05 July 2008

This is not history

"The bottomless gullibility of the Newfoundland people."

There's a phrase for you.

And the column it comes from, with the same title, appeared in the Evening Telegram on September 24, 1970.

9780978338121 You'll find it along with 166 other columns by Ray Guy in a new compilation from Boulder Publications. The book - Ray Guy: the Smallwood Years - covers the period 1963 to 1970.  This is the stuff that made Guy a household name in Newfoundland and Labrador as an able critic of the province's first premier after Confederation.

The Boulder handout puts it this way:
This volume is not a collection of witticisms; it is a historical work in its own right, told by a writer who emerged during the era of Premier Joseph Smallwood. During his time in power, Smallwood ruled Newfoundland and Labrador like an emperor. Using the weapons of political intimidation, Smallwood’s influence went largely unchecked – until the mid-1960s when Guy was hired by The Evening Telegram. Guy became one of Smallwood’s sworn enemies, one who could not be intimidated or bribed into submission.
That's a bit much.  This isn't history by any stretch.  But you don't need to know the players to get the jokes or feel the sting of the jabs.  Guy could have been writing about Huey Long or Duplessis.

Guy also wasn't the cause of Smallwood's downfall. As Guy himself notes in the introduction, the anti-Smallwood columny started at the Telly with Harold Horwood.  Guy came along in the early 1960s and while Horwood went on to become better known to a certain generation as a writer of books, Guy's writing still holds power.

The language is simple, but not simple-minded. There is a deftness to the way Guy uses words, even when he is stringing  together a hideous collection of word plays.  Take as an example the column "To be frank, Moores lacks color";  Brian Goff would be teamed with Hugh Shea if Guy had his way since a Shea-Goff ticket have the proper balance and might win. Get it?

Guy pic2 There are other places, though where Guy lays waste not only to the politicians but also to the people who elected them. He holds forth on Farley Mowat and Harold Horwood and offers his perspective on growing up out beyond the overpass.

There's a throw-away column on hair  - read it if you want to be a writer - but one that lampoons coverage of shenanigans in an inner city park is properly placed among some of the best in the book. 

Labradorians may be surprised to find Guy's sensitivity to the Labradorian perspective and then feel enraged to realize how long they've been given the same soap about resources and provincial spending.

There's something for everybody.

Anyone reading this book today will find much of it all too familiar.  The stacked radio call-in shows, the unquestioning ladies and gentlemen of the local press, the silent back-benchers, the promise of hydro developments, undersea cables and tunnels, rows with Quebec, paper mills and an oil refinery all will leave the reader feeling as though they have fallen into the Twilight Zone.

The names may be different but the script is the same;  well except for Billy Rowe, who evidently still genuflects toward the 8th as he did then.  

If anything, though, the book is marred by the editing.  There are errors of fact in the cutlines on the illustrations.  Others have noted the Crosbie one.  The picture of a hydro project is Twin Falls, not Churchill Falls which itself is incorrectly referred to as the "Upper Churchill Falls".  There is no "Upper" Churchill Falls.
In other instances, even an inveterate news and political junkie like your humble e-scribbler couldn't figure out why some things were stuffed into this 400 page tome.  There are times when it seemed the thing  might have been better - and actually sold well - as two volumes. 

One could have focused on the purely political stuff while another took a look at resettlement and out-migration and the enormous transformations of Newfoundland society that  was just starting as Guy was writing.  There are some things that need a background note or two just to help along the flow of the story. [Changed paragraphing, with the added observation:  There is more to Guy's columns than humour.  His observations on the societal changes are an example of this.]

Fortunately, these are nits to pick at and Guy's columns contain more gems than junk. The column from which the title of this post is taken should be reprinted and handed out to every household in the province. [Update: Blame it on the trouble with finding the right title for a post.   The title for this post as it appears, "This is not history",  is an homage - some would say shameless rip off - of a column Guy wrote titled "This is a column", itself a jab at an editorial by Harold Horwood. The first sentence of the post, as it appears, was originally the title.]

Another, on democracy and the responsibility of individuals to do their civic duty should replace whatever crud it is they now use in the schools for "social studies". That letter sums up his own philosophy and every column was an exercise in living it.  Heck, Ray should photocopy that column and staple it in front of Ryan's eyes.  Maybe then the poor fellow will understand what it really means to tell it like it is.


Buy this book.

Click ------> HERE!

Follow the instructions, whip out the old credit card and buy it on line.

Better still, get in the car, head to the nearest bookstore and plunk the 22 bucks for it.

You won't regret it.

Your family won't mind the chuckling and giggling coming from behind the WC door and don't be surprised if you find yourself squirming and sniggering when you recognize a place or a phrase or  - especially - a person.

Just hope to God the person you recognize isn't you.