Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 10: Mrs Fowler-Dixon and her dodgy geyser

Tuesday 29th October 1957 – 3pm

The 64,000 dollar question remains: Ought I to marry E? [Edith Katz] Can I make her happy? In a 2-roomed dingy flat? If I could reconcile myself to living under such conditions I’m pretty sure E. would not worry. All very difficult. […] The flat is still not buttoned up. However – carpe horam: Miss — has finished nattering over the phone, there is relative quiet ( a plane zooming overhead – I suppose there is no armour against that particular fate even in the lushest Belgravia dwellings), all the packing material from Sam [his brother, who had a handbag business] has finally arrived – I’m going to be a devil and, after polishing my shoes, have another cigarette (my second to-day), with a coffee. I think of those working away – c’est la revanche (the long holidays) de l’instituteur, as a French instituteur in the Haute Savoie once said to me.

Wednesday 6th November 1957, 7.45pm

Moved on Saturday to 406 Camden Rd.,N.7. Behind the short, simple sentence lies what an expenditure of nervous energy, what discomforts, what humiliations. Mrs F.D. [landlady] is perhaps not such a dea ex after all. The snags now reveal themselves – stone floors, strips of which (in the larger room) completely uncovered. Coal fired only means of heating at present. Mrs F.D. said she would instal two power points at her expense (£10) – one of the quick decisions she later told me she could make. Meanwhile – no power points, no warmth of any kind in flat. But, the room in which I am writing this not unpleasant: linoleumed, quite tolerably carpeted, a good oak table, a small refectory table, a cheapish but reasonably large and solid chest of drawers, a fitted cupboard, an oak sideboard, large mahogany ditto. As a bachelor flat it will prove slightly dearer and considerably less comfortable than the place I left, but I may be able to cut down by sharing with A.I.S. – the young music specialist on our Hargrave staff. The flat is large enough for two, even by my standards and A.I.S. and I should be able to get on well enough together.

Sam a tower of strength – removed unsightly stain from bath with life-and-limb-endangering, apparently, spirits of salt. I fused lights on Sunday evening in taking out lamp in this room and replacing with another. Fortunately Mrs F.D. to the rescue, she mending fuse with feminine, masculine-ego-bruising efficiency.

On Thursday 31st October to Home office Dramatic Society Halloween dance at Horseferry House with E. Joyce receiving, en grande tenue, at local pub beforehand. The hop jolly enough, the crowd a mixture of egg-head and midinette types.

On Tuesday 29th October to Grand Palais with Mum, Sam and Lily [Sam’s wife] to see usual American-Yiddish “play with music”. Bored. Mum’s treat.

Tuesday 26th November 1957 – 9.40pm

In future shall waste no time lamenting long gap between entries. Busy-ness, admittedly achieving nothing, must explain all. Am more or less comfortably installed here now. This statement stands though the bath geyser has been condemned and I now take my weekly bath at Mum’s. Poor Mrs F.-D. writes that she is alarmed at the prospect of having to pay possibly £50 for a new geyser. She has installed power points, changed a couple of wonky light switches. I am writing this in the living room by the light of two 150-watt lamps and the heat of the electric space-heater. No noise at all save the murmur – it is no more than a murmur – of the traffic, which doesn’t worry me. How long can it last?

My relations with E. are blissful. I have found myself, do find myself and have no doubt I shall continue to find myself completely at ease in her company. (yokels bawling outside, but cela passera.) I think she is absolutely genuine. I love her, bless her.           ? למה להרבות במילים [why churn out words?] Put that in your pipe and smoke it H.L. (E. – in case you find yourself reading this – I may ask you to continue writing it! – I will explain.)

Have been writing to various publishers hawking my services as a translator. The Jewish publishers have written most cordial replies. As I expected, they have nothing for me at the moment, but I feel the bread thus cast on the waters will return eventually. It may take years before it does, but after all, literary translating will, I hope, keep me occupied spare-time for the rest of my schoolteaching life, and thereafter – I see no reason why a vigorous old age should be the prerogative of men like Z.S. [Zalkind Stalbow] – of whom no doubt I shall write here or elsewhere later – more or less full-time. My arrow-in-the-air that landed in Elek Books territory (I shudder at this Lower IVA stuff, but I do have a tiring day and I have not had Matthew Arnold’s or Cyril Connolly’s advantages of birth and upbringing) hit – surprisingly – one Lionel Kochan, their Executive Editor, who wrote, inter alia,that he had enjoyed my Heine translation. I remember reading something by him, or about him, in the old Jewish Monthly [scan of an article in that magazine by Joseph Witriol]. He wrote, too, that he was asking Janson-Smith for a copy of Poor Cicero. I am not building my hopes on this, but they may feel that if they drive a hard enough bargain the book may just pay for itself and keep their list full. (L.K. says they only pay 1½ guineas a thou – I had hoped for 2 guineas a thou at least, but of course will accept 1½. By cutting down similarly on Brod they may be prepared to publish.

The Translators’ Guild sent me a duplicated list of their members – only about 80 in all. I am the only member listed as translating from Hebrew, and the only one listed as translating from Yiddish.

