Tag Archives: “Cyril” Bloomberg

Hasmo Legends XXVIII: AHB Unplugged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chag sameach!

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

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XXIX: Eric Elbaz

I did it mike’s way . . .

“You’ve got too much to say,” I was repeatedly told, in my youth, by a French-teaching Welshman.

Since excitedly bashing out Virginal Meanderings, however, one typically dull commercial lawyer’s morning back in November 2008, I fear that I may now have said it all.

“Why do you have to write about things like that?” has been my poor mother’s refrain over those four years as I would ask her to proofread each and every new effort before hitting the Publish of no return.

“What would you like me to write about,” I would respond, “the crisis in the eurozone? People don’t read blogs for stuff like that . . . or, at least, not this one.”

“Gotta go,” she would then hang up, on her marks to dash to her PC, always calling back, minutes later, with something like: “It is actually quite good. You know who taught you to write like that . . .”

In each of their own individual ways, I take considerable pride in my 188 posts to melchett mike (far more than I would have imagined possible on that distant November morning). They are the book that I never wrote (and which, in spite of continued encouragement from various quarters, I see no point in writing).

In recent months, however, I have lost much of that urge to write.

I still, of course, have important questions. Like . . .

Why do Russian women feel the need to pose for every photograph – even at sites like Har Herzl and Yad Vashem – by pinning themselves up against the nearest wall or tree, as if for a Playboy shoot?

And why are charedim such God-awful drivers? Check it out for yourselves: Aside from the inevitable wankers in their 4x4s, the drivers obstructing the fast lanes of Israel’s highways nearly all have beards (Ivan “It is always the frum ones” Marks, it would seem, knew of what he spoke).

I also continue to enjoy fascinating encounters in my seeming unending search for the future ex-Mrs. Isaacson . . .

I mean what could have given my most recent JDate the idea that I would want to treat her – on our first (blind) date, scheduled for a mid-afternoon – to a meal in a boutique hotel? “I will be hungry by three o’clock,” Irit informed me, after we had finalized a time. “And I would like to eat at the Montefiore,” she added, as if arranging a shopping-and-lunch date with her Ramat Aviv Gimmel mother.

“Dog food again please,” by way of contrast, is the only demand ever made of me by the lovely female (see photograph below) with whom I am currently shacked up. “And that fetid bowl will do just fine.” A woman or dogs, then? Now there’s a toughie . . . oh yes, and there was no first date.

But I am set to embark, in November, on the next chapter in my continuing, studious avoidance of anything that could reasonably be called a career. And I am reliably informed that the two-year Israeli Tour Guide Course requires more diligence than comes naturally.

In a scene chillingly reminiscent of Marathon Man’s “Der Weisse Engel”, Ole Nipple ’Ead himself (who says the Law of Return is too exclusive?!) was recently spotted and confronted on Jerusalem’s King George Street by my old classmate, Paul Kaufman, giving me a great idea for a future tour . . .

  • From the Footsteps of the Prophets to the Doorsteps of the Despots: Join ex-Hasmo hunter, melchett mike, as he surprises retired ‘teachers’ – DJ, Jerry, and many more – in the suburbs of Jerusalem.

So I log off, but do not shut down. melchett mike – the “Never forget” aid for damaged, eternal North-West London schoolboys – will always be here for your amusement, reminiscence and comments . . . and even perhaps, when I re-find the urge, the odd post (indeed, the best Hasmo Legend could well be yet to come, awaiting a combination of circumstances beyond my control).

In the meantime, thank you to all the commenters (all 7,502 of you) – from the sublime to the Shuli – who have contributed to making this such good fun.

Over . . . but not out.

http://www.justgiving.com/melchett-mike

Hasmo Legends XXVI: Upper Sixth, 1978/79

Following my request, at the end of Hasmo Legends XXV: Lower Sixth, 1962/63, for more photos of the nuthouse, I was inundated with precisely two – and then both from the same reader (though even that was an improvement on the precisely none who responded to my appeal for donations in Hasmo Legends XIX) – but boy did Danny Amini come up with the goods!

