Sunday, June 27, 2010

Chapter 2.Grammar school

Chapter 2. Grammar School:

Grammar School:

Every morning as we congregated for prayers we sang the school song,

I do not remember the real version but the following

“ In 1650 the school began with 12 boys eating rolls,

They bent their backs to the master’s whacks

For the benefit of their sandshoe soles.”

In these days sneakers were called sandshoes or later tennis shoes. I saw some advertised on e-bay from Australia and the U.K. so the name still stands.

This was followed by morning prayers in the great hall in which all the staff would assemble in their gowns, and the head master or one of the other masters would lead us in the “ Lord’s prayer,” or some other hymn or psalm. As a kid from a Jewish home I was exempt from these prayers, but I did not want to stand out and be different, so that I participated most of the time. I don’t think the exposure did me any harm.

Hutcheson’s Boys Grammar School was founded by George and Thomas Hutcheson in 1641. The original intention was that the school be for orphans. By 1650 there were 12 boys attending, thus on the roll in the school song. The location I attended was actually built in 1839 in Crown Street, at the edge of the Gorbals, which during my time was a notorious slum. In order to get there I had to take a tramcar from Queens Park where we lived, and walk a few blocks past the taunts of the local ruffians who would call us at the best Hutchie Bugs, or usually some other epithet. The school was a large Victorian style building, rather cavernous, dark and grey/black sandstone. It was quite a depressing site from the outside. It always seemed to me to be cold, and the main heating was the fireplace in the classrooms. It often was so cold, that the milk bottles would be brought in: each student was entitled to ½ pint of milk for halfpenny a day, and placed in front of the fireplace to thaw out. The classrooms were large and desks organized in long rows. At each desk there was an inkwell filled with blue ink, these were the days before fountain pens and ballpoints, and we all used old- fashioned pens with nibs, or pencil for writing. As I remember classes were large, about 40 students per class. The desks were one continuous row seating about 12 boys.

There must have been about 800 students in the school, all dressed in school uniform, a blue cap with black band, blue blazer with the word “ veritas” under the school emblem. Veritas, truth was the school motto.

I was a small dark boy with masses of curly hair. For some reason I was nicknamed Tony right away, and this stuck during my period at school. Either it was because I looked Italian, or because Tony was a corruption of Milton, take away the Mil and add a Y. I was about 10 when I started this school, having sat some type of exam and won a place as a Founders boy. In these days it was not called a fellowship, although a founders boy paid no tuition or at least very little. I came from quite a poor family who could not have afforded to send me to a private school. This must have been the original idea of the Hutcheson’s Brothers when they set up the school for orphans. My previous school, Scotland St, Elementary school was later to be recognized as an architectural gem, built by the famous architect Rennie Mackintosh, but it was in a poor working class district, and I apparently excelled among the other students. Thus I sat an entrance exam about the age of 10 or 11 and was assigned to the A section of the grammar school. By all accounts I was a very smart kid, who learned to read at about the age of three.

In Hutchie classes were divided along classical (language) lines. The top students were in the A classes where we studied Latin and then a year later Greek, the B class studied Latin and French, C, French and German and D only French. Each year was referred to as a Form, and I was in the 1st form, and school would continue through the 6th form. I soon found out that I was not good with languages, and was often belted for having more than two mistakes in Latin composition. The Latin Master was a Mr. Dorian, and he, at least to me, was a terror. I have heard from others that when he left Hutcheson’s for a position at another school, Albert Rd Academy, that he continued his reign of terror. I must have been a good student originally to continue in the A classes. To some extent I envied the boys in the B classes since they were at least learning something useful, a modern language, namely French. It seemed to me that the training I was receiving would be good for the ministry or law, but not for much else. We did have some mathematics, some art (drawing) and history, mostly Scottish history and of course English and singing. I distinctly remember all the Scottish songs such as Annie Lurie and “I tak the high road” etc. that we sang. Most were probably of Jacobin origin, and encouraged a sense of Scottish nationalism, as did history, which always seemed to revolve around the wars between Scotland and England. Later on we had some “ British history” which always stopped at that villain Napoleon! There was, at least in the years I attended, no chemistry or physics. Other private schools were for science such as Allan Glen Academy. We did read quite a lot of Robert Burns, difficult to understand being in a very Scottish dialect. I do not want to give the impression we only read Scottish Authors since we also studied the poetry of Keats and Wordsworth and did read quite a bit of Dickens. There always was a Shakespeare play every term.

