Put a gull in Government House

Bob Wakeham
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Although a visit to our humble domicile atop the Flatrock hills by a sister from the mainland (and a delightful sibling she is) necessitated a decision last week to pull myself from the starting Saturday lineup of Team Columnist, I did keep at least one eye on scattered news events, and was particularly captivated by the well-publicized death of Sylvester the Seagull.

The unfortunate demise of the gull, whose rather sensational trip to nothingness justifiably attracted journalistic ghouls far and wide, also got me to thinking about The Telegram’s decidedly unscientific compilation of nominees to replace John Crosbie, the latest Newfoundlander costing us a fortune to serve tea in that mansion near Bannerman Park on behalf of Liz from across the Pond.

Stay tuned later in this epistle (I know you’re just dying to know) for my twisted attempt to somehow connect the headline grabbing gull and the search for Crosbie’s successor.

First of all, though, a few eulogizing words concerning poor old Syl the Gull.

As the local do-gooder contingent informed the eager masses, without so much as a token bit of advice from Greenpeace or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Syl died in a hideous fashion after running afoul (or afowl if you wish) of a rod atop St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Now, having run afoul of a variety of Catholic institutions and individuals over the years myself (and proud of it), I half empathized with our feathered friend. But only to a point. I may have gotten the odd spew of venom from the defenders of — and sometimes apologists for — the Catholic brass whenever it was in the throes of controversy, but I didn’t have to suffer like Syl, skewered by a rod on a church roof, and left to hang there for days as his bloody predicament was debated in the news.  

I did wonder, though, whether the seagull, in fact, was a Catholic gull, and if he — it may have been a she for all I know, not having attained my ornithologist’s wings — was trying to dive-bomb the church in hopes of making it to confession at St. Patrick’s.

“Bless me Father Francis of Assisi, for I have sinned. I’ve been living with the rats in that derelict Russian cruiseship on the waterfront for three months now, and it’s been that long since my last confession.

“Father, I’ve committed the sin of gluttony innumerable times by pigging out on half-eaten bits of Tim Horton muffins and discarded Big Macs until I engaged in an episode of projectile vomiting. Lately, as well, I’ve been having gluttonous field days with livers and guts thrown my way by generous recreational cod fishermen.

“Father, I’ve also committed the sin of insulting a group of loud-mouthed American tourists departing a flight at St. John’s Airport by pooping on their heads.”

Well, one can only hope he/she was able to make that last confession before establishing that rather painful and ultimately fatal relationship with the lightning rod on the church’s rooftop. At least then Syl would have died in a State of Grace, and could have flown first-class to heaven, where all forgiven gulls enjoy cloudless and gentle skies for eternity, and perpetual access to their own private dump.

I was thinking, though, that if Syl had lived, and if he was, in fact, a Catholic gull, he could have been nominated by someone in The Telegram poll as a possible Crosbie replacement.

As I understand it, Crosbie is a Protestant, a “saucy black,” as we labelled those “types” while growing up in Gander, and a Catholic should therefore be in line for the job. (The late, great comedian George Carlin had a rollicking take on the inherent bigotry of religion, and would illustrate the particularly close-minded belief of Catholicism by noting that when he was growing up, the myopic, dogmatic clergy would lecture that: “There are Catholics, and then there are non-Catholics.” The message from the pulpit was un-ambivalent).

Anyway, there was a tradition in Newfoundland years ago of alternating between a Catholic and a Protestant when choosing the lieutenant-governor.

So, who would have been better, I ask you, than the gull who chose to die on the roof of a Catholic church? A martyr, it could be argued.

Perhaps we can still submit his name, posthumously, as a candidate on The Telegram list for the lieutenant-governor’s post. (If it had turned out that Syl had female plumbing, we would have had not only the mandatory Catholic in place, but the very first woman lieutenant-governor in Newfoundland as well). He/she would not have had to do very much, just stick his/her wing out to be shook every once in a while. And think of the savings on air travel!   

Or perhaps you might prefer others on that rather bizarre list: Andy Wells, George Baker or even Peter Penashue (who, come to think of it, has already mastered the knack of parroting the words of a leader, following along like Charlie McCarthy, a wooden dummy on his master’s knee, the ideal persona for the job of lieutenant-governor).

Then again, the nomination on that list I’d vote for, notwithstanding the sympathetic stature of our dearly departed Catholic gull, contained nary an ounce of ambiguity:

It read: “No one — abolish the position.”   

R.I.P. Sylvester.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: Government House, Greenpeace, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Geographic location: Bannerman Park, Newfoundland and Labrador, Assisi Grace Gander

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Recent comments

  • Unfortunate Son
    August 18, 2012 - 21:08

    You poke fun at a gull but you recently wrote an hearlfelt column about an abused dog and how it had a much different life than your own beloved pooch. Apart from wings, please explain the difference between a dog and a gull.

  • Mark Noel
    August 18, 2012 - 11:01

    Wakeham's a terrible writer; worse still, he's the best you got.

    • Eli
      August 18, 2012 - 19:48

      What kind of smoke are you inhaling Mark? I'd cash in my chips before I'd surrender The Weekend.

  • Newfieseagull
    August 18, 2012 - 10:27

    His name was Sid! Not sylvester! And he was no catlick!!