The Flat Earth Society

Into the Wilderness

( The favela developing around Gibbet Hill, St. John's)


Eddie Joyce, Minister of Outports, woke me from my woozy state. He was doing an interview on The Morning Show. "The Liberal government has decided to adopt the term 'favela' to describe the sorry slums springing up like weeds around the base of Gibbet Hill, Mt. Scio, and Shea Heights," said Big Eddie. "The word 'favela' has a special musical quality that we all like. We borrowed it from Brasil. The word 'slum' smells too much of poverty. It has a distinct outport smell."

"And what action does Premier Duh-wyte propose taking to discourage the growth of favelas in the city?" asked the genial host.

"We will build a wall across the Avalon," said Big Eddie. "It will keep the baymen out...and we'll make them pay for it."

"But what about workers coming into town to seek employment at McDonalds?" asked the host.

"We have that all figured out," said Big Eddie. "We are implementing TOWP--the Temporary Outport Worker Program. Nobody else will be allowed in."

Calvin, a caller from Come-by-Chance, interrupted. "Sure, my son, we can jump over that wall, you numbnuts."

"The wall just got ten feet higher," responded Big Eddie.

The invigorating discussion inspired me to raise my much maligned body from the bed. My mouth felt wooly--the side effects of Premier Duh-wyte's injection and the Outport Raspberry Screech from the night before. I removed the heavy dresser propped against my bedroom door, donned my thermal running outfit, and headed out for my morning constitutional on the Long Pond Trail. Fearful of being followed, I decided to pursue a circuitous route to Long pond in order to confuse any possible pursuers.

As I flashed fluidly down Kenmount Road, the great baseball player, Satchel Paige, came to mind. "Don't look back," he once said, "something might be gaining on you." I had no sooner mulled over his words when out of the corner of my eye, I saw two runners emerge from the nearby McDonalds and fall in behind me. They were of portly demeanor with polo shirts emblazoned with the logo of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. I ducked into the Avalon Mall and ditched them.

When I finally reached the trail around Long Pond I noticed the absence of waterfowl which were always in great abundance in the waters at this time of year. It then occurred to me that other bird life was absent as well. No robins. No ravens. No grackles. No grosbeaks. Nothing. Could it be Rachel Carson's Silent Spring all over again, I wondered. Then on the other side of the pond came loud reports of shotguns. Curious, I thought, someone must be harvesting the birds for their hungry children.

As I followed the trail around Long Pond and up Mt. Scio, I came upon large numbers of the newly destitute destroying the native flora and erecting wretched shacks. Some were roasting local ducks on open fires. This must be one of Big Eddie's flowering favelas, I suddenly realized.

By the time I returned to my dwelling, the brisk jog had cleared the cobwebs and my strategy for exiting the metropolitan area was complete. In the dead of night, after the city was asleep, I would dress as Premier Duh-wyte in drag. Thus disguised, I would vault into my vehicle and speed west on the Trans-Canada Highway out of town.

At three in the morning I was ready for the break-out. Two of my neighbours over on Lobelia Street were quarreling fiercely over a dead raven. Other people on the block joined in and a riot ensued in no time flat. Sirens sounded and soon the Constabulary arrived. This was the distraction I had been hoping for.

I jumped into my Toyota Camry and sped towards the Outer Ring Road. The rich odors of the Health Care Corporation's gourmet kitchens hung heavily on the night air. My thin lips glistened with frosted lipstick, my silver grey wig was in place, and my silky chiffon dress clung to my shapely form like ClingWrap. Chloe Kardashian would have been envious.

I exited onto the TCH at the recommended speed and headed west past the floundering industrial area. A large digital sign at Dannyville touted luxury living. "For premiers, ex-premiers, executives of Nalcor and McDonalds. The posh and the pretty. A gated community to meet your every need," read the sign. Sounds like a place I might have aspired to, I thought bitterly, had I not been recently fleeced by political flunkies.

Shortly, I encountered a long convoy of earth moving equipment slowly moving westwards towards Whitbourne. My iPhone vibrated in my sock. Fortunately, I had hands free connectivity. "This is RS from MP," said the heavily disguised voice. "They're building a wall across the Avalon to keep out the baymen."

