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Beware the Ides of March

 

On a dark and stormy night three months ago, a disembodied voice, like a witch's cackle, came from out of the gloom as I peeked outside our humble abode in the city. It seemed to say, "beware the Ides of March," but I couldn't be sure as my senses were somewhat numbed by the shot of raspberry screech which I always imbibe as a natural sleep aid just before retiring for the night--this was, of course, before Dear Leader Duh-wite's divine inspiration to raise the tax on iceberg ice by 2500%, thereby threatening the supply of my favourite medicinal drink.

 

     Lately, as you may have noticed, blinding storm gusts and wild waves have continuously lashed our strand, frustrating my good intentions to unleash the full force of the black arts on the Liberal demons in the dark castle on the hill. The past 100 desperate days of March have dragged their glacial chills into June. A mini ice-age had gripped our wind-swept land, thus ensuring the cancellation of April showers and May flowers.

 

     Eternal March! Very bad! I tweeted.

 

     The Donald (Trump) rubbed salt into the wound ...Your PM believes in climate change. Turn icebergs into water! Tax that! he tweeted from #realdonaldtrump at two in the morning. I get such tweets all the time from mini-Trumps in Confederation Building.

 

     We've got our eye on you, tweeted Big Eddie recently. We've just disappeared Bern Coffey and Randy Simms (RS from MP-HaHa)! Beware! He posted ominously from #realbigeddie. How about we stuff you down a crevasse on the South Side Hills, he tweeted just last week.

 

     Big Eddie was referring of course, to a recent report that scientists at the University had observed the formation of glaciers on the hills overlooking the harbor as well as another ice sheet covering the Bally Haly Golf Course. All of this has hindered my pursuit of the elusive Hamamelis virginiana, alias witch-hazel. Being in winter slumber, the tree is without its identifying leaves making it impossible to distinguish the witch-hazel from the common white birch. Unfortunately, I was forced to temporarily abandon my quest for a magic wand. 

 

     That did not mean I had abandoned the cause. Just two weeks ago, through various secret spells chanted over several bottles of Fifty Shades of Bay, I cast a very effective curse on the Liberal Party. Their poll numbers immediately took a nose-dive. Dear Leader, Duh-wite emerged once again as the most reviled premier in the entire country. "The whole gang is fading into oblivion," I shouted joyously to better-half.

 

     "Double, double, toil and trouble," she observed sarcastically. 

 

     But, I knew this success might be fleeting as voters are always susceptible to political skulduggery. I would likely have to bring out the big guns later on, when, and if, summer came.

 

     Lest I seem too pessimistic, summer made a dead-of-night appearance just a few days ago.

 

     I remember it clearly. It was precisely 3.46 am when I awoke in my fleece-lined underwear. The burlap quilt covering better-half and I, felt as warm and cozy as eiderdown. The chill of the bedroom had softened. An expectant silence reigned over the city. Suddenly, an unkindness of raucous Ravens began a riotous party up on Ridge Road. What were they celebrating, I wondered. Were they laughing at city council's new strategy to outwit them on garbage day?

 

     Then, continuous soft moaning sounds, like the siren calls of the mermaids off Maddox Cove, rose and fell from the twisted window sill above by head. I shook off the night vapours, assuming at first that better-half was whispering in my ear. Her peaceful snoring soon put that fantasy to rest. At that moment, I realized it was a mild southerly breeze whistling around the broken sash, reminding me of the melodies of the trade winds and the drowsy afternoon torpor of the tepid tropics.

 

     "Wake up!" I shouted to spouse. "Summer arrived four minutes ago. I must be off to Virginia Waters to search for the wily witch-hazel."

 

     Now, I know you are losing it," she said. "Go back to sleep. I'll phone your psychiatrist in the morning."

 

      

 

Sweet Spring

 

In my dream, I was skipping through Pat Murphy's Meadow 'in the sunny long ago' out by Torbay. The heat of the early morning sun sent me into an ecstasy of song as better-half waltzed towards me through the dandelions. She wore a bright yellow dress just like in The Sound of Music. We sang in bluegrass harmony the old ee cummings tune:

sweet spring is your

time is my time is our

time for springtime is lovetime

and viva sweet love

 

     Such were my bright and cheerful thoughts as I awoke sharply at 5 am to greet the new day. I shook off the drowsy vapors of the dream world and looked out over the slumbering city. Off in the distance, I heard a few gunshots as some desperate citizens down in the Waterford Valley harvested waterfowl and plump pigeons for the dinner table. Probably some of those civil servants laid off by Dear leader so he could make room for Liberal hacks, I thought.

 

     I am an eternal optimist despite spouse's advice of the night before that I should stop thinking about the purgatory between winter and summer, and the torment visited upon the toiling masses by their government. "You may not have your Raspberry Screech," she said, "but you have several bottles of Fifty Shades of Bay. So what, if they charge 2500% tax on iceberg ice."

