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Norman Allan
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Chapter Five: Youth:

There is a passage in a letter to a young lady, dated 1965, in which Ted writes of the insecurity of his youth. Ted is tentative in this letter; besotted by a potential love, bewitched like a child in a candy store. Ted is 49. The young lady, a journalist, is in her early twenties. Ted writes:

     "When I was seventeen my nerve ends were exposed as they seem to be now. I would tremble inwardly," Ted confides, "because I knew within minutes what everyone in the room thought and felt. What petrified me was the fear that I would talk to someone (usually a girl) and she'd humiliate me, believing she must know what I was thinking and feeling (as I knew what she was), she would use the opportunity to show everyone what a sad, insecure, pathetic creature I really was. So the wit developed and got sharper and no one dared to humiliate me. No one in my circle that is. I'm not speaking of my parents and the adults of the time, including the police who scared me from time to time. I mean my so called friends and acquaintances. It was after the poem reading incident. My tongue flicked acid and my mind created mockeries and everyone usually laughed. I might go home later and weep alone in the room, but goddam it, nobody saw me."

As an adult Ted was a womanizer, a handsome wolf, but as a youth, put him in front of a beauty and he was lost, as is illustrated in the story, "Squirrel and Summer Flowers". Ted was "madly but secretly in love" with a young lady, that he named in the story, Brinda Bassell, "the most beautiful communist in Montreal..." but I'm going to call her Bryndl (because I think that was her name).

"The Sunday meeting had finished as usual and a group of us started for one of the hills on the mountain, we had named Karl Marx Hill, to continue our discussions in a more informal manner. On the way across the field Bryndl was walking beside me. I lingered so that other comrades might catch up and she wouldn't find herself paired off with such a nobody, but no matter what opportunity I gave her to extricate herself, she continued walking beside me.
     Then I thought that perhaps she was doing it deliberately, as a practical joke. I started speaking rapidly to a nearby comrade, trying to control the panic spreading through me. Bryndl turned and said, "I've been meaning to talk to you. I wish you'd speak more often at meetings. You make more sense than most of us."
     I waited for the burst of laughter I believed this was supposed to provoke, ready to return a witticism to show I could take it.
     "So many comrades," she went on, "talk for the pleasure of hearing their own voices. It's a joy to listen to somebody say something he'd given some thought to."
     Why was she teasing me like this when I loved her?
     When we sat down on the grass, I tried to get as far from her as possible, but there she was, sitting beside me. I could sense the others trying to conceal their laughter. Then she asked if she could put her head in my lap because she didn't want to put it on the grass. This was too much. I stood up, announcing I had to be somewhere. I started to run and could not stop myself from crying. Why had she tried to humiliate me?
     I stopped going to meetings.
     Time passed.
     On a Saturday evening, many months later, I went to a party to raise money for some worthy left-wing cause. Just as I walked in I saw Bryndl. I turned immediately and walked back out, but I'd been seen by the hostess, Miriam, a Jewish woman of thirty-five married to a French-Canadian sculptor. I had shown her some of my writing and she said I was talented, so I put her down as a well-meaning harmless eccentric who smoked cigarettes like Russians do, the lit end held towards herself. She followed me down the stairs to ask were I was going. "You probably don't like crowds," she said, "but there's an editor here I think you should meet."
     I didn't want to miss out on such an opportunity, so I forced myself back. I tried to keep hidden behind other people, but Bryndl saw me. Her face went into a bright "loving friend" smile. She pushed across the room. I waited for the attack, grimacing bravely. When she got to me she didn't know what to say and finally managed "Hello." I looked down and up and sideways, feeling my eyes rolling. She said, "It's good to see you! Where have you been? I've missed you," and I looked to see if she was performing for the benefit of an audience, but nobody seemed to be paying attention. I heard somebody humming and realized it was me. I turned around and walked out of the room. Bryndl followed and stood on the step above me. "What have I done?" she asked. "Why are you behaving like this?"
     I studied her carefully. People were pushing past us, going up or down the stairs.
     "I don't understand," she said. "What have I done that you're so angry at me? All I know is that I like you and I've fallen over myself showing you... And you..." she faltered.
     "I don't know why you'd like me," I stuttered, "especially after somebody like Peter Tannenbaum..."
     "That's all over," she said, "long ago. And I..."
     I interrupted with an impatient wave of my hand. "All I'm trying to say is if you're making fun of me..."
     Her mouth was open. "Are you sure you're not making fun of me?" There were tears in her eyes.      "You're a crazy boy." Then she said. "Let's not go back. Let's go for a walk."
     I kept looking behind to see whether a group of her friends would swoop on us, whooping with laughter. I didn't believe any of it, but as we walked I started to let myself believe, to let it enter me slowly, so that I finally asked, "You like me? You really like me?" She bent forward and touched my lips with hers. I had to sit down. I sat on the curb and she sat beside me. Then we walked for hours and she told me of her story. I told her mine.
     I remember the scent of her hair, the husky whispering quality of her voice, her hand in mine - my hand, for sure, slightly perspiring - our eyes meeting and holding: and then we were at her doorway, and I leaned forward to kiss her cheek.

