Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 4: Goethe mirth; Khayyám l’chaim

Tuesday 11th June 1957 – 10.20 p.m.

The party was, unexpectedly, a success. Richard [Stern] and Merton [Sandler] both most helpful – the former in fixing all the – to me – formidable technicalities involved in getting his turntable to function in combination with Emms’s [landlord and landlady] wireless-set – it had to be his, as it had a pick-up (is there no escape from sex?), unlike mine. Merton, somewhat to my surprise turned the charm on Betty, who was a feme sole for the evening – he explained afterwards that this was because she was an “anti-Semite with a typically Welsh village outlook.” Not wholly untrue – though she not really anti-Semitic so much as sensing that the Jews are an alien body. Perhaps unfortunate she should have been plunged straight from her Welsh village into Stamford Hill, of all places. Contact with Jews is best made, perhaps, by slow stages. However, Merton had no right to spin her a line about his “friend Jerry” who “might be able to fix her up with part-time modelling” – I shall have to suffer for that.

There was a little dancing, in spite of Emms’s veto. He was out – just as well. Richard canoodled with Joan – a nice, sexy kid of 24 or so – Pat had eyes for no-one except her Ron, and Merton subsequently deserted Betty for Jan – but he had given Betty a good, long break. party broke up about 1a.m; Merton very helpfully taking the Hampstead people home and then coming back for Betty.

Wednesday 12th June 1957 – 10.30 p.m.

Neither Richard’s nor Merton’s bottle of wine had been started on, though in my ignorance (at 45!) I had uncorked each, not realising that once the bottle was uncorked it would have to be drunk, as Merton told me, within a few days. Merton came in last night to help me drink up the bottles, but in the event proved unusually abstemious. After he left, about midnight – I failed to put over my Trunken-müssen-wir-alle-sein/Jugend-ist-Trunkenheit-ohne-Wein line – he has no German ( I have even less pathology – fair enough) – I sat up till one-ish gently sozzling myself. Result, I was not up till nearly midday to-day, and was only able to wrest my target of six hours work with difficulty. However, I have wrested it. Must really endeavour to stick to a minimum of six hours in every “school” week (40 weeks, but it is permissible to “average” — no, never less than six hours in any week; well, hardly ever), 15 hours in each of eight vacation weeks – leaving 4 weeks spare for actual holidays. Does not seem a difficult target, but surprisingly hard to achieve in practice. Perhaps, in addition to my 2-3 evenings-a-week stint, I could get in an hour every Mon-Thur morning 8-9 am. This would give me a “reserve” against the cruel winter months when taking football with the kids will consume much time and energy. 12/6/57 Janáček 6hrs 13/6/57 Janáček 2.5hrs [red text at the end of entries indicates time spent on writing/translating work]

16/6/57 – 11.40 p.m.

Richard shtootsed in with Joyce – very pleasant, but, as a result, only – 16/6/57 Janáček 2hrs 18/6/57 1.5hrs

19/6/57 – 1.45 p.m. 

My application to join local tennis club politely turned down by the honorary secretary – I had two knock-ups. It would be easy to read anti-Semitism into this, but it seems undeniable that 1) my play compared with the club’s men members is definitely weak, 2) the club is full – so that the rejection seems fair enough. Anyway, I save about ten guineas directly, and more than that in time saved which I can devote to translating and in which I would not be spending money drinking in the club bar (though I may well devote some of the cash thus saved to laying in a stock of beers – refreshing on a summer’s eve). And – as I just said to Merton – one must not make a Dreyfus affair out of every incident of this kind unless 1) one’s facts are incontrovertible, 2) the issue is important, not trivial as here. Janáček 1.75hrs 19/6/57

24th June 1957 – 5.45 p.m. 

A very enjoyable evening at the Kedassia, celebrating the Bar-mitsva of David, Cissie Stalbow’s boy. Cissie, I realised when it was too late, is one of the girls I could and should have married, but didn’t. Old man Stalbow, her father, aetat. 79, squat, sturdy, spoke excellently in English. Geoffrey, Cissie’s brother spoke well too. At table he was his usual outrageous, punning self (“bet you she sleeps with me and not with you to-night”, etc). His wife, Hélène, I should have liked to marry, but do not delude myself I could have married. I found her still – I suppose she is in or near her middle thirties now – pretty, delightfully spoken, impeccably (not dowdily, not aphrodisiacally) dressed. As always, she adores Geoffrey –  a sound, apparently solid type (though he too, perhaps, may have moments of depression, misgiving – I don’t know). Henry Shaw spoke well, too. I saw “Pop” Goldenberg – I think of him always as “Pop”, as we knew him when he was President of the A.Y.Z.S., [Association of Young Zionist Societies – see this post also] a job he managed to do – successfully – while holding down a job as chemist with Lyons and getting a first in chemistry at Birkbeck. He’s now with M&S getting about £2000 a year, I understand. Has a delightful boy, Philip, not yet Bar-mitsva. Edith, his wife, Pop tells me, is a gold-medallist or something ballroom dancer, but she doesn’t dance with him, for which he doesn’t blame her – he treads on her toes. Henry Shaw in his speech spoke of the “great” days of the A.Y.Z.S. – not by any means saugrenu – he instanced Eban [Aubrey] and Herman. The latter, Pop told me, has had two thromboses, has arthritis, smokes sixty cigarettes a day.Also present, Yehudit née Kozubei, with a nice husband “Jock,” whom (Yehudit) I remember as a temperamental child whom I used to get to sing for Heatid [the Brixton Young Zionist Society]. She is now a very presentable, intelligent, sophisticated (in the best sense) woman – her daughter is entering training college. Alas, what boots it to repeat, how time has slipped beneath my feet – nor can my to-day be described as sweet by any stretch of imagination. 24/6/57 Janáček 2.5hrs  25/6/57 Janáček 3hrs

27th June 1957 – 9.45 p.m.

