Occasionally, I write something that is a tad clever; or occasionally I have what I think at least is an original thought. Then I find regularly that someone else has beaten me to that notion.
Writing op-ed pieces in Newfoundland means that I have often been bested, so to sp-*eak, by Ray Guy. So, it was a few years ago that in a Regatta piece for both NTV and The Herald I had to make a grab at a bit of Ray’s writings about the origins of A Day at the Races. His words were brilliant. It happens a lot. Ray wasn’t perfect but he was good with an eagle eye for “The Passing Parade”.
I wish I had known Ray Guy better. I only met him a handful of times. Once I had coffee with him and my late brother John down at Atlantic Place. We watched people go by and we talked and as I recall the three of us solved most of the world’s problems that morning. Ray didn’t talk a lot. He was better with his pen than with his mouth. The only other time we met in person was at Government House. It was the occasion of the launch of his last book. I had a good time.
This week I put pen to paper for words about something that has been rising in my craw for some time now and needed to be released. That something is the seemingly endless list of complaints that we Newfoundlanders have against everything and anything in the world. We love our province, but we see ourselves so often in both story and song as the victim. We were ill done by, to use a phrase from a couple of centuries ago, repeatedly by a series of villains.
After World War One we got the shaft from Britain with our crippling war debt. In 1914 we answered the call to arms and volunteered to go and die for the mother country at Beaumont Hamel and other places. That we did willingly as Britain’s oldest colony, but we didn’t dream our reward would be bankruptcy. It was.
Then we were taken to the cleaners with our entry into Confederation, or at least a lot of us, but not 50 per cent thought so. The fix was in. The referendum was rigged, and the Canadian wolf was the bad guy. Poor us again.
Fast forward to Churchill Falls when we thought Smallwood and his buddies put the boots to us. We still haven’t recovered from that. We spent a fortune in the courts trying to get a contract we made get overturned. That didn’t happen in the courts.
The federal government in Ottawa robbed us next, we thought. They took our fishery and our birthright and gave it away overseas. We blamed Ottawa for everything. It is only recently we have come to understand that the cod haven’t just vanished from Newfoundland. It is a world problem with the oceans. That won’t stop us from blaming Ottawa.
Through all of this we sing patriotic songs and wrap ourselves in the flag and cry in our beer. We talk lovingly about the past, but the present has settled down into some kind of “us against them” situation with us as the victim. That continued through what used to be the seal hunt. Brian Davies and Greenpeace, and then Paul Watson, ruined us. We were the victims again and we threw our hands up ready to be nailed to whatever was the cross of the day. It passes for patriotism in some quarters.
Well, with all of that line of thinking I briefly thought this was my own bright shiny notion. I had isolated the social and cultural phenomenon that Newfoundlanders were wrapped up in. I was looking for a name for this type of new patriotism. Alas, in thumbing through Ray Guy’s last book which was a collection of newspaper columns from the Northeast Avalon Times, I came across a couple of words that were humbling to me. In relation to the seal hunt he threw out the phrase – “spiteful patriotism”. It’s exactly what I have been trying to say but Ray Guy in two little words said what took me 500. I wish I could write like Ray Guy.
You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]