Category Archives: Sri Lanka

Loose Ends

I owe you guys an apology, just suddenly wandering off like that without even saying goodbye. I’ll try to make amends.

I left you just after the Bundala trip, about three weeks ago, though it seems longer. I don’t think a lot of exciting things happened after Bundala, but I must mention my farewell to Thomas Gall School. In order to check up on details, I looked in on TGS on Thursday and Fathima wa pleased to see me, though disappointed I’d not turned up on Wednesday as I’d said I might: she had taken in cakes or biscuits and I’d not been there. She also gave me a lovely card decorated with little paper flowers and “Dear Teacher, you are so…” type doggerel.

The actual official farewell was at Friday Assembly: a special one because Nadeshani was also leaving so there was lots of cake. Barbie (!) Gall told us all how much we had to be thankful for, some of the classes performed stuff and some of my IT kids put on a rather under-rehearsed demonstration of the programs they’d been working on. It was an occasion for mixed emotions: I’m pretty sure that this will turn out to be my last visit to TGS and Sri Lanka, though you never can tell. In some ways I was glad to be leaving the periods of tedium, the noise and the smells: but in others I was sad to be saying goodbye to some great people and all that good weather!

As for the ants: I squished every single one I could see near the laptop and the flight seems to have done for the rest.

My prearranged car to the airport arrived to pick me up at exactly the same moment as the Richdmondites (current and former pupils of Richmond College) took their parade past Sera’s place. This consisted of hundreds of cars, motor bikes etc. all horns blaring, flags waving, engines revving, music playing, water pistols squirting, crawling slowly across both sides of the road towards us. We stood our ground but constantly edged forwards until we were clear after about a quarter of an hour.

The car was very smart: a last year’s model Toyota with a rear view camera for reversing and a whole host of other goodies. We headed towards Colombo on the “Expressway”, the first time I’ve really used that road and it’s much faster and more comfortable than the other roads. We sped along an almost empty dual carriageway in considerable style and comfort.

The rain started. Initially just short sharp showers as we made our way northward, it soon became the heaviest downpour I have ever experienced. We crawled along the dual carriageway, floods of water sweeping gravel and earth across the tarmac. The route changed to urban streets and sandy orange water was often over the hub caps. Even when the water was only a couple of inches deep, we moved at snail’s pace as the driver was concerned about hidden potholes. I wasn’t worried about time as I had factored in quite a safety margin and I suspect the driver had too.

Finally we arrived at the airport in good time. The flight to Abu Dhabi was nothing special and we arrived more or less bang on midnight their time.

My flight to Heathrow didn’t leave until 9am the next morning, so I was destined to have a long wait. By about two am I was almost the sole passenger in the airport but there were squads of Asian cleaners washing the corridor floors, emptying the bins and scrubbing in the toilets. I say “Asian”: to an undifferentiating eye they looked Indian, Pakistani maybe. Time dragged a bit but all in all the time from midnight to eight am, when boarding began, passed better than it might.

Similarly, the flight to Heathrow was the usual mix of movies, dozing, food and reading. Until we arrived over Heathrow, that is.

The in-flight information system showed us about ten minutes away from Heathrow when the pilot announced there would be a delay landing and we would be circling for a bit: a pain, but not unusual. After about twenty minutes of circling the pilot announced we didn’t have enough fuel for all this circling about stuff so we were going to Gatwick instead. A fair amount of muttering could be heard but I thought this might save me having to do the bus transfer from Heathrow to Gatwick.

No such luck. We sat in the plane on the tarmac for two and a half hours whilst arrangements were made to refuel our plane. I could see my five hour window between arrival at LHR and departure from LGW being eroded by the minute. Tantalisingly, throughout our wait on the ground I kept getting updates from EasyJet warning me my flight to Inverness would be delayed – perhaps the two delays would cancel each other out?

Suddenly we were screaming hell for leather down the runway at Gatwick and almost as suddenly screaming to a stop at Heathrow. Etihad staff apologised for the delay and handed out letters saying how sorry they were. I was advised that, even though it was unlikely I’d get the next flight, I should try for it and then arrangements would be made.

