About Philip Israel Witriol

I hope to preserve online as much of my father’s written output as possible, in particular his unpublished book Mumme Loohshen, An Anatomy of Yiddish.

Part 67: Wednesday 2nd November 1960, 2.10pm

A week’s mid-term holiday. Apparently, we can get a week for each of the three mid-terms, in addition to six weeks in summer. I had thought one would get only two mid-term days in the secondary school. Presumably there will be very few, if any, “occasional closures.” Anyway, it’s just as well. Even the five days hardly gives one a chance to breathe and look around – another tiff with E. yesterday, caused, ultimately by my getting up late – 9.30-ish. To-day up shortly after eight, having fed and changed Max 6.45-7.20. Aunt Debbie [Deborah Coltonoff, my mum’s Aunt] and Boobe Yetta round. Edith off with Aunt Debbie and Max to clinic; Philip asleep in cot, Mum reading The Crossing Point by Gerda Charles in sitting-room, I writing this in study, breaking off to bring in washing. Sun has emerged, leave washing out for another half-hour or so, continuing this in sitting-room.

Prize giving at Archway Central Hall the other evening. Edward Blishen presented prizes. I enjoyed his speech, though his ad-libbing was not to the taste of Leece, the Eden Grove P.E. man. Blishen said he would start off with what he imagined must be a unique opening on these occasions “Revenge is Sweet”. He said Barnsbury was the first school he was sent to, after having presented himself at Divisional Offices, a dungeon wherein sat a number of pallid young teachers obviously trying to persuade themselves they did like children. Anyway, he’s certainly earned his revenge. Anybody who can “take” a modern secondary school and have enough energy left over to write a good book (Roaring Boys), numerous articles and to give numerous lectures deserves to get out, as he has done, and on to the BBC.

After some inward debate went to a meeting organised by the Jewish Quarterly at the National Book League’s premises to celebrate publication of Arnold Wesker’s Trilogy. I haven’t seen or heard any of the plays, though I’ve gathered they’ve had a great success. They haven’t made Wesker really wealthy, though, I don’t think; to get really into the money, you have to write “musicals” (Lionel Borden [sic]) or be a comedian with a gimmick (Bresslaw, gangling 6 ft. plusser, “I only arst”). I came after Sonntag, J.Q. editor, had started explaining the theme of the discussion. I didn’t quite know what this was, but it seemed to be, what is “Anglo-Jewish” writing. From the platform Frederic Raphael, young author of well-reviewed Anglo-Jewish novel, The Limits of Love, spoke and ? Lansdowne, well-known man of theatre. Raphael said he detected a tendency among Jews not to want to “leave the family”. Ruth Sternberg, née Schiff, spoke well from floor, though irritatingly saying her background was middle-class (unlike Wesker’s East-end working-class). Although at first hearing it might seem ridiculous to talk of Jewish “classes” (“so his dad came over on the banana boat before mine,” as Alan Spears used to say), they do exist: working class — pressers, cabinet-makers; lower middle-class  — small shopkeepers; middle-middle — wealthier shopkeepers and – pre-1939 – schoolteachers; upper-middle — doctors, lawyers, accountants, wholesalers; upper-class — Rothschilds & Co. Obviously these are very broad categories.

Part 66: Sunday 2nd October 1960, 10.25

Perhaps things are not too bad, after all. We have coped with less friction than in the holidays. Another Yom Kippur over; I can’t say I enjoy the fasting. However, am feeling all the fitter now, probably because I didn’t cram the equivalent of the missing meals into my stomach last night. Talking of fitness – it’s amazing; a fortnight or so ago I experienced a pain in the instep of my right foot. Not severe, I attributed it at first to some fault in the shoe, but the pain persisted over several days, even when I wore other shoes.  Although I no longer flap as I did in 1949 with my left leg trouble – I know that pains do come and go – I was worried, so much so that I shlepped to my doctor in Wood Green. His deputy -he himself was on holiday – straightaway said it was nothing. I went home feeling, at least, that I had not been neglectful. Quite all right now, but why pain in instep of right foot, davke? A touch of lumbago, I can understand – in fact I did have a very mild touch recently. It’s all very strange, there you are, as the P.B. says: yadam ach yodanu she-chayenu tefachim, and in spite of one’s various “cribs” – drudgery, confinement to home (though one realises one is lucky to have one’s own home) – one realises that all that matters is reasonable health for one and one’s own.

The highlight of the period under review has been the visit of Sam Wagreich, M.D., and his wife Rosalind. He is the son of my father’s – olov hashalom – late sister. My brother sam has corresponded with him sporadically. He turned out to be quite a guy. Fairly tall – if I remember aright – iron-grey hair à la brosse. Apparently he’s President of the “Five Counties” Medical Association, an association of about 16,000 N.Y. G.P’s. He put over a convincing defence of the American Way of Life  -he’s a good talker. An English G.P. in a corresponding position would have had more gravitas, I imagine – but there again, perhaps it’s a matter of “familiarity breeding contempt.” Anyway they left Sam & me a watch each; the price tag had been left – inadvertently, presumably, it was 55 dollars. I’m afraid I’m developing mercenary tendencies; I had been sweating on a fifty-dollar cheque.

