When I joined Carmel, I was put in class 2 of the senior school. There was no class 1- don’t ask me why! The ties I had bought happened to be prep school ties and I wrote to my parents, “fifteen shillings down the drain” - the two ties we had bought and had ironically arrived by post on the day I went to Carmel. Had they been out of stock just for a few more days, we could have bought senior school ones. However, I continued wearing them and no-one ever objected. Towards the end of my first term, a boy in the upper part of the school gave me a senior school tie.
Obviously after about half a century, I cannot remember exactly the timetable I had each of the seven years I was in Carmel but I shall try in this chapter to reconstruct it to the best of my recollection.
In class 2, the subjects on the timetable were Religious Instruction, Modern Hebrew, English, Mathematics, French, Latin, History, Geography, Art, Physical Education and Games.
Although I was in class 2, this was for secular studies. Religious Instruction was streamed differently. At the beginning of the term, the new boys were asked their background knowledge in their religious studies. When I was asked, I informed the teacher that I had passed the London Board of Jewish Religious Education’s junior examination. I was placed in class gimmel.
The whole school had their Religious Instruction at the first period every day and I found that in class gimmel there were boys much older than me and in a much higher secular class than mine.
The teacher of class gimmel was Dr. Tobias and the main subject we learned was Mishnah. Dr. Tobias would also give the lesson on his day off and he would often say to us on that day that it was his day off. When it came to writing the end of term reports, he said he always writes good comments. He told us that once he wrote a bad comment for some pupil from abroad and before giving out the report he had second thoughts about it. He therefore took ink eradicator and changed the comments, since it would be difficult to explain to a parent who was living thousands of miles away.
Modern Hebrew was the last period each day and we were taught it by Rabbi Rosen. He also taught us Mathematics and he introduced us to algebra. He began by asking what is “a” plus “a”? We probably answered “b” since one automatically thinks of the alphabet!
We were taught English, History and Latin by Mr. Carmel. I shall never forget my first Latin lesson with him. He came into the class and started to give a lecture on the importance of the subject he was teaching without mentioning the word “Latin”. Only after about five minutes did I know what subject he was talking about. He then wrote a number of sentences on the board and told the class to translate them into Latin. Those who had been in the prep school had already started Latin and could thus attempt the exercise. I, who had never learnt Latin just sat there and did nothing. Afterwards I asked Moshe Leibovich, who had also never learned Latin, what he had done. He said that the sentences had included the word “king” and “queen” and he had written “rex” for king and “regina” for queen.
Mr. Carmel never attempted to go back to the beginning for those members of the class who had never learned Latin. The only Latin textbook which we had was “Kennedy’s Latin Primer,” which was written at about the period of the “ancient Romans.” Fortunately a boy in an higher class explained to me some of the first principles regarding this language and I then managed to make some progress.
In History that year our teacher was at first Mr. Carmel. Later on in the year it was Mr. Gavron and we were taught the period of the Middle Ages, and this included such topics such as Henry VII. He was only in Carmel for about a year and after that he entered the Bar.
Mr. Schmidt, who was also our form master, taught the class Geography. During the first term, he taught the continent of Australia. He would often give written tests. It was in one such test that he asked us to name all the states in Australia. One boy asked whether this included Tasmania - (Tasmania, although a separate island is an integral part of Australia and is one of its states). “Don’t give away names,” Mr. Schmidt quickly called out. For the December holidays, Mr. Schmidt gave a voluntary project - to prepare a scrap book on Australasia, which was to include current news cuttings - and that he would give prizes for the best entries.
I took this project very seriously and spent my entire holiday on it. My father who was an accountant had these big ledger type books which contained over one hundred large pages and I filled up the whole book with this project. I began by drawing various big maps of Australia and New Zealand to illustrate different features of these countries. I then discussed its geography, then its history, then the flora and fauna, stuck in postage stamps and finally there was the section on news cuttings. At that time the British Queen had visited Australia and many of the cuttings were on her visit, as well as a serious train crash which had occurred at that period.
When I was asked by the other pupils at the beginning of the next term whether I had made such a scrap book, I considerably played down the size of the book I had prepared. I won the first prize for my scrap book, which was some sort of simple game.
The following term we learned about the continent of Africa and again Mr. Schmidt gave as a holiday project to prepare a scrap book. I prepared a similar type book on Africa, for which I again gained the first prize. During the summer term, he taught the North American continent. At the end of the term I asked him whether he was making a similar competition and he answered he was not. I suspect he wanted me to go out during the summer holidays rather than sit in doors preparing a scrap book.
Mr. Schmidt that year also taught us French. Like Latin, this was also a new subject for me, but unlike the Latin teacher, Mr. Schmidt began at the beginning. I recollect he brought out some duplicated sheet in French, at least partially on the subject of Carmel College, which we translated together in class.
In addition to the academic subjects, there was Art (mainly painting) in the curriculum. The art room, which was a red brick building just situated after the entrance to the inner gate of Carmel College, needed considerable internal renovating when we took over the premises in Mongewell. This was done doing the first term there and so we could not have art lessons when the term first began. Instead, during the Art periods, the Art teacher, Mr. Cox, would take us for walks. Instead of using our hands, we used our feet. We would regularly ask him how the renovations were going on and he would answer, for example, that there were still another two walls to plaster. After a number of weeks, an alternative room was temporarily found.
Art is something which generally you are good at or not good at. I fell in the latter category. However during that first term I must have produced some “freak” paintings, since I was awarded an “A” in my school report and the comment “Most original and interesting work.”
For most of my years in which I had to take Art, my marks in this subject were one of the bottom in the class, although occasionally, and I must stress occasionally, I produced a “masterpiece.” The best paintings were displayed on the wall of the art room and once even I had a picture there. It was of a person wearing a Tallit and Tephillin. The proportions of the body were however wrong. His hand was much smaller than his face. After someone had seen this painting, he told me to put my hand up in front of my face and that I would then see that they are of the same size.
After I had painted this picture, the Art teacher suggested to me that I paint a series of pictures of the Prophets. We looked together in various art books for ideas but nothing came of this project.
