by Catriona Courtier
AUTUMN VOICES OVER 60 WRITING COMPETITION
These are some of the things that didn’t happen to me when I was in the Young Communist League.
I didn’t get a suntan on our social to North Berwick because we just sat in the dunes, in the rain, drinking.
I didn’t have any sort of sexual contact with Jamie though he sat beside me in the coach on the way home.
The first time he sat beside me on a coach, I asked Jamie,
“Are you good at sex?”
I asked him because I was a silly, wee lassie and I thought he would be good at it because he was the leader of the YCL. . But he just said,
Which was probably true.
Jamie’s true loves were always communism and drinking.
But he was a lovely fellow. He was a big guy, an amateur wrestler. Even when he was drunk, he was always so amiable and happy and smiling.
It was tradition that the men sat with a lassie on the coach. There weren’t enough lassies to go round but it was right that the leader should have one and he always chose me. Every time he sat beside me I hoped I would become his girlfriend but I don’t remember that he ever even kissed me. But he always chose me to sit beside. There weren’t many lassies in the YCL, it is true. But he chose me and once, much later, he said that there had always been something between us.
So maybe there was.
It was because of Jamie that I became a Communist. Because of his pink shirt, and his black leather jacket with the Ban the Bomb and Committee of One Hundred badges on the lapels, and because of his height and the width of his shoulders and his blonde hair and his smile and because of how friendly he was when he gave us a leaflet and asked my pal, Elaine, and me if we would like to come to a meeting.
And I said,
“Yes. Oh, Yes, I would like to come to a meeting.”
. And I made Elaine, come too. She was willing because her mother had been in the Independent Labour Party and had hung red flags at her tenement window instead of Union Jacks at the time of the coronation.
A thing that didn’t happen to me when I was in the YCL was that I didn’t become pregnant and neither did Elaine. At one time we were the only two lassies in it that weren’t pregnant. There weren’t many lassies in the YCL. But still.
Jamie was a gentleman. He didn’t take advantage of me in any way in these coaches when I was a silly, wee lassie. I suppose he had no desire to. But still I was safe with Jamie. It wouldn’t have been a good thing to have become, a pregnant, teenage communist.
Another thing that didn’t happen was that I didn’t manage to sell any copies of the YCL newsletter, “Challenge”, in the pit villages of west Fife on a Sunday afternoon.
Marlene sold a lot. She was one of the lassies who did become pregnant .She had dyed, blonde hair and wore her skirts short. Her selling technique was to go up to men and ask them,
“Do you want a challenge for sixpence?”
It seemed to work. Especially with the pensioners. They would usually buy a magazine in the end, even if they didn’t really want it. She married Ian, who was the second in
command of the YCL and had red hair and was the father of her bairn. But it wouldn’t have been a good thing to happen to me.
At Easter, we all went down to the anti-nuclear demonstrations in London. The coach had to keep halting to let the young men out to relieve themselves round the back because they were drinking nonstop.
Jamie sat beside me on the coach all night and I thought this was it, but when we got to London, a girl appeared and he went off with her. I was told she was Jamie’s girlfriend. She lived in Wales but he met up with her at demonstrations. I was heartbroken.
“Twenty Four Hours to Tulsa” was being played everywhere.
“.I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa
“Only…….one day away from your arms.”
Gene Pitney’s voice, full of soulfulness and aching and loss expressed everything I was feeling that Easter of 1964.
One thing that should have happened to me in the YCL was that I should have learned all about communism. But I didn’t. And I didn’t stay away from the Trots. We were warned about them. They were evil people, waiting to lure innocent young communists away from the party and we were ordered to have nothing to do with them.
But a girl asked me if I wanted to go to a lecture and I went. It was given by someone who taught at the University and was about the causes of the Vietnam War. I realised that there was a whole world of politics and knowledge that I would never find out about in the dunes at North Berwick, drinking lager with the YCL, in the rain. I think that girl was probably a Trotskyist.
By the time I was old enough for love, of course it wasn’t going to be with Jamie.
