Tuesday 06 Dec 2016

The Phase Phase
David Simmonds

For a while, my favourite book genre was the mystery novel. Fortunately, Ruth Rendell seemed to produce them at a rate that was greater than anyone’s capacity to read them. Then it became political non-fiction. At one point, I might have leaped upon Brian Mulroney’s voluminous memoirs even though they did not refer to brown paper bags full of cash changing hands in hotel rooms. Then it was thrillers: I’ll swear I must have read about 15 Dick Francis books before I became aware he’d been jockeying a bit with the authorship.

Now, well, I was standing at the new books shelf of our trusty Wellington library, and I let out a little yelp of excitement. No, it was not for Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, “Known and Unknown,” which sat there rather forlornly: it was for the fourth edition of the “Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations.”

That’s right. My current phase is to pounce on those books collecting phrases so bad they are memorable, or those phrases so good that they distill a life’s wisdom into a sentence. Pound for pound, with the possible exception of poetry, you get more bang per word in a book of expressions than you do in any other literary work. 

The beauty of the thing, of course, is there is an expression to apply to whatever direction you're going in. You hung on to your Nortel shares because you ‘dance with the one that brung yah,’ and ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. ‘I ditched my then-worthless Apple shares 20 years ago because the company was ‘running on empty’ and there was no point in ‘flogging a dead horse.’

This book can help you find something to inspire you in any emotional direction. Under the letter “E” for example, we can find quotes on the earth, economics, education, effort, elections, emotions, employment, ending, enemies, England, envy, equality, Europe, excellence, excess and moderation, experience and exploration. Each topic is then broken down into the categories of “proverbs and sayings,” “phrases” and “quotations,” although the editor acknowledges each blends into the other. “Endings,” for example, has as proverbs “all’s well that ends well’ (Shakespeare, William) and “that’s all folks” (Bunny, Bugs); as phrases, “when the kissing has to stop” (Browning, Robert) and “the last of the Mohicans” (Cooper, James Fennimore); and as quotations “eternity’s a terrible thought. I mean, when it's all going to end (Stoppard, Tom)" and “it ain’t over till it is over” (Berra, Yogi). 

The quotations are the most fun. Perhaps the British are over-represented here, but, as they constantly remind us, we have to cut them a little slack as they claim to have invented the English language. I am pleased to say that, although this is not a special Canadian edition of the work, Canadians proudly and well represented. This is an unscientific list, but I found quotes from Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Jean Chretien, Leonard Cohen, David Cronenberg, Robertson Davies, John Diefenbaker, Terry Fox, John Kenneth Galbraith, Gordie Howe, Stephen Leacock, Gordon Lightfoot, Yann Martel, Marshall McLuhan, Michael Ondatje, Lester Pearson, Mordecai Richler and Pierre Trudeau.

Gordie Howe? Well, it’s a good one. “All pro athletes are bilingual. They speak English and profanity.” I also liked John Diefenbaker’s, “While there’s snow on the roof, it doesn’t mean the fire has gone out in the furnace.”

Of course, a new edition would not be replete without up to the minute quotes, and sure enough, we can find Herman Cain, Lady Gaga, Paris Hilton, Sarah Palin, J.K. Rowling and Homer Simpson. Talk about the luck of the draw, there’s more than one quote from Donald Rumsfeld, so I don’t even have to read his book. Of course, Homer is my favourite, as he notes “Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, with the internet and all.”

I’ll close off with two I haven’t heard before - one silly, the other serious. From Zsa Zsa Gabor, “I never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back.” The Dalai Lama: “if you want others to be happy, practise compassion. And if you want to be happy, practise compassion.” Keep that last one in mind if you happen to run into me in the village over the next few weeks. If I’m sounding insufferably wise, please remember: it’s a phase for me.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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