At the end of each term, a school report was sent to the parents of each boy. In addition to a space for the “classification” (mark or grade) and “remarks” for each subject, there was also a space for reports from the form master, the house master and the principal. At the end of my first term, Rabbi Rosen wrote on my report - (it’s the only one still extant) - “A sparkling person. When his talents are more disciplined and well directed he will do splendidly.”
During the second term of the first year at Mongewell, Mr. Meir Gertner arrived from Israel to join the staff to teach Jewish studies. When he arrived, he went to live in Wallingford and I asked him whether he intended coming to live on the school campus and he answered me that maybe in the summer. In fact all the years he was at the school, he continued living in Wallingford.
Mr. Gertner knew how to punish boys on the spot in a way they felt it. On one occasion he asked us what the root of the word “shifcha” was. I answered, without trying to be funny, that it was related to “shiksa.” For that I received his standard punishment and then he added that in a minute I would get a like punishment for the plural of shiksa. Fortunately, I didn’t!
If he saw a boy writing something in his lessons, he would take it and tear it to pieces. I was once calculating and making Jewish calendars in an exercise book for the next umpteen years and I was working on it in one of his lessons. He took the book and was about to tear out the page I was then working on. The class begged him not to and miracle of miracles, he didn’t!
One of Mr. Gertner’s pronouncements was:
“You are not judged on what you can do; you are judged on what you do do
If my grandmother had wings, she would be a jet bomber.” (with him pronouncing the second “b” in bomBer.”)
Another teacher who I think came during that year was Mr. Gagen, a Mathematics teacher and he became our teacher. He lived with his wife and children in a caravan which he brought to the school and he parked it in the corner of the field near to the main building. His wife worked in the linen room together with another woman, a Mrs. Madgwick. However some time later they were both fired and Mr. Gagen left at the same time.
In that year, and indeed every year I was at Carmel, there was a games afternoon in the timetable. In fact towards the end of my stay at Carmel, the sports’ teacher managed to get a second afternoon each week. In the winter, this games period was generally devoted to football and sometimes cross country running and in the summer to cricket and athletics. Sport was not my strong or favourite subject.
There were two courses for this cross country run - one for the juniors and a longer one for the seniors. The juniors ran along the far edge of the sports field until the end of it, turned left and continued until the main road; left again and along the main road until they came to the hill leading to the back gate of the school; down the steep hill and this was the finish.
The senior boys however didn’t have this “luxury”! They had to start by running up this hill - one was exhausted before one really got started! Then right turn and run along the road until the village of North Stoke. Turn right again and continue along the road till one reaches the fields. Again right and run on and on and on until one gets to the back road of the school. You have now finally finished and so you can take a long long rest and have a nice drink!
I would sometimes try and opt for a cross country run, (not that I wanted to run the whole course!), when my class had football. If I occasionally succeeded in my opting, I seem to remember running until I was out of eye-range of the teacher-in-charge and then - sort of disappear!
On one occasion, the games master saw that the class was not doing the cross country run properly - one boy had even brought his overcoat with him. We had to run together with this teacher and the boy with the overcoat was told to hang it on a tree. When we reached the school, this boy was told to run back to the tree and retrieve it. I doubt if he again attempted a country run with superfluous garments!
There were pupils who didn’t like sport and if one could get a slip from the matron that one was “not fit” that day for sport, one would be exempt. The blanks of these slips had been typed and then run off on a Gestetner duplicating machine. The matron then wrote in the details of the boy and date. At one time there was even a boy who forged these slips and he really made a good job of it. I once asked him if he utilised a typewriter to make them. He answered in the negative and said that he wrote out each letter by hand with black ink. All the more praise to him - maybe I shouldn’t praise a “forger”! I think the word must have got out what was happening, since it was announced that there were forged slips going around.
At one period, Mr. Evans, who not only excelled in his main subject of Mathematics, but also in games, introduced hockey into the school and it was played for a few years. Even bad weather wouldn’t deter him. Once it started snowing whilst we were playing and it was getting heavier but he went on. I kept asking myself when was he going to stop and let us go inside? Finally, even he came to the decision that we needed to stop.
When I was in about the sixth form, a different system was arranged for the games' periods - which had by then had increased to two afternoons a week. The whole school was divided into about ten groups and each one was given a number. Before each games afternoon, it was put on the notice-board which sport a particular group would engage in on that particular afternoon. I was very happy when my group had a cross country run. It finished quicker.
There were no music lessons in the curriculum but a piano teacher called Mr. Cohoon (this is phonetic – I could never spell his name – somewhere in it there was the letter “q”) came to the school and pupils opting and paying for piano lessons would leave their normal lessons to learn piano.
I will now move on to when I was in the third form. On the basis of our previous year’s work and results, some of the boys went up a form, whilst others remained for a further year in form 2. I, who had always come towards the top of the class went up.
In the third year, science subjects, namely Chemistry, Physics and Biology were added to our curriculum. That year I was taught Physics by a Mr. Tonks. He began his first lesson by explaining to us the difference between Chemistry and Physics. In Physics, he told us we measure how big an object is and how much it weighs. In Chemistry, we want to know what will happen to the object if we add something to it.
Chemistry was taught to us by Mr. Coles. For his lessons, there were no exercise books, one had to have a loose leaf file and the writing in it had to be precisely as he wanted. In a heading, the third letter had to go through the margin. In later years, he seemed to slacken on this particular requirement.
The first thing he taught us was the difference between a physical and a chemical change. Heating platinum wire in a flame was a physical change, since when it is cooled it returns to its former state. In contrast, heating a strip of magnesium will cause it to burn up and thus change its form and this will be a chemical change.
He then welded a piece of platinum wire on to a glass rod and passed it around the class for every boy to heat in a Bunsen flame. He then gave every boy a strip of magnesium and told them to hold it in a tongs and put it in a flame. He added that we should not look directly at it burning since the brightness of the flame could be harmful to the eyesight.
