Category Archives: RLS

On the right track…

Some folk have shown an interest in what I’m doing with my model railway, so here’s a bit of information.

Last year, probably in November, I must have reminisced to Sonia about having a clockwork train set as a kid: fast forward to Christmas and I was given two Hornby electric starter kits, a selection of carriages and a few other bits and bobs. I enjoyed playing with it on the living room floor, but my knees were less than happy and it did rather take over the whole room. I suppose running the trains appealed to my inner megalomaniac.

On this basis, and with daughter number one safely married off, I decided to create a permanent layout in her bedroom upstairs and to make a platform or table for it. Note: although I have dismantled her bed to give space during construction, it will be reinstated and both she and Ben are always welcome and I’ve no plans to hijack Sarah’s room: at least, not so far!

As this was going to be a long-term project, I researched model railway layouts at and settled on a 6ft by 6ft design apparently based on Ayr station: to my mind the similarity is faint and irrelevant but it suited my purpose.

In the diagram, the shaded areas relate to phase 2 and are not currently being implemented: they may well be varied in the meantime. The left hand of the board will house the “town” and its station whilst on the right, but not shown in the diagram, will be a small rural station. I’m currently thinking of setting the whole thing in Scotland in the latter part of the 20th century. More specifically, I think it’ll be spring, with Highlands type scenery, particularly in the top right quadrant. The access hole, necessary during construction and for rescuing derailments etc. may well have its cover re-inserted as a removable item.

Phase 1 layout nailed down – I forgot to include the level crossing Sonia gave me. Phase 2 perhaps?

The base is made of three sheets of 9mm ply, reinforced underneath with battens. My original plan to make legs seemed like too much trouble, so the whole thing is supported by two pairs of trestles / sawhorses from B&Q.

The track – based on what was in the two starter kits, but significantly augmented – was carefully loose-laid to check the position of the access hole and then nailed down.

If you had a model electric railway as a kid, you’ll know the power to the engines is transmitted via the rails. With “permanent” layouts it’s normal not to rely on the metal “fish plates” (which link the rails) to make a good connection, but to solder each rail of each piece of track to a circuit underneath the table. Thus – even with not linking in some of the shortest pieces – I had about a hundred joints to solder and connect to “chocolate blocks” linked in to the main circuit. It is this stage I am finishing now.

Note the soldered joints: these should more or less disappear once the ballast is laid.

A small section with ballast and a few trees etc. Just for fun!

Linking the rails to a “ring main” (only low voltage!) with “chocolate blocks”

Once this job, which involves a lot of lying on the floor and working above my head, is finished and tested, all engines on the track will either be powered or not, all at the same time. In other words, it will not be possible to start one engine whilst another is stopped.

This is an obviously serious flaw which I may get round by temporarily disconnecting one or two of the chocolate blocks or by adding a non-wired siding. However, it will disappear once I make the leap to a digital system. In this brave new non-analogue world, each engine – plus points – can be controlled individually with commands which in effect say things like “engine number 3 move forward at half speed”. The commands are sent to the various engines as a digital signal “on top” of the power transmitted through the track / wiring circuit: hence my current task. As indicated above, points can be switched remotely in a similar way. If I get sufficiently carried away, I will also be able to control lights on engines, carriages, stations etc., as well as all the sound effects of a railway engine on the move.

I have been looking at ways of making scenery: whilst it is possible to buy almost anything recreated to OO scale (1:76) there will be plenty to create from scratch, the only restriction being my limited creative talents.

I’m not planning on including a nudist beach, nor these interchangeable toilet users, but you can buy almost anything to add life and detail!

So far it’s fun, despite a lot of lying on the laminate floor.





Down South

Dateline Tangalle 23rd Feb.

I’d really appreciate being able to have a long lie. I never seem tired in the evening and end up going to bed about midnight, but I still wake up about 5:30. I planned a leisurely start today, but was still on the go by 6. I must have a guilty conscience, but I wish I could remember what I did!

I meant to mention that some thieving b@stard pinched my breakfast cereal: the theft was discovered by me yesterday when I went to have my daily dose of iron shakti, mango pulp and – for all I know – genetically modified maize flakes. I have been keeping it in the fridge so the ants can’t carry it off, so that removes several million suspects in one go. On top of that, my latest carton of UHT milk has lumps in it: it’s not off, but the lumps of cream make my coffee less than appealing,

But let’s put my troubles to one side, or at least leave them until later.

After a non-breakfast consisting of flecked coffee, I pottered around as I didn’t want to start my trip too early.