     Ted wrote elsewhere (in one of the several versions of his autobiography that he started) of Bryndl visiting him "twenty years" later in London, and I recall him telling me the story of how an old flame visited; how they had had a chaste relationship, and then twenty years later they made love, and how nice that was. As he was telling me this story - we were at his apartment in Putney: I was playing a "Byrds" record, "The Notorious Byrd Brothers", and the lyrics spoke of waiting for a plane in London... "and it took me twenty years to get to you"; and I was thinking "wow! dig the synchronicity", and trying to bring Ted's attention to this (I was almost certainly "stoned": which may have facilitated my paying attention to several things at once), and I was judging Ted, because he couldn't hear the lyrics and appreciate the synchronicity; which wasn't that inappropriate, my judgment, because it vented my ambivalence at listening to him talking about his love affairs.

His loves and affairs... Ted's sexuality was an important part of my psychic environment. Always a womaniser, during my childhood (his young adult years) Ted was a compulsive Don Juan. In my adulthood (his mature years) he seemed to be an accomplished, highly sought-after lover. Great oaks from acorns. I recall, from my childhood, he would come into the bathroom when I was peeing and stand beside me and pee into the toilet, two streams: and I, with my child's weeny peeny, was impressed, overawed, by the size of his adult flesh.

In the short story entitled "Birdie" , Ted described another adolescent "romance". In this story Ted shows us the teenage Alan compulsively drawn into a ritual he could not resist with a young lady called Birdie. Birdie and Ted took turns reading poetry to one another while the listener masturbated the recitist. Birdie would allow no discussion, no reference to what was going on, and it left Ted with a sour taste, and unclean taste, but for a time it was irresistible.

Ted doesn't write about his first love making. Indeed he is circumspect, for the most part, about explicit sexual behaviour. There were several "lovers" before he left Montreal for Spain. I know this from conversations, not from his public writings, and I have forgotten what details he may have imparted. We have a fictionalised, idealised and aggrandised, version of his teenage love life in the award winning novel "Love is a Long Shot".

I want to enlarge here upon one of Ted's contradictions: Ted at one level was a libertine, but some situations revealed a streak of Puritanism. So, on the one hand, I recall Ted offering to explore and record his thoughts during masturbation as a literary/scientific project. And I recall his perception of himself as a lover, his avid avowal of his adoration for the female form - he would wax lyrical, usually in private, in his analytical notes, for instances, and unedited writings awaiting deletions, or conversations, "Vagina fascinate me," he said. "I love to smell them, touch them, lick and suck them..."
     He spoke to me with some enthusiasm of some film footage of a male chimpanzee following behind an estrous lady chimp licking his lips. Who's lips? All lips. Ted miming. ("The man with no boundaries," says one of his granddaughters.)
     On the other hand... I recall my twenty-sixth birthday. I was sitting with a small group of friends in a circle on the floor. I was "tripping" on acid: a birthday treat. Ted arrived with his dear friend, the novelist Edna O'Brian. Edna had brought a magnum of champagne as a present. I uncorked the bottle: Pop! The foam flowed into my lap. "It's like coming," I said.
     "I'll drink to that," said my friend Gerry.
     Ted made a face and mumbled, embarrassed and scandalised. There is no follow up to this story, but maybe a moral: people are full of contradictions: the man with no boundaries had his prudish side.


