Remember high school? What was the worst exercise your English teacher could assign?
“Write a 500-word essay on one of the following topics.”
That’s the one. Friggin’ right, eh b’ys?
Despite having grown up to be — on occasion, anyway — a half-arsed scribbler, I hated that weekend spoiler as much the next reluctant scholar.
So, when I received a copy of Edward Riche’s "Bag of Hammers" [Breakwater Books], turned to the back cover and saw the blurb claiming the book is a “collection of hilarious essays” my urge to read curdled.
Ick. Essays. Frig.
A certain amount of repulsion notwithstanding, I didn’t drop the book. Through squinted eyes, I risked a second peep at the blurb.
Hey, “hilarious essays” — that might make a difference.
I braved a few more words — “Riche stretches his satiric muscles.”
And another high school flashback.
Hands up if you remember your boring ol’ English teacher force-feeding you Jonathan Swifts’ essay A Modest Proposal. Swift proposed BBQ-ing the children of Ireland, thus reducing famine and, at the same time, keeping the youngsters from becoming a public burden. Or something like that, as I remember.
Ick. Eating babies. Disgusting.
But then the teacher explained satire.
Swift wasn’t really proposing children be served on dinner plates, he was really banging the powers that … that were, I s’pose … on their heads with a hammer — banging them hard to open their eyes.
Each essay in "Bag of Hammers "is … well, a hammer. Some are tiny tack hammers; some are 20-pound sledges.
In “Paul Was The Walrus” Riche taps Sir Paul Beatle on the noggin for his stand on the seal hunt — that’s vegetarian Sir Paul, an erstwhile Mop Top.
Tap, tap on Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgard (There’s a little tiny “o” I don’t know how to make above the second “a”) who wrote that Newfoundlanders are “the fattest people he had ever seen.” Then, in the next paragraph, Riche bang-bangs Newfoundland skulls — “We are fat. We loves a drop of Pepsi, we do! And fried things. And Jiggs Dinner.”
In “Mindful” Riche reaches out — sort of in passing — and makes a swift tappity-tap on … ? … Public Works: “A backhoe was punching holes in long-awaited asphalt so recently applied that it was steaming.”
We’ve all seen that, eh b’ys? A digger clawing apart brand-new pavement to patch a waterline that should’ve been replaced before the asphalt was laid.
Wielding a roofer’s hammer in “Chatterboxes” Riche delivers heavy blows to texters’ already numb skulls — “If you have to resort to emojis to make the meaning of your words clear, you should probably read more and get the hang of English.”
Ed, b’y, you dealt me a glancing blow with that one.
Sometimes, when Missus and I — a double-wide end table separating us — sit in our Edith and Archie chairs, I text her across the tabletop. “Loves ya, Missus.” And I punctuate the text with hearts and kissy emojis.
But I never, ever, texted an image of “a steaming pile of ibex poop.” Never. Ever.
Riche brings the hammer down a second time on Smart Phone users in “Solvitur Ambulando” — “Checking your phone is pretty much the only thing that can completely and irretrievably shag up a good walk.”
I’m with you, Ed, b’y. Daring to make a lame allusion to The Walking Dead, I say it’s sad to see a walker dodging a hiking trail with a Smart Phone bonded to the side of its [!] face. It truly is, but…
… but I never neglect to take my phone when I set out on a constitutional stroll, especially in winter. I’m old. Fearing a fall, I scuff my feet. I never know when I’ll need my phone to make the most dreaded of seniors’ calls — “I’m down and ….”
This book, this bag of hammers, is a collection of previously published essays. Many of the essays appeared earlier in The Overcast, a publication I’d never heard of.
So visited Mr. Google and found The Overcast Newfoundland’s Alternative Newspaper. The paper — online and as a monthly print magazine — has been around for a spell. Okay, so I lead a life as sheltered as a stump.
So far, it’s been a very windy winter. Repeated wind warnings in the forecast might explain why I chuckled when I read in the essay “March” of the plight of truck drivers crossing the infamously windy Wreckhouse at the risk of their rigs being “tossed into the tuckamore.”
Thank you for reading.
— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org