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).


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

  1. Pingback: Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 24: Primary perils | Joseph Witriol's writings

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