 

     Alas, as I gaze out the window, sweet spring is nowhere in sight. A glowering grey blanket of sky, propped up by Signal Hill and Mt. Scio, hangs precariously over the city and sags down over the harbour like an old soiled mattress without springs. Ships and fishing boats stay locked in the safety of the ice fields just outside the narrows, unable to punch through the thick sheet of freezing drizzle at the entrance.

 

     The only bright spot in the entire metro area is a red glow coming off the dark castle on the hill--a sick joke perpetrated by Dear Leader Duh-wyte to show his support for the ailing, the lame, and the infirm, after Dr. (I'm a real doctor) Hagee, Minister of Seniors' Warehousing and the Disabled, has taken his scalpel to the health corporations of the province.

 

     "Don't get sick, believe me," I tweeted, before digging into my bowl of cold breakfast gruel.

 

     I switched on our 1960 black and white Motorola television set, recently acquired from the Thrift Shop over on Kenmount and tuned to the people's network. A picture of Bern Coffey, looking like the evil wizard, Lord Valdemort, of Harry Potter fame, is shown scurrying into his office on Water Street, pursued by the fake media, as the Donald would say. Apparently, his $183,000 salary as chief public servant is insufficient so he moonlighted by helping others sue the government that he works for. Nice. Dear Leader makes an appearance to defend his decision to hire the loathsome Liberal bagman. 

     

     "Very poor decision." I tweeted. "Bad."

 

          Better-half is resting comfortably on the straw mattress upstairs, snoring contentedly in her St. John's accent. I take the opportunity to secretly upgrade my knowledge of the spirit world. Such wisdom has become somewhat rusty in the last fifty years after I turned to other pursuits after departing the ancestral home. The island where I was born fairly reeked of spirits, fairies, witches, hags and imps. I remember on many occasions having to shush them away when wandering in the forest glades. Now that I need them to put spells on Dear Leader Duh-wyte and his Liberal gang, they are nowhere to be found.

 

     My attention is drawn to the Black Arts book lying on the five-gallon plastic tub which serves as a coffee table in our humble abode. The book mysteriously opens to page 3.

 

     "Witchcraft," the author states, "is the study of how to harness energies as well as how to unleash the powers within. With the right tools and a little practice, the words in this tome will allow you to channel aspects of the spirit world that are beyond the common man or woman to even understand.

 

     Sounds like something my grandmother would have said.

 

     Then the page turns by itself, as if by an unseen hand. As everyone knows the indispensable tool of the wizard or witch is a magic wand. Fortunately, these are fairly easy to come by if you are the adventurous type and prone to early morning activity.

 

     "You must find a rod of wild witch-hazel which has never borne fruit; its length must be nineteen and one-half inches," the author instructs.

 

     Where to find such flora in our fair land, I am thinking. Then my gardener knowledge kicks in. It is, of course, Hamamelis Virginiana, and tends to grow on the eastern slopes in order to catch the first rays of the rising sun. Curiously, it is also known as winterbloom because it blooms in January and February--no mean feat considering the rigors of the Newfoundland winter.

 

     "When you have met with the wand of the required form, touch it nor otherwise than with your eyes; let it stay till next morning, when you must cut it absolutely at the moment when the sun rises, using an enchanted knife, if possible"--which might be a problem but the 'if possible' part seems to indicate that I might get away with using an ordinary splitting knife given to me by my late father who used it for cutting the sound bones from cod.

 

     While I am deep in such thoughts, spouse skips down the rickety stairs to inform me that spring must be just around the corner. "I've just had a dream," she said, that you and I were dancing and singing through Pat Murphy's Meadow 'in the sunny long ago' out by Torbay. I was wearing a bright yellow dress, just like in The Sound of Music. We sang that ee cummings song in two-part harmony."

 

     This was definitely a good omen.

Black Magic

April has been a tough month in this wind-swept land. Just when you think you have turned a corner to a sunny springtime, a frigid windy stench emanates from the seat of the Liberal government and in the words of poet, Robert Frost, you are two months back in the middle of March.

     The month started with two significant stories making Canadian headlines on the CBC National at 9.30 pm, just as spouse and I were ready to retire to our straw mattresses for the night. I had just finished my third nightcap of bog rosemary tea with a liberal splash of Raspberry Screech when we were transfixed by the breaking news.

     The first story, out of St. John's and Twillingate, Newfoundland, posed a personal and immediate shock to my system and a dire threat to my psychological well-being. The Auk Island Winery, a thriving small business in Twillingate, had been advised by Dear Leader Duh-wite that henceforth the fee for harvesting iceberg ice for use in wine and liquor production would increase by 2500% over the previous year. The new levy would be retroactive to 2016. Famous brands like my Raspberry Screech would be discontinued, as a result, said the owner.

     The danger dawned like a dark demon. I had hoarded just two bottles of the stuff, confident of a never-ending supply at the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation store over on Kelsey Boulevard. "Get my snowshoes and my caribou skin parka," I shouted at spouse. "I must get to the liquor store immediately."

