Pupils learning in a day school don’t have to generally worry whether their school food is edible - they can take a packed lunch to school each day - and they certainly don’t have to worry about a lumpy mattress. Every day they return home to Mamma’s cooking and their interior sprung mattress, For those in a boarding school, this is more risky They have to eat the school food or starve and at least lay on their mattress even it is not sleepable on.
Carmel College was a boarding school but as we shall now see these worries would have been almost entirely superfluous there.
Boys going to boarding school usually describe the food there - I shan’t repeat here the superlatives! But this was not so in Carmel.
Every day three wholesome meals were served. There was breakfast at eight o’clock, dinner at one fifteen and supper at a quarter to seven. In addition, hot cocoa was served in the dining hall vestibule during the morning break for the boys who wanted it and likewise tea and cake at about four thirty. No-one starved or fainted from thirst!
The menus were planned by Mrs. Bella Rosen - Rabbi Rosen’s wife and as he described her, the co-Founder of Carmel College. On one occasion there was a lecture in the school on nutrition and the speaker came out in favour of wholemeal bread. The school was already using quite a lot of this bread. In the question time after the lecture, Mrs. Rosen told the speaker that as a result of this lecture, she would increase the percentage of this wholemeal bread served in the school.
For breakfast every morning there was bread - as much as one could eat, butter, jam, tea, a cereal and something else. About half a packet of butter was put on each table. When I first joined the school, it was already cut into seven portions - this was the number of boys on each table. Later however, the whole chunk was put on each table - there wasn’t a “smash and grab” raid for it - someone on the table would divide it up. The cereal on some days was corn flakes, on others Weetabix, on others Sugar Puffs, on others porridge and so on. The “something else” could be a whole variety of things, such as grapefruit, prunes, sweet corn, eggs, and so on.
For almost every day of the week, the dinner was meaty. It might be sliced beef or chop-meat or sausages or viennas but not chicken. It would be accompanied with potatoes and various vegetables. The dessert might be a tart or fresh fruit. There was a jug of water on each table. On Fridays the dinner was almost always milky.
The supper was usually milky, although on occasion, there was a second meat meal of the day. Sometimes there was a soup, vegetables, cheese, baked beans, but, after having eaten in so many different places in my life, I cannot remember more details of this meal at Carmel.
In the dining hall there were three rows of tables along the whole length of the hall. On each table sat seven boys, three on either side and the head of the table at one end. The tables were covered with formica and the chairs were metal. At an early stage in Mongewell, a parent donated white plastic tableclothes for Shabbat. However after a time the boys were careless with them - they poked holes in the plastic and they got torn and unusable. Rabbi Rosen told the boys off about their treatment of the tablecloths. He then said that if he requested this parent to supply further tablecloths, he was sure that he would do so, but he immediately added that he was not prepared to do so.
At the beginning at Mongewell, the teachers would sit at the head of the boys’ tables in the main body of the dining hall. At a later date a built up platform was constructed on the western side of the dining hall and a very very long wooden table, almost the length of the dining room was put on this platform for the masters to sit at. Yes, they still had the same food as the boys. There were no secret extras on their menu.
Before each meal, the kitchen staff would lay each place with the cutlery, a side plate for bread and any other plates necessary. For milk meals there were thick mugs - never cups! The school probably bought up surplus unused supplies from somewhere, since they had all sorts of names of institutions on them. For meat meals a glass was placed on the table There were occasions whilst I was in the junior part of the school, that I would go into the dining hall and ask the staff if I could help them lay the tables. I am sure that they were glad of my help! It sure saved them work.
All the time that I was at the school, the boys had to pile up the plates and cutlery on each table at the end of each meal and this was done in a rota of the boys sitting at each table. For most of the time whilst I was at the school, the boys had to bring the food from the kitchen and also, after piling up the plates to clear them to the counter next to the kitchen. The head of table invariably did not participate in these “menial” tasks. He was served but didn’t serve.
In addition, when the food arrived at the table, the head of table would usually take first. That was until Mr. Stamler intervened and said they had to take last. He argued that if there was not enough food on the table and it was the head of table who was short, he would jolly well make sure that more food would come from the kitchen. I never did a survey as to how many heads of table obeyed this ruling of Mr. Stamler’s.
Boys often want “seconds” of food. Sometimes there was sufficient for some boys to have seconds. For example, they might have served eights slice of meat for the seven boys on the table or there may have been a surplus in the kitchen waiting for takers. Some heads of table would if they fancied seconds, take first of all for themselves. Others would be more “democratic” and there would be a rota around the table for the allocation of these seconds.
