I had a boring time for eleven years apart from slogging a few brats and confessing the fact to you, dear diary. I was friendly with Sam Balin and then I wasn’t. I ogled a rotund woman masquerading as a blancmange. I retired. End.”


  28. To my mind, John, unfair and unkind to “uncle” Joe and his Diaries. And also untrue – entry of 21st February 1971 . . .

    “I did crush a boy’s face into his desk on Friday – they will turn round.”

  29. What is untrue? “Slogging” is adequate shorthand for the sustained downward pressure applied to the back of the skull resulting in an irresistible force meeting an immoveable object and culminating in random movements across a horizontal plane accompanied by much shrieking, gore and flying teeth.

    Joe was my form master on or about 21st February 1971. He really was a nice guy. Honest, your Honour.

  30. “Untrue” – again, to my mind – that The Diaries have no worth/merit over and above your above 4.5 line precis.

    And the quote was just one example of that (that sprang to mind). It was not intended to question the true essence of “slogging”!

  31. philip witriol

    Some readers may not have spotted or followed through on the links Mike put at the end of Part II, III, and IV
    – where my introduction, at the end of the entries, gives some background to my father’s journal.

    Over and above his urbane journal (maintained over forty years and often compiled after a tough day’s teaching/domestic chores/translations etc etc), he also had several articles published in the JC and other publications.

    In due course these will be downloaded onto the “blog” I have started as eventually linking to his scholarly-rigorous-yet-friendly-to-non-academics Yiddish book.

  32. Mr Witriol

    I do not want to rain on your parade but I read with some surprise on your nascent aforementioned blog:

    “This is the first linguistically oriented book on the Yiddish language as a whole, as opposed to monographs on specific aspects of Yiddish linguistics, to be written in English.”

    I think Uriel Weinreich who penned “College Yiddish “(Yivo Institute for Jewish Research) in 1949 might take issue with your late father on that. There was also an excellent two volume “Yiddish” authored by Sheva Zucker more recently.

    What might be true is that this was the first such book written phonetically in Latin characters which amounts to the linguistic equivalent of listening to a striptease on the radio.

    א געזונט און דיר


  33. anthony davidson

    John – check out the works on Yiddish by Sol Steinmetz a”h.

    BTW, I have been looking for the radio station that carries stripteases but been unable to find it. Wold you happen to remember the call letters? Is it on SW perhaps?

  34. Aaah, the good Mr C and his back, which prevented him from doing anything strenuous other than asking people if they wanted some “help” (whack!) changing after PE or Games.

  35. Sorry Friend – could you name the planet you just arrived from? So you can get your parameters straight – this is Earth.

  36. By “Friend” you’re referring to…?

  37. Rob Gordon

    The more I read, the more insane it gets. Result, married to a Catholic girl from Milan….

  38. Does she have a sister?! You see, ever since seeing Tony Sopranos’s hallucination about Isabella, the Italian exchange student . . . 😉

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