Monday 26 Sep 2016

67 Days
David Simmonds

I confess to complete hypocrisy.

I have always derided the Sunday Coronation Street aficionados, for whom the weekly fix of a slew of back-to-back episodes is as addictive as their morning coffee. Now, here am I, a wretched soul who marks down on his wall the number of days that will pass until Season 3 of Downton Abbey begins. The answer is 67: it started on January 6. Well, at least there’s NHL hockey to fall back on. No, wait a minute.

When the Downton Abbey series first aired, I disdained it, having a generation ago watched the period drama Upstairs, Downstairs; and having said to myself, “They’re not going to foist another English country house, master/ servant drama on me.” Big mistake, as it turns out. The only plus is that had I watched the show at the first opportunity, I would have been restlessly counting down to Season 3 for much longer than 67 days.

Downton Abbey, for those who haven’t yet been bewitched, is about the family and servants living in the stately home of the Earl of Grantham. The property is ‘entailed,’ it must pass on to the eldest male heir, which creates many plot complications. The drama begins where Upstairs, Downstairs ended, with the 1912 Titanic disaster depriving the Earl of his only presumptive male heir, and therefore potentially bringing the dynasty to a shuddering halt. By the time Season 2 ends, we have been with the protagonists through World War 1, the Russian revolution, suffragettism, Irish separatism, the telephone, electricity, the motor car and Spanish flu; and we are enter the Roaring Twenties with considerable apprehension for the future of evening attire.

All the while, a host of characters, aristocratic and common, noble and ignoble, proud and practical, chivalrous and unchivalrous, parade their individual life dramas before us. It’s almost impossible to avoid the hook. The genius of the production is everywhere, be it in the story line, the staging or the acting. Each character presents him- or her-self in a brief vignette, which manages to take us right to his or her heart. Not once do we feel anything is out of place, even though we are looking back a century. A simple physical gesture or facial expression conveys a host of emotions. Words evoke much more of what is unsaid.

I made the critical mistake of buying the series compilation disks, which allowed me to watch a couple of episodes almost every evening over a short few days. Now it’s over and I feel as if I’ve deprived of my family, at least for another 67 days. By that, I mean I really, really care whether the ill-starred Mr. Bates will ever find some good fortune; whether the ambitious Thomas will learn the error of his scheming ways; whether Daisy the kitchen maid will rise above her lowliest of stations; and whether Carson the butler will survive all of the challenges to his stature, including prospective obsolescence. To say the least, I feel a tad foolish that I am over-invested, emotionally, in the fortunes of a fictional household. I feel more keenly for the servants than the ennobled; they have more to gain from the right moves, and more information at their disposal because they know what goes on both upstairs and downstairs, while upstairs has only a glimmer of the downstairs machinations.

Much to my chagrin, I discover that the first episode of Series 3 has already aired on British television; so that if I really want to scratch my 67-day itch, all I have to do is go to one of the teaser/spoiler postings on the internet. Of course, to do this would deprive me of the pleasure of seeing the plot unfold the way the creators intended. It also seems a little disloyal to the characters themselves. I must be patient; stiff upper lip, old chap.

Still, it could be worse. I could be counting the number of days NHL hockey was on lock out. By the way, as of today, it’s 46 and counting, upwards. I’m at 67, but, tomorrow, I’ll be at 66. At least I’m counting in the right direction. Hey, 66, wasn’t that Mario Lemieux’s number?

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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