BY HAROLD N. WALTERS
Now there’re a couple of words you don’t get to use twice a week. Not unless you’re a stamp collector.
C. H. Colman, author of ‘Flaked Out’ [Fancourt Publications] is a philatelist and has been since the age of five when he first dabbled in the practice of philately. [Looka me, I scribbled both words twice! I’m the b’y!]
In ‘Flaked Out’, Colman has combined his passion for philately with his desire to write a children’s book about the history of Newfoundland showing “what happens when society fails to control its technology, and how society makes amends.”
It examines the history of the cod fishery from the time Beothucks scooped cod from the sea until today when efforts are being made to salvage what remains of North Atlantic cod stocks.
Sixteen sections of the book open with a picture of a stamp. The first one is a Newfoundland two-cent stamp depicting a bewhiskered cod. In the accompanying text, Colman imagines a giant cod swimming in Newfoundland waters thousands of years ago.
Just look: “When the giant reached the bottom, it fed, and the whisker of skin that hung from its chin traced a line in the sand.”
Chin whisker tracing a line in the sand? That’s some size of a codfish, eh b’ys?
I’ve said before I’m like a youngster when I’m reading children’s books, so I get a kick out of fancying that brute of a fish dragging his whisker along the bottom.
The section titled ‘Fisherman’s Friend’ shows a picture of a Newfoundland half-cent stamp. Yes, a half-cent! Newfoundland wasn’t Canadian in those days. If it had been, Canada Post wouldn’t have been long jacking up that stamp.
There’s a picture of a Newfoundland dog—the fisherman’s friend—on the stamp. Colman refers to the dog as a Newfie.
For a second I wondered if I should be offended, here in the Age of Politically Correct. I’m not a dog person, however. So I decided to go a’googling and sure enough those bear-like bow-wows are sometimes called Newfs or Newfies by breeders.
Who am I to blow against the wind?
Colman shows two Queen Elizabeth stamps - Liz I and Liz II.
Queen Elizabeth I, featured on a 24-cent stamp, is juxtaposed with Sir Humphrey Gilbert on a one-cent stamp. There’s an uncanny resemblance in the shapes of their chins despite Gilbert’s goatee, and they’re both choked in Elizabethan collars, albeit of dissimilar sorts.
Queen Elizabeth II is shown at the age of 5 on a six-cent stamp. It’s her first appearance in the mail. And, God love ‘er, she looks as curly-haired and sweet as Shirley Temple at the corresponding age.
Enough about the stamps.
Let’s have another look at that giant fish with the scribbling whisker … well, actually, let’s have a look at how the size of his descendants diminished over the centuries.
In the 1500s, a 25-year-old cod might be the weight of a large man. By the 1800s, few cod lived for a quarter of a century - a 15-year-old cod weighed as much as a 12 year old boy. By the 1900s, cod were lucky to reach the age of 10 and weighed in with the six-year-old boys. By the time pretty Princess Elizabeth became Queen of the Realm, codfish weighed less than a one-year-old boy. At the time of The Moratorium, a cod was a scrawny little fish, half the weight of a newborn human, less than half the weight of a whisker-less bouncing baby boy.
Although skimpy - it’s a children’s book after all – ‘Flaked Out’ is interesting, not only for the more than a dozen stamps but also for tidbits of codfish knowledge.
Tidbit: The pearly stones inside a fish’s ears are called ‘otoliths’.
I didn’t know that.
But I’m pretty sure jewelry - ear rings! - have been made from them in the vicinity of Smith Sound.
Speaking of which, in his postscript, Colman points to thousands of cod the size of a man’s hand, with peach fuzz whiskers “too small to trace a line in the sand,” swimming and feeding in Smith Sound.
Furthermore, Colman optimistically predicts that: “In fifteen years they will be big enough to lay millions and millions of eggs. When that happens, the fish that flopped against Cabot’s ship will return to Newfoundland’s bays.”
I have my doubts. Still, this is a children’s book. No need to disillusion the young.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters is a retired teacher living in Dunville, Placentia Bay.