Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 13: A barber’s shiva

Saturday, 15th February 1958, 11.40 p.m.

Made my usual telephone call to Mum on Wednesday evening. She told me Mr Julius had died. He had been an assistant in my late father’s barber shop – this would have been some fifty years back. Mum was fond of saying that he (Mr Julius – “Myer”) was such a handsome boy that my father didn’t have the heart to wake him up in the morning. These were the days of “living-in.” Shiva was at Mr. Julius’s barber shop in  Lower Road, Rotherhithe. On my way there I met Julie, Mrs Julius’s sister’s eldest son (I think this is right), his wife & his mother. Julie has a hunchback, is a kettle manufacturer. His brother, Wolfe Mays, is No. 2 in the Department of Philosophy, Manchester. When I came home in 1946 [i.e. after wartime service] Mum told me Wolfy was a “graysse” (“great one”). I had poo-poohed this, as I remembered him as not having been to a grammar school. The story is that his brother (Julie) used to bash him about for not getting on with the kettle-bashing, and Wolfie was forced to study in the W.C. Anyway, his success is beyond doubt. [Obituary notice] I heard him lecture on the Third not long ago, the diction the very spit and image of a don’s.

The stuff of a story in the shiva if I had the guts to hammer it out. The mourners: Mrs Julius, a bird-like woman who had spent a lifetime running up from her basement kitchen to living room and bedroom – for a number of years she had toiled in a confectioner’s shop they had had in Walworth; Golda, the daughter, a “swot” whose husband, Mick, has been a “problem” – he gave up a sound chiropodist’s practice, I gather, because of injured “professional” pride and was getting – so I was told some time ago – £7-10-0 a week as a clerk somewhere. He rigorously abstains from visiting any of Golda’s family and did not go to shool [synagogue] when his son, Selwyn, was  Bar-mitsvah. Selwyn brilliant at Maths, Chemistry, Physics. Sammy, the oldest boy, spent months in a Children’s hospital as the result of a leg injury contracted when playing football, underwent numerous operations. Gained B.E.M. as Air Raid Warden in Bermondsey. Worshipped by Bermondsey-ites. Lived in friction with his parents, eventually married “out.” Yeeddel – John – now has a top job in the U.S. [United Synagogue] The service, in the barber’s shop: The Lord will wipe away all tears, I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness, like one whom his mother comforteth – I found the eyes misting over, the lump forming in the throat. The minister’s discourse delivered in good, non-faultable English, on the general theme of life and death. Presumably he was new and had not known the deceased, and so he was unable to deliver any eulogy. The conversation: Julie laying down the law, nowadays you couldn’t get anywhere without a degree, modern methods in the London Board of Jewish Religious Education’s Hebrew classes and the kid’s couldn’t read Hebrew – in Julie’s time they went 5 times a week. – I, defending attendance at Hebrew classes only once or twice a week: Perhaps if you hadn’t gone to Hebrew classes five times a week you’d have got a degree. Julie: I got a khoicker (hump) – I: There you are – Mendelssohn [Moses Mendelssohn, hunchbacked Jewish philosopher] said his Jewish studies had given him a hump, but you’re no Mendelssohn.

To-day was not a good day. Found the electric fire full on, both bars, when I came in to-night. This means about 2/-‘s worth of electricity down the drain (though the room was warm, I must admit, when I came in – beautifully warm). As I remember reading apud Sir Ernest Benn once, it’s alway’s the people who can least afford to lose tennis balls who are always losing them. I expect the £2,000 a year bloke will take jolly good care to switch off when he leaves a room. But for one who by the end of 1959 will have paid out over £500 in legal expenses, has paid “the other party” close on £300 – more, in fact, if the £2 a week paid out for about a year is taken into account – has lost £1200 or more liquid assets possessed around September 1957 – how can such a one worry over 2/- wasted!

To crown all, the incident on the bus, an account of which I must defer (12.30a.m.)