"Yes," I said. "I heard Big Eddie on the radio this morning."

"They're starting in Dildo, pushing east towards Spread Eagle, and then thrusting southwest across the TCH to Long Harbour. A lot of people are going to get the shaft on this one," said RS from MP.

"That's quite the wall," I said. "I wonder if Danny's friend, Donald Trump, is involved."

"I have to go. Be careful," he said. "If I don't hear from you, I'll know you've been vaporized."

I encountered a police roadblock at Whitbourne. The pieces of heavy equipment were being shunted onto Highway 80 to Heart's Delight. A young constabulary officer shone his flashlight on my face. "Oh, good morning Mr. Premier, nice outfit," he said, as his light lingered on my leg. "And may I inquire where you are off to in the wee hours?"

"I am joining the MV Veteran at Sunnyside..for sea trials. We're touring all the way to Conception Bay," I mumbled.

"They call that one the love boat, now," he said. "I hear they've turned the passenger lounge into a Mary Antoinette boudoir--mirrors on the ceiling, the whole bit. You don't want to know what's going to go on there."

"I think that's just a dirty rumour," I said impatiently. "And I'm in a big hurry."

The officer looked disappointed that we could not continue the conversation. He waved me through. "Be careful, Premier," he said, "there's some lunatic on the loose from St. John's."

Dragons's Den: Part Four--In Which I Escape the Den

(The old Hag and I--Picture taken by spy-cam in my bedroom 27/03/2016)

Premier Duh-wyte and his twelve Dragons had departed for the McDonalds on Torbay Road to partake in the all-day breakfast and copious amounts of Columbian coffee. The torture session during which I had suffered from the most vile and slanderous threats had ended temporarily and I was at liberty to survey my surroundings through the floor to ceiling vaulted plate-glass windows in the penthouse of Confederation Building.

Off to the southeast, Gibbet Hill rose ominously from the desolate landscape. Around the base of the hill, a shanty town was beginning to rise--eerily like the desperate favelas I had seen on the hillsides of cities in Brasil. It was obvious that the recently impoverished people of Virginia Waters and of the posh downtown condos on Water Street West were constructing their own favela.

Why so many sirens, I wondered aloud. "I am Cortana," said a disembodied voice. "You can ask me anything. The ambulances are picking up the dearly departed. The new death tax has made it too expensive to bury the dead."

At that moment a vibrating iPhone in my sock alerted me to an important message (It was a trick I had picked up in the 60s while on secret assignment in Moscow for Joey of the Mighty Churchill). I delved into my sock and delicately held the device to my ear. "Is that you?" whispered the voice.

"Yes, this is me."

"This is RS from MP," said a crackly voice. "I have another tip. Al the Pirate is transitioning the MV Veteran into a love boat. You didn't fall for that stuff about broken thrusters, did you? They've already transformed the passenger lounge into a Mary Antoinette boudoir--red lace curtains, mirrors on the ceiling. The whole bit. You don't want to know what's going to go on there."

"I have to go," I said. "I hear some singing. I think Premier Duh-wyte and the gang are returning."

Premier Duh-wyte led his merry band of ball-faced brigands into the room with Al (the Pirate) Hawkins bringing up the rear, strumming his musical instrument. We extort, we pilfer, we filch and we sack/drink up me 'earties, yo ho/maraud and embezzle and even hijack/drink up me 'earties, yo ho... they all sang.

Surprisingly, they all looked in my direction with eyes of jovial Newfoundland friendliness (a psychological ploy used by former Liberal playboy, Scott Andrews, whilst in Ottawa). All except Dr. Dale, with his face of an earnest rodent, who was still in a vicious and vindictive mood.

"You have bullied us with your bilious bilge," he shouted. "You are spiteful, specious, mysognistic and malevolent."

"Oh, do shut up," said Dr. John as he sliced the air with his sinister scalpel. "You're not a real doctor, anyway."

"We want you to be our pal," said Premier Duh-wyte, "say nice things about us. Can you do that, Free..we can call you, Free, can't we?"

I was taken aback by the dramatic about-turn in the Dragons' dire demeanor. I mumbled agreement.

