Human Beans: A Memoir.


268 pages
ISBN 978-1-897317-09-9
DDC C818'.5409





Reviewed by R. Gordon Moyles

R. Gordon Moyles is professor emeritus of English at the University of
Alberta, co-author of Imperial Dreams and Colonial Realities: British
Views of Canada, 1880–1914, and author of The Salvation Army and the


What a delightful book. Funny, raunchy, outspoken, hyperbolic, slightly heretical, filled with so much lore and laughter, this part-novel, part-autobiography details the early life of the gifted, if somewhat eccentric, Newfoundland journalist, broadcaster, and local politician, Ron Pumphrey. Born in Harbour Grace, but living his young his life on Bell Island, then the iron-ore capital of the world, Pumphrey, precocious and a bit of an “omagon” (a lazy good-for-nothing, as his mother playfully called him), seemed either headed for a hanging or the “lunatic.” An exaggeration to be sure, but fully in the spirit of this exaggerated imagination, which regales us with the almost-hanging of a school buddy, the intellectual pretensions of his father, the fear of being killed when he opens his father’s secret box, and so on through a maze of childhood reminiscences. And thrown in are tidbits of local lore (recipes for a poultice), the excesses of a Catholic education (“S-e-x is the word, children. Dirty, filthy, abominable sex!”), and the mysteries of religion (“I was a sinner in their ‘mist’”). It is all engagingly written, slightly over-the-top, but spellbinding. Take this as an example of the authentic way he remembers someone’s conversation: “I tells ya’ when Ike grabbed me by the shoulder, I seen right away he wuz a strong, strong man. He didn’t say b’y, he said … how do you say it? He said boy, like a man up from Canadar. An’ he called me a good chap, like the bugger Englishmen do at the wireless offices. Christalmighty only knows where he comes from. He coulda come from the Yewnited States, er from up Canadar way, or, or, he coulda come from Jolly Ole h’England.” Pumphrey has a prodigious memory, coupled with a similarly prodigious imagination, and, in his inimitable style, he tells a story that sets us down on the island rock to listen.


Pumphrey, Ron., “Human Beans: A Memoir.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,