Part 83: Thursday 7th September 1961, approx 11am

Overslept this morning, we awoke around 9.15 am. Dreamt a) Had received a bill for transport of books to Ireland, evidently – it seemed in the dream – the books I had sold to Sulzbacher. Clipped to the bills were miniature bottles of liquor. Dream. problem: How to get the bill to Sulzbacher (he had obviously sold the books to a customer in Ireland)? I could not send it through the post unless I packed it elaborately, to avoid the bottles getting smashed. I decided to give the bill to Sam [brother] when he next called, so that he could take it to Sulzbacher (whose house-and-business premises are near him) who, I took it, would stand Sam a drink from one of the bottles, b) I was worried about Philip and Max, I rushed into the shop (sic, at Newington Butts)…to find Philip tumbling down followed by Max. I grabbed hold of them and rushed with them to E. who was talking calmly to Minnie Blatt. E did not seem at all put out or in any way ashamed, her air was one of cool contempt. I remember thinking I must tick her off, but “correctly”, and saying: “Perhaps Mrs Blatt will excuse you now”, and waking to find Philip grizzling.

…It was not until yesterday that I manged to get down to a book on commerce; I am supposed to be teaching the subject to third-year kids next year…In the third year, I gather, it’s just waffle about various ways of retail distribution. Max now definitely walking. He’s a sturdy, happy boy. I can’t honestly say the same about Philip, who seems cantankerous. Philip, it seems to me, will be more emotional, more complex. Anyway, may they both make more of their lives than their old man has done. (And you pipe down, H.L. [ Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur])

Went to shool for yoortseit  [for his father] this morning. The new minister, Rabbi (?) Koschland, came up to me afterwards. Was I related to the Witriol who wrote for the J.C? It’s refreshing to find someone for whom the name rings the write-for-the-Jewish-Chronicle bell, and not the aren’t-you-related-to-Mrs-Witriol-of-the-Shabbos-bureau bell.

Part 82: Friday 1st September 1961, 2 pm

In the event [right charge for a translation job, see Part 81] I charged for 4000 Hebrew words at the Institute of Linguists top rate: £10-17-6 per 1000 words. No cheque has come as yet, but presumably this is just a question of office routine. Still, I shall be happier when the cheque does arrive, money seems to be poured into a bottomless barrel here.

Made a successful get-away yesterday, to Stoke Poges, following a Fieldfare ramble [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties]…

The church at S.P. seemed uninteresting. I didn’t inspect the inside as it was so dark, and I wanted to press on. A defect of this particular ramble is that there is nowhere to take tea en route. I suppose one ought to be thankful there is no “Elegy” tea-house, although I could have done with a cuppa.

Gray’s memorial is surrounded by a ditch; one gains access to it, presumably, via some gardens for which an entrance fee of one shilling is charged. I didn’t go in. Perhaps I ought to go again…spending an hour in the church and gardens and identifying, or trying to identify, the rugged elm and the yew tree’s shade. I have interrupted this entry for a moment – the train of thought will be obvious – to try to track down “joy cometh in the morning” – I got out a P.G.W. book with this title. My big Hoyt’s encyclopedia of quotations doesn’t seem to give it, but I find from Cruden that it’s Psalms 30:5 – I ought to have known. E. has dumped Maxy on me while I’m writing this, but he’s crawling around without giving any trouble.

The day before y., while Aunt Debby [Deborah Coltonoff, my mum’s Aunt] stayed with Max, we succeeded in getting to the Finchley swimming pool. Philip not a water-baby, but perhaps this will come. The pool is an admirable affair, really; a large children’s’ pool, cascades, refreshments, deckchairs. If one could get into it when it wasn’t overcrowded with schoolkids it would be very pleasant.

Part 81: Wednesday 23rd August 1961, 2.20 pm

Was going to say that I was writing this in peace, perfect p; when Alf [brother-in-law] rang, and now Max has awoken from his siesta. However, he is still at the stage of making giant-waking-refreshed-from-his-slumber noises and I may be able to get in a short entry before he demands attention. He now demands attention…resumed 9.20pm.

