Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 16: Serenely wed, Colonially fed

Tuesday, 4th March 1958, 11.30 p.m.

Only four days to the wedding. Am unexcited, the feeling is one of serenity and gratitude for having found a helpmeet – may I be worthy of E. [Edith Katz] and give her the happiness she deserves.

Practising my maftir [reading from The Prophets] yesterday with Sam [brother], he giving me the notes on the fiddle. I have a very long Haftara [the maftir reading], but I expect I shall scrape through it. It’s the bit about Elijah and the prophets of Baal and ends – what I noticed for the first time yesterday – with the words: “Adownoi Hu Ho-elouhim” [the Lord is God] – the concluding words of the Day of Atonement.

Witriol as window-cleaner – cleaned the living-room windows on Friday, broke one window-pane in the process. Zoll zahn de kappoorre (you’ll have to research on this, H.L. [Baudelaire's hypocrite lecteur,] - too late, and I’m too tired, to explain now).

Saw Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution on Saturday. Good entertainment.

Monday, March 31st 1958, 8.50 p.m.

Married on Sunday, March 9th last! E. wonderful – endures my tantrums uncomplainingly, always smiling; [sensitive matter deleted]

The honeymoon – at the Grosvenor Court Hotel – was necessarily extremely brief. Sunday evening we had a kosher supper at Folmans, rather depressing milieu – a few diners, the “boss” lamenting publicly his waiter’s early home-going etc – but we wanted a meat meal in the evening. I believe I should have fasted on the day of the wedding, but in fact I breakfasted and lunched well at Lily’s [sister-in-law]. The wedding itself uneventful. Nemeth, the Minister, arrived a little late and, as usual, gave the impression he was about to dry up during his talk to us. A little chazan from Stanmore, I believe – Freilich, brother of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Freilich. E. beautiful in a stone brocade dress with jacket. Photos did not do her justice, giving her, as she says, treble chin where, in point of fact, she has – or so I think –  a very nice chin-to-neck line. My speech went down well. To E’s surprise I dropped no clangers. The dancing wasn’t particularly successful, chiefly because Merton [Sandler] & Richard [Stern] were rather less than gallant, and mizzled off early. Mum did very well in spite of her indisposition, dancing – the first time I recollect her doing so – a round dance, of course.

Monday morning we went to an exhibition of Israeli Art at the Arts Council, which we agreed was crap. In the evening we saw a film of The Barber of Seville at the Curzon. We went to a joint called the Colony for a supper-dance. I am still, at 45, very far from being a man of the world – only just remembered to sip the trial pouring of champaign [sic] and was annoyed with myself for querying the bill. They charged 25/- each for two “suppers,” although the individual items – excluding champagne (have just had to look up the spelling – a brokh!) and coffee – came to far less. I contended that since the items I had ordered from the menu, plus champagne plus coffee came to nearly £5.-, we were well in – but Edith seems to agree that the Colony’s reasoning was right. Anyway, it’s the sort of evening that would make a fair enough anniversary, though supper-dance plus car there and back would alone come to £10.

Meanwhile, I received an unexpected job from one – have forgotten his name. Translation of Hebrew shipping documents. The remuneration he proposed was very lucrative, even after deducting his “cut” of one third; 10/6, and 8/6 for technical matter, per folio of 72 words = after deducting his third – I have just looked up Temple’s letter [it] still works out as at least £6-15-0 per thou after deducting his cut. It is true my typing expenses would be heavier than for normal literary typing, as there was a good deal of tabular matter in the stuff. Even so, the net rate, after deducting typing costs, etc., cannot be less than £5-5-0 a thou – and I would jump at any commission of 30/- a thou gross.

