Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 21: Supercalorieflagellisticexhibitiondocious

Wednesday, 4th June 1958 – 9.15am

3rd day of diet – at least one has had sufficient will-power to persevere thus far. I shall probably be able to get down to 13 stone, the problem would be to avoid slipping back. I think the answer might be to get a bathroom weighing machine – if and when funds permit – get down to x lb; and immediately my weight rises beyond x+7lb. ( x+5lb.?) go on a 2-day banana-and-milk diet. “Moderation” all the time I find myself unable to observe.

John Calder wrote asking me for specimens of my translating as they had a book on Janáček for translation. The book, I gather, is not much longer than Brod’s, but more technical. I suppose I ought to try to do it if they give me the job, but I face the prospect with no great enthusiasm. It would mean practically no time for myself and Edith – in that order, because I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t devote enough time to myself, not that Edith really “complains” either, but, well darling – if you read this, please let me explain – and there is the galling feeling that all the work I have done on Brod’s book would be completely wasted. Perhaps not completely though. I sent Calder the MS of the Brod study; perhaps that might be the decisive factor in their decision to entrust the work to me (awful English, I know, but not pleonastic; how should it be re-written?).

All these irons in the fire, nothing seems to come from them. Janson-Smith wrote, in answer to my request for news of my translation of Brod’s Cicero, that Elek had “reluctantly returned” the TS after 6 months because they were unable to find an American publisher to “share the cost of translation.” I’d asked for 2 gns. a thou, Lionel Kochan had previously written to me that they seldom paid more than 1½ gns a thou – I’m prepared to “let down my trousers”, as they say in Yiddish and let ‘em have the 100M TS for 75 gns. (I don’t know whether die Hosen nachlassen exists in this sense in German – anyway I suppose it would be die Hosen herablassen. The idiom is coarse, but is the one that instinctively comes to mind. I suppose the idea is: you try to avoid taking down your trousers – I was going to write until you get to the toilet, but if you have to (have to accept the best bargain you can make), then you have no alternative but to “let down your trousers” – but it strikes me the idea is simply: you try to preserve your dignity and keep your trousers up by asking the price you want (2 gn), but if you’re forced to reveal the essential weakness of your position, then you must do so (stand revealed in all the shame of let-down trousers) in order to get the cash. I wonder if I could take this up with Bithell, from whom I have a letter to answer.

This rather unscholarly (flagellate yourself, boy, you can take it) philological excursus leaves me with time for only the bare record: lunched with Paul Hulton & Edith, visited Hazor exhibition at B.M. – Madeleine Blumstein was doing the conducted tour. With characteristic gaucherie I beat a hasty retreat when I saw her as for the life of me I couldn’t remember her name. Edith, strangely (?) enough remembered it – she thought I had had a sudden urge to perform a natural function – and told it to me when she came out to see what had become of me. I must say I thought it was quite a feat to talk for fifty minutes without notes, even allowing for the fact that the exhibits formed points d’appui. Edith surprised at the “deference” I showed Madeleine – silly girl.

Later heard Rabbi Maybaum talking on Franz Rosenzweig. I went chiefly, almost wholly, with the idea of putting another iron in the fire. I had gathered that a group of people were trying to float a translation of R’s works. Maybaum good: a yekke who knows his philosophy, and only a slight accent. Moreover, he remembered my “splendid” humorous articles. His thesis: agnosticism or humanism > Hitlerism could have plenty of holes picked in it (then why didn’t I pick them; politely, elegantly, devastatingly, instead of babbling inconsequentially in the discussion?) but he produced some good phrases from Kant: “the starry heavens above me and the (? ? moral law, I think,) within me” – I’d heard that one before – and ” God is a thought within me.”