"Can't we all be friends," whined Double Dipper Byrne. "You scratch our back, we'll scratch yours."

"We're prepared to make you an offer," said Catherine (Minister of McDonalds). "$1000 for 99.9% of your company and the rights to your Five Minute Hate program. We're all going in on it--a blind trust, of course. And free coffee for a week at any of my McDonalds restaurants in St. John's."

"And a free gourmet meal at the Health Sciences," said Dr. John.

Some Dragons piped in with putrid threats.

"But you have to stay in town," said Big Eddie. "We don't want you stirring up sedition in the outports."

"We want to keep an eye on you," said Catherine. "You're in big trouble, buddy."

"If you try to leave, we'll come and get you," said Premier Duh-wyte.

"I'll dismember you, joint by joint," screamed a crimson-faced Dr. John.

"I'll keelhaul you," said Al the Pirate. "Can I sing another song, Premier Duh-wyte, please..."

"I'll hang you first and try you later," interrupted Judge Roy Bean Parsons, Minister of Laws. "You can't escape the long arm of the law."

These were no idle threats so I decided to escape at the first opportunity. "I have to go to the next room and phone my agent," I said.

The Dragons nodded in agreement.

I walked into the adjoining room and noticed an exit sign over another door. I ran, pushed it open, and leaped for the stairs. But there were no stairs and I fell screaming down an endless dark tunnel.

I was suddenly aware that I was back into my chilling nightmare with the old Hag squatting squarely on my chest. She was light as a sea-louse as she stroked my neck with her scrawny hand. 

"Hag," I said.

"Yes," she murmured seductively in her scratchy voice.

"I love you," I said.

Next: I escape the city in an ingenious disguise.

Dragons' Den:Part Three: With Apologies to Orwell and Heller

A big 50 by 80 computer screen, scrolling the Windows 10 logo, rose like a genie from the center of the circle. "I am Cortana. Ask me anything," said a tinny female voice from the screen. Her tone was somewhat sultry but not of that Marilyn Munroe-ish, dress-blowing-in-the-wind physical quality that women aspire to nowadays.


I had recovered somewhat from the combined side-effects of Premier Duh-wyte's mysterious injection cocktail and the copious amounts of Outport Raspberry Screech from the night before. I slouched somnolently in my swanky seat. The proceedings began.


"Call to order," said Cabinet Secretary Cortana, "Premier Duh-wyte in the chair.


"Ministers will introduce themselves," said Premier Duh-wyte.


Ministers, in turn, raised their right hand and curtly signaled their monikers: Catherine McD, Minister of Levies; Gerry (Double Dipper) Byrne, Minister of Labourers; Siobhan (I'm Irish) Coady, Minister of the Mighty Muskrat; Codfish Crocker, Minister of Spawny Caplin; Walsh, Minister of Poverty  and Destitution; John (I'm a Real Doctor) Haggie, Minister of Seniors' Warehouses; Al (the Pirate) Hawkins, Minister of Ferries; Joyce (call me 'Big Eddie'), Minister of Outports; Dr. Dale (Book Tax) Kirby; Minister of Illiteracy; Mitchelmore, Minister of Bankruptcies; Andrew (Judge Roy Bean) Parsons, Minister of Laws; Perry (the Bunny) Trimper, Minister of Environmental Destruction.


"Do you have anything to say before we find you guilty?" said Premier Duh-wyte.


"But, I don't know why I am here," I peeped.


"You have impugned our impeccable character," said Dr. Dale. "You are a repugnant, pugnacious, bellicose baboon. You have maligned our good name. You have disparaged all good Liberals, not to mention the NDP. You are a reviler of dishonest men."


"That's enough big words," said Premier Duh-wyte.


"He's not a real doctor," said Dr. John.


"You have the floor," said the Premier.


Dr. John pulled out his surgical instrument and waved it menacingly in my direction. "He's guilty, all right. I'll dismember him joint by joint, I'll chop off his..., "he screamed, pointing his scalpel in my direction.


"That's too bloody," said Catherine. "And besides, he's probably full of pink slime."


"There'll be no cutting off members," said Premier Duh-wyte.


