Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 32: Otium cum dignitate – halevei!

Monday, 29th December 1958, 1.20p.m.

Christmas has gone and I am far too fat. 14st. 10 clothed (tweedy sports jacket, black slacks, pullover, woollen vest, long pants, old black Church shoes). Once more, I must try to diet. [illegible]1/1/59 – I find it impossible to “turn over a new leaf” in mid-stream, so to speak (we don’t half mix our metaphors, and pretty rusty metaphors, at that, don’t we Witriol? – why don’t you drop dead, H.L.? [Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur]).

Edith at the laundrette. I think we must get washing machine, but this, like so much else, involves problems – mundane problems, problems which should be no concern of mine. It seems a pretty verfehltes Leben, if, at my time of life, I haven’t got things so organised that the household mechanics don’t function smoothly, unnoticeably. The ideal of, if not otium at least one’s daily occupational stint with some dignitate to come home to, seems as far away from conversion to reality as ever. Not that it matters, really. The good, fighting life is more important than otium or dignitates (e.g. Rev. Michael Scott flying from Africa to picket the nuclear power station at Swoffham, letting himself be lifted bodily by police, refusing to undertake to cease his activity and so accepting imprisonment. I expect he could have had a comfortable living).

All this gallimatchkin [Yiddish?] is pointless – I would do better to save my space, using it only “for the record.” But what is there to record? We saw Me and the Colonel. Excellent. Danny Kaye as the humble, frightened Jew stranded in Paris just before the German occupation, forcing the dim, 12 mentality Polish aristocrat-colonel to do a deal with him in escaping. The two of them in an ancient Rothschild’s car; he singing anu olim artsa, the colonel trying to drown him in some Polish patriotic song. The colonel to his girls: In the cathedral of my heart there will always be a candle burning for you. Danny: In the synagogue of my heart here will always be a candle burning for you.

Christmas day at Sam’s with Mum, over-eating, listening to Queen’s speech on T.V. (she an excellent advert. for the monarchy, speaking clearly, unaffectedly, with dignity). Home by car-hire – £1. Yesterday Doreen, an ex-colleague of Edith’s, and husband Aubrey round “for tea” – and they stayed to supper. Painful; he silently smoking cigarette after cigarette, she nattering interminably about Furness Withy staff and her trip to N.Y. which she’d had on the firm.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 31: Procreation v annihalation

In this entry my father explains why he has written some words in an abbreviated form. I have reproduced them as written.

Tuesday, 23rd December 1958, 9.15 p.m.

Christmas is upon us. I think of the Christmases when we had the shop in the [Newington] Butts, and the December takings were about a quarter of the year’s total, I should think. The front room upstairs converted to an extra saleroom, traipsing to and from the shop itself to this room. In retrospect they seem almost “good” times, though in reality they were bitter enough. I “employed” by Mum. Perhaps I should have had the guts to break away and earn my own living. But it was not only the vis inertiae that kept me at home. I recollect quite clearly that in 1936/37 I could have gone to France as an assistant; it would have been invaluable experience for me. But I felt I could not leave Sam [his brother] to carry the baby – I had had four months in Grindelwald anyway. Anyway, there’s no point in musing on the remote past. What has been, has been.

A characteristic letter from Hugh Stubbs, the grandson of the Archbishop. It seems incredible that more than eighteen years have elapsed since we met in the 24 H.A.A. Tng. Regt. at Blackdown. I don’t know whether I have mentioned Hugh in these pages before; if not, I must try to write him up.

The obvious thing would be to read through this diary again carefully, so that I don’t have to waste time wondering whether I’m repeating myself, and, possibly, compile an index, of names if of nothing else. Wd be gd experience in indxg.

Meanwhile I am faced with a potential difficulty. I want to use this notebook for a) the period ending 31st December 1958 or b) the p. ending 31st Dec. 1959. If a) the book will be only two-thirds full, even with index. If b), and if I am to include an index, I shall have to cramp the 1959 entries. I think I will opt for b) and try to get more wordage in less space by using abbrvns and wrtg smll. (Must try to assim. Dutter’s Speedwriting [sic], a system of contracted longhand writing the book of which I picked up for a copper some time ago.)

The holidays are under way. I pretend the reason I’m not getting up any articles is that I must help E. [Edith Witriol, née Katz] with domestic chores. She is now very big and though her attitude to pregnancy is ambivalent — dislike of the irritation, heartburn, swollen-leg(s) and general slowing down of activity on the one hand, and radiant motherhood on the other — the uppermost feeling is obviously one of thrilledness. As for me, I remember recording a crack of George Moore’s that procreation was the one unforgivable sin, but that was of course because I thought it extremely unlikely at the time that I would ever be able to procreate. In point of fact, no time could be worse for the creation of new life than this present nuclear age, when sober, responsible people tell us that there is a distinct possibility that we may succeed in killing ourselves, all of us — if we’re lucky; if we’re less lucky, we may find ourselves suffering from the effects of radiation, amidst a wilderness of rubble. But of course, I couldn’t kid myself, had I deliberately abstained from parenthood, that I was doing so on grounds of conscience unless, indeed, I gave practical evidence of my concern by e.g., experiencing discomfort in the fight against nuclear bombing and expending as much money on trying to create a world fit for babies to be born into as I shall find myself spending on the baby (ies) that will, I hope, be born to us.