After Birchat Hamazon, the teacher on duty would make any necessary announcements. At dinner time, the teachers’ table was full of staff and after Birchat Hamazon, the boys would stand and the teachers would leave the hall. Mr. Coles, who was always on duty that meal, would then make the announcements. Any teacher wanting to make an announcement of his own, would remain behind to make it.
One day there was an eclipse of the sun, in which a high percentage of the sun was covered in that part of England. The peak of the eclipse was at the time when Mr. Coles was to make his announcements. He said that in order that we could see the eclipse, an occasion which would not reoccur in England for decades (until 1999), he would dismiss the school and we would re-assemble in the dining hall a little later for the announcements.
The teacher on duty would call the school to order by a little bell which he would bang on. On Shabbat, when it was almost always Rabbi Rosen on duty, since he could not use this bell, he would give a clap. On occasions when pupils were noisy, the school had to eat their meals on silence. On one occasion, when the school was not behaving, Rabbi Young who was on duty, said the boys had to finish eating within five or ten minutes. (I don’t remember exactly the number of minutes, but we had to gobble down our food.). After that, he said that the boys can now sit in silence to let the food digest!
A boy misbehaving risked being sent out the dining hall during a meal. On one occasion, when a certain teacher who was on duty was in a querulous mood, he publicly rebuked the school captain and said he should be showing an example. The school captain went over to this teacher and asked whether he would like to do his job. At this, the teacher gave the school captain a slap around the face. I was told that the school captain and the prefects then went to this teacher and said they were not prepared to act when he was on duty. At this the teacher apologised to the school captain, saying his hand slipped!
When I began at Carmel towards the end of 1953, there were still “Ration Books” in England for certain commodities and we obviously had to send them to the school. When I returned home for the first school holidays, my mother asked me what she was going to do for the period of the holidays, since she didn’t have ration books for me for those weeks. She needn’t have worried, because a few days later the school sent coupons to cover these holidays.
There were a number of changes in the kitchen staff whilst I was at the school. I don’t think I knew the name of the chef when I joined the school but I do recollect him answering a member of the kitchen staff who asked whether a certain glass was milky or meaty and he answered that it was neutral.
The next chef was called Jim. After a time Jim was relegated to menial cleaning jobs in the school. I understand this was due to his being rude to Mrs. Rosen. For a few days there were some very professional waiters in the dining hall. When one wanted bread from the tray, they didn’t use their hands to serve it, but two forks, so as not to touch it. At the same time there was a religious Jewish waiter and when a person called his attention by saying “Hey,” he told him that “Hey” was not his name but Mr. Rosenthal. For some reason these people left after a few days.
After that, a Mr. Bitner came to be in charge of the kitchen. I remember him screaming at someone towards the end of one breakfast, “Breakfast is finished,” and this could be heard all over the dining hall.
During the Bitner era, the tables in the dining hall were rearranged so that there were four tables end to end. Instead of putting a dish containing food on each table as previously, three hot tins of food, I think straight from the oven, were put on these four tables.
I don’t think I will forget the “Bitner Marmite meal.” The first course was soup flavoured with Marmite. The gravy in the next course was flavoured with ... yes, with Marmite. The last course was ice-cream - he didn’t actually add Marmite to it, but by that time, I am sure that all one could taste was Marmite!
I cannot remember when the Bitner era ended, or even if it did before I left the school, but at some stage the arrangement of the tables were returned to what they were previously.
Sometimes a boy did not like his table in the dining hall. So what did he do? At the beginning of a meal, he would go to the master in charge and say he had no place. The master would ask where there was a spare place and this boy would go there. If this had been a permanent spare place, he would have a new table at which to sit. I myself once did this successfully.
However, towards the end of my stay at Carmel, the number of pupils in the school had increased and it was becoming more difficult to fit them into the dining hall. At the beginning of one school year they announced that the sixth form would sit on the masters’ table at breakfast, since there were very few teachers taking breakfast and at dinner and supper, they would reset some tables which the prep school had used - they always ate their dinner and supper before the senior school. However a few days later, a slightly different method of arranging the tables was implemented and this gave a slightly greater number of places in the dining hall.
The boys were sometimes given an opportunity to state their food preferences. On one occasion we had a written questionnaire. I think there were five questions on it. Amongst them were “What do you prefer, corn flakes or Weetabix?” and “Are the plates clean?” I understand that ninety five per cent of the school answered this latter question in the negative!
On another occasion they asked the pupils to answer by a show of hands whether they would prefer hot or cold milk for breakfast. They explained that hot milk would not only be for the cereal but also for the tea. Two thirds of the school voted to keep the milk cold.
To fry chips for over two hundred people, one cannot use just a frying pan over the gas. Rabbi Rosen well knew that boys liked chips. In my early years, the school bought a “chip machine” and Rabbi Rosen would keep us posted regarding its installation, with such comments as “We are waiting for a plug for it.” Eventually it was all set up and (hurray!) chips joined the menu.
