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BOB WAKEHAM: Sometimes, snow news is good news

Many residential properties are facing high amounts of snow today, as is this backyard in Paradise. The Telegram
It wasn’t a good day on clothes in this backyard in Paradise. — Telegram file photo

With just so, so much out there in recent times in newsy Newfoundland on which to offer two cents worth of spin, so many events just begging for a weekend rant, but alas, so little space in which to play the illumination card, what’s a columnist to do?

Well, scribble together a little bit of this and a little of that in order to earn a modest contribution to the monthly grocery bill, that’s what he should do.

It’s the rare occasion when this snow-covered land of ours receives as much attention as it has over the past week or so, what with John Crosbie’s death and funeral and then the storm blast that metaphorically matched the swirling power Crosbie unleashed in St. John’s and Ottawa during his full-throated and mighty political career.

Every fog enshrouded blue moon or so, the mainland discovers we exist, and when it does, the crowd upalong goes head-over-heels, mad in love with our unique style, envious of the sense of place we have, even if their adulation manifests itself occasionally in a stereotype that emphasizes quaintness over character.

Not that I didn’t embrace the praise for our resilience and toughness, and the fact that there was an Avalon Band of Brothers and Sisters who were eager to help one another during Stormaggedon (as some of the local on-air types described last week’s old-fashioned humdinger of a blizzard), although the jerk who stole an elderly gentleman’s snowblower the other day was obviously determined to do his worst to destroy the image.

But here’s a personal anecdote that doesn’t quite fit the vision of all those smiling townie faces enjoying an outdoor fire and a few swallies of gut-warming rum, a yarn that could never find a cosy spot in the feel-good narrative that emerged from the streets of St. John’s.

The day after my wife and I felt we needed back braces and reservations in a coronary-care unit as a result of shovelling and snowblowing our way out of domicile captivity, we were faced with an absolutely undesirable and ill-timed problem: a septic tank clog, a dilemma that had to be corrected immediately. (And you think a shortage of dough for toutons was an issue).
 

I’ll spare you the bulk of the gross details, but the bottom line (so to speak) involved an arduous dig straight down through five feet of snow and a foot of muck and dirt, the raising of two concrete blocks a weight-lifter would have found a challenge, the lifting of a cover encased in you know what, and using a homemade 40-foot plastic pipe contraption to get the system once again in working order. The media talked and delivered endless prose last week about the Newfoundland spirit and, of course, our legendary pluck, but there were phrases coming out of me that day that continuously used a word that rhymes with pluck, as in “pluck this,” or “let’s get ourselves a pluckin’ condo.”

But here’s a personal anecdote that doesn’t quite fit the vision of all those smiling townie faces enjoying an outdoor fire and a few swallies of gut-warming rum, a yarn that could never find a cosy spot in the feel-good narrative that emerged from the streets of St. John’s.

We survived, though, and within hours, were sitting in front of a soothing and blazing wood stove, involved in a competitive game of Scrabble.

•••

A fine send-off for Crosbie

It was with a sizable amount of Newfoundland pride that I found myself agreeing with the virtually unanimous assessment of John Crosbie during the days leading up to his funeral and the funeral itself, as not only a committed statesman but a pretty decent human being as well. He was flawed, as are we all, but he was dedicated to the Newfoundland cause, a mandate he carried out with a relatively minimal amount of viciousness and a sizable degree of unpretentious personality.

The last time we had a funeral of that national sort occurred when Joey Smallwood died, an event I was directly connected with (the funeral, not Joey’s death) as the executive producer of CBC’s coverage, so I watched with a residue of the critical journalistic eye still in operation. The live reportage, I felt, was first rate, with the hosts, in particular, avoiding the mistake that befalls many of their American counterparts: not knowing when to shut up and let the story and the images carry themselves.

•••

Finally: during Stormageddon, we lost our television, internet and phone service for four days (I’m sure Rogers will have their public relations types put their own spin on the prolonged lack of service, but they should also be forced to explain why our neighbours, Bell Aliant clients, didn’t miss a second of what they were entitled to.) But there was a silver lining: we found ourselves listening to a fair amount of radio, a reminder of just how effective radio can be, how engaging, how intimate and, best of all, how informative.

I know all that and, in fact, spent some of my favourite journalistic years working out of radio studios. But it’s never too late for a refresher on radio’s 24-hour contribution to life here. It deserves, in my case at least, to be treated as much more than a driving companion. I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing; it’s not meant to be.

Although I could have done without the sprinkling of foot-shuffling familiarity sometimes in play between interviewers and politicians. On VOCM, Derrick Bragg, the minister of municipal affairs, was referred to during an interview by a young reporter as “Dude.” On the CBC, the minister was “Mr. Bragg.” A petty point, you might think, but I’m proudly old-fashioned when it comes to that sort of stuff.

And thus ends this potpourri of pontification.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com


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