Reminiscences of Michael Schwartz, 1965-1972
Father and son and mother too were delighted that I had won a place at the Gayton Road establishment. Heads turned on Monday morning in Class 1 at Stanburn here was this rebel in the corner who had managed to hold his own with the stick-up gits in the rest of the class.
English teacher David Burt tells 1K how its all going to be. Ho, ho, ho.
My unique (thoroughly abysmal) handwriting comes to the notice of just about every master:
Biology Lt-Col Bigham throws a fit (his traditional standard of management see gospel according to David Reissner under 1971 below).
Chemistry J F Bunting holds my work up to class, who are suitably appalled.
Latin T J Jones circles my work and leaves us all to get on with it.
French Mrs Ghaleb ("Scraggy Annie") has a quite word with me, spelling out the future risks of untidy work at O Level time.
Exam results (proof of the pudding is in the eating):
Chemistry 59% (my highest ever science mark J F Bunting takes aside any pupil getting under 60% "Why have you three let the class down?" Sums up my scientific career
French 92% Thank you sincerely Mrs Ghaleb.
Latin 94% Mad Welshman has his uses before going loony and trying to hit someone over the head with a desklid. One other pupil gets 0% ("he wrote two words and got them both wrong", declares Michael Mendelblatt.)
As for myself I discover later that I have one thing in common with John Lennon, who said that he got 90% in Latin when he was 12 and then gave up work.
Arrive in 2A
Kenneth Waller returns from exile in the Soviet Union and is saddled with being my
I pick up my first Classical Greek text-book. I retain my passion for Greece to this day.
I pick up a Honeypot Lane library book about Juan-Manuel Fangio, the greatest-ever racing driver. I retain my passion for motor racing to this day.
My French and chemistry marks total 106%: 93% in French is not too bad. I come bottom in Chemistry for the whole year. J F Bunting writes "Disgraceful" in my report.
In summer my Greek and chemistry marks total 101; 89% in Greek is pretty good. J F Bunting makes no comment in my report. Obviously, I am in a class of my own, having established myself as his number one pupil.
2A has 36 pupils who are invited (by Mr Edwards, so you can see what sort of invitation it was) to form five-a-side rugby teams. Result: seven teams of five = 35, plus Schwartz. Thank you chaps, it was mutual.
Maths is taken by an Australian, Mr Garrett-Benson, nicknamed Grebo. Arthur Atkins and I are caught playing chess in one of his lessons. Despite claims from other pupils that chess is mathematical, the offending chess-set is examined. "That chess sets not worth confiscating" is the Antipodean adjudication.
I graduate in Airfix kit construction.
Demoted to 3B
An enjoyable year.
Mr Gibbs takes the chemistry lessons ("I have not received work from any one in 3B". With my attitude, Im not surprised, mate). I conduct a thorough programme of research into motor racing in the 1930s and 1950s courtesy of the Borough of Harrow library service.
Kenneth Waller keeps up my enthusiasm for languages. Robert Murton is elected into the Atkins-Schwartz clique, sharing enthusiasm for motor racing. I practise my Greek by writing the Greek equivalent of "Efesopoulos is stupid" on the Art Room blackboard (Mr Efesopoulos is Mr Andersons deputy). Murton asks if I wrote it. Yes. "Is that a confession, Schwartz? asks the adjacent Mr Efesopoulos. Fortunately, my command of accentuation and grammar is sufficiently impressive.
Top set in French is stunned when Michael Mendelblatt is beaten in an exam first time in three years he is beaten. Charles Aylmer is the conqueror. Charles Aylmer is believed to be the only Gaytonian who does not have a television. He starts to learn Chinese at 13, goes on to study Chinese at Cambridge, gains a First and PhD, sets up Chinese translation agency and is now keeper of Chinese books at Cambridge. Dedication, Sir!
Come top in Greek and bottom in about five other subjects. Science subjects are dropped at the end of the year I can now get through school without five classes every week where I keep my head down, hide at the back of the class and s-h-1-t myself.
Arrive in 4B
I originally apply to study Advanced Classics. Am only pupil to apply for Advanced Classics. Am sent to history class under Harry Mees. Bad move "choose another subject" is Harrys advice after reading my essays.