It might have been with the party intellectual. He chatted me up at a social. I flirted back but then I abandoned him that same evening for another boy who was in a band and was cool. Jamie was there, sitting in his chair, drunk, in the middle of the party, with a big smile on his face, beloved by everybody.
In the early morning, I walked the whole way home over Arthur’s Seat with Elaine and some of the other party goers. As we climbed the mountain, dawn broke and the sun rose over the city on a lovely summer’s day. I felt full of youth and strength and life and happiness.
I stopped being a member of the YCL and I never became a Trotskyist. I was never more than a fellow traveller.
I sometimes still saw Jamie. Once he came into the canteen in the basement of the University’s David Hume Tower. He was with the party intellectual who was a student there by this time, as was I. That guy still hated me but I went over anyway to speak to Jamie. When I got up to go, he thanked me for coming over and for still wanting to know him now I was mixing with the upper classes. It made me sad, for it was not true. I was always proud to be seen in his company. I thought of the boys I knew now, who had been to their merchant company schools and were training to be lawyers and doctors. And they were nothing. Really. Nothing compared to Jamie.
Once I was at a crowded party. One of these parties where drunken young people mill around in a scrum. And Jamie came in, as all sorts of people do turn up at student parties in Edinburgh, and he picked me up and put me on his shoulders. He was probably drunk but he was so broad and strong, I felt safe on his shoulders. I was just a silly, young woman, who’d had a few drinks herself, but when Jamie carried me around on his shoulders, I felt like I was the Queen of that party.
After I went south, Jamie and Elaine went around together for a time. It might have been good for they were both lovely people. But the drink was too much. There was some incident in a restaurant in front of her boss in the Civil Service. Not long after that, Elaine left Scotland, herself.
The last time I can remember being with Jamie was on a short trip back home. It was one of these bohemian parties in a house in the old town with communists and poets and members of the criminal fringe. In the early morning, the dancing and the talking and the singing come to an end.. There’s a hung over feeling. Things look shabby. And you think,
is this the intelligentsia or are they just down and outs?
I was sitting on a bed with Jamie and he fumbled under it and brought out a bottle of whisky.
I said, “So that’s what you were looking for.”
He said, “What did you think I was looking for?”
I said, “I thought maybe you were looking for a grope of my ankles.”
It was only a joke but he was offended. Or perhaps, it was because I wouldn’t take a drink from his bottle.
I was sorry that it ended on a sour note. For I did love Jamie.
I think he got married. I don’t know how his life turned out.
I went on a lot of demonstrations after I went down to live in London, but I never became a Trotskyist. I was only ever a fellow traveller.
I didn’t become a Maoist, either, though they impressed me. They would appear, surreally, in the streets of central London, running in formation, chanting –
Ho Chi Minh”
With their long hair and their red flags streaming in the wind behind them. And then they would have run past you. And they would be gone.
I was only ever a fellow traveller.
And then, not even that.
I’m sure Jamie wouldn’t remember me. But I’ve never forgotten him. If I ever hear, “Twenty Four Hours to Tulsa”, it all comes right back. That’s what the pop music of your youth will do to you. It will take you back to the heartache.
But also to that feeling that something’s going to happen to you that’s going to be the most exciting thing in the world when it does. Even if in the end you find true love, even if the Revolution happens, the world will never quite match the expectations, the fantasies, the dreams you have, when you’re only fifteen and a communist and a silly, wee, lassie.
WHAT CATRIONA SAYS ABOUT HER COMPETITION ENTRY
I wrote “Love and Revolution” in a writing class two years ago. I had come home to Edinburgh at 68, having spent most of my life in London. My past as a young woman had come back strongly to me. So I wrote about that. Sadly our tutor, Helen Lamb, died suddenly earlier this year. I had stopped writing, thinking I was too old, but I took out my story and looked at her notes: what had made her laugh: what I should edit. I entered the competition for her in a way. She was always so encouraging. I am thrilled to have come third.