The stuff, when I got it, was interesting, but in some respects irritating – words like hackoport whose meaning is very difficult to fathom. Other documents had only one or two Hebrew words on them that needed translating – the “rubrics” were in English and Hebrew. Probably the simplest thing would have been to write the English on the document itself, but for the sake of consistency I’ve had a separate typewritten translation made of each document. Anyway, if I do get a cheque for £20-30 from Temple it will have made my membership of the Translator’s Guild (under the aegis of the Institute of Linguists, from whom Temple got my name) worth while. Had supper out locally with E. the other night – give the little woman a break (but a cheap supper for 2 costs 16/6!) – and saw Wild is the Wind.

E. doing her smalls. All rather dreary, look-back-in-anger-ish. Oh to be virile and successful!

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A rough count taken from the preceding pages shows that in the year 1st April 57 – 31st March 58 I have seen eleven films (always one film only in an evening), 12 plays,1 ballet, and have been to the circus once.

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Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 15: Whining about whining

Monday, 24th February 1956, 10.35 p.m.

A lousy day, drizzling. First day of mid-term holiday wasted. Noises from next door last night, rang front door past midnight, landlord answered. Irish-American, said he would check up. Apparently he has seven or eight young men in the house; 4 in the basement alone. The noise, though, was coming from the first floor. I took him in here so that he could see the lie of the land. He told me he was a retired oil man: “I don’t know what you are, I’m Catholic, I’ve been in Jerusalem, I hope they (sc. the Jews) get all of it.” He has the Irish blarney – “come round for a drink with your charming wife.”

Two men came from the London Electricity Board to instal the two extra lights I had ordered, but they had to leave unverrichteter Dinge as Mrs. F. D. wasn’t in to let them get to the fuses, which it was essential for them to do apparently.

Ceiling flaking. Mrs. F.D. said quite easy to paste paper on flaky part. The flakiness due, evidently, to misconduct in Mrs. F.D’s kitchen (“misconduct” my feeble humour – I should have written “malpractice”).

Merton [Sandler] came round the other night. Beat me at chess. With E. [Edith Katz] to Sam & Lily [brother and wife] last night. The T.V. was out of order, fortunately, and I spent a pleasant evening eating and talking. Saw E. to Finsbury Park. I had intended, ungallantly, leaving her at Camden Town, but as this would be the last time I would be parting from her on leaving Sam & Lily [brother and sister-in-law], went the whole way with her. (There’s a whining noise coming from somewhere – I can’t locate it – which is just about putting the lid on my general browned-offness.)

Listened-in to recital of Schubert’s songs by Dietrich-Fischer-Dieskau. Pain in the neck – the super-refined vowels. Erlkönig I find sloppy – the “est ist der Vater mit seinem Kind” strikes me as being an anti-climax to the “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?” The kid’s death left my withers completely unwrung – the amount of real tragedy in the world leaves me with “little time” for the tragedies of German Romanticism. O.K., H.L., [a regularly deployed acronym for Baudelaire's hypocrite lecteur] this is not literary criticism on the highest level. Unfortunately it’s not even what I feel. The tragedy is that I, who can express himself better than nine out of ten who have had a comparable education, can’t express what I feel. Sod this bloody whining, and there’s a bleeding piano tinkling next door too. I can’t hear much from here, the living-room/study, but it won’t let me get to sleep in the bedroom.

Tuesday, 25th February 1958, 10.45 p.m.

To-day chiefly noteworthy for the fact that, after a lapse of – how many? – months I did get in 4 hours “work.” I have to put the word in quotes as I don’t know whether in fact I shall get any payment for it. The “work” referred to is an article by Oury Kessary on James De Rothschild which I am translating. I got about halfway through to-day. Apart from that, the day was a fairly typical “holiday” day. I was up comparatively early to let in the workmen who were fixing the two additional lights. Snowing. They got through the job early, just before one, and so I changed my plans and went to Mum for lunch instead of late supper, after Spanish as I had originally intended, and about which she had been moaning. In spite of a sleepless night –  the whining went on all night – felt fairly active. Cleaned out the kitchen on returning from Mum, but decided wouldn’t be able to make the Spanish class. Feelings of guilt towards Dr Turner, the teacher. She trudging through snow, I reading “Times” in snug warmth. However, it’s done now. Rather hungry now. According to my schedule, have letters of application to Evening Institute Heads to type, but will probably leave it. Unless there is noise at midnight next door, when shall type hoping their sleep will be disturbed. All wrong I know; my reading of Gollancz’s This year of Grace doesn’t seem to have had much effect, but there you are.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 14: Some broth, some boy

Sunday, 16th February 1958, 6.45 p.m.

