For no reason other than the fact that it fits my sometimes twisted agenda — plus it had the makings of a piece for a topic-challenged columnist — I was wondering the other day whether Kathy Dunderdale and I have anything in common.
Geography perhaps? Well, there was that one summer in 1972 when I spent several months in her home area of the Burin Peninsula working as a labourer with McNamara Construction as the company laid down some Newfoundland gold, better known back then as pavement, supplied by the recently victorious and free spending Tory government of Frank Moores.
An aside of complete irrelevance here: there was practically no training for such a job at the time, and I hit the ground running, as they say. So if drivers of today happen to hit an odd pothole while heading down that stretch of highway, it could easily have been the result of incompetence by me or one of my young colleagues who didn’t know a tractor from a tank.
I didn’t learn much about road construction that summer except how to get a decent night’s sleep even when Richter-scale snoring and ground-moving flatulence threatened to knock down the paper-thin walls that separated the bedrooms in our trailers. I did discover while working the weigh scales for a week, though, that a truck driver could buy me off with a half-dozen beer if he wanted to insist on travelling the highway with a load of crushed stone that was way too heavy, and illegal. Yes, yes, I know. It’s nothing to brag about, but there you have it: the indiscretions of youth, oblivious to responsibility.
In any case, my Burin Peninsula experience in the summer of 1972 doesn’t sound like very much of a connection between me and the premier. We could have both been in the same vicinity, but unless the premier was a truck driver, there’s no chance we would have run into each other.
A couple of years ago, I could have said we had similar, corpulent physiques. But Dunderdale fouled up that common denominator by starting to jog like one of those 90-year-old Swedes from that ad of a couple of decades ago, and lost a ton of weight. In the meantime, I continue to inhale large orders of fish ’n’ chips at Leo’s on a regular basis, definitely not a healthy stop for joggers like Ms. Dunderdale or zealots on the Weight Watcher’s diet (I think I’d have utilized my quota of daily “breads” with just a whiff of potatoes being turned into chips in the kitchen at Leo’s).
So, no, it isn’t excessive baggage around the midsection that we might have in common, the premier and I.
Now she does seem to despise having to go to the House of Assembly where all those naysayers, the NDPers and the Liberals, continue to make her life miserable. And I, too, in my day, believed that being sent to the legislature was the assignment from hell, pure punishment by the boss for failing to pick up a good yarn while patrolling the waterfront for an afternoon. (What several editors didn’t know, or chose to ignore, was that my unsuccessful journalistic trip to the waterfront was waylaid by a lengthy break at the Ringside Tavern where I would swap yarns and “tell a few lies” while getting half tanked with my eccentric but lovable Uncle Billy Bowe).
So, no, dislike of the legislature seems to be stretching the point as I endeavour to figure out whether Kath and Bob have anything in common.
She has kids. I have dogs. So that’s out.
I murder about 50 rabbits a year. And she probably eats a few. A slight bond, I guess, in desperation.
But, you know, I might have hit on something.
Last week, just as the latest polls were showing that Dunderdale was the least popular leader in all of Canada, I found myself being declared the most despised fishermen in the country by the fish population of a small lake in the Bay d’Espoir area after I ripped families of mud trout apart — mothers from their children, sisters from their brothers — with large spinners and appetizing, juicy worms. If the fish could have taken part in any sort of poll, I’m sure I would have ended up like Dunderdale — in last place, at the bottom of the barrel, at the bottom of the lake. (Speaking of votes, I may have been the least popular among the group of four fishing buddies, as well — three CBC
pensioners, and one still clinging to the teat of Mother Corp — since I was catching the most and the largest trout, and providing the most scintillating of conversation topics).
Still, being the most unpopular angler in the eyes of families of mud trout is not quite the same as being the most unpopular premier in the country.
But that’s as close as I can come to drawing a connection between journalist Bob and Premier Kath.
I can promise you, though, that I never gave a single thought to Dunderdale or any other politician while catching big fat mud trout during those four days in Bay
d’Espoir. In fact, I had absolutely nothing of importance on my mind, not the floods in Calgary, not Nelson Mandela’s death watch, not the senator debacle, not the poll figures — nothing, zilch. Just fishing. And that’s what makes troutin’ such a wonderful form of escapism. You can literally forget the damn world.
There were, of course, barrels of laughs, as the four of us proved once again that men are permanently entrenched in the comedic mentality of a Grade 8 boy: scatological talk abounded.
Our trip had a grand finishing note: on our drive back, my engine started to act up (a regular occurrence with a 10-year-old, abused truck). While we were stopped at an Irving station in Bishop’s Falls, the weird sounds became more pronounced, and as we stared with some befuddlement at the inside of the engine, a total stranger, with his young wife and several youngsters standing by, came to our rescue. With barely a word, he had his head buried under the bonnet, pulling on this and yanking on that, and had the problem fixed in 10 minutes. All of it done without a motive in the world, except that of being generous of nature.
As my mother is fond of saying, “only in Newfoundland.”
Well, maybe Dunderdale and I do have something in common; I’m sure she enjoys the unique hospitality of Newfoundlanders as much as I do.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.