I was a very quiet boy, unfortunately not interested in sport. We had cricket and soccer once or twice a week in the schools private playing fields, somewhere in the Southside of Glasgow. I usually stood aside and was a spectator, or later on did not go at all. I was a very lonely boy at school and had few good friends. I had one friend in 2B and 3B, a Donald Dickson (or Dickenson) with whom I would go out to tearooms, or visit his home. We enjoyed each other’s company and I was made very welcome by his parents. His house was much richer and cleaner than mine, and I was embarrassed to invite him home. When I left school in 1946 or 1947 I lost contact with him. I did write him a letter explaining my motives for leaving Scotland but he could not understand them. I’ll leave my motives for another chapter.

I have tried to figure out what made me so shy and quiet, and in many respects anti-social and a loner. I was actually a happy child, and had a fairly happy childhood. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, my mothers parents, and they always spoiled me in terms of sweets, money etc. They gave me a lot of love. My parents sent me to various classes, such as music (piano), dance, (tap and Scottish) and probably indulged me when they could hardly afford it. Was the shyness genetic? Looking at my own children and grandchildren I find some of the same characteristic. Perhaps I was self-sufficient and did not need the rowdiness of other children. I spent a lot of time on my own in the public library from a very young age, before even going to Hutchie. I got a great amount of enjoyment from reading. I immersed myself in the 10 volumes of the Book of Knowledge that I must have received as a present about the age of 10. I had all kinds of children’s encyclopedias.

Was being Jewish a factor in this lack of social interactions? Although the family was not religious, I heard a lot of talk about things a Jewish boy does not do, such as play football, go to the local swimming pool (the baths), play with “hooligans” etc. At a very young age, about 9 or 10 I was sent for private Hebrew lessons to a woman named, Eva Ross, who lived in Sinclair Drive, in Battlefield. She was to have a tremendous influence on me, introducing me to Zionism, the idea that we did not belong in Scotland but in Israel (Palestine) and to the youth movement Habonim. This was a labor Zionist youth movement, akin to the scouts but with nationalist and socialist overtones. I also started going to heder (Hebrew-religious school) to learn Hebrew, and how to pray and study Torah (Bible) and there I did make friends with other kids, namely Tommy Berman, a “ refugee” from Czechoslovakia who had been adopted by a friend of my mother, Mrs. Miller, and through Tommy other kids including Basil Rifkind. Later on in life, about the age of 14-16 we three hung around together for a short time. I was also influenced greatly by the Rabbi at Niddrie Road Synagogue, which was very close to our house on Dixon Ave. Rabbi Singer “adopted” me and decided I should play an important role in the community and in the synagogue. Thus all these influences and to some extent “ brain washing” on a small child must have made me feel different from all the other children. I was the only Jewish boy in my elementary school class and likewise in my class at Hutchie. And this might have had a defining influence. Later on the struggle between the Jewish underground movements in Palestine and the British army made the situation even more acute. In fact during this period I became friendly with a Bernard Epstein. I have no idea where I met him, perhaps in Cheder. He or his father subscribed to the “ revisionist” newspaper, which supported the Irgun Zvei Leumi (Etzel) in Palestine, and was very anti-British. I was deeply influenced by this and I suppose this added to my estrangement and feeling of not belonging in Scotland. We talked and dreamt as teens do of taking part in some “ liberation” action for the good of the Jewish people. All of this was just talk, and I do not know what became of Bernard after I left Glasgow.

I did consider studying music (piano) seriously. I had a good ear for music, and could sight read extremely well. I gave a few performances at local events, and even had a few pupils for a time. I enjoyed playing Chopin and in particular Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. However again at the age of 16 I lost interest. Perhaps all sorts of hormones were active. Although there were girls in the Habonim group, we basically hung around as a group, and did not have any sexual relationships. This did not occur until I had left Glasgow and went on Hachsharah. (Training farm for life in a kibbutz in Israel). Music was to become quite an important part of my life later on, influencing my marriage and also where we lived.

My studies certainly suffered from my other interests and problems, and I went from being an A student to what I would term today a D student. I think it was lack of interest in the subjects, and knowing that my future was not wrapped up in this society. About the age of 16 I told my parents I was quitting school. No one made any attempt to persuade me otherwise and thus finished a chapter in my life. One of my friends, Tommy, who went through the same brain washing tells me that the same “leader” came to his parents house to persuade them to let him go on Hachshara, but his parents would not hear of it before he finished high school, and matriculated. My experiences during this time in Habonim I will leave for another chapter. The movement had a great influence on me. Thus I did not complete high school, and this was to cause me many problems later in life.