It is incidents like that on the bus yesterday that provide the classic argument for Zionism. Of course, you can avoid incidents on the bus by having a car. I suppose, anyway, I could have avoided the incident myself by the use of a little common sense and by suppressing the occasional folie de grandeur which manifests itself in me.

In the seat immediately in front of me on the bus was an Irishman, his wife –  a young couple – and their baby. The Irishman was singing “Mother Machree,” not very well, but nevertheless I found the scene rather touching and was, in fact, feeling rather pleased with myself at the good-humour with which I was “taking” it. I felt that those who accuse me of snobbery did me an injustice; here I was, feeling benevolent towards this Irish broth of a boy. The spectacle of young parenthood filled me with a glow; even though y.p. had not been vouchsafed to me I was big enough to derive a vicarious pleasure from the y.p. of the couple in front.

This idyllic Stimmung was only slightly ruffled when the broth of a boy called out “Heil Hitler” as we came into the “Narrow Way” in Hackney. I accepted it as one of the numerous catch-phrases in vogue into which it was not necessary to read any significance. When the boy repeated the phrase, however, I am afraid my folie de grandeur got the better of me and, recalling what I had once heard an officer say to an O.R. whom he overheard muttering “Bolshy” sentiments, I said to the boy, “You’re talking too much.” The boy’s reaction, unfortunately, was very different from the O.R.’s. The O.R. had piped down. The “boy” – turned round and flicked me on the face, almost dislodging my glasses. What followed was humiliating. I should, of course, have sloshed back, but was conscious of the likelihood of broken glasses, being late for an appointment with E. [Edith Katz], a “scene,” names taken by police, having to appear in court, etc. I backed away from the boy, asked a passenger to hold my glasses, which she refused to do – understandably enough – what time the “boy” uttered abuse, calling me a pig, telling me to eat bacon and saying something or other which led me to retort “I served five years in the Army, confound you.”

Yes, a humiliating episode. Either -and best – I should have avoided an embarrassing incident, and kept to the golden rule for drunks: ignore them (actually, I hadn’t taken full cognisance of his drunkenness, it was about 4.30 p.m., an hour of the day one doesn’t associate with drunks) or, having entered into the quarrel, should have “drawn the consequences.” I don’t think it was altogether physical cowardice on my part, he was a runt of a chap – no burly, Irish navvy. All right, I was a coward.

And now, having recorded this, I think I must get it out of my system. E. is here at the table as I write, immersed in Ideal Marriage. Bless her, she has proved – I don’t know if I’ve said this before here – a veritable dea ex machina.

E. tells me one Shirley has died of meningitis. She was one of the Ramblers, a big, sturdy, sexy girl always play-fighting her newly-married husband. What, if any, is the comment. She was in her twenties.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 13: A barber’s shiva

Saturday, 15th February 1958, 11.40 p.m.