     "Don't be a fool," she said, in her soothing voice. "The store is closed for the night and there's a raging blizzard outside. And another thing, you made soup out of your caribou skin parka. Lord protect us," she intoned, looking towards the heavens. "The man's going bonkers."

     I immediately understood her logic and whipped out my mobile device. "2500% tax on iceberg ice," I tweeted. "The balls of the man. A disgrace. Sad!!!"

     Peter Mansbridge followed up with a more riveting report--a disturbing story in all the major papers that a psychic operating out of Toronto, Master Raghav, had been arrested for "pretending" to practice witchcraft. He had allegedly conned a father of four out of $101,000 in return for promising to free the family from the clutches of an evil spirit. The criminal code is quite clear on this: Anyone who pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration, is guilty of an offense punishable by up to six months in prison.

     Spouse wondered how anyone could fall for such a swindler. She searched my face looking for unqualified support for her opinion. I tried to look away with a casual air of nonchalance but she has this curious ability to read my mind. She must have sensed the wheels spinning inside my brain.

     "Don't even think about it," she said. "There will be no witchcraft in this house."

     As most people are aware, I come from a long line of conjurers, sorcerers, wizards, witches, and enchanters. My grandmother and her sister, Lucy-Mae, were both on friendly terms with the fairies and subsequently were both granted the gift of second sight by these magical creatures. Second sight, of course, is the ability to foresee the future, and alter events as necessary, a rare talent indeed, especially if you wish to cast spells on politicians.

 

The Winter of My Discontent

  

                                        

 

For the most optimistic amongst us, winter has waned but in the words of the eloquent Sarah Palin, it still rears its head in our airspace from time to time. Nevertheless, it has been a glorious eight months of snow, bitter cold, and savage hurricanes during which the political class has, for the most part, taken to their lairs beneath Confederation Building and left us alone in our misery and misfortune. Not a peep from any of them for months (except for Dr. Dale threatening to disembowel himself). Thank God for small mercies.

     Yes, this winter has been an especially cruel season, made worse by the cold-blooded politicians intent on sucking every last dollar from its starving citizenry. Jack Frost has been at his most vindictive towards seniors like ourselves. The pleasures of a sunny week of banana daiquiris and burnt flesh in the equatorial regions have now become a wishful fantasy.

     With the criminally high gas tax, we can't afford even a day trip to the Avalon Mall, a few blocks away, where we spent so many happy winter days during the reign of He-Who-Is-Without-Sin Danny. So, here we sit in our frozen living room, wrapped in caribou skin parkas, yearning for those lazy hazy two days of summer in the doldrums of August.

     A week ago, though, in a rare one-day respite between blizzards, I set out to replenish our bare pantry. I parked my dilapidated 2002 Toyota Corolla on the Dominion parking lot up on Blackmarsh Road to scrounge for food in the large garbage bins behind the store--one can stretch the mediocre senior's income supplement to untold heights of luxury with a little initiative.

     I have also been researching on the internet, certain methods of sucking power from the Newfoundland Hydro transformer in our backyard. Better-half, who is blessed with more Christain tendencies, refuses to engage in such practices despite my warning that we may wind up as street people on Duckworth.

     Such furtive activity is not without risk, as I recently learned to my great chagrin. I was congratulating myself on my latest midnight sojourn to Dominion when, on returning to my vehicular transport, laden with buckets of beef bones, Maple Leaf baloney bits, and unopened bags of Robin Hood flour, I noticed two individuals dressed in black, attacking the front end of my Toyota. They ran off as I approached but I could clearly identify one individual as tall and lanky, just like Jimmy Stewart with a large chin. The other screamed obscenities liberally like a demented librarian.

     I suspected immediately that they must be government undercover operatives, intent on my destruction. How did they know my location, I wondered. And then the realization that they must have tapped my wires. Sad (or sick) people!

     On my return to our modest dwelling, I related the entire sorry episode to better-half, pointing to the mangled fender of my Toyota as proof. "They're out to get me," I said.

     " And just who do you think 'they' are?" she responded.

     "They are the ones who are out to get me," I said.

     I suspected she had read Catch 22.

     With her unalterable faith in the goodness of humanity, she allowed that I had made up the whole story and perhaps I needed psychiatric care. Be that as it may. She then cheered me up with the latest political fodder from the CBC evening news.

     There was an update on the whereabouts of the fake premier and his phony cabinet ministers. Last week, Duh-wite was spotted in West Palm Beach--golfing with Trump.

     "Worst premier in history (golfer also)," tweeted Trump. "Sad! Go back to Bally Haley."

     She then told me that RS from MP had left a message on my iPhone: "Where the hell have you been?" he said. "I thought they'd vaporized you for sure this time. I've been trying to reach you for months. I can't say much. Big Eddie is on my tail all the time. A big scandal is brewing. Some members of cabinet have spent their free time attending 'industry' conferences in exotic places like Beijing, Mexico City, and Oslo, Norway, at taxpayer expense. Eat your heart out, you poor bugger. High flyers like Codfish Crocker, Double Dipper Byrne, and Al (The Pirate) Hawkins racked up, between them, over $100,000 in travel in the last six months of 2016."