Incidentally, at that period, there was a manufacturer of fountain pens called “Platignum.” Mr. Coles was concerned that as a result of this, boys would spell the metal “platinum” with a “g” in it. He compared this with a firm bringing out a product called “bred” and the confusion it would thus cause with “bread.” He therefore wrote in big capital letters on the front wall of the laboratory “PLATINUM.”
The Chemistry laboratory had eight benches, four on each side, with room for two pupils to work on each bench. By the side of each bench were a few shelves which contained commonly used chemicals, but as so far as acids were concerned, only the dilute ones were there. The cupboards under each of these benches was utilised to store all the various glassware and apparatus which was used in the various chemistry experiments. On the top of each bench were the very basic apparatus used in experiments, such as test tubes, tongs, glass rods, etc.
In the front of the laboratory was the master’s bench and there were two small rooms at the front end of the laboratory. One of them was the store room for chemicals and the other was Mr. Coles’ office in which he also kept all his prize specimens which he had made or collected over the course of the years. By the side of Mr. Coles’ bench was a fume cupboard. At a later date, an additional fume cupboard was added towards the back of the laboratory.
Also in the front were shelves containing commonly used chemicals. Here were also to be found the concentrated acids. Every time a boy needed to use these concentrated acids, he had to ask Mr. Coles’ permission. At a later date, additional shelves for concentrated acids were added by the side of the master’s bench but one still had to ask Mr. Coles before using them. To prevent damage to the surroundings should any of these concentrated acids spill over, the bottles were always kept on deep dishes.
Mr. Coles had written a book on “Chemistry Diagrams,” In this book he had drawn out in schematic form the machinery used in industrial plants to produce various chemicals. Under and around each diagram, he had written in his own handwriting in block capitals, an explanation of this machinery.
This was one of the textbooks which every pupil had to purchase and from time to time, the boys were given prep (the equivalent of homework in a day school) to copy out a particular diagram. I can say from personal experience that it was a lot of work!
To enable us to remember the chemical formula for sulphuric acid, Mr. Coles taught as the following rhyme:
Once there was a chemist
A chemist he is no more
For what he thought was H 2 O [water]
Was H 2 SO 4 [sulphuric acid]
Mr. Coles would never address a boy by his first name - it was always by his surname. There were only two exceptions to this, Rooky (Jeremy) and Mickey Rosen - he would never call them “Rosen.” He obviously felt it would be disrespectful to Rabbi Rosen, to call out “Rosen”!
Biology was taught by Mr. Rose. At the end of that year, he left and there was great difficulty in finding a new Biology teacher. Finally they managed to find a teacher who came in once a week and almost all his time, he was with the top forms and only one period was allocated to the form below mine. Afterwards Mr. Gray joined the staff. For the sixth form, Biology was the alternative to Mathematics. I myself never had any further Biology lessons after the third form.
Whilst I was in the third form, Mr. Evans joined the school as a Mathematics teacher. He remained in the school for about forty years. After he had been in the school for a few years, his wife joined the school and taught Mathematics to the junior pupils. Amongst the topics he taught me that year was logarithms and he introduced us to trigonometry.
Another teacher to join the school that year was Mrs. Whitfield, who came mainly to teach French. A more conscientious and hard working teacher it would be harder to find. For every prep night, without exception, she would set a written exercise to be done and she would meticulously mark it herself. One year, her prep night for French was on Sunday, and since she didn’t come in on that day, she would write the prep exercise on the blackboard at the end of the previous week.
She insisted that there were two French preps each week for her classes. At one period, it was decided that on two evenings a week, there would be extra-curricular activities instead of prep and this of course meant cutting down the number of preps. She was accordingly only given one. She told us that she had gone and asked for a second one but they wouldn’t give it to her.
When she was ill, we didn’t get a free period. She would telephone the school and tell them which exercise we should do during her lesson. On one occasion the message did not reach us till the end of the lesson and so we didn’t do it. That was no excuse with her - we had to do it in our own time.
On the last few days of term, almost all the teachers stopped giving us lessons - but not Mrs. Whitfield. I believe it was already the last day of term when she gave us a French dictation.
From the third form onwards she was our only French teacher. At first we were learning from a book “En Route.” The class below us, who were also using this book had almost caught up with us - they were very excited about this. They never actually caught up since Mrs. Whitfield changed over to “Whitmarsh’s” French textbook. Thus everything we did that was connected with French had a “Whit” in it!
The history lessons in the third form were given by Mr. Healey. Almost every lesson was taken up by him dictating and dictating and dictating notes. The period covered was the early Georgian period and the Jacobite rebellion. Prep was usually writing essays on the material he had dictated to us.
During the days towards the end of a term - I believe it was when I was in fourth form - the Mathematics teacher taught us some “games” in this subject. One was to “prove” that 2 was equal to 3 - the fallacy was that every number has two square roots. Another “game” was to “prove” that every triangle is isosceles - the fallacy was that the diagram drawn to “prove” this could not be drawn with accurate measurements! He also showed us how to fill in numbers in a square which had equal odd numbers of rows and columns, in such a way that all the numbers along each column, along each row and along each diagonal, added up to the same amount.
Physical Education (P.E.) instruction was then given by Mr. Charles Marshall. The lessons consisted of physical jerks of all species, climbing frames and ropes and all other manner of gymnasium equipment. I never reached the top of a rope - I doubt if I ever reached half-way.
To misbehave in front of him would be immediately dealt with and the punishment would really be felt. He regarded with great severity boys taking other boys’ gym kit. As a result of this “borrowing” and not returning, after a time a lot of boys were missing their gym kit and Mr. Marshall decided to act. He assembled the whole school (except the upper forms) during break in the quadrangle in front of the main building and everyone had to stand in rows in absolute silence. Any boy guilty of the slightest infraction would be liable to immediately receive Mr. Marshall’s standard punishment. The boys who had gym kit missing stood in the front row. This was repeated day after day.
Meanwhile, some public spirited boys went through the unclaimed gym kit and gave it to the boys whose kit was missing. As a result the front row got shorter each day and when it had gone to zero, these “assemblies” ended.
Whilst talking about “assemblies,” let me mention a more pleasant, if not sometimes boring, assembly which took place regularly. This was the Monday morning assembly - the first one of which took place on a Tuesday morning.
