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Thursday 23 May 2013


“Sure yer dressed up like a yeller peacock, Nav;  ya looks ready to blast off for the international space station.  Trying to take over Chris ‘adfield’s job, is ya?”, enquired a voice I knew belonged only to one. 

I was trying to hide behind a fishing boat that had been laid up all winter; perfect camouflage for a kayaker, decked out in a bright yellow drysuit, responding to the call of nature.

Jos was not possessed of the slightest concern that I might be showing an excess of undergarments or other bodily parts.  I cursed the Petty Harbour Tourism Committee; a suitable outhouse, right now, would likely save me some trouble.   I closed my “relief” zipper, with no time to spare, as Uncle Gnarley’s old “friend”, Jos Arnell, popped her head around the stern of the aging vessel.
“That’s the only thing that’s any good for”, Jos barked aloud to the whole community, though I wasn’t sure why I was gratified when she added: “sure that ‘ol bark hasn’t seen as many cod fish as I got frying on the stove.  What’s ya doing, Nav?  It’s some good to see ya b’y; I spose yer goin’ out in that little boat; lookin’ to get drowned is ya? Where’s Uncle Gnarley”? Her questions continued, in a staccato outburst, without the need for as much as a ‘howdy do’, from me. “I suppose he’s too uppity to come down to these parts. I ‘aven’t seen him in months, is he hidin’ or somethin’?”

Suddenly, Jos ceased her non-stop inquisition and waited for me to say something.  I always had difficulty speaking with the wizened old woman.  I could never focus on anything she said, always fixated, was I, with the huge wart that took up residence on her highly pronounced schnozzle. The malicious growth just seemed to have a character all its own, changing shape, and colour, as she gestured.  In her own way, she was a wonderful human being and had a heart of gold.  It was just that she was possessed of a demeanour that, to some, suggested she was perhaps a tad unpolished.

My pause was surely ill-timed.  Without the slightest warning, Jos broke out in a stream of language that made absolutely no sense unless you were one of those crazy religious types:  “I’m gonna put a wet one on you”, was followed by, “you can kiss my big fat arse” and another that sounded like, “@#Muskrat right in your stun*Fu@& face”. Thinking the woman had gotten into whatever Labrador MHA Keith Russell was on, I was forced to interfere with her sudden rant and ask: what in the name of heavens are you getting on with? “Oh, don’t mind me, Nav b’y, I’m just practicing me Mumbo Jumbo”, said Jos with a smirk.

Half frightened she had gone off her rocker and reluctant to ask what she might be getting ready for, this seemed a good time to make a clean break :  “I thought Uncle Gnarley was coming down to see Josiah today, Jos.  Perhaps, you might have missed him.” 

Josiah Brake lived within spitting distance of Jos.  I knew the reply would serve its purpose, better than any fuel that might jettison Chris Hadfield’s re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere.  On spindly legs, the elderly woman disappeared like a rocket.

My thoughts of Jos and why she was so eager to see Uncle Gnarley quickly dissipated as I slid my seventeen foot craft down the wooden slipway.  A wave washed over my bow and, reflexively, I braced; now, the sea demanded complete attention.

A few hours later, the need to surf the salt water sated, I was on the Slipway again. 

Immediately, Jos came to mind and I wondered if she had caught up with my cagey old friend.  Mindful that she had mentioned fried cod fish, I headed in the direction of Main Road and Jos’ little domicile.

Within minutes, it became clear that she already had her catch of day; Uncle Gnarley’s voice was so audible that I almost reversed course, except that curiosity and the smell of fish, had the better of me.

I opened the outer door to her porch; Uncle Gnarley could be heard counselling the old woman: “you wouldn’t do anything that silly, would you”? Being Leader of the Opposition is a very difficult job” roared Gnarley, ostensibly to Jos.  He could not possibly be speaking to anyone else; her gruff demeanor was not a behaviour that encouraged visitors, even family and neighbours.

I tapped lightly on the door and walked in.  Gnarley’s arms were gesturing frantically and I could see his blood pressure was on the rise; though it was too early to determine whether the condition arose from having been ‘caught’ by Jos or due to the contentious nature of the conversation.