It would seem that someone complained that there was not enough food. I say this because once Rabbi Rosen announced to the school that if there is not enough food, we should let him know. He added that he couldn’t promise all the food everyone likes. In all my years at Carmel, I can never say there was insufficient. There were obviously some dishes one would have liked seconds and thirds and even fourths of and obviously we could not have an unlimited quantity of a particular food. One cannot even do that at home.
This reminds me of my aversion when I was at Carmel to eating sausages and viennas. I think this started after one occasion when I had eaten them and was violently sick afterwards. It was very likely that they were “not guilty” of me being sick. Well most boys like them and they were therefore often served at Carmel.
I therefore asked my father to write to Mrs. Rosen and ask if I could have an alternative when they were served. (If you don’t at least try, you won’t get!) Boys who were vegetarians were given an alternative when meat was served. Mrs. Rosen wrote back a very nice letter to my father saying (to the best of my recollection) that obviously one cannot please every boy all the time and that there was a wide selection at every meal so that a boy would not go hungry. She was perfectly right. (Postscript: Today I love them!)
A character who was originally in the kitchen and ran the tuck shop, even after she stopped working in the kitchen, was Miss Aarons. I am sure all the former pupils remember her tuck shop. A photograph of her serving a boy appears in “Reflections 1948-1988.” For most of the time I was in the school, the tuck shop was housed in a shed near the dining room. Any boy who wanted to buy sweets, chocolates, crisps, soft drinks had an address to go to. (Don’t tell this to “Weight watchers anonymous”!) She would take the money in any form - even crossed postal orders with a pupil’s name on. I know that since I used to pay her that way from the postal order my father sent me as pocket money each week. She obviously had a method to convert all these various money items into hard cash!
[Incidentally a few years after I left Carmel, I was at a conference in Jews College and at dinner time went to the restaurant there. Who was serving the meals? Miss Aarons. As she was serving me, she said “I know you.” I replied, “You are Miss Aarons.”]
The tuck shop did not have a deep freezer to sell ice cream but after it had been served at Carmel for several years, they began selling Snowcrest ice-cream from the window of a room at the eastern end of the main building.
You couldn’t even go into competition with the tuck shop, by your Yiddishe Mamma sending you tuck parcels. This was forbidden and to make sure you kept the rules, all packages received by the boys went through the “censoring department.” They were opened and any tuck inside them would be retained and only be handed over to you at the end of each term. It was unfortunate for you if it were perishable.
In conclusion I can say that whilst I was at Carmel, we were all well fed with both good nutritious food, (the school meals), and if we wanted also with junk food, (the tuck shop).
After eating my first supper at Carmel, I was directed to sleep in the “long dorm.” This was a long narrow room with about 20 beds situated in an annex of the gymnasium. At the near end of the room there was a washroom and toilets. I seem to remember that the other boys in this room were older than me. One boy asked me where I came from and when I said Edgware, he asked me whether I knew a particular person. I replied that he was a relative or client (I don’t remember which) of my father’s. It’s a small world!
I had obviously been put in this dormitory by mistake since the staff did not know where I had slept that first night. It was only on the following day when they discovered this fact that they told me to move to dorm 25 on the top floor of the main building. The following day I was again moved and this time to dorm 9 on the first floor. Talk of the wandering Jew - I was the wandering dorm walker. At least I remained in this room until at least the end of the term.
Dorm 9 was a large room full of double bunks and it was filled with members of my class. I was on the same bunk as Moshe Leibovich. As first I was on the top story, which was a more popular sleeping place but we agreed that we would periodically change over.
The housemaster was Mr. Abraham Carmel and he occupied Room 10 of that floor. He was a “ger tzedek” and he had just a few months earlier converted to Judaism. His full story can be read in his autobiography “So Strange My Path.”
Every morning he would come round the dormitories clapping to wake us up. On Mondays and Thursdays he would come around earlier saying that was “leining” that day and we had to get up earlier.
[Incidentally, I remember seeing the official school timetable for the days’ activities and it spoke of getting up earlier on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Monday and Thursday are understandable - but why Wednesday? The timetable explained why - there was a radio programme during the course of that day and in order to fit it in with the timetable, we had to get up early! Howzat for originality?!]
After rise and shine, we had to leave our beds stripped to air and after breakfast make them for dormitory inspection. Towards the end of that term, some sixth form boys needed a bunk and they just went along and took mine leaving two beds in their place. For some reason, I didn’t like this and I tried surreptitiously to swap these two beds for someone else’s bunk. However, the owners of this bunk soon recognised what I had done, since there was a broken bar on their bunk and I had to return pronto to the bed.