I recently visited Hutchesons’ grammar school. It is a new school, the old building in Crown Street being torn down. The new School is in a nicer part of the city, still in the South side, not far from Queens Park and is now co-educational. It’s emphasis has shifted completely, the emphasis being on the arts, music, and sciences. There was little evidence of a classical education. They have very nice facilities for all of these subjects, and I was quite impressed by what I saw. Two students showed me around, very proud of the school and its music art program. Quite different from the days that I attended. The student body is very heterogeneous, a large percentage Indian, Pakistani, and Jewish. In fact “ diversity” of the student body appears to be important, not at all as in my days at the school. I those days White protestant Scottish predominated. I cannot remember a single Pakistani or Indian pupil. This of course may have reflected the racial make up of Glasgow.

What was Glasgow like during these days, of the 1940’s? This was the period of the war, when the city was quite damaged by the Blitz’s. Most of the damage was along the River Clyde. It was a very miserable city; grey and dark, always appeared to be raining or grey and cold. If the temperature reached 650F. it was considered a heat wave. It was also a heavily industrial city, with shipyards being the main industry. The city was poor, as were the inhabitants. Mostly it was a working class city. The air was “ dark” and heavy because of the burning of coal as a means of heating the houses. Even the school as mentioned above had a coal fireplace. The coal was delivered in large black sacks by horse and cart. During or because of anticipated shortages it was often stored in the house (in some cases in the bath). The streets were full of horse dung, no one thought of hanging a bag from the rear end of the horse. In fact horse and cart delivered many items, including bread and milk, etc. Lorries were reserved for larger items such as furniture.

Occasionally for relaxation a few schoolmates and I would saunter down Sauchiehall Street and go to one of the tearooms for tea and cakes. Glasgow bakeries have always been very good, and I remember cream filled meringues, and cream puffs served with a good pot of tea. I loved to walk down Sauchiehall Street to my father’s shop, which was at the end of this main thoroughfare, past George’s Cross (no longer there but site of a highway overpass) to Maryhill road. My fathers shop was quite close to the Cross, and from school to the shop was probably a couple of miles. This was the day before it was a pedestrian mall, but when tramcars or buses ran its length. Perhaps I stopped of at the Willow tearoom for my tea, unbeknown that this was a famous landmark. Like my elementary school a cafĂ© built by Rennie Mackintosh, that was to become famous many years later.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Early years

Chapter 1. Early years.

Where are you from people are always asking. (I can not shake off my curious accent). Glasgow, Scotland I answer. What a Scottish (Scotch) Jew? I did not know any such “creature” existed is the usual response with great surprise. How did Jews ever arrive in that part of the world? When I was born (1931) there were about 15,000 of us. There may have been as many as 10 synagogues in Glasgow. Today the number of Jews in Scotland is about half as a result of emigration. My grandparents had emigrated from various parts of the Czarist Empire. My father’s family, the Taylors, had arrived around the turn of the century from Kovno or Kovno Gebornia (province). According to some records my grandfather Taylor was born in Vitebsk, in the Pale of settlement. My grandmother Taylor was born in Moscow. I have no idea how or where they met. My grandfather arrived with his mother, the “Bubby”, Ellen , who I remember as a very old lady, who only spoke Yiddish. As a child I was always afraid of her. The story told in the family is that they were on their way to the “ Goldene Medina”, got off the boat, saw that the natives (goyim) were friendly, and decided to stay. Another version is that they thought they were already in America. After all the natives do speak a weird form of English! My grandparents (The Taylors) were quite religious; in fact the Bimah in one of the synagogues is dedicated to my grandfather. Religious here means traditionalists, attending “ shul” on Friday evenings and sometimes Saturday mornings, most certainly not Orthodox. They arrived as three brothers, with families. The original name was Schneider, but was changed to Taylor by two of the brothers and the third for some reason took the name Shein. Both Taylor brothers had 10 children, so that the family grew very fast. These were in order of birth in my immediate family, Abie, Hymie (my father), Sadie, Kitty, Louis, Norman, Wolfe, (who died before I was born from appendicitis), Flora, David, and Minnie. As of this time of writing, Kitty is still alive in Toronto. The family settled in the Gorbals, which at that time was the haven of Jewish and Irish immigrants. Jewish families moved out of the Gorbals as soon as they could afford a move to other districts in the South Side of Glasgow. However the Gorbals became infamous later on, in the 1940’s as one of the worst slums in Europe. By the 1940’s they had moved out as had most of the Jewish population to the South side of the city (Queens Park, Langside etc). The Taylor’s were a very close-knit family, and still are to this day. This was true of my generation, but unfortunately does not seem to be true of the next generation. There seems to be very little contact among the children of the cousins.

