Tag Archives: David Jacobson

Hasmo Legends XXVII: Liselle Bailey – The Revenge of the Willy

Other than a good ogle of Page 3 girl Jo Guest as she leant over the pool table in Golders Green’s seedy hangout, The G-Spot, one mid-90s (decade and approximate temperature in my Jockeys) Saturday night, I had never even got close to anyone in the adult entertainment industry. And certainly no one who had also taught at Hasmonean High School for Boys.

So, while some may have frittered recent years Looking for Eric (for once, not Elbaz) or Searching for Sugar Man, I have spent them hot on the tail of Liselle Bailey, the supply teacher who, on days that she wasn’t teaching English on Holders Hill Road, was shooting porn films.

Or so I had been reliably tipped-off. And what could be more reliable than a couple of frum, middle-aged accountants? (Though the recollection of one of them sweating so profusely, and pathetically, into his chicken soup when I informed him that they would be named in this piece precludes (even) me from outing them.)

But all of this, I told myself, was pure fantasy. The only pawn at Holders Hill Road in our day was in the Chess Club, the only knocking-out considered (aside, naturally, from the spawn of DJ) was of frummy prefects, and the only stiff little things to be shunned were the arthritic ones in the headmaster’s handshake.

To my surprise and delight, however, my contact high up in the school, rather than erect the wall of silence I had expected, at once confirmed that this would be no wild skirt chase . . .

“Miss Bailey was actually a supply teacher for a short time at the school – she was a very good teacher. She was doing some work in movies, but it was production not performing.”

So that’s alright then . . . only porn production!

That was all he could (or, at least, would) give me. But I didn’t have long to wait for a little more meat, with another inside sauce sending me a link to a London Evening Standard piece titled “English teacher packs in job for porn films” (full article), prefaced by the momentous words “I think this is her . . .”

Who now gave a toss about the hairy terrorist in Pakistan, that Saudi Rabbi Angel? I was on Miss Bailey’s scent – I was sure it smelt a great deal sweeter – and was going to make it my job to meet and grill her. After all, how many other ex-Hasmos would have been willing to take on such an altruistic task?

I was still, however, beset by doubt. Even if I succeeded in locating Miss Bailey, wouldn’t she be too proud to confirm the shameful truth . . . that she actually taught at Hasmonean High School for Boys?!

That was back in 2011. My quest took three long years, and was close to breaking me. When I made initial contact with Miss Bailey, she simply could not fathom my interest (can any non-ex-Hasmos comprehend the place’s endless fascination to us?) Indeed, until I actually spotted Liselle – as lovely in the flesh as she had sounded throughout our prolonged e-correspondence – walking towards me outside Hertford East train station that weekend lunchtime, I was certain that she would pull out or blow me off before I had even had a chance of bashing this out.

Liselle led me to a local gastropub and, over beers, started to relate how she had ended up in teaching, porn, and, for Spring Term 2009, the hallowed halls of Holders Hill Road . . .

Born in west London, Liselle qualified as an English and drama teacher, and, for four years, was head of drama at a “scary” Christian private school in Sunderland. After moving back to London and working in children’s television, she eventually decided to pursue a career in the porn film industry. “I felt it was a job with a purpose,” Liselle told me. “Most people like porn, and I wanted to make good porn rather than the rubbish that’s out there.”

“I grew up in a very conservative home,” Liselle, 34, continued. “My mum didn’t even know what a blowjob was. ‘Why would anyone want to do that,’ she would ask. But I had always been completely fascinated by porn, and liked watching it from a very young age.”

Liselle Bailey

“When I was at Hasmonean,” Liselle confessed, “I was actually working three days a week there and the other two in the porn business, before I became full-time.” And she was somewhat taken aback by her first exposure to Orthodox Jewish teens. “I had never met a bunch of more hormonal boys! They were extremely blatant and flirtatious. I wasn’t used to it in such an in-your-face way. The GCSE boys would crowd around me, asking for my phone number and things like ‘Have you ever kissed a girl?’ It was quite intimidating. And I couldn’t get past that initial hormonal thing. Perhaps I wasn’t best at keeping boundaries. I was a bit too friendly, too much myself.”