In the course of my seven years at Carmel, I was in numerous different dormitories. After about half a century, I cannot remember exactly when I slept in each different dormitory, but I shall try and reconstruct my life in the dormitories.
A dormitory rule was that one was not allowed to talk after “lights out.” If one did so, one risked feeling the housemaster’s swift punishment. I remember at least one occasion, when together with some boys, I received this punishment. We then returned to bed and a few minutes later Mr. Carmel heard talking again. He came in and asked whether I had been talking. I honestly could not say yes or no and I did not want to lie and so I answered that I could not remember. Mr. Carmel was not satisfied with that answer but another boy came to my rescue and said that I had not. Incident closed.
On that floor there were two large dormitories - dorm 4 and dorm 9 and about four or five smaller rooms holding about six to eight boys. At the beginning of each term, they would inform all the boys where they were sleeping and I always hoped that I would be in a smaller room. But this was not to be for nearly two years. The same boys had the same smaller rooms, term in, term out. If I would have spoken out during this period, maybe I would have a change of room. In fact I did this during the last term of my second year at the school and managed to arrange a change into a smaller room.
At the beginning of my third year at the school, (autumn 1955), my friends found themselves in different rooms. By that time we were more experienced in school life and routine and we decided to act and bring ourselves together into dorm 7, which had about eight beds.
We came to the necessary agreement with the boys who were then in dorm 7 to move to other dormitories and went to speak to our housemaster who was still Mr. Carmel. He answered us “No changes today.” We very liberally interpreted this as “but yes changes tomorrow!”
The following day, taking advantage of the fact that he was not in the school, we implemented these changes. When he returned, he was not very pleased, to put it mildly and I heard it reported that he said “Who does Simons think he is making all these changes?” That evening he stood up in the dining hall and announced that anyone who had changed dormitories without permission must change back, especially those involving dormitory 6. I had moved from dormitory 6. Since we had moved “tomorrow” and not “today,” we “conveniently” decided that the announcement did not refer to us! Fortunately, he never followed up the matter and we remained in dormitory 7.
During that term, we instituted in our dormitory a Melave Malka at which we would eat and sing. Our most popular song was “Eli chish giali” which is one of the zemirot for a Melave Malka and it was Mordell Klein who taught us the tune. My Barmitzvah occurred during that term and when I returned I brought back a bottle of wine, which I donated to the dormitory for these Melavei Malka.
That Chanukah began on a Friday night and Mordell and myself who had our own chanukiot decided to light them in the dormitory. There was a convenient mantlepiece on which to place them. We invited Mr. Carmel to the lighting and he in turn invited the matron. Before she left the room, the matron moved the nearest bed further away from the mantlepiece. No, we didn’t burn down the school! We were not given the opportunity. When Rabbi Rosen arrived in the big hall, which also then served as a Shul, he asked that the boys who had lit Chanukah candles in the dormitory, should bring them down to the Shul.
It was during that December vacation, that I received a telephone call from Mordell. He wanted to bring out a magazine for dormitory 7 and would I help him. I gladly offered to help write some of the articles and assist with the typing. In order to enable me to already get on with the typing, he dictated to me over the telephone articles and a crossword puzzle which he had already written. I also visited him at his house in Golders Green, so we could make further plans together for bringing out the magazine.
Mordell had written an article on how we got together at the beginning. With regards to Mr. Carmel’s announcement in the dining hall, he wrote that we all blocked up our ears in order not to transgress the commandment of “Honour to Teachers.” This magazine also included articles on the Fast of Gedaliah, on Sukkot in the dormitory, our Melavei Malka, and Chanukah. I don’t remember the subjects of the other articles.
I typed out sufficient copies of some of the articles using carbon paper - Mordell typed out the remainder. He also prepared nice covers with the words “Uru yeshainim dormitory 7” (wake up you sleepers - dormitory 7) painted on them. At the beginning of the next term we distributed these magazines to the members of the dormitory. Mr. Carmel periodically arranged “house parties” for the boys in his house. I remember one of these parties took place on Chanukah and another on Lag B’Omer. Originally this latter one had been planned for the previous night, but it was pointed out that it was not appropriate to have it during the mourning part of the Omer and thus it was made one day later on Lag B’Omer.
These parties were compered first by Brian Seaberg and afterwards by Jeremy Rosen. During their compering they would play a gramophone record of some man playing the piano and singing at the same time. Meanwhile, they would be sitting in front of a piano pretending to play and moving their lips as if singing!
All the teaching staff were invited and some even performed an act. On one occasion, Mr. Schmidt did some conjuring tricks.
The boys also did acts and amongst them was one by Mordell and myself. Even after so many years I can still remember some fragments of the script. Mordell was the grandmother and I was the grandson.
I came in and greeted my grandmother.
