A view from Sri Lanka
ROYSTON REPORTS, Number 200. Sunday 23 February 2014.
Greetings to readers as we countdown to the end of the discount period for purchasing my Bradt Guide to Sri Lanka.
A beautiful pink hued glass bottle was given to me for my birthday containing what I’m happy to describe as an arrack of distinction. To my astonishment, according to the bottle, it is “bottled by authority & to specification in the United Kingdom.” However, it is “distilled & aged by Rockland Distilleries Ltd, Sri Lanka.” So I assume what is described as “Ceylon Arrack: 100% natural from the sap of the coconut flower. Pure distilled. Aged in traditional Sri Lankan Hamilla wood.” is shipped to the UK for bottling.
I always thought that arrack originated as a workingman’s drink but the label etched on to the bottle has a different theory. “In the days of the kings, the process of making arrack was fiercely guarded and revered as an island secret. This ‘drink of the Gods’ was so highly esteemed that it was served only to the royal families.”
So what does this “blend with a distinct tropical accent, which we are proud to call ‘sunshine in a bottle’” actually taste like? Its bouquet is caramelly, its colour once it’s poured out of the rose-tinted bottle, resembles a pale sherry but its taste (at 40% alcohol) is fiery. One sip swells in the mouth and lingers with a long finish. It is certainly “sunny” and is what I imagine a single mint malt whisky would be like, were there such a thing.
I’m not an enthusiastic nature lover but do my bit to conserve wildlife by staying away from it. Thus I don’t join in the safari jaunts by jeep rattling around Sri Lanka’s nature reserves to gaze at elephants who’d prefer to be left alone, or screech across the Indian Ocean in speedboats searching for whales to watch or dolphins to photograph.
So when a friend sent me the 1977 edition of A Guide to the Birds of Ceylon by G M Henry first published in 1955, I dipped into it cautiously to identify this perky chap I photographed at a market stall in Haputale.
It seems to be the Ceylon House Sparrow (Passer domesticus soror). Mr Henry’s text was so readable I quickly became hooked. He describes this bird as “a notorious hanger-on of man, its food is anything in the way of waste grain or other farinaceous food …” He continues: “The song of the male – uttered while courting, with much attitudinizing before his lady-love, and later, while she is incubating, from a nearby perch – is an endless repetition of phillip, phillip, phillip.”
From the fly leaf of the book I learn that G M Henry was for 35 years on the staff of the Colombo Museum. He confesses: “My interest in birds is primarily aesthetic; their beauty of form, colour, texture and pattern of plumage; their flight, song, behaviour and elusiveness appeal to me far more than the – to my mind, utterly barren – attempts to achieve a uniform set of technical names…”
Mr Henry seems a formidable writer with a style as pretty as the birds about which he writes so intimately. Thanks for this delightful book to my friend, who accompanied his gift with this cheeky card created by himself.
There’s a lovely custom in Sri Lanka of feeding loved ones and friends with birthday cake, hand to mouth. A lot of birthdays here this month, including that of Kanchana (Kumara’s wife) on the 17th and Kumara himself on 26th February. Here they are enjoying themselves in my garden at Kanchana’s birthday party. My thanks, too, to the many readers who emailed me greetings on my own recent birthday.
From a reader in England comes another photo from his father’s collection taken in Ceylon in 1943. It looks familiar. Where is it?
I mentioned in a previous newsletter that Sri Lanka’s premier photographer, Dominic Sansoni, is setting up a website archive of photos of old Ceylon. He is keen that people who have albums and photographs they are willing to have scanned for the site, should contact him.
I used to collect old postcards of Ceylon but never thought of tracking down old posters promoting the then Ceylon’s attractions. There is currently a new exhibition of posters at Colombo’s Barefoot Gallery with many exotic film and travel posters on display until 16 March when the collection goes on a world tour. Worth seeing but if you’re not in Colombo, check online at: www.sticknobillsonline.com.
The Small Print
I am often asked how I find topics to write about each week in this newsletter. That’s not a problem really as there is usually something intriguing happening here in Sri Lanka, or in my writing life. The original idea of this weekly newsletter was to let readers know about my books because, to survive as an author, I need to sell my books (as do my publishers, bless ‘em).
My main concern is not what to write but making sure that the newsletter is circulated on time. I do all the things the publisher Word Press demands but still it doesn’t always get to readers every Sunday morning as it should. However, if you’re missing your copy in your email inbox, you can read it online at www.roystonellis.com/blog.
Andrew, the webmonster who set up this newsletter nearly four years ago (this is our 200th edition) tells me that in January we had over 1 million unique visitors and almost 5 million hits. While I will continue the writing, Andrew is taking over the design and circulation so I can concentrate on getting a dozen new books ready for my USA publisher Kicks Kindles (www.kicksbooks.com) and on my memoir for Tomahawk Press of the UK about Cliff Richard & The Shadows (more on that next month).
In the meantime, there are only five days left (until 28 February) to get 40% discount on my Bradt Guide Sri Lanka by visiting: http://www.bradtguides.com/Book/622/Sri-Lanka.html and entering code SRILANKA40 on check out.