Monday, 24 December 2012


I was still snoring it off, this morning, when a loud bang on the front door, demanded immediate response. What would anyone want at five am, I wondered, as I ran over the stairs in housecoat and slippers? Though the aggressive knocking offered a hint that, just perhaps, my old friend had gotten confused as to what day it was, he being a ‘fixture’ at our house on Christmas Day, I was soon to discover that the confusion was all mine.

“Tarnation”, Uncle Gnarley exclaimed, as I ushered him inside, the chill air swirling, as it sought to freeze my underparts.   “Nav, why aren’t you dressed and ready”, demanded Uncle Gnarley?  “You were the one who proposed to hike Cape Spear, this morning.  You know how I hate it when you are not on time!” Suddenly, the light bulb went on. I had indeed challenged the old man to hike the trail from the most easterly point in North America to Petty Harbour, for the umpteenth time.  I had forgotten to alarm my clock. No, not forgotten.  I suddenly remembered I had drifted off to sleep watching the ‘filibuster’, on my laptop, as it played itself out in the House of Assembly.
Quietly, not wanting to awaken sleeping beauty, I explained to Gnarley what had given rise to my indiscretion.  A smirk appeared, suggesting, perhaps forgiveness, as he muttered that I was doing “god’s work” keeping an eye on “that lot”,  referring to the Government, adding, "we shall catch up on the goings on in the House of Assembly".  

I nodded and proposed that, while I was completing my ablutions, he might cook a breakfast suited to two inveterate outdoorsmen.  A couple of eggs and a slice of homemade bread should put some spring in our step, I allowed. Then, with a grin that underlined its significance, I offered, as the French would say, the pièce de résistance, “the blood pudding is on the lower shelf of the refrigerator”. 

A look of greater satisfaction could not have been seen on a six year old on Christmas morning. 

Gnarley had a soft spot for good Scotch and lively conversation, as long as it had to do with politics or economics.  Otherwise, he bored easily.  But, the offer of homemade blood pudding, encouraged forgiveness for the most egregious short coming. Gnarley raised his hand and I understood he would now take care of matters.

Emerging twenty minutes later, in attire more suited to the trail and less to the ‘hangashore’, I ran down the stairs to see Gnarley looking more Chef than Chef de Mission, his characteristic bow-tie absent on days such as this.  I was quickly greeted with the unmistakable aroma of suet and other aspects of animal sacrifice, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and other spices, too, which combined with an array of garden vegetables, again ensured an odor of such character that it lingered, at least in one’s mind, from one Christmas season to the next.   
"Take a seat", thundered Gnarley clearly ravenous and anxious now to judge this year’s creation.  For Gnarley, and secretly for me, too, the process of evaluation required a ceremony akin to sampling a new elixir.  A triumphant discovery of an untried single malt always descended into animated discussion of the secret formulation of barley, smoky peat, cask origins and aging, which together, conspired to sanction surprise. Oh my, that word ‘sanction’!  For a moment, I felt a sharp pain, though its origins were far different than the matter at hand. 

I waited now with silent patience as the bearded man moved his jaw vigorously, then engaged in his own private ceremony of eye movement and grunt, an exercise of studied simplicity when compared with Kathy Dunderdale’s Muskrat Falls sanction announcement, a showcase of bad form exhibited by the presence of the Queen’s representative and a Cabinet Order, in large scale, that required his signature, but for show received that of the Premier.  Even its substance, already diminished by a lack of scrutiny, inconsistency and secrecy, needed gilding with over the top hyperbole.   The signing was, of course, a sideshow; presided over by no less a personage than the Cabinet Secretary, the charade serving to confirm how deep the rot had gone.  

One aspect of Uncle Gnarley’s culinary skills, not having escaped notice, was that he had fried each perfectly proportioned slice of pudding until it received an amply thick crust.  As Gnarley chewed, I thought of my dearly departed Mother, whose benediction he must have invoked, such was her habit of frying the tasty treat.  The perfection of each slice, on offer, might have caused her to give up her just reward of eternal rest and demand equal shares.   But, my increasing sense of terror subsided, as I heard the almost reluctant admission, that the highest standards had, again, been achieved. 
“You did well, Nav”, stated Gnarley’s succinctly.  But, the curl of the old man’s lip had given me advance warning that I had not lost the technique.  “Now”, he bellowed, “if only you had gotten your carcass out of bed we could have started the day before it was half over”. 

He was never one indulgent in praise even if it was well earned. Again, I had to admonish him about waking sleeping beauty.  We both laughed.  I suggested that if only Premier Dunderdale had used such an economy of words with which to sanction Muskrat Falls, the cost of the Speech, together with the effusive language it contained, could have been saved and applied to cost overruns. Uncle Gnarley slapped his thigh and signalled that it was a well-deserved barb. Then, an overcast of silence descended upon the little celebration.