     The great Will Rogers once made an observation on the high cost of politicians traveling overseas. "It might be worth it," he said, "except they keep coming back."

     

   

Kirby Hatches the Egg: With Apologies to Dr. Seuss

                                                                     

 

I now know what Dr. Dale, Minister of Illiteracy, has been reading all those years in preparation for his ascendancy as First Lord of Education in our wind-swept land. The tell-tale hint came several years back when a rumour swept through these pine-clad hills that the community library in Lord's Cove had issued an all-points bulletin for the return of its vintage copy of Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss. The book had gone missing under suspicious circumstances. The prime suspect in the caper was one D. Kirby last seen in the company of shadowy NDPers and shady Liberals.

    Far be it from me (as better-half can attest) to ridicule anyone who has a bosom relationship with Dr. Seuss. During the holiday season, I have been known to repeatedly watch the film version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as a strategy for getting in the festive mood. (One man's toxic sludge, is another's man's potpourri.)

     Even the Trumps are getting in on the act. Just last night, a clip on the people's enemy, CNN, showed Melania Trump reading Oh the Places You'll Go to a group of children in the pediatric wing of New York Presbyterian Hospital. I had difficulty with the accent but heard distinctly: You'll get all hung up/In a prickly perch/And your gang will fly on/You'll be left in the lurch. Sad!

     Political abuse of Dr. Seuss. I'm mad, bigly, and I'm not going to take it anymore!

     Since better-half was away, I immediately cracked open a bottle of raspberry screech. "Make Newfoundland and Labrador great again," I said, as I toasted my imaginary audience.

     After further liquid inspiration, I re-enacted The Cat in the Hat in the middle of the living room. When better-half returned around midnight, from visiting the neighbours, the wiggling goldfish on the carpet were a dead giveaway.

     Before I get too carried away, I must inform one and all that just last week in the People's House of Newfoundland and Labrador, Dr. Dale raised his posterior from his comfortable cushioned commode to respond eloquently to a query from Hon. David Brasil, Tory MHA for Conception Bay East-Bell Island.

     Brasil wanted to know if it was still the minister's intention to end his mortal existence by leaping to his demise from the top of Confederation Building and impaling himself on the flagpole below, just as he had promised a week earlier.

     Dr. Dale had pledged at the time that any further teacher cuts would be over his dead body.

     After many muddled and mystifying words about task forces, comprehensive education plans, and the mangle left by the Tories, the minister of illiteracy responded directly to Mr. Brasil's question: "I said what I meant. And I meant what I said," thereby muddying the issue even further.

     Unless of course, you are a disciple of Dr. Seuss. Then it's all very transparent--as Dear Leader, Duh-wite, is fond of saying.

     You probably remember the lines from Horton Hatches the Egg. Horton, the elephant, agrees, after some sweet-talking by Maysie, the bird, to sit on her egg while she gallivants away to enjoy the sunshine, way off in Palm Beach. Despite misfortunes and distress, Horton remains steadfastly on the egg. In the face of every calamity, he renews his pledge:

     "I said what I meant. And I meant what I said./An elephant's loyal, one-hundred percent."

     Aside from the issue of stealing material from Dr, Seuss, the line that Dr. Dale didn't repeat is most significant.

     By the way, Dear Leader, Duh-wite, was recently spotted enjoying the sunshine in West Palm Beach. Coincidence? I think not.

      

     

Over My Dead Body

                                             

Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?       ...George W. Bush

 

 

While not a great fan of George W., I have always admired his folksy charm and his ability to mangle the English language. I always forgave his faults and his 'wits and wisdoms' because at the very least he hated exorbitant taxes. For that one reason we became soulmates. "Not over my dead body, will they raise your taxes," he once said. I was reminded of that puzzling statement today.

     Unless you've been sleeping, it's been another one of those weeks of inspiring commentary from Dear Leader, Duh-wite, and the forsaken posse at Confederation Building:

     The Minister of Spawny Capelin, Steve Crocker, outlined his vision for turning the pine-clad hills of Newfoundland and Labrador into an endless expanse of rolling farmland--a vision replete with idyllic green fields of watermelon, vast orchards of mango trees, and meadows filled with contented cows. Agriculture dominates the soilless expanse all the way from Cape Chidley in northern Labrador to Cape Spear in the frigid north Atlantic, with nary a rock or a bog in between. The smell of pig manure is so strong that the House of Assembly can only sit when wild northeasterlies blow the stench out to sea.

     Later in the week, Dear Leader, himself, denied once again having any knowledge of the Muskrat Falls boondoogle and the state of the economy before his election. In an act of self-pardon, he also denied any responsibility for costing the taxpayers an additional six million for Ed Martin's severance package. Alternative facts indeed.

     But the award for absurdity this week must go to Dr. (He's not a real doctor) Dale Kirby, Minister of Illiteracy, who emerged from underneath the boulders that prop up Confederation Building to make an appearance at a Kindergarten class in St. John's. A press photo has him showing the disinterested girls and boys some pages from his favorite coloring book. His earnest demeanor, for me, was a paradox.