Grandma: We must get the tree ready.
Grandson: It’s not Christmas.
Grandma: (knocking on her head) Come in, come in. Ah it’s Purim.
Grandson: No grandma, it’s Chanukah.
Grandma: Chanukah, Purim, what’s the difference!
.... Later in the act I dragged in a very long thick branch of a tree.
Grandma: Is this Mother Hubbard’s clothes prop?
Grandson: No, It’s Goliath’s toothpick.
The boys were in fits of laughter throughout this act.
As we reached the summer term, Mordell, Moshe Leibovich, Michael Bharier and myself decided that we wanted to be together in our own dormitory and we kept putting this request to Rabbi Rosen. On one occasion, he thought of putting us in the lodge, which was a building at the entrance of the outer gate to Carmel but the senior boys then living there objected, claiming, probably rightly, that it would take away their working room.
There was a prefabricated bungalow near the gymnasium and at about that period four of the boys sleeping there were guilty of something (I don’t remember what!) and Rabbi Rosen decided that they return to the main building. He said that Mordell, Michael, myself and some other boy who had said he didn’t like his dormitory could move there. Moshe for some reason was excluded. However, this other boy’s housemaster told Rabbi Rosen that this boy was untidy and he therefore wanted to keep him under his eye. Moshe was allowed to go in his place.
This occurred on a Friday and it poured with rain that day. The boys who had to move out this bungalow thus suggested that we delay the move to Sunday. I did not agree. I was concerned that they might speak to Rabbi Rosen over Shabbat and persuade him to let them remain. Create facts when you can! We thus put all our bedclothes in big wicker laundry baskets to protect them from the rain and did the move.
That year was the first fast of Tammuz after we were all Barmitzvah. The night before the fast we were on some outing to London (I don’t remember what for) and we returned about midnight. We used this opportunity of being awake at that hour to have a meal before the fast. The following night the fast was over about half past ten and we then went to the dining hall to eat. Three weeks later, on the morning of Tisha B’Av, we decided that instead of going into the school, we would read kinot in our dormitory. Rabbi Rosen heard about this and was not very pleased with what we had done.
The term soon came to an end and we were grateful that we had had a good part of a term together in this bungalow.
The following term found me back on the first floor of the main building in dormitory 8. There were three double bunks in it and in one corner a wash basin. When we returned after half-term, we saw that the wash-basin had been removed. One of the boys commented that this removal would give the school the opportunity to squash in a fourth bunk.
Lo and behold when we returned at the beginning of the next term, there was a fourth bunk there. The inhabitants of this bunk were two new boys from very wealthy families! The father of one of these boys later became chairman of the governors. He presented a large silver cup to be presented yearly for something or other - I don’t remember what.
The following year I was in the long dorm. I was then in the upper fifth and many of the pupils of my class were in this dormitory. There were a few spare rooms in the study block and they were given to some members of this class. On what basis these particular boys were given these rooms, I never found out.
Boys in the study block were allowed to do their prep in their studies. Everyone else had to do their prep in their classrooms. One day it was announced, that those members of the upper fifth who had studies could do their prep there. I tried to argue but without success, that the long dorm was the study of the boys sleeping there. One of the boys in the class even wrote out a petition on this subject for the school authorities and begun circulating it for signatures. After a number of boys had signed, a couple of the signatories had second thoughts and crossed out their signatures, thus spoiling the document. No new document was ever prepared.
That Chanukah we made a party and before that made a collection to pay for the large quantity of food we provided. We invited teachers including Rabbi Rosen and Mr. Stamler. At that time, one of the tabloid newspapers, spread over a number of its pages a full life-size photograph of some female film-star. A member of the dormitory cut it out, joined the sections together and stuck it on the wall above one of the food tables. At the party, I think it was Mr. Stamler, who asked, why she was standing in the crisps.
The teachers were there for the first part of the party and during it one of the boys in the dormitory who learned piano, played a piece on this instrument, which we had brought into the dormitory for the party. The last staff member to leave was Mr. Nelson and before he left, he sang one of his undergraduate songs on “wooing a poor young maid” and which ended, “Now I am a bachelor living with my son....”
Although the actual dormitories were allocated by the school administration, the bed one slept on was on a “first come, first served basis.” I therefore decided during that year to come to school by myself in order to arrive before the school train.
I went to Paddington station and took a train just to Reading. I then got on a Chiltern Queens bus up to Mongewell. The bus stop was at the top of a hill by a road leading to the school. I arrived at the school in the early afternoon and went to the long dorm to choose my bed. Almost all the beds were arranged in a long row but there were a few arranged perpendicular to the other beds by side of the window. There was also a window ledge beside these beds, which was of course useful to those sleeping in these beds, and I therefore chose one of them. But I was not yet finished. I felt there were too many beds by the side of the window. So I moved one and added it to the long row of beds. No-one else had yet arrived and so no-one was the wiser!