I suppose I ought to record that the buttock-ankle irritation seems more or less ok now…when I refer to my entry of 14 May, [Part 78] for example, I realise how well off I am.

Have done some translating of press-cuttings (Hebrew) on Orde Charles Wingate. D.F. Long got me the commission – said he wasn’t interested in these “casual” jobs…Perhaps he didn’t realise the extent of the job. I find it comes to 5100 Hebrew words and the Institute of Linguists’ recommended standard rates are from £7-7-0 to £10-10-0 upwards per 1000 words. I have been wrestling with the problems a) what number of words to charge (I can’t count individually 4-5000 words), b) what rate to charge…It’s all very, very sordid. Perhaps I’ll charge @£6-6-0 per 1000 English words, which may seem psychologically less devastating, but as I understand from Alf the English text will run to at least 700 wds, this may be the better bet for me. Ten o’clock, time to retire on this sordid note.

Part 80: Tuesday 15th August 1961, 9.20 pm

The second day of the third week of the holiday. Concocted a review-article on Der Jüdische Witz by Salcia Landmann for The Jewish Quarterly. Must try to get something for it, and the review I did of God’s Wilderness in the previous issue over the initials PAM (with which I am rather pleased – Peloni Almoni Mechudash).

[For] about a year I wrote a full page or more for The Young Zionist (in 1934/5) under the pen-name of Peloni Almoni. And that since then I have resolved that whatever I write, however tripey it is, will be written over my full name. On the grounds that my name would have been known in Zionist/Anglo-Jewish circles and that I would have been able to exploit the publicity. But would I, even if I could have. I had always had rooted objections to being a Zionist official.

Fritz and Esther Ben Aharon here on a visit. She – her father a Witriol, her mother a Balin (my mum’s dad a Balin). They lost their daughter a year or so ago – Tirza, when Tirza was about eighteen. She had been suffering from – I don’t know the technical term –  but for years she could only walk, talk with difficulty. Esther and Fritz fine Chalutz [ Hebrew for a pioneer] types. Esther obviously shattered, but behaved very bravely here. We have entertained them, so have Mum & Sam [brother] & Lily [his wife]. Very difficult for all of us: we have the two kids, who are now more than a handful, bless ’em; Mum, ken en hora [Yiddish –without the evil eye] is 82; Lily is recovering from an operation, Sam had been looking forward to a fortnight’s respite…on Tuesday he went to M/C to see a manufacturer, on Thursday he took them to the National Gallery – and he has a cold anyway.

Am trying to sell up the old library. Have packed up books for Sulzbacher: a run of Jewish Monthlies, Danby’s Mishna, Friedlander’s Guide, etc; coming to just over £5…. Had I not been in such a hurry I would have kept a few [Jewish Monthlies] with some humorous pieces in them – they might have come in useful if I am ever invited again to lecture on Jewish Wit and Humour. Edith just finished off the ironing, 10pm. This, be it noted, is when we are on holiday. There can be no question of going away until the summer of 1963, unless, which is unlikely, I receive some exceptionally lucrative translating commissions. It’s not too bad for me. At least I got away, travelled, for ten days. And I must go away next Easter too. E. has never, I think, been away from the house for more than eight hours at a stretch. Must try to remember this when the inevitable frictions occur.

Young Michael Youngerwood taken to hospital with virus infection; understand much better now.

Part 79: Thursday 27th July 1961, 8.10 pm

Barnsbury struck. I arrived at Camden Rd. in the morning, we had assembly as usual and I was going up with the kids to the classroom when an announcement came over the loud speakers telling all boys to re-assemble in the hall. The kids told me that the staff at Eden Grove had gone on strike. After about five minutes I found I was the only master left in the hall. I went up to the staff-room, where Leece, Bath and Leff of Eden Grove had arrived to tell a hastily convened meeting of the Camden Road staff that they (the Eden Grove staff) had in fact gone on strike and sent the boys home. They wanted to know whether or not we would follow suit. They wanted to know whether or not we would follow suit. To my surprise a majority voted in favour and the kids were sent home. I feel rather depressed about the whole thing myself, but must admire the determination shown by the Eden Grove instigators.