     The photo absolutely intrigued me.

     I stayed awake all night, studying the picture intently. With the help of some bog rosemary tea laced with liberal splashes of raspberry screech, I tried to divine the hidden intent behind the inscrutable face.

     He looked not at the children but at the door as if readying an escape route should an irate librarian waving a slimy sculpin suddenly appear out of nowhere. His beady eyes betrayed that far-away look of someone contemplating a glorious future--replacing Dear Leader perhaps, or maybe morphing into the Donald Trump of Newfoundland. Believe me.

     Then again, it might just have been a flicker of conscience awakened by nostalgia for his tranquil days as an obscure member of the NDP, labouring in the drowsy afternoon haze of the House of Assembly listening to the dreary dronings of Lorraine Michael.

     Then it occurs to me that he is thinking about how fortunate he is to be hauling in a cool half million from the taxpayers every four years. How many bottles of 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon is that? He wonders.

 

     Such were my thoughts, until Better-half found me slumped over the coffee table in the morning, with the rich vapors of raspberry screech wafting through the living room.

 

     The melodic voice of Dr. Dale fills the airwaves as she shakes me awake. Anthony Germain, the CBC host, is asking the Minister of Illiteracy about the massacre of public servants announced by Dear Leader the previous day.

 

     Dr. Dale announces that he will not stand for any more teacher cuts. "Over my dead body," he shouts into the microphone, and then the caveat: "but I will not resign."

 

     What does it mean? I rush for my copy of the Urban Dictionary.

 

     Definition: Over my dead body: A verbal objection to a proposed action, claiming that the speaker is willing to fight with every ounce of his life to prevent the action.

 

     I shout with glee and dance on top of the coffee table. At long last, we have a working-class hero who is willing to die for his beliefs. Now, there will be blood on the cabinet room floor. The whole Liberal gang will go at each other with pitchforks and broken Black Horse beer bottles. They'll all be found stone dead by the constabulary in the morning. There will have to be a coalition of the Tories and the NDP.

 

     My reverie was rudely interrupted.

 

     Better-half reminds me that Dr. Dale, as an afterthought, said that he would not be resigning. I have plunged once again into the dark depths of despair. There will be no cadavers in Confederation Building, after all.

 

     And then, later in the afternoon after Dear Leader has a heart to heart with Dr. Dale, there is a clarification. It seems Dr. Dale has misspoke. He didn't mean to say what they said he said. His comments were misunderstood by the entire English-speaking world and the fake-news press who are the enemies of the people. He believes in the little children. He believes in Dear Leader. He believes the Liberal Government is on a mission from God.

 

     I remain in my sea of gloom.

 

     George W. Bush found himself in Dr. Dale's position in a 2001 meeting with the press in Rome. "I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe--I believe what I believe is right."

 

     "I don't have the slightest idea what I was saying," George said later.

 

 

 

Rage, Rage, Against the Dying of the Light...

The thermostat registered five degrees Celsius in the house--an attempt by Better-half and I to save on electricity and tax rates and to experiment with energy conservation to see if we can survive the highway robbery that's coming when Dear Leader, Duh-wite, throws the switch on Muskrat Falls. The fact that it is minus twenty outside with a windchill of minus seventy, forces us to don our caribou parkas left over from our days in the Arctic. Lately, we have been toying with the idea of scraping off the hair and using the skin for soup.

     It was one of those mornings when I wished I hadn't switched on my dilapidated Toshiba laptop. It takes about fifteen minutes to boot up--after all, it is 2005 technology and I can't afford anything better. I took the time to prepare our one meal of the day. Stale coffee grounds, I have discovered, are reusable, though the brew is a little tepid after the third day. My fousty slice of bread from Walmart tasted a little better with a (L)iberal smear of Crosby's black mollasses. Better-half was not impressed with my culinary improv.

     After the sumptuous meal, I was ready for my morning routine of surfing my favorite websites for all the fake news and alternative facts of the day. Normally, the People's Network gets my attention first. Bad decision.

     "Tensions flare. Minister gets earful at budget meeting in St. John's," read the first headline. A video clip showed an angry Charlene Blake, one of the participants, shouting down high-school-graduate-McDonalds franchisee-cum-finance minister, Cathy Bennett, who is doing an imitation of the faux sincerity-dripping face of Dear Leader, Duh-wite. Bennett assures the audience that there will be no new taxes (Read my lips). Where have we heard this before?

     Another participant in this sorry excuse for consultation, Mark Croft, wears a t-shirt with the logo, 'Resign Today. Save Tomorrow.' Voters are beginning to wake up.

     "Surely to God, this Liberal gang of crackies, cretins, and carperbaggars, can't bamboozle us once again," I screamed. I waved my fist in the air and a shower of caribou hair fell into Better-half's coffeeish drink.

     The whole thing caused an eruption of feverish rage which rose from a fathomless font and flowed furiously through my body. Better-half was concerned for my sanity. "Calm down," she said. "It's just a nightmare."

