Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 12: “I like my towels sexless”

Saturday, 18th January 1958, 11.40 p.m.

To Richard’s [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen] with E. [Edith Katz] the other night. It was raining. I suppose I must have been to Richard’s place at least 20 times, but I succeeded in losing my way and dragging poor E. around for a half an hour or so in the drizzle. She uncomplaining, I full of ill-suppressed fury because of her uncomplaining, in spite of her being uncomfortable. What brutes we men are. What do women see in us?

Richard, as I expected, was the polished host: sherry ad lib, cakes, coffee, fruit salad. We just had time to gobble it all up and go.

Life a round, now, of school, chores, Spanish (! – another forlorn hope: I propose applying to Erna Low to take a party to Spain), N.L.J.C. [New Liberal Jewish Congregation] Sunday morning school. Spent a couple of hours here this week one evening doing some school work, a thing I very rarely do. My class is taking the “11+” on Tuesday. Two kids in it would make the grammar school grade in arithmetic, none in English (one of the two is a Cypriot whose written English is not yet fluent).

Kids lost 3-1 at Coram’s Fields this morning. But all turned up except one, the other team turned up in full strength, it was a clear, cold day and an excellent game and the best team won. How English we are!

A good letter from Leyb [Potash, an old friend]; bantering, breezy. I wrote a rather poor reply, in the classroom in the dinner hour, with the kids hackin a tchainik [Yiddish expression]. A hasty letter from E. too; her friend Minnie (hon. sec. of the Senior Rambling Group) has given us some “His” and “Her” towels. I wrote to E. telling her this was a disaster; I liked my towels sexless. But if millions of admass consumers like their towels this way, why should I complain. But no, ordinary, undistinguished, proletarian as one is, there are limits. Edith may do as she pleases, never will I use a towel marked “His.” Whose His? And yet, I suppose, the admass man-or-woman is flattered by what to him/her must seem an individual note. Perhaps I am making too much of a pother over all this. “I like my towels sexless” was enough – if an M.P. had said it, it would have been an Observer saying of the week.

Monday, 10th February 1958, 10.30 p.m.

Awakened this morning by “rimming” (our Yiddish word for irritating noise – when I come in to Mum and the wireless is on, I ask, it’s almost a ritual question: Do you want the wireless on? and Mum replies: Drey ess oop, ‘kh veyss nisht voos se rimmit) of next-door wireless. Donned dressing gown and knocked next door. This was about half-past six. The lad next door had put it on thinking it was eight o’clock.

Result – tiring day, beastly to kids, Mum. Mum just recovering from attack of bronchitis. Her vitality is remarkable, but she drains our energies – Sam’s, Lily’s, [brother, sister-in-law] mine. I don’t know what the answer to the problem is. I realise I am a beast, I know people have to put up with bedridden, incontinent parents. I am lucky, extraordinarily lucky, as in the normal course of events E. will be with me till my last. But who will be with E. at her last? It seems extraordinary – I just can’t see myself achieving paternity, though I have, I gather – as far as can be ascertained outside the laboratory – the physiological prerequisites of paternity.

Life has continued to be school, endured, chores – a relief, if truth be told, from school – blissful meetings with E., bless her, who is always cheerful, always smiling.

Piano twinkling next door. I wish England were a Land Ohne Musik. Have taken up Spanish, and am making some progress. And have managed to keep up the Bible readings, though I must admit to skipping the first chapters of Job, which, after all, I know. The idea is not intensive study, for which I haven’t the energy, but by reading all those parts of the Bible which I have not read before, or have only the faintest, or no recollections of, to become bewandert in the Scriptures.

Saw Flowering Cherry on 30th January at Haymarket with E. Fabian Party. Less than two hours playing time. One set. Nothing “great”, but deservedly successful. The author, John Bolton [sic] , knows his apple orchard patter and has the insurance-selling racket taped. I found the situation of the safe-job, steady, own-little-house man who lost it all (I believe he didn’t chuck up the job, telling his boss to take a running jump at himself, as he wanted to do – and as I would sometimes like to tell H. to do, though the poor sod is harmless really, but Christ, what a pain) all too plausible. Not that I’ve got a little house, even. Saw The Pajama Game at the flicks with E. Good. Good numbers, authentic Trade Union atmosphere. Bought “Hostess” ice for Edith & myself – 1/-. Couldn’t afford 2/- for an ice each. Felt ashamed of this, especially as E. liked the ice. Sod it – next time 2/- on ices – szoll zahn nokh a shilling.


The Long Walk To Freedom

Men jailed for years on end, such as Natan Sharansky, Gilad Shalit, Nelson Mandela or the biblical Joseph, who succeeded in staying positive, are truly remarkable individuals.

There are other parallels between those last two names. Both emerged from prison to lead their countries – the countries that had incarcerated them – from the brink of disaster to survival and success (albeit relative in the case of South Africa); both men preached forgiveness to those who had wronged them – Mandela to white South Africans, Joseph to his murder-plotting brothers who had sold him into slavery.  And both had hit songs written about them: Joseph’s by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mandela’s by The Special A.K.A., L’havdil.

Note well that Mandela’s death occurred in the week when the climax of the story of Joseph was read in synagogue. A compelling case of Divine Providence and an absolute gift to Rabbis worldwide who could hardly fail to knock out a sermon linking the two. Or Living with the times as Lubavitch like to say.

Now I come to my point. On New Years Eve, I was half-watching Jools Holland’s Hogmanay (basically an excuse for the host to alternate between walking around failing to say something witty to his various B-list audience guests and gatecrashing his jazz piano into the performances of the bands – who can’t exactly refuse him). Some trendy band was in full swing with Jools, bless him, playing a highly-diminished boogie-woogie riff as “accompaniment”, when one of the band members called out: “This one goes out to a fallen soldier of last year – Nelson Mandela”.

I take no issue with referring to a political fighter as a soldier – as Mungo Jerry put it, “You Don’t Have To Be In The Army To Fight In The War”. But if we’re going to remember a fallen soldier of 2013 can I suggest Lee Rigby is the man to whom we in England should be dedicating songs. A man who served his country, seeking to keep his fellow citizens safe and free, who suffered the most horrific murder imaginable at the hands of truly evil men. But then trendy bands don’t dedicate songs to English soldiers, do they? Much less compose tributes to them.

Max Witriol