Background to the “strike”. N.U.T. asked for basic of 700-1300… A good many teachers, myself included, thought privately that the authorities’ offer was not too bad…

As I say, I find it very hard to come down on one side or other of the strike fence. There is the question a) Is it morally right to strike? and b) If the answer to a) is “yes”, would a teachers’ strike benefit a) me, b) other teachers?

As regards question a), I have always maintained that where non-essential services are concerned, people engaged in them have a perfect moral right to strike. Thus, when the London busmen went on strike, I never queried their moral right to do so. They provided an amenity – not, as the fortnight’s strike showed –  a vital service. But  where health or education is concerned … I feel an “effective” strike – as opposed to one-day “token” strikes – is morally reprehensible.

And then question b), expediency. It is questionable whether individual teachers would benefit financially when the battle was over but as Madley, Senior Master in the Lower School said, one was striking to make a stand, to demonstrate that one could not always “take it out of the teachers.”…

Fortunately, the ankle-buttock trouble has considerably lessened. It is still there, but viable without codein. But I haven’t had the strain of the two evening classes.

The other day I received an unexpected translating commission – from [a firm] calling itself Universal Advertising Ltd – to translate an article in Hebrew on times of planting carthamine (had never heard of it before, had you H.L.?), חריע in Hebrew. £14-4-0 gross for about 8-10 hours work. Forty jobs a year like that, no evening classes, and we could have a decent holiday every year, maintain the house and garden with paid labour to a high standard, and E. could have a woman in for three hours twice a week. Just, on the proposed new 600-1200 scales.

Part 78: Sunday 14th May 1961, 3.25 pm

Situation still grimm. (The misspelling indicative of situation’s grimness). Persistent pain – left ankle, buttock…Saw Pallot again on Friday morning. He was quite helpful: I wouldn’t die, if I was thinking in terms of not being able to carry on for the next eleven years, I should stop worrying..It’s not death one worries about after all, my death would solve my problems and  would constitute less of a problem to E. [wife, Edith Katz] than my inability to continue my job as a schoolteacher. “If I should die” E. gets a lump sum of £1100 – plus the house is fully paid up. I imagine your best course, darling – I’m not being morbid, but one ought to try to prepare for these eventualities – would be to sell the house and try to get yourself into Dinmore House [Council flat where her brother and mother lived]…trying eventually to get a four-bedroom Council flat. I think Alf [brother] should hang on to the Dinmore House flat like grim death…[detailed passage follows on financial/housing options – includes comment that by selling the house a clear “profit” of £800 could be made – see below].

Incidentally, it is very remiss of me not to have made a will. I imagine it would cost anything from 10-20 guineas to make a proper will…Anyway, I doubt whether there would be anything complicated in my estate. I hereby solemnly bequeath everything I own at the time of my death to my wife Edith. I should like to make some dispositions regarding the books; if sold skilfully they might yield £100, but probably the best thing would be get Foyles to make an offer for the lot, or for Jack Mazin to offer for the Jewish books which on reflection must be worth at least £50 alone (N.B The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin  in the Yiddish text (printed in Hebrew characters) cost me £5-5-0)….

Peter Jansen-Smith returned Poor Cicero the other day. Will try to flog it to Thames & Hudson, though cannot help feeling prospects of success are remote.

Extraordinary blunder. As the house is “fully paid up” under my “protection policy” with the Liverpool London & Globe Ins. Co. it follows that by selling it a “clear profit” of £3,500 could be made. This sum would yield at least £2-10-0 a week interest, which would pay for the Council flat, …(though I suppose tombstone,etc. would come to about £300-£500 – plain, unonstentatious stone, factual epitaph – another thing I can’t bloody well do, think up a decent epitaph).

Part 77: Monday 8th May 1961, 9 pm

Bad, bad. I did hold on till May 1st, when Dr Pallot said as the “biff” he had given me hadn’t done the trick I would have to have the “whole shooting match”. He gave me a letter to a hospital. Eventually, I fixed up an appointment at the Whittington…Meanwhile I had mislaid Pallot’s letter. I went to him this evening. He enquired, and on my telling him that the pain was now concentrated in the ankle, abandoned his slipped disc diagnosis.