Uncle Gnarley spoke first.  “Nav, I can’t thank you enough”, he began quietly but with earnest, “for bringing me into the 21st century”.  I knew, of course, what he meant.   I had sent him a computer with the none too subtle suggestion that he get rid of his old Underwood typewriter.  “That was just too much, Nav, and that nephew of yours, who set up the whole contraption and gave me several lessons in how to use it, well, he’s not just a genius, he is a gem”. Don’t mention it I responded, in an attempt to wave off further discussion of the matter and proceeded to defeat my own intent.
"It isn’t possible to be up on current events these days without the internet", I suggested.   "Besides", I jostled him, "now you will be able to email Jos Arnell rather than track, by foot, all the way to Petty Harbour, as I promise we are about to do the minute I finish this last morsel.  You two can have the most wonderful correspondence", I added. 

Jos, who lived in Petty Harbour, and whom Gnarley had given pension advice, was not gifted with a Chanel aspect.  Her reward for 70 years of toil was a rather large wart prominently displayed upon an extra ordinarily large beak; she had taken a shine to Uncle Gnarley, though her aggressive and intimidating manner did cause some puzzlement.  It was a fact to which he needed no reminding.  As a result, the last remark brought a none too subtle kick in the shins, underneath the table, and my intimation of a love interest ended there.
"I was thinking", I continued without further digression, "that you might want to catch up on some of the latest reports in the Montreal Gazette in which the venerable SNC Lavalin has attracted a lot of attention, lately.  Apparently, its former senior executives have grown a fondness for the penitentiary both in Sweden and at home". Gnarley looked saddened by the comment, noting only a La Presse news story which contended that a kickback of $21.5 million allowed SNC Lavalin to capture the construction contract for Montreal’s $1.3 billion McGill Hospital.  Said Gnarley, “Muskrat Falls is at least six or seven times the size of that contract.  Let’s hope that no shenanigans have gone on there”. Gnarley became introverted again; I paused and changed the subject.

"Have some more blood pudding", I suggested, to which offer, a crest fallen Uncle Gnarley perked up.  “Don’t mind if I do”, he replied, already half way across the kitchen to wrestle the remnants from the frying pan.
“You said you watched the filibuster late into the night, Nav”, Gnarley added, returning to the conversation without skipping a beat.  “Couldn’t resist the intellectual ‘bon mots’ of Labrador MHA Keith Russell could you", enquired he, sarcastically. "Seems Keith has made certain no Mummers will be allowed in, this Christmas Season", he added wryly.  Gnarley bit hard on the final crust of home-made bread as a drip of Crosby’s molasses ran down his thumb and index finger.    

“Tell me about this Bill 60, Nav.  Isn’t that what gave rise to the Opposition’s filibuster?” Not waiting for an answer, Gnarley continued: “how does this Government expect to export power by creating the monopoly this Bill secures for Nalcor?  Isn’t that the silliest? For godsake man, doesn’t an ‘open grid’ mean that power should go not just one, but both ways, as the market dictates?    It is about as silly as permitting Keith Russell to be in polite company”, Gnarley barked in disgust. “But, then, he does receive little inspiration, continued Gnarley.  His boss, Ms. Dunderdale, signed that ridiculous and unfinished Federal Loan Guarantee and just to prove that she could outdo herself agreed with Emera, to pay any price, as long as that company would sanction Muskrat Falls, right now.  The whole affair is uncivilized.
The poor Newfoundland taxpayer had better enjoy their turkey this year”, an irritated Uncle Gnarley chuckled.  “I fear she is about to make turkeys out of us all.  And, Ed Martin needs no instruction on how to be the chief turkey baster”, he added, for good measure!  

“Come on Nav, let’s head for the coast.   We have more pleasant thoughts to share, families to talk about, especially those wonderful grandkids". Yes, and  two impending arrivals will enlarge the extended family next year, I boasted.   

Said Uncle Gnarley, "we are truly the lucky ones. Families and the company of great friends will sustain us", he added optimistically.   

As we made progress beyong the Cape Spear Lighthouse, the echoes and the infantile call of the Guillemots could be heard as they skipped back and forth to their nesting place off Witless Bay.  The waves ran up on the rugged coastline and kept us entertained. The rocky landscape, colder now with the oncoming winter, delivered an uncompromising verdict: this is a place of determined resilience. 

Yes, Uncle Gnarley, you are quite right.  We are lucky to be here.