“You lived to see another day, did ya, Nav; don’t ya know you’re a danger to yerself and the Coast Guard, Jos barked in my direction, as she pointed a long bony finger at a chair.  Sit down and I’ll get ye a bit of fish, right off the stove. I spose yer starvin’”. 

My intrusion had the effect of bringing a halt to the conversation and I was anxious to get the exchange re-ignited between the former provincial government mail room attendant and the great economist.  I could see, out of the corner of my eye that Gnarley wanted my attention and, as I looked over to where he was holding court, he pointed at his watch, with urgency, as if to suggest I might aid in an early escape.    

Jos was quick to fill in the details I had missed. “Nav, I was just asking Gnarley, here, what he thought of me running for the Liberals”.  That sounds pretty interesting, Jos, I responded, doing my best to sound flabbergasted that the Province had done without her services this long: Jos, where would you run, in what District, I mean? “Oh, no Nav, you don’t understand.  I wants to run for Dwight Ball’s job…see, he’s only the h’interim Leader and they needs a good strong person, someone like me, to take on Kathy Dunderdale.  Sure ya heard me using me mumbo jumbo, I’d be perfect for puttin’ her in her place, not that she knows nuttin’ anyway.

“Now, I was just saying saying to Gnarley, with all his larnin’ and my charm, we could sure make some team.  He must be bored out of his tree being retired and all.  I wants him to write a few lines for me, now and agin’, when I becomes the Premier, like when the Queen comes and those times when we got to get gussied up.  He’d be very good at that, Nav, now, you knows he would”. But, Jos, wasn’t finished with her argument.

“As for the ‘ouse of Assembly, sure I could ‘andle that place better than anyone up there especially that Dunderdale…she’s no better than a fart in the wind and, anyways”, commented Jos vehemently, “anyone can get on their feet and say Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker…my god that man, whoever he is, must be some deaf or else he sleeps some lot and she got to keep him awake. 

“I can tell ya this much, Nav, Dunderdale wouldn’t be able to shout me down like she does Dwight Ball and this ‘show an’ tell’ girl in the NDP, what’s her name Michaels;  imagine, now, Dunderdale telling me, Jos Arnell, that I don’t know what I’m talking about and getting’ away with it.  Sure a few dunks over by the sewer outfall would just be what she needs. 

“She wouldn’t be tellin’ Jos Arnell that she shouldn’t be askin’ questions”, she continued reference to herself in the third person.  “Nav, what’ the place coming to; between Dunderdale and that chipmunk, Kennedy, they ‘ave brought the ‘ouse of Assembly down to the level of the ‘alf wit.  And I got to bring it back up again!

Jos’ depiction of just how badly the level of political debate has fallen struck Gnarley like a thunderbolt.  While the woman could not articulate, as well as some, her displeasure at the antics of those who ought to know better, I could see that his regard for her essential wisdom had been, suddenly, vastly elevated.

Indeed, I knew what Uncle Gnarley was thinking.  The Premier’s and her Ministers’ uncivilized behaviour must be every bit as transparent to the larger public, if they were so obvious to someone with Jos’s limitations.   

“Nav, what do ya think? Can I depend on ya ta intercede with Uncle Gnarley to give me a hand now and again?” nodding in his general direction.  “My god b’y, if I thought you wuz any good, I ast ya, but I thinks the world of Gnarley; he and me could get along right well. Now, Nav, will ya work on him for me?”

Jose, my dear, I said firmly, as I got up to go; my eyes fixed on the old gentleman: you leave Uncle Gnarley to me.

Come on Uncle Gnarley, I beckoned to the old economist, whose beet red face suggested he was now under enough pressure to blast off.  Whispering to him, as he got up from his chair, you got your chance to save Newfoundland!

This time, though, I had mistaken what belied an intense demeanor, though an elbow pushed into my rib cage delivered his more thoughtful message.

“Nav”, said Uncle Gnarley, in a tone that suggested he should not be misunderstood, “think of all the potential leaders, in this Province, whose patriotism is blunted by self-interest.  They might yet wish that someone as wise, as Jos Arnell, were allowed to stand on their shoulders.”