Lively Levee

Susan Flanagan
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To teach Surprise Baby good manners, I took him to visit a master

When discussing the New Year’s Levee, one of my sons asked me what it was.

“It’s a way to welcome the New Year … a chance for the peasant folk to mix with upper classes. Everyone gets dolled up in suits and dresses,” I said.

“Even though they’re peasant folk?” my son interjected.

“Yes, it’s a very proper affair.”

“At Government House?”

“Yes, at Government House with its 12-foot moat and many windows.”

“What do you do there?”

“You can pledge your allegiance to the Crown if you like. And you meet the Queen’s representative and receive his well wishes for the New Year.”

“John Crosbie?”


“Will he tell any jokes?”

“Uh, maybe not this year. But did I ever tell you my favourite joke of his that I used on tour buses for years?” 

Well, uh, maybe I’ll save that for the end of the column.

Anyway it’s important to explain centuries-old traditions and customs to the offspring. It ensures they will approach explained traditions with the proper decorum.

It was because of this that I decided to bring Surprise Baby and his Scottish Sidekick to Government House on the afternoon of Jan. 1.

Sometimes it’s tough to teach children what behaviour is permissible in what circumstances. One minute it may be permissible to roll around wrestling like prairie dogs in heat. The next minute it’s definitely not acceptable.

This is what was going through my mind when Surprise Baby and Scottish Sidekick tried to sneak up the back stairs at Government House.

After they were apprehended by the stairwell guards, I redirected them to the door of the main chamber where they would be formally announced and presented to the Queen’s man.

As they hadn’t paused long enough at the front entrance to get their names written on a little card, I had to verbally introduce them to the introducer who then presented our motley threesome to the 12th lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador and the lieutenant-governess.

It was here in front of two Crosbies and one Perlin that the pair of four-year-olds decided to flop on their backs and leave snow angel impressions in the pristine — and I’m sure expensive — white carpet. I have to admit, they did liven up the proceedings. Jane had been looking a bit bored.

I quickly dragged the two jokers to their feet and to the next room where members of the Celtic Fiddlers like Rosemary Lawton lulled them into a trance.

By 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day a lot had happened in the lives of these two four-year-olds.

Like most traditional levee participants, they had been doing a lot of welcoming in of the new year and were now in the mood to frolic.  

When I noticed my good friend Kevin Pardy with his wife Marilyn in the next room, I decided it was time to leave the music and move on to enlighten the young boys by highlighting the magnificent Pindikowsky-painted ceilings.

Kevin was wearing his lapel pin for 20 Tely 10s as proudly as others in the room displayed their Orders of Canada.

While Kevin introduced me to his friend, who like him has attended more than 30 Brier Cups, I noticed Surprise Baby had taken a liking to the fruit cake. When a chunk of his third piece landed on another pricey carpet, I figured it was time to make our getaway. With only time to pet a sealskin vest and say hello to John FitzGerald, we made our way back to the front entrance to sign the book and head out into the refreshing Newfoundland January air.

On the way back to the vehicle, I reminisced about my first levee over 20 years ago accompanied by the late Colin Karasek.

Colin, who was British, respected the decorum. But, at the same time, he knew how to have fun. We didn’t just visit Government House; we worked our way from city hall to Fort Pepperrell to the Crow’s Nest where they served no tea and fruit cake but chest-hair-encouraging eggnog ’n’ rum.

Although these were fine memories, I decided the Government House Levee was enough for my posse. I felt good for my attempts to teach them appropriate behaviour for appropriate company. Sometimes it can be very difficult to know where a line is drawn and if you’ve crossed it.

Sometimes you do, and it’s too late to turn back. This can be funny or dire. These are lessons not only for four-year-olds but for

80-year-old lieutenant-governors as well.

Now here’s the joke.

What can a goose do, that a duck can’t, that a lawyer should?

Stick his bill up his arse.

Susan Flanagan is a freelance writer whose own lawyer is worth every cent he charges.

Email her at

Video game feedback

Colin writes: “For future reference, when your kid asks for a videogame, just check it here first: Videogames are like movies now. Not all, or indeed many, are directed at kids anymore, so make sure to check it out before handing money over. Very responsible of you not to buy it. I’ve seen a lot of parents picking up very violent, foul-language-filled games for their 10-year-olds. If you wouldn’t send them to a mature movie, don’t buy them a mature game.”

Note to Colin: Just because I didn’t buy it for him doesn’t mean he doesn’t play it.


SSJ commented on “To the writer: While I am a 21-year-old user of Facebook, I keep it to mainly those I know in real life and a few friends I met online that I have known for at least 3 years on a movie site. But that does NOT mean I’m eager to visit them in person, or hold them high above the flesh and blood friends. I have a cellphone, too, but I only use it to call family and infrequently text to just a few friends, and not while others are talking. And if I have been supposedly ‘corrupted’ by Facebook, gadgets and violent movies, then why have I always been considered helpful around the house by my parents, even as a teenager, assisting with supper, laundry, chores and other tasks without being asked? I’m not losing fresh air either, as I walk almost everywhere I go. While I understand the frustration with your own children, and I am not a typical young man myself, I ask that you please refrain from making comments that may lead to your readers generalizing young people as a whole, as being rude and inconsiderate.”

Organizations: Government House Levee

Geographic location: Government House, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Fort Pepperrell

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Recent comments

  • Kevin Power
    January 10, 2012 - 19:11

    Great story and commentary. Always have to appreciate John and Mrs. Crosbie. Wonderful perspective.