"I'm the law in this place," said Judge (Roy Bean) Parsons, his eyes protruding in rage. "I'll shoot you dead, dead, dead. Then I'll fine you for your other crimes. And then later, I'll take you out and hang you. I'd like to get a rope and frogmarch you to Gibbet Hill right now."


"That's enough of the Roy Bean stuff," said Dr. Dale.


"You're not a real doctor," said Dr. John, brandishing his instrument.


"I'd like to beat you senseless with this frozen ratfish," said Codfish Crocker.


I've got it, I've got it," said Al (the Pirate) Hawkins. "Let's take him down to the MV Veteran on the waterfront and keelhaul the bastard. Can I sing my song, Premier Duh-wyte, please, please, please," he pleaded plaintively. Al whipped out his electric guitar and launched into his heavy metal shrieks. We'll tie the scoundrel to a rope/And throw him overboard/Drag him underneath the ship/A deadly terrifying trip, he screamed. Not Alestorm, but not bad.


"Is that damn ferry broke down again? Let's sell it for a dollar," said Catherine.


"What's your name, mister?" asked Big Eddie.


"His name is Eric Freeman Colbourne," said Cortana, metallically. "I am Cortana, you can ask me anything."


"What kind of a name is Freeman, anyway? asked Big Eddie.


"It sounds seditious to me," said Dr. Dale.


"He could be an undercover refugee terrorist," said Judge (Roy Bean) Parsons. "Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?"


"No sir," I mumbled.


"And say, your honor, when you address a judge," said Judge (Roy Bean) Parsons as he fondled his noose.


"Let's break for 30 and go for the all-day breakfast at McDonalds," suggested Catherine. She pointed in my direction. "Not you, buddy. You're in big trouble. You're going to pay. Bigtime!"


(Don't miss the conclusion of the gripping interrogation--coming soon)




Dragons' Den Part Two: With Shades of Catch 22

Normally I am not of a mind to be obsessed with unseen dangers but it doesn't hurt to be extra careful in the city these days, especially when my wife is absent. Before retiring last night I took the extra precautions of double-locking and dead-bolting both doors. I double checked all the windows and set the three burglar alarms. I locked my bedroom door behind me and propped a heavy dresser against it as added protection in case of hostile action against my well-being and financial security.

Most people know that alcohol, even in modest amounts, can disrupt sleep. Outport Raspberry Screech, however, with its peculiar blend of Newfoundland ingredients, overcomes the natural tendency to stay alert. No sooner had I assumed the prone position on my bed when my central nervous system crashed like a 2007 Toshiba computer. Instantly, sleep paralysis seized hold of every movable appendage.

The terrifying experience of sleep paralysis, otherwise known as 'the old hag', or 'hag broad' in this part of the planet, has been studied by learned scientists for generations: only the brain functions, along with the related senses of sight, hearing and smell. The limbs are rigid. Immobility is complete but awareness of one's surroundings is heightened to a razor's edge. In such a state of bodily dysfunction one is subject to all manner of deadly night demons.

As I lay in a comatose state, staring into the inky darkness, my bedroom door creaked and slowly opened, seemingly of its own accord. My best efforts at increased security had been for naught. A dark figure in a ragged black robe entered. It climbed on my chest and pinched my cheek with a bony hand. The old hag had returned. I tried to scream but my vocal chords were frozen. It studied my face of a condemned hostage with its eyes of death. "I am here to warn you," it(she) said. "They are coming tonight."

She emitted a long nostalgic howl like a she-wolf on the barren-lands of Baffin. And just like that she was gone. In my comatose state I was overcome with feelings of wistful longing and sentimental affection for my suddenly vanished vixen. Already I missed the caress of her skeletal fingers, her haggard time-worn features, her sad eyes of a deceased person, her fervent odour of a swamp creature. In the words of Yossarian, I yearned for her tragically.

I had no time to dwell on my sad loss for at that very instant, Duh-wyte, the gormless man in the premier's office, glided into my bedroom. In his hands of a pharmaceutical fiend he held a menacing syringe. "Stick him, Premier Duh-wyte, get on with it," said a spiteful voice behind him

"Wait, I have to go through his pockets first, Catherine," said Premier Duh-wyte petulantly. "He might have some loose change."