Anyway, all one can do now is hope that everything will pass off beshoolem, as my mother says, and do ones best for the children (!) that are born to us. My mother used to “curse” me ( but one shouldn’t take Yiddish curses seriously, perhaps) that I shd have chln like myself, and I have said I asked for nothing better. I wonder? Too big a subject to deal with now. (Perhaps I have been over pessimistic? “Genetic danger not so great?” is headline of article in to-day’s M.G.) Lion Feuchtwanger died on Sun. 21st. Sonntag rang me up to know if I could do an article on him (on L.F.). No, I could not find the books, gut them, quickly enough. I shall be satisfied if I can be a hack translator; junior can be the creative writer. But will he have the creative gift? I can’t see any reason why he should have.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 30: A tee-hee-hee and a fold-de-lol

This entry includes a correction footnote as made by my father, including the East Asian asterisk he used! The date of the correction shows he would re-read his entries from time to time.

Tuesday, 9th December, 1958; 9.30 p.m.

Have been reading previous entries in order to avoid repetition as far as possible. Somewhat depressed to-day, but mood clearing up, I think (at this particular instant – and I mean instant – there is silence in the front-room – except for the subdued roar of traffic, which doesn’t worry me – and the writing of this diary, once I do succeed in getting down to it, has a therapeutic effect). I must try to avoid these incapsulations, cultivate a style. (at 47, nearly! I can’t decapsulate myself. Yes, writing this diary is “therapy” as Dollinger said of his driving lessons. Dollinger the Reader at the NLJC [New Liberal Jewish Congregation] – gives me a lift home in his car most Sundays.

Talking of NLJC, one of my kids there asked if I would write an account of a story, saying, connected with the rabbis – I had asked them to do this for their test. Fair enough, really. I’ve always felt that the best way of showing kids how to do a composition on, say, “A Day at the Seaside” is to do one yourself.

Anyway, on Sunday morning I did tell the kids in my class to read quietly – which they did, reasonably so – while I did the test myself. Afterwards I gave my top-mark boys (17,16) my script to mark. We agreed on 18. As one of the markers said, I had failed to discuss the story or saying;  but, I pointed out, I had recounted the story accurately and my style was good.

Edith reclining in arm-chair, legs on another chair, consulting her cookery book; a picture, as I have had occasion to observe before, of domestic bliss. Dare I complain?

Possibly responsible for the mood of depression to which I have referred is the fact that I didn’t hear from Thames & Hudson. They wrote wanting to know if I would discuss translating a popular Hebrew work of archaeology with them. Michael Edwardes, quondam of Vallentine Mitchell had suggested me to them. When I had last seen M.E. the atmosphere had been rather tense. He had said the English of an “English” TS he had given me to “english” was not English. He was right, too. So I was agreeably surprised to find that he will still, apparently, speak favourably for me.

But more probably, the depression is inherent in the general situation and, in mild form, will be with me most days I am teaching. I can see no issue from the impasse: I am inefficient as a Primary School Teacher, and have missed the selective Secondary School bus. I put in for a Deputy Headship, with a feeling of resentment at the futility of doing so.

Howard Youngerwood‘s bar-mitsva the other day. Very enjoyable. To Golders Green shool, by public transport, on the Shabbes. Called up. Myer resplendent in topper in warden’s books.※ As some lady said to him, apparently; it was a change to see a handsome warden. He is handsome; tall, slim, legal-looking. His baldness is his Achilles’ tendon (why not say he’s bald? – you shut your trap, H.L). [my father regularly used this abbreviation for Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur] I made a good, carefully-prepared speech proposing the B.M.’s health; Mat Rosen made a not-so-good, unprepared – or rather, not carefully enough prepared – speech proposing the health of the B.M.’s parents. Ellis Lincoln, who sits next to H.Y. in shool, and was the big “catch” among [?missing words] made a fluent speech from a few jottings on a menu card. Howard played, the piano. He has appeared on I.T.V. A likeable kid, nevertheless. Well up in his Jewish studies, plays soccer, runs at school. I’ve had enough. Perhaps E. will make me coffee and cake. She replies with a tee-hee-hee and a fold-de-lol.

※ “Box” -31/12/67

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 29: Ha! Pah! Bazaar

Sunday, November 23rd 1958, 3.50pm

A dies something-or-other to-day – no religion school, so I had a lie-in. The NLJC [New Liberal Jewish Congregation] used their shool for their annual bazaar. Autre temps, les mêmes moeurs  – Mrs Price, our new deputy-head (vice Mrs Hood, retired but now teaching half-time with us) spoke to the kids at assembly, about justifiable anger, and instanced Jesus’s driving out of the money-changers from the Temple. I expect Rabbi K. of the NLJC, would justify the stalls and the restaurant in his “Temple” by saying that the ark was partitioned off, but I’m not sure that this is a valid justification. In Orthodox Jewish congregations (and, I suspect, in the “English” progressive congregations), you might find a secular building used for religious purposes, e.g., a cinema used as a shool, or a shool hall used for services, but not the other way round. However – In meinem Reiche kann jeder selig werden nach seiner – I’ve just checked, the correct quotation is: In meinem Staate kann jeder nach seiner Façon selig werden.

