Category Archives: Hasmo Legends

The Witriol Diaries, Part III (Hasmo Legends XXII)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 May 1970, 7.30 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25th July 1971, for time see below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixty! No philosophising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Witriol Diaries, Part II (Hasmo Legends XXI)

Yankings, Twankings, Cuffs and Clouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah well, as I believe I said before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Witriol Diaries, Part I (Hasmo Legends XX)

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

Out of the Friern pan . . . into the fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel crisis, perhaps most serious yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A (Hasmo) Son’s Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosh Hashanah Caption Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

melchett mike,
Rosh Hashanah 5771

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hasmo Legends XVIII: The Birds and the Mrs. B

With the notable exception of the contribution by the lovely Sue Schneider, Hasmo Legends and the comments thereon have – perhaps in keeping with some of the more unlovely interpretations of our religion – been rather male-dominated.

This may be some reflection of the fact that – as partially evidenced by the multitude of (invariably pasty) sprogs which they produced – most of Hasmonean’s Jewish Studies teachers viewed women as things to be fertilised and then (rather ironically, as they were the only ones who needed to be locked up) chained to the kitchen sink.

Indeed, Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld’s legendary school assembly addresses always seemed to contain a warning about the dangers of the opposite sex or of the prohibition against dressing up as one of their number (even on Purim). And, with the exception of a one-off upstairs (girls) downstairs (boys) Chanukah assembly at Kinloss – at which a request to turn over the page led to several minutes of paper rustling (demonstrating that Hasmo girls had the same wonderfully advanced sense of humour as ourselves) – any fraternising between Hasmo boys and girls was strictly forbidden.

Not that many of us showed any interest in Hasmo girls anyway . . . which was more than a little surprising when one considers the teenage male’s perpetual state of sexual arousal and the fact that Hasmonean Grammar School for Girls – representing the only Jewish “skirt” in the area – was little more than ten minutes’ walk away.

I think not.

Our indifference was probably the result of a particularly unappealing school uniform – according to a reliable ex-Hasmo “sauce”, the girls were even required to wear maroon school knickers (not pictured right) during PE – or due to the fact that, whenever a Hasmo girl opened her mouth, she just sounded so Golders Green. Indeed, one can always spot an ex-Hasmo girl by the elongated vowel sounds and incorrect grammar – “Whoo are you eating/daaavening byyyy?” – not to mention the sad inability to escape (usually physically, but always psychologically) the ‘ghetto’.

Sex education at Hasmo Boys was virtually non-existent, with the school library and syllabi censored of any material hinting that human beings might perhaps copulate for purposes other than the purely reproductive. This made the teaching of English Literature and Human Biology at the institution particularly challenging. The first I heard about “the birds and the bees” was from my next-door neighbour, Graham, over a game of table tennis (see melchett mike’s Loss of Innocence), and it was not until well into my mid-teens that I first managed to tickle some tonsils, a sad fact that I still blame on Hasmonean.

So, it came as some surprise when, in the early eighties, the fairer (they could hardly have been unfairer) sex slowly started infiltrating Hasmo’s staffroom. The reasons for this sudden influx of female teachers remain shrouded in mystery, though one credible theory is that following the relocation of the male victims of Mrs. Thatcher’s Care in the Community policy – which entailed the closure of so many Victorian mental institutions – there were just no more suitable male candidates available.

Notwithstanding certain commenters’ lascivious references to the (mythical?) daughter of Mr. Tompkins, the school caretaker, Hasmo’s pin-up girl was undoubtedly Suzanne Stern. And the young, willowy Economics teacher (see photograph below) – who always left a refreshing trail of perfume in her wake in the otherwise fetid school corridors – succeeded in arousing in Hasmo boys a sudden, miraculous interest in the Law of Diminishing Returns.

Not surprisingly perhaps, Mrs. Stern was also the unwitting trigger of numerous teenage pranks. On one occasion, a particularly gullible Persian boy – who, together with his family, had escaped the Iranian Revolution, merely exchanging the tyranny of the Ayatollahs for that of Hasmo’s Rabbis – was informed that a Valentine’s card forged in his name had been placed on Mrs. Stern’s windscreen (which of course it hadn’t). The entire class rubbed (for once only) its hands with glee as the boy, in heavy Farsi, pleaded with the bewildered blonde: “Mrs. Stern! Mrs. Stern! It wasn’t me who wrote the Valentine’s card.”

Economics A-level with Suzanne Stern, 1985: (from left) Shuli Meyers, Daniel Kelly, Marc Reiss and Yoel Kahn (who seems to think he is in a Gemorah class)

Whilst not sharing culpability for the chronic tendonitis of so many middle-aged ex-Hasmos, French teacher Marion Rosenberg did at least have a ballad dedicated to her . . . though the lyrics of Rosey, Rosey (to the tune of Daisy Bell) are not printable even on these pages.

Mrs. Rosenberg would often exit our lessons in tears – I am sure that there will always be a part of her subconscious inhabited by her bête noir, Eric Elbaz – though her cause was not helped by a penchant for multiplying punishments in accordance with the Principle of Geometric Progression and for continually confiscating pupils’ belongings (her son, with whom I was in Bnei Akiva, would report to me on weekends on his newly-acquired secondhand goodies!)