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 20: Tribute to Zalkind Stalbow

Tuesday 27th May 1958 – 11am

On holiday. Yesterday (Whit Monday) Richard [Stern] and Joyce and Merton [Sandler] to tea. Edith and I busy-busy preparing for the distinguished guests, but we had a lie-in in the morning. I made the rain a pretext for not going to shool. Anyway, we had been on the Sunday morning (1st day Shavuot). Richard is working for 3 months at Cambridge, Merton delivered his paper at Dublin – only I seem to be destined to a life sentence in the Camden Road and its environs. Still, at this particular moment of time one mustn’t complain: one is fit ( no boils, no pruritus, no headache, no cold), one is rested (one got up at 8.35 am, nearly an hour after Edith, who went to work as usual; she likes the late night, or rather, early-morning, shmoozing-cuddling and, unlike me, is quite undeterred by the prospect of an early reveille for the following day’s work), there is no noise apart from the muted roar of traffic which, unlike piano-tinkling and wireless noises, does not drive me up the wall. One is conscious, true, of one’s failure, which it is now too late to redeem, but – oh hell! I used to kid myself I was a “lord of language” and find I can’t express the simplest thoughts. Worse, I have no thoughts.

Rebellion in Lebanon, France on the verge of civil war, the London bus strike in its fourth week, the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle hopes to use my Maftir article in due course (it was submitted to him in September, was man nicht alles erleben muss), I sent off recently my translation of an excerpt from a Hebrew book by one “Fuchu” to Commentary – will they accept. I thought the excerpt genuinely humorous, “universally” humorous, not parochially humorous – and “universal” humour is something I have not yet found in Hebrew writing.

Went to meeting with Edith, organised by “Barcai” [the Zionist society of Cricklewood and Willesden] in honour of Zalkind Stalbow’s 80th birthday. He’s a remarkable man: squat, sturdy, a furrier in London, a citriculturist in Rechovot, a Hebraist, an epikoires, ['heretic'] a chess-player, a walker – his walk of 30 miles or so in 2 days with the armed forces and the Gadna to Jerusalem was publicised – with embroidery, his son Geoffrey told me – in the J.C. Leon Simon [English Zionist leader] spoke. I liked his story of the rabbi who was asked why there were two Yekum Purkonns in the Shabbes service. “In case one got lost,” said the rabbi. “Then why only one Mi-she-beyrach?” “Well, there were two at first, and one did get lost.”

The reference to Mi-she-beyrach arose from the chairman’s saying that before Mr Stalbow spoke he would call on Mr Landman (who spoke very well) to give a sort of Mi-she-beyrach. The guest speaker was one Grayson, a Conservative M.P. who apparently had walked from London to Brighton once. He ad libbed at a not particularly high level and gave a more or less straight Conservative pep talk.

Have got out Brian Glanville’s much discussed (by our people) The Bankrupts. He has his finger right on the pulse of Golders Green Jewry. The writing is undistinguished, but readable. I gather he’s only 25 and as well as having written 3 novels previously is an authority on soccer.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 19: Time for curtain lectures

Wednesday, 14th May 1958, 8pm

A pleasant domestic scene – Edith engaged with needle, bath running – now – or rather just now – leaning heavily over me rendering writing of this journal even more difficult than I find it anyway. Edith points out it is 9 o’clock, not 8. I am not in the least angry with her for correcting me in really trivial matters of this kind. Everything is lovey-dovey. How long will it last? How long can it last? My wife called me a cynical old sod – her language leaves much to be desired.

I weighed myself the other day. 14st. 9lb. – on the same machine and in the same clothes on and in which I weighed myself when I started and finished my diet. I’m pretty sure I got down to less than 13½ stone at one time – I have the record somewhere in these pages. I don’t know whether I shall be able to go through with another diet, but feel I ought to get down to 13 stone, and then relax the diet, but revive immediately I passed 13½.

Can think of nothing of interest to record. There is a bus strike, now in its 10th day. Had an unusually good day last Saturday because of it. Omitted usual visits to Mum’s, spent entire day in glorious idleness indoors. I even succeeded in getting halfway through Henry[sic] Pulham, Esq.

Am now getting £2-2-0 per NLJC  [New Liberal Jewish Congregation] session. As a result of our agitation for increased remuneration, Rabbi Kokotek was able to show us our agreed higher rates. He showed me a piece of paper on which 21/- + 10/6 was entered against my name. He asked me if this would be acceptable, I said yes – but then I noticed that against Elsie Brotmacher’s name the sum of £2-2-0 was written. Somme toute, I now get £2-2-0, and even though I shall declare this for tax it will still leave me 7/- better off per Sunday session.