Had Liselle ever stopped to consider, I wondered, the untold millions of sticky issurim she had caused so many nice Jewish boys to be oyver (though I didn’t phrase the question in those terms)? “I feel flattered if I did,” came the instant reply. “I see that particular thing . . . er, sinning . . . as a good and healthy thing, not a bad thing. In fact, it is quite a bloody magical thing!”

And I couldn’t argue with that. If Liselle Bailey had been teaching at Hasmo in our day, I would have suffered repetitive strain injury two whole decades before getting anywhere near my first laptop. And she certainly would have provided welcome relief from the tired Readers’ Wives (no connection, incidentally, Bridge Lane readers, with your very own Congregants’ Wives).

I did try to get Liselle to dig some dirt on DJ, but she had no recollection of the benippled one, and – pornographers clearly possessing more scruples than journalist-lawyers – I couldn’t persuade her to make any up. “The only rabbi I remember was the head, a massive guy, who was very nice. He wanted me to stay and take a permanent role. I was really touched, but also troubled about him thinking, later on, that I had tricked him.”

Liselle Bailey

The only folk at Hasmonean who knew anything about Liselle’s double life were her colleagues in the English department. “It came out in the pub after school, and they were all very cool about it. I anyway planned to leave Hasmo at Easter, because of articles I knew were going to be published about me in The Sun and Sport.”

Long after leaving Holders Hill Road, Liselle had to remove “inappropriate” comments by Hasmo boys from YouTube and Twitter. “I have ex-students I’m still very friendly with from the school in Sunderland, but the Hasmo boys were just so flirty . . . or worse!”

As for my own ex-Hasmo hormones, I controlled them until we had finished lunch. “What is it like directing porn films,” I asked. “Some days,” explained Liselle – who now works full-time for Kaizen XXX – “you can just forget what you’re doing. It’s ten in the morning, you’re thinking of very logistical things, you walk into a room and there’s a guy with his c*** in his hand [warming up, I imagined]. It takes you by surprise! But it’s like any other production job, only we film a couple of people having sex for about an hour of the seven hour day!”

On a roll, I then asked Liselle – I figured the accountants would want to know – whether she ever appears on the other side of the camera. “I’m a voyeur not an exhibitionist,” she answered, “though I have had flings with quite a few of the actors privately.”

Liselle Bailey

And with that titillating thought firmly in mind (it still is), and before my Yetzer HaTov had a chance to make a fool of me, I headed off to Heathrow. Liselle had been a delight. An English rose with a penchant for porn. Yum.

Perusing the biography of Hasmonean founder Solomon Schonfeld (by ex-Hasmo dad Derek Taylor) soon after meeting Liselle, the Rabbi Dr’s struggle with his more enlightened, worldly headmaster, W.W. (“Willy”) Stanton, to have Lady Chatterley’s Lover – already deemed fit for publication by the English courts – removed from the school library appeared even more pointless than it must have at the (early 70s) time . . .

“Stanton defended the literary merit of the book. Schonfeld told him in front of the governors that either the book had to go within twenty-four hours or the Headmaster would. The phrasing was exceptionally and quite unnecessarily rude . . . Schonfeld always got his way because the governors were mostly handpicked supporters.”

And it was delicious to imagine Mr. Stanton, as he looked down on Miss Bailey causing her charges to stand to attention in his former classrooms, allow himself a wry, even cheeky, smile . . .

What poetic justice! A triumph for Willy in every sense.

With Liselle Bailey

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

The Witriol Diaries, Part V (Hasmo Legends XXIV)

Goodbye Joe

Thursday, 11th December 1975, 9 p.m.

