Thursday 29 Sep 2016

Toad Hall to City Hall
David Simmonds

It’s funny, the way life goes about imitating art.

In today’s example, the art is my favourite children’s work, “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame. One of the principals, Mr. Toad, of Toad Hall, is an irresponsible purchaser of expensive automobiles, who ends up crashing them into ditches and scaring innocent travelers. The civic minded Badger learns that “another new and exceptionally powerful motor-car” will shortly be delivered to Toad, so he prevails upon Rat and Mole to join him to prevent Toad from wreaking more havoc.

They arrive at Toad Hall to find “a shiny new motor-car, of great size, painted a bright red, Toad's favourite colour, standing in front of the house. As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the steps, drawing on his gauntleted gloves.

Toad is initially glad to see them. Too late, he realizes that he is being, shall we say, frog-marched away from his vehicle. “You knew it must come to this, sooner or later, Toad,” says Badger. “You've disregarded all the warnings we've given you, you've gone on squandering the money your father left you, and you're getting us animals a bad name in the district by your furious driving and your smashes and your rows with the police. Independence is all very well, but we animals never allow our friends to make fools of themselves beyond a certain limit; and that limit you've reached. Now, you're a good fellow in many respects, and I don't want to be too hard on you. I'll make one more effort to bring you to reason. You will come with me into the smoking-room, and there you will hear some facts about yourself; and we'll see whether you come out of that room the same Toad that you went in.”

Toad is taken aside by Badger, who after a while announces to Rat and Mole that Toad is “truly sorry for his misguided conduct in the past, and he has undertaken to give up motor cars.” Badger then asks Toad to repeat this declaration to the others. After a few moments, Toad blurts out “No. I’m not sorry. Moreover, it wasn't folly at all! It was simply glorious!

Now doesn’t that sound a little bit like the circumstances in which Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finds himself? Having been caught reading papers on the 401, he has previously been caught texting and phoning while driving. But, notwithstanding the best efforts of his brother and the Toronto Police to implore him to engage a driver, at public expense or his own, Mr. Ford stood up and essentially did his Mr. Toad impersonation, saying a million other people drive to work, so why can’t he.

Mr. Ford is truly a larger than life figure who has probably brought some ridicule on himself. Just in the past couple of weeks, he’s been reprimanded by Stephen Harper for standing up in the boat while bass fishing on Harrington Lake, he throws them all back and doesn’t like fish anyway; posed, as a good sport, beside a likeness of himself sculpted from butter purporting to read a Margaret Atwood novel. In addition, he is the Respondent in a court application brought to remove him from office.

The court application resumes today, 5 September, at which Mr. Ford will be cross-examined in open court by the t lawyer for the fellow trying to get him ditched as mayor. So I looked at the court records, and can’t help cheering for him a little bit just like I cheer for Mr. Toad, although the legal documentation reminds me more of Alice in Wonderland than Wind in the Willows.

While a city councillor, Mr. Ford used his personal letterhead to solicit $3,150 for his charitable foundation, which supplies football equipment to high schools. City Council voted to order him to repay the money. He didn’t. When he became mayor, Ford then participated in a vote to rescind the previous vote. A Toronto resident is seeking his removal as mayor on the basis that he should not have participated in that second, rescinding vote as he had an interest in the outcome.

Mr. Ford’s arguments are that council lacked the power to fine him in the first place, so the second vote meant nothing; and that in any event, he can be excused any breach on the basis of inadvertence, error in judgment, or inconsequentiality. Ford has said, essentially, ‘so what if I’m removed anyway, I’ll just run for mayor again.’

My only advice for Mr. Ford is this: remember, Mr. Toad escaped his captors disguised a washerwoman.

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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