There is much talk of “striking” in the staff-room. It does seem that teachers are more determined on a sizeable increase than they have ever been before. All I can think of is this blasted ankle…Philip and Max delightful, ken en hora [Yiddish –without the evil eye], the weather fine, snug in our mass-produced three-bedroom semi-detached; even the job, in spite of 3R, could be far worse – I’m sure that if I were only fit I could cope in my stride, and there’s good company in the staff rooms. Went on a one-day course the other day at Woodberry Down. Excellent talk by the HM of Owen’s (I think), one Borrough. A propos of something or other he quoted an epitaph on a still-born child:

  Since I was so quickly done for,     

  I wonder what I was begun for.

It will be interesting to read this entry in a couple of months’ time. I’m thinking in terms of it getting no worse…

Took the kids to Boobe Esther [My mum’s mum] yesterday. Tried out a new scheme: Alf [my mum’s brother] came back with us. Cannot help thinking this quite a good idea, eased the strain considerably. Actually, yesterday wasn’t so bad as weather was good, and Philliboy had to be carried only at the Nag’s Head change-over [i.e. bus change]. But the three of us would mean that Alf and I could take a kid each, and Edith the other impedimenta. Feel sorry for E, who is quite splendid; only hope I shall be able to make it up to her.

NB: I recently received an email from an ex-Hasmonean pupil which refers to an event in 1967, which is already online at the excellent melchett mike blog here where my dad’s Journal entries relating to his time at the school can be found. 

I hope I have reached the right person …Philip Witriol the son of a very loved teacher, Joseph Witriol, of Hasmonean fame.

I was in the 4th form when he arrived at Hasmonean, and was amongst the mischievous ones who concocted the idea of an induction for him as form master. I was not the type to be disrespectful, but was imaginative and helped with many of the ideas, leaving it to the fearless troublemakers to execute the plans. As I remember it we were somewhat unsure how to treat him. Until then we had been exposed to 3 groups of teachers, the Adas frum frum, the secular, and those that were not Jewish. Even among the students there were more of the frum children of refugees and the culturally Jewish but not very observant, than the United Synagogue traditionals.

Anyway we saw that he felt a genuine sense that Jews must be loyal to each other, and that he was charmed and fascinated to be in a school which offered daily davening. We were genuinely impressed that he agreed to lead Mincha on that day!

Reading his diaries was a treat, after having left England many years ago. I was saddened to know that he was somewhat depressed and considered himself a failure, he was a really well liked person, and I am sure that every student who reads the diaries will be charmed by his honest reportage and [his] faithful rendering of the personalities and buildings brought back fond sentiments.

Best wishes
Avrohom A. (Arthur) Marmorstein
New York City

He also noted that he transferred to Hasmonean in the middle of 3rd form, from William Ellis, so was keenly aware of which things ran differently in non-Jewish schools.


Chazonus v. Punk by Max Witriol

I’ll put my cards on the table – I was never a big fan of chazanus [cantorial singing].  It was basically something you put up with, accepting it as part of shul [synagogue] going – itself an activity I never participated in very willingly.  

But as  Rabbi Lerer [Rabbi at Barnet synagogue] is fond of quoting from Joni Mitchell: “ Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.   And now that chazonim [cantors] are all but extinct in London shuls, I’ve belatedly come to realise how important and undervalued they were.

Synagogue services have to a large extent gone the way of music in general.  As a reaction to the age of the big rock gods of the seventies, punk came along and said anyone can be in a band.  Rock music  was purveyed by self-indulgent and OLD musicians while punk proclaimed that three chords and loads of  youthful attitude was all you needed.

Shuls also took up the  “Breaking down the barriers” war cry and lay-members started to daven, [lead the service] bypassing the need to spend many long hard years studying nusach [melodic style of services] and voice production, melodies, pronunciation etc. Unsurprisingly, shuls were quite amenable to the idea of drastically reducing their wage bill by dispensing with the services of a paid officiant and replacing him with able volunteers.  The congregants weren’t too fussed either.  A lot of them, like me, were focused on reaching Adon Olam [a hymn sung at the close of the Sabbath service], which in turn signalled the kiddush [a small repast held after the prayer services] – and  a chazan often delayed that ultimate goal.  In any case shul was never the place to go for music – after all it never played any T. Rex or Slade. (Yes, I’m that old). But  now I can see the hugely detrimental effect this has had.