With Edith, Sam & Lily to Golders Green Hippodrome Saturday before last to see Rattigan’s Variations on a Theme – epigonic, if the adjective exists. Edith has just returned from her bath – she insisted on my re-rubbing her back, the first two rubbings were not vigorous enough for her – and has read – very well – some lines from Bunyan.

A desultory day – no “work” done in the evening, but perhaps not unsatisfactory at school [Hargrave, an Islington primary school]. In spite of bad start – wireless next door at 7am, I had to go out and knock up the chap next door (He, lathered: I’m in a hurry, now leave me alone – I: I don’t want to get up when you get up – he aborted the conversation by closing the door forcibly on me) – I felt vigorous enough to take half-a-dozen kids out of Smith’s hymn practice and go through and mark their compositions with them. I could have had this time free – glow of virtue. In the afternoon Heppell came down in my P.E. lesson and after giving the class a curtain lecture did some exercises with them, gave me one or two ideas. Afterwards they did a ball passing game and did it quite well.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 18: Causyth relief

Wednesday, 30th April 1958, 10.15 pm

Since previous entry have developed boil on eyebrow with ensuing bunged-up eye. Usual fears – would the eye ever de-bung, or bung down. It did, following penicillin (oral) treatment prescribed by Dr Haber, to whom I paid two visits. These visits passed off without any incident, probably because the weather was good, and I did not have to wait very long – ½ hr., say – and the waiting room was not crowded. About three years ago, when I went to my panel doctor one evening, there was an unseemly fracas between the doctor and myself, as a result of which I asked to be taken off that doctor’s list. The incident is not worth describing in detail; I may have been initially a little irritating, but at one stage in the proceedings the doctor said: “I haven’t had a penny out of you yet” (or words to that effect) which sparked off an explosion from me. On that occasion it was winter, it was raining, the waiting room was crowded, and it was over an hour before I was called in. – Dr. Haber is Polish-Jewish ( I transferred to him because Richard [Stern] had told me he was his (Richard’s) doctor), youngish, pleasant. He leaves his surgery and pops his head into the waiting room each time to call in the next patient. If he does this as a matter of policy – may his strength increase! – he’s the only doctor I know of who does. Perhaps if his list was twice as long he wouldn’t do it.

[intimate material omitted]

It’s about a fortnight since I sent the typewritten translations to Harold E Temple, and I have received no acknowledgement from him. However, I have his written order to me to do the translations and I have the receipt for the registration of the postal packet containing the translations which I sent to him. Anyway, he’s probably out of town. I shan’t consider chivvying him till Whitsun, if necessary, when I shall be on holiday.

Am writing this in almost perfect quiet. No noise from next door – no sound of washing or ironing or cooking or frying from Edith. The temperature is just right. Although primary activity prevented me from getting to sleep till about 1am this morning and at one stage this afternoon I had difficulty in keeping my eyes open in the classroom, I do not feel particularly tired now. Laus Deo.

Saw, with Edith, Berlin boys beat London boys 3-0. First rate football. To-night with E. to Islington Schools Music Festival. Innovation – boys’ brass band. They played with what seemed to me to be complete assurance.

Saw film Farewell to Arms. Pleasant ramble, Dorking – Ranmore Common – Polesden Lacey – Leatherhead. Weather kept right. Pleased by gentle tempo of leader, Rose Dubinsky.

After the boils, on the eyebrow and chin – the itchy tookhes. Again the fear – was one condemned to a lifetime of pruritis ani? I don’t know if I have recorded in this journal that from 1936 to 1939 I worked for a Polish Jew who had a large pharmaceutical factory in Cracow and was trying to plant an “ethical medical product” in Britain. Later on he acquired the agency for “Calmitol,” manufactured by a Swiss firm, which was indicated in pruritis ani (and now I come to think of it – or is this only my fancy, influenced by my close association with the subject recently?) and pruritis vulvae. It was genuinely good too, I believe – I remember Sam telling me that while he endeavoured to keep “Causyth” and “Calmitol” going when I was in the forces, he received an enquiry for the latter preparation from someone who said it had given him great relief. I wonder what happened to Joseph Sperling. I last heard of him, just after the war I think, from Brazil (or was it Uruguay?). And to his brother, Dr Harold, whom I met in Tel-Aviv looking like a seedy anarchist waiting his chance to throw a bomb.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 17: Matzos in Maidenhead

Thursday, 10th April 1958 – 5.30 p.m.

