Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 46: Sun glasses, son guiltless

Sunday, 11th October 1959, 3 p.m.

Erev Yom Kippur. I face the fast, as usual, with distaste. As I always maintain, the fast defeats its own end. Instead of forgetting about the body, one thinks of nothing else all the time. But I am being superficial, and exaggerating.

We have had an extraordinary, brilliant summer. Alles kann der Mensch ertragen/nur nicht eine Reihe von sonnenvollen Tagen. We have had the R von s.T. The only reason I haven’t been able to endure it is that I have had no clip-on glasses this year. Every year I buy a pair, which I either break during the summer or fail to find at the beginning of the next summer. This year I jibbed at the 7/6 or 10/6 or guinea needed for a good pair and persuaded myself the summer would soon be over anyway. I suppose next year I’ll get Wally to make me a special pair of sun-glasses – and we shall have a wet sunless summer. Mentioning Wally, apparently he’s heading for a nervous breakdown (so Beverley to Mum). Wal can’t understand it; he has everything, but everything: son able to take over from him, daughter well-engaged, two cars, etc. Apparently, too much at a time – his silver wedding, Jennifer’s majority and engagement. But this doesn’t sound convincing.

The settling-in process continues. Am writing this in my “den” (as E. [Edith Witriol] reminded me – I had called it a study) on desk cost about £18, chair to match just under  £3. Am borrowing £250 from Bank; E’s Aunt Debbie [Coltonoff] is lending us £100 without interest.

Richard [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen] round the other day in newly acquired car. He has passed his driving test. Brought us contemporary vase. I gather he finds J. increasingly an incubus. Has taken out a Jewish girl for whom he schwärmed “in my romantic fashion”, but is now cooling towards her.

The General Election took place on October 8th. Conservatives in with clear majority. Can’t work up any feeling. Both parties committed to Welfare State.

One Grunwald accused of fraudulent conversion of £3¼m. He rigidly orthodox, solicitor. Says he has complete answer. Philip yelling. E. amusing him. He has great sense of fun – may he preserve it through life, unmarred by the guilt feelings his father experiences.


Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 45: Beastly Burden

Tuesday, 22nd September 1959, 9.40 p.m.

Moved in on Friday 11th September. Behind the bare announcement, etc. etc. No time anyway for anything but  bare announcements. So: moved in, bedroom suite delivered same day after hysterical argle bargle between E. [Edith Witriol, nee Katz] and me. The expense of spirit on these vanities… Attending P.E. course Wednesday & Friday mornings at L.C.C. College of Physical Education, Baker St. Good, will add, I think to my repertoire of tricks to give the kids. But there is no substitute for ability to demonstrate handstand, cartwheel to kids, an ability I never had. However, I can do a forward roll, without style admittedly, but it was a consolation to find there was one chap on the course who just couldn’t do it.

Humiliation, yesterday (not really; the real tragedy is I have no pride there to be humiliated). Burden [headmaster] came in to class. Wants kids to write, write, write; don’t worry about punctuation. Must write every day; story, what have you. Worried because unable to find material for kids to write about, I thought. But succeeded in raking out some forty composition subjects had made a note of. Temporary feeling of alarm: feared possibility: Burden dissatisfied, Witriol reaction: I’m not cut out for this lark (in fact how do I manage to bawl “hands on heads” ten times a day, two hundred days a year?), turn it in. Witriol sans job, sans £1150 p.a. Get a rift on yourself, W., as OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit] drill-sergeant used to say (that only lasted four months, but it’s fair to say the kids at their worst are gold to OCTU), dig your toes in.

To Wally and Bev [Walter and Beverly Gasson] on Sunday. Their silver wedding, Jennifer’s engagement, to one Roy Woolf (a nice rugged, professional-footballer-looking youngster) one of whose ancestors “fought at Trafalgar.” Wal had fixed up glass-house extension to dining room. Scores of people milling around, champagne, canapés; salmon mayonnaise for select few (who apparently doubled in number) who stayed for supper. Met Jeff. Davidson whom had not seen for some five or six years, with his wife Binky (her maiden name Chabinsky, can’t think of her forename, but “everyone calls her Binky anyway”). They have three boys, youngest eighteen, all doing well at University or in academic sphere. Seems incredible, but there it is. Home by Speedy car with Sam [brother] and Lily [his wife] and Mum. Boobbe Esther and Alf [Edith Katz’s mum and brother] baby-sat, car took them on to Dinmore House.

Mrs Donovan, who joined the Hargrave staff with me in February 55, returns for four afternoons a week. She now has two chln. Puts them to sleep for aftnn. Lady upstairs looks after. They saving for car.

Mrs Triesman, new member of staff. Handsome woman, vigorous personality. Was deputy head at another school, found head (woman) impossible. In the swim, I gather, one of the bright young things, at party with bod, bod said I have seven gardeners, can’t get a day’s work out of them, she danced with bod, paid no particular attention to him, he said see you at Belvedere Harry (or Reg or what have you), when penny clicked – Gerald Lascelles. Her husband & two others reviving John O’ London’s weekly. The two others have mortgaged their houses to finance the project.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 44: The first cut is a set-piece.

Monday 31st August, 1959, 9.0 p.m.