"We got your number, buddy," she said. "You're going to pay. Big time!"

Premier Duh-wyte stuck his needle into my jugular vein. My body relaxed and I fell into deep repose.

When I regained consciousness I was slumped in a plush, velvet-upholstered lounge chair inside a large room with floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows offering a majestic view of the desolate snow-bound city of St. John's in April. In front of me was a large, round, custom-made, teak hardwood conference table of a type found only in the executive offices of Nalcor.

Embedded in the ceiling were large gold-embossed photographs of former premiers that I recognized even in my semi-comatose state: Joey of the Mighty Churchill, Frankie (Linerboard) Moores, Brian (Cucumber) Peckford, Clyde (Meech Lake) Wells, Brian (Turbot) Tobin, Roger (The Dodger) Grimes, Danny (Big Oil) Williams, Cathy (Rolling Blackouts) Dunderdale, and a new addition, Duh-wyte (Levy) Ball. These formed a circle around other familiar faces--venerated leaders like Munroe, Cashin, Squires, and Alderdice--leaders with similar proclivities from nearly one hundred years ago.

Thirteen hardened, malevolent faces stared in my direction from around the table.

(Watch for the next chapter: In the Den. Coming soon.)

Dragons' Den, Part One

The overwhelming stench of economic decay, like rotten McDonalds' burgers, flows relentlessly through the lower levels of the city and sticks like bad farts to every restaurant, bar, and storefront downtown. The flood has crested for the moment at Dannyville, on the outskirts, but it is predicted to send snake-like tributaries into every nook and cranny of Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the plus side, traffic congestion at Tim Hortons just down Thorburn Road, has eased considerably since the budget, as people try to save their coffee money for the rainy days ahead. Only two shoppers were spotted at the Avalon Mall food court all of Tuesday--a new low. I have since discovered that the Health Care Corporation was piloting their 'nouveau cuisine' on that day and people flocked to St. Clare's Mercy Hospital to get that 'going out for fish and chips' experience that will soon be a thing of the past in St. John's. Goodbye Raymonds. But I have noticed that people are more irritable lately. Just yesterday, a lady raised her middle finger as I cut in front of her during rush hour on Kenmount Road.

My wife has had enough of the foul odour emanating from the center of government on the hill. As in Sonny's Dream, she has left me here, all alone. She has abandoned the city in favour of more serene surroundings at our other home on Long Island in Notre Dame Bay, one of those places that people should leave according to one of Premier Duh-wyte's policy wonks. The reasoning: "they choose to live there, so they shouldn't expect services from the rest of us."

So here I am, desperately trying to cope, in a modest apartment, in a demoralized city. I constantly rage at Duh-wyte, a gormless being in the premier's office, Catherine, the Minister of McDonalds in the finance portfolio, and my MHA, Dr. Dale, an opportunist NDPer turned right wing Liberal who spouts Duckspeak whenever he opens his mouth. I seethe with unbridled fury during my waking hours--a condition which alarms my friends next door and has set the whole neighbourhood on edge. Just last night my other neighbours, who were enjoying a rare late night barbecue celebration after the latest blizzard, retreated indoors after they were subjected to the nightmarish screams coming from my open bedroom window at one in the morning.

My terrifying dreams have subsided somewhat with my 'Two Minute Hate' exercise--which I have now 'transitioned' into "The Five Minute Hate' for copyright reasons. I now follow this therapeutic regime religiously as soon as Jonathan, Debbie, and Ryan have finished their nightly newscast on CBC. First I clear the small living room of fragile objects, I assemble the necessary props ie two and one half slices of stale bread (or one McDonalds' bun), a Stronger Tormorrow video...Unfortunately last night the curtains were open. As I glanced out my large living room window in the middle of my 'Five Minute Hate' routine, I noticed that a large crowd had gathered on the street to observe my erratic behaviour. Shortly after, Her Majesty's Royal Newfoundland Constabulary knocked on my door and rudely interrupted my nocturnal endeavours with a threat to cart me off to the psychiatric unit at the Health Sciences. "I hear they serve gourmet meals down there now," said the young officer.