Anyway, went to the Bazaar yesterday. They really had put in a tremendous amount of work into the thing. We didn’t get any metsee’es [bargains], but I think Edith enjoyed the bright lights and the bustle. I don’t complain myself – it’s the sort of scene one ought to be able to write up – the large, black-chiffoned gnädige Frau adjusting her lorgnette to find the price of a vase, then consulting the Herr in charge ( who told her a price above that of a larger vase, quite clearly marked, of obviously the same quality.)

Edith, nebbech [“poor thing”], has flopped off in the armchair – she’s been on her feet since 10 a.m., preparing lunch, washing up,washing her hair. We leave about six for Dinmore House [in Hackney, where Edith’s mother and brother lived]. How do/did people ever find time to read? I can’t, and yet I have no public life of any kind; seldom attend lectures, shows, parties, visit (but all this is relative). I’ll stop hackin a tcheynikk. [Yiddish, “banging a teapot”, i.e going on and on.]

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 28: Heads and tales

Tuesday November 11th, 10.05 p.m.

The only comment I have to make on the significance of the date is, characteristically enough, I suppose, is* that I can’t get used to the idea of the two-minute silence being observed on the Sunday before the 11th and the poppies being on sale the Saturday before or earlier.

* E. [Edith Witriol] pointed out the tautology (23/11/56) – such a clever girl!

Changes at Hargrave [primary school]. Miss Hood retired at the end of last half-term. Replaced by Miss Price, a youngish efficient-looking woman with aggressive horn-rimmed specs and an elocutionary voice. Heppell sprang a surprise on us – he had put in for and got another headship, presumably of a larger school. Miss P. is applying for the headship here. Must get used to the idea of a woman head younger than myself. Excellent fodder for the masochism. Hale, too – who has a graded post with us – has got a deputy headship right on his doorstep in Finchley, after being beaten by Miss P. for the Hargrave deputy headship (Heppell played the dirty on him by leading him to believe he stood a fair chance, or rather-better-than-fair-chance. The advert in the L.C.C. Bulletin was for man or woman, with the man’s qualifications custom-built for Hale, but it seems obvious that with no woman holding a graded post on Hargrave’s staff – after Miss Hood’s retirement – the woman candidate would be preferred to a man of equal or even slightly higher ability).

What else. At the end of the Neila service, taking a cup of tea in the hall – took me four/five years to find out about this, quite by chance – I asked Zalkind Stalbow’s grandson (Sammy’s son) where his grandfather was. He had been knocked down by a lorry Erev [the day before]Yom Kippur. He 80+. He was unconscious for several days, I gather. Frankly, I looked in the J.C. [The Jewish Chronicle] obituary columns. However, he made what must have been a remarkable recovery and I visited him at Hornsey Hospital. He said it would be safer for me to write down what I had to say, as the accident had affected his hearing. What did I think of Ben Gurion’s saying to the Jews of the Diaspora we want your money but you mustn’t tell us how to run our State?

A Bar-Mitsva at Selby’s the other Sunday. Benny Miranda’s younger boy. Slightly nauseating. Champagne, liqueurs, cigars, cabaret – vulgar Jewish comedian (though I expect I shall not be above trying to retail [sic?] some of his jokes) and shrill songsters. I saw three photographers “shooting” the boy in his tallis [prayer shawl].

The occasion was memorable for a reconciliation with our long “lost” Balin cousins. I don’t know what our relationship is, or rather what the correct name for it is – second cousins, 1st cousins once removed? I append what I believe to be the tree, so that I may have it handy for reference purposes. Perhaps I may be able to get someone to state authoritatively how the relationship is described. The “rift” started long pre-1939. I don’t know the origin. My mother became broighess with Mrs B. – so Sam [Joseph Witriol’s brother] and I had to follow suit. We met at Simchas,Shivas, but never exchanged a word.

Who's related to who: Witriol and Balin

Who’s related to who: Witriol and Balin

What is the term to express a) the relationship between my mother and “Mr Balin” (Zalman) and b) Mick Balin and myself?

Sam Balin had been a grammar school master in the provinces for many years, had recently come to Hasmonean (I think that’s it – in Edgware [sic!]) school. He came up to mum and — communications were restored. More about all this if I have time later. It’s been a “good” evening – a leisurely meal, Edith quiet as a mouse writing letters — but, it’s 11pm and one doesn’t want to slog away at this.

Read H.E. Bates’ Darling Buds of May. Excellent short picaresque comedy. Practically read Waugh’s Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Good short fantasy (I don’t blame these lads for preferring to write a 40,000 to a 80,000 book). Slight anti-Semitic touches one should note for the Jew-in-English-literature (Pinfold, echt-Englisch, has delusions in which his persecutors refer to him as a Jew, Peinfeld, who bought out an English farmer whose ancestors had worked the land for centuries).