Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 24: Primary perils

August 7th, 1958 – 4pm

No peace, even on holiday, or perhaps I should say vacation (=vacation from school; holiday = essentially, time spent in recreation or amusement away from home) – Mrs. F.D’s vacuum cleaner is whining away up above.

Five-finger Exercise by Peter Shaffer last night. A brilliant first play. The theme well-worn: rich philistine father v. sensitive young man, but the dialogue extremely good, with only occasional short longueurs. The youth’s affectionate relationship with his kid-sister – charming. The other two “fingers” were the mother, a soi-disant culturist, and a German tutor, son of a Nazi, engaged by the mother for the daughter.

The vacation frittering itself away, as usual. So much to do – NLJC [New Liberal Jewish Congregation]  lessons for the whole of next term to be prepared, I won’t get time in term itself; three talks I have agreed to give at the children’s services on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur to be prepared; my Evening Institute French lessons to prepare. from trying to write anything iz oopgerett [you can forget it]. But I’m not kidding myself – I just haven’t the will-power to have a go at writing anything, anymore. And it all seems so ridiculous, anyway: if I do kratz out a couple of articles a year (which would be a high output for me) – so what?

The whining has stopped, thus depriving me of my last pretext for lack of brilliance in entries (how we cling to our pretexts – a shrewd aperçu this, if it could be worked up). Again, so what? Are all these literary journals so interesting, really? Judging from the extract Brod quotes from his book on Kafka, they’re mostly of the met-X-to-day, – he’s-reading-Y, – I-told-him-to-read-Z, – we’re-planning-a-holiday-at-N-and-from-there-we’re-going-to-M.

What, if anything, would I wish in, say, ten years time, to have a record of? I suppose I ought to mention that a new peril has loomed on the horizon. J.S. phoned me the other day, out of the blue, to say he was being allocated to Daubeney, where I taught from about 1950-1955. I had met him at his wedding, en secondes noces, to Rayner (Renee?), one of the [surname redacted] family. He was known to be peculiar, but at the wedding he made quite a sensible speech. I remember meeting his father, a former primary school head, who was worried about him then, as he was apparently having difficulty in getting through his emergency training college. The father a somewhat crabbed, pince-nez-ish man, but not without some dignity.

Anyway, J.S. – a few months after the death of his second wife – tells us he’s lonely, wants to find a suitable girl, he’d be grateful if he could come round to us once a week, could he stay with us for the Yom Tovim if he made suitable financial arrangement. I had at the very first felt that here was a chance to show that I’m not the marook (curmudgeon) that my mother says I am, here was a chance to lend a helping hand to a fellow creature in his hour of need. But – non possumus. Two hours of J.S. telling us he can’t stand an all-boys school, he must have girls, I can stand once, twice a year – but once a week, even a fortnight or month – no. (There is a definite sexual perversion – he tells me, e.g., he called to a girl in a P.E. lesson: “Come here, Miss Blue Knicks” and he can’t understand why this should be held against him.) In his own interests he would be well advised to stick to Daubeney or any other all-boys school, but he says he would resign the service if he thought he would have to spend the rest of his life teaching boys only. He could probably afford to do so. I believe his father left him property, and presumably he has something from his two deceased wives. he has a son and a daughter staying with his first wife’s parents, I gather – the fact that he has a daughter makes his little-girl perversion a little difficult to understand – but I’m inclined to feel there’s not much you can do about a perversion – certainly not pronounce moral judgement on the pervert. Any potential victims of the pervert, though, must be protected against him, in their and his interests.

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Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 23: Sandler angler

Monday, 28th July 1958 – 11.10am

The holidays are here. The term ended badly. H – my headmaster – told me I was to have the lowest 4th yr. stream again next year. A young girl on the staff gets a 3rd year A stream. One tells oneself not to worry –  as a non-graded Primary School teacher one is a failure anyway – but the pill is a bitter one to swallow.

Anyway, back to self-reproduction. Perhaps, after all, least said, soonest mended. I hope, my child(ren) will read this, and I don’t want to do myself an injustice by a ruthless analysis of my motives which might, in fact, be very wide of the mark. However, for his/her/their benefit let me say this:

1) You were conceived in love, your parents want you to be healthy, happy ( I myself find it impossible to conceive of happiness and ill-health co-existing in one person; I hope that happiness and health will be your lot) and successful – in that order.

2) because I am lazy, and daily drink the bitter waters of my laziness, I exhort you to work (I read that lazy fathers usually keep their sons’ noses to the grindstone – in a biography of Mozart). My son(s), swot like blazes till you are twenty-five at least, then you can sit back and draw the dividends – you will be (an) administrative civil servant(s) or dons (I’ll stick to the plural!) or salaried writers (free-lance authorship I doubt whether you will have enough of a gift for to make it as remunerative as the higher bureaucracy or donnery).

Schroffer übergang – as Bithell once wrote on one of the rare scripts I ever did in my 3-yr. German course. We had the Nemeths [?] round the other day, a Miss Avril Shadstone (Shenstone) [?] whom Mrs N. was anxious to get Merton [Sandler] for, Sam [Joseph Witriol’s brother], Lily [Weingarten, Sam’s wife] & Maisie [Lily’s sister], Alf [Katz, Edith’s brother] and Richard [Stern]. The afternoon was highly successful – Merton & Avril clicked. Edith – and I – were favourably & unexpectedly impressed by Avril. A well-groomed, well-spoken young woman, drives, sophisticated but not snooty (said the Avril was to perpetuate an ancestor named Avrohom, which I liked). It seems strange that such a young woman should “play” in Shadchanish [‘matchmaking-ish’] schemes, but, on reflection, there’s no reason why a girl, even if she has plenty of social outlets, should not welcome an invitation to tea at which an eligible young man is to be present. There can be no doubt about Merton’s eligibility – at 32 (31?) he is a consultant at Queen Charlotte’s hospital (£2,000 a year?), of good Anglo-Jewish family.

Mrs N. rang to know if Merton had followed up the contact. Edith thinks she had in fact found out from the girl that he had done so, and this was an attempt to get us to get Merton weaving. Mrs N. told Edith she had another young man lined up for her protégée. The next day Merton rang. Nice popsy, what was it all about? I came clean, and told him he could get the young lady’s phone no. from Mrs N. Edith delighted. Quite, or almost quite, seriously, if this had been professionally shadchaned we would have done very well out of it. I don’t know how professional shadchanim recoup themselves; a percentage of the nadan [dowry], I expect. I can hardly see this percentage being less than 5%, and I can hardly see Avril’s nadan being less than £5,000 ( a furnished house in the suburb, which I think is what Merton is after – £7-8,000 would be nearer the mark). 5% of £5,000 = £250. This is so irrelevant to our own financial needs, that I’d prefer to retain my amateur status. In the event, if the pair are matched, it will probably cost me 5gns. in a wedding present. Merton, top professional man though he is, got us a cellular blanket as a wedding gift (3gns.?); as an impecunious melammed [teacher] I can hardly pay less than 5 gns. for Merton’s gift. But probably I would have to be sensible, rather than indulge my love of paradox and the gesture – how about a 2gn. -3gn. vase, darling? (A vase was one of the things we didn’t get, but Mum wrote to Uncle Mendel and Auntie Dora [my father’s mother’s sister and her husband] telling them this, & they sent us a silver vase from Israel).