About 10am, I began the first of three bus journeys – just to the bus station this time. A brief stop to stock up on the readies and then the second  bus: an hour and half to do the 45km to Matara. I think the laws of mathematics – and possibly physics – are suspended in SL as I can’t see how a bus that travels at such breakneck speed can only average 30kph. Anyway, I got a seat for the whole journey, I was next to a breeze-providing window and rarely had anyone sitting next to me, so I had no complaints. Now, I’m not slow in moaning if I feel the need but I really think the SL bus service is pretty good, if one ignores the execrable driving standards, which are not much worse than the rest of SL road users. You can get anywhere in SL by bus: every single village, hamlet or steading seems to be served and my journey to Matara cost about 40p. Matara is a main transport hub for the Southern Province of SL and has its very own Fort area, which I didn’t visit: maybe on the way back…

Not only is it possible to go anywhere cheaply, you can also do it frequently. I had hardly finished the Galle-Matara leg and hopped on to the Matara-Tangalle bus (40km, about 90mins) than we lurched off. Once again a seat, but as primary schools seem to finish out here about midday, there were lots of mums collecting their kids and just going a few stops, before being replaced by their counterparts in the next village.

I felt it was time for some music to drown out the horn section from the front of the bus, so on with the earphones and Pink Floyd. In my experience, Pink Floyd (and specifically Dark Side of the Moon) is the right music for any journey: I’ve lost count of the number of bus trips, flights, airport delays and so forth that have been ameliorated by the album.

Having done this journey last year, I remembered the bus station in Tangalle pretty well, also the two or three kilometre walk to the Ibis, so it was ‘No thank you’ to the importuning tuk-tuk drivers and I strode out.

Attentive readers will have noticed a lack of food so far and I admit to having been hungry by the time I’d left Tangalle town behind me. Having passed both Seanic Villa and Wavy Ocean Restaurent, I stopped at a beach-side place and succumbed to a very acceptable seafood-based lunch before continuing to the Ibis, my final destination. Well, I suppose death is the final destination, but I hope I’m speaking shorter term than that.

I won’t repeat lots of stuff about the Ibis as a quick search (see the “search” link on the right) will give you the background. Ranjith recognised me (good people skills but not a very clever trick, as he knew a repeat customer was coming) and I found my room.

SLankans seem to favour dark wood furniture. I see the benefit of rattan in this climate and I suppose the dark wood is local but, along with the mosquito nets, there is a tendency for the whole place to take on a Dickensian feel: think Miss Havisham. I almost feel the lack of antimacassars. That aside, my room is adequate, the shower has water – sometimes warm – and the beer is cold, so I’ve little to complain about.

Angelika, Ranjith’s wife and prime mover in the Ibis / Orphanage setup, is German, which explains the ‘Swiss Roesti’ on the menu; an option I was glad to take at my evening meal, followed by distinctly disappointing Pineapple Pancakes and Honey. The pineapple had either been forgotten or specially selected so as to be devoid of flavour. The honey is nice, but – unless this is different from previous experiences – does not involve bees; instead it is the sweet sap of a tree, but none the worse for that.

There’s a constant – and very welcome – breeze here, but you can just feel the humidity: bedding, towels, cushions etc. are all damp. In the UK ‘damp’ implies ‘cold’ but not here: damp is just damp. I slept on my my damp mattress and under my damp sheet like a damp log.

Despite there not being a Fur Elise-playing tuk-tuk in the vicinity, I still awoke at just before 6am, though I lay in bed and finished the latest ‘Rebus’ novel which I downloaded a day or two back.

A day or two back, possibly whilst eating Nasi Goreng in the Fort, I must have been aattacked by some malevolent blood-sucking insects. Less ‘artistic’ than the attack a few weeks back, these show in the form of blisters on my legs, clustered round where my shorts stop. Needless to say, they are itchy to the point of distraction, but my antihistamine is coming into its own again and everything is under control.

Anyway, that’s it for now: it’s Friday about 1:30pm and, having tucked into ‘toast’ (the peely-wally kind) and tea, I’m giving lunch a miss, but am already looking forforward to my evening meal. Ciao for now.

A Few Photos


Part of he Visitor Centre at Sinharajah


Swimming Pool in Gin Ganga


Sweet Potato plants




Kangaroo Lizard (with one bound he was free)




Trump without his wig?




General View


Giant squirrel makes its escape




Doctor Snail


Dilshan shins up a liana


Dilshan and millipede


Langurs still at the Jack Fruit in Sera’s garden


February starts

Two days’ worth as I missed Tuesday and apologies for the uninspired title of today’s posting.

After school on Tuesday we had another staff meeting: I think it’s more or less a weekly event, though not all will be relevant to me. Once again, Rick had those of us who were on time draw lots to win various goodies: a kitchen timer, a couple of glass serving dishes, a small wicker basket etc. I didn’t win anything, but quickly got over my disappointment when I manned up.


Some of the Lottery Prizes


A Lucky Winner

The only topic that might be of interest to some of you was feedback on the Christmas Concert (referred to as the “Holiday Program”). In a break from past practice, the Concert was held in the Chamber of Commerce rather than the school and Rick had invited feedback, which he carefully collated into a closely-typed A4 sheet with Pros and Cons as well as the survey results. Most of the sheet dealt with organisational matters: seating of children, management of kids during Staff items etc., but I thought “Some performances too long, consider timing next year” might ring a bell with some teachers I know! There were also calls for Santa to visit.

As the meeting continued, I occasionally found my mind wandering and watched a troupe of monkeys use the school rooftops as a passage way from one clump of trees to the next. Later, at Sera’s I watched a young monitor lizard scurrying – no, that’s the wrong word, lumbering, plodding, wading? – across the short grass. Young monitors, whilst no doubt endearing in their way, don’t have the “aaah” factor of kittens. It must be the lack of fur, the darting tongue and beady eyes or the curious gait.

Sera and family came back in the evening and by all accounts the wedding went well. It was held in Kandy at the Golf Club and tonight I saw some footage of the auspiciously-timed nuptials. Whilst the greens might not be up to scratch in a Scottish context, they looked good and provided an attractive background to the proceedings. Sera offered me a rambutan to eat: if these are unfamiliar to you, then the photos will give some idea. I had seen them often enough, but not knowingly eaten one. The taste and texture is akin to a lychee: Wikipedia confirms they are closely related. The fearsome looking spines are completely harmless, having a rubber texture. The flesh surrounds a sizeable stone. I like rambutan.


Rambutan – a Still Life


Partly opened


Anyone fancy a zombie’s eyeball?

Today, Wednesday, was a big day. The new new IT teacher started work. The original new person turned down the job at the last minute and Yasendri is no more: instead we have Fathima. She is a young woman, mother of a two and a half year old, with British Computing Society qualifications. I think she has done some teaching before, but I’m not positive. She is very pleasant and seems eminently capable, with good English. Rick wants her partly to shadow me over the next month and a bit, gradually taking over entirely. She smiles and does that charming head wobble so common in Sri Lanka, a cross between “yes”, “uh-uh” and “maybe”: a sort of polite acceptance of what you’re saying without necessarily committing to agreeing. On top of her, metaphorically speaking, I also had Hajira – a young classroom-assistant in training. Her course takes a year and involves six months’ college and six months in schools. Given that I had suggested to Rick that we needed the services of an external  network technician to fix a problem (two turned up) and that an electrician had been summoned to replace a faulty socket, supervised by Zulfa from the school office, there were at times more adults in the IT room than there are kids in the primary section.

This evening Vanushka and I spent some time on MS Access again: I confessed to him that whilst Access is no doubt very useful and powerful I find it deadly boring, but we worked through some of it anyway.

img_20170201_202223Sera has just received a plaque from attesting to the 9/10 rating Sera Villa has been awarded. It is thoroughly deserved. The rooms are adequately equipped – though an armchair would make a welcome addition to augment the patio chair and table. The kitchen is also fine: I suspect most of the quirks are cultural, or just the local way of doing things. The grounds have been prettied up and are nicely-lit. The location out of town may have disadvantages, but there is a good local service into town for 6p, with the bus stopping opposite the house. Amjit is almost constantly on duty, certainly in the early mornings, mid afternoons and evenings: he keeps the place clean, provides tea or coffee if requested, runs errands and chats to residents where language allows. He also showed me the plaque with pride. Sera is generally around in the evenings to welcome guests, some of whom arrive quite late. Though my stay is quite understandably more firmly on a business footing this year, the whole family are kind and generous. Poornima provides cups of tea at the drop of a hat and, whilst I was with Vanushka, a pineapple from a place whose name I’ve forgotten but is synonymous with the best Sri Lankan pineapples. I like pineapples.

Tomorrow, Thursday, will be yet another different day. I am accompanying the primary school swimming. The little ones went on Tuesday, but that didn’t involve me. We are going in the school bus, so I’ll get a chance to see that, to a hotel’s swimming pool, I think. Rick – who is a PE teacher – will already be there in the pool and there is a swimming coach. I may or may not decide to go in the water.

After school I’m going to Colombo and on Friday I’m going to see about extending my visa to cover the rest of my stay. I’m staying the two nights in City Beds or whatever it’s called, where I stayed after my flight. Due to the frustrations of “typing” on my Kindle, I suspect any blog will be short. It’s also, just this minute, dawned on me that Saturday is National Day, the anniversary of the country’s independence. I don’t know how, if at all, that will affect my trip to Colombo: not much with any luck.

The Rhythm of the Rain

I never quite get used to the rhythm of the SL day. Waking at 6 am or so is not a difficulty, nor being on the go and ready for work at 7:30 (though I’m not scheduled any classes until mid-morning): what I do struggle with is the shifting of bed time that the early start implies, and – as last night – I often find myself still on the go after 11pm.

This morning – Friday 27th – I was woken about 4am by the sound of torrential rain: it may have been something else that was the immediate cause of my wakefulness as it had been bucketing down since about 7pm last night, but I certainly wasn’t going to get back to sleep so I started reading. About 6am, a text arrived from Rick informing me that the rain had put an end to the school trip to Koggala and the Martin Wickramsinghe Museum. Ironically, Nadia had been warning the kids – all seven of them – that they would need to ensure they had plenty of water and sun screen as it would be hot , dry and shadeless, particularly on the small boat that would take us to Madol Duwa (Mangrove Island). I am disappointed as I was looking forward to the trip, but I can only imagine the kids’ feelings. I’m sure the trip will be rescheduled, but it’s a pity nevertheless, despite being a completely necessary decision.

Of course, there are pools of standing water, but it’s impressive how quickly most of it soaks away here much faster than it would back home, due to the coarse sand that makes up much of the topsoil.


Fruit tree – guava? – with fruit protected against insects.

rain2 rain-1

Last year, my diving instructor told me that heavy rain can produce bad underwater visibility: it’s hard for me to see how even torrential rain could affect 10 metres or more below the surface, but I suppose increased river-water flow could stir up sediment etc. that tides left undisturbed. Anyway, assuming this is correct, and I’ve no justification for doubting it from my position of relative ignorance, it seems likely tomorrow’s dive will have to be postponed as well. Rick had expressed an interest and only yesterday I rang up the centre and booked him in as my dive-buddy.

Last night’s English lesson started with half-an-hour of French, at Vanushka’s request.

Est-ce un livre?

Non ce’est une femme etc.

If this looks boring, we were just following some classroom handouts!

After this we had an hour or so working through an English passage about the Sunni militant group’s attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore 2009. This was also from a schoolbook and reminded me of an incident I had forgotten about. Vanushka did pretty well with this, though inevitably, there were words he didn’t know, such as “militants”, “occupants”, “grenades” etc. We’ll need to work on accent though, both in French and English. And I need to slow down when speaking!

Today the rain stopped about mid-day, though it doesn’t give the impression of being far away. I slobbed around all morning, but as school ended I went over to see Rick. We have decided that we’ll go down to Unawatuna tomorrow whatever and take it from there. Kris wants to sit on the beach, so they’re going by tuk-tuk and I’ll make my own way there. I’ve been invited to join a group of R&K’s friends / acquaintances at their house, then we’re going into town for something to drink and eat. I think it’ll be enjoyable but very ex-pat. Rick drew me a sketch map and, with the unbelievably impressive Google Earth and Streetview, I was able to identify the very house as I visited it once a week or two back. Having copied – manually, I regret to say – the coordinates into my GPS I think I’ll give it a go walking. It should take about 45minutes. Thunder, possible torrential rain, SL road conditions, gathering dusk, small back roads and semi-rural areas: what can possibly go wrong?

I’ll take my brolly: last year I bought one and handed it over to Poornima when I left: this year, she smilingly produced it from behind her back and it’s been useful over the last couple of days.

Poornima’s brother’s wedding is fast approaching and in a couple of days’ time the whole family will be going away to Colombo and Kandy for three nights I think. Amjit is being left in charge but Sera has asked me to be a sort of liaison with any European tourists as Amjit’s English is limited. I’m sure I frequently pick things up wrong but it seems the groom, (a doctor) who lives near Colombo, and bride (bank employee) will get married in Kandy then have a week’s honeymoon before the “homecoming” part of the celebrations which will take place in Galle at the famous and posh Closenberg Hotel. I have been invited, but I think it will probably clash with a visit to Colombo for visa renewal.

Random thoughts from abroad

My two little Bridge Year girls are Lithuli (lit-oo-li) and Nethumi (net-oo-mi) and even after a week I still get them confused. I think it’ll be OK to post their photos as the girls have also appeared on the official TGS website and Facebook page in the past. They aren’t really at all alike in appearance: I guess the similar names confuse me.



I’ve realised the school trip to the Martin Wickramsinghe museum is this Friday, which clashes with my booked dive. A phone call to Hans, but answered by a local member of staff, should have sorted this clash out, but I do find phone conversations with Sri Lankans hard to follow. They probably feel the same about Scots. Anyway, I hope I’ve managed to shift to Saturday: at least I tried. That should leave the weekend starting 2nd Feb. available for Visa renewal in Colombo.

Talking of Wickramsinghe, I’ve been reading in translation his children’s book “Madol Duwa” (“Mangrove Island”). Apparently it’s very popular with Sri Lankans and has been translated into many other languages. Two boys run away from home and start farming on isolated, uninhabited and spooky Mangrove Island before being reunited with their parents, apparently after some considerable time. It’s not clear to me whether we’re supposed to believe the boys really did do this or whether it’s an imaginary adventure, if you see what I mean. Anyway, the “real” island of Madol Duwa is not far from Wickramsinghe’s house (the museum) and I think it forms part of the tour.

The rather grubby small town of Koggala is not just home to Wickramsinghiana but also to The Fortress Hotel: its website ( is worth visiting to see how the other 10% live. I’ve not looked thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem still to be advertising “the most expensive dessert in the world” costing US$14000 according to the guidebook. Apparently it features a real diamond. Last time I was in Koggala I treated myself to a choc-ice after going round the museum.

Today, whilst I was teaching two of the “gang of four” – an unfairly negative name – their mother appeared out of the blue with a friend she was showing round the school. As her family comprise over 50% of the “upper” school roll, I guess she has proprietorial rights. I was able to check up if she made the doughnuts one of her boys distributed last week and then thank her. That should improve the chances of another delivery!

TGS does its best to be environmentally friendly. A new addition to the garden is the raised bed cum composting unit. Assuming I remember to post the photo, you’ll hopefully be able to make out the circular raised bed made of stones and mud. In fact, it’s a circle with a bite taken out of it. The “bite” makes it easier to reach the middle which is a cylindrical hole lined with chicken wire. Into this the compost is put and the resultant nutritional goodies are readily available to the plants in the surrounding bed. A nice idea: I wonder how durable the design and manufacture will prove to be.


There is an ever-shifting population at Sera’s: I have no doubt I will be the longest resident. Last night four young Germans were here for the night and we chatted in English for a while. I said “Goodbye” to one of them when I went over to work. When I got back soon after 2pm, they had gone. So had my jar of coffee: just saying, like.

Confession, sayeth the preacher, is good for the soul. An hour or two after casting aspersions on the German students for stealing my coffee I was resignedly making a cup of tea when Amjit produced the remains of my coffee from the bowels of a dark cardboard box where he had hidden it. He was needlessly apologetic about not having stopped the use of the coffee, but had hidden the jar soon after bolting the stable door. I tried to explain that I had no real objection to someone – including him – helping themselves to a cup’s worth of my coffee, but certainly hoped no-one would finish it without asking. So the young Germans are off the hook: at least they left me about a quarter of a jar.


Whilst this conversation was staggering along, Vanushka came in to the kitchen to replenish the oil for the lamp that burns in front of the little Buddha statue. He’s been mentioning me helping him out as a tutor and that’s OK: what I didn’t expect was Tue 6:30pm, IT; Wed 6:30pm, English; and Thu same time, French. I may have got the last two the wrong way round, not that you lot care, but I may need to use this as an aide-memoire when I’m dottled, so I’d better be accurate. I already look back at last year’s blog to refresh my memory. I mentioned this Wed is Burns’ Night and there’d be no class, but now realise in fact I could slip it in before donning my full Highland Dress, warming up my pipes and microwaving a haggis. (Just joking about the preparations, honest.)

I started a class at Teaching College in 1975 called “French Methods” but gave up after a few weeks as I didn’t want my “career” sidelined into taking first and second year French. Besides, whilst on English teaching practice in Fraserburgh – more or less teaching a foreign language to the pupils and me undergoing an immersion course in Broch – I decided I couldn’t be bothered preparing sample lessons on “Tenses after Quand”, “The use of partitive de” and something else equally recondite. Any readers with experience of teaching French – particularly at an elementary level to an intelligent 17yr old – are cordially invited to get in touch. I suspect we’ll just practice whatever he does in his evening class.

Here are a few pictures of “home”:


Newly made bed. Note router on right.


Table / desk, chair and “wardrobe”


Communal Kitchen (and hidden coffee)


Kitchen again


Pictures from an Expedition


Pimp my TukTuk


Looking towards Unawatuna from near Peace Monument


Anura’s (no that’s not him) and Dunbar Orange


A little TukTuk wisdom