Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 34: Who was/is/will be a Jew?

Tuesday, 2nd February 1959, 11.10 p.m.

Thames & Hudson were evidently unable to find a competent translator for Beno Rothenberg’s Sinai book, and now want me to “report” on it for them. It seems almost certain that I shall get the commission, on my own terms of £3-3-0 a thou. The outlandish Arabic names (in Hebrew letters) present a difficulty. Moreover, on top of my Monday evening French class and Sunday morning NLJC class and – we  hope – a lusty infant, I shall be up to my eyebrows. Still, one must seize the opportunity.

MacGawan, the L.C.C. Divisional Inspector, passed me (observing me do a history lesson) for interview by an Inspector’s Panel at County Hall – in connection with my application for the Promotion List. I have had the interview; I don’t think I did badly in it, but am not entertaining any hopes. I missed my chance 5-6 years ago; at 46 I am a bit long in the tooth for a headship. Though surprisingly enough my age was not mentioned in the County Hall interview.

Have written out my “Who is a Jew” essay. It lacks the firm grip on the subject, the closely-reasoned argumentation, but frankly – I think it’s worth 10 guineas. The 1200-word limit was a great difficulty.

Edith now shoin neynter vee veiter, [see comment below] but we shall all be glad when she’s an em semeycha, hallelujah [Psalm 113:9].

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 33: Taxing times

Friday, 2nd January 1959. 11.20 a.m.

Writing this in Holloway Central Library, to be out of the way of Mrs Holland – who “obliges” for E [Edith Witriol] – and her little daughter.

Have kept my diet so far! Have also risen virtuously early. Outburst of tears from E. last night. She depressed after mauling at hospital and I out all day and failing to be “communicative” on my return. Very difficult. Had spat with Mum previously re income-tax demand. She wants to pay schedule A tax at standard rate, though her income is bona fide low enough for her to have to pay far less than the standard rate. But she doesn’t want to reveal her income (rent from tenants), etc. Very difficult, but still – abee gezinnt.

I see the J.C. [The Jewish Chronicle] is offering prizes for the best essay on “What is a Jew?” [sic – Who is a Jew? was the title]. Also very difficult – one must be careful to stick to the terms, I imagine, which are that one must put oneself in the place of a recipient of Ben Gurion’s letter to various Jewish scholars asking them to reply to the question: “What is a Jew?” [sic!] However the prizes: £50, £25 and £10 for each essay printed, are worth competing for. A pity this breaks just at the end of my holiday – perhaps will try to get to J.C. library on the last day.

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