Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

‘It’s not personal, Sonny’

Posted on: February 8, 2020

Considering the fact that I set great store by politeness,  I was not a well-behaved schoolgirl, at least, not according to a powerful triumvirate of middle-aged, single and judgmental women: the headmistress, the gym teacher and the music teacher.

The headmistress was a missionary manquée, much influenced by the remarkable life of Gladys Aylward. Instead of venturing into Yangcheng to make Christian converts, she delivered religious assemblies each morning at a girls’ grammar school, east of Islington. Out of praiseworthy consideration for the large proportion of Jewish pupils, she refrained from any direct mention of Jesus in these assemblies, while availing herself of texts from Saint Paul and Saint Francis, as well as our own psalmist, King David.

On the occasions when I was sent to her for misdemeanors such as talking at the wrong time or drawing in the chemistry lesson, she suggested that I was not a good person.

‘What does your mother think of you?’ she asked, when I was about fourteen.

‘I don’t think she sees me as you do,’ I answered. This would have gone down, as do all smart-arse answers, like a lead balloon.

As for the gym teacher, I suppose she was harmless enough. She had an MBE for services to netball. When Friends Reunited became a thing, I took one look at the old girls’ page for my school and saw that several women expressed unhappy memories of her tutelage, if one can call it that.

The teacher who disliked me most was the music teacher, an effective personality, who produced an oratorio each year for school concerts. She was prone to telling anecdotes about her war years and her two siblings,  and expressing contempt for the contemporary pop scene. Why I was her bête noire, I was never sure. I liked classical music. I was a teacher’s daughter, a fact she alluded to as follows.

‘You’re one of the few second generation grammar school girls at this school so your delinquency is unexpected.’

In my own defence, I must tell you that I only ever smoked in the toilets once, in my whole school career. I was law abiding and did not swear in front of teachers. I suppose I was seen as quick to answer back. On one occasion, the music teacher called out from the piano ‘Three girls are talking and I notice you’re all Jewish.’

I believe I uttered the audible words ‘What did you say?’

‘I’m not prejudiced,’ she persisted, ‘but other people might be so you ought to be careful.’

In her favour, she encouraged the girls who had beautiful voices and there were many. Not me, sorry to say. Singing was no more one of my talents than gym and that is litotes.

Not all the teachers were hostile. English teachers were almost always friendly and, by the time I was seventeen and attending meetings of International Socialism, I was mixing in the same circles out of school as the three or four Trotskyists on the staff.  One of them said to me, about the music teacher, ‘She’d like to smash you against the wall.’ It was terribly vivid language. Maybe I would have preferred not to have known.

Now I come to the point of this blog post. A student teacher appeared in the music lessons,  a Miss Fry. She was a pale faced twenty-year-old without make up or concession to 1960s fashion and, for all I knew, without a voice, as she was mute while the music teacher held forth. Eventually she was left alone in charge of the class and sat down at the piano. Somewhere in the back row, a couple of girls kept up a buzz of chatter until Miss Fry, without looking up from her sheet music, rapped out the words, ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

There was an intake of breath from the whole class. It was too clear that poor Miss Fry had been warned, if there was any trouble, it would come from me. The music teacher, returning to relieve Miss Fry from her moment of authority, singled me out explicitly as a wrongdoer who led others astray. To this day, I’m not certain what caused her very pointed animosity to me, but here I am, age seventy, and in a sense answering back even now, although she has long since gone the way of all flesh.

Anyone who has been kind enough to read my previous blog posts might already know: I resent a phenomenon I see very regularly from the political extremes of left and right, namely, the attribution of all evils to ‘Zionism’. Whether it is 9/11, the war in Syria or terror on the streets of Europe, it is always there, a voice of the neo-nazi right or the more widely credited left saying ‘The hand of Israel. The Rothschilds. The New World Order. The Zionists are behind it.’

As with most of my co-religionists the world over, this makes me feel despairing, angry, contemptuous and afraid, above all because of the absence of reason and the quick draw, ill-informed inference which gets magnified, amplified and disseminated on thousands of online sites.

It occurs to me now that, like Michael Corleone, I’m ‘taking this very personal’ and maybe it’s because the kneejerk reaction ‘Israel did it’ echoes the ancient memory of Miss Fry, coached by the music teacher to respond to any disturbance with ‘Be quiet Gillian.’

Michael said ‘It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.’ But Sonny and Michael were both right. Some things are strictly business and also personal. Everything is personal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


    • Tell Facebook | Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus: […] There are two or three who argue back. By chance, they happen to be Jewish and they call out the more intemperate examples of antisemitism,
    • L.Sordo: They always strike me as being immature, semi-literate and gullible.I assume they're late teens or under 30 left school at 16 as did I. I read every
    • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thanks, L Sordo. One word I question here - 'kids'. Many of these participants are mature, one might say senior individuals. Observing over a period o
    %d bloggers like this: