Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 3: A diet of young chicks and Janáček

My father, Joseph Witriol (1912-2002,), began his hand-written Journal in 1957.

Thursday 9th May 1957 – 5.20 p.m.

Hungry – on 4th day of self-imposed diet (started at 8.30 a.m. on Monday 6th). Rambled with a small group of Senior Ramblers [Jewish Senior Ramblers Club]: Woking – Chobham – Sunningdale. Very capably led by one Minnie R. Company homely, alas. Usual disclaimer: I am not a snob, but one likes a touch of unsnobbish class in one’s company. However, I ought, I think, to refrain entirely from adversely commenting on people’s innate qualities, for which they are not responsible.

I believe I have not mentioned the fact so far that I am by occupation (notice the carefully chosen term) a primary schoolteacher. There may be something significant in this. I can’t pretend that I am unhappy in my work (I meant to write “happy”); I haven’t the aptitudes nor have I had the specialised training a p.s.t. needs. I have managed to fit my square peg into its round hole, but it is impossible for me to avoid seeing how much better at the job young women in their early twenties are than I am. Strangely enough, some of these y.w. say they hate the job – this is not merely a pose, I don’t think* – because of the “old teachers who are inefficient” (who are they to judge of other teachers’ efficiency, anyway) and/or because of the low status of primary schoolteachers. I suspect that this last is something of a pose. I still maintain that as far as women are concerned, primary schoolteachers rank reasonably high.For men, of course, no. Even so, I for my part in my own eyes have a higher status as a P.S.T. than I would have had as a successful grocer, say, or draper.

*I meant “I think” – JW 2/1/59 Cicero, 7th & 8th May 57 – 7 hrs. [Red text at the end of entries indicates time spent on writing/translating].

Monday 13th May 1957 – 5.30 p.m.

The weather – at the moment – is fine; I’m not so fine, though I have long since reached the stage when a condition of non-fineness no worse than this can be easily tolerated – s’long’s-it’s-no-worse. One can enumerate the causes of one’s far from divine discontent:-

1) effect of diet; for me the consolation of eating is real.

2) linked with 1) – to-day’s weighing revealed I have lost only 2-3lb. A disappointing result after a week’s strenuous dieting. (wt. 14st. 3lb. – dress as for 3/5/57 except beige sports-shirt instead of Rael Brook shirt and Terylene vest instead of Aertex-type vest).

3) Sense of inadequacy at job. Humiliation at having to ask R.H.H. (R.H. Heppell, my headmaster) how to play stoolball, further humiliation at his suggesting I ask Miss O., just out of college, how it was played. Further humiliation when, having proceeded from stoolball to rounders, of which too I had become ignorant (not having played it for over 30 years) R.H.H. asked Miss J. to bring her booklets on the game, which she had, and one of which she lent me.

4) Notice in toilet re co-operation on use of toilet etc; no tea-leaves in pan (not guilty), no saturation of floor (possibly guilty through peeing in dark at night – I suffer from nervous frequency), immediate flushing (I do, except again, at night, in order to avoid noise).

5) Idea occurred to me to write article “Votes For Women” for J.C. to cash in on Roger Fulford’s book of that title, but too lazy to carry out idea. To do it successfully I would need to have the book to hand and the article completed within a fortnight. Even by then I doubt whether the article would be topical any longer. – if the J.C. get anything  in within three weeks of submission I have found – it’s quite exceptional.

I am useless. I clutter up the earth. Along with some two-and-a-half-thousand million others I intend to continue cluttering to the last possible moment. Or, as the Psalmist puts it, lo amut ki echyah. [ I shall not die but live Psalms 118:17] And bollocks to you hypocrite lecteur.

Friday 17th May 1957 – 7.15 p.m.

My memory is really appalling. Recently a representative of the Red Cross called to see me regarding an offer of voluntary service I had goaded myself into making. He talked solidly in this room for an hour. It is not so often I have anyone in here, apart from Merton [Sandler] and Richard [Stern], that I ought not to be able to remember when this particular chap called. He was so tremendously keen that I found myself unable to avoid the unworthy suspicion that he might be a full-time or part-time paid official. I had offered, following on receipt in the hall of a batch of printed leaflets detailing the work of the Red Cross and asking for voluntary workers, to give 2 hrs. (or did I write 1-2 hrs.?) weekly. I learnt from my caller, with a sinking of the heart, that he envisaged me, on qualifying in first aid, doing a duty periodically at the local swimming baths in uniform. Non possumus. A mass of screaming kids, of flapping bosoms – no. I also committed myself to an evening’s door-knocking and leaflet distribution. How many days since I had this call. Perhaps my caller has forgotten me. Halvai. [Hebrew – if only]. I have a pathological desire to be of use, but there are certain prices I can’t pay. Was it last Monday night he called? I can’t remember. If not, what did I do on Monday night? I can’t remember – ah yes, I wrote to Jethro Bithell, my old Birkbeck tutor, now getting on for eighty. He had written to me that it ought to go down as a “scrumptious detail” that Frau Isi (the Jewish wife of Richard Dehmel) preferred non-Jews because they were uncircumcised. Tuesday night I went round to Mum’s and wrote two letters in Hebrew to Uncle Mendel and Esther ben-Aharon (a distant relative – I have never been able to work out the exact relationship) respectively. A task I dislike – I do not write Hebrew easily – I seem to remember Aubrey Eban writing the same thing to me when he was at Cambridge, or thereabouts (in time thereabouts, I mean) although he was a Hebrew child-prodigy. On Wednesday night I went to see a very competent Home Office Dramatic society production of a play, Small Hotel, by one Rex Thomas, I think [Rex Frost] – an honest workmanlike comedy which impressed me far more than the vastly overrated Look Back in Anger. Thursday night to Mum’s to find she had had bronchial cough. Fortunately Lily [sister-in-law] was round, has been round to-day, is a tower of strength. Mum, bless her, resilient. As regards work (by which I always mean translating or other scribbling) a blank week.

Sunday 19th May, 1957 – 10.45 p.m.

To Mum yesterday, instead of usual visit to Sam [brother]. Left Mum later than usual to-day. Her cough on the mend, I hope. Started on Brod’s Janáček [his translation was completed but not published] yesterday – tough going at first but I think I shall be able to manage to get through it all right. Janáček, 18 & 19th May, 4.5hrs

Joseph Witriol’s handwritten draft of his translation of Max Brod’s Janáček book

Janáček draft translation

Monday 20th May 1957 – 9.10 p.m.

Weighed myself; just, but quite definitely beat 14 stone. Same attire as 3/5/57, except that to-day I was wearing a shirt and collar slightly heavier, if anything, than the collar-attached shirt I was wearing then. My self-imposed diet started on 6/5/57 and has been very slightly relaxed in the last few days. It is clear I have lost 6lb in the last fortnight. (A weighty entry, forsooth!) Janáček, 20 -22 May, 4hrs

Wednesday 29th May 1957 – 5.20 p.m.

Weak – the diet is in renewed force, after its suspension on Sunday 26th, when I went with Mum to Frances Kopkin’s house-warming (I agree with Mum, chuncas habayis [literally “dedication of the house”; my father’s Hebrew and Yiddish transliterations are often different to conventional usage] is shenner [ more beautiful] than house-warming). The house cost 5, I understand. It’s in a rather brash locale, but undoubtedly classy inside. Last night lectured in similar house to some 40-50 youngsters on Jewish Wit and Humour (“The Arcadians” [I do not know what this is]). Performance passable, but not what it ought to be – the one-hour’s flat unhesitating exposition. As usual, I took a lot of trouble – in getting Koestler’s Insight and Outlook from library, from [sic?] example, and starting to study it – some of the ideas in it are illuminating – from which I failed to derive any benefit in the event. I was picked up, by admirable staff-work, by a youngster at 8.15, as arranged, who drove with superb (but quite unostentatious) nonchalance to the meeting-house, and driven back with equal efficiency almost to the doorstep. Discussion was not forthcoming, but on my saying I was looking for stories to add to my repertoire, someone told this one, very well:

Greenberg was crossing the road when he was knocked down by a Rolls Royce. He was not seriously hurt, but was momentarily stunned. Through a haze of semi-consciousness he heard the passenger in the car say he was a director of ICI (thus the raconteur – probably best to avoid pin-pointing any actual Jewish millionaire – but are there any Jewish directors, now, of ICI? Anyway, there is no need for the director to be Jewish). This gave Greenberg an idea – he would exploit the accident for all he could get. He shammed unconsciousness and sued for £30,000. The judge said this was not enough; Greenberg was crippled from the waist down, would be in constant pain and never be able to lead a normal life again – the judge awarded £50,000. After the case, the ICI director walked over to Greenberg and said to him: “Don’t think you’re going to get away with this, Greenberg. I’m going to have you watched night and day, and the minute you slip up, God help you.” “Don’t you worry,” said Greenberg, “First I’m going with my wife and daughter for a holiday at the Green Park, then we’re having a week in Paris, then we’re going to spend a fortnight in Nice, a week in Monte-Carlo and then we’re going to Lourdes. And when we get to Lourdes, oi, will I work a miracle!”

Friday 31st May 1957 – 9 p.m.

Too tired this evening to do any translating. Too tired for any entry other than –  29th May – 3hrs Janáček

CUMULATIVE TRANSLATION TIME: April-May 1957 45.25 hrs, of which Janáček 11.5hrs 

Saturday 8th June 1957.

Brevissimo entry before leaving for Janet Linton’s party (she a Scottish lass who did supply teaching at Hargrave [Islington primary school] and has secured her coveted “Auntie Jan” job with P & O Castle Line). Have laid on party myself for Whit Monday – have feeling it will flop. About £6 expended on drinks, concomitants and cigarettes. 2.5hrs Janáček 6/6/57 3.5 hrs Jan. 10/6/57