An unusually “good” evening this evening.  Three hours good work on Janáček, largely because of unusual quiet above – I think the Lams [?landlord] are definitely trying to co-operate in re wireless noise. There was only the roaring motor-bike to contend with – I suppose I must stifle my urge to lean out of the window and shout: “Can’t you play somewhere else with that motor-bike.” Strangely enough, too, I enjoyed an exceptionally good night’s sleep last night. Only two or three “visits” in spite of the fact that I had “zhlokhit” pints of cold drinks at Sam’s and here. A letter from Aubrey Eban! It is short, so I can quote it in full: “Dear J.W.( a bit cuntish – I shall certainly reply “Dear Aubrey”), I see from the Jewish Chronicle that you are now a reviewer of books – and therefore worthy of an author’s propitiation. This – together with nostalgia for Kennington Road – has moved me to renew contact across the years and oceans.” The letter was addressed to me c/o the J.C. No comment for the present. I polish my shoes, wash up, prepare to-morrow’s breakfast, and relax – I hope – with a coffee and biscuits – bugger the diet – and Commentary just arrived and/or The ListenerJanáček 3hrs  27/6/57 Janáček 3hrs 30/6/57

Cumulative Translation Time April-May-June 1957 83hrs of which Janáček 43.25

Monday, July 1st 1957 – 10.45 p.m.

Today was an “occasional closure” at Hargrave Park [Archway primary school]. I rang up the office to “make up” a day (i.e. make-up a day taken off for a Jewish holiday) but the office did not need me. Which seems to show the office is an ass – surely even a fully-staffed school could have benefited by my being able to give some teacher or teachers a free or some free periods. However, I managed to put the day to fairly good use. I put in six hours on Janáček. (Had I known in advance I would have had to-day off, I would in all probability either have rambled – not doing so has saved me about 12/-, and given me a chance to get some errands done – or, got up late, irritable, and, even if I had succeeded in doing my six hours, would not have been able to listen all through Tennessee Williams’s Glass Menagerie . The story of a crippled girl with her Southern-belle mother was moving, but surely no girl in America would go without working? The indigestion the business college gave Laura is plausible, perhaps – though again, surely, the plain girl, or the girl who “sees the writing on the wall,” for whatever reason, reacts by swotting all the harder, or by concentrating on the job or career?

Richard came round on Saturday evening, when I had settled down to start working. He was glad to find me in, as he “hadn’t spoken to a soul all day.” This scourge of loneliness.  I can’t blame Mum for saying – she says it far less often than she used to, though the facts are unchanged; if anything, she has fewer opportunities of speaking – de gantse tog ob ekh nisht de lippen tseegenemmen – I haven’t parted my lips all day – interesting how tseenemmen should mean “part” in Yiddish (have just confirmed in Harkavy that tseenemmen does mean to take apart). Incidentally, Mum returned fit and well from her ten days, by herself, in Southend. The cat seems to have been bashed about in her absence. Mum said it was a rachmooness [mercy] on a tserbelle khayim – the latter a most interesting phrase, a syncopation of tsa’ar ba’alei chayim – the “sorrow of possessors of life,” literally; the abstract Hebrew term being given the concrete meaning in Yiddish of “dumb friend.” 1/7/57 Janáček 6hrs  6/7/57 3hrs 8/7/57 2.75hrs

Tuesday July 9th 1957 – 10.20 p.m.

Recollected in tranquility, the last few days seem – as they usually do – a blank. Each hour with its own problems, its own vexations, its own difficulties – but all forgotten. Meno male [a favourite Italian expression].  Merton with me to Mum – Sam and Lily [dad’s brother and sister-in-law] also present – for Erev Shabbes [Sabbath eve, i.e. Friday evening]. Merton fairly subdued, but a pleasant evening. He said he was very impressed with Mum. Allowing for conventional flattery, the fact remains that for 75 – which Mum must now be – she was remarkable: gay, lively, spontaneously witty. A blue-bottle got caught in a candle and roasted to death. Mum – straightway: Nu, de nessamme toikef [?writing unclear] iz off ess ohsgegungen. [See, the [?] soul has been snuffed out] On Sunday evening Sam and Lily had a cluster of Winegartens [Lily’s maiden surname] round, continuing the reception at “Wembley Tunnel” [Town Hall] for the Asher Blau  —  ? Boxer wedding. Some thirty people fressing salt-beef and miniature sausages, but no crowding, although the house was small. Eli Scwarz, whom I remember from Stamford Hill, there with June Blau, Asher Blau’s sister (I think I have it right). June more-than-plump, fat, though not repulsively so, with teeth-brace, but Eli – froom [religiously observant] – is probably on a good thing. She herself is froom, and seems pleasant ( a primary schoolteacher – like myself – she observed she would like to lay in the garden, but perhaps one shouldn’t make too much of this). Although a number of “intellectuals” present – Asher Winegarten, who has top statistical job with N.F.U. and his Ph.D. (in French) wife – Asher Fishman, solicitor, Warden of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue – the meeting seemed to be dominated by one Alec (I think ! or was it that he reminded me, in appearance, of Alec Sugarman?) who effectively did not allow even Asher Winegarten to get a word in edgeways. “Alec” a Hogarthian, Baron Munchausen figure – I got a hundred people visas for Brazil during the war, etc; the Ambassador called for us in his C.D. car, our domestic showed us over her château when we were in Switzerland. I talked with Asher Winegarten’s father – a fine type: orthodox, sensible, manly – I believe English-born (he went to Jews’ Free School).