In addition to languages and Formula One I acquire expert knowledge in another subject the history of the tank. The Borough of Harrows libraries and the Harrow Model Shop are pillaged by a painfully shy adolescent in pursuit of camouflage, glue (totally innocent of its real use see 1983), Humbrol paints, Airfix kits, polystyrene card, charts, plans, books and technical studies. Please read this carefully my Dad caught me tanking in my room on a Sunday morning.
Someone discovers my middle name is Benjamin Benjy is a nickname which I (willingly) carry for the next umpteen years (see gospel according to Stephen Shaw, 1976).
Achieve Set Four for maths and gain a valuable insight into the low-life of Harrow County. Highlight is S---- M-----, the nearest Harrow County ever gets to a skinhead thug. No doubt, I am asking a lot of questions for someone who wants to stay alive. Come to think of it, what ever did happen to Bartlett and Weaver?
Slump into V4
V4 the happiest year of the lot
I create even more problems for the staff. Any normal classicist is not only an expert in languages but also in maths and English Literature. They jump a year to Lower Sixth. Problem: "Your English Literature, Schwartz, is negligible", declares Bernard Marchant. I wasnt even allowed to take Maths or English Literature, and ended up with good passes in French and Greek. Radical action is required. I spurn the suggestion of Mr Groombridge that I should take up Chemistry and/or Physics (he hadnt spoken to Mr Bunting obviously).
I become the schools first-ever fifth-form classicist, joining Lower Sixth for Latin/Greek. In another development, I volunteer for geography and enjoy a very pleasant year under the tutelage of Mr Haines not the raconteur that Mr Crinson was, but then nobody else was. Gain geography O Level (two years study in one. Mr Haines was very pleased).
Also get taught by Jim Golland for Richard II. Marvellous play I find it so enjoyable that I make the mistake of treating it as a work of literature rather than a set book for an exam, so fail O Level. Ah well!
Other set book is Autosport, published every Thursday.
Emerge in L6A. Class is under-populated initially, as the half the lot coming in from the fourth form are suspended.
Commence Latin and Greek A levels.
Have to find something to accompany Classics, so choose French. Notice that those who jump from 4A to L6A also make Hugh Skillens life a bloody misery. My other French teachers are Mr Armstrong (one pupil had a theory that he was running a chain of strip-clubs in his native Newcastle Ive heard of some theories ) and Mr Salter.
Mr Clarke of the geography dept asks me if I am going to do geography A level. No, sir. "Thats a relief to us all", is Mr Clarkes comment.
I take up Russian, which eventually becomes a form of relaxation during the school-week. The choice of Latin setbooks was abysmal (sorry, Bernard), but I am fascinated by the combination of Herodotus, Thucydides and Aristophanes. Note that Latin is a treble period on Friday afternoons, but non-Latinists get Friday afternoon off.
Bristol City thrash Watford at soccer but Middlesex thrash Gloucestershire at cricket so honours are even between Mr Lane and me.
David Reissner gets ticked off in balcony for eating sandwiches ("All the ******** teach science, he remarks", and I couldnt agree more).
School conditions described as squalid by HM Inspectors (Daily Telegraph picks up on this).
School is rocked to its foundations by publication of Slime (Doggett & Farrow, who else?). This makes reference to innumerable Gaytonian inmates including: "Midnight in Moscow by Kenny Waller and his Jazzmen", the "Colin Michaels Jews (Blues) Group" and a re-arrangement of the song "In the year 2525" by Sieger and Sieger, this becoming "In the year 1925" by Groombridge and Lane.
The two authors are forced to write apologies to each and every master and prefect mentioned in Slime. One fellow sixth-former recalls witnessing the glee with which Doggett and Farrow pen their immortal words of contrition.
Someone reckons that these two characters wanted to construct a bomb and to bug the headmasters study.
Relatives see picture of Mr Avery in school magazine. Hes got an essential qualification for the job. Whats that, I ask? A plastic smile!
Apocryphal tale 1: School secretary Mr s Chase: "Headmaster, I think you should reduce your use of the phrase Very Real. The boys are beginning to notice it".
