Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 2: Forty-five – still alive

My father, Joseph Witriol (1912-2002), kept a Journal from 1957 for forty years. There is the trivia of daily life (sometimes in extraordinary detail). But there are also philosophical, religious, political, cultural, and linguistic insights and musings.

The overarching theme is his feeling of being a failure. Among the many things this ‘failure’ did was to write his  memoirs, Also Lived – An Autobiography of a Failure, chronicling his life up to the time the Journal begins.

I do not always explain words and expressions merely because they are foreign, dated or obscure. However, it should be noted that my father’s Hebrew and Yiddish transliterations are often different to conventional usage.  His red text at the end of entries indicates the time he spent on writing/translating work.

21st April 1957 2.20 p.m.

Forty-five – still alive (after all, a number of those contemporary with me aren’t). I suppose one ought to stock-take, dedicate the remainder of one’s life, etc. Non possumus, tout court. A fairly hard morning this morning, even though up at 10 a.m. Lawn mowed, box of grape fruit from Esther ben Aharon [his cousin] in Haifa opened – in garden, necessitating fetching of tools from cellar; opened box placed here in drawing-room, privet hedge clipped, clippings swept, candlesticks polished, shoes polished. Want to get two hours in at Avenue Road if possible to revise typescript of “Part II” of Cicero and collect Sunday Times. Then write out one or two cheques for Mum, shool, [synagogue] supper – by which time I shall probably be too tired to read the S.T.

Last night spoke to about 30 adolescents of “Phoenix” – the youth club of the New Liberal Jewish Congregation, where I teach Sunday mornings – on “Theodore Herzl.” I probably found it more of a strain than Aubrey Eban did to address the American Jewish Committee mammoth gathering, bringing, I read, the huge audience to their feet by an”outburst of characteristic eloquence.”  Strange to think – I’m sure my memory is not playing me false – that Aubrey once warned a meeting of ‘He-Atid,’ the Young Zionist Society I ran circa 1933, to “be beware of my eloquence.” [But Also Lived has a very different version]. Sic has transited my gloria, sic Aubrey has iturd ad astra ( Israel delegate to U.N. and Ambassador to U.S.). More of this, no doubt, anon en passant.

To revert to my Phoenix talk. I spent 2-3 days reading Bein’s biography – excellent and, I agree with Edwin Samuel, admirably translated by Maurice Samuel. In the event I spoke for an hour without reference to the notes I had prepared. I can’t pretend I had the kids enthralled, though Herzl’s story is enthralling enough, but still, I am not too displeased at having held this difficult type of audience (gangly, giggling, spotty).

The tragedy is that if I give another lecture on Herzl I shall feel impelled to read Bein all over again. I have the memory described in the Perek [Chapters of the Fathers] as being that of “He who learns quickly and forgets quickly – his gain disappears in his loss.” The examination memory in short.

Friday, 26th April 1957 – 7.15 p.m. Lunched in B.B.C. canteen on Wednesday with Julius Gellner. He’s a friend of Brod, whom he esteems highly as a man – he says rightly that Brod is now a Grand Old Man. He thought possibly the B.B.C. might be able to use Cicero. I doubt it, but it was pleasant enough to be in the B.B.C. European Services Canteen. The atmosphere reminiscent of the P.W.B. canteen in Bari, [see Also Lived for more about his time in the Psychological Warfare Branch] suggestion of suppressed excitement, “glamour,” a break from “dinner” in the School dining-hall. The previous week I had gone with Mum, Sam and Lily to see Sholem Aleichem’s Tevie Milchiger done by the Polish State Jewish Theatre. Leslie Curzon told me in shool on Pesach that Menachem Mendel in the play had made a moitsee [blessing] over bread – this was during Chol Ha-moed Pesach. Neither Mum nor I had noticed – Mum incensed.

Read The Tyranny of Hagbah at FrumSatire.Net

Hagba how-to

At shool given Hagba. [raising the Torah scroll] It’s not a mitsva I like; I always dread dropping the Sefer. The shamass [beadle] briefed me exhaustively enough: pull the sefer towards you the full extent of the handles, then press the sefer down against the reading-desk so that the sefer is absolutely vertical; don’t try any kuntsen – wandering about the belemmer (but surely the essence of Hagbaha is that the Sefer be exhibited in all directions?). There was no catastrophe, but my performance was weak, in contrast to that of the chap who hagba’d the second Sefer – he did it with the right bravura.