After our successful party on Chanukah, we had great ambitions to make a party at the end of the summer term with a many course meaty meal, including hors d’oeuvres, soup, meat course, dessert etc. and that we would already start collecting money for it. We even wrote to Skrek’s asking them for a price list for their meat products, but they wrote back that they did not sell direct to the public and we should go to our local retail shop.
We then discovered a problem. The end of term was during the nine days and thus we would be precluded from having a meaty meal. We tried to work out solutions, such as learning a Masechet of Talmud and having a siyum at this party. A further problem then arose which put a complete stop to our party plans. We were all taking O-levels that year and they even finished after the end of the summer term.
Until this period, the dormitories were confined to the main building, the long dorm and the study block. Rabbi Rosen had his “master plan” for developing the area, This plan included dormitory blocks, classroom blocks, synagogue, laboratories and a dining room.
[Soon after I had left the school, it was discovered that the gymnasium was in a state of collapse. It began with the report that one wall was weak but soon after, the whole interior of the building was propped up with scaffolding. At that period Rabbi Sidney Leperer and his wife were living in the upper story of the annex of the gymnasium. To live in a building which is full of scaffolding to prevent it collapsing is scary. However, Mrs. Leperer informed me that she had been assured that it was safe to continue living in their part. All this meant that a new gymnasium which would incorporate a swimming pool had to be added to the master plan.]
To implement this master plan was not just a question of money. One also had to get planning permission and the local authority, to put it mildly, was not keen to give it. I never officially heard the reasons but one can easily speculate! Rabbi Rosen once told us some of the objections and obstacles that the council was making. About 50 years earlier the Thames had flooded the area. It couldn’t happen again since some construction work had since been done to prevent this. But this did not prevent the council from raising such objections. As a result, the ground floor of the first two dormitory blocks to be built was raised several feet off the ground. Rabbi Rosen also told us that there was one man on the council who worked hard to get the plans passed and without his help there would have been far more delays.
One of these dormitory blocks was a three story building and was called the GUS (Great Universal Stores - Isaac Wolfson) block. The other was of two stories and was called the M & S block (Marks and Spencer) block.
The construction of these buildings was such that the girders were outside the building. At one point, the architect came to the school to give a lecture on this building and the first question someone asked him was why these girders were outside. He answered “why not?!” He also said that it saved space.
The brick walls inside were not plastered but painted with an oil paint. Unlike the baths in the main building which were “baby baths,” the baths here were normal - one could now luxuriate in the bath, provided of course that no-one else was waiting for you to finish! The large room on each floor was divided by partitions about 5 feet high into small room of four beds each. Each boy had his own wardrobe which was a part of these partitions.
There was an opening ceremony for one of these dormitory blocks. As I remember the donors of the other one did not want such a ceremony. On the day of this opening ceremony, the boys were told to put all their dirty laundry etc. in the store-room downstairs, which would then be locked. Talk of not washing your dirty linen in public!
At the same time, a new sewer was built, also in yellow brick, well away from all the other buildings. There was no opening ceremony for this sewer! Seriously however, an efficient sewerage system is essential in any community.
These extra blocks certainly relieved some of the overcrowding in the dormitories.
At this stage, let me mention fire drills, which took place throughout my stay at Carmel. We were first instructed and also given printed sheets on what to do should a fire break out at night in the main building.
These sheets began by saying that one should wake everybody up adding “be sensible here.” We were instructed to close the windows but if they got stuck not to spend time trying to do so. We would be directed as to which staircase and exit doors to use and we would assemble in the classroom block, and then there would be a checkup to see if everyone had arrived. A teacher would meanwhile check all the dorms and toilets and bathrooms to ensure everyone had left. At first, the signal to wake everyone up was a broken sound from the school’s electric bell. Later this was replaced by a hand bell which was very loud and which was placed in the corridor of the first floor. I think the reason for changing over the bell was that the electric bell would ring all over the school and what was the point of this, if the fire was in the main building?!
After receiving the briefing of what to do, we would be sent to our dormitories and told to wait for the fire bell. When the signal was heard the pupils immediately left their dormitories and went to the classroom block. This was a bit fictitious since, unlike in this practice, pupils would normally be asleep when the fire-bell sounded. This deficiency was corrected by also occasionally having fire drills during the night when the pupils were asleep. However, on one occasion, we were still talking in bed when the fire-bell sounded!
One such fire drill was done when I was in the long dorm. After the briefing which took place in the main building, we were told to go to our dorms to wait for the fire bell. We started to walk towards the long dorm and when we were only half way there, the fire bell sounded. I commented that what was the point of those sleeping in the long dorm to go to the classroom block when there was a fire in the main building! In fact one would be coming closer to the fire rather than running away from it!