In the months before Ted died, when we were working together on this book, Ted spoke to me, a last time, about hospitalizing Sadie. "I suspect that the fact that she was an embarrassment was one of the factors - which is horrifying. She was seventeen! There was no prior problem. I had begun to make a bit of a name for myself."
     "She fell in love with her boss, a man called Hilliard. Her love was unrequited. She became depressed. Then she got manic. She'd open her coat in the street to passing men. It was winter."
     "Ma was terrified - with Harry coming home - he mustn't see her - it will make him sick. So she choose him: choose him again over us."
     "Since then I told every girl, 'don't trust me'," Ted told me. "I began to really dislike myself. I liked who I was until that moment. Sadie and I were madly in love. I liked being with her more than everybody else. We used to wait for each other. We used to laugh a lot."

And from another "Outline of Autobiography: 1986":
      "I used to daydream that Sadie and I would live as lovers on some deserted island. When she went 'mad' my feelings about her terrified me. I was afraid I was responsible for her madness...
     ... The white-coated attendants were waiting to bring her in. She stared at me, and started screaming. When I came to visit her next day she was confined to a canvas bath in a straight jacket, and was quite berserk by now, shouting, "This is not my brother! This man is an impostor! I want my brother!"
     ... Sadie died only two years ago in 1984. She died living alone in a small flat in London. She died in a diabetic coma."

I am perplexed by Ted's fictionalizations. Of course it is to be expected in a writer. My friend Johanna defends him: "Ted Allan didn't tell lies, but he was very much aware of how reality and his encounter of it did not match." Ted writes of his propensity to distort reality in an unpublished autobiographical work he called "The Minstrel Boy". Here the protagonist is a David Solomon, and again we are back in Ted's adolescence:

"He walked the city streets trying to remember the things that had happened on these same streets when he was a child. He went back to the street where he had been born looking for something. He was like a man who had forgotten his way and had forgotten that he was lost.
     Something was escaping him.
     He tried think about it and all that came out was: "Something happened to me once and I wonder what it is?" The question haunted him, coming to him at the most unexpected moments, when he ate, when he was in bed about to go to sleep, when he was reading, he'd feel that nebulous unshaped sensation: "Something happened to me once..."
     Sometimes his concern with himself troubled him. He wanted to forget himself, forget his fears and his probing, but something always came up. He would always remember some pain, some time some person had hurt him, some time he had been frightened. Often there was nothing definite, just a vague terror seizing him and he wanted to run. Then the Mountain was his refuge and his asylum. There he could lay on the thick grass and feel the earth close to him. There he could tell himself, with no one to question or doubt what he said, that he was strong and brave, unafraid.
     Often when he experienced these vague terrors he would go into the cellar of his house and write. He had filled a trunk in the cellar with his writings. No one had seen anything he had written, except Sydney. Once he brought a poem to Sydney and Sydney had liked it. But Sydney had also said something about its being crude and unpolished, and since then he had not wanted to show him anything else.
     One night he awoke with the sensation that he was choking. He was in a sweat. He couldn't go back to sleep. He went into the cellar and began to write. It was the story of a man who was all alone with no friends who finally committed suicide. He wrote in a fury of emotion, his hands growing numb, but driven by the feeling that he would be calm again and be able to sleep if he finished the story. When he did things like this, his mother would stand at the head of the stairs begging him to come to sleep, worried and frightened by her son's crazy behaviour. But all this was part of an established picture for him. The picture of his mother standing at the head of the stairs, telling him to go to sleep, his writing furiously through the night, this, this moment, this was the picture he wanted to create. In the back of his head there was always the thought: "I am a writer. This is what writers do. This is what writers feel. This is what every writer goes through."
     He described the things he saw, wrote what he felt, melting them together. The idiot who sold newspapers in the winter without gloves and who always laughed, whom he passed on his was to work, became a story. But it was not the story of the idiot. It was the story of Davie Solomon selling newspapers in the cold and always laughing idiotically.
     He had made up a system to understand people. He put himself in their place and reacted to what he himself had said, or had seen. This way everyone he met became quite simple. They were all like himself. Sometimes when he spoke to someone it was as if he were talking to himself, and he would be surprised by some things people said because he would have said something entirely different. Often he only half heard what anyone else said, so that if he reported the conversation to Sydney (and he could mimic very well) what he actually reported was a conversation he made up. There was always the feeling that he wasn't telling the truth, but he felt that the way he told it sounded better, so it didn't matter if he changed it a little. But sometimes this would trouble him. "Why do I lie so much?" he would ask himself. "Does everyone lie the way I do?"
     He'd make up stories of things that had happened to him and then in the middle of it he would get a cold feeling in his stomach as he realised that he himself believed it as he was telling it.
     He could tell amusing stories. Always he was part of the story. Always he said the funny things in the story. Always he emerged as the hero in his stories.
     He once wanted to tell Sydney how he lied, but he couldn't. He was afraid that Sydney would never believe anything he said anymore. It made him feel dishonest. It made him feel that Sydney thought him something he wasn't, and he made up his mind a thousand times that he would not make up any stories and would not lie - but no sooner did he see Sydney, no sooner did he have an audience, then he waited for the opportune moment to tell of his latest imaginary exploits.
     He said to himself, "I am honest. I am not a fake. I am honest to myself. I know myself. As long as I am honest to myself everything is all right. As long as I know myself everything is all right." But he needed more assurance and sometimes he would ask Sydney, "You think I'm an honest person, don't you? I mean, you believe I'm a sincere person, don't you?"
     Sydney had been surprised at the question. He had answered, "Of course." But then Sydney was never troubled by such questions, he thought. Sydney was sure of himself. Sydney was educated. He read many books. He talked about poetry and literature and music. He discussed politics and explained everything. And Sydney was also very handsome with wavy blonde hair and blue eyes. He was jealous of Sydney.

Ted Allan did not tell "lies". He might embellish a story. His life and his work merged - a writers world -

Another passage speaks of the pains and fears, the insecurities of Ted's teenage years:

"He sat on a wooden bench high on the mountain and looked down at the lights of his city. When he thought to listen he could hear the tug boats in the distance and the traffic, the tooting of horns and the shrill clank of the streetcar bells.
     He was alone. Now and then the warm autumn wind brought the whisper of voices. People were on the "Lookout". "Probably tourists who had driven up the mountain by horse and buggy for the panorama. It was a good way to see life," he thought. "Get to some high point above it and look down. Then forget about it."
     Behind him rose a high hill, black in the darkness. The moon was above him and he stared at it trying to establish contact with something outside of himself. "What was on the moon?" But suddenly "that feeling" seized him again. He tried to fight off the panic. "What is it? What is it?" He banged his fists against his thighs trying to beat the fear out of himself.
     "What is the matter with me?"
     "Everything can be known. Nothing is a mystery. Everything can be explained. I know that. Everything has its reasons."
     He lit a cigarette, inhaled once, then threw it to the ground and crushed it under his heel. He wanted to leave and go home but something held him there. He felt that he was about to touch the secret of himself. He felt that if he would sit a little longer it would come to him. Everything would become clear to him and the fear would go away. He sat waiting, half expecting words to be uttered explaining the mystery of his life and the secret of the world.
     His heart stopped pounding and he grew hushed inside. This was it! It all seemed so simple suddenly. It was so clear. The answer was...
     He could hear the words pounding against his skull. He repeated them, trying to hold on to them, trying to convince himself that he knew the answer; that it had come finally and that his fears were gone; he knew and was no longer afraid.
But it was gone. The feeling was gone. Nothing had come. He got up from the bench and started the climb down the mountain. He didn't use the wooden stairs but walked to the road and followed it down until he came to Mount Royal Street. It was eleven o'clock. The streets were full. The ice-cream parlour on the corner was packed with boys and girls of his age. He walked in and saw some of his friends.
     "What's the matter?" asked Sydney.
     "Ten minutes ago I almost knew the secret of the world."
     "And...?" prompted Sydney.
     "And I lost it."