A peculiar development in the article on Jewish Forenames [submitted to the JC, for which dad was an occasional contributor]. I wrote later on asking Geoffrey D. Paul [Features/Deputy Editor] to print G-d, Israe-l, etc. because I wanted to avoid offending my Hasmo colleagues. I mention all this because at the “naming” ceremony at the School Rabbi Schonfeld mentioned en passant the “trefa Jewish Chronicle” (it has mildly criticised him in the past) and last Monday, I think, Philip happened to mention that a master had told him that boys ought to get their parents to subscribe to the Jewish Tribune because the Jewish Chronicle was “anti-Orthodox”. Anyway, the Monday night I kept on worrying about this and got into a panic. Could Schonfeld get me sacked for writing for the J.C.? (As a member of the staff of an Orthodox school he might be able to use my writing for an “anti-Orthodox” paper as an excuse. He might not give this as a reason, the story to me might be that he was re-deploying staff. First thing in the morning I wrote to Paul asking him not to publish the article.)

The fear of the sack may be far-fetched, and although both Ellman and Sam Balin are over 65 and employed part-time, the School has the power, as has the Borough Council, to retire me compulsorily anyway at 65 [dad was 63 at the time].

All this is probably grotesquely alarmist, but at the least, I think, Philip would have been exposed to anti-J.C. comments by certain members of the staff who take him, so that I still felt I did the right thing.

Sunday, 21st December 1975

Felt a bit off-colour on going into school on Friday morning, last day of term, but survived the morning. Daniel Rickman told to sit by the side of the HM in assembly, in honour of his having gained open scholarship to Oxford. Must plug this for Philip and Max, the latter is again “creating” about leaving Hasmo, but I hope I will manage to get him to stay for the last two years.

Monday, 18th January 1976, 2.30 p.m.

Spent about 5 hrs last night and this morning marking, mainly mock MH. Not more than six at the most of my boys stand a chance of a “C” – AM [Albert Meyer] has a class of about 35 at the moment. If he has six or more who he thinks don’t stand a chance of a “C”, it might give me an extra three free periods – my six could join his class. On verra.

Wednesday, 17th February 1976, 8.45 p.m.

Bad day at school. Clouted no one, but unseemly shouting: “How much does your father pay to keep you at the school?” – no wonder there’s so much scandal attached to the school.

Sunday, 21st March 1976, 8 p.m.

Have just returned from bunfight at Hasmo celebrating marriage of Dr Schonfeld’s son. He seems a charming boy, apparently left the school about a year before I came. Wished him mazal-tov, to which he responded something which I couldn’t quite catch. I asked him, and he said it was boorekh tihyeh – which I suppose is more sensible than saying “Thank you!” or “please G-d by you”.

I introduced myself to Dr Schonfeld, saying I taught at Hasmo. “Ah yes, you teach science”. “Not quite,” I replied, “modern languages, no doubt there is a connection”. Ugh! As E. [my mum] said afterwards, it would have been tolerable if I had said, at least, that I taught French scientifically.

Easter Monday, 19th April 1976, 4.30 p.m.

A fine day, have been doing nothing except reading Maariv. I have this idea that when we get back to school on the Monday, Meyer may ask me to give the Hebrew Yom Atzmaut speech. I should say the odds are about 33-1 that he won’t [sic, will], but just in case, I want to get into the feel of things.

Wednesday, 5th May 1976, 11 p.m.

Today, Yom Atzmaut, the school was closed by order of Dr Schonfeld. It has caused a bit of a scandal. The Israel Society at the school had invited the Chief Rabbi, and so I heard, suggested to Schonfeld, more or less, that perhaps he would care to come along too . . .

Monday, 12th July 1976, 8.45 p.m.

I do not want to drive everybody mad, but today has been better [pain in his left foot had persisted since mid-May]. Can only keep my fingers crossed. Symptoms still present, but milder, perhaps much milder. Anyway, although I hired a car to go to school this morning, and the morning itself was easy (first period cancelled for some reason; for my normal second period – Extra French, a difficult period – I was asked to take five visiting French Jewish boys, and I continued with them in the 3rd period, which I would normally have had free; period 4 I attempted to teach the 3rd year – needn’t have done, could just have said get on with something quietly, which is what in fact I did do period 5, 2nd year French) – although, as I say, the morning was easy, the fact remains that I carried out a normal programme afterwards.