My mother’s maiden name was Mitchell. According to the census of 1901 my grandmother (Fanny Jordon) was already in Scotland living in Paisley. I have been able to trace her voyage from Latvia using the Latvian census of 1898 and the Scottish census of 1901. Her maiden name was Jordan and she was born in Talsen in what was then Courland but today Latvia. Her native language was German. She arrived in Scotland with her mother (widowed) joining two married sisters, Sophie and Ada who were living in Elgin, their husbands being related, either brothers or cousins, and were peddlers. There was another sister Kitty who was slightly older than my grandmother. Sophie eventually immigrated to the States and Ada to Australia. My grandfather on the Mitchell side came from the Ukraine, exactly where is not clear, although the name Zhitomer has cropped up in conversation. From old documents the original name was Mechelman or Michelman. The Mitchells were a large family, some stayed in Glasgow, others went to Belfast or Dublin. Although the Mitchells were not religious, in the sense of attending shul on Shabbat, my grandmother was strictly kosher at home. My grandfather on the other hand was not averse to having a ham sandwich, which he ate while working in his store. I was not supposed to say anything to my grandmother.

My mother, Jessie was born in 1911 and my father Hyman in 1910. My mother was born and went to school in Paisley, a small town not far from Glasgow, and my father was born in Glasgow, and according to the stories I heard they met at the Plaza dance hall, when my mother was 21. My parents were traditionalists, if not religious. They kept Kashrut, different dishes for Pesach, and my father went to services occasionally on Friday evenings, but kept his business open on Saturdays. They did go to Synagogue for the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I suspect that both my parents left school to work at the age of 16.

My mother had two siblings one of whom played an important part in my life. This was my aunt Betty. The other was her brother David. I got to know both of them very well. I kept contact with both David and Betty until their deaths.

I was born in 1931. I do not remember much before the age of 5, and even after that age my memory is very sketchy. I spent a lot of time at my grandparent Mitchell’s. I think I was taken there every Friday evening and stayed the whole weekend. I do have fond memories of creeping into bed with my grandparents. They doted on me, the first grandchild. It is funny what one remembers, since one of the strongest memories was that there was a chamber pot under the bed that was used by both my grandparents and emptied in the morning. I was also looked after by my mother’s young sister, Betty, who must have been about 16 when I was born. From what I remember she was quite a rebel, and always arguing with my grandmother. Betty would not accept the traditional ways of doing things. She and her brother David lived at home. I will devote a chapter to her later on. I was basically adopted by her, and she may have had a greater early influence on me that my parents. According to Betty my favorite pastime was playing the gramophone, which I would take from room to room, playing the same record over and over. I do remember the gramophone and the RCA dog on the records. My uncle David must have been very impressed with my playing the gramophone as a child, since this was his wedding present to us 25 years later, and therein lies another story. However apparently I always loved music.

My grandmother’s house was spotlessly clean. She was extremely fussy, and she had a procession of maids in uniforms in the house. These were live in maids, country girls who would do the washing, and cleaning. My grandmother however did the cooking.

These maids came from mining towns, from very poor backgrounds. They were delighted to live in such clean and “ genteel “ surroundings. My grandparents also always had a dog, the first I remember vaguely was “ Arispa”, a golden retriever, whom I loved dearly. Unfortunately he snapped at me, and left a small scar above my eye. I think this was an accident, but my grandparents decided he was too dangerous and placed him in a “ shelter”. By all accounts although a beautiful dog, he was very ill behaved. The next dog was “Punch”, who was some kind of terrier. He was not as cuddly as Arispa but he lasted much longer.

My grandparents for these days were quite wealthy. They lived in a very nice “ tenement”, with spacious rooms. The table was always set beautifully and the whole family would gather on Fridays or Sunday nights for dinner. The one thing that does stand out from these early days were the dinners at my grandmother Mitchell’s house. These were always fried fish, the best fried fish I have ever tasted. I remember that the fish were flat so that they must have been sole or flounder. The whole family would gather including my grandfathers brothers and sisters.