 

 

Part 65: 3rd September 1960, 10.15 p.m.

Will it be believed if it is told? Even on “holiday” it has taken me a month, almost, to get round to an entry; once school starts al achat kama vekama [Hebrew expression – how much more so] will it be difficult to keep up the diary. However, it may work out differently in practice.

It’s been very much a save-the-mark holiday. E and I have been at it all the time coping with the kids, bless ’em; so much so, that it has been an achievement for us to get out, pram-pushing, for a couple of hours together; or for E. to get down with Philip to her mother, or for me to make a dash for freedom on a “day out.” On this day out I went to Hatfield — a 2/- or so Green Line journey from here — leaving about 10a.m. It was a drizzly day. The stately home at Hatfield was closed, it being a Monday. I tried to do a “Fieldfare” ramble, but found myself, as usual on these occasions, up against barbed wire. However, I found my way to St. Albans, where I gave the cathedral the once-over. It’s impressive inside, soaring Gothic, though unimposing outside – the external fabric is modern. I also tried to do the Roman ruins, but was too tired, and a new shoe I was wearing was pinching me. I set off earlier than I had thought I would for home and returned to feed Max about 7 p.m.

And so back to school on the Monday. Things will be pretty tough. I’m teaching two evenings a week, Southgate English for Foreigners at 42/- a time, Friern Barnet beginners’ French at 33/6. This latter came as a bit of a shock. I learned that another class I had agreed to take at Wood Green (“German for Tourists”) only rated 33/6. I had thought of turning down both lower-rate jobs, but eventually decided to take the Friern Barnet one; at least it will be within walking (though not easy walking) distance.

Financial situation is such that I will certainly take another evening at 42/- if it turns up. My bank balance is alarming. I was overdrawn for August. Only a couple of pounds, and only for a few days, but it’s annoying all the same. Last time something similar occurred the Bank charged quite heavily. Am cashing £30 worth of Philip’s National Savings Certificates, Edith’s £25 Premium Bonds. Even with this, & the £24 or so Thames & Hudson owe me, I’m pretty sure I shall have to ask Sam for £25; he’s already given me £75 of the £100 he said I could have. There you are; my gross schoolteacher salary is £1143 p.a. — £1141, I think — my extras between £100 to £200 p.a. net before tax — we have not gone away since before the children were born; I think the last time we were out together was on our anniversary, when admittedly it cost us £3-£4, I suppose; the highlight of our day is a cigarette, with coffee and ice-cream; and yet we cannot balance our budget.

I can’t see the situation ever improving, much. As soon as both children are at school E. will have to try to get a three-hour daily, 4 or 5-day weekly job, which will just about cover the extra needed for the children (their fares will have to be paid, their food bill will be substantial, etc. — these increased costs will, however, be to some extent offset by saving on nappies, cotton wool, cellulose, which comes to at least 15/- a week at present) and a very cheap, almost certainly do-it-yourself holiday. House repairs, redecorations will have to be left until the children can find their way to school and both E. & I can work full-time, with what resultant strain can be imagined. But there it is, it’s a common way-of-living pattern. E. has finished her Hoovermatic-ing, I think; she had a perm yesterday and bought herself a pair of trews to-day, which she is now wearing. I find myself positively approving. Strange to think I once found be-trousered women upsetting. I suppose I found it a usurpation of my masculinity, but since E. has demonstrated her femininity, I can afford to be “big” about the trousers. She is a very good girl really; her life consists of an unbroken round of preparing feeds, feeding babies, changing nappies. Inevitably she “lets fly” at times, but her terrific sense of humour — “terrific” is wrong, “strong” will do — comes breaking through. But is she scared of the possibility of another pregnancy! Makes me feel quite lecherous, as if I’d sired twenty-two, not two, children.

The children, ken en hora, [Yiddish –without the evil eye] are lovely; it’s unfair to think of them as simply something to be coped with. After all, Philip usually sleeps the night through. Perhaps every other night he starts screaming about 3 a.m., but even then, all he needs is a bit of a run-round and his bottle of milk and he’s off again. By day all he wants is paper and books to tear up and pots and pans to throw about and to have fun and games generally.

Part 64: 8th August 1960, 11.45 a.m.