Apocryphal tale 2: Pupil to headmaster: "Theres one thing I dont like about this school, Sir". "Whats that?" "You!"
Gain Latin prize (class of three).
I get ticked off by Mr McEwen for eating sandwiches in his precious physics laboratory (yes, you guessed it: see gospel according to David Reissner 1970-71).
Am taught Voltaires Candide by Geoff Salter. I find it extremely flattering that the Classics-inspired English I employ when translating Candide appears so eloquent to Mr Salter.
Get lumbered with the worst-ever book in the French language: Servitude et Grandeur Militaire. Title says it all. Teacher responsible is Hugh Skillen, who once described his subordinate staff (Armstrong/Salter/Mitchell) as two beginners and a part-time woman. Never did mince his words.
Develop political views out of keeping with those of my form tutor, Gerard Lafferty. He describes Heaths Cabinet as backwoodsmen. Little did he know what Margaret Thatcher had in store for him
Remember Gerry trying to ascertain who would be staying in assembly and who would be attending Catholic or Jewish assemblies. Halfway through he actually finds a Protestant: "Well someone has to stay in assembly!"
Headmaster wishes to see me before I leave. He asks me what I think about the plans for implementing comprehensive education. I give a very polite and restrained reply as I was then far too polite to use the phrase "fxxxxxg useless". The expression rats leaving a sinking ship to describe teachers leaving the school had been banned from the school magazine by Mr Avery. Cant think why.
Hockey is introduced to Harrow County. In my last year, I play once for the school. It is my one and only experience of representing Harrow County.
The Balcony Club is formed. It consists of four or five sixth-formers who congregate in the balcony area of the New Hall. We indulge in eating sandwiches, philosophical speculation and peeing onto the hall (only kidding). David Reissner and I are caught playing soccer in the balcony. We are admonished by the caretaker ("Never seen anything so stupid in all my life").
Apocryphal tale 3: John Roberts bursts into A6A form-room in search of Brian Hanney: "Where the f*****g hell have you been, Hanney?" Mr Lafferty carries on calling the form register but three octaves louder. John keels over with embarrassment
A Levels turn out better than I predict. Gain prize in Greek (class of one)
Enter Birmingham University to study Modern Greek and Ancient Greek.
As subsidiaries. Real subjects are Newcastle Brown, croquet, walking, and learning rugby songs.
Meet John Wilkes, then a lecturer at Birmingham. He explains the origin of Uby Lane. In the Just William books there was a sneak called Hubert Lane, which was shortened to Uby. John Wilkes also explains that if you were in the middle of a really tough piece of Latin translation the way out was to ask Mr Lane whether he really did witness Walter Hammond score a double century for Gloucestershire. Cricketing memories would flood forth.
Martin Block and Howard Webber arrive at Birmingham to study Law. I keep in contact, putting up with Martins jibes across the dining table.
Meet Gerry Lafferty at Gayton Fair. He advises me to pick up my Greek book at some stage during the course. I say, Gerry, isnt it fantastic how Socialism has progressed since May 1979? Such a tragic loss.
Spend the summer with a thrilling job, shifting beds in Debenhams warehouse on Pinner Road. Sad, but made slightly less so by meeting Steve Bellis, who was playing in a group called Double Sausage (!) I wonder what happened to him.
Spend year in Greece as part of course. Arrive in Greece in October. Colonels obviously get wind of this, resigning en masse in July.
Find that the word Stemma as in Virtus Non Stemma is in frequent use. Stemma is originally Greek and comes to mean "The Crown" in the sense of "The Monarchy". In a referendum the Greeks get rid of their Stemma (King Constantine becomes a modern Greek tragedy).
During my final year my flat-mate bumps into Stephen Shaw, who asks him who his flat-mates are. He is told, and then asks. "Whos Michael Schwartz?". "Does Greek". "Oh, you mean Benjy". When I see Stephen he wishes me the same experience as Benjy in The Graduate no sign of Ann Bancroft as yet.
Kid myself that I want to become a chartered accountant. Meeting John Roberts is the highlight in the first week. The first week becomes the only week. Am very glad for John Roberts that his career in chartered accountancy has turned out considerably better than my own witness his continuing loyal support for the Old Gaytonians Magazine. And if you dont read the Old Gayts mag, you jolly well should.