     I then began to reflect calmly and philosophically on the nature of rage. For me, the emotion reached its peak back in late October, last year, when I was driving from the island to the city for medical attention. Unbeknownst to Molly from Mount Pearl, many of us from the outports do undertake such journeys at our own expense.

     I arrived at the ferry dock at eight am, only to find that the fare had increased by 130% overnight. Rage started to simmer. Once across the tickle, I filled up my decrepit Toyota only to find that gas prices had also increased overnight and it would cost me double to get to the big city. Rage started to bubble.

     I placed a Nora Jones CD in the player. Her soothing voice always has a calming influence on my otherwise volatile demeanor. (Better-half wanted to stay at home.) Rage went back to a simmer.

     Just before Grand Falls, on the TCH, a huge pothole, containing a smashed-up ATV and trailer, opened up in front of me. I swerved frantically, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. Rage went to a full boil.

     In Gander, I stop at Mary Brown's. They have a special for financially strapped seniors--two chicken gizzards, no fries, fifty cents. With this kind of fare along with baloney, the pharmaceutical fiend in the premier's office won't have enough bodies to fill his private seniors' complex.

     Nora Jones sang Come Away with Me. I began thinking it would not be such a bad idea. But what about Better-half? I tuned to CBC Radio just outside Clarenville.

     Stephen Lewis, the famous diplomat, aids activist, and member of the Order of Canada, is being interviewed by Piya Chattopadhyay on Out in the Open. "I have often said to my audiences," he stated, "that my entire emotional range moves from rage to rage with almost nothing in between." He summed up my feelings exactly.

     I stop at the Irving to fill up and buy a bag of chips. Wanted a bottle of water, too, but it was $2.00 plus thirty cents tax. Rage is on rolling boil now.

     I try to focus on the advice of a favorite storyteller, Rick Yancey. "It isn't fear that will defeat them," he said. "Not fear, or faith, or hope...but rage."

     I'll keep my rage for now.

Blame The Victim

"Good morning," my better half always says cheerily as she walks into the kitchen each day at 8.22 am, expecting her coffee and soft boiled egg to be ready on the table.

     "Good morning," I always say, quoting Eeyore from Winnie The Pooh. "If it is a good morning. Which I doubt."

      It's been like that for over a year now what with the political news and the blizzard of alternative facts coming at me from all quarters of the cyber-world.

     Despite my love for Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore, I believe Leonard Cohen stated it best. "I don't consider myself a pessimist," he once said. "I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin."

     Likewise.

     Staring me in the face this morning as I logged on to my dilapidated 2007 Toshiba laptop was another depressing headline generated by the forsaken posse that passes for the government of our smiling land: Newfoundland inflation at 4.1%, the highest in Canada, screamed the CBC headline. The report goes on to document the litany of fees, income taxes, insurance taxes, levies, book taxes, gas and fuel taxes--all of which add up to a major threat to my personal and economic security.

     A few months ago, our Dear Leader, Duh-wite, provided a gloomy outlook to The Globe and Mail--that great national rag known for having little sympathy for anyone outside the glowing center of the universe, Toronto. Dear Leader took the opportunity to return to his theme that the blame for the dire financial situation lay with the citizens of the province and they, of course, must shoulder all the burden.

     In a classic understatement, the ex-pharmacist, disguised as a premier, agreed that people may not like his choices. (In fact, 83% consider him a serial liar, and a political misfit, intent on destroying the economy, or what's left of it.)

     That, of course, has been a constant theme since the first sitting of the current crop of scoundrels, double dippers, and ex-NDP opportunists. Need I remind you of the words of Dear Leader's yapping crackie, the illustrious Jerry Dean, MHA for the District of Exploits. In a classic case of verbal diarrhea wrapped in an illiterate tirade in the people's chamber, he allowed that all the people of the province were to blame because we somehow forced our government to borrow and spend like drunken sailors so we could support our sense of entitlement.

     In other words, something really shitty has happened to you, but it's your own damn fault.

     All of which prompted one voter from Cottrell's Cove to advise the privileged Mr. Dean that the people of the province know only too well how to live on a shoe-string budget because they have been forced to do so by elected officials that have run our province into ruin.

     That business of the Muskrat Falls 'boondoggle' and the disappearance of 26 billion in oil revenues: none of that matters, my friend, especially for you poor buggers in rural Newfoundland and Labrador--in the end, you will pay the piper or should I say you will pay the rich pensions, salaries, and perks of my cabinet ministers and MHAs plus the murderous interest rates imposed by the big banks on provincial borrowing.

     So, as Dear Leader, Duh-Wite has promised, you ain't seen nothing yet. There is more harsh austerity to come: sky-high unemployment, poverty, and inequality on a grand scale, devastated communities, hits on seniors and children, unplowed highways--the list grows by the day. The dark side of a premier and a government without principles.

     But I hearken back to Eeyore. "They haven't got brains, any of them, only grey fluff that's blown into their heads by mistake..."