Writing this in the study, Max in the carry-cot on the divan next to me. Philip gurgling in play-pen, E. & her mother pottering around. Philip after an exhausting afternoon yesterday “performing” for his uncles, slept like a log (tired simile, we had a discussion on this the other day in the staff room, two members of the staff saying kids should not be encouraged to learn these clichés, another chap, Lloyd – whom I have pigeon-holed as reactionary (militantly N.A.S., bachelor-in-his-forties-at-least, anti-feminist) – saying they should. I tend to agree with Lloyd. If you can think of better similes than sleep like a log, fit as a fiddle, right as rain (this sounds wrong – let’s pass on), sound as a bell, hard as nails, all right; but if you can’t, you should know your clichés. To get back to Philip. His long sleep – E. gave him some milk at 6, and the he went right on till 10 – gave E. a bit of a break, with a consequent lessening in tension all round. Must break off. Max demanding. 5.15 p.m. – resumed. Pouring. It’s been a tranquil day, mercifully. Philip was quiet in his play pen in the morning, slept (again!) in it this afternoon, Max has been sleeping well. Even so, I haven’t been able to “do” anything, except mow the lawn (20 mins.), but it’s something not to feel headache-y (through interrupted and/or insufficient sleep) and to have a reasonable atmosphere in the house.

Am getting through That Great Lucifer (Sir Walter Raleigh) by Margaret Irwin. Am “doing” it for the benefit of my next year’s history pupils. Surprisingly enough, to me, the book was one of the half-dozen best sellers, although it wasn’t particularly well reviewed.

Part 63: Monday, August 1st 1960, 10.15 a.m.

It has been a pretty grim week. At the moment the scene is peaceful. Max sleeping in his pram in the garden, Philip having a more or less tranquil breakfast with, or rather, at the hands of his mother and her mother. I have washed, shaved, dressed, breakfasted and feel, as of now, fairly rested. Max demanded food at 11.15 last night, as we went to bed. We got to sleep just after midnight, using an electric feed-warmer, installed by Alf (mum’s brother); saves someone going down to the kitchen at nights to warm up the feed. Max up again about 4 (I can’t remember whether I got up too – I think I did, but it wasn’t to do much more than lend moral support), then  – an unexpected complication – though nothing is unexpected in this lark – Philip up howling at 6a.m. He slung away the proffered bottle, but after a few minutes did take it and went off to sleep. By great good fortune he stayed asleep till 9.30. meanwhile Max created at about 7.30. I capitulated and lay dozing, E. giving Max water, which I believe sent him off by about 8. I must have then got in half-an-hour’s sleep, which has benefitted me enormously. P. is now seated on the divan (b night the visitors’ bed) in the study, guzzling his milk from his polythene bottle.

We are having mother trouble; inevitably, I suppose, my-mother trouble. Boobbe (my father had his own transcription system for Yiddish words) Esther, (my mother’s mother) afflicted with hard hearing and a gammy leg, gives no trouble. Boobbe Yetta, though, has the defects of her virtues; highly strung, ambitious, a “live wire”, she tends to lay down the law, “kommandire“. [? writing unclear] Nevertheless, in fairness to her, I must say that as far as I have been able to observe, she has behaved as correctly towards E. as any “foreigner” in her eighties (ken en hora) can be expected to. There was a painful “incident” last Tuesday, when she came round, from Clapton to here, a wearisome journey even for me. She gets no credit for this from E. In the past, we have on a number of occasions been able to miss out on visiting Boobbe Y. and visit Boobbe E. instead. It is only human nature, I suppose, for E. to resent* my mother’s being able to come to us whereas her mother is confined to her flat (she has come to us by car for a week, and will return by car – Alf got someone to do the job cheap). Must break off – P. is breaking up the study. I think he knows “book” — he says “boo-er.” The only other words he knows are “fleh” (flower) and “bubber” (rhyming with rubber) = baby. The incident arose out of the name question. E. and I. had agreed on Menachem as the Hebrew name, and Max for the English name. A few weeks before the confinement my mother had said (or was this after the birth? I think the latter because when E. became pregnant Boobbe Y. had started talking about names, and E. had said why not wait till she was safely delivered –  a rebuke which, again in fairness to my mother, I must say she accepted and I think didn’t revive the name question till after the birth) why not give the child a name Menahem Mendel, which, she persists in saying, was her late brother-in-law’s name. As far as I know, it was Mendel tout court, which at some stage he changed, in Israel, to Menahem. Although I don’t like Mendel particularly myself (though I don’t feel violently about it) and Menahem Mendel even less (because of Sholem Aleichem’s Menahem Mendel) I said all right, Menahem Mendel, my mother was tearful, it’ll be a blessing for the child. I dropped a clanger in not telling E. – “I’m only the mother.” Hence when my mother called Max Mendel the fat was in the fire, E. had a touch of hysteria, she’d, obviously, been under great strain, and my mother, correctly, left the house. Somme toute, she says she won’t come to us any more. This isn’t the whole story, which cannot be told here, but perhaps I’ve already given it too much space. The fault, if anyone’s, was mine, in not telling “E” about the “Mendel” in time; but it never occurred to me she would worry about the “Hebrew” name.

*incorrect. Do not resent. –  Booba Y. comes if she can to see the children & that way can see them more often. Booba E. must wait till we can come with them which is more infrequent — E.W. [my mum’s footnote to this entry]