All the pupils in the school would be seated and a piece of classical music played. The pupils would stand, the staff would enter and the assembly would begin. After the announcements, a member of staff would talk on some subject. For example, Dr. Friedmann once spoke on the German lyric poet, Heinrich Heine.
On another occasion, a teacher spoke on the excavations at Hazor. He was talking about one of the rooms at Hazor and said its size was about the size of the “staff lavatories.” This size estimation became the talk and amusement of some of the boys. Of all the rooms in the school he could choose for this comparison, he had to choose the “staff lavatories.”
An assembly which took place just once a year was on Remembrance Sunday, which is held in Britain on the Sunday preceding Armistice Day, 11 November (which is incidentally my birthday). All the school would assemble in the hall for the two minutes silence. In my early years it was presided over by Rabbi Rosen or Mr. Stamler and in later years by Mr. Loewe - the reason almost certainly was that he had been awarded the Military Cross for his war activities, and in which he had been wounded his leg.
Let us now return to our daily lessons. If there were no bells to signify the end of a lesson, some teachers would go on and on and on with their lesson, to the gross dissatisfaction of the pupils. Carmel College had a variety of bells whilst I was there, to signify that a lesson was to terminate, and, what the pupils liked much less, to signify its commencement.
The first bell when we came to Mongewell was a century old bell which was hung (or maybe it was already in position before we came) over the well in the quadrangle in front of the main building. After a term or so of pounding, it developed a crack and from then on, it was only fit for decorative purposes.
In its place, some rusty drainpipes were suspended in some nearby bushes and they were banged on with some other metal implement. It was not very musical. This was our “bell” for a year or so.
Bell number three became a permanent feature in Carmel life and it was an electronic system whose peals could be heard in every corner of the school. When we returned to the school in January 1955, it was already installed. It comprised a pendulum clock connected to a glass fronted box containing a whole collection of cogs and wheels. It was pre-set to ring bells at various times throughout the day, to signify such things as the start and end of lessons, and meal times. Before Shabbat it was switched off.
Initially there were a whole row of batteries on a table. A few weeks later, a cupboard was added to store these batteries. At a later date, some boy obviously used this cupboard to test the efficiency of his penknife, and a small chunk of wood was henceforth missing from this cupboard.
All over the school there were red wall switches marked FIRE. In the case of a real fire or fire practice, one would press this switch with short bursts to give a broken sound. Should the school have wanted to signify something which was not on the pre-set system, (such as to summon the school to the hall for an unscheduled assembly), the switch would be pressed to give a continuous sound.
It was also at the beginning of 1955 that Her Majesty’s Inspectors came to inspect the school. They came into the various classes and in one of my classes, the teacher asked certain pupils to hand in their exercise books. These were the best kept books in the class. I am sure that the inspectors realised this!
One of the inspectors was a non-Jewish Professor at a University for Bible studies and he knew Hebrew. I heard that he started teaching a class he entered and he pronounced his Hebrew letter “vav” as “wow.” This caused some giggling amongst a couple of boys and as Rabbi Rosen said to the school after the inspection was completely over that this was the only bad incident during the entire visit.
They did not just come into the classrooms. It would seem they went around the dormitories - that was obviously the day when we were told to make them extra spick and span! Their inspection finally finished on a Friday night, when they attended the service and the meal.
Their report published several months later was very positive.
In the course of my stay at Carmel, my Religious Instruction and Modern Hebrew lessons were taught by many different teachers and comprised many subjects. I remember it in a kaleidoscopic manner, without being to usually remember who taught us what and when. I shall therefore cover these subjects in “one swoop.”
Amongst the teachers who gave us this instruction were Rabbi Rosen. Mr. Stamler, Mr. Steinberg, Mr. Epstein, Mr. Gertner, Mr. Roston, Mr. Schmidt, Mr. Loewe, Dr. Friedmann and in my last year Mr. Alexander. Certain smatterings of these lessons still stick in my mind.
It was in the third or fourth year that Mr. Roston utilised Harold Levy’s book “Ivri lemad Ivrit” and we covered quite a large chunk of the book. I recollect one story during these lessons in which a woman would put a “prutah” in the charity box before every Shabbat. Someone asked Mr. Roston the value of a “prutah” and he answered, naming some very small coin. I immediately called, to the laughter of the class, that it was no wonder she gave it every week.
At one lesson with Mr. Gertner, there was in the class a new pupil who had just arrived from Europe and his knowledge of English was thus limited. During the course of the lesson, the teacher asked him to translate something from Hebrew. He asked whether he could translate it into Yiddish. One of the words was “banim” and I remember him translating it into “kinder.”
Mr. Stamler and also Mr. Loewe had both studied Tenach at University, where the approach is completely different from Yeshivah study and this was reflected in their lessons. They would bring down such things as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nash papyrus to support ideas brought down in their lessons.
Mr. Loewe even went as far as to say that the book of Deuteronomy was written at the time of the Kings of Israel. I was shocked at such a statement and told him that this was Apikorsus (heresy). He answered me “Simons, you don’t know what that word means.”
The boys would unmercifully “rag” Mr. Loewe. There was one lesson which took place on Sunday morning in the lecture hall opposite Rabbi Rosen’s study. Two classes, each of which on its own ragged Mr. Loewe, were together in this class. The subject was Mishnah and we used Dr. Isidore Fishman’s book “Gateway to the Mishnah” although due to our ragging, I doubt if we learned much Mishnah. I don’t envy Mr. Loewe. That lesson in particular must have been like “Hell on Earth” for him.
When we were in the lower fifth, Mr. Stamler gave us a holiday task - to research and write an essay on a subject of our choice on Modern Zionism. I wrote about Chaim Weizmann, using as my source his autobiography “Trial and Error.” One boy wrote a synopsis of Modern Zionism on the basis of his notes from a series of lectures he had heard at a recent “Study Group” winter school. Another boy handed in an essay which was just one and a half pages long. Mr. Stamler looked at it disparagingly, asking if that was all he could manage for a holiday assignment.
