Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 15: Whining about whining

Monday, 24th February 1956, 10.35 p.m.

A lousy day, drizzling. First day of mid-term holiday wasted. Noises from next door last night, rang front door past midnight, landlord answered. Irish-American, said he would check up. Apparently he has seven or eight young men in the house; 4 in the basement alone. The noise, though, was coming from the first floor. I took him in here so that he could see the lie of the land. He told me he was a retired oil man: “I don’t know what you are, I’m Catholic, I’ve been in Jerusalem, I hope they (sc. the Jews) get all of it.” He has the Irish blarney – “come round for a drink with your charming wife.”

Two men came from the London Electricity Board to instal the two extra lights I had ordered, but they had to leave unverrichteter Dinge as Mrs. F. D. wasn’t in to let them get to the fuses, which it was essential for them to do apparently.

Ceiling flaking. Mrs. F.D. said quite easy to paste paper on flaky part. The flakiness due, evidently, to misconduct in Mrs. F.D’s kitchen (“misconduct” my feeble humour – I should have written “malpractice”).

Merton [Sandler] came round the other night. Beat me at chess. With E. [Edith Katz] to Sam & Lily [brother and wife] last night. The T.V. was out of order, fortunately, and I spent a pleasant evening eating and talking. Saw E. to Finsbury Park. I had intended, ungallantly, leaving her at Camden Town, but as this would be the last time I would be parting from her on leaving Sam & Lily [brother and sister-in-law], went the whole way with her. (There’s a whining noise coming from somewhere – I can’t locate it – which is just about putting the lid on my general browned-offness.)

Listened-in to recital of Schubert’s songs by Dietrich-Fischer-Dieskau. Pain in the neck – the super-refined vowels. Erlkönig I find sloppy – the “est ist der Vater mit seinem Kind” strikes me as being an anti-climax to the “Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?” The kid’s death left my withers completely unwrung – the amount of real tragedy in the world leaves me with “little time” for the tragedies of German Romanticism. O.K., H.L., [a regularly deployed acronym for Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur] this is not literary criticism on the highest level. Unfortunately it’s not even what I feel. The tragedy is that I, who can express himself better than nine out of ten who have had a comparable education, can’t express what I feel. Sod this bloody whining, and there’s a bleeding piano tinkling next door too. I can’t hear much from here, the living-room/study, but it won’t let me get to sleep in the bedroom.

Tuesday, 25th February 1958, 10.45 p.m.

To-day chiefly noteworthy for the fact that, after a lapse of – how many? – months I did get in 4 hours “work.” I have to put the word in quotes as I don’t know whether in fact I shall get any payment for it. The “work” referred to is an article by Oury Kessary on James De Rothschild which I am translating. I got about halfway through to-day. Apart from that, the day was a fairly typical “holiday” day. I was up comparatively early to let in the workmen who were fixing the two additional lights. Snowing. They got through the job early, just before one, and so I changed my plans and went to Mum for lunch instead of late supper, after Spanish as I had originally intended, and about which she had been moaning. In spite of a sleepless night –  the whining went on all night – felt fairly active. Cleaned out the kitchen on returning from Mum, but decided wouldn’t be able to make the Spanish class. Feelings of guilt towards Dr Turner, the teacher. She trudging through snow, I reading “Times” in snug warmth. However, it’s done now. Rather hungry now. According to my schedule, have letters of application to Evening Institute Heads to type, but will probably leave it. Unless there is noise at midnight next door, when shall type hoping their sleep will be disturbed. All wrong I know; my reading of Gollancz’s This year of Grace doesn’t seem to have had much effect, but there you are.

Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 14: Some broth, some boy

Sunday, 16th February 1958, 6.45 p.m.

It is incidents like that on the bus yesterday that provide the classic argument for Zionism. Of course, you can avoid incidents on the bus by having a car. I suppose, anyway, I could have avoided the incident myself by the use of a little common sense and by suppressing the occasional folie de grandeur which manifests itself in me.

In the seat immediately in front of me on the bus was an Irishman, his wife –  a young couple – and their baby. The Irishman was singing “Mother Machree,” not very well, but nevertheless I found the scene rather touching and was, in fact, feeling rather pleased with myself at the good-humour with which I was “taking” it. I felt that those who accuse me of snobbery did me an injustice; here I was, feeling benevolent towards this Irish broth of a boy. The spectacle of young parenthood filled me with a glow; even though y.p. had not been vouchsafed to me I was big enough to derive a vicarious pleasure from the y.p. of the couple in front.

This idyllic Stimmung was only slightly ruffled when the broth of a boy called out “Heil Hitler” as we came into the “Narrow Way” in Hackney. I accepted it as one of the numerous catch-phrases in vogue into which it was not necessary to read any significance. When the boy repeated the phrase, however, I am afraid my folie de grandeur got the better of me and, recalling what I had once heard an officer say to an O.R. whom he overheard muttering “Bolshy” sentiments, I said to the boy, “You’re talking too much.” The boy’s reaction, unfortunately, was very different from the O.R.’s. The O.R. had piped down. The “boy” – turned round and flicked me on the face, almost dislodging my glasses. What followed was humiliating. I should, of course, have sloshed back, but was conscious of the likelihood of broken glasses, being late for an appointment with E. [Edith Katz], a “scene,” names taken by police, having to appear in court, etc. I backed away from the boy, asked a passenger to hold my glasses, which she refused to do – understandably enough – what time the “boy” uttered abuse, calling me a pig, telling me to eat bacon and saying something or other which led me to retort “I served five years in the Army, confound you.”

Yes, a humiliating episode. Either -and best – I should have avoided an embarrassing incident, and kept to the golden rule for drunks: ignore them (actually, I hadn’t taken full cognisance of his drunkenness, it was about 4.30 p.m., an hour of the day one doesn’t associate with drunks) or, having entered into the quarrel, should have “drawn the consequences.” I don’t think it was altogether physical cowardice on my part, he was a runt of a chap – no burly, Irish navvy. All right, I was a coward.

And now, having recorded this, I think I must get it out of my system. E. is here at the table as I write, immersed in Ideal Marriage. Bless her, she has proved – I don’t know if I’ve said this before here – a veritable dea ex machina.

E. tells me one Shirley has died of meningitis. She was one of the Ramblers, a big, sturdy, sexy girl always play-fighting her newly-married husband. What, if any, is the comment. She was in her twenties.