Compared with “Jennings Goes to School,” the fire drills in Carmel were very “tame.” In Jenning’s school, the boys did not leave the building via corridors, staircases and doors, but via the window, with cables, slings and pulleys. But in both Carmel and Jenning’s school the boys finally reached terra firma and safety from the flames, but by different routes.
Let us now return from the realms of Jennings books to my sleeping accommodation in Carmel. By the time I reached the lower sixth, these newly built dormitory blocks began to be in use and I slept in the M & S block. At this period, some of the lower sixth were given studies in the rooms on the top floor of the main building. The remainder of these small rooms were occupied by junior boys.
I did not understand at the time - (I still don’t understand!) – the reason why these junior boys were not put in the new dormitory blocks and the sixth form given these rooms. However I decided that this had to be remedied. I chose a room which would make a good study for myself with two other lower sixth formers. These were Moshe Leibovich and Reuben Sawdaye. The latter had come from Iraq, where his family still lived and he had a “guardian” in England who looked after him.
I did not tell the junior boys in this room of my plans. They would have obviously done the maximum to thwart them. I couldn’t just swap them over with us, since they would then of been in a room with boys of a completely different age. I had to do far more complicated changes to avoid this problem. But I soon found other boys who were glad to have an opportunity to move into the M & S block.
Since I was not the “supreme authority” in Carmel College, I had to get some sort of permission to implement such changes. The opportunity soon came when Rabbi Rosen was in an exceptionally wonderful mood and would agree on anything we asked for. I immediately went with Moshe Leibovich with the list of my proposed changes and asked whether we could implement them. He answered in the affirmative. We thus had our license. Half term was about a week away and we decided to stay behind after the school, including of course the junior boys who were then in our intended study, had gone home and hey presto, do all the moving.
The day before half-term, whilst Moshe and myself were looking over this room, one of these junior boys came in. When he saw us there, he got a bit suspicious and asked whether we intended taking this room. Our answers were evasive. I was terrified of a last minute upset. That night, train tickets were given out. I listened carefully to check that all these four junior boys would be travelling by the school train. One of the names was not called out and I became apprehensive that he would be in the school at the time when we intended making the changes. However Moshe afterwards heard that they had forgotten to call him out for his ticket.
The following morning the boys left on the coaches to take them to the school train. We were now safe to make the changes. Reuben could not stay behind, and so Moshe and myself did all the moving. We decided that in our study would be one bed and one bunk - there were originally four beds. Since it would be a study with tables etc., there was no room for three beds. At first we had a small problem since there seemed to be a piece missing from the bunk we wanted to use but fortunately we soon found it.
After several hours work in moving beds, bunks, mattresses and blankets we finished the removal work.
A few months earlier, it had been announced to those who had studies on that floor should decorate - (for example, paint or wall-paper) - their rooms and there would be a prize for the best room. Moshe and I therefore took a bus to Reading to buy the necessary decorating materials. We had decided to wall-paper the walls and paint the ceiling and the fitted wall cupboard.
We bought a supply of wall paper, paste and paints and asked whether they could deliver it to Carmel. They asked which carriers delivered to Carmel and we answered Ayres. They agreed to arrange the delivery. We also bought material for curtains and this I took home with me. My aunt was a dressmaker and during the half term, I asked her to make curtains from this material.
As usual I returned back early after half term. The things we had bought in Reading had already been delivered. We decided that we would get to work immediately on decorating the room. Create facts!
During that half term, I had typed out a list of the dormitory changes which had been made and asked the prefect on duty to read it out. He then asked that the four junior boys who had been ejected from their room come and see him. I don’t know what he said to them.
That evening we finished painting the ceiling a pale violet and the built-in cupboard a green colour. We soon got to work on the wall paper. The quantities of wall paper and green paint that we had originally bought were insufficient and we had to order further quantities.
In order to get furniture for one’s study, one had to scavenge around the school. The teacher’s table in my classroom was ideal but I could not just take it like that. I looked around the school and saw a table which was too big for the study. So what did I do? I put this big table in my classroom and took the classroom table for my study. I heard afterwards that this table was used by the maintenance workman employed by the school and they wondered where it had got to. But as far as I know, they never followed it up. We also managed to obtain another table, which was smaller in size, although I cannot remember from where. In a prep school dormitory, I saw a chest of drawers which was empty. I asked their matron if I could have it. She said that the pupils used it to put their things on but all the same I persuaded her to let me have it. We covered this cupboard with fablon. We also attached some bookshelves to the walls of the study.