The photographs below – click on to enlarge (you will then be able to zoom in) – were taken a few minutes apart, circa June 1979, the first (“With Willy”) official and the second (“No Willy”) rather less so. They both, however, give rise to the same burning question . . .

What the bloody hell happened to Hasmonean in the mere 16 years between 1963 and 1979?!

 The former’s Lower Sixth (see photograph) comprised 36 immaculately turned out boys, each one with uniform blazer, shirt and tie (done up), neat hairdo, appropriate smile, and general demeanour of derech eretz.

The following, on the other hand, display a collection of scallywags – or, as Rabbi Cooper would refer to us, a “rotten lot” – who look as if they had been given ninety seconds to run into Oxfam and throw on whatever they could find (because they would then draw attention away from the state of the building and window frames behind them?)

Back row (left to right): David Silber, Simon Maybaum, Jeffrey Glausiusz, Daniel Amini, Simon Lawrence, Shimon Goldstein, Zvi Israel, Jonny Solomon, David Josse, Mark Neuberger, Daniel De Lange, Harvey Perlmutter, David Miller, H.P. Cohen, Eric Dangoor, Manny Ezekiel, Michael Churn. 2nd row from back: Shalom Orzach, R.D. Cohen, José Frohwein, Yossi Davis, Elliot Stefansky, Daniel Drukarz, Martin Freedman, Danny Roper (obscured). 2nd row from front: Meir Jacobson, Yechezkel Hepner, Jonathan Abt, Benjy Dorman, Jeremy Davis, Laurence Foux, Julian Rose, Shmuli Orenstein, Manny Nissel (arm on shoulder), Ronnie Joseph, David Sagal (back), Brian Cohen (front), Jonathan Kovler, Yisroel Chalk, Naftali Reiss, Ricky Kahan, Stuart Gnessen, Ian Shiner, Adrian Warren, Mark Engelman, Mr. S. Posen, David Dunitz. Front row: Solomon Cohen, Arthur Weller, Jonny Silver, Martin Reich, Mr. W.W. Stanton, Rabbi P. Greenberg, Dr. L. Finkelstein, Mr. C. Johnson, Mr. A.H. Bloomberg.

Take David Miller (back row, fifth from right), for obvious instance. “This boy” – seemingly not satisfied with his lack of blazer, white v-neck, and shaggy black pooch perched on his head – was allegedly referred to, long after his departure from Holders Hill Road, as the “wretch with the Ray-Bans.”

Talking of the Legendary Welshman (front row, extreme right) – who, sadly, passed away last Thursday, aged 88 – he is clearly longing for just a few minutes’ peace with his Telegraph; while Michael Churn (back row, extreme right) is, judging by the pained expression, even more desperate for some privacy. A dodgy (as if any weren’t!) slice of Mrs. B’s meat loaf?  Whatever the cause, “Churn by name, churn by nature” doesn’t hang around for No Willy . . .

Back row (left to right): R.D. Cohen, José Frohwein, Yossi Davis, Elliot Stefansky, Daniel Drukarz, Danny Roper, Manny Ezekiel, David Sagal, Eric Dangoor. 2nd row from back: Shalom Orzach, Shmuli Orenstein, Ronnie Joseph. 3rd row from back: Zvi Israel, Meir Jacobson, Jeremy Davis, Laurence Foux, Martin Freedman, Jonathan Kovler, Simon Lawrence, Brian Cohen (obscured), Yisroel Chalk, Stuart Gnessen, Harvey Perlmutter, Mark Neuberger, Mr. S. Posen, Daniel De Lange. 2nd row from front: Adrian Warren, Arthur Weller, Jonathan Abt, Jonny Silver, Martin Reich, Shimon Goldstein, Simon Maybaum, Daniel Amini, David Silver, Jeffrey Glausiusz, Ricky Kahan, Manny Nissel, Naftali Reiss. Front row: Benjy Dorman, Julian Rose, David Miller, H.P. Cohen, Solomon Cohen, David Josse, Yechezkel Hepner, Mark Engelman, Jonny Solomon, Ian Shiner (on lap), David Dunitz (crouching), Rabbi P. Greenberg.