In his Modern Hebrew lesson, Mr. Schmidt once gave out a duplicated sheet in Hebrew entitled “Five Ways on how not to tell a Joke,” which we then translated in class. These “Five ways” were: giving away the “punch-line” before telling the joke, mixing up the facts, omitting essential facts, hesitating all the time and, adding in so many unnecessary facts that one could not see the wood from the trees.
We shall now move to the fourth form. That year the school decided that there would be a division into arts and sciences from the fourth form upwards. Those taking arts would learn German, History and Geography; those learning sciences would learn Chemistry and Physics.
I opted for arts. German was a new subject for us all and we were taught by Mrs. Whitfield. We began by being told all about strong verbs, weak verbs, umlauts, capitalising every noun, etc. I had a smattering knowledge of Yiddish and I would sometimes bring it out in these German lessons. I once asked Mr. Whitfield when we would learn the word “mittenderinnen” (sorry – I don’t think there is an official spelling in Yiddish) in our lessons and she answered me “next year.” In addition to our exercise books, we were given vocabulary books in which we wrote down all the new words we learned. We soon starting having dictations in German and I was enjoying and doing well in the lessons. But all good things soon come to an end and at the end of that first term, the school returned to not streaming until the fifth form.
All the German lessons just came to an end. In retrospect, however, this unstreaming came as a blessing, since, when we were once again streamed in the upper fifth, I then opted for science and I took Chemistry right up to a doctorate.
That year we were taught English by Mr. Roston. He was very particular, even excessively so, that we should turn in our essays at the time he decided on. On one occasion, he wanted them to be handed in on one particular night. I was at the time having a Barmitzvah lesson and therefore could not do so. The next morning I went to him with my essay and explained the reason for the lateness but he refused to accept it. I was accordingly awarded a mark of zero out of twenty for this essay!
In our English literature lessons with him, we went through a book which surveyed English literature from the time of Chaucer to the present day. He also set us an assignment to learn by heart a poem and that he would hear us in class. I had forgotten all about this until he came in to hear us. However I remembered I poem I had once learned, called “I remember, I remember.” Every one else gave the name of the author of their poem. I did not know the name of the author and so I began “I remember, I remember, but I don’t remember the name of the author.”
We also learned with him “figures of speech.” One of them was the zeugma and he gave us the example, “She walked in the garden picking flowers and her nose.”
There is a photograph in “Reflections” of an English lesson for my class taking place with Mr. Roston on the lawn in front of the classroom block. I am either the boy whose back is to the camera nearest the wall, or in the front on the far left. However, I can say with almost certainty that these two boys are Jeremy Rosen and myself.
At that time we looked alike. I can say this because when I was in the second form, David Rosen who was then two years old came up to me and asked if I was Jeremy!
Jeremy Rosen was named after Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz, who was the Mashgiach of Mir Yeshivah when Rabbi Rosen studied there. He, as well as everybody else, thought a lot of Rabbi Yeruchom, and there was a photograph of him hanging in Rabbi Rosen’s study. Rabbi Rosen once told us that at Jeremy’s brit when he had to give the name, he felt he couldn’t say just Yeruchom and so he said Reb Yeruchom. Rabbi Rosen then commented that when Jeremy grows up they will have to call him Reb Reb Yeruchom!
That year, when I was in the fourth form, there was a new teacher for Latin called Mr. Phelps. He spent lesson after lesson going through a book in which one had to translate English sentences into Latin and he went round the class with everyone in turn translating a sentence. Occasionally, he would bring a passage in Latin and the boys would have to translate it into English. They were the most boring lessons I have ever had and this went on lesson after lesson after lesson for an entire year. The consequences of an infringement of discipline in his lessons were implemented there and then and were not pleasant.
At the end of the year he left. Rabbi Rosen told us that in one of his lessons, he made some comment which some boys took to be anti-Semitic. These boys complained to Rabbi Rosen and he as a consequence had to speak to Mr. Phelps about it. Mr. Phelps felt offended and left. Afterwards he was obviously sorry that he had been so precipitous in leaving, since he wrote to some boys saying how wonderful Carmel was. Rabbi Rosen added that had they not already found another Latin teacher, he was sure that he would have come back.
On this question of remarks, which could be even twisted to be anti-Semitic, Mr. Coles was particularly careful. Once after a Chemistry lesson, he apologised to the class. One of the boys answered that he didn’t understand what the teacher meant. Mr. Coles replied that he had said during the lesson “Hurry up, the festival is over.” He then explained he did not mean one of our Festivals; it was his way of saying, “Hurry up, the joy-ride is over.” Mr. Coles is to be highly praised for this; it is better to explain, than for the pupils to go away with the wrong impression, as occurred in the case of Mr. Phelps.
Because of the unstreaming, we returned to the physical sciences. Mr. George was our Physics teacher and when we came to go to the Physics laboratory it was found that both the third and fourth years had been timetabled for Physics at the same time. This created a problem with the use of the laboratory. However with good will most problems can be solved. It was agreed that the two classes would use the laboratory in rotation. In the weeks when a class was not in the laboratory, their lesson would take place in the classroom.
Let me here say something about the textbooks and stationery that we used in the lessons. At the beginning of a term, or if necessary during the term, the teacher would give out the necessary textbooks, either new or used and the parents would be charged accordingly. Textbooks which one had finished with, could be returned to the school and one would be credited with them, but, irrespective of their condition, one received only a very small fraction of the price. Stationery, such as exercise books, files. file paper was also supplied by the school - but on the bill it went.
When I had finished the fourth form, it was decided that the fifth form would be divided into two years - a lower fifth and an upper fifth.
As Mr. Phelps had left, the school found itself short of a Latin teacher at the beginning of my lower fifth year. They soon found a teacher who would start in January but they still had the first term to contend with.
Latin had been timetabled as two lessons on Monday afternoon, two on Tuesday afternoon and one on Thursday afternoon. After a few weeks, the school found a teacher for that term who could come on Monday and Thursday afternoons. He grew strawberries - I think as a hobby. After the one timetabled lesson on Thursdays, a few boys including myself remained for a second lesson. Since there had to be a mark for our term’s work and he had got given any tests or other markable work throughout the time he was there, on one of his last lessons he gave us a test, part of which without the use of books and part using books.
