Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 42: Twist and shout

Friday, 26th June 1959 – 7.40 p.m.  (no, 7.32 p.m.)

Time only, before Shabbes at 8 p.m. for a brief entry. Nothing particular eventful to record, anyway.  Received £100+ cheque from Th.& H. The translation will involve me during most of the summer holiday; I shall be glad when the book finally appears in print. E. [Edith Witriol nee Katz] ringing her mum, Ph. [Philip] bawling – quiet for a moment., now – on her lap. Mum left this morning for 10 days in Westcliff, Alf [Alf Katz, my mum’s brother] will take Mrs Katz down on Sunday. Everybody well, hamdu lillahi (?) Slight spat with E. just now; she brought me in to witness Ph. twisting foot in rail of cot. My mother had said the rail-type cot was dangerous; I said the foot-twisting seemed to confirm this, which loosed the avalanche: I’m fed up, you agree with everything your mother says, you should have a mind of your own, you’re never interested in what I tell you about baby, if it hadn’t have been for me he’d have been naked.

Philip yelling, here ends my entry.

Sunday, 2nd August, 1959 – 12.45 p.m.

The first week of the summer holiday now over. Edith found, for the first time, a house – in N. Finchley – which she liked. I have paid a deposit, applied to Friern Barnet U.D.C. for an advance, and hope to be installed by mid-September at latest.

Did a fair amount of work on Sinai, but it seems clear I shall have to continue working on it, fairly intensively, throughout the holiday The complete break-away-from-it-all I cannot see coming off ever, now; or hardly ever. However, the tempo during vacation (I use the term to differentiate it from a holiday proper, by which I understand a period away from home with no chores for E. or myself) is a little more relaxed and so – one counts one’s blessings again: health, clothes to wear, food to eat, a roof over one’s head and a bonny baby.

Sam [brother] and Lily [his wife] broighiss [“not on speaking terms”]; I apparently the unwitting cause. They left for a fortnight’s much needed break in Southport to-day. I suggested to Sam I could come round on the Saturday before they left, to give them a chance of seeing Philip. Sam said no, it would be difficult, they had the builders in, they would be up to their eyebrows packing. Then Lily phoned to say that although Sam had said I was not to come, she insisted that we do come. Anyway, we went yesterday. The house now looks very chic. They were on barely speaking terms yesterday, but I hope harmony will have been restored when they return from their holiday.

On diet again. A strain. What a nuisance the bag of guts is. The J.C. is offering a first prize of 100 guineas for a short story of Jewish interest. Unfortunately, I am devoid of ideas. Strangely enough, the rules of the competition do not say that stories must not have been published previously. I probably could rake out a story I had in the Young Zionist 25! years ago ( but I’d have to hump things in the cellar to get at it, I think) which I think would bring in at any rate 10-15 guineas for its publication. But it is humiliating to think I haven’t the ability to think up a short story even for the prospect of a 100-guinea prize. E. has started the washing-machine going – now it has stopped – I’m starving. Immer die Haltung bewahren [Always keep the attitude].

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 41: Sol Loewe, Stern Burden

Sunday, 3rd May 1959, 3.45 p.m.

I gained second prize – 25 guineas – in the J.C. Essay Competition. They rang up for me to give them some dope, and a photograph, for their “Incidentally” column. Rather depressing to think this is the nearest to fame I shall ever get. The essay itself was a feeble affair; the lucid analysis, firm grasp of all the problems raise, are conspicuously absent. A few Hebrew and Yiddish phrases and – perhaps it is not unfair to say – a general readability – gained it the prize, I suppose. Anyway, the money has enabled me to put E’s bank balance in a healthy state; it needs to be, because as I keep on telling her, if we move – rather, when we move – her allowance will be cut by £7-10-0 a month. I suppose if I could rely on £150 p.a. net from “fees” before deduction of tax I could then keep my own finances on an even keel, on the assumption that gross rent would not exceed £7 p.w.

Sam [brother] in bed with cold, Mum has cold. The worry and sheer physical strain of his business is too much for him. He was offered a job with Shell Mex on leaving school, but my father ע״ה [may peace be upon him] wanted him to be with “Yiddishe people,” so he worked for Sol Levy (“there’s not a captain’s wife leaves the ship doesn’t buy one of Sol Levy’s handbags”). Hinc illae lacrimae. For the record, a drizzly day, Alf and Boobba Esther [Katz: brother-in-law and mother-in-law] have arrived. In any case, I cannot think – I never can – of any particularly noteworthy entry to make.

Thursday, 21st May 1959, 11.30 a.m.

Raining. Taking E. [Edith Witriol] & P. to Victoria Chest Hospital this p.m. Up early (6.25 a.m.), fed P., made own breakfast, cleared E’s, own shoes, wrote to Rothenberg – feeling virtuous.

A letter from Raphael Loewe saying he enjoyed my article (sc. prize-winning essay) in the J.C. I gather from his letter he was a runner-up; if so, it was very sporting of him to write to me – he bears, after all, a distinguished name in Anglo-Jewry (his father was Reader in Rabbinics at Cambridge) and is an M.C.