Made my usual telephone call to Mum on Wednesday evening. She told me Mr Julius had died. He had been an assistant in my late father’s barber shop – this would have been some fifty years back. Mum was fond of saying that he (Mr Julius – “Myer”) was such a handsome boy that my father didn’t have the heart to wake him up in the morning. These were the days of “living-in.” Shiva was at Mr. Julius’s barber shop in  Lower Road, Rotherhithe. On my way there I met Julie, Mrs Julius’s sister’s eldest son (I think this is right), his wife & his mother. Julie has a hunchback, is a kettle manufacturer. His brother, Wolfe Mays, is No. 2 in the Department of Philosophy, Manchester. When I came home in 1946 [i.e. after wartime service] Mum told me Wolfy was a “graysse” (“great one”). I had poo-poohed this, as I remembered him as not having been to a grammar school. The story is that his brother (Julie) used to bash him about for not getting on with the kettle-bashing, and Wolfie was forced to study in the W.C. Anyway, his success is beyond doubt. [Obituary notice] I heard him lecture on the Third not long ago, the diction the very spit and image of a don’s.

The stuff of a story in the shiva if I had the guts to hammer it out. The mourners: Mrs Julius, a bird-like woman who had spent a lifetime running up from her basement kitchen to living room and bedroom – for a number of years she had toiled in a confectioner’s shop they had had in Walworth; Golda, the daughter, a “swot” whose husband, Mick, has been a “problem” – he gave up a sound chiropodist’s practice, I gather, because of injured “professional” pride and was getting – so I was told some time ago – £7-10-0 a week as a clerk somewhere. He rigorously abstains from visiting any of Golda’s family and did not go to shool [synagogue] when his son, Selwyn, was  Bar-mitsvah. Selwyn brilliant at Maths, Chemistry, Physics. Sammy, the oldest boy, spent months in a Children’s hospital as the result of a leg injury contracted when playing football, underwent numerous operations. Gained B.E.M. as Air Raid Warden in Bermondsey. Worshipped by Bermondsey-ites. Lived in friction with his parents, eventually married “out.” Yeeddel – John – now has a top job in the U.S. [United Synagogue] The service, in the barber’s shop: The Lord will wipe away all tears, I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness, like one whom his mother comforteth – I found the eyes misting over, the lump forming in the throat. The minister’s discourse delivered in good, non-faultable English, on the general theme of life and death. Presumably he was new and had not known the deceased, and so he was unable to deliver any eulogy. The conversation: Julie laying down the law, nowadays you couldn’t get anywhere without a degree, modern methods in the London Board of Jewish Religious Education’s Hebrew classes and the kid’s couldn’t read Hebrew – in Julie’s time they went 5 times a week. – I, defending attendance at Hebrew classes only once or twice a week: Perhaps if you hadn’t gone to Hebrew classes five times a week you’d have got a degree. Julie: I got a khoicker (hump) – I: There you are – Mendelssohn [Moses Mendelssohn, hunchbacked Jewish philosopher] said his Jewish studies had given him a hump, but you’re no Mendelssohn.

To-day was not a good day. Found the electric fire full on, both bars, when I came in to-night. This means about 2/-’s worth of electricity down the drain (though the room was warm, I must admit, when I came in – beautifully warm). As I remember reading apud Sir Ernest Benn once, it’s alway’s the people who can least afford to lose tennis balls who are always losing them. I expect the £2,000 a year bloke will take jolly good care to switch off when he leaves a room. But for one who by the end of 1959 will have paid out over £500 in legal expenses, has paid “the other party” close on £300 – more, in fact, if the £2 a week paid out for about a year is taken into account – has lost £1200 or more liquid assets possessed around September 1957 – how can such a one worry over 2/- wasted!

To crown all, the incident on the bus, an account of which I must defer (12.30a.m.)

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 12: “I like my towels sexless”

Saturday, 18th January 1958, 11.40 p.m.

To Richard’s [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen] with E. [Edith Katz] the other night. It was raining. I suppose I must have been to Richard’s place at least 20 times, but I succeeded in losing my way and dragging poor E. around for a half an hour or so in the drizzle. She uncomplaining, I full of ill-suppressed fury because of her uncomplaining, in spite of her being uncomfortable. What brutes we men are. What do women see in us?

Richard, as I expected, was the polished host: sherry ad lib, cakes, coffee, fruit salad. We just had time to gobble it all up and go.

