Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 26: No Asch in Yehoshua

Tuesday, October 1st 1958, 8.25 p.m.

The first day of Edith’s “retirement”. I called for her at her office yesterday. her colleagues had presented her with layette-stuff; very moving, really. We celebrated in a mild way by dining at the Strand palace. E. naturally revels in her new-found leisure, though it remains to be seen whether she will revel quite so much as time advances and she finds herself “confined to barracks” and having to work to a tight budget. The change has been a relief to me, too. To-night I was able to listen to a talk on the wireless, make this entry and I stand a fair chance of being able to listen-in for an additional hour and have a bath. Under the old dispensation I would have had to go to the launderette (which to-day Edith was able to do in the morning), do all the washing-up (to enable Edith to get on with the ironing, which she will now be able to do in daylight hours) and so on.

I started taking my French class at the Clapton & Kingsland Evening Institute the Monday before last. Thirty-one students! Which means the class should last throughout the session. Only 30/- a night; probably leaves me with about 17/6 after deducting tax, fares, teas; but I have nothing more lucrative with which to occupy the time.

I “preached” at the kids’ services on the Yomim Nowroim ["The High Holidays"] at Highgate Shool. Difficult to know what to say to them. They were an awkward age group; the oldest – one or two only – about 13; too young to give ‘em much meat. Must try to work up a collection of “stories.” The young chap who “takes” the service ( for a fee, I have reason to believe – why not, I take a fee for my Sunday-school teaching) was rather weak, unfortunately; couldn’t sing, or even read Hebrew at all decently (he read, or tried to read, Israeli, which would have been all right if he could have done it).

My translation from the German of a – rather drippy – article by Max Brod and also, from the Hebrew, of a quite intelligent article by Yehoshua Bar-Yossef appeared in the last issue of The Jewish Quarterly I was given full translator’s credits. Unfortunately my translation of the latter article, which was largely a complaint about the poor quality of Hebrew-English translating, was rushed (I did it all – about 1500 words English text – on the Friday preceding the Saturday on which we left for Crikvenica) and could have been better. I had no time even to type my rough draft; anyway the printed text has elementary grammatical errors like: “translators of sufficient high standards” which, whether originally my fault or not, will not redound to my credit. I’d never heard of Yehoshua Bar-Yossef before. Apparently he’s a well-known Israeli author, & writes in Yiddish, too. He complains Hebrew has no translator, as Sholem Asch had, of the calibre of Maurice Samuel. The answer’s obvious enough. Let’s have a Hebrew Asch, and I won’t let him down!

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 25: Gynecomastia in Crikvenica

September 3rd 1958, 8.40pm

Returned a few days ago from a holiday at Crikvenica, Yugoslavia organised by the British-Yugoslav Friendship Society. The holiday cannot be described as having been a success. I didn’t get sleepers, as an economy measure, with the result we spent bad nights going and coming. E.[Edith Witriol], although strongly left-wing, surprisingly intolerant of poor sanitary conditions in our hotel and elsewhere. I must confess I found it a bit off-putting myself to arrive, about 9 p.m., after a 36-hr. journey (the last leg of which by coach at break-neck speed along winding roads E. found more upsetting than all the rest of the journey) at a hotel without being able to wash, even. To crown all, our room overlooked the hotel terrace, on which a noisy orchestra blared and crooned away till 1-2 a.m. every night.

The composition of the party, too, did not help. There were a number of uninhibited sons-of-the-people whose loud laughter and shouting drove one round the bend. The most congenial spirit of the lot was one Wilcox who revealed himself, en passant, as Organiser of Adult Education for Kent, but I didn’t have much contact with him until the homeward journey.

The Society did provide some little contact for us with Yugoslavs, but not enough, of course, to provide a basis for judging conditions in Yugoslavia. We visited a health centre and the equivalent of the Town Hall, at which the Vice-President [of the Workers' Committee? Citizens' Committee? Combined Committee? - I am afraid I didn't absorb it all properly; the interpreter, a spivvy local was pretty ghastly], & the Secretary [full-time official?] welcomed us with Slivovitz, on a blazing morning!, biscuits and cigarettes. Both these men seemed to exude integrity, an honest-man’s-the-noblest-work-of-God [or the evolutionary principle, I suppose] but – irrationally – I found myself turning against them when Wilcox mentioned on the journey back that the Ustaši (did Wilcox say “Croats,” and did this stimm me against “Croats”?) had massacred Serbs, Jews and gypsies. It’s all very difficult. I deliberately avoid Germany and Austria because, as a Jew, I do not want to be on German/Austrian soil or speak to Germans/Austrians if I can avoid it, but Wilcox’s chance remark made me wonder if Croats were just as bad. (Do Serbs hate Croats? I don’t think there were many Serbs in Crikvenica – but here again I’m merely going by the fact that one man I managed to communicate with said he came from Zagreb.) I suppose the only thing to do, really, is to go to Israel, become an Israeli and then go anywhere in the world and say “But we’re not Jews!” (as the late Simon Rawidowicz records a couple of Israeli girls saying to an English landlady who “didn’t take in Jews”).

