The Flat Earth Society

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 http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/268818186696.

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

Nightmares

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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CONTACT THE AUTHOR

You may contact the author at:

ericcolbourne1@gmail.com (or)

ericcolbourne@ericcolbourne.com

Dancing on Air: New Edition: New Publisher

Dancing on Air

The revised edition of Dancing on Air(Boulder Publications) is now available from Boulder -- boulderpublications.ca also from Chapters/Indigo and Coles bookstores across Canada as well as at Amazon.com. Book signings are being scheduled at various locations in the coming weeks. See Calendar section of this site for details.

 

 

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 councillor, murdered his girlfriend, Josephine O'Brien. A weak defence 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 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.

 

 

Bio

 

 

 

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.

Comments?

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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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 Amazon.ca 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 ericcolbourne.com. 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: 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.