Rentreé des classes to-morrow. I did manage to get a day out, after all. Did the Great Missenden trek very successfully except for the last leg, where building-up has obscured Fieldfare’s tracks [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties].

More or less resigned to the 6¼% now; my revised calculation shows that I only lose about 4/- a week, I think, on the 5½% offered by the Temperance. I ought to hope that rates of interest on advances, including advances by local authorities, come down generally; but my human nature being what it is — and I doubt if it’s much worse than the average run of human nature —  I find myself hoping that Building Society rates will go up (the rate of the Friern Barnet U.D.C’s advance to me will remain constant).

Also, meno male, I succeeded in getting off a short story for the J.C. [Jewish Chronicle]. I am not at all sure, this time, whether it will even get printed (I would have been surprised had my “What is a Jew” effort not been printed, at least). Lacking imagination, I was forced to write up a chapter of biography —  the story is called “Service at a Circumcision.” It is a more or less straight account of the Briss — for fictional purposes I made it take place during term, at 1 p.m. (The historical event took place at 2 p.m. while I was on holiday). I have no plot-making ability, so I knew that whatever I wrote would have to be a set-piece description. Even so, I failed to rise to the heights of my theme, which was the awful responsibility of bringing a child into the world. I know I lost no sleep about the fate that might befall you, P.I., [Philip Israel] and that I am doing nothing to try to make the world safe for you to live in. That doesn’t mean, of course, my boy, that I don’t pray ( I can’t pray to anyone, unfortunately, but there’s nothing can be done about that now, but I do “pray that”) that you will have a long, happy life. I confess that my motives in begetting you were not entirely pure and lofty, but very few people, I venture to assert, do have children from wholly pure and lofty motives. Please believe me, though, – I don’t know what to say. I love you? But that raises again the question of whether I am capable of love. I don’t know. Admittedly you give me great happiness, now, when you’re seven months old, and I think you’re happy, too, for by far the greater part of the time. I suppose I want to have a built-in guarantee of your happiness. Forgive this pitiful meandering, Philip. Und das hat dichten wollen!  Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for you to show me up. But then, again, I suppose I mustn’t set too great hopes on you. Mustn’t drive you into making up for my failures. Be healthy, be reasonably successful – I think you have a reasonably happy disposition anyway. I think your old man has, too, really; but, without wishing to make too much of a song and dance, he rather had it taken out of him in his early, formative years – up to 20 – and I hope this won’t happen to you.

Saw Clark of Thames & Hudson today. Handed him completed typescript of God’s Wilderness, though I haven’t had B.R.‘s [Professor Beno Rothenberg] corrections back yet. He sounded me out about translating two other books by B.R. I suppose I ought to have said I would want 4 guineas a thou.; instead I just said I would need till September 30th 1960 to do a book equivalent to God’s Wilderness. But perhaps, in spite of my seemingly monopolistic position, I wouldn’t be able to get more. I think T. & H.’s reaction to an attempt by me to exploit my position might have been to say: thus far and no farther. B.R. told me they gave him £100 advance fee to retain the option over each book he wrote; but even so, they might have decided not to send good money after bad, or for 4 guineas a thou, say, they might have been able to get David Patterson [scholar of Modern Hebrew literature]. Or, if I were in their place, I would put an advt. in the J.C. – unusual, but then it’s unusual not to have translators on tap. And I’m pretty sure an advt. in the J.C. would produce some reasonable translators, even if Clark had to sub their text more heavily than he does mine.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 43: Frantic for Finchley

Tuesday 18th August, 1959 – 9.45 p.m.

Not so easy, this aequam memento business [“Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even.” Horace]. The negotiations for the house worrying enough when Cruse, my solicitor’s Managing Clerk, slipped in a new blow in a letter I had from him this morning – he would have thought I could borrow cheaper than 6¼%, the rate of interest on an advance of £2,700 granted me by the Friern Barnet U.D.C. – I thought myself lucky to get it. Somehow it had not occurred to me to apply to a Building Society for an advance. I wrote sounding them in April, but their attitude appeared so unforthcoming that I decided I would borrow (as Sam [his brother] did nine years or so ago) from the local authority. The Temperance Permanent Building Society advances @ 5½%, however, and a calculation shows that the difference between interest at 6¼% and 5½% on £2,700 over twenty years, allowing for income-tax allowance on the interest is about 5/- a week, or about £250 over the 20 years. After a depressing day in which Cruse 1) advised trying to get a loan from a building society, 2) said he would see what he could get, I eventually told him to go ahead on the basis of the status quo.

To add to my depression I tried to work  up a short story for the J.C. competition, found that I was unable to “mask” the characters in it, and that even if the “hero” who I am pretty sure, if he is alive, reads the J.C. — though he may be dead, for all I know, I hope not — did not sue me for libel, the publication of the story would have been unkind to him. And, you may not believe it, H.L., [Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur] I do not want to hurt people.

Have been like death warmed up all day – vivid trope, what, H.L.? — taking it out of E., [Edith Witriol, nee Katz] who has been the good-wife lightning-conductor. However, in fairness, sometimes the roles are reversed.

“Aunt Debby” [Deborah Coltonoff, Edith’s father’s sister] round, a great help to E., I glum all the time. Fed up, f — d up, and I wish we were already installed in the new place in Finchley.

Had intended “getting away from it all” to-day; will try again to-morrow.

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].