I missed a coach by minutes and had a long time in the cold and wet of England waiting for the next one. The journey to Gatwick was enlivened by a Scottish hen party of a certain age, all rouge and fishnet tights.

Needless to say, I missed the flight North. I went to the EasyJet information desk where the staff were very helpful. I was even too late to get on the last flight that night, Thursday. The next flight to Inverness with a vacant seat would be Saturday! Eventually we located a seat to Edinburgh on Friday afternoon and the staff at the desk did a great job of minimising the cost of this. They referred to it as a “rescue flight”, a not inappropriate

The next couple of hours almost brought me to tears. I shuttled back and forth between the two terminals trying to find accommodation. Bloc? Full. Yotel: Full. The Holiday Inn Express rumoured to be within the grounds? Taxi £12. Sofitel?: £200 a night. Finally Premier Inn: £80 and a barely passable evening meal. I slept like a log. Breakfast was better: lots of greasy eggs, bacon, potato scones and sausages all sandwiched between a healthy first course of cereal and fruit and a final round of toast and marmalade.

The flight to Edinburgh went smoothly, as did my meeting with Mrs M who had braved snowy conditions on the A9 to collect me. The cat skirted round me as usual.

A day or two after I got home, I used the email address supplied by Etihad to claim for my expenses. To cut a longish story down a bit, Etihad’s final verdict was “That’s a shame, sorry we were late but our contract was to get you to London and we did. Here’s 10,000 air miles.”

I contacted Nationwide Flex Account Plus Travel Insurance and another very helpful woman took me through the details of my claim: uncharacteristically, I had kept paper evidence of each transaction for scanning to Etihad – but that’s another story – and she was so convinced by my ability to provide details that they apparently don’t even want me to send in the paperwork. I’m told the cheque’s in the post. If so, well done Nationwide.

So, I think that’s you up to date. Sorry about the gap.

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“Bundala” Pictures (geddit?)

Back in Galle and glad to get air conditioning again as I forgot to specify it when I booked the Lagoon Inn and by the time I realised I was already installed and it wasn’t. A good trip, all in all, though the preponderance of rice and curry, along with the heat, made for three rather sleep-deprived nights.

My laptop – opened to write this, upload photos etc. – is infected with ants which appear from the bowels of the machine as fast as I can squish them. If all else fails, being in the hold of an aircraft should sort them out.

Here are a few photos from Bundala: pretty dubious quality but like all bad workmen I’ll blame my little point and shoot camera.

An unfortunate brand name

Spooky water buffalo

It always surprises me to see peacocks in trees: somehow I feel they shouldn’t really be able to fly.

Painted Stork

Lesser Adjutant Stork

White Ibis: one of my favourites

Salt Pans

Google Earth view of the Salt pans

Hanging Parrot

Hanging Parrot hanging out of its nest in hollow tree trunk

Tortoise

Blue-tailed Bee Eater

Tusker approaching at moderate speed

Kingfisher (?) photobombed by monkey

Bunny

I received what I, in my suspicious way, considered at least one more ‘expression of interest’ from the rather creepy staff member: he hung around me whilst I was sitting outside my room, took a seat unnecessarily close to me and at one point squeezed between my chair and a wall, stroking my head as he did so. I remained polite but increasingly curt until he went away. Call me a party-pooper or a paranoid old fart, but I did put the bolt on my door! Maybe it’s pay back time for smiling winningly at pretty women.

I didn’t sleep particularly well, but I don’t think that was due to worries about losing my honour so much as the increasing amount of rice and curry clogging up my system. Suffice it to say I was awake in plenty of time for my six o’clock start this morning.

The driver / guide was called Siri, the very guy so well rated on Trip Advisor and Booking.com and I was the only passenger.

I’ll admit to having wondered if Bundala would match up to last year’s Yala trip, but I needn’t have worried. It was different – a wetland landscape, rather than the more arid Yala – but teeming with birds. I don’t think of myself as a twitcher, but this was great: waders by the welly-load, Kingfishers, Ospreys, hundreds of wee chaps and their mates preparing for the journey to Northern Europe and some quirky little parrots that seem to nest upside down in hollow trees.