As it turned out, this was a positive turn of events because at 7.05 p.m. my agent phoned in a state of subdued excitement. He cautioned me not to divulge further particulars of 'The Five Minute Hate'. "The shetchy details in your last blog has sent the whole thing viral," he said. "People love hate. Everybody loves hate. Every household in Newfoundland and Labrador will buy the kit. Every home in Canada...every family in the US of A will buy the kit. Then we're taking it to Brasil and Argentina. We're going world-wide! I have just taken the liberty of filing a patent in our name with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. We'll be rich. We won't ever have to worry about taxes again. We'll be able to pay for Muskrat Falls ourselves."

I didn't like the 'we' part.

"We have to get you on Dragons' Den. Jim will throw millions at you. Kevin

Duckspeak: With Apologies to George Orwell

It has been ten days since the government committed highway robbery. Some call it handing down a budget. The nightmares continue. In the dead of night Premier Duh-wyte, dripping sincerity from his pharmaceutical face, utters strange words from deep within his gullet as he rifles through my pockets in the closet. I wake up shivering in a cold rage with vague thoughts of inventing a giant flushing mechanism which I will secretly install at the top of Confederation Building here in the city.

Dear Minister Kirby, Where is My Stronger Tomorrow

An Open Letter to My MLA

Listen to audio of this blog aired on CBC "On the Go--With Ted Blades" at

My Dear Minister:

It's been nearly two weeks now since the unthinkable happened and overnight I saw nine thousand dollars of my hard earned income fly out the window. I thought the shock would ease as time wore on and that eventually I would forget the whole thing but that's what you and your newly found Liberal friends were counting on, wasn't it.

You probably wouldn't remember my wife and I. You came to our door during the election campaign last November. We welcomed you. You were pleasant and upbeat. You talked about a stronger tomorrow. You talked about the positive change you would help to bring to our province. We were impressed.

A little background, if you have time to bear with me: My wife and I are seniors. We devoted forty or more years contributing to the well-being of our province and our country. We built a pension plan that would see us through our senior years. We happily paid our taxes knowing that our contribution made it possible to have adequate health care for all, social assistance for the less fortunate, literacy programs for adults, and good schools for our children. In our wildest dreams we never envisioned that our government would betray us, put a gun to our heads, and demand that we forfeit our financial security.

You were a former NDP member of the House of Assemby yet as a member of this government you closed schools, shut down literacy and other support programs, cut assistance to children and families. You chopped critical medical assistance to the poor, the mentally ill, and the elderly. You closed seniors centres (even as your esteemed leader was investing in a private seniors complex).

I find it ironic that on the day you and your government launched this disastrous budget, the NDP Government of Alberta, which arguably was in just as bad a position, took the opposite approach. They introduced additional supports for children and families to the tune of 147 million dollars. They invested half a billion in job training, 250 million in small business development and 34 billion in infrastructure over five years.

You are now party to the destruction of the middle class in this province. You have imposed intolerable hardship on the poor and the working poor. You have created all the conditions which will force our young people and their families to leave this province. I can assure you they will leave. They have no choice. In fact they are already leaving.

I am not asking you and your colleagues to assign blame but I see you are already floating your trial balloons in that regard: the Muskrat Falls project--always a good smokescreen to hide all the other bad stuff; the previous government of course; all those people in the outports who don't deserve services because 'they choose to live there'; the aboriginal people in Labrador 'who have more than they deserve anyway--but maybe taking away a food subsidy will solve that problem'; people on welfare 'who don't want to work'. The scapegoats are many and they are there for the taking. The truth is that you and your new-found friends built this disastrous plan yourselves and you will wear the consequences. Or should I say that my family and thousands like us will wear the consequences.

If cabinet ministers and ordinary MHAs have a shred of their honour left, they will do the right thing and force this incompetent premier (Newfoundland is not a pharmacy) and an even more incompetent finance minister (Newfoundland is not a McDonalds franchise) back to the drawing board for a creative approach to rebuilding our province. I have a six-year-old grandchild who will gladly help out.

