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.


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