Pesach [Passover] nearing its close – we [i.e. with Edith Witriol, née Katz] go to Sam & Lily’s, [brother and sister-in-law] where Mum is staying, for supper this evening. Have long since found Pesach a bind – a wonderful festival, though, if you have kids. Done properly, I don’t see how any child can fail to be captivated by it. We ourselves have never done it “properly”, really. No doubt the Gottseliger [holy person - used for Joseph Witriol's father], had he lived, would have done it in style: the hessebett [pillows in order to lean during the Seder], the table songs. As it is, we have a nice tune to Dayenu, and we sing the Adir Hu. But Sam, like most of his generation and background, I suspect, follows the “book,” resulting in loss of spontaneity.

We spent the first Seder night at Mrs Katz’s [Edith's mother, Esther Katz], the second at Sam and Lily’s. Edith has, as always, been wonderful, performing culinary miracles ex Florence Greenberg – so apparently one can cook from a book – and in deference to hubby’s deference to his mother, eating kosher [i.e. for Passover] the whole time – one or two lunches out, taking Thermos to office. On Monday we set out, loaded with Matzos and the Thermos, to do a Fieldfare ramble Maidenhead – Bray – Maidenhead. We reached Bray without any trouble, but after that were stymied by a “stile at a ditch.” The ditch was a non-fordable – for us – stream, and even though we bye-passed it and got to the stile at the other side, Fieldfare’s description of the terrain was completely out, to me at any rate.

Result, as Edith said later, “hubby’s got the needle.” It was bloody annoying – tramping back along the main road to Maidenhead to the roar of the traffic. Edith, in spite of it being one of her “uncomfortable” days, enjoying everything, gaily putting on the supper on our return, gaily tripping off to work the next morning, while hubby cleared up, made the bed and leisurely washed and dressed.

We got to Maidenhead station about 5pm & then went downtown to eat our matzos. On our return to the station, a man came up to me and said: “you did get your tea after all, then.” He had confused me with someone running in a 10-mile road-race. He had run, too, at 68!, and was given a medal. He said he felt 30 – I remember being able to run 2 miles in my OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit] days. Wish someone would give me a benevolent OCTU physical training – but only 5 days a week, perhaps, and four 9-week terms.

I had resolved, while on holiday, to pursue my normal routine as regards shaving, dressing, but find myself having breakfast en négligé. However, if I keep even this up, it will be a great improvement on the old days of getting up 10.30 -11.30ish. This way, I can be washed, dressed, have cleared up, done chores, had lunch and perhaps an hours siesta – pre-lunch if overcome by sleep – and be ready to “work” at 2.30 pm. But on days when I have only light chores – no heavy load of shopping, I should be able to work from 11-1 and 3-5.30. I still don’t see myself getting in more than 15 hours concentrated translating in a week.

To-day shopped – 6 toilet rolls (!) – ½ dz. handkerchiefs as birthday gift for Sam, plastic bowl with sections for pins, clips etc. (12/6, but I suppose gadgets of this kind are the childish toys that correspond to the average man’s toy trains), semi-turned out flat, bathed – present feeling one of euphoria – don’t know how long it will last. No actual ‘work’ done this week, but form for J.F.S. School [sic] completed, sent in, more time-consuming than it sounds.

Have applied for a post of special responsibility at the new [in Camden Town, after having been closed since 1945] J.F.S. School. I am pretty certain that I will not accept an ordinary assistantship if it is offered me. Probably wrong of me to take this attitude, since secondary-school teaching, provided I taught German and/or French, and provided the general tone of the school was good – which I am sure it will be at the J.F.S. with its great traditions – would be my cup of tea, unlike primary school teaching  – but I feel se passt me nisht to be one of the rank and file in a Jewish school. And, after all, although I have no S.R. allowance at Hargrave, [Archway primary school] I am in charge of football.

Edith had an afternoon off to-day. She’s been to the clinic. [sensitive material omitted] What does it matter sub specie aeternitatis or sub specie the impending finis mundi? But one doesn’t live for eternity, and I suspect that even if the H bombs etc. did destroy half the world, within ten years people would still be striking for an extra 10/6 a week (10 guineas a week?). And Edith is an angel, and, as I have said before, she deserves every happiness.