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

 

Tempus Fugit

 

Today’s the last day of February: time is flying past. I have the remainder of this week and then I finish at TGS Thursday of next week. Rick has asked if I’d attend Assembly for a formal goodbye on the Friday and then I’ll have a few days travelling before my flight home!

It’s been a couple of days since I posted anything, but quite honestly there’s not been a lot to tell you all about.

Yesterday should have been a non-eating day, but I was going into the Fort area anyway to check up on some stuff for the Treasure Hunt, so I slipped a little lunch in as well: rice and (seafood) curry, which filled a gap. Whilst munching away, I spotted a very ragged looking bird in the sky and was just wondering what it was when it was joined by one or two more, then several and then dozens. It turned out that Southlands College – a school for girls with a roll of about 3000, apparently, was having some sort of kite-flying extravaganza. Luckily, not all the girls seemed to be flying a kite! It made for quite a sight nevertheless. I took some photos on my phone, but they don’t do it justice.

img_20170227_155743 img_20170227_155641 img_20170227_155735

Last night’s lesson with Venushka turned out to be IT as he had an end of course test today and wanted to revise and cover things he’d missed because of the wedding a few weeks back. The course seems to have been very short for the amount he needed to do. I saw him earlier today when I got back from work and he didn’t seem all that sure of how he’d done: he only completed six of the seven questions in the three hour exam, reckoning some were difficult and some were very easy, so we’ll have to wait and see. He’s certainly very slow at typing, which can’t have helped. As it’s all in English, I hope they don’t take marks off for spelling. It’s a blessing it’s not an oral English exam.

There’s no rest for the wicked, though: tonight we’re doing French and English.

With next week’s “field trip” to the Fort in mind, I had asked the two eldest kids, each of whom will be leading a team, to bring in their mobile phones. I was genuinely surprised, if not shocked, to find they had no idea of the difference between texting (by phone signal) and emailing (by wi-fi): Tariq in particular took a lot of persuading there was any difference and that, as they’d be out and about wandering around, anything wi-fi based was unlikely to work. He’s a nice lad, but needs to be a bit less stubborn and a wee bit more willing to accept that – unlike me – he’s not always right! To cut a long story short, Sarah’s phone will be fine for the job, but Tariq’s seems to have all sorts of problems: he reckons he has the same phone number as his father, who’s in Saudi: I’d be surprised if that were the case, but… We’ll need to find another phone for him.

It looks as though the Treasure Hunt is going to be quite an event now: the Bridge Year girls (P1 at best) are coming and instead of one teacher with each of the two groups there’s going to be about three, so we’ll end up with nine children and six or seven staff. No pressure, then…

Whilst I was trying to explain about mobile phones to S&T, the heavens opened – comme une vache qui pisse as I think they say in France. In fact like a whole herd suffering from dyspepsia as lightning flashed, thunder crashed almost continuously, rain came down in milk pails and Uninterruptible Power Supplies beeped their insistent warnings before shutting down under the influence of force majeur. It was sufficiently dramatic that even monsoon-hardened Sri Lankans were impressed. It stopped almost as quickly as it started and within minutes the large pools of standing water you could have sailed the Titanic in disappeared into the sandy soil. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more in store though.

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I came out here with a couple of educational / toy robots. One is a robot arm controlled by the computer via USB, at least that’s the theory. Fathima and I have spent quite a bit of time trying to get it to work, but it won’t play ball at all: in desperation we started disassembling it today to check connections and so forth, but to no avail. It’s a real shame because it was working in Inverness, so something somewhere has put the kybosh on it. The other robot is working: it’s a humanoid thing called RoboSapien, but very fiddly to try and program via a remote control with multi-function buttons and no way of correcting a mistake other than starting again. You can’t store programs in it as it has no long-term memory: unlike me as it’s short-term memory I seem to be losing. Have I told you that before?