On Wednesday from B.B.C. (Bush House) to Watford to visit Wal & Bev. Wal, an optician, a friend from my schooldays (Eheu!).He has a house which perhaps qualifies for nothing much more by way of epithet than “nice,” but the garden has a fine uninterrupted view of trees. He has bought a second car. He, Bev & Jennifer (young daughter) off to Bermuda on a cruise for their holiday. Beverley’s V. crass talk I found a little much: Have you a cigarette darling? (to Jeremy, who will soon be 21) – Jeremy: You’re always pinching mine, Mummy. Beverley has to get her maids from Germany, davvke. Merton Sandler (lecturer in pathology at Royal Free Hospital Medical School, occupies flat below mine) revolted by my description of Beverley mores – “I can’t imagine my mother smoking a cigarette” – which is, of course, a rather strangely illiberal Nazi outlook. A propos, Merton says he detests Jewish girl equestriennes – though here again, Jennifer is quite genuinely equinophile.* Merton says it’s time he married (he’s 31) – a young pretty girl with money. If there are any young pretty Jewish girls, he’s certainly able to have first pick; with his yeekhess, [background, advantage] which, after all, is substantial (he’s not stam a doctor, waiting to have a house, sc. practice bought for him), his good Jewish family (both parents “English”) and his general presentability and commendable Jewishness. Na ja!  3hrs. Cicero B 25/5/57

* O.K., H.L., [my father went on to regularly deploy this acronym for Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur,] “hippophile” [JW 29/12/58] [his square brackets were used to date later notes/corrections]

Wednesday, 1st May 1957 – 3.30 p.m.

I find the low standard of the entries in this journal depressing, but am not prepared to devote the time necessary to improving them. The ambition cherished that these journals would rival those of the Goncourts (never read ’em) or of Pepys’s or Evelyn’s diary is abandoned. After all, it can only be unique conceit (my conceit is enormous, like Cyrano’s nose) for me to be wished to be judged by high standards. Who am I, what am I?

Israel Witriol, 1876-1924, father of Joseph Witriol

A Kratzer – or a Master Hairdresser?

The son of a barber (Kratzer he called himself; I have an idea I described my “father’s occupation” as “Master Hairdresser” on an Officer Selection form once; visions of Barber-Surgeons) who died when I was 12, leaving just enough for my mother and brother – Sam, aged 18 at the time – to set up a fancy-goods cum confectionery shop, over which we lived (no bathroom) and in which I spent many hours weekly serving, helping Sam to dress windows, etc. By the law of averages with such a background I ought not to expect to be much more than a fairly successful shopkeeper, instead of an unsuccessful Primary School teacher and a moderately successful (speaking chiefly proleptically) literary translator. Samuel Smiles? I defecate on him.

My father, oollevashoollem, [may peace be upon him] was a Hebrew teacher in the heym, so I’m told. So was his father who, I gathered from one Witryol who wrote to me from the States – he had read an article of mine and was intrigued by the similarities of the name – had fled from Russia to Poland and been adopted by one Witriol. My mother, yibbadel le-chayim arukkim, [lit. may she be separated, i.e. in contrast to his father, for a long life] was the daughter of Yosef Balin, an egg factor,  I know nothing whatever of any great-grandparents. Without of course subscribing to Nazi bunk, I would have liked to be able to trace my descent back five or six generations. Mela. [perhaps short for meno male, a favourite Italian expression of his, meaning, in this context, “it could have been worse”]

On Monday evening saw The Mikado performed by the Wimbledon Amateur Operatic society. Gilbert and Sullivan, village (NOT County or Test) cricket – the English at their best. Last night popped in to Merton; he an Angry Young Man – 1100 a year,* car falling to bits, has to dress like a shlokh (etymology?), could I get him a leather brief case fiddling the P.T.? To bed at 1 a.m., up at 11; bad, bad night (verb. sap.); to-day so far frittered away, still feeling tired. Approx. 9 hrs Cicero B 29,30/4/57

Addendum. Wanted to ramble with Fabian’s last Sunday, 28th. Missed them through my own shlemozzle. Went off on my own following Fieldfare. [ pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties]. Managed first half of ramble, but the second part, the “scramble down to Holmwood” didn’t come off, and I found myself, as on the previous occasions when I’ve tried to do this ramble, debouching into the main Dorking road – roaring motor-bikes, etc.

Total for April 1957: A 5¾ hrs. B 15 hrs.

* Now a consultant. £2,000 a year plus [JW 29/12/58]

3rd May 1957 – 12.20 p.m. Camille at Classic Cinema last night. Annoyed at having to queue, stand for about one hour. Apart from this would have found the film pleasant entertainment – sic, despite harrowing death of Marguerite. To-day’s weight (best sports jacket, cavalry slacks, brogue shoes, green pullover, light-weight socks, Terylene trunks, Aertex vest, tie) 14st. 6lb. How much will I weigh on 13th, when my diet will have been on for a week? Names in Israel, 1,2/5/57 – 6hrs. A.