Saw The One That Got Away with E. Apparently film of true story of a Jerry P.O.W.’s escape from P.O.W. camp in England and from train in Canada. The endurance, guts, shown by one man beyond all belief. Yes, H.L., no work done since Sep. 10th.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 9: St John’s Wood not, Gower Street defeat, Holloway hooray

Monday 28th October 1957 – 3pm

First day of mid-term. The situation is far from clear, still. I put an advt. in the N.S.& N.: “Schoolmaster-cum-translator seeks furnished accommodation for self and 6 bookcases etc.” which evoked half-a-dozen replies, none of them really satisfactory. But a visit, in this connection, to a Mrs Anderson, St John’s Wood, proved interesting. She has two large rooms, a kitchenette smaller than the one here (or small, it is physically impossible for two people to be in it at once) and shares a bathroom and toilet  with a young curate and his wife (above her) and an electrician and wife below her, I believe. She wants to share her life with a man, in a perfectly respectable way, of course. She edits Family Doctor, has a daughter-in-law with baby.

I told her that for me to stay with her, without incurring any extra expenditure eventually (and taking into account the cost of my move from here to her) I would not be able to pay more than £3-10-0 per week. But the arrangement wouldn’t have worked, anyway. I don’t think the room she had available would have taken all my impedimenta; she had a double divan in the room ( and my sheets and blanket are single) and one would have had to adopt a Box-and-Cox arrangement in the kitchenette and bathroom which,  however sympathique the ambiance, would have imposed a severe strain on both of us.

Still, as I said, the visit was interesting. When I arrived, the curate opened the door. I was early and Mrs A wasn’t in, so I said I would go somewhere for a coffee and return. The curate invited me in and led me too his study. It was so typical – crammed with books, or rather, littered with books – in orange-boxes, Sankey-Sheldon steel shelving and what-have-you, that I said: “All that’s missing are the football shorts” – whereupon he pointed to them in a corner. He brought me in a coffee – forasmuch as ye did it, etc.

Mrs A is in love with Peter, a Jewish doctor whose wife won’t give him a divorce. (Why should she, I expect she paid enough for him; maintenance would not compensate for her loss of yeekhiss [literally ‘pedigree’ – usually transliterated as yichus] as a doctor’s wife). He has been phoning her, apparently, every week for the last eleven months. without seeing her; but they were having dinner together the next evening.

Merton [Sandler] had told Madeleine Blumstein of my accommodation troubles. It seemed she had an unofficial –  and , as it subsequently appeared, possibly illegal – lien on a basement flat in Gower St. the tenant of which was one Jay Butler, an American (non-Jewish) archaeologist who was working in Holland but used the flat as a pied-à-terre. In his absence Madeline had used the flat, but yielding to her “Yiddishe (but English-born) Mamme’”s remonstrances had gone back to live with her mother (Madeleine an only child, the mother a widow – rather touching).

Madeleine would have been prepared to let me have the use of the flat which, at first sight, seemed a trouvaille – large room, kitchen, bathroom & toilet; self-contained – all at a peppercorn rent. But, as I feared, there were the inevitable snags. When I met Madeleine at Sherman’s, with an American (foreign) – Jewish boy friend on a visit here, it turned out that the landlords of the flat were trying to squeeze Madeleine out. They had returned M’s last cheque for rent saying that Mr Jay Butler was the statutory tenant and had no right to sub-let and that they were determining Mr Butler’s lease “in due course.” Madeleine’s contention was that Jay wasn’t “sub-letting” to her, but I don’t know what the legal position is. I suspect that the landlords – a firm of architects with offices above the flat – were not bluffing. So the flat was “out” for me – in any case, it would have been difficult: it was choc-a-block with Jay’s stuff, I would have had to store much of my own, and Jay was due to stay for ten days or so to prepare a Ph.D. thesis – he would probably have wanted to stay up half the night swotting – in the same room in which I would be trying to get some sleep.

However, the evening was well spent. With the insouciance of youth Madeleine and Maurice thought, at 8.30pm!, they ought to see something and we eventually stumbled into the Cameo-Polytechnic about 9pm to see A King in New York (Chaplin). Delightful comedy, satire on McCarthyism, wistful reminiscences of The Kid (the pathos of childhood).

It seems – I am keeping my fingers crossed – I have found a dea ex machina in the person of a Mrs Fowler-Dixon. Enquiring, as an afterthought and with little hope, at Drivers and Norris, the Holloway estate agents, if they had anything going in furnished apartments, they referred me to a “self-contained flat” at £3-10-0 per week. The owner, Mrs F.D., wanted the “right type” and, if possible, one who would help with the garden. I saw Mrs F.D.,  a widow, a “committed Christian” (I mentioned I was Jewish). She left me alone in the flat, which really does seem an extraordinary find: one very large room; one smaller equipped with good table and chest of drawers en suite; a good toilet, a large entrance hall equipped with gas-cooker, sink with Ascot, and plenty of cupboards; a large bathroom. The bath admittedly non-blocked in with a bad discolouring in one part; the carpeting admittedly poor, the entrance admittedly past dustbins – so what? Apparently I would have use of excellent garden, and I told Mrs F.D. I would willingly push a lawn-mower and trim a hedge (the latter not with billiard-table smoothness).

I think one could even set up with E. [Edith Katz] here – Mrs. F.D. said there was room for one child, and if I married, she had intended letting the flat at the same rent – £3-10-0 per week (I had budgeted on having to pay at least £5-10-0 p.w. for a flat for two).