I have finally thrown in the towel in my attempt to go back to Lake View Cottage at Tissamaharama: a combination of them being dilatory in responding to booking requests, their being heavily booked and then booking me in for the wrong days. Instead I’m going to be near Hambantota – the town with the white elephant “international” airport. Hambantota is the home of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, thought by many to have been bordering on corrupt and who had a new airport built, funded by the Chinese, which provided jobs and for many of his family and his southern power base. There are very few planes use the airport due to a lack of infrastructure. An interesting article which I may have posted a year ago can be found at https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2016/05/28/the-story-behind-the-worlds-emptiest-international-airport-sri-lankas-mattala-rajapaksa/#fc4b4e77cea2

So, my stay at the Lagoon Inn on the edge of Bundala National Park should not be disturbed by the incessant noise of jet aircraft, though the name suggests smaller flying things may be in evidence. I’m going there on Friday of next week, after Assembly, and am staying for three nights. One of the days will be a safari in the Park. Bundala is reckoned to be quieter than the very popular Yala which I visited last year, but doesn’t have as wide a range of animals, though it’s described as a birdwatcher’s paradise with some elephants and more crocodiles than you could wave a good-sized stick at. In fact, guides often allow visitors out of their jeeps to get up close or down and dirty with the crocodiles. Having patted crocs in Katchikally in the Gambia, I consider myself an old hand at that: two hands with any luck. I’m getting blasé about some of SL’s animals, so land monitors and monkeys are not as big an attraction as they might otherwise be. I’m looking forward to it, though.

It’ll soon be time to go and brush up my Srançais and Sringlish, so I’ll draw to a close. PS: I was right about it not being finished raining: it’s just started again, with renewed vigour.

Sunday Lunch

It’s becoming a bit of a theme, but I was awake and reading at 2:30 this morning, after a disturbed couple of hours’ sleep. I did doze off a bit, but was as near fully-functioning as I was likely to achieve by 5am. I can’t blame dhal this time, so if you know what evil I committed and have wiped from my conscious memory only to have it prod me awake in the small hours please let me know! I was always rather taken with the title of a mediaeval text called “Ayenbite of Inwyt” (“The repeated bites of the inner mind”, or something). I have to admit the title is about as much as I remember of the text: students are generally keener on the bit before remorse sets in…

It being Sunday, I decided to have lunch and went to a place called The Cannon in the Fort: I’d been there a few weeks back with Rick, Kris and a bunch of ex-pats. There must be a collective noun for ex-pats: a diaspora, an intrusion, a coterie? Do different nationalities of ex-pats merit their own term? Suggestions are welcome.

I was briefly tempted by the mixed grill, but reckoned it wouldn’t be much good and was over-priced at about £25. You don’t often see pork for sale here and again I dithered over it, but pork chops can be awful if done badly.

So, “Shark, please”

“Very sorry, sir we don’t have any shark today: it’s Sunday.”

“Very well, I’ll have the calamari”

“Very sorry, sir, we don’t have calamari today: it’s Sunday”

I ended up with prawns – not big ones – still in their shells with rice and a lime and ginger sauce. Peeling prawns by hand is a messy job at the best of times, but it’s not made easier with a lime and ginger sauce. Eventually a guy bought a finger-bowl and my request for more paper napkins was acceded to.

My attempt to have Coffee and Caramel something or other afterwards came to naught presumably because it was Sunday – and at that point I gave up. I can see why The Cannon is rated as No.122 of 209 places to eat in Galle by TripAdvisor. To be fair, the food I actually had wasn’t too bad, but that’ll be my last visit. Ever, probably.

Whilst I picked bits of exoskeleton off my prawns, the heavens opened and from the covered balcony I watched pools forming on the ground below. The lack of Coffee and Caramel something or other was thus a double blow. I started walking back to the bus station, but gave in and hailed a tuk-tuk for the half mile or so. In the 100 yards between dismounting from the bus and arriving chez moi, I got well and truly soaked. Boy was I glad I’d taken my washing in.

It was a shame about the rain, because the tuk-tuk driver pointed out that there was tuk-tuk polo on in town today, but it was too wet for me to stand around watching. On the other hand, if it hadn’t been raining, I’d never have known anyway… If you’ve not heard of tuk-tuk polo, Google it: it’s worth the effort.