Tuesday, 13th July 1976, 8.30 p.m.

Bad again. Sod. Although finished school at 4.15 today, in terms of physical exertion, or strain on foot/leg, yesterday was much worse.

Wednesday, 14th July 1976, 10.20 a.m.

Yesterday did a lot of standing, attempting to teach instead of telling the kids to do what they liked, quietly, as would have been legitimate at this stage of the term. Did not feel too uncomfortable while doing so – at any rate did not say I ought-not-to-be-in which I usually find myself unable to avoid saying when I’m under the weather.

Thursday, 15th July 1976, 7 p.m.

Very easy morning at school. Went by car, and sat in for two periods only, rest of morning paper work in staffroom.

Monday, 19th July 1976, 10.30 p.m.

A full Monday, no car. My impression is that there is rather a little less actual pain.

Wednesday, 21st July 1976, 11.30 p.m.

Usual programme. Caught bus outside Ashby’s in High Road, walked to school from bus stop outside Allandale Avenue. No teaching, except, ex gratia, last period, when I really did succeed, I think, in teaching some 23 boys Ah vous dirai-je maman (my excellent book of songs borrowed from the library explained that the tune went to “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. I had hoped I would be able to say to one of the [i.e. his] children, at any rate, “Play this for me on the piano [me]/violin [my brother, Max]/clarinet [my sister, Susannah] – but a nekhtiger took. If I had enough energy, I could browbeat Philip or Max into playing the music, but the result wouldn’t be worth the energy I’d have to expend).

Saturday, 24th July 1976, 10.45 p.m.

Well, I managed to get through the term. The big question is will I be able to get through a full winter/spring term. Summer term is always a cinch: the fifth form go on study leave at least six weeks before the end of term, which gives me three extra free periods, four weeks from end of term the exams start, which means that teaching practically finishes. There are examination questions to get banda’d [copied], scripts to mark, reports to do, but all this is sedentary and no problem.

Friday, 27th August 1976, 1 p.m.

Max’s “O” level results came this morning: AA Maths; A Eng Lit (!); B Eng, Phys, Chem; C French (B oral); C Brit Con, Art. The twit had put a 6½p stamp on the s.a.e., so his results arrived after his pals (who presumably had had the sense to frank their envelopes 1st class, with an 8½p stamp) had got theirs.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a weight off my mind, I had been preparing myself for his getting a D in French. This wouldn’t have been a disaster, as I told him, but it would have been a nuisance – I think it would have been advisable, had he failed, to re-enter him in Jan. He himself was quite ala keyfik (2nd world war army slang, Arabic – in case any of the children read this = couldn’t care less, indifferent), I brought him up the envelope while he was in bed, and he opened it with a comment “B in English” – my hands would have been trembling.

One of his pals Stephen Gerber, got 6 “A”s – somehow, I thought of his pals as being all nice lads but, shall we say, non-academic.

Monday, 20th September 1976, 9 p.m.

I can get through a week’s stint, meno male, but there is still some pain and discomfort. Lots of odd bods have appeared: Mrs P. who came along last year to take over some “C” French groups (leaving me with the “D”) seems now to have consolidated her position, she takes a small (3 boys) 6th form group; a Mr Lesser takes MH and Fr. and/or German, a Mr Pearce takes Fr. and Germ., and today a Mr Staiger [unclear] turned up wanting to teach MH and is being taken on – or consideration will be given to his being taken on – just like that. So I shall be expendable next year.

