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Monday 16 April 2012


Uncle Gnarley wasn’t keen on having his name on the banner of a political blog; not that he was shy or reticent about stating his opinion on any issue. Still, I planned that my thoughts, not his, might occupy the site.  That may have caused him the deepest scepticism. It was not as if my request were invoked by someone boasting blood kinship.  But ideas take on a life of their own.
You see Uncle Gnarley is not really my uncle.  I’m not even certain Gnarley' is his real name. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, you see, “Uncle” has all the virtues and usage of the word “Skipper”; often conveyed upon someone as a term of respect or in recognition of certain endearing qualities.  Traditionally, an uncle need not be a sibling of either parent any more than a skipper need ever to have gone to sea.
When I first met Uncle Gnarley, I was trying to catch a few trout on the Salmonier River.  I practically tripped over the elderly gentleman; in the ensuing commotion I became a recipient of one of his renowned glares. 

You see when Uncle Gnarley sneers, his lip goes off into a most god awful curl; the effect is to render normal people, as it did me, into a state of instant terror.  But, fortunately, the condition is quite temporary.  When he chooses, the gruff, quarrellsome demeanor can become a soft, confident voice with a conditioning effect that suggests all is forgiven. I have learned, however, that if it is the soft and pleasant Gnarley you want, it is better to keep him on a 'politics-free' diet.

You will probably agree that is not likely in the current political atmosphere.

My rather unceremonius introduction to Uncle Gnarley, was the beginning of a relationship that took the pattern of two who enjoyed getting on each others nerves. For certain, he was as quick witted as you could find, demonstrating more insight into matters of state than an entire Dunderdale Cabinet.  But, that comment does not actually compliment Uncle Gnarley, does it.
I soon learned Uncle Gnarley was an Economics Professor at the University and a fisherman; he having operated a modest vessel out of Petty Harbour to supplement a meagre university income. 

He was also a frequently sought raconteur, or so I am told, regaling audiences with his stories, wit and humour. He has now retired from both professions. Having lived for many years in Petty Harbour , (he was not too fond of row housing coming to the Harbour; a St. John’s phenomenon best left to the City, he ventured), he is now living in a small, quiet town on the Southern Shore.  
Get used to words like ‘tarnation’, his most vulgar expletive, and ‘by gar’, which he uses with particular earnestness.

Uncle Gnarley has a ferocious temper. What infuriates him most are arrogant and short sighted politicians and spend thrift governments.  Oh, if you really want to see that lip of his curl, his entire face swell and turn as red as a beet, just mention the words "public debt".  

As you can imagine Uncle Gnarly is not happy these days.  

My most admiring view of Uncle Gnarley was formed long after having removed my foot from his crushed fishing basket. I got around to asking him his name; to which he replied, matter of factly, “Gnarley, what’s yours”? Having felt certain that I had misheard, I did not feel quite confident enough, in the circumstance, to have him repeat it. 

One thing I quickly became certain about, however, is that Uncle Gnarley loves Newfoundland and Labrador. Any decision that threatens our culture, way of life or future economic or social well being can expect a level of wrath only he can mete out. 
Many years later, I screwed up the courage to ask him if I could name my Blog for him.  He paused, his lipped curled a few times and I thought for an instant that presumption is not something one should impose upon this curmudgeonly academic.  I was not to be disappointed.  Eventually a reply of sorts slipped out of the bearded, kindly and opinioned patriot,  I heard a grunt or two and noticed a nod that suggested acceptance.  Then a grizzled face looked at me intently; two fiercely sparkling eyes met mine.  I thought I discerned a slight smirk.  The mouth movied to intone: “provided I get to have a word or two, as well”.   

I can’t wait for some of Uncle Gnarley musings.

But, friends, you may have to endure some of mine while we both wait for Uncle Gnarley utterances.