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.

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.