I invite Ian Shiner, perched on the lap of Rabbi Greenberg (of all people) – and looking as if he is rather enjoying himself, too – to explain himself . . . especially since, with this single, seemingly voluntary, act, he undermines the various allegations of teacher impropriety made by commenters to Hasmo Legends. (It is traditional, or so I am told, for lap dancers, after they have done their stuff, to have a little something slipped into their underwear. Let us only hope for the boy Shiner – who looks somewhat disappointed, in With Willy, that neither Mr. Bloomberg nor Mr. Johnson were up for a dance – that this custom was honoured merely in the breach.)

Conspicuous by their complete absence from these photographs are future pedagogues, and co-authors of Hasmo Legends VII: “Woody” Woodthorpe Harrison, Daniel Marks and Nick Kopaloff. The former is said to have been expelled from Hasmo just days earlier – for mimicking the subject of his aforementioned tour de force in the act of picking his nose – while the latter, I am reliably informed, was most likely to be found in Starkey’s Turf Accountants down the road.

And what about the eponymous TonyW? Can it be that the son of a future President of the Board didn’t make it into the Hasmonean Sixth Form?! Surely not . . .

Your responses are welcomed.

In memory of Alan Hyam (אבא חיים בן משה) Bloomberg, born 12 November 1923, died 17 May 2012 . . . the ultimate Legend.

[Thank you to Danny Amini. Also to Graham Summers – who had left Hasmonean for Kilburn Poly (now, no doubt, Edgware Road University) – for identifying all patients/inmates. And, again, the address for old photos/memorabilia: melchettmike@gmail.com]

Accadia kerfuffle: Enough with this football mishigas!

Who says it is only working class goyim who fight on holiday? Or that only Catholics and Protestants mix religion, football and violence?

No. It is not only in sectarian Glasgow that they have Troubles . . . oy, have we got them too! And the tattle amongst Anglo-Jewish Passover holidaymakers in Israel this past week has been the fracas, during the North London derby, between English guests at the pricy Dan Accadia Hotel in genteel Herzliya Pituach (the cost of being a football hooligan has clearly gone up!)

According to melchett mike sources, the cause of the melee – during the course of which one hotel guest was punched in the face by another and then, in more typical North-West London Jewish hard man style, bitten (yes, bitten!) by his friend – was a disputed front row seat for Tottenham v Arsenal, shown on a big screen at the 5-star establishment, a few miles north of Tel Aviv.

English Passover guests in the Accadia pool room

One such source (or, rather, snitch . . . ex-Hasmo of course) says that the two assailants – at least one of whom he believes to be from Hampstead Garden Suburb, and “in property” – “behaved, and even looked, more like Tony Soprano and “Big Pussy” [appropriately for the biter] Bonpensiero than your typical Accadia clientele . . . even the French ones!”

Accadia security, more used to dealing with suspicious packages than lary Londoners, had to be summoned to calm matters, though tensions continued over the following days. (melchett mike would, naturally, welcome further eyewitness accounts [even anonymous] of the incident by comment below . . . for news purposes only, you understand.)

The standard response (after surprise, i.e., that the volume of food inevitably consumed by the pair had allowed one to throw a punch and the other to bite into anything else) of Anglos at ‘our’ hotel in Tel Aviv – to where the news had spread faster than a plague of locusts – was “What a disgrace!”

Even if such behaviour is rather untypical for your average Anglo-Jewish football fan, it is, nonetheless, unlikely to occur during a screening of the Ashes (cricket) or the Six Nations (rugby union); and it is endemic, for me, of the stupefying loss of all proportion exhibited by so many Anglo-Jewish males towards the game described by Hasmonean’s Legendary French master, not entirely unfairly, as “22 grown men chasing a pig’s bladder.”