The mood is of mild depression, but – so it is – one merely hopes there will be nothing worse. the fault is in oneself, anyway. Probably if I had spent as much time on studying the pools as I have on this diary I would have cleaned up enough to get out of the seedy atmosphere here. But I seem to be incapable of making any serious effort – drift with the tide – drudge – futile. I lack the will to persevere in the diet I had started. I feel the fat accumulating, I waddle, I dislike running, I am altogether unprepossessing (in fact even E., whose love for me, fortunately, renders her blind to my defects, suggests I ought not to show one snap she took of me in my bathing trunks. Talk about gynecomastia! The long word has made me feel better! I wish I could trace the bit in Nordau‘s book on degeneration in which he says the love of long words is a form of sexual perversion (I have the book, perhaps I’ll give myself ten minutes to skim through it now).

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 24: Primary perils

August 7th, 1958 – 4pm

No peace, even on holiday, or perhaps I should say vacation (=vacation from school; holiday = essentially, time spent in recreation or amusement away from home) – Mrs. F.D’s vacuum cleaner is whining away up above.

Five-finger Exercise by Peter Shaffer last night. A brilliant first play. The theme well-worn: rich philistine father v. sensitive young man, but the dialogue extremely good, with only occasional short longueurs. The youth’s affectionate relationship with his kid-sister - charming. The other two “fingers” were the mother, a soi-disant culturist, and a German tutor, son of a Nazi, engaged by the mother for the daughter.

The vacation frittering itself away, as usual. So much to do – NLJC [New Liberal Jewish Congregation]  lessons for the whole of next term to be prepared, I won’t get time in term itself; three talks I have agreed to give at the children’s services on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur to be prepared; my Evening Institute French lessons to prepare. from trying to write anything iz oopgerett [you can forget it]. But I’m not kidding myself – I just haven’t the will-power to have a go at writing anything, anymore. And it all seems so ridiculous, anyway: if I do kratz out a couple of articles a year (which would be a high output for me) – so what?

The whining has stopped, thus depriving me of my last pretext for lack of brilliance in entries (how we cling to our pretexts – a shrewd aperçu this, if it could be worked up). Again, so what? Are all these literary journals so interesting, really? Judging from the extract Brod quotes from his book on Kafka, they’re mostly of the met-X-to-day, – he’s-reading-Y, – I-told-him-to-read-Z, – we’re-planning-a-holiday-at-N-and-from-there-we’re-going-to-M.

What, if anything, would I wish in, say, ten years time, to have a record of? I suppose I ought to mention that a new peril has loomed on the horizon. J.S. phoned me the other day, out of the blue, to say he was being allocated to Daubeney, where I taught from about 1950-1955. I had met him at his wedding, en secondes noces, to Rayner (Renee?), one of the [surname redacted] family. He was known to be peculiar, but at the wedding he made quite a sensible speech. I remember meeting his father, a former primary school head, who was worried about him then, as he was apparently having difficulty in getting through his emergency training college. The father a somewhat crabbed, pince-nez-ish man, but not without some dignity.

Anyway, J.S. – a few months after the death of his second wife – tells us he’s lonely, wants to find a suitable girl, he’d be grateful if he could come round to us once a week, could he stay with us for the Yom Tovim if he made suitable financial arrangement. I had at the very first felt that here was a chance to show that I’m not the marook (curmudgeon) that my mother says I am, here was a chance to lend a helping hand to a fellow creature in his hour of need. But – non possumus. Two hours of J.S. telling us he can’t stand an all-boys school, he must have girls, I can stand once, twice a year – but once a week, even a fortnight or month – no. (There is a definite sexual perversion – he tells me, e.g., he called to a girl in a P.E. lesson: “Come here, Miss Blue Knicks” and he can’t understand why this should be held against him.) In his own interests he would be well advised to stick to Daubeney or any other all-boys school, but he says he would resign the service if he thought he would have to spend the rest of his life teaching boys only. He could probably afford to do so. I believe his father left him property, and presumably he has something from his two deceased wives. he has a son and a daughter staying with his first wife’s parents, I gather – the fact that he has a daughter makes his little-girl perversion a little difficult to understand – but I’m inclined to feel there’s not much you can do about a perversion – certainly not pronounce moral judgement on the pervert. Any potential victims of the pervert, though, must be protected against him, in their and his interests.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 23: Sandler angler

Monday, 28th July 1958 – 11.10am

The holidays are here. The term ended badly. H – my headmaster – told me I was to have the lowest 4th yr. stream again next year. A young girl on the staff gets a 3rd year A stream. One tells oneself not to worry –  as a non-graded Primary School teacher one is a failure anyway – but the pill is a bitter one to swallow.