Life a round, now, of school, chores, Spanish (! – another forlorn hope: I propose applying to Erna Low to take a party to Spain), N.L.J.C. [New Liberal Jewish Congregation] Sunday morning school. Spent a couple of hours here this week one evening doing some school work, a thing I very rarely do. My class is taking the “11+” on Tuesday. Two kids in it would make the grammar school grade in arithmetic, none in English (one of the two is a Cypriot whose written English is not yet fluent).

Kids lost 3-1 at Coram’s Fields this morning. But all turned up except one, the other team turned up in full strength, it was a clear, cold day and an excellent game and the best team won. How English we are!

A good letter from Leyb [Potash, an old friend]; bantering, breezy. I wrote a rather poor reply, in the classroom in the dinner hour, with the kids hackin a tchainik [Yiddish expression]. A hasty letter from E. too; her friend Minnie (hon. sec. of the Senior Rambling Group) has given us some “His” and “Her” towels. I wrote to E. telling her this was a disaster; I liked my towels sexless. But if millions of admass consumers like their towels this way, why should I complain. But no, ordinary, undistinguished, proletarian as one is, there are limits. Edith may do as she pleases, never will I use a towel marked “His.” Whose His? And yet, I suppose, the admass man-or-woman is flattered by what to him/her must seem an individual note. Perhaps I am making too much of a pother over all this. “I like my towels sexless” was enough – if an M.P. had said it, it would have been an Observer saying of the week.

Monday, 10th February 1958, 10.30 p.m.

Awakened this morning by “rimming” (our Yiddish word for irritating noise – when I come in to Mum and the wireless is on, I ask, it’s almost a ritual question: Do you want the wireless on? and Mum replies: Drey ess oop, ‘kh veyss nisht voos se rimmit) of next-door wireless. Donned dressing gown and knocked next door. This was about half-past six. The lad next door had put it on thinking it was eight o’clock.

Result – tiring day, beastly to kids, Mum. Mum just recovering from attack of bronchitis. Her vitality is remarkable, but she drains our energies – Sam’s, Lily’s, [brother, sister-in-law] mine. I don’t know what the answer to the problem is. I realise I am a beast, I know people have to put up with bedridden, incontinent parents. I am lucky, extraordinarily lucky, as in the normal course of events E. will be with me till my last. But who will be with E. at her last? It seems extraordinary – I just can’t see myself achieving paternity, though I have, I gather – as far as can be ascertained outside the laboratory – the physiological prerequisites of paternity.

Life has continued to be school, endured, chores – a relief, if truth be told, from school – blissful meetings with E., bless her, who is always cheerful, always smiling.

Piano twinkling next door. I wish England were a Land Ohne Musik. Have taken up Spanish, and am making some progress. And have managed to keep up the Bible readings, though I must admit to skipping the first chapters of Job, which, after all, I know. The idea is not intensive study, for which I haven’t the energy, but by reading all those parts of the Bible which I have not read before, or have only the faintest, or no recollections of, to become bewandert in the Scriptures.

Saw Flowering Cherry on 30th January at Haymarket with E. Fabian Party. Less than two hours playing time. One set. Nothing “great”, but deservedly successful. The author, John Bolton [sic] , knows his apple orchard patter and has the insurance-selling racket taped. I found the situation of the safe-job, steady, own-little-house man who lost it all (I believe he didn’t chuck up the job, telling his boss to take a running jump at himself, as he wanted to do – and as I would sometimes like to tell H. to do, though the poor sod is harmless really, but Christ, what a pain) all too plausible. Not that I’ve got a little house, even. Saw The Pajama Game at the flicks with E. Good. Good numbers, authentic Trade Union atmosphere. Bought “Hostess” ice for Edith & myself – 1/-. Couldn’t afford 2/- for an ice each. Felt ashamed of this, especially as E. liked the ice. Sod it – next time 2/- on ices – szoll zahn nokh a shilling.