In the evening Jonathan Martin came. He was a contemporary of Philip at school. I remember him as being a particularly black bête noire when I had him in the 3rd form, then in the 5th he came into my C set, did no work at all, but sat as good as gold. If this was because he did not want to embarrass a friend (Philip) whose father taught at the school (or embarrass a teacher with whose son he was friendly) he showed more tact than any of Max’s pals did – or perhaps I should say rather more tact than most of Max’s pals did.

He got O levels only in Eng, Eng Lit and Biology (the last-named “fascinated” him, he said – he couldn’t “relate” to physics or chemistry). He wants to take up male nursing, a commendably off-beat choice as I told him. He’s quite a charming boy, well mannered – thanked E. for tea, said to Philip, as he went off to do something to his moped, he would be back to say good-night to Mrs Witriol. He is working pro-tem at a book shop in the West End.

Monday, 6th December 1976, 6.30 p.m.

A fairly strenuous day at school, but fortunately it didn’t go off too badly. Free till 1020, then four periods till lunch break, then did some marking after lunch (instead of my usual shloof), then three periods after lunch. Period 6, the period after lunch, was in “the Old Library” a room next to the staff marking room (with members of staff marking intently eavesdropping) and the office (to which WWS seems to betake himself these days). WWS came in: “A noisy class Mr Witriol.” Actually I had taken about 20 kids for French for a double period in the morning in the same room, and had flattered myself on having the situation under control. In the afternoon I had, I suppose, 35 kids for MH – the usual shlepping in of chairs. Anyway, WWS sat in and was privileged to take part in my MH lesson. At the end he said it was a great privilege to learn Hebrew – not “to learn Hebrew with Mr Witriol”, as he should have said of course. It was just as well that I had, by chance, the lesson well prepared – I had given the kids back a test they had done, which I had marked, sod it, and of course the lesson went like clockwork.

Saturday, 5th February 1977, 7.15 p.m.

It looks like the chopper is going to chop. About a fortnight ago Stanton showed me a letter from the office in connection with 2000 unemployed teachers in Barnet and suggesting Mr Witriol’s position be examined. W.S. said I had come (or was coming) to the end of the road. I said I hoped not, and that I had three children to put through University. He said I would be in a parlous (rather nice rococo touch) position financially if I could not carry on. I agreed. He will play on replaceability-only-with-difficulty, though in point of fact he can get plenty of teachers for MH, German and French.

Tuesday, 31st May 1977, 9.55 p.m.

Chadwick, who is about 62, has resigned. He hates Hasmo, though I think he was lucky to get a scale IV post. He is a good teacher – geography and maths – of the old school. He has a degree, but I do not believe he has ever taught the sixth, perhaps not even the fifth. He says he’s not worried about the financial side, says he’s had offers of jobs, but in any case can draw unemployment benefit. In his case he’s probably right, as he will probably get a pension of half his salary, whereas I got a pension of only about three eighths.

Meyer, too, is resigning. This time apparently for real. Seems he was befrunzelt because he was not invited to a meeting of senior staff, though as Nachum Ordman pointed out, he can’t be expected to receive an invitation to a senior staff meeting if he’s only on part-time. I had been thinking I would have to have two months’ notice, but it has been put to me that as a part-timer I am entitled to only one month’s. So I must assume that I cannot avoid the chop. Susannah [daughter] mentioned that one of her teachers [at Henrietta Barnet] had said that Barnet Council would not be replacing retired teachers (which makes sense, if staffing economics are to be effected). In that case who will take MH at Hasmo if Meyer, myself and Heckleman [unclear] (the shaliach, whom I have not seen this week, and whose tour of duty ends, I believe, at the end of term) go? There are other teachers who could “have a go”, but I doubt if they are as well qualified as AM or myself and, it only occurred to me some weeks ago, when AM put me in touch with an Israeli girl pupil whom I am coaching for A Level MH, that AM himself would not know how to start teaching A level MH literature.

Monday, 13th June 1977, 9.15 p.m.

First day back at school, without any “trouble”. It’s true I had only to teach for five periods, by kindness of the 5th form who are taking their “O” levels, but on the Friday before mid-term I had only one period to take but was unable to avoid – I can’t remember whether I actually clouted a boy or whether there was an unseemly fracas.