Thoughts on the Apocalypse: Blogs on a Stronger Tomorrow

Apocalypse: from the Ancient Greek/a disclosure of knowledge, a lifting of the veil or revelation. A disclosure of something hidden.   ...the Free Dictionary

In the Beginning


Terrifying dreams are nothing new for me but in the past few weeks sound, restful sleep has been elusive, to say the least. Normally, I experience only garden variety nightmares with the dark figure of an old hag creeping into my bedroom in the dead of night to sit on my chest like a giant black cormorant drying its wings. She fixes me with her eyes of death and squeezes every last breath of oxygen from my lungs. Eventually I am able to break the spell with wild screams that unsettle the entire household. The old hag plagued my father. After he passed away, the old hag set its sights on me.

But the old hag has been displaced. That's the bad news. My newest dead-of-night visitor is a gormless thing with a smarmy manner, sincere teary eyes, and a mouth that expels words without movement of its lips. "Pillage and Rape," it screams as it wraps its pudgy pharmaceutical fingers around my neck like it is wringing out a wet dish-cloth. Another figure, on a pale horse, shouts, "PILLAGE and PLUNDER, Duh-wyte, for God's sake get it right. PILLAGE and PLUNDER!" 

"I'm sorry, Catherine," said the gormless thing. "I didn't practice my soundbite."

The pale rider addressed me directly as I lay paralysed under the sheets. "We got your number, buddy. You're going to pay. Big time!"

"It's for a stronger tomorrow," said Duh-wyte.

Other voices broke into the nightmare as I woke up in a cold sweat. My radio is auto-programmed to get me up at six. A discussion on the impact of the cutbacks is in progress. The reporter on the Peoples' Network is interviewing a Mr. Diamond, CEO of the health board in the city. The CEO drips sincerity as he responds to a question. They are talking about food services at St. John's hospitals--a topic that immediately piques my interest.

"We are closing down the central kitchen at Pippy Place," said Mr. Diamond, "in favour of a 'cuisine centre', all the staff will be redeployed. Patients will be able to place an order for a meal, much the same as they would at a restaurant. These orders are transmitted to a central 'cuisine centre' where meals are made from frozen food and sent back. Microwave technology is then used to heat the meals."

Sounds suspiciously like frozen microwave dinners at Wal-Mart, I thought.

"Fresh food, cooked to perfection," said the CEO. "Ensuring all the taste and all the vitality, and delivering high quality, fresh and nutritious meals."

I found myself drooling as the soothing words eased me back into a deep slumber. I was in a bed at the Health Sciences Centre, whimpering in pain as I spot someone looking my way. The CEO, dressed in a long white coat and green scrubs, introduced himself. "Good morning, Mr. Colbourne. I am your Maitre d' for the morning repas." He handed me the brightly decorated menu. "A Tapestry of Bologna," read the title on the front.


Newfoundland Soldier Who Received the Iron Cross


On January 27, 1917, Company Sergeant-Major Cyril Gardiner from British Harbour, Trinity Bay was cited a second time in two months for distinguished conduct in front of the enemy. He had already received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) at the battle of Gueudecourt the previous October. At 5.30 a.m. on January 27 Sergeant-Major Gardiner and his squad were assigned the task of collecting the wounded in the wake of an advance by the English Border Regiment at the battle of Sailly-Saillisel.

As his company of stretcher-bearers moved forward, Gardiner noticed a German officer and his heavily armed soldiers in a nearby trench that the Border Regiment had missed in their advance. Gardiner coolly shouted, "tres bon, you're late, everyone else has kameraded." The German officer immediately surrendered with his entire company of 72 men. While marching his prisoners back to allied lines the Newfoundland soldier was challenged by a British officer who threatened to open fire. Gardiner stepped in front of the prisoners and told the officer in no uncertain terms that the unarmed enemy soldiers were under his protection. The British officer backed down. At that moment the German officer realized that Gardiner had saved their lives. In gratitude he removed the Iron Cross from from his own uniform and pinned it to the breast of the the Newfoundland soldier.

The Iron Cross represented the highest award for gallantry in the German military and was the equivalent of the Victoria Cross for British forces.

Sergeant-Major Gardiner was promoted to Lieutenant shortly after Sailly-Saillisel. Two and one-half months later on April 14, 1917 he died at the Battle of Monchy-Le-Preux.