Meet George Cowan at a polling booth on GLC election day. Havent seen him since.
I am elected a local councillor in Harrow (majority five votes and I will kill those five if I ever get hold of them). Spend four years on the Education Committee re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic or rather sorting out the mess after the abolition of the Grammar schools. Conclude that Harrow manages to get away with comprehensive education as the Borough has middle-class affluent parents who actually give a damn about their children. Try finding that kind of parent in Southwark or Lambeth. Abolishing Harrow County still wasnt worth the risk.
Go canvassing in General Election. Call on a certain Mr DArcy. Realise who it is. Am informed that one Michael Portillo is working at Conservative Central office writing political speeches. Bump into a certain Mr Mees who is helping with the counting of the votes.
Achieve moment of glory in local politics as I speak out against a glue-sniffing epidemic in the ward I represent on Harrow Council. Success is measured by the fact that the local Vicars son can not buy polystyrene cement for his model aeroplane.
Meet one of Harrow Councils Education Department advisers. His name is Roger Annis and he explains how he was educated at Harrow County. He regretted that he had too specialised an education and could not mix languages with Science (agreement to disagree). Roger eventually becomes Head of Canons High School.
Stand down from Harrow Council (count down from 500 days to go) and make my mark in my farewell speech. This calls on Harrow Council to lend all facilities at its disposal for the encouragement and promotion of the study of Classics. My examples include chariot racing round the Civic Centre car park, homosexuality in the boroughs lavatories and a Greek theatre in the horse-shoe-shaped Council Chamber. They are literally given the thumbs down (Edgware Times calls me the Lord of Misrule).
Attend a dinner of Reigate Conservative Asssociation. Meet one Michael Portillo. MP (Sir George Gardiner) introduces guest: "Michael Portillo was educated at Harrow County School for Boys. Mr Portillo and I nod in amusement. The Association chairman, Marc Bowerman, declares his son to have been an Old Gaytonian.
Am editing Colliery Guardian when I receive a press release from British Coal. Nabarro Nathanson is taking on their law duties. Headed notepaper follows. The list of partners is embellished, not to say overbalanced, by a certain Michael Mendelblatt.
Graduate summa cum laude in one of my favourite subjects from the Harrow County curriculum. I appear on BBCs Mastermind, answering questions on Formula One motor racing. Score 17 out of 20, but am pipped by a librarian who scores 18 on Frank Lloyd Wright. Had been told by Harry Mees to choose a subject other than British social history so chose motor racing history
Go to hear Portillo speak at Harrow West Conservatives. Renew acquaintance with Jon Nicolay. What is that tie, I ask? Old Gaytonians - are you a member, Jon replies. I am recruited.
Bump into Bernard Marchant at a concert in Pinner. He informs me of the death of Mr Lane. Classicists and Gaytonians lose a gentleman who was not only sympathetic and approachable but enjoyed many interests such as railways, Bristol City soccer club, and Gloucestershire Cricket Club. And he is the only person I know who studied Greek texts in French West Africa he requested copies of the great works of Athens during his RAF service in Nigeria and Fort Lamy, former capital of Chad.
Renew acquaintances of Laurence Greenfield and Brian Melichan.
Learn that Philip Saktreger (1W 1965) has passed away, aged 46.
William Hague comes to St Albans, my current home, and speaks about the retention of the Pound. One Michael Portillo is also present on the podium. A voice (not mine) calls out from the crowd: "Look out behind you, William!" I detect a slight smirk on the face of Mr Portillo.
Meet a distinguished Old Gaytonian who is around when CCF is formed. Am informed that a
junior officer called Bigham was appointed Colonel of the Force. Two other teachers (one a
major, one a colonel) who went through the sheer bloody carnage of the Western Front learn
of this. They address the teacher in question: "Hallo, Colonel".
"How are you, Colonel?" "Nice weather were having, eh, Colonel".
His appointment as CCF head was controversial in the eyes of certain World War One
survivors, in spite of his honourable Second World War record, but he went on to
establish a highy successful corps.
Renew acquaintance with David Reissner through this website. Well done, Jeff Maynard, for all your hard work in putting it together.