I mentioned a Peter May book yesterday: it’s the first in a series featuring an Italian Scottish forensic detective chappie who lives in France. I was disappointed in it. I’d enjoyed the Lewis stories, but this is more like Dan Brown: unbelievable plot and not that well told. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more from the series. It started with a quotation from Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, so I’ve started on that.

The Rebus was good: the title “Rather be the Devil” is taken from a John Martyn track, so that prompted to me play some of his stuff on the bus yesterday.

I was supposed to have a French & English lesson this evening with Venushka, but he was keen to go to the Richmond College Carnival and Richmond Rhythms this evening, so I’m off the hook until tomorrow.

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Mind over Matara

You have to choose your swimming, or even paddling, spot carefully near the Ibis as the waves are strong, there’s quite an undertow and the area abounds with submerged rocks. Two rocky breakwaters have been built to create a partly-enclosed calmer area, though even so the tide knocks one about quite a bit. But the water is warm and the experience is very pleasant, if rather rough for actual swimming or even getting out of one’s depth.

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I opted for rice and curry for my evening meal: it comprised sweet potato (curried); brinjal – aubergine / eggplant / garden egg depending on your provenance – (curried); dhal; pol sambol (mild coconut curry sort of a thing); curried chicken; spicy onion; and rice. I may have forgotten one. Having been disappointed with my pud course yesterday – and also being full – I stopped after the main course.

I regret to say the above meant I didn’t sleep all that well – I blame the dhal – and once again I was on the go at an ungodly hour – about 4:30am – though I dozed a bit in between pages of a Peter May book.

The Ibis does a Western Breakfast and a Small Western Breakfast, the latter being the tea and “toast” which I had again this morning. This will sound a bit arrogant as I’m in Ceylon, but I do wish they’d learn how to make tea: the drink, as universally dished out here, is weak and watery. Many places – not the Ibis – serve it pre-sweetened and the UHT milk doesn’t help much. However, mustn’t grumble, and I easily polished off the contents of the teapot.

I walked back to Tangalle bus station – about 25 minutes – and counted somewhere between 40 and 50 hotels, restaurants, guest houses and the like on my way. That makes it sound like a concrete jungle, but most of these are little more than one-man-and-a-dog enterprises based in small shacks or a cluster of bungalows: it’s very low key development. I passed a ramshackle greengrocer’s place calling itself a “Fruit Stole” and various other Sringlish establishments.

As ever, it was just a case of hopping on a bus and we were off, back up the road to Matara. Up until now, I’ve always just viewed Matara as a local variation on Halbeath Junction with palm trees, but decided to have a look round this time. I’d been intrigued by a small off shore island attached to the mainland by a pedestrian suspension bridge, so that was my first port of call. I had imagined it being an up-market hotel, but for LKR100 (53p) and the temporary removal of my sandals I was allowed entrance to a Buddhist shrine. Whilst the location was attractive, other aspects of the visit were rather underwhelming, though I got a few photos.

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Presumably the monks are saving up for flashing lights round Buddha’s head.

 

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I don’t know the purpose of the cloths: vaguely reminiscent of the Clootie Well on the Black Isle.

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Next I wandered along to Matara’s Fort – another Dutch / British colonial imposition. My ancient guidebook refers to “various states of dilapidation” and that seems fair. I had a cup of coffee in a trendy little area called Dutchman’s Street, all (modern) cobbles, artefacts and hanging umbrellas, then wandered round the dusty and quiet streets.The Fort area – like the one in Galle – seems to house the local courts and there are dozens of houses – in various states of collapse – apparently owned by lawyers.

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I think this place has just opened. I can’t imagine those umbrellas lasting long in a downpour.

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It’s a shame to see these buildings derelict and collapsing.

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Once the home of an Attorney-at-Law, now just a ruin…

I would have stayed a bit longer, but big fat lazy raindrops started to fall, possibly presaging something more dramatic, so I returned to the bus station. The second leg of the journey went smoothly, although the bus was packed for much of the time.

Back now at Sera’s, I intend having a quiet time until beddie-byes.