     

The Zombie Apocalypse

Just before Christmas, I happened to be following an interview with our dear leader, Duhwite, on the CBC supper-time news hour. Curiously at the end of the show, I could not recall any significant word or phrase that he uttered. True, there was the usual I-feel-your-pain demeanor, reminiscent of Eeyore, the sad donkey, about to burst into tears. Sincerity and faux compassion dripped like turbot slime from his pharmaceutical face. He seemed neither to have an instinct for political self-preservation (I will continue to tax you to death) nor for rational thought (we will not plow the highways after midnight).

     Later, after my better half had departed for the Land of Nod, I prepared my pre-nocturnal libation of raspberry screech laced with bog-rosemary tea--essential to good slumber and restful dreams. I switched on Netflix and browsed to a preview of Night of the Living Dead.

     My brain cells quickly swirled into overdrive. My mind flashed back to the interview earlier in the evening. Could it be? I then recalled a conversation with a witch doctor in the highland jungle adjacent to Haiti whilst on a pleasure jaunt to the Dominican Republic. As we sat in the ghostly light of his flickering campfire he showed me his magical powders and told me stories about human creatures without souls--he often used the word 'nzambi' which in my peculiar Newfoundland dialect roughly translates as 'zombie'. "Their bodies are nothing more than shells which are controlled by powerful sorcerers," he whispered eerily.

     Aha, sorcerers, I thought. The backroom bagmen of the Liberal Party. It was all beginning to make sense.

     Because my mind was rapidly beginning to falter at the late hour, I called Google to the rescue.

     Definition of zombie by the Free Dictionary: Shambling slow-witted beings. The frontal lobe of the brain is missing. This is the part responsible for morality, planning, and preventing thoughtless behavior like burying the populace under burdensome taxation.

     Definition of Zombie Apocalypse: A zombie outbreak. A widespread rise of zombies engaging in a general assault on small communities and vulnerable people ie closing libraries, taxing books, enabling poverty etc (Muskrat Falls sprang to mind). A great disaster. A sudden or very bad event that causes much fear, loss or destruction.

     On recalling the interview from earlier in the evening (mixed with the raspberry screech and the Netflix film), I experienced a revelation. The whole government, the opposition, and the rump NDP were all in this together. Evil nanobots had taken over their collective political brain.

     We were now trapped in our own zombie apocalypse. What to do?

     Fortunately, there are various 'how to' coping strategies on the Google search engine, one of which is a defense plan which begins with a zombie apocalypse quiz which will help you decide if you will survive. The first question asks you to pick a tactic (from six possibilities): run, panic, have a stiff drink, hide in the basement, find a cure, build a fort. I clicked on the drink box. As it turned out, this option turned up in various forms throughout the quiz so for consistency sake I chose it each time. My profile then flashed up on the screen:

     "Congratulations, it's a coin-toss whether you survive. By getting drunk all the time, you are not really making good decisions. But, it's entirely possible it will all work out. Which would be nice. But don't hold out hope. Either way, you'll be drunk before it all goes down. So, it'll probably be fun. Your government will help you by jacking up the price of raspberry screech."

     I will post the whole quiz to Facebook so everyone can be better prepared in future.

     Zombie awareness month is coming up in May.

Breaking News

 

I am now free to descend from the frozen world of the Long Range Mountains thus bringing an end to my existence as a harried hermit, harrassed by our dear leader and his courtesans. It has solved nothing of course because the tax collectors dispatched by Cathy, Minister of McDonalds, sit in all corners of the realm, ready to filch and rob the unsuspecting at every opportunity.

 

Even a bottle of life-sustaining water is denied until you fork over an additional 15% tax.

 

And that copy of Dancing On Air that you really wanted to read? Forget it unless you have the extra $3 Ball tax. Oh, I'll read it at the town library, you say. Forget that, too. Remember Dr. Dale, Minister of Illiteracy, and his plans for rural libraries?

 

Al (The Pirate) Hawkins, Minister of Ferries, stands at every terminal, threatening to keelhaul any traveller who refuses to pay the extortionate increase in fares.

 

I won't get started on Big Eddie, Minister of Outports.

 

But all is not doom and gloom.

 

The Hag, radiant in her latest swamp fashions, has brought word that Mantracker Walsh's constabulary mount had died from eating too much gowithy (bogweed). Also Wimpy Warr has given in to his craving for Big Macs and they have both retreated back to the friendlier climes of Confederation Building.

 

All of which has stimulated my creative mind to new heights of ingenuity. As you may recall I am the proud owner of the latest Apple MacBook Pro (an ill-gotten gain garnered from two gullible American tourists in the grip of grey-goose grog, otherwise known as my raspberry screech/bog rosemary cocktail).

 

I have discovered that when the MacBook Pro is pushed to its limits, a quantum world takes over in which at a precise angle to the screen, a stream of photons is emitted which transform the human body into trillions of individual atoms. These same atoms are then transported on an intense beam of light, to a parallel universe, where all the atoms come back together as a human being once again. 