The next term saw the arrival of Rev. Ward and he remained for at least a number of years at the school. He was the Minister of the Church in Brightwell cum Sotwell, a village not far from Wallingford. When he came he was introduced as Mr. Ward and only some time later did we learn that he was a Minister of the Church.
He was a shortish person who looked a bit like “Mr. Punch” and he was the ideal candidate for ragging. And he did get it!
During the following year, our classroom was in the main building in a room almost joining Rabbi Rosen’s study and both he and Mr. Stamler could sometimes hear what was going on. On one occasion after Rev. Ward’s lesson, Mr. Stamler called our class into the study. He called out one of the boys - a boy whom he had heard rag Rev. Ward by making some wise crack about boy scouts - and said to him that if he can bully Rev. Ward, he will bully him. The punishment was quick to come. He then gave the class a warning not to continue this ragging of Rev. Ward. However, I don’t recollect the class changing their ways.
On another occasion, we brought in a boy from another class into Rev. Ward’s lesson and gave him the fictitious name of “John Oberman.” We informed Rev. Ward that he had been sent up a class by the Head Latin teacher because he was so good at Latin. Rev. Ward swallowed all this and even gave him some work to test his Latin proficiency! Rabbi Rosen was not amused by “John Oberman’s” activities and he was unable to sit down in comfort for some time afterwards.
We tried to imagine the conversation which afterwards went on between Rev. Ward and the head Latin teacher:
Rev. Ward: “Tell me more about the boy you sent up to my class.”
Head Latin Teacher: “Which boy, Rev. Ward?”
Rev. Ward: “The boy you sent up.”
Head Latin Teacher: “I sent up no boy, Rev. Ward.”
... and so on.
Despite the offence, the other teachers probably had a good laugh at this within the confines of the staff room!
The Physics teacher was Mr. Bunney and he started teaching us for the O-level examination. The first term was devoted to learning all about magnetism and in the course of the lessons he demonstrated magnetic patterns by scattering around iron filings.
He related how when he was at school, his master put a powerful magnet over his watch. The time for the lesson came to an end, yet the master did not stop teaching. What had happened was that he had magnetised his watch, which as a consequence stopped!
During the following term we learned about light. We did a number of experiments to trace rays of light using pins. One of them was the setting up of two mirrors at various angles to each other, placing a pin between them and then counting how many images of the pin we could see in the two mirrors. I think it even reached seventeen. Afterwards Mr. Bunney told us the formula to determine the correct number, and I can say with certainty that this was much easier than counting.
We also had to write an account on the periscope and in my account I gave an example of its use in war, to know whilst hiding in a trench where the enemy was, in order to shoot them. Mr. Bunney wrote on the bottom of my account that one couldn’t shoot a gun through a periscope!
Our Chemistry teacher that year was Mr. Coles and it was about that period that he made us learn by heart the periodic table of elements. We worked out a method of combining the chemical symbols into words - a type of mnemonic and this made it easier to remember. It began libebcnof, namgalsipscle , kcasctivcrmn. (No this is not Polish or some Balkan language!) Even today I still remember the periodic table because of this mnemonic. Mr. Coles would also talk about the famous chemist, T.W. Richards, once commenting that he might have died. In fact he had died long before that time - in 1928 - which was about the year that Mr. Coles had graduated.
When we came to have our first English lesson, we found that the teacher was Mr. Carmel. I was rather surprised, since he was the English teacher for the junior classes. However this only went on for the first term.
At the beginning of the next term, our teacher was the senior English teacher, Mr. Warner, a very tall man indeed and he straight away informed us that the school had decided that we would take O-level English Language at the end of that academic year. We were likewise told that we would also be entered for O-level Elementary Mathematics that summer.
Our learning in these two subjects was directed towards these goals. Some of our English lessons were given by Rabbi Rosen and he would give us essays to write. Other exercises which were required for the O-level such as precis were taught by Mr. Warner. He gave us rules and other facts regarding spelling. I remember him telling us that it was rare to have double “a” “i” or “u” in an English word, although there were a few rare words with these double vowels - “kraal” “radii” “vacuum” One boy then called out “Staal” who was a boy in the class. Past pages of O-level examinations are published by the examination board and we bought them for both English and Maths.
Rabbi Rosen decided that he would combine the boys in the then fourth form with our class and that that would be the upper fifth form of the following year. The upper fifth was the main O-level class and our studies that year were directed towards that goal.
There were some problems regarding this combining of classes. Some of those in my class, including myself, had passed O-level English Language and Elementary Mathematics. What would we study when those who had jumped from the fourth form studied these subjects?
What happened was that those who had passed English Language studied to take O-level English Literature that December. The set books were Shakespeare’s Richard II and Bernard Shaw’s “The Devil’s Disciple.” The English teacher was then Mr. Nelson, since Mr. Warner had left to take up an appointment in Ethiopia. To pass this O-level you need to read over the set books time and time and still time again until you almost know them by heart.
After having passed O-level English Literature that December, we just dropped out of English lessons. On one occasion, Rabbi Rosen saw me not in the lesson and asked me the reason. I told him that I had passed the O-levels. He replied that that doesn’t mean you don’t need any more lessons in the English language. Fortunately, he never followed it up and we continued not attending the lessons.
The remainder of the class had, as one of their set books for the following summer exam, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” This is a book which parallels what happened in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and Mr. Nelson spent a long time teaching these parallels. However after teaching them, he decided to write to the examination board and ask whether they needed this information and they answered him in the negative. The moral: The proverb “Look before you leap” can be paraphrased to “Ask before you teach.”
As far as Maths was concerned, we studied with Mr. George for O-level Additional Mathematics, which is an exam usually taken a year after Elementary Mathematics. In Additional Mathematics are included analytical geometry, calculus and mechanics. Mr. George instructed us in these subjects and we took the exam that summer. The remainder of the class studied for Elementary Mathematics under Mr. Evans.