Ted worked in a cigar store in downtown Montreal which served as a "blind" for an illegal horse-betting establishment in the rear. His experiences here were to be the basis of his comic novel "Love is a Long Shot", which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour in 1985. There was a good deal of humour in this bleak life of the depression. Humour in the way Mr. Keller, the bookie, rigged the municipal elections for the Liberal Party machine. His henchman, Brains Simcoe, voted fourteen times under different names.
     In "Love is a Long Shot" Ted is a scrutineer at the polling booth, and Brains Simcoe, among others, keeps returning to vote yet again...

"If you're Yankel Herscovitch," I shouted, "say something in Yiddish."
     "Koosh my tochas," said Brains.
     "Kiddo," said Mr. Keller. "You are living in a true democracy. Just because people are dead is no reason they should lose the right to vote."

In this instance Ted was exasperated by a corrupt power structure, but elsewhere he was able to turn the tables. The Duplessis' "Padlock Law" of this era was meant to lock up any premises used to promote left wing propaganda and agitation. Ted moved the Party's mimeograph machine into a storeroom at the cigar store/bookie's. The police had a tacit agreement to ignore the bookie's, and so, in this way, the Party's pamphlets escaped the padlock law.

Ted's horizons grew in his adolescence. In my opinion this growth came primarily from his writing. In his opinion it came largely from his involvement in the Young Communist League:

"It was during the Depression that I became a "Believer". I joined the YCL and dreamed of changing our cruel and unjust world into a paradise of love and justice. I had to leave High School at the age of fourteen because my Daddy was spending his time inventing things that didn't work (a pressless trouser, a moveable cufflink, an electrically heated box to keep milk bottles from freezing in the winter. This one actually worked. Our milk didn't freeze, and we were the only people in Montreal who easily had liquid milk for breakfast). Inasmuch as he stopped earning and spent a good deal of his time in mental hospitals, I became the breadwinner of the family. I worked in Herman Brothers Gift Shops (no relation), then managed one of Pascals' Hardware Stores.
     The core of my life was the YCL. How I studied the classical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. I went to meetings five times a week. But being a member of the YCL involved me in more than politics. I received a cultural education. The best of the young people of the day, including some of our leading poets and writers, were friends of CP members, so I got to read and know them first hand. I became bonded to a group of idealistic young men and women who encouraged me to go to concerts, who suggested I read the great classics of literature, and then discussed them with me. It was also in the YCL that I learned to appreciate my humanistic and revolutionary Jewish heritage through the works, for example, of Sholom Aleichem and, believe it or not, Franz Kafka.

Later, when I was nineteen, I was the Montreal correspondent of the party newspaper, the Daily Clarion.

Ted became quite an important, almost daily, feature of the Daily Clarion. A small sample of some of his headlines include:"Nazi Agents Here Headed by Arcand Spill Their Poison" (6/5/36); "Canadian Textile Employees Lowest Paid on Continent" (27/6/36).
     In July and August of 1936 Ted wrote a series of articles on the elections in Quebec, and in September a series on the Trades and Labour Congress held in Montreal. Then... "Duplessis Announces Reign of Terror in Quebec - Plans to Outlaw Labour Movement" (30/9/36); "Workers' Hall Smashed by Fascist Mob" (7/10/36); "Montreal Gangsters Force Ban on Spain Meeting" (24/10/36); "Howling Fascists Roam Thru Streets Terrorizing Jews" (24/10/36); "Fascists Threaten to Bomb Montreal Book Shop" (28/10/36); Strong Worker Guard Saves Book Store from Dynamite" (30/10/36); "30,000 Jobless Youth in Montreal - French-Canadians are Greatest Sufferers in Unemployed Ranks" (14/1/37.

