When fiction takes clear precedence

Allan Fotheringham February 12 1990

When fiction takes clear precedence

Allan Fotheringham February 12 1990

When fiction takes clear precedence



Your beloved agent is very bad at answering letters (i.e. he never answers any, though he has been vowing for 32 years to do so). It’s a filthy habit, worse in fact than smoking or eating bacon with your fingers, and is going to be corrected immediately, as witness this. A correspondence has been received from Marc Grégoire of Box 977, Stewart, B.C., and here it is in its entirety:

“Dear Dr. Foth:

Where did you get your sharp tongue? Is there nothing about politics you like? Do you support yourself solely through your column? How old are you? What do you in your spare time? Aren’t you on Front Page Challenge? How long have you been writing for Maclean’si How did you start writing ? Could you please send me an autographed picture?”

This is the type of letter I like to get. Marc Grégoire, a future writer I suspect, knows how to get on with it. A short letter, composed of short words and short sentences that anyone can understand, devoid of meandering excursions through the GST and Meech Lake and the philosophical implications of Don Getty’s mind. The letter deserves an answer.

“Where did you get your sharp tongue?” The sharp tongue comes, actually, from the fear of being bludgeoned to death by dull minds. Most politicians come armed with them, and they can be fatal if allowed to wander free. All of the good political writers started out covering sports, where you learn early on that the major offenses are spearing, tripping, buttending, face-mask-grabbing and spitting. Once into politics, a scribe quickly learns that these are minor sins and the main crimes are obfuscation, bafflegab, bluff, procrastination, press releases and public relations officers. It becomes swiftly apparent to an innocent ex-jock that the only possible defence against this marshmallow world is a sharp tongue.

“Is there nothing about politics you like?” Of course there is. The spurious indignation when the Prime Minister rises in the Commons to defend the honor and integrity and the bloodlines of the mother of yet another cabinet

minister who has to resign three days later is wonderful to behold. The made-forThe National anger of Sheila Copps in Question Period is better than most things you could see on Broadway—and you don’t have to pay 75 bucks for a seat. Politics is funnier than sports, and there are more clowns than Eddie Shack. I love it.

“Do you support yourself solely through your column?”

As a matter of fact, I do not get paid anything by Maclean ’s for the column but by a strange arrangement the editor’s secretary smuggles me three times a week into the magazine’s cafeteria, where I am allowed all the yogurt and Kool-Aid I can consume. In addition, I have a free membership to the Maclean’s bowling league, and Thursday nights are the highlight of my life, especially when Barbara Amiel pops over from London to set pins.

“How old are you?”

I am so old I can remember when Harold Ballard was last in jail. I am so old that I can remember when Brian Mulroney applauded the Constitution that he now says isn’t worth the paper it was written on. I am so old I can remember when chocolate bars were 10 cents, rather than the 95 cents they were last week at Toronto’s Keith Davey Memorial Airport. Just kidding. I’m 39.

“What do you do in your spare time?” There is no spare time, what with the bowling league and the endless amount of time sitting around gazing, guilt-ridden, at the letters that never get answered.

“Aren’t you on Front Page Challengel” Actually, I’m not, but I’ve heard this rumor before. What has happened, apparently, is that the world’s longest-running panel show has recently taken on a short, thick Scotsman who speaks as if his porridge is lodged in his larynx and—because he is ashamed of his ethnic heritage—tells everyone his name is Fotheringham, which, as students of the language know, is Scottish in origin, coming somehow from Norman French. You could look it up.

“How long have you been writing for Maclean’si”

If I can recall correctly, the first column on this here back page was in the autumn of 1975. It was about the resignation of John Turner from the Trudeau cabinet. The second column was touting one Brian Mulroney as a future Tory leader. This would make the page the world’s longestrunning pun-nel show. One does not like to think about this too much, since, if the 1975 memory is correct,

0 that would mean that some

1 520 columns—considering g disgracefully scarce holiday

time—have gone under the bridge, which means Roy Peterson’s clever fingers must be awfully tired. And he doesn’t even get a bowling league.

“How did you start writing?”

This is quite simple. I started writing once it was clear that I could not master a hammer, or a saw, or a chisel, in a high-school industrialarts class that did not contain rocket scientists. I cannot screw in a light bulb. I have had a car for a year, and a son pointed out the other day—in some embarrassment after 45 minutes on a highway—that the machine in fact had a fifth gear, an astonishment heretofore unknown to the driver. When instructions as to inserting batteries in a flashlight tend to induce tears, you come upon an amazing discovery. You are a one-talent person and you perhaps should stick to it or you will starve to death. That is when every writer starts writing.

“Could you please send me an autographed picture?” Certainly.