(Cyril was born at British Harbour, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, the son of Arthur Gardiner and Mary Colbourne. His older brother, Edward James Gardiner died at Beaumont Hamel on July 1,1916.)

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Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at

Advance Reviews:

     "What a fascinating read this is. It has all the suspense of a true crime novel ...Newfoundland itself emerges as a colorful character..." -- editor, Friesen Press

     "In Dancing on Air, Eric Colbourne exposes the raw politics and behind the scenes intrigue of critical events in Newfoundland and Labrador history. In the process, he has skilfully unveiled the human faces of tragedies which have remained with us for well over half a century."   --Mervin Wiseman, Political Activist, NL.

     "This is a great way to present history. It's emotionally engaging, highly instructive, and jam-packed with fascinating details."  --Editor, Friesen Press.

     Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland is a story of justice and injustice amidst war and political upheaval.

     On St. Patrick's Day, 1942 Herb Spratt, the youngest son of a prominent St. John's city councilor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defense at a two day trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland resulted in a guilty verdict coupled with a strong recommendation for mercy. The chief justice pronounced a sentence of death on April 28, 1942, but that was not the end of the story.

     Six years later, on October 23, 1948, during a night of terror in the town of Norris Arm on the central north coast of the island, Alfred Beaton stabbed his girlfriend and shot to death another young woman. At least 10 other individuals narrowly escaped death as Beaton rampaged through the community with a high powered rifle.

     Beaton went to trial in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland on January 31, 1949. The jury returned a guilty verdict without a recommendation for mercy. The chief justice again imposed the death penalty.

Alfred Beaton (center) after the death sentence

The incidents come together as a gripping account of a flawed justice system and of the impact of public opinion. With its cast of powerful characters, the story reads like fiction but what happened was only too real.  

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.







Eric Colbourne grew up in the small community of Lush's Bight-Beaumont on the northeast coast of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. His earliest memories are of the tales spun by village elders under the flickering light of oil lamps in the kitchen of the family home on the isolated island. This tradition of story-telling is captured in his first book Disappeared: Stories from the Coast of Newfoundland which has enjoyed international success.


His latest work, Dancing on AIR: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death Penalty in Newfoundland, published in October 2016 by Boulder Publications, represents an enduring fascination with the issue of capital punishment which he has researched extensively over many years in this country and around the world.


Colbourne was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland, The University of Reading in the UK, and at McGill University in Montreal. He has enjoyed a varied career in education, community development, tourism and senior management in the public service of Nunavut and the NWT. He currently devotes his time to writing and historical research.

Back Cover:Dancing on Air

Public Executions: Dancing on Air

At 5.32 a.m. on August 14, 1937 a young black man, Rainey Bethea was executed at Owensboro, Kentucky after his conviction for the rape of a white woman. A crowd, estimated at 20,000, gathered in Owensboro the day before and held 'hanging' parties throughout the night. One reporter likened the scene at the scaffold next morning to a sporting event. The hangman was intoxicated and barely managed to trip the lever. It was the last public hanging in the US.

The practice of public executions was abandoned in Canada in 1869 and in the UK in 1870. Many countries, notably Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran continue the practice to this day for crimes such as drug trafficking, witchcraft, disloyalty to the government. and homosexuality.


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

Advice for Writers

Elmore Leonard, a well known mystery writer who died last year offered a number of rules for good writing. A few of them:

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Keep your exclamations points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

3.Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

4.Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

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

Historic Vote

In 1948, residents of Newfoundland and Labrador decided their future in two referenda. In the first vote, held on June 3, Commission of Government was eliminated but neither Confederation with Canada nor Responsible Government received a majority, making a second referendum necessary. Voting was heavy, nearly 89% on June 3rd and 85% on July 22nd. 52.34% of voters chose Confederation on the second ballot.

Where to Buy Disappeared

     Disappeared:Stories From the Coast of Newfoundland is available in print and e-book from and in e-book format from Kobo, Chapters etc. To locate it on Amazon, type 'Disappeared Colbourne' into their 'find' bar. Delivery is about one week.

     Author copies are also available directly from Click on the facebook link and send the author a message. Price is $15 plus postage.

     Due to the short print run the book will not be available in most bookstores.

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:

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 historical 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)


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 and in kindle and print format.