One thing that I can certainly never claim is that Hasmonean failed to prepare me for my own current bêtes noires: Israeli women. No, the school’s humourless Modern Hebrew duo, Mesdames Moller and Moore, provided more than ample notice of all the trouble I would encounter in later life. The pair had all the charm of . . . well, of two religious Israeli women. And the only thing that makes me smile when recalling either of them is the information, again from my aforementioned “sauce”, that Chana Moore used to sign her name “ח.מור”. Anyhow, I am confident that they are both now more suitably employed by El Al at Heathrow, either in security – fully equipped with rubber gloves – or in providing a broomstick shuttle service to departure gates.

Another female who must have questioned her sanity in joining the “funny farm” that was Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys was French teacher, Shirley Samuels. Alan Hyam Bloomberg, aka Cyril, took such a violent dislike to her – merely because she had the temerity to set her own examination (incidentally, for her own class) – that, for the remainder of her time at the school, he only ever referred to her as “the wretched Mrs. Samuels” (which Cyril, in his own inimitable way, pronounced “Sam-u-els”).

Hasmonean’s Latin teacher, Mrs. Shapiro, is also best remembered for her examinations . . . not because she dared to defy Cyril, but because the results always rivalled Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest entries for most “nil points”. One such zero, my old mate Joey Garfinkel – never one for the convincing excuse – memorably attempted to explain away his total failure to “trouble the scorers” by claiming that he had suffered a problem with his contact lenses, a story no less feeble than Bernie Madoff telling his investors that he had only wanted enough to take his missus to the Hamptons for the weekend.

Hasmonean’s excellence in Latin was matched only by its preeminence at Geography. Following the departure of Jonny Denham in the late seventies, an escaped clown by the name of Joe Paley had been holding court, introducing overhead projections of African tribes with the insightful words: “These, my boys, are schvartzes.”

At some point in the early to mid eighties, however, Hasmo’s Headmaster Rabbi Roberg, never slow to miss a trick, burst into action, making the inspired decision that his school needed a Geography teacher who actually knew something about the subject. Alas, the overlong reign of King Joe had ensured that the arrival of Cynthia Toledano – Hasmo’s second full-time female teacher (after Sue Schneider), but about whom I only recall a couple of things – was far too late for any of our year to have a future in the subject.

The wonderfully named Mrs. Kadoo was the Asian lab assistant who appeared to model her hair on Basil Brush’s tail. Whilst I can still hear Mr. Joughin calling her name in his familiar drone, I don’t believe that I ever heard Mrs. Kadoo herself utter a word. Witnessing the daily antics in Hasmonean’s science laboratories – not least those of Flop and Steve Posen (never mind the ever delightful attitude of DJ) – she had probably lost the ability to speak (not to say the will to live). Either that, or the Hasmo powers that were had resolved that the best way of keeping lab assistants at the school for more than a fortnight was by only employing mutes (Flop’s miserable gimp, Michael, was the other).

It was with Hasmo’s little old Cockney dinner lady, Mrs. Bannister, however, that boys were most keen to ingratiate themselves. After all, it was Mrs. B who dished out the much-coveted Friday soya rolls (though also the retch-inducing meat loaf processed from offal which, submerged beneath its coagulated gravy, you wouldn’t fob off on your Lithuanian cleaner). Assuming the guise of Jewish Olivers, we would always request an extra roll . . . though in the full knowledge that it would be met with a shrill, apoplectic “You know you are only allowed two!” (indeed, with the daily wind-ups that Mrs. B was subjected to, the miracle was that she never let slip the odd East End “Now f*ck right orff!”)

The Hasmonean school office was staffed by the lovely Ruth Hepner and the slightly irascible (though who could blame her?) Mrs. Saul-David. And affably attempting to maintain a semblance of order, in the dinner hall especially, was School Officer Mrs. Koohl, a curious addition to Hasmo’s staff whose job description was no less shadowy than that of Harvey Keitel’s Wolf character in Pulp Fiction. Indeed, the title of Pushing-In Prevention Officer would have represented a far more accurate description of her seemingly limited duties.

Now that’s more like it!

Anyway, school kapels – if not knickers – off to all the female Hasmo staff who braved the nuthouse and who, for the most part, provided welcome relief from the excesses of the male loons who roamed its corridors and terrorised its classrooms.

[As with all Hasmo Legends, I welcome the memories and comments of ex-Hasmos of all generations. In relation to Hasmo ‘girls’, however, please be sure to keep them chaste . . . or, if not chaste, then at the very least true! And, should you wish to pen your own Hasmo Legend, be in touch.]

Economics A-level with Suzanne Stern, 1985: (from left) Joey Garfinkel, Yoel Kahn, Jonathan Dubiner, Daniel Kelly, (from top) Martin Hakimian, Binyomin Morris, Marc Reiss, Meyer Meyer, Shuli “Gay Basher” Meyers and (right) Daniel Vecht

Hasmo Legends XVII: Undated Masters Photograph

Following the interest in Hasmo Legends XVI: 1959 School Photograph (now in close-up enabling sections), ex-Hasmo Gary Hersham (1964-1971) has come forward with the following gem, which Gary seems to believe is from the early 1960s (a more precise date, anyone?)

I have included the names of the accused (as provided by Gary) below the photograph, and will be pleased, with readers’ assistance, to fill in the gaps.

It would be nice to receive readers’ recollections about each of them.

Seated: Frank, ?, Stanton, ?, Meyer, ?. Standing: Ellman, ?, ?, Katzenberg, Cohn, Wahrhaftig.

To view a larger image, click here.

Many thanks, Gary.