This was a tradition that carried on for many years. Not only the immediate family would gather but also my mothers Aunts and Uncles on both sides of the family. In particular I remember Aunt Annie and Uncle Jack Jukoff ( my grandfathers mother was a Jukoff), and my grandfathers brother Robert and family. The evenings were noisy and usually ended with card games. The most popular came was pontoon ( 21’s ). Many an evening was spent playing this game.

I enjoyed staying with my grandparents. It was much more peaceful than at home, for there always seemed to be fights going on, between my father and mother. My mother had a terrible temper, and a vivid imagination of my father’s misdeeds. Also by the time I was two and half, Beatrice my sister was born. As a child she was quite sickly and required a lot of attention. I do remember she had “ fits” and had to be placed in hot water in a tub. I do not know whether this was related to bronchitis or some other ailment. She certainly grew out of it and became a very healthy child. Adelaide my other sister was born when I was about 5 years old.

We lived in a very poor part of the city. I think this was a strain on my mother who had been brought up in a very “posh” environment. The area was run down and quite slummy. My parents were quite poor, having, lost everything during the great depression of the 30’s. As happens today they had to move out of their apartment since they were unable to pay the rent, and for a short time lived with my grandparents. I was born in this apartment which was somewhere near Eglington Toll.

Now looking back I think my mother suffered from depression, she was always crying, and mopping around. The house was always in a mess, and smelt of cats and fish (they both went together). Later on we also had a dog, Carl, a German shepherd, but this was much later. Life was very tough for my mother. She had come from a very privileged background, with servants and now had to do everything herself. Laundry for example was a big deal, since the clothes had to be soaked, boiled, washed by hand, and then put through a mangle to squeeze the water out.

Later on we lived in Pollok Street. This was a in a lower class neighborhood, but not terribly slummy. I do remember that the neighbors polished their brass door handles and doorbells until they shone. However I also remember houses marked with crosses as a sign of infectious diseases, either smallpox, or diphtheria. There was a multitude of infectious diseases that one could get, scarlet fever, measles, scabies, just to name a few.

Later on one was checked in school for the presence of lice. I remember the ‘ beastie comb”, a sturdy comb made out of metal with very fine teeth to entrap the lice.

I started school in 1936. I went to school with my little school bag on my shoulders just down the road. The school was called Scotland Street Elementary .The famous architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh built this school between 1903 and 1906, I remember it as being a large building with leaded glass towers and a large entrance. It is now considered an architectural gem and is a museum, both because of its architecture and history of education in Scotland. The classrooms were large and spacious, with lots of light. The teacher had his or her own desk, and there were two large blackboards. Each desk had an ink well and pen with nib. I do not remember very much until 1939 when in that September war broke out. After 1939 we would bring our gas masks to school. At that time I, my mother and the other 2 children, (Adelaide my sister was born in 1937) were evacuated to Mauchline, a small town in Ayrshire. Our stay here was very short, only a few weeks since nothing happened for the first year or so of the war. There were no air-raids, and thus no reason to stay away from Glasgow and home. This period was known as the phony war.

My friends during this period were mostly children of neighbors. I seemed to have a preference for playing with the girls since I found the boys rather rough. We used to play “peever” jump with skipping ropes, play with “ jawries “ and the usual hide and seek and tag. I do not remember having a doll or soft animal, although I assume I must have. My best friend appeared to have been a girl called Doris Pikovski. My life was uneventful until I started going to Hutcheson’s grammar school at the age of 10. I do not know who’s ideas it was that I sit the entrance exam for Hutchie. Either it came from my teachers at the school, or from my parents. Anyhow I was thought to be a very precocious child, and I appeared to have done well in the exams, so that I had not problem gaining a fellowship to this prestigious school.

What I do remember was that this was a period of “ genteel poverty”. Although we were poor, I was always dressed in clean clothes, and any holes in my trousers were quickly repaired. Many of the other children in school would arrive in “rags”. My father had a second hand furniture store before the war, and eked out a living. The store was in Houston st. a very rough neighbourhood, not far from Pollok Street, which was one up in class. I know that the teachers in school treated me a little differently from other children, although in enquiring I could not find any record of this. Pollok street is no more, having made way for the highway through the city. I came across a photograph of a pub at the corner with the tenements being torn down around 1970, many years after I had left the area.