 

There are of course other portals into a parallel universe. One of these is the grand entrance to the Newfoundland House of Assembly through which political mob bosses of all stripes, along with their stooges, have passed in the last 100 years: Sir Richard Squires, Joe Smallwood, Alfred Valdmanis, John C. Doyle, Ed Byrne, Frank Moores, Brian Peckford, and He-Who-Is-Without-Sin Williams.

 

Supposedly, the majority enter this inner sanctum with good intentions but few good intentions survive the molecular transformation that takes place in the mordant realm of politics. They quickly lose touch with the great unwashed. Some become smarmy lying leeches. Still others, like the proverbial chamelion, change their colors (and their principles) as their mercenary makeups mature.

 

So, in the past year, taxpayers in our fair land have endured untold abuse from the aliens in this parallel universe as they shackled us with crippling levies, fuel surcharges, higher income taxes and school closures--to name a few. We have watched as millions of our hard-earned dollars were doled out in severance to the already well-to-do (Hello, Ed Martin). We have seen those same aliens engage in crass cronyism as they hired their drinking buddies, their relatives, and their supporters.

 

In the meantime, poverty levels in our smiling land have sky-rocketed. Unemployment levels are projected at 20%. Food banks and soup kitchens can no longer keep up with demand. The Salvation Army is stressed to the limit. Bankruptcies soar. Businesses shutter. Ball Brags. 

 

And in the parallel universe of the House of Assembly, the members have just given themselves an elaborate Christmas gift--the whole lot of them will receive a gold-plated pension plan at an additional cost of $3.6 million annually, compliments of the taxpayer.

 

Christmas.

 

 

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The Dancing on Air Mystery: Who was Portia?

                  

 

On Monday, February 7, 1949, two days after Judge Emerson handed down the death penalty in the murder trial of Alfred Beaton, a mysterious letter appeared in the St. John's Evening Telegram. It contained an emotional plea for mercy and a call to action against capital punishment in Newfoundland. 

The eloquent letter writer persuaded thousands of citizens in the city and across Newfoundland and Labrador to demand an end to a barbaric practice. The final outcome was a surprise. Who was the mystery lady, Portia? For the first time in over 60 years it is now possible to identify her. ...but the reader has to pick up the clues in the text.

 

 

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

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If you have comments on this site or reviews of Dancing on Air, please e-mail me at ericcolbourne@ericcolbourne.com.

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From the Ballad of Reading Gaol

 It is sweet to dance to violins

  When love and life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

  is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

  To dance upon the air!

 

                       ...Oscar Wilde

New Edition: Dancing on Air

More Questions About an Execution

The case of Wilbert Coffin who was convicted of murder and hanged in Quebec more than 60 years ago raises many new questions. For the full story see: www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/wilbert-coffin-execution-cda-1.3441076.

Excerpt from Dancing on Air

(A Hanging in Quebec, 1902)

 

 

...Until the mid-1800s some 200 offences were regarded as capital crimes that carried the death penalty. In a modern age most of those offences now seem absurd.

 

John Dean, variously described in the records as a child of eight or nine, may have been the youngest to suffer death by hanging. On February 23, 1629 he was convicted of arson at Abington, England for setting fire to two barns in the town of Winsor. The judge saw evidence of wickedness in the boy's actions, an attitude which led directly to his death sentence.

 

In early August, 1814, an unfortunate William Potter received the death penalty at the high court in Chelmsford, England, for damaging an orchard. He had chopped down an old apple tree for firewood. To no avail at his trial, William pleaded ignorance of the law. The judge had second thoughts several days after sentencing, but with the wheels of justice already in motion, William was hanged about a week later on August 12.

From our Readers: Dancing on Air

I finished the book this morning and my only regret is that I couldn't read more....The exacting research gives real context in shaping the period, but it's Colbourne's ability as a writer that allows the reader to feel the crisp bite of the wind, smell the damp night air, and experience the pain and anguish of the characters. Colbourne's deft footwork in handling the historic record while giving life to the characters is to be applauded, and it separates this work from the pack.  (Glen Tilley)

 

An absolutely lovely read....The book reads like a richly textured novel but the story is flawlessly woven into the historical account (or borne out of it). It is clear that the book is meticulously researched...An excellent read on all fronts. Difficult to put down! (Monty Henstridge)

Disappeared

Excerpt from the story 'The Black Arts Book' in Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland.

 

...Old Meriam was indeed dead but no one seemed to know how she had died or where she was buried, all of which added to the mystery of her life  and the power of her witchcraft.

 

After her death, the old house seemed lonely more than anything else, sitting way out on the point by the landwash, facing the September storms and enduring the sad soundings of the ocean swells.

 

With each passing season it added a deeper tone of grey as the harsh weather of late fall and winter took its toll. Nobody in the village could understand how the old house could withstand so much punishment.

 

Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland  has been named a top seller on KOBO, one of the largest e-book distributors in the world. It continues to receive positive reviews in Canada and fifteen other countries. Disappeared is also available from amazon.ca and amazon.com in kindle and print format.