Sunday, 24th July 1977, 8.30 p.m.

I perhaps ought to have written out my retirement oration and memorised it. I have started on bits and pieces, but am just bearing in mind some brief heads and will trust to luck.

Will present R. Gothold, in charge of stock, with a jar of chalk “accumulated over a period of time” – “bit of a wag”, as Philip would say.

Friday, 29th July 1977, 4 p.m.? (watch stopped, can’t be bothered to go downstairs to check) [I cannot help but note the symbolism which, untypically, seems to have escaped dad’s eye for such things]

Well, I’m fully retired, as a schoolteacher anyway.

The retirement went off more or less ok. But neither Chadwick nor I were asked to sit on the platform, which I thought a bit much even for Hasmo. I followed Chadwick into the back of the hall, hardly believing it possible that we would not be asked to go on to the platform. Stanton mentioned from the platform that we were leaving, and David Solomons spoke about Chadwick, and Gerry Laver [Garry Lauer?] spoke very briefly about me. All I heard him say was that I was leaving a “deposit”, viz. Max – he meant pledge? hostage? I then told Chadwick we should go on to the platform. Chaddy said his career had been a sandwich (laughter, the younger kids are not familiar with the metaphor): Army – school (his previous school) – Hasmo. He told me in the staffroom he wanted to convey they’d both been traumatic experiences. As I had imagined, he spoke briefly – though I had been prepared for even a couple of sentences: good luck, thank you – which meant I couldn’t go to town. However, a few kids and members of staff said it was O.K., even D.J. quietly wished me shkoich and Baddiel said it was a change to hear someone saying something – a brokh tse de yoohren.

…..

Postscript: Lid off Hasmonean

Sunday, 23rd October 1977

Hasmonean has been in the news in the J.C. recently, so concocted an article “Hasmo” this p.m. [for published article, click on link below to dad’s yellowing cuttings book]. About 1½ hours flat. Suppose it will be rejected, pathetic how every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to get something in, but I can’t. However, it shows, I suppose, I’m still alive.

Sunday, 30th October 1977, 6.15 p.m.

Should I have written the article for the J.C.? Philip read out their “billing”, in their issue of 28/10, for November: the attractions for the issue of Nov 4 included “Hasmonean: A View from the Inside by a Teacher”. It is mildly critical of the school, I speak of the extreme Orthodox right wingers, but the only “hard” criticisms I make are of the attempt to get boys in the football team to have some form of covering on their heads and the abandonment of the attempt to get boys to shower because “Nudity is repellent to us” (as one mother had written).

Did I do it because I wanted cheap publicity, wanted to see my name in print at last? Yes. So what.

I suppose it will embarrass Max. Fortunately, Stanton has signed his UCCA form. Perhaps, in a way, it’s just as well this hadn’t occurred to me, or I probably wouldn’t have submitted the article, and I don’t see why I should refrain from allowing the J.C. to publish two articles which they would have been prepared to accept.

“Lid off Hasmonean” by Joseph Witriol (Jewish Chronicle, November 4, 1977)

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son’s IntroductionII, III and IV, click here, here, here and here. Thank you to Philip Witriol for transcribing the Diaries, and for his patience with my ever-so-slightly obsessive attention to detail!]

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!

Hasmo Legends XII: Flops, Greater and Lesser

It is something of a truism that Hasmo boys fared far better in maths and sciences than in the arts and humanities.

This owed rather more, however, to factors extrinsic to Hasmonean – such as the greater emphasis placed on the former in most (especially more traditional) Jewish households – than to the pedagogical skills and talents of the school’s maths and science teachers.