The pupils who had just come up from the fourth form had not studied the material that we had learned in the lower fifth in Physics. Mr. Bunney thus gave them some extra lessons each week to make up this work. At the time, the whole class learned the remainder of the syllabus for the O-level Physics exam.
In addition to the topics that we had already learned, we then studied heat, mechanics and electricity. All this included thermometers, calorimeters, Boyle’s law, Ohm’s law, Wheatstone bridges and a load of other subjects. When he taught us Boyle’s law, he asserted that nine out of ten non-science masters will have heard of it. In contrast he didn’t think that more than one non-science master in ten will have heard of Ohm’s law.
When teaching many of these subjects, Mr. Bunney would demonstrate them using the apparatus we had in the laboratory. For example, he demonstrated all the gas laws and the expansion of solids. The laboratory was quite well stocked with apparatus for many of these experiments. Amongst this apparatus were meters to measure electric current and potential difference. Whilst he was talking about these meters, Mr. Bunney commented that he seen a boy carrying one of these machines and was swinging it backwards and forwards and it had never been the same since! From the way he said it, it seemed he was directing his remarks at someone in our class!
The boys would also do experiments in the practical class we had each week. A favourite experiment was measuring the time of oscillations of a simple pendulum using a stop watch. In the Physics (and indeed, in all science subjects) O-level examination, there was also a practical examination and the pendulum was one of the favourites.
In both O-level and A-level Physics, there is one question each year on sound, but it seems to be almost a holy tradition not to teach sound. As one might remark - it’s only one non-compulsory question on the paper. However, another boy and myself wanted to learn something about sound. Mr. Bunney obliged and gave the two of us some lessons in the evenings on this subject.
My Chemistry teacher was Mr. Coles and his policy was that if you are doing A-level Chemistry, there was no point in taking the O-level examination and he therefore already began the syllabus for the A-level during that year. The number of textbooks he issued us with was out of all proportion to the A-level examination. It was in the region of about 12 books, some of them being vast tomes. They cost us a fortune! I understand that his reasoning was that we would now have sufficient textbooks for any university studies in Chemistry. However, when I got to university and told the lecturers about some of the books I had, it was a different story, since they informed me that these books were out of date or not detailed enough.
The first thing we learned in organic chemistry was the preparation of ethyl alcohol. (No! not for the purpose of boozing! If one wanted to purchase a machine for distilling water in the laboratory, one required a licence; the Government wanted to make sure that you didn’t use it to distil alcohol.) I had written up this experiment and my loose leaf file was left open on my work bench. We left the laboratory for some break, possibly dinner. Whilst we were absent, somewhere in the laboratory the rubber tubing came off a condenser’s water pipe, and as a result there was a flood on the floor. As luck would have it, someone knocked my file on to the floor, with the result that the ink on these pages considerably ran. It was fortunately still readable but not aesthetic.
Now that the school had a full time Biology master, Mr. Gray, this subject was again on the timetable of the science stream in our class. However, since many of us had not studied it since the end of the third form, we discussed at the end of the first lesson with Mr. Gray whether it was practical for us to try and catch up and he answered in the negative. He had that lesson issued us with a textbook and we immediately returned it. Why unnecessarily be charged for it?
The arts stream were studying Economics with Mr. Schmidt and another boy and myself discussed with him the possibility of our joining the class. (We were the only two in the science stream who had been in the lower fifth the previous year.) Due to timetable clashes, we were only able to attend two of the four timetabled weekly lessons, but all the same we decided to join the class. Subjects covered in this course included trade unions and banking.
We also learned about the “gold standard” and it was on one Yom Kippur that Britain left it. Mr. Schmidt told us that this news was being passed from worshipper to worshipper in his Shul and that instead of rushing home to eat at the end of the day, the worshippers congregated together to discuss this piece of news! Money versus the empty stomach and the former won.
As a project, Mr. Schmidt told us to contact some company, request material from them and prepare a talk to give before the class. I contacted Cadbury’s and they gladly sent me a mass of material (why not? It is good publicity for them!) and using this, I spent a considerably amount of time in preparing material for a long talk. However, due to lack of class time, I could only present a small amount of it before the class.
That year, an elocution teacher came to the school one day each week and in the course of the day, gave elocution lessons to the various classes. Her name was Miss Viola Compton and she was the sister of Fay Compton and Compton Mackenzie. The classes ragged her to such an extent that she refused to come back for the following year. At some later “social” in the school, Rabbi Rosen recited some poem he had made up about her.
Even though it was just one lesson per week, she wrote on every boy’s report. By the upper fifth form, the report consisted of a separate page for each subject and under the dotted line for the teacher’s signature was written “subject master.” She had dutifully gone through every report, crossed out the word “master” and written “mistress.” I am sure she didn’t know the names of all the boys she was writing reports for. There was one boy who always had a music lesson at the time of his elocution period and therefore Miss Compton never saw him throughout the term. Yet he still received a report from her! Maybe it was by mental telepathy!
The following year I was in the lower sixth form and began my preparations for my A-levels. The three A-levels I intended taking were Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics for Science.
Three of us in the lower sixth, and this included myself, had passed O-level Additional Mathematics in the upper fifth and we were therefore a year ahead of the rest of the form. Mr. Evans, who taught the sixth form Maths said that we would have to wait until the rest of the class caught up with us.
Mr. George, who had taught us during the previous years, did not then have any available periods on his timetable to continue teaching us. However towards the end of the first term of that year, the boy whom he was teaching Higher Maths for Scholarship level, decided to stop learning Maths. I believe that we were available for two of the periods in which he had been teaching him. We accordingly arranged that he would now teach us during these periods and that we would take A-level Maths at the end of the lower sixth.
This boy, who had suddenly dropped Maths, agreed that he would also instruct us for the paper which contained algebra and trigonometry and we regularly went to his study for instruction. He had gone through the past papers in Mathematics for Science and written out in his handwriting the answers to the questions, as one would do in an examination. He said that he had succeeded in answering 117 out of 120 questions and he went through the questions with us explaining how to do them.
After a time he set us a paper to answer under examination conditions, which we did in the school library. I came top in this paper with about 41 per cent.
