The Flat Earth Society

To Pee or not to Pee



 Truth and politics are on rather bad terms

                                                                      ...Hannah Arendt






When we went to bed at midnight on Sunday, the winter hurricane had not yet vented its fury on the city even though the weather channel had predicted in its afternoon forecast that the dangerous storm would strike by 9 pm and weather advisories framed in red banners warned us to secure all loose objects which in the 190 km winds would become life-threatening missiles aimed at any pedestrian foolhardy enough to defy the forces of nature and attempt a leisurely stroll down the Prince Phillip Parkway. Catastrophic storm surges in excess of 6 meters were foretold for coastal areas, which in theory could wash away whole residential neighborhoods along Topsail Beach and in Quidi Vidi Village.

Instead, like an outcast from the Liberal Party, the stubborn cyclone raged in the doldrums of the Humber-Bay of Islands directing its wrath at Gros Morne instead of obliterating Muskrat Falls as many had hoped, or bringing down the walls of the Nalcor headquarters like in olden days at Jericho, as others had wished-for.

Spouse and I were well into our journey through the Land of Nod before the storm broke. As we trekked through nightmares of Grieg salmon farms and Canopy Growth cannabis facilities enjoying the tepid night winds, we encountered all manner of shadowy figures resembling well-known politicians with Pinocchio-like snouts, snuffling and snorting along, sniffing at the pajama pockets of dreaming taxpayers.

The problem in the Land of Nod, as you probably know, is a total lack of restrooms.

Being predisposed to a sensitive bladder, a condition worsened by the torrent of rain cascading down the bedroom window, I left spouse behind and re-entered the earthly realm. Nature called. I stumbled to the bathroom at 3 am only to discover that a miniature tempest, complete with breaking waves, had formed in the toilet bowl which now approached the overflow stage. Several tomcods were swimming around in the mini-ocean of the commode.

Without relief for my expanding bladder, I tip-toed with tightly crossed legs back to the bedroom and awakened spouse. "Wake up," I shrieked, "there's a school of fish in the toilet and I think I saw an octopus, and dozens of crabs are crawling around in the bathtub. Who knows, there might be a shark in there."

My story sounded so convincing, she believed me.

"Then go downstairs and pee out the door," she said. "DFO will charge you with illegal fishing if you disturb those things.

I rushed downstairs, resisting the urge to pee, and turned on the radio to get the latest emergency alerts from CBC. Waves, the announcer said, have now reached a height of 30 meters offshore and some have washed halfway up Signal Hill and have flooded into low-lying areas of the city overwhelming the sewer system.

In desperation, I stepped outside in the lee of the porch and peed into the wind. I experienced so much relief that I immediately began to revise my fish story.

All next day, 'as the tempests raved and the wild winds blew' we were reduced, out of desperation, to watching clips from our esteemed House on the Hill. Our black and white analog TV, a gift from the Salvation Army, offers us limited entertainment options, the People's Channel, of course, and the other one which interrupts its programming every half-hour to present a banshee shrieking O Canada. Spouse thinks we should stand to attention each time to show our patriotism. It has become our daily exercise.

We watched as Solemn Tom, Minister of Taxes, stood and described the new prosperity staring our province in the face. "Our infrastructure plan--53,000 person-years of work, our health care infrastructure--46,000 person-years of work, Equinor, 11,000 person-years of work...Canada Fluorspar, 525 jobs, Grieg Aquaculture, 800 jobs..."

Good-bye Alberta.

"Have you noticed," I said to spouse, "that even though he's smiling through his teeth, he has a pained expression on his face."

"And he's holding his knees tightly together," said spouse. "I wonder what he's holding back."

Next on his feet was Mitchelmore, Minister of Tourism and Stuff, trying to explain away the cronyism in the appointment, without competition, of Carla Foote to a plum job at The Rooms. "...a lateral transfer...more than qualified...Ms. Foote is going to be the connector between government, all of core government, and The Rooms, and the public..."

Like a coupling in a sewer pipe.

Mitchelmore, too, had a pained countenance and tightly crossed legs.

The camera panned to Parsons, Minister of Laws. He talked about the new carbon tax, on top of the 300 other taxes and fees imposed by his government. "...the people who really benefit, Mr. Speaker, from the additional tax are every man, woman, and child who will have more money in their pockets instead of paying it the same time reducing emissions...for a 60-liter fill-up you pay just 25 cents more..." Pained look, bent over, crossed legs, hands clasped between his thighs.

Some honorable members: "Hear. Hear."

Eddie Joyce (Alias Big Eddie) speaks. "...something happened last week, two weeks ago. The Minister of Natural Resources stood on her feet and it was very telling, very telling. It was a question from the Opposition, and the question was from the Opposition because the former mayor was up in the gallery...I was accused of taking 30 million...that's the allegation that was made against me...and I had to defend it, and I'm sitting over here, just think about it. Just think about it. And I have the e-mail..."

Big Eddie looked normal.

We turned off the TV.

Later that night as we listened to the BBC World Service on our 60-year-old RCA Victor shortwave radio, we learned of an astounding scientific discovery from a recent study in the US. Scientists wanted to know how a full bladder affected our ability to become better at lying or telling the truth.

Half the subjects in the study were told to drink 50 ml of water and the other half, 700 ml. After 45 minutes, the water had trickled down to their bladders. As they were being interviewed, the subjects were instructed to lie about issues they cared about such as gun control and the death penalty.

The conclusion: Those who wanted to pee most urgently (because they drank more water) lied more convincingly than those who drank less water. Those who really, really, wanted to pee, invented longer and more complex lies.

Suddenly, it all became clear.

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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.