Elephants were a possibility today so when we turned a corner and saw a beast coming down the track towards us I picked my camera and the jeep came to a stop. Siri was just explaining this was the only “tusker” (“king elephant”) resident in the park when it broke into a leisurely jog rather than its erstwhile carefree amble. A large elephant trundling at you is an awesome, not to say alarming, sight and Siri threw the jeep into reverse and we covered a couple of hundred yards at quite a lick until we reached a fork in the path which would allow us an escape route. Apparently this beast is well known for being on the aggressive side of peaceable and later Siri showed me some mobile phone footage of it scaring a couple of girls in his jeep witless and another clip of it overturning a jeep it took a dislike to. Before I saw this, though, we ran cautiously back to a bend in the track to try to spot the beast and found it standing half on the path, half in the bushes ponderously pulling branches off a tree and eating them. We watched it – nervously on my part – for a while until it seemed to notice us; perhaps it heard my heart beating. When it came back out of the bushes and headed our way, Siri put his foot down and we drove off.

We saw another male later, but this one was apparently lower down the elephantine pecking order and had no tusks so we were quite safe. I also learned the local word for ‘elephant penis’, available on request if you think it might come on handy.

I’d booked a whole day trip, but had been pre-warned that there would be a break midday due to the heat. This interlude started on the beach where we both went for a swim. After that we drove into a dappled area of tree cover and had lunch – rice and curry, surprise, surprise. We both dozed for a while in the jeep before more safariing.

All in all, the day was great: oodles of birds, a couple of elephants, some crocs, tortoises, deery things, wild boar and various common-or-garden land monitors, a mongoose, monkeys by the score etc. It perhaps lacked the wow factor of Yala, but it was a very enjoyable day.

Just after we left the Park, we came across a troop of nigh on 100 monkeys moonlighting at the side of the road and we watched them for some time. It was an extended family group with several babies and mischievous young as wee as parents, grandparents and so on. Whilst they were clearly aware of ys as the sat on verge or scrambled in the shrubbery, they paid us scant attention: no hassling us for food, stealing from us or dancing on the jeep roof. Just the way it should be.

I got a few poor photos, mostly with my point-and-shoot camera, but some with my mobile phone. You’ll have to wait for the former.

Th edible fruit of the cactus you can see in the background

Bundala Bound

Well, here I am in the Lagoon Inn, roughly halfway between Hambantota and Tissamaharama. it’s all open balconies, walkways and mosquito-netted beds. The slightly less than 100km took about 4 and a half hours. As usual, the buses were frequent, generally crowded, noisy and scary if you watched through the front window. I’m becoming impressed with the panache with which I leap gaily from bus to bus: unlike the two young Eastern Europeans who sat next to me out of Matara, I’ve yet to get on a bus going in the opposite direction, but there’s still time…

I’m sure gloating generates negative karma, but I’ll take the risk…

One of the things that made me grumpy on Thursday – it didn’t take much – was that, having spent time and effort setting up my laptop for Friday’s assembly, I was suddenly told that it had to be on another machine – one which did not have the required software on it. While Fathima scurried off to rectify this problem, I muttered expletives WordPress probably doesn’t let me express and hung around for a while. However, I finally gave up and went in search of sustenance.

On Friday morning when I arrived I was told everything was fine, but then with just minutes to spare, panic ensued as they couldn’t get the sound to work… Could they use my laptop? I had almost decided not to take it for the hour or so I’d be there, but had eventually done so just in case and thus Mr Doug saved the day.

Assembly went smoothly – I didn’t think my kids did as good a job as I’d have liked, but all in all it was OK given that they’d not had much practice. Nadeshani is soon to leave to do an MSc, so there were two huge iced sponge cakes to mark our departure and parents, students and staff all tucked in. I pointed out to Rick that someone had mischievously changed the school’s address on Facebook to a small island off the Jafna Peninsula, so investigations are afoot…

March Birthdays

Kindergarten enact the Hungry Caterpillar

Poor Fathima, who had bought me a lovely sentimental “thank you teacher” card decorated with paper flowers, was tearful at my departure and I must admit to a slight moistening of the eye as I said goodbye to my charges: such a nice bunch of kids, despite their inevitable irritations. I have promised to look in briefly for one last visit before heading home.

Today is Saturday and I’ve plumped for my Bundala safari to happen on Sunday, so I’m having a rest day. The Inn has an excellent viewing platform over the surrounding countryside, so I’m sitting there, able to move into the shade if need be, blogging and bird watching. Ibis, herons, egrets, peacocks and all sorts heave into view. Occasional butterflies flutter by and rather more distant water buffalo wallow in the shallow lagoons. The Inn fronts onto the main road so there’s a bit of traffic noise, but the back gives right onto the edge of Bundala NP and the birds don’t seem to mind the noise.

Last night I met some of the other guests: English, Italian, Vietnamese Canadian and a puckle of ubiquitous Ukrainians. One of the English women is hobbling on crutches after a minor road traffic accident. Minor in terms of her being the only casualty and there being no bones broken, but disabling nevertheless. Some of the travelers have hired drivers for the duration: others, like me, prefer the freedom – and lower cost! – of the bus network. Most of them seem envious of my longer timescale and that reminds me of how lucky I am. That in fact was the theme of Barbie Gall at Assembly. She is the lady of a certain age who founded TGS and spends a chunk of the year in SL. Her friends call her “Barbie” but she bears very little resemblance to the wasp-waisted, blonde figurine marketed by Mattel or whoever.

I didn’t know whether to be amused at an incident earlier today. After breakfast – which featured Tomato Jam as one of its delights – and I wouldn’t say that Papaya is one of my favourite fruits, as it always reminds me of the taste of sick – I was lounging on my bed reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ when I became aware of one of the staff standing and looking through my room window. ‘You sleeping’. I went to the door, assuming he wanted to discuss some arrangement for meals, safaris or something but apparently not. He put his hand out and stroked my beard, said ‘Good’ and went away. I may lock my room tonight.

Panorama from viewing platform

Lagoon Inn and viewing platform

Lagoon Inn

Balcony outside my room

Continue reading

Give us a Clue…

Tuesday 7th

It must be getting towards the end of my stay in SL: I’ve clicked the right icons for my boarding pass (I think); I’ve been asked to make sure I’m at Assembly on Friday for a Farewell and I’ve just organised transport to the airport.

We’ve also been asked to do a little presentation at Assembly about what we’ve been doing in ICT over the last couple of months. I’ve organised three kids each to show a wee game they made and a fourth to introduce it all. Assemblies here are better than most I’ve attended over the years: the kids are always heavily involved: a “magic” show based round science, a song about eating fruit and veg., celebrations of birthdays and so on. So much better than “The Cosmic Dimension of Sin” I once sat through twice in a week: once aimed at 17year olds; also, substantially unchanged, to 12year olds. For all I know that particular train stopped at all stations in between as well. This hang-up on sin seems alien out here: the word cropped up recently in “The Lumber Room” and I had to try explaining it to Venushka.

I spoke to V and his mum about transport to the airport and it’s all organised now. For LKR10000 (£55), I’m being picked up from here and driven in a “van” – hopefully a minibus – by a guy they’ve used before and trust as a good driver. I’ve stipulated that I need to be there at 19:30 for a 21:00 flight, and the driver has allowed three and a half hours for the 150km, so that should be OK as my price includes the toll for the “Expressway”. It’s not too bad a price I suppose especially as it’s door to door, guarantees a seat, probably with aircon or at least an opening window, and removes the need to haul my case up and down the endless set of steps that constitute the footbridge across the dual carriageway outside the railway station in Colombo. That “simple” exercise, with me sweating like a pig and struggling against an oncoming tide of humanity, might conceivably have done for me last year: in the event I survived the palpitations in order to be tested again when trying to get off the bus at the airport… All that should be a thing of the past this year. How many chickens is that so far? I’ve lost count.

The Internet has gone dire again here, but I’m not going to bother mentioning it. There are brief moments when it seems to rattle along almost OK, but most of the time it takes forever to load a page and frequently gives up en route.

Fathima was off today: her mother cum childminder is unwell. It was a pretty quiet day anyway, so that wasn’t too bad, but I’m really not cut out for teaching Kindergarten kids. “Teacher, “Teacher”, “Teacher” they all shout – all four! – in their high-pitched whiny little voices and they seem incapable of waiting when I point out I’m helping someone else. They also don’t have the words to explain their problem but just point at the monitor. They were using Paint to make pictures of a house and just stabbing at the screen was rarely much help to me identifying their perceived problem. Despite their being sufficiently small that you have to be careful not to stamp them underfoot, some of them can still be very cheeky. I recently had to ask a colleague why some of the wee ones have a small cloth safety-pinned to the front of their shirt: the answer – obvious I suppose – is that they may need their noses wiped and this helps ensure the hanky doesn’t get lost. I’m OK with P2/3 – in small numbers – of course, but certainly prefer kids who are bit more like real humans rather than squawking little orcs. Maybe that’s also a sign that my time here is almost up.

Wed 8th

This Internet connection fiasco is no longer even mildly amusing; no longer just a gallic shrug and snort; no longer supportable. I have given up trying to get anything done about it as the impact on my blood pressure is just too great. Sera did get on to Dialog and a new router was provided: it solved the problem for a few days, but now we’re back to square one and have been for some time. It is all but impossible to email, use Facebook, check the news, research for classes or anything and I don’t know whom to blame, which is perhaps the most irritating bit of all. I am lucky to be able to access Internet at TGS, so this is where I’ll have to post this tomorrow, Thursday. I hope that there’ll be some sort of signal down where I’m staying Fri, Sat and Sun night, but of course I’ll not be taking my laptop.

Well, that’s today’s moan over with.

The Treasure Hunt went very smoothly, I’m relieved to say. The texting worked well; the kids did a good job and seem to have enjoyed it; the staff were complimentary and Rick was fulsome in his praise: of course he’s an American and it’s not possible to be within a hundred yards of him without a steady refrain of “Good Job” floating through the air, possibly augmented with High Fives. Nevertheless, all my Scottish cynicism aside, I think he was pleased. The whole trek looked like being unduly fast to start with, but the pace slowed and it lasted about two hours, giving time for the kids to have their packed lunch before going back in the school bus. There were two groups of five and they finished within about ten minutes of each other, giving me just the right amount of time to deal with one team and buy them each an ice-cream before the next one arrived. They and the accompanying staff were all hot and sweaty: I had been sitting in the shade at the Pedlar’s Inn and drinking lattes, so I was all right. Apart from coffee cups, Mission Control consisted of a table covered with a laptop, paper copies for use in extremis and my mobile phone: I did get a few strange looks from tourists as I texted, tapped away at the laptop and scribbled notes to myself. On the other hand, there were a few smiles when little Nethumi (or was it Lithuli?) appeared in a big straw hat and got a cuddle for doing so well!

It’s a bit early to be definite, but I think my mysterious rash is coming back. If so, I think I know the cause: the edge of a wooden seat digging into the backs of my legs as I sat at Mission Control. That would certainly help to explain the straight lines of the rash’s first appearance. Needless to say, I chucked the antibiotic cream out just a few days ago: it had been languishing in the fridge and as it was no longer needed… Mind you, if I have identified the cause, it may be that antibiotics aren’t needed. I’ve still got antihistamine tablets.

I’ve now put my last load of laundry into Poormina’s washing machine, so that’s another sign of imminent – a week today – departure.

If you listen to “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” on Radio 4 – possibly the best radio programme this side of Alpha Centauri – you’ll know they take the salacious mickey out of Lionel Blair ‘s miming skills in “Give us a Clue”: I think I could be his successor. I realised I was just about out of milk for coffee and breakfast so rather than go into town and the supermarket, I went to try my luck at the local shop, where I’m recognised as that odd foreigner. The husband was in the shop and, now I’ve set the scene, this how it went after the initial greetings and salutations.

Me: Do you have milk?

Hubby: (Blank look)

Me: (slowly) M-i-l-k

Hubby: (Encouraging smile, but blank look)

Me: Milk (Miming drinking)

Hubby: Ah. Water?

Me: No, white drink. Mooo: (Mime of milking cow)

Hubby: Not understand! (Blank look, but calls wife)

Me: Moo! (Miming horns and milking action)

Wife: Ah Red Bull!

Me: (Lionel Blair-like, you’re on the right lines hand-rolling gesture) Cow!

Wife: Ah! Freshmilk!

Me: (All smiles) Yes!

Hubby: For us, Freshmilk!

Me: (Swapping LKR 200 for a carton of UHT milk) Stoothi! (Thank You)

The scene ends with laughter and smiles all round.

 

That’s the sort of interaction I’ll miss. As I said on leaving the shop, but probably wasn’t understood: “We got there in the end!”

I’ll have a go at posting this, but if no success I’ll do it tomorrow – Thursday – in school before swimming.

Social dysfunction

I’ve been following a Facebook page for a while – I’m not going to name it – and have been disappointed at the very poor standard of writing in some of the posts. Admittedly, it’s not alone in this and I’m not referring to the occasional typo, poor paragraphing, or misuse of the semi-colon: I’m talking about writing so flawed as to become incomprehensible. Writing all in capitals with no punctuation. Writing where so many words are just simply wrong that even a well-wisher can make neither head nor tail of the gist. Consistent confusion of “our”/”are”, “their”/”there”/”they’re” (of course), “of”/”off” and others, misspellings of the core words that appear time after time in these supposedly persuasive posts. A standard of literacy that works against the writers and their cause, helping opponents make fun of all involved and which produces the exponentially howling feedback of a vicious circle.

Eventually I carefully composed a post – using Word first to allow me to think, pause, edit and rephrase so as not to give offence or seem to be talking down to anyone  – pointing out the need for clarity and suggesting that writers who had any doubts about their standard of writing should try showing their work to a friend and also reading it out loud, the latter being something I nearly always do. I also suggested leaving a time gap between the original typing and the posting, just to let the dust settle and to give a chance for a re-reading – something I should do more myself! As a final thought I said that if anyone wanted to take advantage of my offer, I’d be glad to accept stuff for a quick once-over and return it to the writer for him or her to post.

One or two people have already accepted this offer and I’m glad to help them. A number of people “liked” my post and made supportive noises. But the number of nasty, vindictive comments – nearly 200  – astounded and upset me. I was accused of being a grammar-Nazi; I was called all the names under the sun and even labelled a Tory, which probably hurt the most! I was attacked for wanting to vet and censor what was written; I was told that education was rubbish and, by implication, so was I; one of the group’s moderators who seemed to have done a bit of research questioned my motives pointing out – inaccurately – that I’d only been a member for four weeks and suggesting I didn’t even live in Scotland. To be fair to her, she retracted the latter claim when I contacted her: I didn’t bother with the first one. I was lambasted for denigrating the Scots language and trying to force people to write in English: a complete misunderstanding of the situation. Truth to tell, I felt that some of the posts supposedly in “Scots” were just attempts to cover up illiteracy. Not that I said that of course: there is excellent writing in Scots – writing that is clear, clever, literate and persuasive / comedic / emotional etc. as the occasion demands. I felt many of the hostile posts were the result of wilful misunderstanding.

I made one attempt – probably misguided – to pour oil on the waters. I reminded folk that there were people who produced clever graphics, people who generated viral memes and so forth: I had none of these skills but was offering something I could do – no one had to take it up as it was just an open offer to be ignored or accepted as you saw fit. I got more abuse. Eventually I left the group and cancelled notifications so that my inbox no longer fills up with spleen.

The upside of this is that a few people did get in touch: some to show interest in my offer but several others to support my suggestion that presentation and clarity are important when trying to persuade others to change their attitudes. One or two asked me not to leave the group as they needed people like me: presumably because of my rather anal approach to writing, rather than my rugged good looks and vast fortune. I have a handful of new Facebook friends – apparently likeable folk whose posts on various topics – not all serious – I am enjoying.

To my mind the most disappointing aspect of all this is the sneering attitude to education, but it’s not new. Lewis Grassick Gibbon’s “Sunset Song” (there’s a good Scottish writer) gives the villagers of Kinraddie a similar attitude: “Most said it was a coarse thing, learning, just teaching your children a lot of damned nonsense…” and “education’s dirt”. What is new, though, is the impact this attitude seems to be having on the western world – and thus the whole globe – through the medium of the Internet. As I said in my “resignation letter”, it’s this attitude that’s made America “grate” again.

I’m glad to get that off my chest.

Despite the clouds over Facebook and the predictions of rain for Galle, yesterday was a lovely day: the sun shone from dawn to dusk and our dry run for the school’s Galle Fort Treasure Hunt went well. Rick, Kris and I started at four and walked the anti-clockwise route. Suggestions for improvements have been taken on board: mostly matters of presentation – larger font size to suit the younger kids now being involved and so forth. I was glad that I seemed to have got the level of vocabulary right for the kids: challenging at times, but not inaccessible. A couple of minor alterations were made to the questions, but basically it got the thumbs up. Halfway round, we stopped for a beer, on the basis the kids might have stopped for a break so we should too! We carefully paced our beer to match the time taken to eat an icecream.

After walking the course we went for a meal: the first place we tried serves healthy food and is part of a small SL-based chain called “Calorie Counter” and the offerings looked excellent. The downside is that it doesn’t serve beer, so we quickly rejected it and went to Fortaleza: this was Rick’s treat! Kris and I started with “tuna crudo” – slices of very rare tuna in a crust of black pepper. It was excellent. To follow, K&R opted for fajitas and I had my Fortaleza standard of mezze. You’ll see this place caters for a European clientele with no rice and curry – even a posh version – in sight! I have arranged to meet Angela, the IT teacher from last year, on Saturday for lunch and we’re going back to Fortaleza: I must try something other than mezze.

Untypically, I slept until 8am today. I had woken once or twice earlier but succeeded in getting back to sleep: even then I slobbed in bed for another hour so I’m feeling refreshed. I’ve updated the Treasure Hunt stuff and will wander over to the school soon to print out a copy for final approval, but it’s clearly going to be a very lazy day. Maybe I should reread “Sunset Song”: I’m still plugging away at “Crime and Punishment”, but it’s not grabbed me yet.

Hints and Tips Number 94

It’s been grey, foggy and overcast today, with a few short-lived showers. The locals have been complaining about the cold:  it’s been pleasantly balmy from my point of view, though the humidity is higher than ever. I’m told tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same. Perhaps the gods are preparing me for my return to Auld Scotia in a fortnight’s time: if so, they’ll need to knock at least 20°C off as we’re in the mid twenties today.

I took a tuk-tuk to the town – that sounds like the start of a nursery rhyme – after school because of the weather. The driver had the gall to quote LKR500 for the journey and I laughed dismissively at his nerve. What would I offer, was his comeback. LKR150, I said, knowing that was too low. He rejected it and I waved him away, saying I’d wait for the bus. As he turned round, he revised his offer downward to LKR400, then LKR300 and I offered LKR250, at which point a deal was struck. A couple of hundred yards along the road I asked him to stop and I think he suspected I was going to renege, but I offered a lift to Poonanthi, a lady of about my age who has been at TGS since it started 10 years ago.

Poonanthi is a combination of bum-wiper, nurse, staff tea maker, hand bell ringer, messenger and a host of other small but vital jobs in the running of a school. We hardly spoke at all last year for some reason, but we’ve got on like a house on fire this year and my early suspicion that she had very little English turned out to be unfounded. It was interesting to chat, albeit at a fairly shallow level, and the driver was clearly surprised I knew a Sri Lankan, having taken me for a lost tourist.

I think I’ve been remarkably restrained: almost two months here and I’ve not had a good rant about the standard of driving, though I admit to the odd negative passing comment about bus drivers. Whether it was due to chagrin on his part or what, I don’t know, but our driver was one of the worst I’ve had this year. A combination of the weather and schools just having come out meant the roads were getting on for grid-locked at points, but our guy clearly had a deathwish or was ready to leap out and leave Poonanthi and me to our fate.

I don’t know what the engine-power of a tuk-tuk is or even how it’s measured, but I’m sure it’s in single figures. At one point we started to try to pass another three-wheeler (their less “atmospheric” name), which was itself trying to pass a lorry weaving round a cyclist as a bus came hurtling headlong towards us, horn blaring – justifiably on this occasion. At the last moment, our guy blinked and hauled the vehicle into an apparently impossibly small gap and Poonanthi and I lived to face another day. At right hand turns he would just barge his – our – way through the on-coming traffic and – if it was stopped – he would weave through minute gaps you’d hardly get a pushbike through in the UK. None of this look, signal, manoeuvre stuff: simply thread your way through all and sundry. Indicators seem to be used more for decoration than their conventional use: I defy you to stand at the ide of the road for more than a minute and not see several drivers of all types of vehicle blithely going along with indicators twinkling gaily. Thrills and spills weren’t in it today: I suggested to Poonanthi that he was practising for the next Tuk-Tuk Polo competition.

The other day one of the teachers, whose husband was collecting her in their car, offered me and a couple of other folk a lift into town. The husband – who was an exemplary driver – commented that Sri Lankans were very selfish drivers and didn’t care how much inconvenience they put other road users to as long as they could barge their way through. I mentioned bus drivers using their mobile phones whilst working and we all agreed that might lead to an accident. Hubby went on to say that he had worked in Saudi at one point and that a Bus Inspector stopped a bus driver on the inward journey, saying he had seen him using his phone on the outward leg. The driver was fined on the spot by the Inspector: we agreed that sounded like a good thing, though I reckon it could be open to abuse.

I got my TGS contribution to my accommodation yesterday and, along with a bundle of notes I gave Sera the other day, I’ve now paid the lot. I must admit that I would have thought it would be a nice gesture on his part if he had given me some sort of rebate for the approximate 3 hours a week I’ve spent with Venushka. I’ve not been doing it with rebates in mind, and I realise he’s running a business, but some small acknowledgement of my commitment to V and the preparation time would have been appreciated.

Lest I sound mercenary, I should say that Poornima generally produces food for me when I go in: not always, but usually. I’m often not hungry, but it’s a kind and hospitable gesture and I always make the effort to eat some of it, and very good it is too. Last night’s marathon hour and three quarters French and then English lesson was brought to a welcome end by Poornima producing Kottu Roti. This is a chopped mixture of vegetables, flat bread and the inevitable spices.

You can always tell if a street café is selling Kottu Roti because of the flamboyant and extravagant metallic chopping noises that emanate from the kitchen, rather like a percussionist using pots and pans with metal drumsticks rather than more conventional instruments. I said to Poornima that I’d not heard any of the culinary rhythm section – I’m paraphrasing – and she laughed, admitting that she’d bought it as a ready-chopped mix. The guidebooks are rather ambivalent about Kottu Roti, suggesting that while it’s a quintessential SL street-food dish, the cooks often make it as a excuse to use up stale and sub-standard ingredients which are frequently not sufficiently cooked into the bargain and can give Montezuma a run for his money, if you get my drift. Last night’s was of course a cut above the average.

Tomorrow Rick, Kris and I are going to walk the Treasure Hunt route after school: I’m keen to get a second opinion as it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s all perfect when there may be mistakes and flaws.

I don’t know about the other 93, but in good Private Eye style here is Number 94 in a series of useful Hints and Tips. This one details how to stop ants stealing your sugar and seems to be the way recommended by Sri Lankans. On the grounds of good taste, my diagram omits the dead ants usually to be found in the water.

sugar