Whereas people of my generation can remember competent and decent services and all the grand pieces that chazanim effortlessly delivered, today there’s no importance given to trained and impressive voices being put to the service of God.  And it’s getting worse year by year, as a whole generation has grown up going to shul and hearing services that have no splendour, no grandeur and that can, frankly, be somewhat amateurish. Lay members do a very good job on a regular and voluntary basis, but there aren’t enough of them to go round and, understandably,  they’re not normally in the same league as a trained professional, even if they do have pleasant voices.  

But the real tragedy is that today’s congregants don’t know or expect any different. Yes, it is great and important to have audience involvement and good singable melodic tunes that everyone can join in with.  But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t also have someone with an excellent voice leading the sing-along and producing the notes your average Joe Rabinowitz can’t reach.

Unfortunately, the situation could soon get even worse.  The Chief Rabbi has proposed radically reforming the barmitzvah criteria by encouraging boys to lead a service,  i.e.  karaoke Judaism.  Now I realise there’s a reason why karaoke is popular.  It has stayed the course  and since initially bursting on the scene and being all the rage, it remains a standard and cheap alternative to having a band of talented musicians playing in a pub or party. It kills two birds with one stone. It engages larger numbers of people who aren’t very talented, and because anyone can do it there’s no shortage of people who are desperate to get on stage/ the bimah [platform in synagogue] and are more than happy to do so for nil remuneration.

But while some people might find it highly entertaining to see their drunken, tone-deaf  mates belting out  ‘Angels’ or ‘Mustang Sally’ or whatever , one has to question whether that’s the right road to go down for our shul services.  We now face the prospect of young boys being encouraged to lead our services, regardless of whether they have particularly pleasant voices or not.  As long as the boys get more involved, that is, apparently, all that matters – never mind that the congregation has to endure an ever-worsening quality of service.

As I said at the top of this article I wasn’t, and indeed still am not, a fan of chazanus.  I’ve never gone to a chazanus concert other than first night selichos services and don’t see myself doing so any time soon.  Nevertheless in a shul service that I’m attending anyway it would be nice to hear some very high quality singing even just a few times a year, and I think this would upgrade the status of a synagogue service in the eyes of  congregants.  For me it’s extremely embarrassing and rather a disgrace when there’s a big captive audience such as at a big barmitzvah – many of whom would not often come to shul – being treated to a shabby out-of-tune performance from someone who hasn’t got the self-awareness to realise he’s not up to the job.  

After twenty years of interactive Carlebach services I think it’s time the pendulum swung the other way.  Come back chazanim, all is forgiven.

Part 76: Tuesday 24th April 1961, 6.25 pm

This entry is edited for brevity (as future ones will be) otherwise I have no hope of putting all Journal entries online in my lifetime. I hope my father would have accepted such a decision by his “literary executor”.

The “acute lumbago” has resolved itself into a pain in the left ankle, left buttock, back of left knee (in that order of severity). Is this a repetition, physiologically, of my “trouble” of April 1949, when I left Forest Emergency Training College? Then, I had begun to experience pain which I think at first occurred in knee of left leg, but then, I believe, moved to ankle and buttock, as now. Then I “flapped” for the first and what I hope will be the only time in my life. Although I realised even then that the pain was never unbearable, I felt that if it persisted it would stop my teaching.

The routine Health Service diagnosis, flat foot – and treatment – special shoe, massage exercises – did not seem to help, and eventually I consulted an orthopedist privately. He gave me the whole works…

The whole thing set me back a hundred quid or so, but it enabled me – perhaps – to get the LCC’s MO’s certificate to the effect that I was to teach primary…

Ten years later, I found primary school teaching was getting me down, and I managed to make my getaway to Barnsbury, where I now feel I could cope if I were fit…

Dr Ballot diagnosed slipped disc. He told me to come in a fortnight’s time, when I should be symptom free…I am worried not so much by the continued pain…as by the fear that by neglecting the thing I am endangering complete recovery.