In fact, Hasmonean should have churned out ambitious would-be physicians, scientists and mathematicians “for fun”. But, for all the geniuses that we all knew from our Hasmo days – the four and five As maths and science A-Level students – how many went onto careers (never mind distinguished ones) in those fields? With the raw talent at their disposal, Jack, DJ, Steve, Flop and crew should have produced numerous top academics and professionals, but these ‘educators’ did not foster love of their subjects, merely high levels of competence in them.

HopelessIn spite of my late father having been a brilliant mathematician and physician, I was hopeless at both maths and the sciences. Indeed, Hasmo’s science labs were as uninviting to me as its gym was for some of the more pasty NW11 and N16 frummers (the sensitively-named, by Chich, “spastics”). I hated the places (my only enjoyment being to poke a sharpened pencil through the inviting – what other purpose did it serve? – slit  in my neighbour’s high stool).

So, if you have been eagerly anticipating a warm melchett mike reminiscence about Hasmo’s maths and science teachers, stop reading now – revisit, instead, my posts on Cyril, Chich, Sid, and Big Al – because, with the exception of DJ, I was utterly indifferent to nearly all of them. (As always on melchett mike, however, if you have warmer recollections of these individuals – or tales of those I have failed to mention in detail, or at all – please post them as comments below.)

As well as the absence of truly unforgettable characters (such as the aforementioned), my indifference was also due to the attitude and/or incompetence of Hasmo’s teaching staff in those, my weaker, subjects. Like the advice on how to make a million dollars in Israel – make Aliyah with ten – it is oft said about Hasmonean (correctly in my view) that, if you came with ability, you did well; if not, they would let you rot.

I have received more “When are you going to do Flop?” queries, since my first Hasmo Legends post, than I can recall. I have been rather reticent to write about Lionel Finkelstein (middle row, extreme right [ignoring the little fella], in the staff photograph in Hasmo Legends I), not out of any sense of loyalty to him, but because he is still apparently squawking and spluttering his way through the physics syllabus on Holders Hill Road. I was even contacted by someone senior at today’s Hasmonean, specifically requesting that I let him off the hook for that very reason. And the truth is that I originally agreed . . . though I am no longer quite sure “Whyyyyy”.

No Nobel Prizes in Physics for guessing how Dr Flop earned his nickname. I vividly recall even the (what should be) perfectly straightforward Ticker Tape Timer experiment – for measuring velocity – going horribly and repeatedly wrong. And it was often Hasmo’s poor, meek lab assistants, Mrs. Kadoo, though more usually the hapless Michael (I don’t think he had a surname) – neither of whom were ever heard to utter a word – who would have to shoulder the blame for this incompetence. Indeed the oft-heard bellow, from the physics laboratory, of “Miiii-ccchael” usually bore all the reasonableness of Stalin’s scolding of his mistress, Getya Keksov, for the relative failure of his Second (1933-1937) Five-Year Plan.

BissliFlop, in appearance a kind of Semitic Brian Blessed, was a strange bloke to say the least. His behaviour could vacillate between the genial and the almost cruel (sideburn yanking being his punishment of choice), and his fondness for Bissli snacks (barbecue flavour) usually resulted in more finding their way into his unkempt beard – nestling there for the remainder of the school day – than into his not insubstantial stomach. And those squawking noises – “Urrrggh, Isaacson . . .” – have not been heard outside the Star Wars movies or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Inadvertent followers of Nachum of Golders

Inadvertent followers of Reb Nachum of Golders

Hasmo’s other physics teacher was the unassuming Nachum Ordman (middle row, seventh from left, in the aforementioned staff photograph), the younger, more reserved sibling of Jack, head of maths. It is a little known fact that the ubiquitous Na Nach mantra and stickers, visible all over Israel, relate to Nachum’s slight stutter rather than – as believed by those loony, pogoing Chassidim – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachum always seemed the most gentle of men, so it would be a shame to waste any more melchett mike inches on him.

Another oddity of Flop-like proportions was Hasmo’s biology teacher, Steve Posen (middle row, third from left). Apparently, Steve can still be seen belting along Bell Lane (Hendon), destination unknown (even to him), sporting his bright red shirt on Rosh Chodesh. Steve’s behaviour also spanned the full gamut, one minute warm and approachable, the next wielding his favourite slipper as if he had shares in Dunlop. Even his attitude towards the biology lab’s living creatures – and I don’t mean Hasmo boys – could suddenly swing, with no apparent warning, from the gentle to the brutal.

Steve’s straight-man sidekick in Hasmo’s biology department, Liam Joughin (back row, fourth from right), would observe his colleague’s oddball performances with a deadpan expression, never betraying the absolute incredulity he must have experienced on a near daily basis. A man neither loved nor loathed, Joughin was best known for his dry sense of humour and expressions such as “leave it a-lone” (despairing at Hasmo boys’ insistence on fiddling with apparatus before experiments had even begun) and “minkerisation” (Joughin for mincha, the afternoon prayer).

In fact, so remarkably normal, by Hasmo standards, was Joughin – and a good teacher to boot – that one had to wonder what he was doing at the nuthouse, when he could so easily have been enjoying a position amongst “his own” at a decent English grammar school.

At one stage, Joughin shared the role of Deputy Headmaster of Hasmonean with chemistry teacher, David Jacobson (front row, third from left), known to all merely as DJ. My opinion of this man is well known to readers of melchett mike, and I don’t intend to darken my summer mood by expanding on it here (though, again, readers’ comments and stories will be gratefully received).

Whilst Hasmo’s other chemistry teacher, Kevin O’Connor, seemed a genuinely nice bloke, even the Dalai Lama could not have tempted me to spend a second more in DJ’s classroom than I absolutely had to, and I “dropped” the subject as soon as I could.

Find x.For five long, unforgiving years, I sat in the maths B group of Simon Lesser (back row, fifth from left). If he had explained his algebra and geometry in some obscure dialect of Urdu, I would have had no less idea of what he was on about. And, for half a decade, my end of year maths results always hovered around 30 to 35 percent.

Less than six months before the O-Level examination, one of my mother’s bridge four, Wendy Lederman, who taught maths at Hasmonean Girls’, offered to “have a go”. I got an A. What that says about Mr. Lesser’s teaching (as well as Mrs. Lederman’s) I leave to you, the reader.

At some point, we stopped being deterred by the lines Lesser would dish out like an overzealous Nigerian traffic warden slapping out parking tickets in Central London,  and – unsentimental teenagers that we were (how sentimental could we be about a man who would make us write “Homework must be done and submitted on time” two hundred times and more?) – started taking advantage of his failing eyesight and hearing. Our class even formed an instrument-less jazz rhythm section, employing mouths, hands, heels and desks to perform improvised compositions, as Lesser – in an attempt to decipher figures – pressed his nose against textbook or whiteboard.

In cricketing terms, Jack Ordman (front row, second from left) was Hasmonean’s Geoffrey Boycott or Graeme Hick: one of the finest maths teachers of his generation, but – like Boycott and Hick, batsmen who didn’t quite fancy it against the very toughest of bowlers – Ordman only took on the ‘challenge’ of the A group. This was the kind of perverse arrangement typical of Hasmonean, allowing Ordman to preserve a very fine, but somewhat misleading, average.

“Uncle” Jack did, however, teach Gemara to our delinquent Yeshiva Stream group after school, displaying that very same caution and/or fear that prevents him from going down as a true great: for the last fifteen minutes of every class – in an attempt to wake us up with some actual interaction before our journeys home – he would conduct a question and answer session on halacha; but, whenever we would pose even the most slightly problematic of questions, he would proclaim “Boys, I am not a rabbi. The school has got a very good one. Ask Rabbi Cooper.”

This seemed to defeat the very purpose of the session . . . though, couldn’t that be said of nearly everything that went on at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys?!

[REMINDER: In keeping with Hasmo Legends ‘rules’, comments must be truthful, with true identity of commenter provided.]

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XIII: A Legend (Osher) Strikes Back [followed by The Background]