In my childhood and youth, no one was more meshugge about football than me. I lived and breathed Leeds United, “going home and away” (including abroad) as soon as I could. But even though I still follow the club’s results keenly, and am founder and “El Presidente” – unelected and unimpeachable, Muammar Gaddafi-style – of the Tel Aviv Whites, I would like to think that, with age (and also, perhaps, time spent in Israel), I have gained some perspective. And it is not merely because I now live over 2,000 miles from Elland Road, or the equally indisputable fact that Leeds are now shite (they were throughout my youth).

Aside from the illusory escape from the mundane, the only thing of any value that my former obsession gave me was the ability, at law school, to memorize scores of cases by association: after all, if the litigants’ namesakes had not featured in the same mid-70s Derby side, how else would I ever have remembered Powell v Lee?!

These days, on coming into contact with Anglo-Jews still living in England – or even just seeing their Facebook updates – I cringe at, and am even sickened by, their all-consuming obsession with football, their seeming inability to discuss virtually anything else, and how they encourage the same in their (male, at least) children.

"Not now, Natalie . . . the footie's on!"

And, on my increasingly infrequent visits to Blighty, I am always flabbergasted at how the most banal snippets of information, on footballer-clients, from a players’ agent acquaintance can so enthral the rapt male audience to which he so conceitedly plays. No one would even notice, I always think to myself, were Natalie Portman to walk in and get her kit off.

I have also observed, on these visits, how even Orthodox rabbis now appear to believe that they will only gain congregant interest if they couch their sermons in football talk (or is it, rather, the only language that they think shul-goers will understand?)

My cousin recently returned from his own visit to London with the tale of how he had witnessed the son of Orthodox friends, in their Hendon back garden, mimicking his footballing hero by crossing himself (though without understanding the significance) every time he took a penalty kick!

My late father, a good sportsman, and uncle, by all accounts one of Irish Jewry’s all-time finest (their ability, tragically, skipped our generation), always instilled in us a sense of proportion when it came to sport (as mere spectator or fan, at any rate). And any thoughts I may have had of my favourite Leeds United player attending my bar mitzvah – as was once de rigueur amongst Anglo-Jews (photographs of proud 13-year-olds and sheepish-looking gentiles appeared in every week’s JC) – would have been swiftly, and rightly, pooh-poohed.

The standard of Israeli football (not to mention commentary) is, of course, very far from Premier League; though, to coin a popular Hebrewism, zeh mah she’yesh (literally, “this is what there is”). But the only folk who display any real enthusiasm for football here are market stallholders and their ilk. Indeed, most Israelis with any education to speak of would not dream of exposing their children to the aggression, racism and obscenities seen and heard in this country’s stadia . . . and it is far milder than that found in English grounds.

"Now where did I put those damn dentures?!"

Quite apart from anything else, obsessive following of English clubs, these days, is an exercise in idiocy: The professional game is now no more than Big Business and an ego trip for Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs, American tycoons, and – to my particular regret – dodgy wheeler-dealers (some may prefer malevolent old c*nts) like Ken Bates (above). And any loyalty once witnessed amongst footballers, now just a bunch of greedy mercenaries, is a thing of the very distant past.

So what exactly are we now supporting?

Perversely, however, many Anglo-Jews appear to show an even greater interest in football than they (and we, as children) ever did. And how many of them give even a tenth as much of their resources, time and energy to communal, Zionist, or, indeed, any social or charitable causes (i.e., things that really matter) as they do – in season tickets, Sky subscriptions, and related paraphernalia – to ‘their’ football clubs? (Or is it merely that there is a lot more to ‘escape’ from, these days?)

Before dismounting my high horse, to the idiots at the Accadia . . .

Next Passover (if they’ll have you back), you’d be better advised to take an evening tour of the Jewish Quarter (or such like) – we have real heroes here, you know! – or even one last waddle to the buffet than to disgrace yourselves . . . and all of us.

The Witriol Diaries, Part IV (Hasmo Legends XXIII)

CHICH, BOSOMS, AND A BEARDED COCKNEY: HASMO, THE NEXT GENERATION

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.]

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.]

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!