Meanwhile we were continuing our lessons with Mr. George when during the second term of the year, we received another setback. Mr. George had to suddenly go into hospital for an operation on his eyes and he was not in school for the remainder of that school year. The boy who had been helping us had already left the school.
After his operation, Mr. George went through all the past papers for about the previous twenty years and wrote out all the answers for us. We then went through all the answers by ourselves to learn how to answer this type of question. It was fortunate that the examiners set the same type of question year in and year out.
The hardest paper to learn for, under such conditions, was the Mechanics paper, and in addition, unfortunately for us, it had a greater weighting. However most questions began by asking the candidates to prove some theorem and we thoroughly learned all these theorems. I soon realised that I would have to have a sufficient reserve of marks from the other two papers to counteract any deficiency arising from this Mechanics paper.
We were doing two years work in just over two terms and we barely opened a Maths textbook in this period. We were depending on “exam technique” and all three of us succeeded.
The following year Mr. George had recovered and he wanted us to continue to Scholarship level Maths. I soon realised that there was little point in this and would prefer to devote my time by concentrating on my Chemistry and Physics. I couldn’t just stop learning a subject just by my own decision. I therefore went to speak to Mr. Stamler and phrased my problem in such a way that he would agree with me, which he did. I then went and told Mr. George. He was most annoyed with me for dropping Maths.
In the end the other two boys did not take the Scholarship level paper but just took the A-level papers again. This confirmed that my decision was right.
The A-level Chemistry course which we had begun during the previous year was continued throughout the two sixth form years. It was divided into three main headings, namely, organic, inorganic, and physical Chemistry.
The practical examination at A-level consisted of a “spot and vol” - which is analysing an unknown inorganic substance for the chemical elements it contains and a volumetric analysis of a solution. One might easily ask, why specifically these two types of exercises? Maybe, firstly, they are easy to mark and secondly, they test the candidate’s ability to measure and assess with great precision.
Many examining bodies, including degree level, allow the candidates to use any books they wish during the Chemistry practical examination. However the Oxford and Cambridge Board were an exception and one had to remember by heart how to do these analyses. Mr. Coles therefore kept pushing us to learn “Fenton and Saunders” - this was the textbook we used for qualitative analysis.
Incidentally, I might mention that one of the boys in the class wrote a “simpler method” for such an analysis and we even tried using it. But we soon went back to the conventional method!
Every week we had a practical class lasting about three hours. On most weeks we would prepare, usually some organic compound which we were learning about. But some weeks we would come in and Mr. Coles would say that that day there would be a spot and vol. We never liked them. At first we were allowed to use our textbooks, The A-level syllabus specifically stated which elements we had to know how to identify. However Mr. Coles would sometimes give additional elements which did not appear on the syllabus. If one “found” an element which was not present, he would subtract marks. For example, if there were three elements to identify and one gave in two correct answers and one incorrect one, one would receive the marks for having identified only one element. This was a case of “speech is silver, silence is gold.”
Since the practical went on through our tea-time, someone brought into the laboratory our tea and cake. There is a rule - rarely kept - not to eat or drink in a chemistry laboratory. If you do, be careful not to drink the wrong thing!
In my Carmel days, pocket electronic calculators were still a thing of the future. In my days at Carmel, there were slide rules. (If you don’t know what this is, go to a museum and maybe you will see one.) Mr. Coles and Mr. Bunney were poles apart on this question. The former was a devotee of slide rules, whilst the latter was dead against them, although I did once see Mr. Bunney using one surreptitiously. Mr. Coles said he had forgotten the last time he had used logarithms and how much more so for long multiplication.
I will now move on to the subject where the teacher almost forbade us to take out our slide rules - namely Physics. We began the A-level course in the sixth form. It included mechanics, heat, light and electricity. The class included boys who were doing Biology instead of Maths, and as a consequence they knew no calculus. At A-level it is preferable, but not absolutely essential, to use calculus in your Physics work. Mr. Bunney however said that he do would do his best to avoid bringing in calculus. We found that not using it would sometimes give a slightly different answer to mathematical problems.
At that period, electricity was becoming more important and the A-level exam therefore gave a greater weighting to electricity. There was also one question on sound. But as I have already said, we were not taught sound.
Also unlike Mr. Coles, Mr Bunney only gave out a minimum number of textbooks. Usually he seemed to be satisfied with them, although I recollect one occasion when he dictated a note for us to write in our textbooks.
Each week we had one afternoon of practical and we used a book by Tyler on practical experiments in Physics. We had to write up each experiment giving all our results, and had to include in our accounts “precautions to ensure accuracy” and at the end of the account a list of “possible sources of error.”
During these two years, Mr. Bunney would set us questions from past A-level papers to answer. I recollect that one of these questions was a problem which mentioned X-rays. Mr. Bunney commented to us that we would probably not look twice at this question saying, “Why are they setting such a question? - X-rays are not on the syllabus, or the ‘big fool’ didn’t teach us this.” He then went on to show that this problem did not require any knowledge of X-rays and was in fact very simple indeed!
Another thing in our sixth form timetable was preparation for the General Paper. One really only needed to pass this paper if one wanted a State Scholarship. Since we were not studying for this purpose, many of us didn’t take these lessons very seriously. At the time Moshe Leibovich had a book called “The Exam Secret” - how to pass exams with the minimum of work. One of the things it suggested was that in an essay, if you don’t know the answer - try bluff. You will get a few marks which could make the difference between pass and fail or pass and distinction.
Naturally, we continued with Religious Instruction in the sixth form. At the same time as we entered the upper sixth, Mr. Alexander came to the school. He taught us Chumash and we studied the beginning of the Book of Exodus. He would continually bring Cassuto and Nehama Leibovitz in his lessons. For example, he told us that Cassuto said that the reason that Moses was called by this name was that it was the Egyptian word for son.
Someone once said that education is what remains when the facts are forgotten. As one goes through life, one is sometimes sorry that one did not take seriously enough some of the subjects taught during one’s school years. One never knows when one will need a certain method of knowledge such as how to translate from a certain language or how to do a calculation, or how to write up something in good English, and so on.