Anyway, back to self-reproduction. Perhaps, after all, least said, soonest mended. I hope, my child(ren) will read this, and I don’t want to do myself an injustice by a ruthless analysis of my motives which might, in fact, be very wide of the mark. However, for his/her/their benefit let me say this:

1) You were conceived in love, your parents want you to be healthy, happy ( I myself find it impossible to conceive of happiness and ill-health co-existing in one person; I hope that happiness and health will be your lot) and successful – in that order.

2) because I am lazy, and daily drink the bitter waters of my laziness, I exhort you to work (I read that lazy fathers usually keep their sons’ noses to the grindstone – in a biography of Mozart). My son(s), swot like blazes till you are twenty-five at least, then you can sit back and draw the dividends – you will be (an) administrative civil servant(s) or dons (I’ll stick to the plural!) or salaried writers (free-lance authorship I doubt whether you will have enough of a gift for to make it as remunerative as the higher bureaucracy or donnery).

Schroffer übergang – as Bithell once wrote on one of the rare scripts I ever did in my 3-yr. German course. We had the Nemeths [?] round the other day, a Miss Avril Shadstone (Shenstone) [?] whom Mrs N. was anxious to get Merton [Sandler] for, Sam [Joseph Witriol's brother], Lily [Weingarten, Sam's wife] & Maisie [Lily's sister], Alf [Katz, Edith's brother] and Richard [Stern]. The afternoon was highly successful – Merton & Avril clicked. Edith – and I – were favourably & unexpectedly impressed by Avril. A well-groomed, well-spoken young woman, drives, sophisticated but not snooty (said the Avril was to perpetuate an ancestor named Avrohom, which I liked). It seems strange that such a young woman should “play” in Shadchanish ['matchmaking-ish'] schemes, but, on reflection, there’s no reason why a girl, even if she has plenty of social outlets, should not welcome an invitation to tea at which an eligible young man is to be present. There can be no doubt about Merton’s eligibility – at 32 (31?) he is a consultant at Queen Charlotte’s hospital (£2,000 a year?), of good Anglo-Jewish family.

Mrs N. rang to know if Merton had followed up the contact. Edith thinks she had in fact found out from the girl that he had done so, and this was an attempt to get us to get Merton weaving. Mrs N. told Edith she had another young man lined up for her protégée. The next day Merton rang. Nice popsy, what was it all about? I came clean, and told him he could get the young lady’s phone no. from Mrs N. Edith delighted. Quite, or almost quite, seriously, if this had been professionally shadchaned we would have done very well out of it. I don’t know how professional shadchanim recoup themselves; a percentage of the nadan [dowry], I expect. I can hardly see this percentage being less than 5%, and I can hardly see Avril’s nadan being less than £5,000 ( a furnished house in the suburb, which I think is what Merton is after – £7-8,000 would be nearer the mark). 5% of £5,000 = £250. This is so irrelevant to our own financial needs, that I’d prefer to retain my amateur status. In the event, if the pair are matched, it will probably cost me 5gns. in a wedding present. Merton, top professional man though he is, got us a cellular blanket as a wedding gift (3gns.?); as an impecunious melammed [teacher] I can hardly pay less than 5 gns. for Merton’s gift. But probably I would have to be sensible, rather than indulge my love of paradox and the gesture – how about a 2gn. -3gn. vase, darling? (A vase was one of the things we didn’t get, but Mum wrote to Uncle Mendel and Auntie Dora [my father's mother's sister and her husband] telling them this, & they sent us a silver vase from Israel).

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 22: Generation game

Monday, 7th July 1958 – 10.10 pm

Edith is pregnant. I wish I knew what I ought to feel. Pride? Why? [intimate material omitted] Meanwhile, one is worried. One hopes mother and child will do fine, and has no reason to believe they won’t. But what of the boy’s future? (If it is a girl, all one asks is that it should possess good health, a fair intelligence and a happy disposition.) Will he be, as I was, deprived of a father’s invaluable helping hand, when he is ten – thirteen – fifteen – eighteen – twenty – one – five? (I am 46, and making all allowances for increased expectation of life, cannot exclude the possibility that I shan’t be there when he needs me.) Will I have the energy to train him, instruct him, drive him? Will he be a failure like me? I persuade myself that with only reasonable luck he should be able at least to make University Lecturer grade. But who can tell? Edith wants to know whether she owes me for the laundrette. It is a blessing to have her extrovert, uncomplicated, nature as an antidote to my priggish self-importance.

Anyway, son(s) and/or daughter(s) – should you read this : -

1) Fay bien, crain rien

I can’t think of anything else to exhort you; your mother has placed her arms around my neck which has made concentration rather difficult. I shall have to leave this whole theme of self-reproduction to the holidays, I think.