This period of Ted's youthful journalistic work overlapped his association with Bethune. It was in 1934 that Ted met Norman Bethune, a meeting which profoundly influenced his life. We spoke in chapter one of that meeting, and of the onset of the Spanish Civil War. In the autumn of 1936 Bethune left for Europe and Spain, and Ted started organising his own departure. Ted was planning to go as a correspondent for the Clarion. In Madrid he intended to hitch up with Bethune. Bethune was expecting him.

"The Canadian Party, in the persons of Fred Rose (then District Organiser for Quebec) and Norman Freed (then member of the Central Committee), had succumbed to my blandishments and agreed to send me to Spain as correspondent for the party newspaper, the Daily Clarion. I was overjoyed. I got my passport, and a number of farewell parties took place to wish me bon voyage. The parties were premature as it turned out. I traveled to Toronto to meet with Leslie Morris, the editor of the paper. Comrades Fred and Norman had forgotten to check with Leslie Morris, and in the meanwhile Leslie had made arrangements for Jean Watts to act as the paper's correspondent. Embarrassment and apologies all round, except that I was standing there with my face gone.
     I got angry. I went to see the Spanish Consul in Montreal and spoke about the need to start making broadcasts in English from Madrid. Naturally I offered myself. He said he'd write to his superiors and see what could be done.
     Then I decided to hell with it. I'd volunteer in the Brigade. Surely they'll find a use for me doing newspaper work or radio work. And if they don't, fuck it. I'll fight in the trenches. The idea of being confined to a trench and not being able to leave terrified me. I wouldn't mind being a pilot or a tank driver, but to be trapped in a trench! It made me ill. But I figured - okay, if I don't get assigned to some journalistic work, I'll just have to face the trenches.
     Fred laughed. He reminded me of the phlebitis in my right leg developed when I was fourteen after a case of mastoiditis. From time to time my leg would swell and I'd be forced to wear a rubber bandage. (Which reminds me of another lie. I've gone around telling everybody that I wear a medical stocking because of the wound I received in Spain. I wore one before the wound. The wound merely exacerbated the condition.) So Freddy laughed and said that the Brigade Generals would die laughing if they saw me, what with my leg, my shoulder given to dislocate, and the fact that I'd never held a rifle in my hand. "No. It's ridiculous," said Fred. I was to be a good boy and continue my good work as the Montreal correspondent of the Clarion.
     I said if he didn't okay my volunteering, I'd get into the Brigade anyway, without the Party's permission. He warned me about a breach of discipline, that I would be expelled if I acted without Party permission.
     I said I'd risk the expulsion. Nothing and no one was going to stop me going to Spain. I was going to participate in that war one way or another. If I was to die, fine I'd die right there in Spain, but I wasn't planning to get killed. I was planning to avoid the shells and bombs and to do some good work broadcasting from Madrid and writing freelance for newspapers and magazines.
     "If you join the Brigade you'll be in a bloody trench, not broadcasting from Madrid!" shouted Fred.
     "I'll ask to be transferred to Madrid," I said. "And if they don't I won't. I'm prepared to gamble it. They need good broadcasters and journalists in Madrid. If they think its more important that I fight in the trenches, then I will." I meant it. I was prepared to take the gamble, but sensed it would go the way I wanted it to. Most things did in my life, until that terrible day in Spain.
     No. Another half truth. Things worked out the way I wanted them to when I knew my identity. For the longest, loneliest time I couldn't remember where I lost it, my identity. Maybe I lost part of it when I betrayed Sadie. Maybe I lost most of it that day in Spain.

Well, Freddy finally gave in and I was off to Spain, to Madrid to fight fascism for the greater glory of man, and me!


chapter 6