The Southend women Zionists want me to talk to them – I have arranged a tentative date for October. Left 34M+ words with T&H y’day. Very enjoyable evening at Richard’s [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen]  last Saturday, with Joyce; sherry, wine, French bread; Dr Zhivago, Sleepwalkers [presumably this book] lying around – pleasant. Also an enjoyable day last (Whit) Monday – perambulated P. to Moresby Road [mother’s home in Upper Clapton] & back. Sam & Lily there [brother and sister-in-law], but both run down. E. not her usual sunny self going, but coming back my kindness, forbearance, patience and general saintliness had its effect and she revived. P. has been grizzling, so E. has dumped him on to me while she makes feeds. I am entertaining him. Back to school on Monday! Must try to rally for this last (8 week -9 week?) lap. We have a new head; Burden, 35-ish. He seems a good type; footballer, cricketer. But he’s modern, which means I must try to get the kids to make models & so on. I think I shall let events take their course this term. If I find, as I probably shall, that I have a lower-stream class next term, I shall then assume that it is unlikely I will ever have an “A” class – the only thing that could have made primary teaching endurable, perhaps even pleasant – and will try to transfer to a selective secondary school. But I understand that even Burghleigh, the dumping ground, [now called Acland Burghley] want a head of languages (sic, plural) dept. I wouldn’t be eligible for that, but perhaps a French-teaching job there, even, if it turned up?

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 40: Inacceptable specimen

Sunday, 12th April 1959, 9.08 p.m.

A rather bad day, didn’t get up till midday after staying up till 2 a.m. As a result, headachey, irritable, taking it out of E., [Edith] who was on the go continuously from 7.30 a.m. On Sundays now the routine is for the family to come round for tea: the two boobbes [i.e. my grandmothers Yetta and Esther], Sam & Lily [his brother and sister-in-law], Alf [mum’s brother]. It means a certain amount of work, though I suppose it’s churlish of me even to mention it – after all we have been guests often enough of the “family.” But on top of coping with Philip…Though here again I am being unfair: first of all, I have very little coping to do myself; Edith does it all, except for an occasional turn I take with the bottle, and secondly Philip, touch wood, gives very little trouble, really. He can be left alone for 4 to 5 hour stretches by day and by night. At the moment complete silence while I write this in the front-room. E is ironing, P is sleeping, the next door’s are quiet so is Mrs F.D. E. has just said: “Bet you’re writing ‘Real Look-back-in-anger’ -set-up.” Actually, it’s a picture of domestic bliss – oh,sod it, I’m to blame, I know.

I have had a rather trying time with T & H. They sent me a contract which left me with the feeling I might deliver a 50,000 word TS & find them sending it back to me and stalling the payment. I’ve had the contract re-worded, and whatever happens I shall get £50, but – I’ve made a number of errors, I think. First – I should have asked a fee of 4 guineas a thou, not 3. I think they would have paid 4, or at least 3½. Secondly, I said that if I delivered 20M words by May 22nd, and they didn’t wish me to go ahead with the translation, they should pay me £50 in full settlement – I should have said 25M, & asked for £75 in full settlement (of the work I would have completed). However, I’m fairly sure I shall be asked to complete the commission and be given a pro-rata payment for the text I shall have delivered by 22nd May, which will amount to 30M words.

I am faced by a moral dilemma – “with” surely – why am I so shaky on prepositions? Why, at my time of life, is my English not impeccable? I wrote to Clark saying his contract was inacceptable and talking about a specimen translation; he wrote back saying he noted I found the contract unacceptable and agreeing to my suggestion about a sample translation. I looked it up in Fowler — he recommends unacceptable. I had already sent T&H a specimen translation, what I should have referred to was a sample of the actual work I was delivering.

Although my contract says I am to translate Rothenberg’s book & to be paid 3 guineas a thou English words, Clark told me orally that if the translator’s fee came to £250 it would make the book commercially impracticable. Also, I have to submit the complete TS by Sept.30th. I have done 30M words & now could do another 20 – 30M comfortably by July 31 – Aug 31. But my feeling is that these subsequent 20 – 30M words cover ground already covered. Should I advise Clark to limit the English version to what I have already done? Or should I go ahead regardless, and do another 20-30M words & get another 60-90 guineas? I feel rather inclined to the latter. If I limit my translation to 60M words (actually, without any cuts at all, it would go to 90M words, but I couldn’t get it done in time), Clark will have no cause for complaint, and if he decides to cut the extra 20-30M words, he will have saved himself the cost of the extra paper and composition.

School to-morrow. E. says she’ll be sorry because in a way, in many ways, I’ve been a help; in a way, glad because I shall be out of the way.


Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 39: Facts and figures

Thursday, 19th March 1959, 9.35 pm

I have been unable to keep up the spate of entries, but can’t think what precisely has kept me so busy. I see this is the first entry since Edith and Philip have been home. For me, the much-advertised trials of fatherhood – up with baby all night – have hardly materialised. Edith does all the feeding; I am wakened once in the night when E. takes him out of the bedroom to feed, and once when she brings him back after the feed. Philip, imbeshneer, thrives. I feel I ought to write a set piece about him, but well ( I visualise him reading this in about twenty-five years time wondering whether he can get an article out of it and perhaps saying, “jolly interesting, Dad” in an insufferably patronising tone). To the facts: E. breast-feeds him with a large complement of macheraikki [ I only knew dad’s use of this word to describe food such as my mum’s ratatouille type dishes!]. Things have proved more or less manageable as we have been using a nappy service and a Mrs Frankel has been doing cooking, etc. (She supplied by North London Chevrat Bikurim [lit. Society for first fruits] @ 4/- per hour). Also E. has had her once-weekly woman in, though not this morning and she will not have her for the next three weeks as she, the w.w. (Mrs Holleran) has her baby ill with whooping cough. At the moment, Philip has set up an all-time record by going 5-6 hours without a murmur.

I have come home from Mum (to whom I went from a school football match, we won 3-1, the first round of our cup competition – the first time in Hargrave history we have got through the first round). Mum can’t remember when the war ended – neither can I, I can’t remember which month of 1945 VE day came in, and am not sure whether VJ was in 45 or 46! – or when she first came to Moresby Road. I suppose it is things like this for which a diary is useful.

I was not recommended for a second interview at County Hall (see p.157). I also went for an interview at County Hall on Wednesday evening but for an instructorship-in-charge (55/- for three hours) on one evening a week at Stoke Newington Evening Institute. Chairman of the interviewing trio was Dr. Plummer, former Director of Forest Emergency Training College, of which I am an alumnus. I don’t really know whether I wanted the job; I suppose it would be prudent to take it if it were offered me, as the net remuneration (before tax) would be at least as much as that from the NLJC Sunday mornings (though I suppose I needn’t declare the NLJC – however, we won’t start discoursing on that now) and I could do more with a free Sunday evening, probably, than with a free Monday evening. However, it’s quite likely I won’t be offered even this one-evening-a-week instructorship. There were other candidates and I don’t suppose Dr. Plummer will do an “old boy” act for me. If he remembers me at all – the name, at least, had stuck – he probably thinks of me as a slightly shady character – can’t go into that now, either. Have applied for job of Hebrew Programme Organiser at BBC, £1255 – £1735 p.a. I doubt whether I have the necessary drive for it. But still, applying for it is not as saugrenu as it might seem prima facie for a primary school teacher to be doing (shocking English, so what).

Ian Clark of Thames & Hudson & he agreed orally to my suggested fee of £3-3-0 per thou words English text. I had a letter a fortnight or so ago from him telling me he would be dealing with points in my letter (in which I told him I was going ahead with the translation without waiting for his formal confirmation of the commission), but so far I have not heard from him again. I suspect dirty work at the crossroads (Sonntag of the Jewish Quarterly, said on the phone that Neurat [Neurath], Director of T & H was a “difficult” man), but what I’ve done, at any rate, T & H will jolly well have to pay for.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 38: The first cut is the deepest

Monday 16th February 1959, 9.35 pm

After a lot of telephoning, the Briss [circumcision] took place this morning. Circumcision – practised by savages, we know, but it is ennobled by Jewish religion, the link with Abraham, the practice has been invested with holiness. Mr Winegarten performed the duties of Sandek very ably (must = Syndic I feel sure), Alf [Katz, my mother’s brother] handed the baby to the Mohel with admirable aplomb. I found myself near-blubbing when saying Hinneni muchan – I am here ready to perform the affirmative precept to circumcise my son. It had taken me forty-six years to get here…No more…”Let the father rejoice in him that  came forth from his loins and the mother be glad with the fruit of her womb.” Amen, amen. “And even as he entered the covenant, so may he enter into the Law, the nuptial canopy and good deeds.” Amen, amen. Hard to be an agnostic.

The ceremony could hardly be impressive, with only the four of us present, and the circumcision taking place in a small room at the hospital. But the service has the usual dramatic flair. Upon the arrival of the child who is to be initiated into the Covenant of Abraham, those present at the Ceremony rise and say:-

ברוך הבא [lit: blessed (is he) who comes, i.e; welcome]

A fine opening to life’s drama – but I have an awful suspicion I forgot to say it. Anyway, Chaim Feivish Yisroel Ben Yosef – Blessed be thy coming.

Sam [his brother] seemed a bit better to-day; I hope he’s on the mend. The recurrence of the fainting fits, from which he’d been spared for over three years, is worrying, but he’s going to see his doctor about it. I’m hopeful that with Lily to look after him and his nephew to give him a new interest in life, his health will improve. But he was never robust, and has had more than his share of trouble in his life.

Up early, fortunately, this morning and got two hours Sinai done [translating God’s Wilderness – Discoveries in Sinai] before the telephoning got under way.