I should mention here that after returning to Carmel after one holiday, we saw that some of our furniture had disappeared. On looking through the various dorms in the school, we found that some junior pupils had helped themselves to it. They had stripped the fablon off the chest of drawers and were in the process of painting it. This is as far as they got. The furniture was returned pronto!
Almost everybody said that ours was the best decorated study, but we did not win a prize for it. I don’t know what criteria the judges used to award the two prizes.
My family had an disused fitted carpet and I decided to take it to Carmel for my study. I found out from the post office the maximum size that one could send a parcel by post and I accordingly packed as much of the carpet into such dimensions. It is possible that I may have taken further pieces with me when I returned to school.
For my last year at Carmel, Reuben moved out this study to be in charge of some prep school dormitories. No-one replaced him in our study.
At this period, the school purchased a farm situated about half a mile away. As far as its buildings were concerned, it had a mansion which housed a number of sixth form boys and a nearby house where the housemaster lived. The housemaster was then Mr. Alexander who had just came over from Israel for three years to teach Torah studies. At first he was offered the bungalow where we had been four years earlier, but he rejected it and instead lived with his family in this house near the farm mansion.
When one of the boys living there said to Mr. Bunney how hard those living in this farm mansion worked, he replied that since they moved there the shares in the tobacco companies had soared! Indeed it was a smokers’ paradise!
It was also that year that a new housemaster came to the main building dorms. The first night he called a meeting of those sleeping in the main building. He gave a very stern lecture including, “I will beat anyone who doesn’t listen to the prefects.”
We soon found him to be an unsavoury character. The words he used in talking to the boys were very coarse; it was not suitable for any school let alone a Jewish one. He would open the shower door when a boy was showering there. He would make crude observations when he saw a boy undressing.
Within a month or so, it reached a state where we could stand it no more. I made arrangements to move to the farm mansion. (No! I have never smoked and had no intention of doing so then.) A boy asked this housemaster if he could then move into my study and hearing that I wanted to move out his house, he objected and I had to remain. I should add, that in retrospect I was grateful to him for this. I am sure that I would have done less work there and my A-level results would have suffered accordingly.
The sixth form then decided to take action regarding this housemaster. We arranged for a member to discuss the matter with Rabbi Rosen. We also spoke to the son of the Chairman of the Governors who said he would he would pass the matter on to his father.
I also heard second hand, that he would go to the local pub and tell anti-Jewish jokes and this increased the clientele at this pub. Another master heard him say there “I am now away from those Jews.”
When we returned after that half-term, we heard he was no longer in the school. We all gave a sigh of relief. A teacher named Mr. Kant Rishi took over as housemaster. He was a very pleasant man.
At the end of the term prior to the summer term - my last term in Carmel - Moshe and myself were informed that we would have to move over to the farm mansion. We said that we did not want to but to no avail. We thus unscrewed the bookshelves, took up the carpet and loaded all our blankets and other effects onto a trolley and started to pull it along the narrow path joining the school with the farm. We were about half way there when Mr. Epstein chased after us in his car and told us to come back. They had discovered that there weren’t two spare beds there. Back we returned to our study in the main building and re-established residence there. However, we never got down to reattaching the bookshelves.
It was during that term that Moshe had an idea for a “hot water bottle substitute.” He built a metal frame from metal coat hangers and in the middle put an electric light bulb in a holder with an attached electric cable. Plug in, turn on, put in the bed and hope for the best!
Moshe did this as an experiment but we were immediately called to a meeting. When we returned after this meeting, we could smell burning. His sheets had singed but fortunately he had not yet set the place on fire. The master on duty was not one who would look kindly on his experiment. We therefore opened and closed the door of the room a number of times to fan the smell out of the room. We thought that this was the end of the matter.
The next day we learned that this was in fact not so. The housemaster had also smelt burning in the corridor, where we had succeeded in “pushing” the smell. He had a great responsibility to investigate where the smell was coming from. We heard that he together with Rabbi Moshe Young, who had a room on this floor, spent hours that night pulling up floorboards in the corridor and testing the pipes under them with an electric tester.
Rabbi Young apparently guessed that our study was guilty of causing this burning smell since he left a written message in our room, "Who are the fire bugs?” He didn’t pass this information on to the housemaster.
I might mention in passing that a few months earlier, around Pesach, Rabbi Young had got engaged. I saw this in the “Jewish Chronicle” whilst at home during Chol Hamoed. I therefore wrote him a letter which I recollect began (approximately) as follows: “Although it is not customary to write letters on Chol Hamoed an exception must be made to wish you a Mazel Tov on embarking on the First Mitzvah in the Torah.” (This type of letter may be written on Chol Hamoed.)
Just a few weeks after this “burning smell” incident, came the end of the school year and seven years of my sleeping in Carmel beds came to an end.